Trying to get back to ‘pleasant’ or ‘normal’?

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 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved. 2 Cor 2:15

Where do we get the idea that problems and crises are NOT the norm?  That when they occur, top priority is solving them, getting through them, so we can ‘get back to normal’? What IS normal? And why do we view life without suffering and hardship as the norm?

I grew up believing that ‘a pleasant, mostly problem-free live IS natural, to be expected‘. That ‘fact’ formed part of the bedrock of my heart. Ever since my early teens,  I have been pushing back against all those OBTRUSIVE trials and painful interruptions and sufferings as though they were something to get through, to get solved, to get over with SO THAT life can ‘get back to normal’.

The other morning as I was reflecting and journaling,  John Piper’s advice to adopt a ‘war-time mentality’ popped into my head.  The ”war’ he refers to is the one against the very real and vicious, dark, murderous, evil spiritual forces operating in our fallen world.

The reference to war brought to mind an historical novel I read last month about French resistance workers during WW2.  The main character risked her life, time and time again. Even when she was hurt and wounded, she still carried out dangerous missions.

Up until now,  I have applied Piper’s message to how I view money, how I think about and allocate disposable time, and how I pray.  But yesterday the image of this courageous young woman began to guide my understanding of our present ‘wartime’. As I was praying through some current suffering affecting Mike and me, I began to realize, that being wounded oneself doesn’t mean I can’t serve as God’s covert worker behind ‘enemy lines’.

In fact, I started realizing that suffering is part of the war in this ‘present darkness’ on our post-Edenic planet.  Physical and metaphorical bombs befall us; we step on ‘landmines’ that rain pain and destruction; snipers take aim at our loved ones.  None of this trouble is outside of God’s sovereign reign.  All of these events are part and parcel of the trouble that Jesus announced we would encounter in this world.  Our enemy MEANS them to destroy us, but God MEANS them for our good and the good of others.

But THE question for me, what has stayed with me this week is this:

Maria, YOUR sufferings and those inflicting your family and friends, must they hinder you from giving aid and encouragement to fellow, but wounded image bearers?

Hearkening back to the dangerous work of resistance workers in Nazi-occupied France, I ask myself, can I not offer material and spiritual bread and water to the hurt?  Even as one of the wounded, can I still GIVE in the midst of this war?

Yes!

  • whether I am operating on little sleep,
  • whether I, myself, am crippled by my own sin or suffering,
  • whether my heart sorrows over the many cares of those I love,

Yes, I CAN be a giver of comfort, of encouragement.

Spies in EVERY war have carefully learned how to maneuver around and through enemy forces.  Now is no different. Warfare IS normal life, here on earth.  The good news is that there is a definite endpoint when the war will be past. Final victory has been legally declared by Jesus, the ‘Lamb who was Slain before the Creation of the World’ and He is coming back to claim His own.

In the meantime, as a crushed servant in the Lord’s Good News army, let me be a giver of cheer and comfort and leave a fragrant, lingering aroma of a Christ-filled servant.

 

 

 

Putting God’s peace on the shelf

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Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (NIV)

What strikes me from the three promises above is that God’s providential peace and God’s providential trouble form the ‘normal’ for the Child of God. (Those outside of God’s family face the suffering without the grace of His peace)

The supernatural spiritual peace we have received is a GIFT.  Yet when I think of all the gifts I have been given by friends and family, I shudder at how I have disposed of them.

Some intrigued me for a while and I used them, a lot.  But then I either put them aside and forgot about them or threw them away. Some I didn’t know what to do with, like the rubber tube about an inch or so in diameter open on both ends.  When I finally took it to my daughter-in-law to ask her ‘What in the heck is this for?’, I laughed to find out it was a garlic skin remover.  Others I regifted, immediately.  A few I even returned for the cash!

Similarly, I have treated God’s gift of peace, without the awe and gratitude it deserves.  Thankfully, a prayer I read this morning reminded me NOT to fear present or future suffering but to cling to the peace that is part of my inheritance from God.

So…. YES, trials ARE ordained for us, for our sanctification.  But God has given us His peace, which surrounds us on all sides.  This beyond-words peace (“….God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand – Phil 4:7 NLT) IS larger than our troubles and suffering.  The gift has been given.  Let us not put this beautiful provision out of sight, on the shelf.

But instead may we fix our gaze, that is, the eyes of our heart, on our costly birthright purchased for us by Jesus at the Cross.

 

The pain of childbirth – a picture of holiness

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Consider Mary.  Pregnant with God’s glory.  (see Luke passage at the end)

Like some of you, I have given birth to two children.  As each pregnancy advanced, my growing state became more and more of a hindrance to my ‘normal’ pattern of life prior to conception.

And THEN, that final couple of days of growing and UNBELIEVABLY intense, painful contractions – it was far from pleasant.  But effective.  And new life, when fully formed and ready for THIS world, was born.

Both pregnancies acquainted me with the thickness of a normal cervix and the size of an ordinary womb of which I was only vaguely aware each month.

But pregnancy and delivery taught me new things, through suffering.  Were those experiences worth the experiences?  Without a doubt.

How does this relate to holiness?

Picture the Spirit of God who comes to take up residence inside a new believer.  As C.S. Lewis has written, this new inhabitant starts to do major renovations that a baby Christian hasn’t even asked for, let alone heard about.

Adding to Lewis’ illustration, another picture, other than ‘flipper of homes’, came to my mind this morning.  I’ve been reading John Owen and John Calvin about God’s purpose in curating suffering for our growth in sanctification.

(Recall God’s will for our lives IS sanctification – 1 Thess 4:3 and how important He considers holiness, ‘without which no one will see the Lord’ – Hebr 12:14)

These classic Christian authors prompted me to think of expanding holiness WITHIN me, akin to a baby expanding in the womb.  The more I submit to God’s will with humility, patience, and gratitude, the more the Holy Spirit, aka my doula or birthing coach, grows this new spiritual life within me.  I’m reminded of John the Baptist’s statement about Jesus as recorded in John 3:30 –  He must increase but I must decrease.

This new spiritual life IS Christ in us, the promise of future glory. (Col 1:27)  Just as a pregnant mom undergoes a growing baby stretching out her womb, making room for new life, so, too, the Holy Spirit pushes against some of the old self-centered us, crowding it out to create space for His growing presence.  Pain and suffering are part and parcel of pregnancy and childbirth.  And so are they also in our progress toward holiness.

That Holy Spirit-induced ‘new you’ is expanding and pushing against the boundaries and walls of the ‘old you’.  That thick ‘flesh’ is being thinned out, which HURTS like Hades (as my mom used to say).

That image of being ‘pregnant with God’s glory’* resonated with me this morning.  Our Father is not content to let that presence of holiness engrafted in us through the Holy Spirit remain the same size.  You and I must be glad, therefore, of His expansion plans to complete the work, He has pledged to do.  We must learn to accept suffering as from the Hand of God, lovingly intended for our good:  our holiness and thus our happiness.  After all, ‘A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.’ John 16:21

Luke 1:27b-38 (NIV): 

The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

*pregnant with God’s glory, like Mary – a phrase I read somewhere but don’t know to whom I can attribute it.

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