What I munch on when bad stuff happens

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Two truths are keeping me together, are feeding me these days:

Mark 7:37 – …..He does everything well! (ISV)

Ps 84:11 – …..No good thing does He withhold.(NIV)

When something ‘bad’ happens, I find myself talking to Jesus – You do EVERYTHING well!  No GOOD thing do you withhold from me!”  These two truths act as the sandwich bread bracketing/holding each particular set of circumstances.  Only with the bread in place, is it safe to draw any conclusion from the ‘bad stuff’ of suffering or evil.

This week, someone dear to me received news that she wasn’t expecting.  I know that she considers Jesus her treasure, that she is a believer.  So I know that the Psalm 84 promise belongs to her.  As I have fought back sinful worry on her behalf, I have reminded myself of these 2 promises.  And that helps me continue to pray for her, but without the worry or anxiety.

Pain and suffering are not ruled out in this fallen world.  We all know that. But they knock the wind out of us at times.  What helps me is intentionally to recall, that God has a purpose, and a good one. And reminding myself that He administers the circumstances ‘just so’, tailored for each one of His children helps dispel the fear.  The suffering and sorrow can still linger, but the fear and anxiety don’t.

  • ‘Come on, Maria, be realistic!  Do these truths work for the really awful stuff – the Sarin attacks that burn Syrian children, old grandmothers and young men alike? How can that be a ‘good’ type of suffering?’

Friends, if Christianity can’t address the toughest questions, then how is it any better than other explanations?

Here’s what I DO know.  Every worldview has to explain suffering and evil.  It’s not a solo burden meant only for Christianity.

But there are many ways to draw false conclusions about God, so we have to be careful. If we start from ourselves with what WE deem good, reasonable or right, then we have already derailed and are headed away from Truth.  The only safe and right place to start is with God.  The times I head away from God, I thank the Holy Spirit who brings back to Him (the Spirit’s job, per Jesus, is to guide us in ALL Truth – John 16:13) . Here is what grounds me in the Truth:

  • God alone created us, therefore He has every right to do what He wants with His creation.
  • God is GOOD and I can trust Him.
  • Just because I can’t see the good in this particular suffering doesn’t mean God isn’t working out good purposes.  Perhaps, one day having completed my earthly trek, I may learn what those good purposes were.
  • As a Christian, I am called to mourn with those who suffer and do all that is within my power as a fellow human indwelt by the Spirit of the all-powerful and loving God.

Coming back down from the mega-worldview to my little corner, I settle back and quiet my soul and munch on my ‘sandwich’:  ‘You do all things well and no good thing do You withhold’.  This is where I live.  This food is sweeter than honey and leaves no bitter aftertaste.

Psalm 131:2 – But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. (NIV)

 

 

2-way Grace – a distinction

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I’ve heard it said that Grace is God’s one-way love.  I don’t intend to take away from that truth. Let’s just call it, “making a distinction.”

I love distinctions.  They help me sort out what I’m thinking; they give me an understanding of a concept.  Then it is mine.

Take the word ‘reasonable’.  It used to be a very good word.  But I didn’t know that until 2 years ago.  I grew up with the newer definition.  For example – if I asked to borrow 2 eggs from you and mentioned that I was going to the store the next day and would pay you back – that was a ‘reasonable’ request.  I wasn’t asking TOO MUCH from you – not like: “I need to borrow your one and only car for 3 days. May I please have the keys?”   Definitely UN-reasonable.

But reasonable doesn’t mean that at all!  Saying “yes” to Michael when he asked me to marry him after five weeks of dating happened to be a very REASONable decision.  He was both a philosopher and a good cook; we enjoyed spending lots of time outdoors together; we liked reading & travel; we worked in the same profession and he was cute!!  There you have it- 5 excellent REASONS and I haven’t even gotten warmed up!  That was a REASONABLE decision. (That ‘reasoning’ process took place 33 years ago, come September.)

Do you see why distinctions matter?

So it is with grace. God showers us with individual gifts called grace.  When we stop and notice them, SEE them and drink them in richly and then thank Him, not only are we pleasing our Father, we are enhancing our enjoyment of the gifts.

I saw this most closely yesterday as I was reading Phil 4: 6-7 in French.  That’s the exhortation not to worry about anything but to take every concern to God in prayer, with thanksgiving.  See if you can figure out what the verse means – there are lots of cognates. “…exposez vos requêtes à Dieu par la prière et la supplication avec des actions de grâces ;…. » Look at how the French translate ‘thanksgiving’ – actions de grâce !!!!!

I got to thinking that in some small human-sized way, I can give grace back to God by thanking Him for what He has given to me – in this case, access to Him for supernatural help!  My thanking Him pleases Him; He grants me more than I can ask or imagine according to His will; I see His hand all around me; I rest in His care; I tell Him how much I love His gifts; I feel close to Him; when something else comes up, it’s only natural that I turn to Him since I’ve been talking to Him.  It’s an X-stroke engine that once purring, it is easy to keep running. (why X?  – I don’t know – just seemed like X would indicate more than a limited number like 2 – besides, I don’t know cars!!!)

This is actually borne out by other scripture:  consider Psalm 116: 17to Thee I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving AND call (try substituting: by calling) upon the name of the Lord (i.e. praying!!! – asking for more help)

Some dear folks mistakenly and pridefully reason, “God has too much to do running the universe to take an interest in my problems…besides doesn’t God help those who help themselves?”

No!  But that’s a topic for another distinction..and another blog – what part God does..and what part do we do.  For now let us be like the psalmist in Psalm 131, verse 2 Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.

Dear Father, help me to see You and to cling to your Goodness like that trusting toddler.  Encourage me to ask for your help when I am in pain, anxiety and confusion.  Cause me to remember to thank you moment by moment.  In sync, in union, in step, in rhythm with your Grace.

Holding on tightly to what I know to be true

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In faculty prayer time today, my principal mentioned how much of a battle it is every morning and throughout the day to use Biblical truths to fight unbidden thoughts and feelings that arise due to circumstances.  She exhorted us to build and cling to a high-view of God that will carry us through the day.  And since a proper picture of God only comes from soaking in His Word, we must consciously take the time to bring our minds back to the facts that we read in the Bible.  These facts are truths based on who God is, what He has promised, what He has done.

Katecho’ is the Greek word for ‘hold on real tight’ (Strongs # 2722).  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts his listeners:

But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on (katecho) to our courage and the hope of which we boast.

Kata means intensive and ‘echo signifies hold down, hold fast or retain.

Confidently and firmly holding on, we look to Him who rescued us and in whom we believers are built up, members of His body, the church.  He calls us to be His ambassadors, stones in His house, witnesses, servants, living for Him.

And if we let go of our confidence in Him (which can happen if we stop INTENSELY HOLDING ON TO what we know to be true of Him and of ourselves), then we fall into evil unbelief.

Do we realize that not to believe is not only a sin, but actual EVIL according to the Bible?  Stoking, nurturing, feeding, i.e. indulging our doubts IS blatant disobedience.  Don’t get me wrong, doubts fly at us all day long from other people and from Satan…but we have to fight them with biblical truth.  We have to ask for help from fellow believers and we in turn must pray for and encourage our brothers and sisters.  This is war. Naiveté is fatal. As the French rallying cry goes, ‘Aux armes, Citoyens!’ We strap on our spiritual weapons of warfare and stand firm, ready to fight!

But we don’t fight alone.  Plenty of passages encourage us to pray for what we need.  Hebrews 4:16 assures us of our privileged access to the throne and source of mercy (i.e.: compassion – He understands the pressures of the battlefield) and grace (i.e.: strength for the battles)

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may    receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

If I apply these principles to my life, it looks like this: I, Maria, need to trust God that He IS providing enough time each day to do the necessary.  It is painful for me to trust Him.  All around I see lack..lack..lack.  I tighten up and get grim.  But our pastor Byron preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago that has helped me.  Psalm 131 is very short – only 3 verses.  But the imagery is powerful.  Consider verse 2:

1 My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.

I had never considered how a weaned child might feel around his mom’s breasts which heretofore had been his only source of food.  Weaned, he now has to trust her to provide for him in different ways.  Miraculously a toddler can and does lean his head, snuggling up against his mom, quietly awaiting her timely provision. He isn’t old enough to secure his own food.  He is totally dependent, but doesn’t fret because his supply (mom’s milk) is no longer available for him.

So now, when I’m tempted to give in to stress as time speeds up and tasks multiply, I affirm, “Lord, I’m resting, imagining my head against your chest, feeling your breathing, steady – in and out, comforted as I wait for you to give me just what I need this day.  Thank you for your sufficiency and faithfulness[.  Keep me close to you.  Keep me from wandering off to tend my needs.”

I’m a slow learner.  But He is patient.

 

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