A reluctant child – a lesson about God’s love

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I was that reluctant child who complained about where God planted me.  Six years ago when we moved to western NC, God opened ONE door to teach French, all the way in Asheville, a 50-minute each-way commute. Within 6 weeks, I didn’t want to be there.  School was difficult.   An experienced French teacher (and filled with pride, I found out), I had come from a supportive Christian classical school. My principal liked me.  Parents were pleased with me.  I enjoyed good rapport with my students.

But at this new school disgruntled parents complained to my principal about their unhappy children.  I was stunned.  Parents didn’t talk to me, but went right to my principal.  By January, I was on an ‘informal’ probation.  This brutal first year humbled me. I even went so far as to contemplating cleaning houses as an alternative source of income.

But God!  Amazingly He got me through year 1 with a contract for another term.  I didn’t want to go back.  Despite job hunting that summer, He kept all other doors shut. I had no choice but to go back for year 2.  And year 3.  And year 4.

Something happened by the end of year 4.  By then I had enjoyed many hours getting to know my middle-school colleagues. I also grew professionally in how I coached kids to acquire French.  The school invested in me by funding further world-language training up in Boston where I was exposed to new ideas about teaching French with comprehensible input.  I was grateful.

In essence, though I did not want to be at this school for a number of reasons, I grew personally and professionally, in the midst of suffering and difficulties.  Working where God so clearly intended me to be remained hard, every day.

One shift in thinking did help somewhat. I’ve always wanted to use my French skills to teach others about the greatness of God. When I realized that I would not think it strange to encounter hardship on the mission field, I tried to stop whining to God.  Thinking about this teaching assignment as ministry helped.  Suddenly I could see that while teaching French was my official duty, being present to my colleagues, their parents and students was my primary calling.

It’s easy for me to get to know people. God has given me a real interest in people’s stories and problems.  I found that by inquiring and listening well, I could encourage both secular colleagues and those with a knowledge of God.  I offered to pray for both groups.  Gradually some opened up to me, sensing that they were safe in unburdening themselves. My heart was drawn even more towards them.  Each day I prayed for openings to say something true, beautiful and good about God.

Fast forward to a painful 2018 for Mike.  Vocationally and spiritually he had been struggling for 4 years after a honeymoon first year.  Setbacks and closed doors humbled him.  Spiraling into depression he found a biblical counselor.  By the end of November, only 4 months ago, God suddenly revealed the ‘unthinkable’:  Mike needed to look for  full-time work and we should put the house on the market. 

Now at the end of March 2019, God has sold our house, moved us to Huntsville, Alabama and Mike starts work on Monday, 1 April 2019.  And I no longer teach at my school. The other ‘unthinkable’ was that I did not finish out the school year.  I left teaching French with 8 weeks remaining in the school year.

Now for the good part!  Here is how God poured out love on this reluctant, often whiny child:

  • As soon as my principal informed parents that Madame Cochrane would be leaving to accompany her husband on a new adventure, parents wrote me and students swarmed me.  I heard how much everyone loved me and how sad they were that I was departing.  Students shared how much French they had acquired and what a loving, caring advisor I had been.
  • My sixth-grade team of teachers fêted me with Keto-snacks and tickets to the botanical gardens in Huntsville.  I heard from some teachers how much they appreciated my personal interest in their lives. ‘Who is going to ask me about my family?’ lamented the art teacher.
  • My last day some of my students gave me gifts, sang a song in French, hugged me A LOT, made a good-bye poster in French, hugged me more.
  • That same last day, colleagues shared lunch with me and gave me personalized book suggestions, a cross-stitch of my favorite Bible verse and a gift card for books!
  • Three hours later at a faculty meeting I did not attend, since it was my last day, the head of the school announced that 7 full-time teachers and 4 full-time staff were having their contracts for next year revoked, due to lower enrollment.

God’s timing floored me as much as the early-complaining parents caught me by surprise.  He providentially arranged for me to leave this school on a high note with a love-filled sendoff before my colleagues knew about the falling ax of some job losses.

Since my final school day ten days ago, here’s what I have concluded:

Proverbs 11:25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.

None of us embraces suffering willingly – it’s too painful. We like comfort and ease. However, in God’s hands, suffering brings rich blessings to the child of God.

Mike and I prayed over and planned the move to western North Carolina.  God clearly opened the doors for that transition, leading us to an amazing house on 10 acres in the Smokies and a well-paying French job for me. We reveled in the beauty.  Easy access to hiking was the main reason we chose this spot.  I also grew very close to Christian sisters, both in the community and at our church – a major gift from a loving Father.

Yet I suffered. And God worked through me in ways I had not anticipated.  As John Piper says:  Don’t waste your suffering!  By God’s grace I didn’t.  Nor did Mike.

Although this post is mostly about me, I will say that Mike was equally flabbergasted at the outpouring of feelings and gratitude and love from our church family AND from the beneficiaries of reporting he had done for World News Group. An equally reluctant worker, he would occasionally lament: “I never wanted to be a journalist!”. Yet God blessed that sometimes complaining tech reporter and church member.

Bottom line conclusion.  Our Father DOES know what is best, for us and for others. Sometimes where God has us is NOT about us, but for the blessing of others.

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.

Why do we desire pity from others?

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I don’t know where the thirst for others’ pity came from.  Mike and I married at 22 and started experiencing hardship, both in our marriage and with work.  I also struggled with bulimia; Mike’s demons came from insecurity about his intrinsic worth.

Marriage with another sinner revealed a lot to me about how my natural coping mechanisms, developed those first 20 years of life were unhelpful for dealing with the real world, filled with other people who didn’t cater to my personal preferences.  But I didn’t have any other tools.

By God’s grace, we heard the Gospel at age 24 and met some genuine Christ-followers over the next decade.  I grew spiritually in fits and starts as I read my Bible.  Yet, God’s perspective was not IN me.  Every disappointment, trouble, and struggle in our marriage, parenting, work or the battle with my body surprised me.  Although we both had said ‘Yes!’ to Jesus at that first altar call, Mike and I tended to be more consumed by life’s dissatisfactions than intent in growing in the knowledge of God.  Many idols competed for our energy, focus and desires and won out.

Introduced to the Christian circle of women, I soon started sharing these ‘heart-aches’ and felt the sweet rush of another’s pity and understanding.  But like any sugar high, not only did the anticipated response from another NOT satisfy, it left an after-taste in my mouth.  You would have thought I would learn and abandon this craving to find comfort in someone’s sympathy about ‘how bad I had it!’

What happened, is that manipulating to get my pity ‘hit’ became a habit.  It felt MORE real to talk about our/my suffering.  My thinking grew warped so that I didn’t even want to share with someone a morsel or current feast of good news in our lives, because that might erode their view of how ‘pity-deserving’ I was.  This was SICK!   But there was a payoff.  The attention.  And the reverse pride of being so ‘noble’ in my suffering.  I would lament in a way that showed off how much I was praying for this ‘good thing’ and how I didn’t know why God wouldn’t answer it.

Okay, fast forward several decades.  At 60 and 61 Mike and I have seen more suffering in the course of time, as has anyone who has reached this age.  With Biblical perspective, we understand more clearly God’s purposes for preparing individualized suffering modules.  He designs all his training programs for his sons and daughters, in order to grow their holiness and pry their grasping hands off of this world.  One of his goals in trials is to increase our desire for the ‘real’ world to come, the world with him.

Reflecting on the benefit of suffering to my soul, I now desire to change how I talk about it to others.  I attribute this reversal in goals (from wanting a pity-hit to wanting to glorify God) to the care and tutelage of my Friend, the Holy Spirit.

Let me use the metaphor of a sandwich.  My previous sandwich, let’s name it the Pity Sandwich, contained a condensed but probably a bit exaggerated version of a current trial, held together by Pity-Attracting sandwich bread.

It was all about me.  Designed that way.  And like gossip, others actually probably enjoyed sharing a bite from it.  A bit of Schadenfreude appeals to us all.  And for that ‘entertainment’ they were willing to pay the price of sympathy.

Where was God in all that? Nowhere.  It was all about me.

My NEW sandwich I offer to people ONLY when they ask:

Friend:  How are you doing with school, Maria? (there have been pockets of suffering in the past 5 years)

Me: Thanks for asking!  I’m still getting pushback from my administration about XYZ, but I see now how God has his reasons for leading me through this valley of darkness.  These hardships have shown me how much pride I was harboring. I’ve also learned to depend much more on Him.  And that is all good!

The surprise in all this is that THIS kind of sandwich satisfies me far more.  And it honors God. And it proclaims some truth about Him to another person.

As I was praying through my Prayermate feed on my iPhone this morning, I came across these prayerful affirmations that I copied from someone a while back.  It sums up what I want to be about:

  • Since the gospel is the startling, but thrilling, announcement of what God has done for us in Christ, something that we could never do for ourselves, even with his help, then let us meditate on that. 
  • Help us rehearse this gospel, more than our dashed hopes for earthly plans, at a ratio of 100 to 1. And to talk about THAT more than our fears or how poorly we carried out a duty. 

Father, work this response in us so that it becomes automatic, like breathing. For our joy, your glory and for the hope of the world. Because of Christ’s life and death on our behalf. Amen!

 

Don’t waste your disappointment

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How disappointed ARE you by life?  Have things turned out better or worse than you had hoped?

The approach you take to ponder those questions depends on your age, by and large.

Or, it depends on how you were brought up.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s.  By the time I graduated from high school in 1975 I had suffered 3 disappointments that I can recall.  All three left their imprint. The first let down occurred when I was NOT selected to join the girls’ drill team at my high school.  A step below the cheerleaders, this group choreographed routines with flags. It was the first (and last) time I tried out for something.  The ‘failure’ humiliated me initially. But what really hurt was being excluded from a group of girls I had wanted to join.  I longed for friendship and fellowship.

The next disappointment took place following one year in a French-speaking high school. Toward the end of those 9 months of 9th grade, I had arrived at the point where I finally felt at ease with the language and was on the cusp of becoming fluent.  However, my dad’s military assignment to Belgium did not satisfy him professionally and at his initiative with Army assignments back in Washington, DC we moved.  I wanted to stay, but as a 15-year-old, I had no voice in the decision.  To this day I still wish I had been given one more year in that environment.

The 3rd and more impactful pain began when I ‘fell into’ the grip of bulimia.  This was a pain FAR greater than I could handle and lasted 9 years until I was 25 and pregnant with Graham. Repercussions still continue to this day.  My journey post bulimia, all directed by God, has led me along different side paths laden with harmful and false thinking, not connected with reality.  (Anyone who has struggled with an addiction like an eating disorder understands.) I have grown spiritually, without a doubt, accompanied by much mental suffering.

As I left home at age 18 for college, I had grown skilled at living a hidden life.  My mom didn’t know anything about the binging and purging or the nightmare it was for me. This was 1975, after all, and the popular press had not yet discovered eating disorders.

Why am I sharing these 3 events?  To provide examples of how my parents did not train me to handle disappointment.  At all.  And THAT has caused more harm than the bulimia.

So how DID they raise me? What did I hear growing up?  My dad, the career military man, preached:

  • Maria, you can do ANY thing you set your mind to….. and
  • It’s merely mind over matter…and
  • Do your best….and
  • You can have a good marriage if you give 100%, none of this 50/50 stuff

My mom’s messages were:

  • Good girls don’t
  • Take time to smell the flowers

I NEVER heard:

  • Life is hard
  • Life is filled with disappointments and failures and setbacks
  • AND here is how you deal with them!

Were my parents Christian?

No, my mom was a church-goer until the middle of my junior year in high school when she became a believer. And my dad had grown up thoroughly tutored in American pragmatism and optimism, raised dirt poor in the land of opportunity. His success was due entirely to his hard work, so he told me.

Didn’t my mom’s conversion to Jesus impact me?  Not on the surface.  I have no doubt that her prayers for me will follow me the rest of my life into eternity.  But as far as verbalized, explicit teaching? Well, we all know how long it takes for God’s Word to sink in to new believers and change their thinking, let alone what comes out of their mouths!

Back to my life as I headed off to college.  Compared to my childhood, I can say that without a doubt my life after high school has been hard, filled with more disappointment and suffering.

Of course, compared to some friends of mine, it’s been ‘relatively easy’.  And when I look at global suffering, it’s been a piece of cake.  I understand that.

What I’m worked up about is NOT my pain, as little or significant as it may be, but how WE don’t teach our kids to handle disappointment and failure.  Neither in secular culture nor more significantly in the church.

I teach in a private school that prides itself in being progressive.  And whereas they do talk the latest educational trends such as ‘failing forward’, they don’t invite speakers in to exhort and equip students to know how to deal with setbacks.  Just think about graduation speakers.  You get the picture.  Our American verbalized, publicized exhortations to the young are one-directional, toward a bright and successful future.  What is the cost?  Current culture and the news provide evidence:  strewn, broken lives and a rapidly-unraveling society.

Among Christians, I don’t hear of many parents in the US or any other western countries who structure home life any differently.  How many parents deliberately allow their children to face trials, exposing them to experiences that might lead to suffering, all along providing a safety net?  We have our children for 18 years, on average.  The time to fail and learn how to deal with suffering and disappointments should be in the home, before kids launch out on their own.  The consequences leap exponentially after that.

By God’s grace, there is ONE small category of families who seem to be teaching their children well.  These are the missionary families, whose children face hardships in places around the world, some of which are dangerous by our standards.  As one mom I know writes (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘my kids know the Bible is real, because we are living that moment-by-moment kind of life, depending on Jesus for our very survival’.  Whew!  Those kids are growing up equipped to face the world as it is.

Now for some encouragement for the rest of us:

On Friday, June first, I started to read the May 2018 edition of Tabletalk Magazine.  Scroll down the website and look for the issue that looks like this:

Tabletalk - May 2018 Ligonier Ministries publishes this collection of daily devotionals and essays, organized monthly around a different theme.  The topic for May is Hope and Disappointment.

A breath of fresh air enlivened my heart when I read the first sentence in the first full article entitled, ‘The Reality of Disappointment’ by Jeremy Pierre.  He writes: “Life is one long, steady disappointment.”  He then continues to explain what he means and how the believer can see the real hope that life with God offers, an eternal hope that will not prove unsatisfactory and sterile.  The very NEXT essay by Dr. David Murray startled me into proclaiming out loud, YES!

He penned, “If our schools really wanted to prepare our children for life, they would offer classes in failure and disappointment.”

Wow!  Now isn’t that counter-cultural and brave, to point out what we all learn the hard way.  What makes accepting suffering SO difficult for many of us Americans is that our country is all about success.

  • What are YOU going to be when you grow up, little child?
  • You can be ANYbody you want to be, even the president of the country.

No…..you can’t!  What a horrible setup for disappointment.

So, what is ‘my call to action’ as blog instructors teach us writers to add at the end of a post?

I don’t know, maybe the thought that each one of us has the power to start a revolution in embracing reality.  Consider this way of framing what we teach our kids before they leave home:

  • Life IS hard, because our first parents blew it. And it’s not going to get better in our lifetime here on earth.
  • God, who created us to enjoy a perfect world WITH HIM, has wired us to long for perfection, for beauty, for happiness IN HIM.
  • There IS another world planned, a perfect world.
  • And He offers a way to enjoy that fully satisfying world with Him forever.
  • All are invited to come and claim a spot in this permanent joy and peace, but there is only ONE path to it, and that is through His Son Jesus Christ.
  • There is nothing to DO or to earn. It is all gift.
  • Anyone who longs for this gift is eligible to receive it.
  • Once you belong to Him, you are guaranteed His continual presence and supernatural help and a bright future.
  • Oh, yes, there WILL be moments of genuine gladness and joy on this earth right now. So, celebrate them as God’s previews of the true and lasting happiness when we see God face to face.

How to understand suffering – some of the ways

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A friend applies for job after job, only to make it to the final interview and be rejected. Not just once, but discouragingly, a number of times.

Another gal miscarries, yet again. The hope of carrying a baby to term erodes with each pregnancy.

Then there is an older sister in the faith who has been through so many cancer treatments, from chemo to radiation to surgery to enduring experimental drugs in clinical trials.  Nothing seems to work.

One more example, a brother who struggles wholeheartedly to save his marriage through prayer, fasting and pursuing counseling.  Alone.  Nonetheless, his wife wants no part in an attempt to reconcile and files for divorce.

These are 4 standout examples of suffering that quickly came to mind.  We all can enumerate such cases and more.

How about the more mundane types of painful struggle like trying to give up drinking, one more time? Or losing that weight, over and over?  Or attempting to engage in conversation your silent, sullen teen?

Do you ever feel like you keep praying, even quoting scripture BACK to God yet nothing changes?

I have significant unanswered prayers in my own life and have…. and am walking through similar suffering in the lives of friends and family in the faith.

Now at age 60, I’m recognizing some of the reasons that God seems sovereignly to ordain such circumstances.  I’ll mention a few, but as John Piper has taught me over the years of listening to his sermons, (and I’ll paraphrase): ‘God is doing 1000 things at one time in any event and we might only be able to spot two or three.’

(If you don’t yet know what to do with evidence in the Bible that God CAUSES suffering, here is one verse to illustrate that fact: Psalm 88:8 ‘You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out’

Here are the reasons that I’ve seen in the past year or so that God might be saying ‘No’ to the sincere and fervent prayers of a righteous Christian:

  • What you are praying for is not ‘good’ per God.  For if something IS good, then He doesn’t withhold it:  Ps 84:11  ‘no good thing does he withhold from those whose way is upright’
  • The way you are choosing to go and asking for his permission does not showcase God’s righteousness.  Ps 23: 3 ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.’
  • Per Anne Graham Lotz, our Father sometimes repeatedly shuts doors to a work until he has refined our purpose FOR the project.
  • Since God has created us to showcase his value as explained in Isaiah 43:6-7  ‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’ then in some cases God blocks ways and projects that work counter to his purposes.

The other morning I was listening to an archived John Piper Sermon about joy.  And what I realized is this:

IF God’s purpose in creating us is to showcase how much we treasure HIM above anything he has created, then it is possible he is ordaining our circumstances in the optimal manner to fulfill this purpose.

Recall that God fashions, calls and redeems a particular group of people for his glory, that is for us to showcase just how much we esteem HIM above anything else in the universe.  If this is so, then how does the world figure out that we consider God OUR MOST valuable possession?

Yes, by taking away other sources of contentment and pleasure. For if we have ‘earthly success’ but actually treasure God more than that success, what would be the evidence to the non-believer that the Triune God is more precious to us than gold or good health or a happy family or fame?

How will my non-believing neighbor see that knowing God makes me supremely happy?

I think you can figure out where I’m going with this.  Perhaps the most striking example of a Christian being content with Christ is when something normal and important is removed.  Or everything is stripped away:

  • think of Paul beaten and confined in prison
  • or Stephen stoned to death
  • or heroes of the faith burned at the stake for their beliefs
  • or a Columbine High School teen standing up and identifying herself as a follower of Jesus
  • or the Amish families who ministered to the widow and children of the murderer of their girls

That kind of faith doesn’t make sense to the world, but it sure does make God look good.

Is this why you are suffering? why God seems to be keeping doors shut or saying no?

I don’t presume to say.  I will say, though, that the longer I live, pray with friends and read my Bible I see more redemptive reasons for suffering for Christ’s sake.

If the above examples leave you depressed, here are two other reasons that will lift your spirits:

  • Joseph was sold into slavery, slandered and forgotten for years in Egypt before God’s good plan was revealed – Genesis 50:20  ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’
  • Job’s suffering – at the time, he likely did not know about or understand God’s purpose in giving Satan almost free reign to harm him. But over the centuries thousands of Jews and Christians have found help and strength to endure their own painful trials and losses.

Let’s allow God the final word:

1 Peter 4:19 ‘So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.’

 

The prophet Samuel’s scumbag sons and God’s will

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Was the prophet Samuel a bad dad?  After all, the people rejected both his sons to be the next judge because of their immoral characters.

1 Samuel 8: 1-3 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.  The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

Before today, I always concluded that Samuel, as godly a judge as he was for Israel, failed to train up his sons according to God’s word, sadly following the pattern of his predecessor and mentor, Eli.

Today I changed my mind, as I read this familiar passage.  When Samuel shares his disappointment and anger that the people don’t WANT his sons to succeed him, God says NOTHING about the character of his boys. Instead, God replies:  …..obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.

Why is Yahweh changing the routine now? Ever since Joshua died, God has raised up a new judge to rescue and guide His people.

I think it’s because the time has providentially come to set in motion a line of kings beginning with the good-looking, but weak-willed and jealous Saul all the way to the perfect King, Jesus.

God’s sovereign will trumps and overrides any action or non-action of man.

Did you get that?

Neither our GOOD actions nor our SIN determines the final outcome of events.

If we conclude that Samuel was a lousy dad and failed to train his sons properly, it is only out of speculation! The text is silent, contrary to what we read about Eli and how he fathered the other two priests, Hophni and Phinehas.  God explicitly rebukes Eli and announces severe punishment for Eli’s poor parenting.

1 Sam 3:13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.

No such detail is given about Samuel to explain his sons’ greed and perversion of justice.  So we must beware of looking at their character and laying the blame at the Prophet’s feet. God has His reasons for each of us and each circumstance that we can only guess at.

I write this NOT to give me or you an excuse for not doing what we should.

I write this to correct our occasional false conclusions about our successes and failures.

What are you claiming is a failure in your life?  Yes, you might have exercised poor judgment or made some mistakes that led to this failure.  But could it be that God is actually directing the circumstances?  For His GOOD purposes which remain unknown to us at this time?

Likewise, we must beware of taking credit for good turns of events, what we often claim are successes due to us!  As Paul in Romans 12:6 teaches  – We have different gifts according to the grace given us.  And you can be sure that what God has given is for a specific purpose of His.

Resting in God’s sovereign control helps me both to NOT beat myself up when I fail nor to boast when I succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stewarding our suffering

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Your suffering is not about you, primarily.

Does that statement surprise you…..offend you….or resonate with what you already know?

Just look at Psalm 23:3 – He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

David doesn’t assert that the course on which our Shepherd has us is primarily for OUR sake or our sanctification, but for His sake, for His reputation.  That means the paths are according to God’s purposes, most of which we won’t come to know in this life. It’s a given that these God-centered plans often include our suffering.

Even though the goal of this sort of suffering might be hidden from us, there is a class of personal suffering whose end is explicitly explained in the Bible.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:4 how God….” comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

Who might these ‘others’ be?  There are only three categories of people as my friend Darlene Bocek explains – Christians, pre-Christians, and non-Christians.  The suffering that fellow believers undergo is meant to deliver a salutary effect on their sanctification.  Pre-Christians also receive a benefit from their pains, problems, and pits in that the suffering serves as a wake-up call to turn to God.  Well, what about the non-Christians? Does suffering benefit them? Darlene describes God’s purpose in their suffering as a warning about God’s coming judgment and an immediate indictment of their lack of gratitude for all the undeserved goodness that God showers on the world.  Non-Christians might develop compassion for others and support humanitarian impulses, but a holy or DIVINE benefit does not accrue to them.

So how do we believers steward or manage the pain we experience during trials?  One big clue is to look to Jesus.  The writer to the Hebrews in 12:2 reveals to us how Jesus handled spiritual and physical suffering. He penned, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Our troubles can cause us to grow more reflective about where our true joy lies.  Destruction, decline, deterioration, and disappointment tend to loosen our vice-like grip on the goodies of this earthly existence.  Plus, when we see pain and injustice around us, a longing for a perfect world grows more intense.  We hurt not only for ourselves but also for others.

Since most of us recognize injustice and hardships when we witness them, you might be asking, ‘Well, what exactly qualifies as suffering, for the Christian and pre-Christian?  Are we referring only to hardships and persecution received for following Jesus’ commands when we share the Gospel?”

No, not from what I read in the Bible and in the works of Puritan authors like John Owen and William Gurnall, nor from what I pick up listening to podcast sermons by Pastor John Piper. I have surmised that ALL pain, disappointment, and hardship, whether it originates in us or outside of us, is suffering appointed by God for His good purposes.

And please let us not indulge in ‘comparative suffering’ in EITHER direction.  There is no shame in undergoing suffering that is ‘lesser’ than what we see others submit to. Nor should we derive a kind of sick pride in being gifted with ‘greater’ troubles as though there were something special about us.  I believe that each trial, test, trouble is tailor-made and individualized.  A personalized lesson-plan, or in ‘eduspeak’ an IEP, individualized education program.  This God-prepared course is actually a present from the happy, holy triune God.

Recall that Paul writes in Philippians 1:29 – For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.

Did you get that?  Jesus has trusted us with His gift of customized suffering.  We undergo the training for Him, that is for HIS purposes.  Some of which benefit us and the other kind, those hardships that on the surface from our point of view do not.

So how am I dealing with my own suffering these days?

At age 60, I am RE-learning that my appointed suffering in this season is on purpose.  And that I need to first of all not complain about it or even fear it, as though something abnormal or strange were happening.  Peter brings this fact up in his letter to the churches in 1 Peter 4:12 – Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Considering it as normal, in this life, and meant for my good and for God’s purposes is a fact I need to rehearse each day. The world tends to broadcast that suffering is NOT the norm and that given enough technology, we can avoid it.

But that is a lie.  From Satan.  May God help us to submit to His plans with humility,  gratitude, and Spirit-provided courage and endurance.  And when we balk and complain, may He give us quick repentance so we can receive His forgiveness and walk on, keeping our eyes on our Advocate who has trod this path before us.  For the joy that awaits us.

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