My first duty of the day – to make myself happy in God

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My hero in the faith is George Mueller, the 19th-century British pastor who together with his wife established and ran orphanages for four to five decades.  He intentionally journaled throughout those years in order to encourage the ordinary Christian to live and work by simple but powerful faith.  He wanted the average Christian to KNOW that learning to pray in reliance on Jesus was a tool and blessing that all could learn to do, with powerful results.

One of his personal resolutions that he followed to the benefit of thousands goes like this:

“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.

Life may be falling down around us, but to be a Christian means to be the possessor of the most precious and lasting treasures imaginable.

It’s probably like this for you, but when that morning alarm breaks into my oblivion, it’s like I have forgotten all that is true and unchanging.  What hits me is the immediacy of the day’s circumstances.  And given this suffering and corrupted world, many days seem to loom difficult and heavy-laden when I get up.   If I let my feelings take their cue from those first thoughts, I will stay depressed throughout the day.  Or I will use something created to distract myself, what God calls an idol. (food, email, escape reading)

God offers an alternative if we but follow it.  Christian are called to rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16). Therefore, Mueller’s advice is not optional if we are to obey our Father in heaven.

I don’t intend to talk about how I go about making myself happy in God.  What I rather mention is why God wants his children to be happy they belong to him.  I’m learning the reason God commands me to exult in him is because joy in God is key to loving others.

Listening the other day to a sermon by John Piper I actually felt capable for the first time of LOVING OTHERS.  You remember how Jesus summed up the Law in Matthew 22:40 by saying in effect:

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

Because I seem to be wired more as a rational person than a loving, emotional person, I’ve struggled with what love looks like according to God.  I often feel guilty that I don’t FEEL love towards my neighbors.

But the way John Piper explained love, it sounded doable for a Christian empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Piper explained what God means by love like this: “Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others”

Given THAT definition, making myself happy in God each morning is not only life-preserving to me, but equally necessary for those around me.  When I have re-established and reconnected with WHY I can be happy no matter how crummy the day’s circumstances may be, then I have strength and energy to move out of myself toward others.  That is the ONLY way to love others.

Have you ever had someone do something for you out of duty?  How does that feel?

It’s like when we tell a child, “Tell Sammy that you are sorry!”

and the child’s “Sorry” doesn’t satisfy at all.  It’s not from the heart.

Same with our deeds done to meet a neighbor’s needs.  If we help out of obligation, it’s not the same as initiating something out of the energy and God-given strength borne of joy in Him.

Joy in God is a pervasive and persistent theme in the Bible.  It doesn’t seem optional or healthy to neglect.

May this truth from Nehemiah 8:10b find its roots in you and me:

“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

 

Why we run away from trials and suffering and why we shouldn’t

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I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Psalm 119:75

Seems that every other archived sermon I listen from my iTunes feed of daily John Piper ‘past sermons’ is about suffering and the benefits.  But he’s not the only one proclaiming that uncomfortable message.  Another pastor Mike and I follow has started a series on the Book of James, written by Jesus’ half-brother.  You know how he starts at the beginning of his letter, that invitation to join the ‘Pure Joy Club’?

Count it pure or all joy, my brothers when you fall into trials of many kinds….

And then there is my hero in the faith, George Mueller, the 19th century British pastor who prayed about the idea, then planned for and ran orphanages that eventually housed 3000 parent-less children over 40-50 years.  Not once did he publish outside of the handful of praying partners the financial needs to support what he undertook.  And God directed daily bread (literally and also metaphorically, referring to all their needs) Mueller’s way.

But it was not easy. Most often the forthcoming provision was obscured until the last minute.  After decades of practice at banking on the Father to meet all their needs, Mueller concluded that the good and ever-present God:

  • gives us problems and difficulties, so that we are led to exercise prayer and faith and grow stronger

Yet, we’re human.  It’s a no-brainer to choose comfort and ease and visible provision.  But could we be wrong in what we cherish, in what we think is due us, what we conclude will best serve us?

One doesn’t have to look far to see that whereas EVERYONE suffers in life, the pain and problems are disproportionately distributed. Does that seem fair to you?

No!, but…..caveat coming:  Pursuing that question of ‘rightness’, going down THAT path will NOT lead to any SATISFYING answer that quiets all our questions. Just ask Job.

So of course the uneven assigning of pain doesn’t seem fair.  But don’t let us therefore conclude that God is neither in charge NOR good.

Yes, the world is messed up.  And always has been since our primal parents opted for their own wisdom, rather than God’s.

But that doesn’t mean that suffering and problems are gratuitous.

Here’s what one language scholar from Blue Letter Bible wrote in explaining the word ‘afflicted’

  • Jehovah depressed/ consumed my strength that was in the way

Why would God do that?  Well, plenty of Bible contributors have explained that:

  • Before you made me suffer, I used to wander off, but now I hold on to your word. Ps 119:67
  • My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:6
  • God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

Looking at that last verse snippet, let’s ask this question: To whom does God give His supernatural power and wisdom and favor?  only to the humble.  How does God humble us?  Well, you tell me!

Okay, so this makes sense on paper.  What about LIFE?

In this current season in my late 50s, what I struggle with is still….. willling and eager worship of my self-created version of ‘feeling good’.

And it seems that the more lessons He plans for me, the worse my situation, my sin grows. It happens in 3 ways:

  • I understand more clearly the evil of idolatry
  • I feel more helpless to deal with it
  • I cling to it all the more

As Paul bluntly cried out to his scribe, (and I paraphrase) Miserable, self-absorbed wretch that I am, who can rescue me from this mess?  Romans 7:24

I know everyone can identify when they think of that one (at LEAST one) on-going, dogged sin that we both despise and cherish in some sick way because it’s familiar.

Permit me to share some hope that I recently received during an episode of God’s ‘attentiveness’:

  • First – from Blue Letter Bible, again about the term ‘affliction’

The simple basic verb ‘to be afflicted’ means ‘occupied with/ busied with.  So when we are blind-sided with suffering, whether brought on BY ourselves or BY another, God is at work in us, concentrating ON us.

So we can’t say, “Where is God???!!!!”  He absolutely IS with us, is busying Himself with us.

  • Second – in a sermon Pastor Steve Brown entitled, ‘Don’t Waste Your Sin’, I learned something new.  When Jesus died on the cross with our sins attributed to or assigned to Him, He paid for them, right?  A synonym for ‘paid for’ is ‘purchased’.  Jesus BOUGHT our sins for us, so in one sense, we ‘own’ them. Brown counsels us to put them (the cancelled sins) to constructive use.  What does he mean?  Think of the woman at the well who, once she was saved, happily and boldly proclaimed to her fellow villagers, “This man told me ALL about myself!”  And she was joyful.  She made GOOD use of her sins, that SHE committed, that she chose time and time again, but that Jesus had forgiven.

So, if I apply those ideas to myself, then each time (and there will be more, I don’t doubt) I struggle with investing importance in my particular ‘something’, which is created, rather than the creator I hope I remember:

God is doing something ON me for my good.

Jesus bought this sin, so how can I use it to bless someone else?

For starters, no point in covering it up!  May I boldly share how God never tires of restructuring the same ole’/same ole’ lesson to conform me to His Son. And if He keeps forgiving AND using even THIS stupid sin in my life, then He will do the same for you!

Can we really trust God?

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George Mueller   George Mueller is my hero in the faith. He’s the pastor who together with his wife undertook orphan care in 19th century England. His primary purpose was NOT to provide love, care and education for children, BUT was to collect evidence to share with ordinary Christians that God had NOT changed and could still be trusted. In his words, Mueller wrote in 1835:

  • “….so many believers with whom I became acquainted were harassed and distressed in mind, or brought guilt on their consciences, on account of NOT trusting in the Lord: (these) were used by God to awaken in my heart the desire of setting before the church at large, and before the world, a proof that He has not in the least changed; and this seemed to me best done, by the establishing of an Orphan-House.”

Two features stand out about this adventure in trusting God:

  1. Mueller NEVER asked for funds.  He and his wife and the matron who worked with them prayed the money in, by taking God at His Word, by banking their all on His promises to provide.
  2. When all was said and done by 1870, 1722 children were being taken care of in 5 purpose-built homes that had required 100,000 English pounds to build, all provided by God through unsolicited donations.

So…the other dark day, in the midst of despairing over my own particular sin ‘bent’ that was overcoming any joy in the Lord, it came to me (thank you for your prayers used by the Holy Spirit, dear friend!) to tackle it once more but BY FAITH in God’s promises rather than by determination and Maria-power.  (yes, a novel idea, you rightly smirk!)

I’m embarrassed to share that this struggle with sin revolves around eating and my weight and the pre-eminent place all that still holds in my heart. The fight against idols persists. But the truth is my weight has gone up AND (creating the unpleasant dilemma) I like to eat. Reflecting soberly about this situation for the umpteenth time, I moved cautiously in the following direction.  So as not to change the kind of healthy foods nor the PORTIONS of the 3 meals I eat,  I settled on cutting out snacks between meals, a small change I know.  The daily deficit would be about 300 calories.

The next step after setting on a plan was this: I named my fears in black type on the white screen in an on-line journal:

  • That with such an incremental approach, I’ll just kind of ‘forget’ I’m doing this and go back to my old way of eating. I’m an expert at rationalizing and changing my mind.
  • That I will be hungry and unsatisfied between meals and feel sorry for myself and won’t be able to stand those feelings.

I knew I needed a go-to verse as my first weapon, if I was going to undertake this adventure in Holy Spirit power.  So I cobbled together 2 verses that quickly came to mind:

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you, the God who is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all I can ask or imagine, according to Your power that is at work in me! Ps 56:3 and Eph 3:20

My husband has often shared with me his joined-at-the-hip pair of verses that he prayed for our son Wes to lean on as he underwent the rigors of Ranger School:

Apart from you I can do nothing; but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!  John 15:5c and Phil 4:13

So yesterday, day 1, we walked in the rain, it being a Saturday and NOT a hiking day.  I knew that given our leisurely start, I would not be able to eat my packed lunch until we reached the turn-around point of our walk at Biltmore Estate. As I anticipated being hungry and not having my habitual baggie of almonds to snack on, I leaned on God’s promise of provision.

152 - Biltmore in the rain on 10 Oct 2015

I took that fear and looked past it to God’s promise to provide in ways I can’t even project.

And He did!  No surprise there.

We ate lightly for supper, as I tried a new recipe for wild-caught flounder.  But again I contented myself with the assurance that each time I started to ‘panic’ I could take comfort in the God who IS living and runs the abundantly full cupboards of grace set aside for each of His children.

Day 1 – victory in Christ and on to adding to God’s track record of proof.  I know that He can be trusted.  I just need to prove it to myself again in that dark place that has been my hold-out, a stronghold of self-control and sin.

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