The cost of love

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‘Unused grace is like a fragrance capped in a bottle‘, so I read the other day in one of Charles Spurgeon’s devotions.

perfume bottle

Thinking about grace prompted me actually to list in my mind the 9 fruits of the Spirit, such as kindness, patience and self-control.   Those examples of God’s grace then reminded me of the qualities Paul exhorts the Colossian Church ‘to put on’ daily, such as compassion and humility.

Then God stopped me cold in my thoughts.  When do we act kind? or exercise patience? or control our emotions or show love?

Only in those situations that TRY our patience, with those people who are difficult to love, and when our feelings lure us to vaunt or to fall into self-pity.

Do I know what I’m asking God to do when I pray for Him to grow in me these qualities fitting for a child of God?

 

 

Do sheep ever worry?

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sheep

 

Obedience, aka the humility to hand over my troubles, to my Heavenly Father has been this season’s lesson.

In the last two blog posts I  detailed how I can now see that the injunction to ‘Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7) can NOT be taken in isolation, as we Christians are wont to do.

What is missing is the all-important context without which we will MIS-understand God’s message to us.

So what DOES precede this comfortable command of letting go of our distracting worries? Oh..just..the fact that handing over these concerns and anxieties is one way God wants us to humble ourselves.

 

Ambassador for Christ

And what follows the command? Just the reminder of our mission and duty as an ambassador of Christ – that we are to be clear and single-minded so we can watch out for our enemy who is on the hunt for distracted Christians. We are actually assigned to be our ‘brother’s keeper’, our ‘brother’ being those dear fellow believers who are distracted by their worries.

 

With that review, let me give you a peek at Part 3 of God’s lesson plan. The Holy Spirit used a couple of teachings by John Piper to give me some concrete practice in trusting God.

In a series of talks about faith in future grace, Piper reminded me of the only way to prevent distracting worries. Power to hand over concerns and live single-mindedly and focused, as God commands, is only possible if we take as true and sure God’s promises of His adequate provision.

I need to recall that God’s interactions with me until now have been ALL GRACE. Two ways I see His past grace:

  • First – I was saved according to His unearned favor given me
  • Second – Everything I have received ….from energy, to eyesight to education to equipping for tasks has come as a gift from God

So there is a pile of past grace I can look back to for encouragement. But that is not all! His Word looks forward and announces brand new mercies and grace-giftings to come to me.

All I have to do, and I’m practicing REMEMBERING this throughout the day, is breathe in the assurance that whatever lies ahead in the next 5 seconds or 5 minutes is known by Him. And AS life unfolds both in the ordinary daily tasks of teaching French and tending my home as well as the crises, God IS providing what I need.

Simple to grasp, challenging to practice.

Jar of clay

To you, I can admit that I am the clay pot WITH cracks. I don’t HAVE to pretend that I am competent and have it all together. It’s only the world around me that clamors for proof of my self-exalting independence. What a trap!

 

Down to where the rubber meets the road: we’re on a trip to Mike’s alma mater for his 35th class reunion. So many all the many details and circumstances appear ARE out of our control. As I notice my tension, I breathe out my anxiety and breathe in Holy Spirit oxygen and relax. Everything from preparing the substitute plans, to packing, to cat-minding considerations as well as the travel and healthy food arrangements can easily overwhelm me.

I do the above, relax and then MORE concerns pop into my mind. For example, even after God provided for situations that occurred during the day, (rental car, NJ Turnpike, arriving at reunion events reasonably on time) later that night other future situations loomed large. I had to STOP thinking about those details and hand over my ‘right’ to worry. Hasn’t God promised to provide for the next day ON the morrow? Is He not trustworthy?

You’d think I’d come into my heavenly inheritance a week ago and was still getting used to the idea!

What patience Abba Dad exercises with His little kids! I’m thankful He sees this as training for the responsibilities that await us as co-heirs with Jesus.

May you and I trust Him enough to accept with relief and rest that each lesson does have a divine objective. Nothing is wasted or without purpose. Even the suffering.

Thanks be to God!

Question: What promise of future grace can you place your faith in right now?

PS: I have let this post percolate over our travel days. Early this morning as I lay in bed, the first faith skirmish of the day commenced. I started to worry about arriving home late with little time to repack and head off first thing Tuesday morning as a teacher/chaperone for the two-day 8th grade class camp experience. Would I be able to fix dinner, repack, sleep enough and head out the door at 6:45 am on Tuesday morning ready to extravert some more?

What finally settled my anxious heart and scattered mind was Psalm 23.

  • The Lord IS my shepherd
  • He WILL provide
  • There are still waters and green blades of grass in fields I don’t yet see

Good shepherd

I rested easier in bed as I meditated on these facts of future grace and mercy.

Why God wants to be the one to take care of our worries

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Last week I practiced handing over each worry/anxiety/problem/’concern’ as it came up as an act of obedience to God’s call to humble myself by transferring/dumping/casting them on Him. (…when I remembered!)

Not my problem

 

 

 

 

God’s words as recorded by Peter was my guide (1 Peter 5: 6-7):

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

The new thought that pressed in on me, though, was the ultimate reasons God gives for why we MUST hand over our burdens.  The first one is explicit, a kind of ‘DUH’:

  • we are to hand them over to God because it is actually HE who is the one handling them!  It’s not something He says He WILL do, but that He right now is undertaking. So when we hold on to them and ‘think about‘, aka WORRY, we’re just spending precious energy in a maelstrom of anxiety that is accomplishing ZILCH.

But here’s what is even cooler about God’s command. I’ve always stopped after verse 7, not noticing what follows.  There happens to be an even MORE crucial reason why we are NOT to invest energy into our problems.  Look at the next exhortation as verses 8 and 9 continue the thought:

  • Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith.

When I really read these words, letting them sink in, the Holy Spirit reminded me that ‘…I am not my own.  I was bought with a price….I am an ambassador for Christ..I am on duty – always!’

And what good is a soldier on duty if he is distracted?  Our orders are to be alert and watchful:

Enemy the devil

 

 

 

 

I’m beginning to see that my thinking has been too small.  My error was believing – falsely – that my worries were my own business and didn’t impact anyone else.

I obviously have forgotten that I am responsible ALSO to my brothers and sisters in Christ, to look out for their spiritual well being.  And if I am so self-absorbed; if I am acting like a functional atheist who has no good and loving Heavenly Father, I am hurting the Church.

Here’s what I want to remember this week, that with Holy Spirit power I am both encouraged and am capable to:

  • trust in my good Father at all times (Ps 62:8)
  • not depend on MY understanding of the problems, worries, concerns, needs that concern me and my loved ones (Prov 3:5)
  • not do anything from selfish conceit, but be concerned and interested in the lives of others (Phil 2:3-4)

Family of God

How difficult is humility?

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So many counter-intuitive truths in the Bible:

-It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting (Eccl 7:2)

-If someone takes your tunic, give him your shirt also (Luke 6:29)

-Happy are the poor in spirit for they have the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 5:3)

-God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)

 As Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church puts it, the way up is down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about humility these days.  The brain is funny (and so again is the Holy Spirit as He works with the brain and our seeing).  Once your brain widens the filter to notice something, you start seeing that very same something all over the place.

My friend and I have been reading a book that including a chapter on humility and submitting to God.  Another friend gifted me with a book about purposefully humbling one’s heart when God sends suffering.  “Father, are You trying to communicate something to me?”

Earlier in the week, I ran across this two-word sound byte from God’s Word:

  “ …..seek humility……”  (Zeph 2:3) – it’s just a bit of Zephaniah’s advice to the people of Judah in around 625 BC.

Why would anyone CHOOSE to seek humility?

  • Only to avoid having the God of the Universe as your enemy
  • Only to avoid falling
  • Only to get more grace

God is so pragmatic. He WANTS us to seek rewards. He WANTS us to count the cost. He purposefully offers incentives.  We are stupid when we don’t do what is in our own best interests.

**

God always seems to illustrate His commands with real-life examples. Just last week He gave me a ring-side seat to witness the payoff for humility through my husband’s vocational life.  Mike just retired from 32 years of government service.  He has fought hard to make a difference on a daily basis.  But divine providence, aka God, has constrained him most of those years. In fact, I would say that Mike has enjoyed only about 2 years of government work.  One year involved him researching, writing and then presenting a briefing multiple times to senior leaders.  This cutting-edge intelligence analysis focused on the Soviet military’s tech threat in the 80s. Mike loved that work.  The job that followed was equally satisfying.  After some schooling at the Army’s intelligence center and school, he taught current doctrine to successive classes of senior leaders. The other jobs wearied him.  Right-brained, intuitive introverts who like to think don’t find their home in bureaucracies.

Why would God keep him in jobs that frustrated him?  In hindsight, I can see the rich blessings that have come from this L-O-N-G vocational desert.

  • He has been protected from the danger of work becoming an idol.
  • Safe from the siren’s lure of ‘work harder to climb the ladder’, Mike has had the time to invest in his sons.  Present for ball games, swim events, theater performances and parents’ nights at school, Mike communicated to Graham and Wes that he loved them and cared about what they were doing.
  • Long hours of rich dinner-time discussions, background music playing, exposed the boys to conversation, argumentation and the world of music.  The daily dinner hour provided a relaxed forum for all of us to practice the art of reason and articulating our beliefs.
  • Working for the government guaranteed Mike both the means for periodically taking a couple of hours off to catch games, but also time for family vacations.  God blessed us through my dad who was financially able to share trips with us.  We travelled to Europe, Alaska, and the Caribbean and Viet Nam Veteran reunions with Pop. Thankfully, Mike had vacation days to be with us.
  • No chance of a swelled head.  Not seeing much fruit for his labor kept Mike pressing in to God, crying out to Him.  We both prayed hard, day after day, to understand why he was so stymied in his vocational desires.

All those circumstances humbled Mike.  Hence his (and my) surprise at the accolades he received from multiple sources in the weeks leading up to and the day of his retirement ceremony.   Colleagues and supervisors started gifting him and taking him to lunch as his last day drew closer.  Then at his official ceremony, the speeches by his two big bosses affirmed him by detailing his unique contributions.  There was also a short movie prepared by our son Graham that included all sorts of family photos and video messages from Mike’s mom, favorite cousin Terry, son Wes who is deployed and his dear brother, Steve. From the perspective of time, the overview of Mike’s life let him (as well as others) see that his life since age 18 HAS been rich. Friends and family who travelled to witness/share his retirement also gave testimony to his contributions. The cards, presents and remarks were all pure gift.  This was evidence of the impact that Michael has unknowingly made these past years. 

God DOES give more grace to the humbled.  And this MORE exceeds what one ‘might’ lose by not trying to ‘make it.

Seek humility?  Doesn’t sound like fun, but who are we to know best? As Graham was saying last night in a moment of shared reflection, “It’s exhausting trying to make a name. How do you know when you’ve done enough?”  But the humble way, which involves serving others and putting others first, turns out to be easiest.  As we start to go lower, God gives us help and praises us for our stumbling, impure efforts in that direction.  Like an encouraging parent applauding his little one taking that first step, our heavenly Father praises us for all our faltering steps toward self-imposed humility.

It’s not rocket science figuring out what we have to do to earn God’s highest praise:  “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

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