More Spiritual lessons from a colonoscopy

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Genesis 39:9 How then could I do such a wicked thing, (such as WORRY), and sin against God?

If you read my previous post on this topic, you might remember that God granted me a ‘do-over’ of that lovely procedure, reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Groundhog day image

As little as I relished prepping for yet ANOTHER colon check, I realized that God was giving me practice in being content, not grumbling and relying on Him.

In His providence, I have been slowly reading, taking notes and meditating on truths from a collection of John Owen’s works on sin and temptation.

John Owen

One truth from his pages seems to be a pointed message from God to me:

  • I need have only ONE focus in this life, as a redeemed and adopted child. Singular & total obedience to God.  That’s it.

Application? If I am called ‘only’ to obey God, per His instructions in His Word, then I don’t have to (in fact I am commanded NOT to):

  • worry
  • fear
  • stress
  • dread or even….
  • rush!

So what KINDS of obedience am I called to?  How’s this for starters? I’m to…….

  • Cast all my cares on Him
  • Be glad in Him
  • Trust and rely on Him
  • Glorify Him
  • Serve Him with gladness
  • Wait patiently for Him to act on my behalf

Can you see why I viewed an extra colonoscopy as practice in obeying God?  This time, I was determined, by grace, NOT to complain or feel sorry for myself.  I wanted to see if I could make it through the prep days relying only on His sustaining, provisioning grace.

As “C Day, 2.0” approached, I refused to indulge in worry, fear, stress or dread.  Each time I STARTED to go down that trail of sin, I caught myself up short, repented and reminded myself of the many, many promises of grace like:

  • My grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor 12:9)

The night before the procedure, Mike said a couple of time:

“You poor thing!”  or

“I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this again!”

Each time, I stopped his tender sympathy with:

“Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m okay.  The Lord is sustaining me! “

So…..where did I experience His grace?

One example is that the ‘morning of’ when I had to finish the gallon of ‘clean you out stuff’, the plastic jug had sat in the frig all night and grown colder.  As a result, the 7 cups I downed in an hour WERE, in fact, easier than the 9 doses the night before.

Other examples of grace I saw our good Father furnish WITHOUT the ‘help of my worrying’ were:

  • no trees down on our property impeding our way out (and perhaps preventing or delaying my arrival – something I had projected and feared the first time)
  • the doctor’s on-time arrival, having commuted 45 minutes to the hospital (a previous worry – What if he doesn’t show up and they have to reschedule?????)
  • no ‘doctor errors’ such as perforations…..
  • a wise post-procedure nurse who told me I did NOT have to submit to the doctor’s announcement that I needed yet a 3rd procedure –  a barium enema with X-ray because my prep was only ‘fair’ (although happily good enough for him to complete the colonoscopy)
  • no ‘abnormalities’ found

But the most significant gift to me was this:  to learn that YES, I can rely on God for potentially scary and unpleasant trials.  And with the help of His powerful Holy Spirit, I can resist self-pity and complaining.

The morning of the procedure I was reading and praying through our assigned portion of Scripture along with some devotions (and chugging my ‘cocktail’!)   I happened to read the Genesis verse at the beginning of this post. It struck me that when I worry/fear/stress/dread or rush, I am sinning greatly against God.  Really?  Yes! For God cares about our hearts.  Your and my behavior is just a tip of the iceberg.   This gentle reminder from Joseph in Egypt against his will reinforced my new and singular focus – obedience to God.

With full sincerity, I can now say that I see the value from God’s perspective, that of training me by arranging for me to go through this ‘trial’ again.  I want to build on what I learned in this ‘pop quiz’.   God’s grace IS sufficient for anything He sovereignly plans for us.  To God be the glory!

 

 

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.

The ‘if-only’ weed – Toxic to my soul

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John Owen is nailing me!  For someone whom I’ve never met and who died 335 years ago, it’s uncanny how well this man knows my heart.

His book on how to kill your sin, Mortification of Sin in Believers, is my current weekend reading before I open my Bible.

Look at what I read yesterday, paraphrased for me:

Do I lack strength and power?  Do I lack comfort and peace? (Owen then writes parenthetically that these 4 qualities are the only ‘lacks’ worth mentioning).  If so, then their lack has been brought on through NOT mortifying my sins. Giving in to any sin (what he calls ‘exercising’ or practicing that sin) precipitates the following:

  • My soul is weakened and deprived of strength and vigor
  • My soul is darkened and deprived of comfort and peace

So what does Owen recommend?

First, he explains how we strengthen the power of sin.  Whatever we set our affections on, whatever we cherish or love we THINK about. And what we invest our thoughts in grows in power to rule us.

Owen quite unnervingly calls those affections not set on God LUSTS.  (And he is not talking just about wrong sexual desires.)  We created beings were made by God to love Him first and foremost. And if we cannot say in all sincerity to God, “You alone are my portion, my treasure,” then whatever takes God’s rightful place as first in our hearts is a lust.  No surprise that feeding and investing my thoughts, fears, desires, and hopes in this cherished but dangerous affection has a deleterious effect on my soul.

Owen describes the condition of directing our beloved and best thoughts elsewhere as ‘a drinking up the spirit and all the vigor of one’s soul’.  The result?  A dark cloud barrier between me and God, blocking all the beams of love and favor from God to me, an adopted daughter.

When I read that yesterday, I realized that one of my pet sins, a ‘péché mignon’ as the French call it, is the ‘if-only’ game. This is where I imagine a better circumstance than the one I’m ‘stuck’ in.  This is sin. And yes, it displeases God, as does all sin.  In essence, when I wish for a different scenario than the one God has given me, I am declaring:  Where you have placed me, the boundary lines you have set for me, the details of my life are NOT good, Father!  If only they were other, I would be happier or more at peace or more content.

What presumption and what a slap in the face of the all-wise and all-good God.

This is sin! This is lust and John Owen says I need to be killing it every day.  That is, if I want the vigor and comfort that are mine by rights as an adopted child of God, whom Jesus rescued and transplanted through his life and death.

These lusts grow stronger the more I fantasize about them.  My thoughts do carry energy; they are fertilizer, ‘Miracle-Gro’ to whatever I direct them.

So what are we to do practically?  How do we kill lust?

Mike and I are going through a very difficult trial.  Like a lot of suffering, we don’t understand it and in this case, don’t know yet what to do.  In our God-centered moments we think and pray like King Jehosophat when he and his people faced the imminent attack of a horde of Edomites: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12

But more than I like to admit I invest time in feeding the ‘if-only’ lust.  So as I read John Owen yesterday the Holy Spirit showed me how readily I elevate ‘fixing this situation or eliminating this suffering’ to the number one place in my life, above God.  The desire for a life without this ‘whatever’ can dominate my prayers and thoughts.

‘But isn’t that natural?’ you might say.  Yes! but just because it is natural doesn’t make it less of a sin.  As believers, we are commanded to walk or live by the Spirit, not by the flesh.

I am finding that a good remedy for this wrong thinking is our Lord’s Prayer.  After all, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He gave them this content and model.

So when I shift my thoughts UP to what really matters eternally – Praying for God to be honored and worshipped by everyone, for His will to be done everywhere and for His kingdom to come NOW those small, self-centered fantasies of peace and good I have indulged pale.  Next, as I pray through the Lord’s Prayer, I am retrained to ask for what I need this day – basic necessities, forgiveness, and protection.  Does God, my Father, NOT care about the suffering and trials He has sent and what we are to do?

Yes, He does! He commands me to trust Him and to hand them over.  He is using them for my ultimate good and will resolve them when and how He deems best.  For now, I am to get back to His priorities – Loving Him and my neighbors.

This is the weeding, the killing of sin that John Owen describes as a believer’s duty.  And not just duty, but the way to enjoy God’s favor, His strength, comfort and peace that He WANTS me to experience.

Thank you, Father, for inspiring and using these Puritans to instruct not just their contemporary flocks but generations of believers who have followed.

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