Exercising the right muscles….

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Weights

I don’t like working out.  Whether it’s with the weights above or just my daily trek.

In fact, I dread that strenuous cove walk here in the mountains of western North Carolina. Yes, it’s beautiful and the trees and birds point to God’s glory.  But the average incline is 13% and my route takes me up and down the gravel roads.  It never gets easier.

I thought about the difficulty of my daily routine, rereading that Hebrews truth (12:11)…

  • No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Boy, does THAT describe my early mornings – Unpleasant but worth it!

From that reflection, it’s easy to connect to God’s training plan for our character. He uses suffering and difficulties of all stripes to build up our faith and hope muscles.  Just look at what these many God-sent trials accomplish for us:

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The 4 verbs listed are powerful encouragements to persist through the God-ordained ‘workouts’.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I love looking up the Greek or Hebrew words to help me understand God’s teachings. So here’s a glimpse of some of God’s many purposes in designing our suffering along with what He promises to do through or by means of the difficult times:

  • Restore – this verb sometimes gets translated as ‘to perfect’.  It means to kit out, equip completely.  Obviously I lack qualities God deems necessary and can only be given me through hanging onto Him when tested.
  • Confirm – you can see the ‘firm’ part of the verb.  Troubles endured in Christ are the means to set us fast, to fix or place us more ‘immovably’ than we’ve been.
  • Strengthen – means just what we think – to make us vigorous in our minds and hearts.  Think resolute and determined!
  • Establish – to ground, shore up the foundation.  Imagine a house being constructed in a hurricane or earthquake-prone area.  The structure of the building would be reinforced and enhanced to withstand intense natural thrashings.  We, too, need this kind of bracing that will not give out.  Strengthening trials ready us for greater ones, kind of like skirmishing with the Varsity team grows the JV team’s abilities.

Do any of us like trials?  NO!!!!

But just as you and I recognize the value gained from physical workouts, let us not fight the spiritual and emotional training that our good God ordains for us.  Besides, we have a workout partner meant to encourage us at all times.  This Comforter will bear us up when the struggles are too much.  The truth is, our faith grows best amidst storms.  Think of giant trees, windswept and battered, strengthened through the storms.  Think of pearls, formed by the irritating grains of sand within an oyster.

So, I say to you just as I have to remind myself: God means my circumstances for good. Fighting against Him just makes us tired!

Suffering – a daily reality

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“Expect suffering every day”   – so says Tullian Tchividjian in his book Glorious Ruin – How Suffering Makes You Free.

Just that concept, that suffering is part of daily life, is liberating.   I have spent too much energy trying to ward off suffering, rather than relaxing in the knowledge that Jesus is with me in my daily trials.

Maybe you share some of these false ideas that I have entertained:

  • if my suffering isn’t as bad as starving children, persecuted Christians, languishing prisoners, tsunami-victims, cancer patients, then it doesn’t count
  • if I pray effectively enough, I can block or mitigate the suffering in the lives of those whom I love
  • suffering is to be avoided
  • if I’m suffering, then God is either absent, doesn’t care, can’t do anything or  just is not good

As I have written before, I wouldn’t have chosen or planned ANY of the suffering in my life, but I do see the blessings that have come to me from

  • eating disorders
  • anxiety issues
  • marriage problems
  • money crises
  • perplexing parenting decisions and situations
  • fears of POOR parenting
  • inadequacies I have seen and still see in myself
  • consequences of bad decisions
  • relational pain that I have caused friends and family members because of my sin
  • spiritual ups & downs
  • being fired once
  • receiving a poor performance review at a former school
  • pets and parents who have aged and died
  • lost dreams

And so now, in the present moment, as I currently suffer with

  • a dying cat
  • a rough start in a new school
  • a tighter budget
  • doubts about my abilities in all my roles with others

…….I remind myself that just as there were past blessings that flourished in the soil of suffering,  God has good (what the Hebrews call TOV) planned for me that will be revealed in the current pain.  Therefore,  I strengthen myself in the Lord with His promises of present help and future grace.  Here are just 4 of many, many great proclamations from our loving and all-wise Father:

  • Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10) 
  • No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11b) 
  • Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1: 2-4)
  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of _______(whatever the circumstance) _______ for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deut 31:6)

What promises of God are YOU clinging to?

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