utter dependence on God

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It’s interesting how time and time again in Scripture, we see God’s people have to push through in the midst of great weakness. I find it to be true that God meets us not when we might think we’ve arrived, but when we know we haven’t.

The point is not feeling like we can’t do it, but only that we can’t do it ourselves, in our own strength. Continuing on, seeking to be faithful to God’s call in dependence only on God. Which means we’ll often feel like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, so to speak. And always and forever entirely dependent on God. In and through Jesus.

shattering the freeze (of the “frozen chosen”)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Life is full of problems and sometimes you simply see yourself as trying to solve, or at least mitigate the problems. The question for us as Christians is simply how do we respond to trouble when it comes our way. Maybe the same thing over and over again, so that it’s naturally irritating to us.

God’s written word tells us what to do. Too often as Christians what we know and say we believe is not what we practice. It’s not like we can’t complain to God. See the psalms. But we need to practice rejoicing in God always, since God is God, being good, not to mention great, and is true to his promises. And to thank God again and again for all the blessings of life, for all of God’s goodness to us. And in the midst of that, as the passage above tells us, to pray, and to keep on praying.

We need to break through our natural reticence to do this. Just do what God tells us to do, and we’ll find God’s help in doing it. And then we need to keep doing this, forming a new pattern and practice that becomes a part of who we are, so that this becomes our natural response to the inevitable difficulties of life.

Something I’m in the midst of working on. In and through Jesus.

the value of difficulty

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to tremendous difficulties.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It is interesting how often some do well in life in spite of difficulties which could have easily put them on a different course. Probably with most of us it’s a mixture of the two. Because of stresses or problems we have faced, perhaps we have not done as well as we could have. But along with that, have found something we can excel in.

I think of community, and specifically the church. In China the church continues to grow by leaps and bounds, still under persecution. And the church in the southern hemisphere both in Africa and again in the east seems to be growing exponentially in number day after day. There’s something to be said for that as we see in the book of Acts. Of course we don’t just want growth in numbers, but in spiritual depth as well.

Meanwhile the church in the west is either dying, or just holding its own with some exceptions to the rule, but even those exceptions at the current time seeing declining growth. Could it be that like arguably Europe in the past, this is becoming a Laodicean age for the church in the northern hemisphere, rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing (Revelation 3)?

For faith to be real faith, one’s life must be on the line. Of course when people first come to faith in Christ, they are not necessarily going to see that implication that is present. But they will learn to see it over time. God by the Spirit will not let us off the hook. Of course one’s eternal life is taken care of. But all of life is to be included in our utter dependence on God. So that when we’re up against it through whatever difficulties we face we must learn to commit it all to God and press on ahead, regardless. Following Christ means doing so no matter what.

So today that is my stand. To push ahead in faith, and do the best I can regardless of what I face. And to do so, thanking God for his promises and provision for us along the way in everything in and through Jesus.

life in the pressure cooker

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

Have you ever noticed how through the difficulties and pressures of life you grow, but when things are easy, you can flounder? I speak for myself in saying that I readily identify with that thought.

Fortunately life is quite full in terms of both challenges and responsibilities. It is good to learn how to rest well, even to relax and enjoy, in fact probably more vitally important than what we think. I remember our Lord’s words to his disciples, “Come apart, and rest awhile.” They weren’t able to rest for long, though, with the clamoring crowds all around them.

I turn again and again to scripture, to God’s word especially when I feel under siege, but I want to do so through thick and thin. We can do that no matter what we’re facing, certain of God’s faithfulness through it all. Even in the trials, that God is at work for good. Therefore we need to hang in there, hang tough even in our weakness through the difficulties. Confident of a good outcome in and through Jesus.

embracing weakness

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I don’t think we naturally embrace weakness of any kind. And we may well feel threatened by such.

The Apostle Paul struggled with it himself. Whatever the weakness was that he begged for the Lord to remove, it was most certainly nothing less than “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” which tormented him. Maybe it was from the stoning he had survived, not to mention all the other troubles because of his witness. Whatever the case, he learned to accept and even delight in such. Because instead of Paul being strong, the Lord was strong in Paul’s weakness.

This is vital for us too, as followers of Jesus. That we would not shun whatever weakness we have, but accept it. Of course I’m not talking about weakness in terms of giving in to sin. Though when we commit even that to God for forgiveness and cleansing, God can change us over time and encourage others who so struggle through our witness.

This must be a continual attitude, not just one that comes and goes. I can’t hold on to strength and live by that today, and then embrace whatever weakness comes to the fore tomorrow. I must hold on to this attitude of embracing weakness in order that I may experience Christ’s strength instead of my own. That Christ might be seen in me for his sake and for the gospel.

what we want (not)

When we look at our lives for whatever reason, many probably good, we might like to see something different. I’m thinking in terms of wealth, work (although I’m thankful for the good work I have), circumstances (not spouse or family). Jesus warned about how hard it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom. It’s not easy being poor either, though it may help them in terms of coming to have faith in God.

What is futile for us is to want something we don’t have to the point that we think life is essentially over, that good which may have come out of it has passed us by. We need to keep reading scripture again and again.

Did the Apostle Paul, par excellence follower of Christ have an easy road? He shared just how difficult it was and we have a good look at that in Acts. And in his next breath he helps us understand that our strength is actually in our weakness, as difficult as that may be for us to accept. It was certainly difficult for him, but he was thankful in the end.

We must go on, simply trusting in God in and through Jesus. That God is at work in our weakness, in our circumstances, in all of life for our good and his glory. We must keep on keeping on. Eyes fixed on Jesus to the very end.

when life is hard

I am happy for all the parts of life that are enjoyable, relaxing, or at a nice even pace, even in the midst of work. There are those rough spots, those hard places in which one is simply trying to stay afloat and survive. On top of that there can be a spiritual struggle or warfare going on which can seem like a slap in the face.

Jordan Seng makes the helpful point in his helpful book, Miracle Work: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Supernatural Ministries, that the aspect of life being hard is meant to help us to grow stronger, in our faith and spirituality. That is an encouragement for sure, which we all need. Our pastor Jack has taught us that God indeed does give us more than we can handle so that our reliance might be on God, and not on ourselves. 1 Corinthians 10:13 does not mean that God gives us only what we can handle in and of ourselves. God wants to stretch us to help us grow, in and through Jesus. 2 Corinthians (see 1:8-11) clearly confirms that.

I like the rest, physically and spiritually. As I get older I find it all the more important to pace myself. There will be those times which are most challenging, in which we will be pushed, and which sometimes may not work out that well for a time, for one reason or another. All of that can and should be a part of our development and growth into Christ-likeness, maturity in him.

And of course this is not only an individual matter, but one that is together with others in Christ’s body. We are in this together. In mission in and through Jesus by the power of the Spirit, to the world.