the deep sadness of life

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

John 17:13

I am reminded too often of the tragedy of living in this world, often senseless, seemingly heartless tragedy of such. Except that I believe there’s a heart of love that somehow beats behind it all.

Jesus’s prayer to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion is so deep, worth pondering, and a fitting climax to all that precedes in his “upper room discourse” to his disciples. And the part of the prayer quoted above is especially moving to me. Life is a struggle, marked at times with deep sadness. But in the midst of that, we can have our Lord’s joy, even the full measure of such within us.

Admittedly the sense of that ebbs and flows, and for me too often just seems absent. But I believe it is something that can more and more mark our lives, as we simply press on in faith, seeking to follow our Lord in everything.

In the meantime we have to face the fallout of this world, all the issues and problems. Like our Lord we can pray. In fact there’s nothing greater we can do than that. I do well oftentimes to quit doing anything to change things for better, because if that’s all I do, then whatever change for good that might happen probably has little to do with what I do, in fact at least somewhat in spite of it. But if I get out of the way and pray, maybe the Lord might help me say or do something which actually helps. But I really don’t need to do anything except pray. It is God’s work.

And throughout all of life, God is with us in Jesus. Our Lord’s full measure of joy no less being our own. In and through Jesus.

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a breathtaking, life-giving passage

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

John 4:1-42

This passage is fascinating on many levels. On the surface, it also seems strange. After all, Jesus ends up talking to a Samaritan woman, which in itself is outside the norm. And while she knew and seemed to respect her religious tradition, her life certainly didn’t line up with that, having had five husbands, and the man she was then living with, not being her husband.

It’s interesting how in their conversation which turned into so much more than Jesus’s genuine request for a drink of water from the well, as one should expect when entering into a conversation with Jesus, she really had no clue at what Jesus was getting at. Thinking somehow that the “living water” he was telling her about might make it unnecessary for her to quench any physical thirst. He presses on, their conversation moving into religious matters, where the Samaritans worshiped (Mount Gerizim) as opposed to where the Jews worshiped (the temple in Jerusalem). Jesus said the Jews unlike the Samaritans knew who they worshiped, because salvation was from the Jews. Jesus then said that in the future, and even in the present then, that would be neither here nor there. That the Father seeks worshipers who worship him in the Spirit and in truth. And then she mentions that when Messiah comes, he would explain to them everything. Jesus tells us that he, the one she is speaking to, is the Messiah.

She runs off, even leaving her water jar behind as a witness to her townsfolk. That he had told her that she has had five husbands, the man living with her now, not being her husband. That he had even acknowledged that he is the Messiah. And she exclaims, “Could this be the Messiah?”

Many Samaritans end up believing her both because of her word, and also because of Jesus’s own words after they sought him out.

Such a rich passage. Jesus’s passion, as told to his disciples, that his food was to do the will of him who sent him, and to finish his work. And that the harvest was right in front of them, and ready for the picking.

This passage picked me up when I needed it. Such events told, along with the words accompanying it, lift one up into a different plane, so to speak. Certainly encouraging us, but more than that, helping us to hear or sense from God the direction we’re to take. Even as we aspire to be the worshipers the Father seeks. In and through Jesus.

good and bad times

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.

Ecclesiastes 7:14

Somehow God is at work in the world. For good always, but sometimes it unfolds in what’s bad for humans. The book of Ecclesiastes is steeped in mystery, part of why I like it. It deals with real life, not some fanciful make-believe romantic notion. Life can be the pits. And yet the good times roll as well.

Both are certain, the timing is not. Humankind is involved in all of this. We make bad choices; we get bad results. God’s grace can relieve some of that. And even good times will come. What is not certain is just what’s up next.

Being aware of this can help relieve us of the notion that things will always remain the same in this life. They won’t. Trouble and the stress which accompanies it will come. But so will the good times. It’s something that we simply have to accept and learn to live with. So that we while we enjoy them, we don’t get too up or complacent during good times. And when things are difficult, we don’t get too down, but accept that as a matter of course, that it’s simply the way life is.

Though we can’t know the future, we can rest in the truth that God is sovereign over it all.

 

 

the kind of help God gives

Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:8-12

For whatever reason, many of us can find ourselves in a pinch, maybe a pickle. Of course no one escapes trouble. It will come regardless. Some of it can be self-inflicted for sure.

The psalms have many instances of people in trouble, even complaining to God about their lot, or about life. I’ve picked up from some that to be worked up emotionally over a matter which affects us is unacceptable. What actually is unacceptable is when we don’t handle such times well. And the psalms over and over again give us examples of people turning to God in the midst of such trouble, emotionally spent (and spending).

The perspective in the passage quoted above is helpful. It’s good to consider it in the context of the entire psalm of course (link above and here). It’s instructive how God is at work for our good even in what in itself is not good. But God isn’t just at work to bring us through it, essentially out of it. But for our good, to make us better human beings, more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). In the end God indeed wants to bless us, and make us a blessing. But a big part of the blessing is the impact for good as a result of our response to the trouble. If we look to God in faith and keep doing so, God will be at work in that way. We have to be willing to go through the trouble in faith, not just escape it.

It may be perturbing at times, but part of the beauty of the above passage is that it’s specific in an instructive kind of way, while being general enough to encompass all kinds of situations and people. It is best to meditate and pray on it, and go from there. Scripture is for life, no less. God will see us through as we look to him. Not just to get past the trouble, solving the problem. But to change us through it. Yet at the same time yes, to help us, to see us through. In and through Jesus.

accepting the hard things from God

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job lost his children, his wealth, and his health. Yet he accepted not only the good he had once had from God, but the trouble as well, yes, even as from God. In the Hebrew mindset both good and evil came from God, we would say the evil passing through God’s hands, even though God is never the source of it. Although somehow God uses it, and even somehow, we might say, engineers it for good. In ways we could never imagine, and aside from grace are not able to appreciate at all.

Job’s story is certainly unfathomable, well beyond most anyone’s experience on earth. But that should serve us as an example to us of God’s goodness in the midst of whatever trouble we face, even as James points out (James 5:11). Job’s perseverance in all the brokenness continued on, even as his comforters proved to be mistaken, and Job himself ultimately exonerated by God (Job 42:7-9). After he received revelation from God which made him realize that he didn’t know what he was saying, what God was up to, that being well beyond him.

Accepting trouble from God involves casting all our cares on God, because we know God cares for and about us.

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55:22

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

That can take some effort on our part. It is certainly about faith, but simple prayer, and persevering in that way can make all the difference. God answers, and will give us the help we need, the grace to see us through.

It is no fun in itself, but God will be with us as we accept all the trouble that comes our way, learning to cast all our cares on God, trusting in him. Seeking the help we need from others in Jesus when necessary and appropriate, through their prayers and whatever they might be able and willing to do. That, too. But essentially learning to accept the hard things from God ourselves. In and through Jesus.

 

Paul’s chronic condition: the thorn in the flesh

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. 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.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Yesterday I was thinking about the passage I really don’t like to go back to, but find that I should at times, this passage right here. The point I would like to make today for myself, and for anyone who might read this, is that Paul’s condition here was indeed chronic. It’s not like every moment he was tormented, not at all. But that he carried with him some condition which at any moment could be the source of experiencing that torment.

My own “thorn in the flesh” I think is at least largely anxiety. Which is the root of various manifestations. Your’s could be something else entirely different. Sometimes we can’t figure out why we struggle the way we do. Different factors are involved, surely complex. But the reality of our struggle cannot be ignored. We are all creatures of experience. Our life is lived there, of course. Not in thoughts, or things in our head, though they factor in for good or for ill.

Again, Paul’s condition was chronic. He couldn’t wish it away, ignore it, or even pray it away, as we see in the passage. It was present for a reason. The bottom line is that he had to learn to trust God in it, yes, in it. And that ended up being the source of great blessing to and through him for others. Notice too that Paul factored in with that thorn every weakness or problem in his life. Ironically the very problems that could have been his downfall ended up being his strength through God’s grace.

This is an encouragement to me. Instead of resisting it in the form of seeing it as practically choking the life out of me, which I think is at least half my problem, I want to increasingly learn to trust God in it, seeing it in fact as part of God’s grace to me. And not necessarily in the sense of passing through and out of it. Paul surely had that thorn his whole life long. The idea being that God sees us through with it to the very end, bringing good and blessing out of it for others, as well as for ourselves. In and through Jesus.

the thorn in the flesh: my reluctant go-to passage

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. 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.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

One of my favorite parts of the recent Paul, Apostle of Christ film was their treatment of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and showing how it tormented him all of his life as a Christ-follower. And how that was addressed immediately after he was beheaded. Love is the only way I can describe my reaction to that. What they chose as his thorn in the flesh was a possibility I had never heard of before, and was rather compelling, at least for the film. But the main point is beside the point of what it actually may have been. The fact of the matter is that everyone who seeks to follow Christ will be living in opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we will experience opposition in terms of what is expressed in scripture from the devil, the demonic. And like Paul, these are actually allowed into our lives to keep us from becoming proud, which for reasons far less than Paul’s we are all too prone to become. To keep us humble, and dependent on Christ, and I would add, interdependent on each other.

I am faced with this myself, maybe not as much as in the past, yet it seems to come crashing in on me just as hard, usually in one form in my life. I think there is genius so to speak behind the concealing of what specifically Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him, was. We simply can’t say for sure. There has been more than one reasonable answer. That means whatever it is that torments us as we seek to follow Christ, we can chalk up as something of the same, in fact our thorn in the flesh. Flesh could mean physical weakness, but in scripture it’s most basic meaning is one’s life. It may involve some physical debilitation or weakness, but doesn’t have to, and I would go so far to think, most often doesn’t. What it doesn’t mean is out and out sin. We deal with everything, and especially our sin through Christ’s death for us, confessing it, and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing as part of our ongoing walk in Jesus.

Who likes to be tormented? In the film as I recall Paul seems to be frequently tormented in his thoughts, and clearly in his dreams. And yes torment is a good word to capture this experience. I don’t so much dread it, myself, as simply hate going through it. Going through it is a good way to describe what it’s like for me. For Paul it may have been more chronic, ongoing, something present with him all the time. I tend to think so. My weakness which gives rise to this activity in my life is certainly as close to me as the next thought, which could hit me at any time when all was well, or okay before.

It’s the experience part which frankly I hate. Life is hard enough in itself, without having to feel miserable, yes tormented inside. But it seems in part what at least some of us who are believers in Christ will be up against in this life.

The necessity of hanging in there by faith, and knowing that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness is key here. We realize that God is at work in this malady, even when the source of it is from the evil one, the demonic. The world and the flesh in the sense of unredeemed humanity and creation included.

To come back to this passage, and yes, the entire book of 2 Corinthians, but especially this passage is always helpful for me. To remember that the Lord in love is at work in our lives in a way that helps us live as he did, in weakness, even the weakness of the cross (see the end of 2 Corinthians). Not where we want to go, except that there we find the Lord’s power at work in our own lives, and through us into the lives of others.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to say to some degree along with Paul that I have learned to embrace my weaknesses at least much more since in them I find Christ’s grace and power, and learn to be strengthened in that awareness and reality. In and through Jesus.