when troubled

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.

James 5

Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

Job 5

Trouble is a part of life. We probably do well to gear ourselves for it. At the same time, we want to enjoy life, and gearing for trouble means we learn to be blessed in the midst of it. But with the blessing of God. Although there are especially difficult times when all sense of blessedness might seem to be gone.

Trouble they say can either embitter us, or make us better. But as James points out, and as we see in Job’s response to his great trouble, we should be inclined to call on God for help, and for God’s answer. And hopefully through it we will find God’s blessing not unlike Jacob did when he wrestled the angel of God, and was actually wrestling God himself (Genesis 32).

Little do we know the possible blessing of being in trouble. We want to avoid trouble like the plague, but instead, we need to be open and receptive to whatever God might be doing through it.

Above all, as James tells us, we need to dial down and simply pray. Refuse to take matters in our own hands. And wait on the counsel of God in answer to prayer, perhaps through others, through the word, or directly to us. Most likely in ways we can hardly trace, but with confidence that God will guide us and help us through all the troubles of this life ultimately to experience his grace to his glory in and through Jesus.

who sets the agenda of our lives?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There are many things we could be doing today, probably many we could well say that we should be doing. There is no shortage of the imposed demands and oughts of life, indeed largely a part of our lifestyle as Americans, more or less shared in many other places of relative affluence.

In the story above, the two sisters are often compared: one doing well, and the other not so well. And there is truth in that. But if one backs up and looks at the bigger picture, one finds that the Martha who didn’t do so well, ends up with a faith as strong, one might think even stronger than her sister Mary, in the end. Although only the Lord can sort such things out. Our personalities, gifts from God, and circumstances, and precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives at a specific time, all factor in. So we must beware of thinking we know. For Martha’s faith during the time of their brother Lazarus’s death in a remarkable account, see John 11.

Don’t underestimate the place of rest and quiet, and seeking to listen to the Lord. Busyness and activity seem to be the default of our day, especially work related, things that need to get done. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked, either. But we need to be careful, lest we substitute what God might want to do, and maybe wants us to do (or not do), with our own agendas.

In all of this, we can look for and trust in God’s help in directing us. Especially through the pages of scripture, through the church, and over time in changing us from certain tendencies, to something better. All of this, in and through Jesus.

accepting limitations in good faith

We dream big, then life happens. There’s a certain sadness in that. I like our Pastor Jeff Manion’s thought, the title of his new book:

dream big,
think small

This is the title also of a sermon series starting in February, of which we got a card, with a further explanation on it: “Exploring the power of daily faithfulness.” In fact he gave a message yesterday at our weekly chapel service on this very thing, citing Samuel of old as an example, along with Fred Rogers (of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood“) as pristine examples of faithfulness over many years, resulting in something profound, exponentially beyond the many moments of being present and doing the ordinary, mundane things of life daily.

I titled this post, “accepting limitations in good faith,” because I see out of faithfulness over time, God can do remarkable things, not necessarily obvious to the naked eye. We in Jesus see with the eye of faith; “we live by faith, not by sight,” not just in regard to the life to come, but also with reference to this present life. So that we accept all its in and outs, ups and downs, and the fact that it is only so long, and we look for God in all of that.

There are some traditions which accentuate the miraculous, and great experiences, what we often call great highs. For example people go off to some weekend event, are pumped up, and then primed as they go back home to change their world, to at least do better. That could have its place, but by and large all of life happens mostly in the boring, and sometimes even frustrating, often thankless tasks of everyday living.

And more important than the things we do, as important as that is, is who we are, and our faithful presence. I realize that often I really have nothing much if at all to offer, except to be present and listen and participate in that way, as well as do whatever needs to be done in that place and time. In the process of all of this, God is at work in Jesus, to make a world of difference, us playing our small yet important part in that along with others, in and through Jesus.

 

taking on the challenge

Are there times when one can’t see the light of day, and would just as soon give up? Or when there’s not much more than going through the motions, trying to keep up well what one has to do, but nothing more than that? We live in a world in which it’s easy to lose hope.

For the Christian, the follower of Christ, there is the call to lay down one’s life for Jesus and the gospel. And a key for that is prayer. We’re to pray that the message of the gospel might go forward, and we’re to show by our lives the difference that gospel makes. And be ready to answer anyone in a conversation, on our part “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4).

We have to learn that through the worst, God is able to work, in fact it is often through the bad, troubled times, that God does his work. Of course it is through our weakness that Christ’s strength is made known, or “perfect” (2 Corinthians 12).

And so that is my own determination. To walk right through the hard places in order to fulfill God’s calling for us in Christ, no matter how hard that might be. It is a challenge, to be sure. But the way in Christ is the way of suffering for his sake, and for the gospel. We carry on, because we want to see God’s good will break through in difficult circumstances, and lives impacted and turned around through the gospel.

in spite of the weaknesses, pressing on

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Philippians 3

If Paul had a sense of having not arrived in this life in his pursuit of Christ and God’s will for him in Christ, than how much more will that be true of us? I might seem to get over something well, and be making good progress in something else, only to find myself spinning my wheels and failing over yet another thing, soon after that.

Of course if we will only hang in there and persevere, we will find that even our seeming (along with actual) setbacks can serve to help us toward full maturity in Christ (James 1).

In the midst of it all, we should have one goal, one passion, one thing we do. And in the context of the entire letter of Philippians, that one thing is not about us, but about Christ, and looking after his interests, and not our own. And Christ’s interest is other people, the gospel being central in all of this.

And so I carry on, humbled further when it seems like something new is exposed in me, as if God withdrew his hand of grace a bit in my life in a certain way so as to expose and then work on something else in my life, which actually would be all a part of God’s grace. And though God who began the good work in us, is also the one who will carry it on to completion for the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6), we too, to some extent are to be involved in that work, in fear and trembling working out the salvation which God is working in us, in and through Jesus.

seeing through the disappointments and hardships to the blessings

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

In our broken world in which if something can go wrong, chances are it might, we need to learn to look for and find the blessings. In the many little things, as well as all that doesn’t go wrong. And yes, somehow even in the wrongs themselves.

A key for us in this is somehow to believe that God is at work in some way perhaps unimaginable to us, that if we were told, we might not even be able to appreciate. We can appreciate the general point which we are told in the passage above: God is at work in everything in our lives, to make us like his Son, into his family likeness, as his daughters and sons, as well as sisters and brothers. And that surely doesn’t mean that all will be glum; in fact it surely includes something of the opposite which we could experience no where else, nor in any other way. We get to experience the joy of God: the joy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, a communal, as it were, family kind of joy. As together we are shaped more and more into the full humanity which is in Jesus.

And so we look for that joy, and for the good, even in the midst of the difficulties, what might not be so good, even what might be evil. We choose to find the good hand of God at work for good in everything. And to look for the blessings, big and small. Certainly to be enjoyed by us, and shared with others in and through Jesus.

the invitiation to the Sabbath rest in Jesus

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

Recently on Discover the Word, Elisa Morgan helped me see the possible connection in the above passage between Jesus’s relationship with the Father and our relationship with Jesus. You have to sort of read between the lines and gather it in, but actually it is clear when one reads all of the gospel accounts, particularly the gospel according to John.

I love the fact that just as Jesus, the Son was completely dependent on the Father, even while being deserving of equal honor with his Father (John 5:23), so we too are to be and actually completely are dependent on the Son (John 15).

In the passage quoted above from Matthew 11, Jesus is alongside us, pulling the weight himself, thus making it light to us. And yet we’re alongside with him in God’s work. Amazing.

Of course it’s an invitation in the first place. An invitation to everyone who is weary and burdened to find rest. And in that rest we somehow find the work we’re to do. Instead of trying to rest one day out of seven, which actually is a good thing, and I think we do well to try to practice that insofar as that’s possible, this is the Sabbath rest scripture speaks of (Hebrews 4). Something I want to understand and learn to live in better. Of course in and through Jesus.