realizing and accepting our limitations

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a

As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14

I think it’s vitally important for us to accept our human limitations, as well as the limitations we have as individuals. And to look at reality in the face, and not try to escape it, or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Yes, we hurt. We’re impacted by weaknesses that we’re trying to overcome by faith, but we often slip back. We also have not arrived in this life so that we don’t sin, but because of God’s grace, we confess our sins, repent, and seek to find God’s way for us in Christ.

I think the older we get, the more we realize that we need each other. We’re all in this together. And as we get older we realize that our time is drawing near, as the days, weeks, months, years, and even decades simply escape us. Soon it will all be over. That underscores our complete dependence on God, who gave us life, new life in Christ, and on whom we depend for resurrection beyond this life.

But back to now. We are limited, frail, often weary and worn human beings. With many disappointments along the way, indeed some perhaps serious regrets. Made of clay, yet in God’s image. God in Jesus joining us in that. Never forgotten and continually loved in this life by the God who made and is remaking us. Yes, even while we groan and are sorrowful and struggle even in our faith at times. In and through Jesus.

accepting what’s unacceptable

…but [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Life is full of problems and possible dangers due to our human limitations as well as bad decisions. There’s no end to that. I love this passage, definitely one of my go to passages, because it opens the door to accepting what in and of itself is not acceptable. And that only because of God’s grace. 

Notice that it’s for Christ’s sake that we’re to accept weakness, not for our sake. We live for Christ, and find our joy in that. And we find Christ’s power resting on us as we do. Something hopefully that I can more and more accept and settle into. In and through Jesus.

 

“Not only are we saved by grace, but we are healed by grace.” —Caralyn of Beauty Beyond Bones

“It is comforting to know that God knows all and that He knows what is going to happen and that He will take us in His hands and carry us through life if we ask Him to. That’s grace. That’s the gift He gives. That’s the healing water.

“I know that His grace heals. I know this to be true. I know that His grace restores. Rebuilds. Uplifts. Encourages. Sustains. Comforts. Empowers. Rescues. It is the only way I have gotten through recovery, and gotten to where I am today. And I know this because I know myself. I know my weaknesses and struggles and just humanness. And I know that the only way I’ve been ten years strong in my recovery is because God has been giving me the grace to do so.

“Grace is one of those ‘churchy’ words that I’ve never really known how to define or what it really means, aside from the classic hymn standby, ‘Amazing Grace.’ But here goes my best attempt: Grace is God’s no-strings-attached help and strength that is freely given to us because we are too royally screwed up to get through this life on our own. Maybe? Or maybe this one: God’s free assistance so we don’t come to a complete and utter demise? Let’s just say, I’m working on my definition. But what I do know, is that His grace is the source of my recovery. And it will be the source of yours too.

“How did your heart feel reading those things that grace does? That it restores, sustains, empowers, etc. Do you want those things in your life? How would His grace impact your recovery? Does it scare you? What would happen if you just felt it wash over you? I dare you.”

Bloom, by Caralyn of Beauty Beyond Bones blog

Beauty Beyond Bones

living well in the well

Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.

I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.

But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.

The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.

We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called  “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).

And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).

turning setbacks into improvements

We are human, and we will make mistakes, and plenty of them. Sometimes though, we know better, but give into weaknesses. And then we can pay a pretty steep price depending on the gravity of the offense. Hopefully it’s not the great sin that David refers to in Psalm 51.

Whether it’s simply a learning process due to my limitedness as a human, or even if I have given into sin, I want good somehow to come out of it. Again, depending on the degree as well as what the particular offense is, there will be a certain amount of bad consequences that come out of sin, maybe largely imperceptible to us. We can surely ask God to at least counteract such consequences with good, and that is where the thought of this post comes in today, with a bit of a different slant.

I can look back on my life and see growth in some areas, and I’ve been wanting to see a breakthrough in one key area for me, the beginnings of which I think I’ve been stepping by faith into recently, even now. But I want to do better yet. In this is the need to discern God’s will, for sure. And part of that is to accept growth in incremental ways. We know we haven’t arrived, but we’re on our way to the goal, doing better.

To keep pushing toward the better, and the ideal in Christ, setbacks can help us. We need to keep in mind the lessons they bring in perhaps a Proverbs-like kind of wisdom, but not settle simply for knowing or understanding more, but for the life that such wisdom should give. We want to enter into that life more and more, the life to the full (and overflowing) that is in Jesus.

And so that is a big part of what I’m thinking about nowadays when I think about my own Christian spiritual formation. To learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins and be willing to take the more difficult path, and to be further ahead due to the setback experienced. The devil’s ploy being turned into the Lord’s play in conforming me along with others in him more and more into his image. That we might live increasingly in God’s will to his glory.

 

we are dust

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

The idea that we are dust is echoed throughout scripture. It is metaphorical for the truth that we humans are weak in ourselves. And that we are mortal, that we will die.

This is not to excuse sin. We have the knowledge and ability in and through Christ by the Spirit to not sin. We still do sin in this life, and when we do we need to confess it. But we do not have to give into sin.

But just the same, we are weak. That is why the Lord taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (or, the evil one).”

It is important to know this. We can’t just go on full tilt as if somehow we can do it, even through Christ. On the other hand we can, because Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

I see wonderful changes in my own life and in the lives of others in and through Jesus, to make us more like him. And yet I also see more work that needs to be done. And how we are not above or beyond falling into old sin, or old sin patterns. Though that ought to be exceptional and rare, and really not at all. On the other hand if we think we’re going to arrive to sinless perfection in this life, we have another thing coming. That neither lines up with scripture or our experience.

And so we need to live with this knowledge, so that we can live well, according to God’s will in Jesus. That means we must avail ourselves of what he provides for us in Jesus through the Spirit. N. T. Wright writes of “the virtuous circle” which consists of “scripture, stories, examples, community, practices.” That this is soaked in the Trinity, or God at work in Christ by the Spirit is presupposed. We need all of that, ongoing, in our lives in God in this world.

The Lord does give us his strength, even in our weakness. He does help us to turn away from sin to him. All is of grace in and through Jesus, and so we have hope in this life. We can overcome whatever has overcome us. Even as we go on to the end together in Jesus as dust. In the mission of God in Jesus for the world.