the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.

 

 

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what’s next?

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

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. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:1-8

James was probably the best known pastor of the early church, certainly of Jerusalem. And as such, he was a pastor at heart. You can tell from the way he starts out the letter from him we have in our Bibles in the New Testament. He wastes no time, but gets to the trials believers face. The trials of many kinds covers it all: any kind of trial.

James takes more of a constructive than comforting approach. They’re to consider it pure joy because of the maturity it can bring. Namely because it tests their faith which leads to endurance or perseverance, which leads to mature well rounded out character.

The testing of one’s faith is related to seeing that it is genuine through and through. We can have a saving faith, enough to be forgiven and enter into life. But God wants more, and in our heart of hearts as God’s children, so do we.

Nevertheless a trial is a trial. It’s not something that in and of itself we’re going to like. And James expresses that there are many kinds of them which intimates that perhaps we will receive quite a few ourselves. The critical point is our faith essentially meaning our trust in God and God’s promises to us in Scripture. Everything stands or falls over our faith or lack thereof.

But it’s good to hold the big picture in view, in fact that’s what James’s words tell us. Faith results in perseverance which results in character. That’s more constructive to me than comforting, though we might say it’s something of both. And more of that comes when James points to the needed wisdom we can receive from God in answer to prayer. With the additional thought that if we fail to believe that the generous, gracious God will give us that wisdom, then we will remain stuck in whatever condition we’re in.

Perhaps we need to work on the very first point then all else will more easily follow. That is, we’re to count such pure joy. Instead of shrinking in horror, or whatever our conditioned response is from such experiences over the years. Knowing what God says the outcome will be, and what we’re to do in the meantime.

Everything we need is present in this passage. As we go on from day to day in this life in and through Jesus.

waiting for the change to come

“If only you would hide me in the grave
    and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
    and then remember me!
If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard service
    I will wait for my renewal[e] to come.
You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

Job 14:13-17

I’m not sure, but I like the NIV choice within the context here of “renewal” over “release” (NIV footnote). I would vote that direction, given the book of Job and its context. Job was wrestling through with a hope before God, but understandably feeling hopeless and in despair.

It is easy to despair when one considers their own weaknesses and shortcomings. And that can turn into a vicious cycle which actually feeds on itself and makes matters worse.

While I think I’ve experienced some substantial change over the years, I want more change in my life. It seems mostly all incremental, so gradual, so that it’s easy to miss any change that has occurred. And ironically the more light we receive and live in, the more acutely aware we are of the dark spots left in our character and conduct. Sometimes in just lacking what we wished we had, but too often in displaying thoughts and attitudes not worthy of Christ.

In the case of Job, and ourselves, that doesn’t mean there isn’t much good. Job was acknowledging his offenses and sin here, but he was a man of faith and good character, as we see from the entire book in the way he conducts his arguments, even if they may not be entirely blameless. It’s degree. Any misstep by those further along is more egregious.

I want to bracket this post dealing briefly with the charge that such considerations are mere navel gazing, just being all taken up with one’s character while not caring about the world at large both close and further removed. Can’t it be a case of being concerned with both? Actually in Job’s case he certainly was. He defended the cause of those who needed it, as we see from the book. A big part of the problems in the world is lack of character. And before we decry everyone else, we must see to ourselves.

The hope Job expresses is after this life. We know that when we see Jesus we’ll become like him entirely, since we’ll see him as he is (1 John 3). And somehow we’ll be completely open to not only reflecting that light, but being transformed by it. That actually does begin now insofar as we see Jesus by the Spirit through the gospel.

I look forward to my own change to come. I’m tired of myself, of my deficiencies. I look to God to help me grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. And I look forward to the day when all struggle in the way we do now will cease. My sins covered and removed, and with others set free to live completely in God’s love then by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

 

trials, an open door

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. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:2-8

Trials seem to come like a door slammed in our face. I don’t care for any of them myself. But I’m beginning to learn the problem is more in my reaction than in the actual trial itself. Not at all to diminish the problem of the trials, and especially some of them. Usually they don’t involve life changes, but sometimes they do. You can be sure that the Lord does not think lightly of our trials; in all our distresses, he too is stressed (Isaiah 63:9).

It’s my reaction that’s the problem. I might take it to God in prayer, but at the same time act as if the answer to the problem depends entirely on me, that somehow I have to get to the bottom of it. It’s not like we throw our brain away, and toss knowledge to the wind. But where does our dependence lie? As Bill Gaultiere pointed out, we can either do it our way, or Jesus’s way, the way our Lord would direct us to do it.

James tells us to count it all joy because trials open up a door for us toward maturity in Christ. We’re especially glad when we get through them on the other side. But even when we enter them, as an act of faith we need to thank God for what God is going to bring about through them. That is part of the necessary answer: not just what God is able to do, but our reception of that through faith.

Often I’ve left James’s words about doubt out when reflecting on this passage, but I include them here because after all, they’re in the text. There can be the struggle of faith as it’s been called, and it’s not like we’re not tempted to doubt. But we need to act in faith apart from our feelings and how we’ve been conditioned to see everything so negatively and apart from God. As we ask the Lord for needed wisdom, we believe in him, that he will generously give it to us. And instead of doubting, we open ourselves up to receive that help from the Lord.

Something I’m working on myself. In and through Jesus.

back to basics: knowing firsthand

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

It is amazing how much help is available online nowadays. You can find something of whatever you might imagine, and it’s usually helpful. I would hardly know where to begin, but I’m impressed with The Bible Project. The Our Daily Bread devotional along with Bible Gateway is helpful in getting us into the word, and I’ll add Bill Mounce’s site in getting into details of the Greek New Testament (and note his version of the New Testament on Bible Gateway.  There’s much more.

It’s fine to get help in knowing about something, but we can’t stop there. We need to get into it firsthand ourselves. For me that is simple as far as an ongoing day to day practice. I simply get into the word, Scripture, one line or thought at a time, meditating and praying over that. And along with that, I have a daily reading through an Old Testament passage, a Psalm (Psalm 119 I divide up according to section), a Sermon on the Mount or Sermon on the Plain reading, and a New Testament reading, one NIV heading at a time. At times I’ll work at reading through a section of Scripture. Though it’s more than I normally do at one sitting, last night I read through the book of Revelation. And certainly not least is hearing the teaching of God’s word Sunday after Sunday (or weekends) at the church gathering.

The goal in this is to taste the goodness of God for ourselves through God’s word. There’s absolutely no substitute for that. It’s good when other things help, but we must get into the word for ourselves. That we might grow in our faith with others toward full Christian, meaning Jesus-like maturity in and through Jesus.

 

breaking through “same old, same old” into new ground

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

We’re up against something that is either new, or maybe more likely something we’ve faced time and time again. And the experience of it has been nothing to write home about. Not good to say the least.

What if instead of accepting that kind of experience in the midst of trial, we determine right away to choose God’s will, specifically his promise given to us in Scripture? We do so by simply praying, looking to God in faith. We can’t expect our experience to change in an instant, but it will change.

And what can be underrated is the process itself. We are turning our face in a different direction entirely, away from the gloom and doom to God’s light. The effect of doing that will change us. And then we might be able to see some things that in the darkness we could not have possibly seen before. Persevering in endurance in that process, so that God might continue to grow us toward full maturity in and through Jesus.

what’s a loving parent to do?

As God’s children in Jesus, we often would like life to be easy, or at least easier. But instead, we find ourselves embroiled in the midst and mess of the world, the flesh, and the devil against Christ and Christians. Not to mention the fact that we have our own issues. A basic problem for most of us would be our propensity to not trust in God, but trust instead in ourselves, or someone or something else.

God could bail us out and make life grand. And some even advocate something like that in their teaching. But scripture teaches us that God is concerned about our growth into maturity in Christ, that we would become like God’s Son. And if even Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered (Hebrews 5), mysterious thought that is, then how can we think we will be exempt from such? Scripture over and over again tells us a different story.

God as a loving Father desires the very best for his children, nothing less. To learn how to swim, we must be in the water. To learn how to live well, we have to live in the real world. And basic to that in Christ is the necessity of learning to trust in God, an unreserved trust in the heavenly Father.

God as our loving Father wants that for us. What pleases God is faith (Hebrews 11), faith in him and in his word. Our effort alone won’t because we’re ever in need of God’s grace, God’s gift to us in Jesus. Faith in God’s word, the gospel in Jesus is essential. But even that is not enough. God wants us to totally trust in him. We might trust, yet hold back. We trust God for our salvation through Christ’s person and work, his life, death and resurrection, but we don’t trust God in the practical nuts and bolts of life. God lovingly looks on, but surely grieves over us. At times there are things not even God can do. God won’t override our will. It’s up to us to trust, to trust and obey.

Something I’m learning, even late in life as it is. Better late than never. In and through Jesus.