accept the struggle

You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the outcome that the Lord brought about, for the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

James 5:11b

I don’t know about you, but there have been not a few times in my life when I felt like I was simply doing nothing more than hanging in there, wanting to bail out, but remaining. And more than once during such times I’ve found the Lord’s help as I simply endured.

Life is full of struggles and just struggle in general. From big things to little nagging things which add up, to everything in between. We might as well settle on struggle, because as human beings that’s where we live, and in a true sense, all the more as followers of Christ. We are in this struggle together, so we need to keep praying for each other. And we need to accept the struggle for ourselves, just as Job did. Job found God faithful, in his case in even looking back through the struggle, but all of that because there was a release from it.

We learn a lot from the struggle and gain from it in ways which we can’t imagine. But only if we hang in there, and not bail out. God will help us through every part of it, with a good ending if we only endure and not let up. In and through Jesus.

to be down is not to be out (but in)

It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of everyone,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:9-10

This is not at all against those who have a sunny disposition and to whom the glass is always half full, never half empty. In fact, humankind and all of us are blessed by such people. But this is to acknowledge that we live in a sorrow full, broken existence and world.

I am more than weary and suspicious of “the good life” or “the dream.” Either can be good depending on what you mean. And it’s not like God doesn’t give us richly all things for our enjoyment. I enjoy my cup, I should say cups of coffee, and mostly classical music, and so much is enjoyable in this life. Getting home after a hard day of work, and even being partly in one’s element in the work itself. But if we’re not careful, we can be forgetful, maybe somehow in denial, and not attentive to the struggles and hurt around us. That is not good, actually not good even for us, and certainly not for those around us.

We lament over so much, with the accompanying mourning along with actual weeping that takes place. In that space we begin to sense something of God’s presence, healing and help. As we look to God’s answer in Christ not only to mend our own brokenness, but also to heal the woundedness of our loved ones, of those around us, yes, of the entire world. In and through Jesus.

are we improving?

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11

We are often enough painfully aware of faults and shortcomings. That we certainly don’t measure up to the full stature and perfection of Christ. I really don’t like to chalk that up to being fallen. Yes, we are still recovering from all that we were, referring to the bad and the ugly. But “in Christ” we’re a new creation already, but needing to live out what God is working in us. In the words of this Petrine letter quoted above, we’re to put our full effort into living out of the new divine nature in which we’re participants.

The question is: Are we improving? You certainly can’t tell that from day to day. It takes time, more like from year to year or more to notice improvements. But it’s good to note such.

We first need to be aware of our faults, and not just shrug them off and forget about it. But take it seriously, seeking to change. And in the words above: make every effort to support our faith with goodness, then on and on.

Where do we start? Right where we live, on the very thing that is troubling us, in which we’re not doing very well. Perhaps in our reactions to it and all that’s involved in that. We may keep it mostly to ourselves, but it is still troubling us inside. Whatever it is, we want to see improvement over time, change. And we’re very much involved in that, as the text indicates above. And the above passage implies that it is not only an individual effort, but involves community in Jesus.

Along with our own effort is God’s enabling. Yes, it’s a struggle. But God is present to make the needed difference. But we must participate in what God is doing, otherwise as the above text intimates, it will not take hold, it won’t do any good.

So let’s not give up and give in, but carry on, with all the effort we can muster. To become what we’re not, seeing change toward that. So that just as we realize we’re different in some ways, even if it’s a humble difference, then say a year ago, we’ll also see a difference a year from now, should we still be alive in this present existence. In and through Jesus.

being willing to go through the difficult and trying experiences of life

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Christ was willing to go through the most difficult parts of life, anything and everything we can imagine, as we’re told in the above passage, tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. He did this out of love for us, out of love for all humanity. And because of what Christ did, we can indeed say that God empathizes with us in our struggles, because God has experienced the very same things.

In our case, it helps us empathize with others when we go through the hard times, and when we struggle, even when we sin. We no longer look down on others because we know what it’s like, and know our need for help is every bit as great.

In the case of Jesus, through living the plain ordinary day to day life of a human, and experiencing an unjust, not to mention inhumane death, salvation is provided for all.

What encourages me in this is two-fold. Christ empathizes with me right where I live. And I can empathize with others where they live. Something encouraging to be taken out of the struggles and even failures in life. In and through Jesus.

accepting and being willing to go through the trial, and doing so to become more mature: itself a sign and mark of maturity

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

Trials are an inevitable part of life. We would rather not go through them, not face them, somehow be able to bail out. Some people attempt to do that, sometimes in unhealthy, even destructive ways. Or else we melt under the pressure, and don’t respond well at all. Or we allow the trial itself to have an effect on us which is not healthy.

What James is calling us to here is much better, but that doesn’t make it easy. A trial is still a trial. And going through it, the experience is not going to be a cakewalk, or anything thrilling. It might be more like chilling, but God is with us in Christ by the Spirit and through others in Jesus.

We do well to accept and be willing to go through it. At the same time asking for wisdom, and God’s help, even deliverance from it. What often gets us in a bad way here is the desire to go through a good experience, and not to have to struggle. We think what we’re going through surely comes across to others badly, and there’s no question, it’s no good as far as we’re concerned. We want to feel the love, peace, and joy of our Lord.

But God’s help will break through to us, if we learn to settle into what we have to go through, seeking to let the endurance that the testing of our faith can bring take full effect. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to get God’s answer and help concerning the trial itself. That itself is an important part of the maturing process. But while we do so, we refuse to squirm and try to wriggle our way out of it. Instead we accept it, we accept the element of simply having to endure, not enjoy something. If we hold on to that, God will not only see us through the trial itself, but will bring much good out of that. Even if we’re left with a limp from the experience.

One last word. I remember an esteemed professor from my past tell us something like, he thought that God especially values the effort of those who hold on to faith and persevere in the midst of great struggle, as compared to those who seem to joyfully sail along with little or no care at all. Thankfully God does give us peace and joy along the way. But going through the trial, fears and our weaknesses can and at times will beset us.

But I want to go through what is inevitable anyhow in the way prescribed here, getting the growth God wants through the trial, maybe not unlike the caterpillar struggling to get out of the cocoon, as it becomes a beautiful butterfly. In and through Jesus.

carry each other’s burdens

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

We’re told explicitly in at least two places in Scripture to cast our burdens on God. So why do we need to carry each other’s burdens? As one of the ladies leading our church, and who is studying for the pastorate likes to say, it’s maybe not a question of one or the other, but both. We need to be present for each other.

How can we do this? In the context (click link) it is about those who are led by the Spirit gently restoring another who has sinned, doing so in all humility, not thinking for a moment that they’re better. And there’s a sense in which we are trying to help each other in our struggles.

Praying for each other is so underrated. And simply being present, listening, as well. Not necessarily having a word to say, but being sympathetic, by God’s gift empathetic. Taking seriously all their thoughts, seeking to understand their situation. Agreeing where one can agree. All this takes wisdom from God. We need to try to be steeped in God’s wisdom from the wisdom writings in Scripture, and from day to day interaction with God, seeking the wisdom we need here and there, ourselves.

This seems to be all but a missing art and practice in our churches. But when someone does it even a little bit, what a difference it can make. God can and will bless that honest attempt in love to help another. And we all need this from time to time, some probably more than others, but none of us excluded. In and through Jesus.

finding the greater good

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

So now you can pick out what’s true and fair,
find all the good trails!
Lady Wisdom will be your close friend,
and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.
Good Sense will scout ahead for danger,
Insight will keep an eye out for you.
They’ll keep you from making wrong turns,
or following the bad directions
Of those who are lost themselves
and can’t tell a trail from a tumbleweed…

Sometimes something more is at stake than the immediate relief or answer we’re seeking. If we can just see behind our own want or perceived need to what is actually good and important given our own bent and God’s will, we’ll be far better off. We have to shake away from old habits and patterns which have kept us on edge and bound for years and years. This isn’t easy.

We first of all need God’s help to discern this. Good friends, and especially a friend who we look up to as a spiritual mentor or director should factor into all of this. God is with us by the Spirit to help us hear and understand what is best, but most of the time it doesn’t come without significant struggle, not to mention lapses along the way. What we want is change for the good, finding what is most important, leaving what is unhelpful behind. And with God’s help, learning to settle and live well in God’s good will.

Hopefully this isn’t too nebulous, so that maybe it will apply across the board to a variety of problems and struggles. The thought is helping me. In and through Jesus.

heart to heart honesty

An honest answer
is like a warm hug.

Proverbs 24:26; MSG

An honest answer presupposes a question. More often than not, I would suppose that questions would have to do with problems. Whatever the case, what’s called for here is honesty. And what’s most fully honest is heart to heart.

This is about telling the truth in grace, that is with kindness. And also with wisdom. How we say it is as important as what we say. And just what is said, also. Honesty doesn’t mean dumping all we perceive to be the truth on them. They might not be ready for that. Honesty means the answer at least points them in the right direction.

A truly honest answer also involves humility. We don’t pretend we’re above the fray, beyond the struggle they face. We have our own struggles, and even if it’s not precisely what they face, it will be helpful to them for us to acknowledge such.

Honesty involves not only telling the truth about the problem, possibly gently pointing out a fault. But honesty also truthfully encourages. We point out the good we see in them, give them the praise they deserve, and thank God together for God’s grace in helping them and us in our struggles. Of course sharing how God has and is helping us through our own difficulties.

Yes, an honest answer is what’s needed. That ends up being heart to heart, and like a warm hug as the Scripture says. What we all need to receive and be open to give.

holding on to faith in the midst of a pandemic

Christians are not afraid of death, even though it remains an “enemy,” the last enemy that will be done away with. We realize it’s both inevitable, and that through Jesus’s resurrection, it is not the end. Through faith and baptism (Romans 6) we participate in that resurrection so that in and through Christ death is not the end for us.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic, for some reason the book of Job comes to my mind. Everyone has an opinion, and often the opinions are at variance with each other, indeed in opposition. Everyone has their say along with Job, who questions God and finds no easy answers. Job’s faith is tattered, maybe one might say shaken, yet is not in ruins. It remains, as he continues to answer those who have all the right answers from their ivory tower position. We know that God steps in and points Job to his creation, things well beyond Job, and somehow in that, Job is able to find peace in realizing that he simply doesn’t know, and in accepting that.

For me, I am questioning the faith of others who seem to deny science, and want to carry on as if everything is normal, and much of that with the view I suppose of trusting in God. Of course nowadays there are all kinds of political stuff thrown in, so that your views and how you think are often mostly partisan, determined by your political party and its platform or general view, or what it holds to. Not really dependent on faith, and I would say a well thought out faith.

Science is in the crosshairs and crossfire of all of this, being the bogeyman for too many. There is no way we can understand what to do about a virus by opening up our Bibles and praying. Yes, we need to do that always, every day. But to understand natural phenomena, we have to study it on its own terms. I won’t understand a whole lot about a flower except by learning from those who have studied it, how it takes hold from being a seed in the soil, how it grows, how it thrives and passes on not only its beauty, but provision to nature. So it is with the virus: We have to listen and take seriously science, or pay the consequences.

To think about science would require another post and much more. Modern science is simply the discipline of observation, hypothesis, testing, verification, and on and on. It is not closed, so that it doesn’t purport to have final answers. And indeed it can’t speak in matters in which faith speaks, like why the flower exists beyond the scientific reasons given.

All of that to say this: In the way of Jesus, we hold on to faith in God, but an intelligent or thoughtful faith. Refusing to give in to fear, but not acting foolhardy, either. Not jumping off the cliff like Satan suggested the Lord should do, who promptly quoted him Scripture in context, that we’re not to put the Lord our God to the test.

This can test us, how we see others expressing their faith, not unlike Job’s struggle, I suppose. In the end we have to do our best, but wait on God. Only with God’s help and through his word will we eventually come to more and more of the perspective we need. In and through Jesus.

being like Jesus in our struggles

If there’s one thing for certain in life, it’s that we’ll have struggles of one kind or another. I was watching a clip on war torn, disease ravaged Yemen today, and I also think of North Korea where to profess Christ would bring a death sentence. Comparing those two places, not to mention a good number of other places in the world (Haiti and Venezuela come to mind on our side of the world, but a number of other faltering states as well), and I begin to see that much of what I think I have to be concerned about pales in comparison. And yet problems here can seem like life and death matters at times, even while we live in relative comfort and safety. We need to be in prayer for the people who lack basic care, and whose lives are in danger.

How are we like Jesus in our own struggles? I think we have to pay attention to the things that Jesus did, as well as what he taught in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And see how that is expanded on in the rest of the New Testament. Our goal should be that we are more and more becoming like him, whatever difficulties we face. And hopefully to see such difficulties help us grow in ways we couldn’t imagine otherwise, as we learn to walk in Jesus’s way, no matter what. In and through Jesus.