trouble knows no boundaries

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

Job was a God-fearing, God-honoring man, who had been eminently blessed by God, and was a blessing to many. We know the rest of the story, and it’s not altogether good. In fact it makes little sense in our eyes, considering the backdrop of the story, God even bothering to deal with Satan at all, and especially as in this story.

But the point is: trouble knows no boundaries of any kind in this life. We might be able to avoid some problems, and there are basic steps to prevent trouble itself, like simply making sure a roof is on the house, or eating healthily and exercising. But life is more or less a trouble shoot, from start to finish. It seems like we just go from best case, trying to prevent one problem, to trying to solve the next problem. I notice that in my factory job. With machines, and how they’re working, or not working.

So the point is that we need to learn to expect and accept this fact of life, as hard as that is. To definitely appreciate the seasons or intervals which seem relatively trouble free, and be ready to deal with the rest. Through prayer, and with what wisdom the Lord gives us.

In the case of Job, we know he persevered, and God was full of compassion, and blessed him in the end. Though the story still leaves a gaping hole for me in trying to understand the point of it all. Yes, Job did demonstrate faith in God, and that’s what we’re called to do as well, even when we don’t understand, and life is hard for us. Life rarely falls out like some fairy tale with a happily ever after ending. And Job surely still had to deal with trouble even after he was healed and again had seven children. The hurt of losing the seven previous children could never be fully healed in this life.

And that’s the point. We may not, and will not understand at times, or ever. But we have to trust God and go on. Believing in God’s goodness, and persevering in our faith and trust in God, yes, in spite of. Job didn’t even understand the backdrop, what was going on behind the scenes, thinking it was God who inflicted him with the loss of his children, his health, and his wealth. We know, yet are often bewildered and perplexed, and especially uncomfortable, even perturbed with what we face.

But such is life. We might as well get used to it and go on. In the help God gives us to go through every part of it. God can, and as we trust in him, will help us to the very end, in and through Jesus.

 

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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 good wake up call of Psalm 73

This is what the wicked are like—
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

If I had spoken out like that,
    I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:12-17

If anyone really knows me, they will know that I can struggle with depression or toward despair, either one. Sometimes life can seem overwhelming to me, probably too often. Just as recently as yesterday that was the case. But then I thought about our grandchildren and our daughter. My wife and my responsibility to all of them. And what triggered that was probably the psalm quoted in part above, Psalm 73.

The psalmist sees what makes no sense to his faith. Those who have no faith are prospering, and he who is a person of faith is experiencing difficulty, or seems somehow to have come up short. He questions God. One can well say he is struggling in his faith. But he realizes that more than just his own faith is at stake here. There’s the faith of others, specifically God’s children, those who are influenced by him, surely including those who were under his care.

We have to do well. It’s not only our own faith, but the faith of others which is at stake. It’s not like we can believe for them. But they need to see faith, our faith in the midst of difficulty. That we trust God to see us through.

So the fact that we might struggle is not bad in itself. But what we do in that struggle is key. We are to be a model to others, not that they may see us and our faith, but more that they might see God and God’s faithfulness and salvation in their own lives.

In all of this we walk by faith, not by sight, as was true of the psalmist here. But read on in this psalm (the link above), and you’ll find that much more is awaiting that God would reveal to us by his Spirit. That this step of faith we take will be confirmed by God.

And so we must awaken to the faith God has for us in the midst of the trial of our faith. Because it is for the benefit of others. Realizing we need to bless to them can end up blessing us. Just as we are indeed blessed to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

faith must be challenged

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

James emphasizes that knowledge and profession of faith mean nothing at all, in fact, lend themselves to deception. And in this opening part of his letter, that faith actually has to be challenged to make the needed difference in our lives.

We often get out of sorts if things are not going wonderfully well, or when the bad comes. But a big part of life is learning by faith to walk through trials of all kinds which come our way pretty much everyday, and at least on a regular basis. Some of them might be imagined, and some real. But the point James makes here is our response to them. We’re to count it all joy, or nothing but joy when they come, because of what they can bring, if we are open to what God wants to do through them.

Maturity in the faith, in Christ, is not something to which we easily arrive. It requires effort on our part to hang in their through the difficulty, not allowing ourselves to be moved from our faith, but letting it be tested. Just what kind of faith do we have? Is it merely circumstantial, just good when things are going well? Or is it grounded in God, even when we don’t understand, or find it going against our understanding, or at least against what we think is good or acceptable.

God wants to work something quite good out of it. So it’s up to us to be willing to walk through it, to endure it, trusting God is at work in it for good, for our good to help us mature completely, so that we may lack nothing when it comes to what really matters: our Christian formation and character. In and through Jesus.

a key part of enduring: accept

Yesterday’s post was about enduring when our faith is tested. A key and important aspect of such endurance, it seems to me, faith being a given, is simply to learn to accept whatever place one finds themselves in, including the trial itself.

One of the most difficult aspects of trials is often our resistance to them. We want to escape anyway possible, to be rid of it, and we often imagine the worst. Instead of committing ourselves to God’s care and working, and willingly walking through it.

This doesn’t mean that we are happy about the trial itself. Our happiness in the midst of it is solely in the realization that God is at work both to bless us, and make us a blessing to others. Oftentimes God’s work of character development in us toward the image of Christ, along with his work for the good of others is occurring. What is important for us is to hold on in faith. And a part of that, of our trust in God, is to simply accept the experience, with all its hard knocks and difficulties. And both the external, as well as internal facets of it.

I have often found that it’s not long before a sense of resolution either in movement, or even finality sets in. Usually my own experience in this is that my reaction is worse than the problem itself, often one of anxiety and fear. Or just feeling numb from it all.

So we’re called not only to wait in persevering in endurance in the trial. But to accept everything, believing that God is at work in it in ourselves, and in the situation, for our good and the good of others. In and through Jesus.

our part under trial: endurance

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

James tells us a bit earlier that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, or endurance. A big part of that testing is simply remaining faithful in the trial.

As someone once told me, struggling is the default or norm in which we live. That’s why it’s nice to get away from time to time on a vacation with no cares in the world. And while “there’s no place like home,” there are always concerns, sometimes big that can well weigh us down. And some of those can seem well over our head, unmanageable, and in need of divine intervention. Actually we want the Lord’s help, and need it, whether the trial seems big or small.

James’s readers were facing problems from those who were wealthy (James 5). And James in the more immediate context referred to “trials of many kinds.” What is important for us is to remain faithful, and be willing to endure. Endurance is not something in and of itself enjoyable. We would rather escape. Yes, we’re to persevere, but endurance might seem to hit James’s thought in this letter more squarely for me, though to persevere is involved in that, as well. It seems like patience, and hanging in their through the tough times with faith in God is the point here.

And we have another promise from another book of wisdom, considered the basic book of wisdom in scripture: Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

In the midst of trials, we need to trust and obey. In submission to the One who will see us through to the end. In and through Jesus.

peace of mind and heart

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Usually when I turn to this passage, which naturally I know quite well by now, it’s when I’m already lost in anxiety or worry over something. And that’s quite alright and good. We need to go to such promises as this when we’re struggling, or not doing well. But what if we could apply this passage in such a way as to simply avoid worry and anxiety altogether? Or more realistically keep growing toward that ideal, so that any lapse would be short lived, and increasingly rare.

Easier said than done. But words are where we start. And the Word (John 1). Scripture which points us to Christ and the gospel. But the importance of the specifics in scripture should not be minimized.

Trying to apply the passage above means that whenever something happens which might cause anxiety, immediately we bring it to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Praying as best we can, but looking to God for the answer. And more importantly, simply resting in God, or more precisely, as it says, in God’s peace, which surpasses and transcends, or is greater than our understanding, or all understanding, for that matter. To have our hearts and minds guarded in Christ Jesus is what more and more should be the norm for us. But we have to keep bringing the concerns that come our way to God in prayer. And in a sense we can say, leave them there. In and through Jesus.