dial down and accept the ordinary

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 119:92

I’m more and more convinced that one formidable enemy of the good is misplaced expectation. This is probably true across the board, but I’m thinking of the spiritual life of a Christian, or the spiritual lives of Christians.

I’ve lived as a Christian several decades, and from early on was inundated with “deeper life” teachings. And I’ve witnessed some of emphasis on the Spirit in individual lives and in the church. And I’ve partaken of a few unusual experiences and participated in some of that myself. And we all as Christians have experienced the closeness of the Lord, which I believe is actually something for us daily, but probably not in the way we expect.

I want to say and even emphasize that it’s of the utmost importance for us to dial down and accept the ordinary. That most of our lives are going to seem mundane, boring, lonely, difficult, etc., you fill in the blanks. As soon as we get away from ideals, immediately we’ll be better off. We’ll then and only then begin to be able to appreciate the good from God that’s right in front of us, and actually everywhere. Until then we’ll miss the good that’s right in our face.

Scripture doesn’t present an easy, feel good existence. Just begin to read on almost any page. But as the psalmist says, Scripture as God’s written word not only can keep us grounded, our feet on the ground so to speak, but can actually be our delight even in the midst of the ordinary and difficult aspects of real life.

When we realize that our expectations are simply unmet, then we’ll be able to see and accept the actual blessings God is giving us, but not until then.

Am I suggesting that God can’t bless the socks off of us, of course to not only bless us, but bless others through us? Of course not. But only as we accept the reality of our own brokenness, that the kingdom in its fullness, while present now in Jesus by the Spirit is yet to be fully present in the finished transformative way. Until then, we’re set up for disappointment and disillusionment.

Which is why we need to remain in God’s word, in Scripture, so that God’s Word, Christ himself can touch and begin to transform us now. Yes, in the midst of the ordinary and difficult. In and through Jesus.

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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.

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.

when all seems against you

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm it.
That night—may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
may no shout of joy be heard in it.
May those who curse days curse that day,
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
May its morning stars become dark;
may it wait for daylight in vain
and not see the first rays of dawn,
for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me
to hide trouble from my eyes.

“Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest
with kings and rulers of the earth,
who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
like an infant who never saw the light of day?
There the wicked cease from turmoil,
and there the weary are at rest.
Captives also enjoy their ease;
they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are freed from their owners.

“Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,
to those who long for death that does not come,
who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with gladness
and rejoice when they reach the grave?
Why is life given to a man
whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
For sighing has become my daily food;
my groans pour out like water.
What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

Job 3:1-26

One of the things I love about Scripture is the rugged, unapologetic, fully exposed truth about one’s experience and feelings. It is uncomfortable at times, even dreadful, yes, troubling, but it captures something of what we all experience in this life.

I return again and again to the wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes, especially for me, the latter. There’s plenty of wisdom to be gathered from them both, along with the standard essential wisdom we find in Proverbs.

This tells me that it’s okay to express our true thoughts, especially to God. Job was doing so with friends he trusted, but who, alas, turned out to be untrustworthy. That teaches us something, too. But Job was undeterred. He let them have their say, and he would have his. Back and forth it went. Until the end, when God intervened.

We have to read the entire story. We don’t want to remain forever in minor key. But somehow all of that is included in what we might call the song of Scripture. God didn’t erase these words of Job, this part from the story. Indeed, it’s an integral part. Without it, the story would be incomplete. It mirrors something of our own story.

God deals with us as we are, where we’re at. Not how we would like things to be. We come to God as we are, frankly confessing and simply speaking all that is on our hearts, and often troubled minds. And we wrestle through it, like Job did.

An essential part of genuine faith in and through Jesus.

good and bad times

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.

Ecclesiastes 7:14

Somehow God is at work in the world. For good always, but sometimes it unfolds in what’s bad for humans. The book of Ecclesiastes is steeped in mystery, part of why I like it. It deals with real life, not some fanciful make-believe romantic notion. Life can be the pits. And yet the good times roll as well.

Both are certain, the timing is not. Humankind is involved in all of this. We make bad choices; we get bad results. God’s grace can relieve some of that. And even good times will come. What is not certain is just what’s up next.

Being aware of this can help relieve us of the notion that things will always remain the same in this life. They won’t. Trouble and the stress which accompanies it will come. But so will the good times. It’s something that we simply have to accept and learn to live with. So that we while we enjoy them, we don’t get too up or complacent during good times. And when things are difficult, we don’t get too down, but accept that as a matter of course, that it’s simply the way life is.

Though we can’t know the future, we can rest in the truth that God is sovereign over it all.

 

 

the kind of help God gives

Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:8-12

For whatever reason, many of us can find ourselves in a pinch, maybe a pickle. Of course no one escapes trouble. It will come regardless. Some of it can be self-inflicted for sure.

The psalms have many instances of people in trouble, even complaining to God about their lot, or about life. I’ve picked up from some that to be worked up emotionally over a matter which affects us is unacceptable. What actually is unacceptable is when we don’t handle such times well. And the psalms over and over again give us examples of people turning to God in the midst of such trouble, emotionally spent (and spending).

The perspective in the passage quoted above is helpful. It’s good to consider it in the context of the entire psalm of course (link above and here). It’s instructive how God is at work for our good even in what in itself is not good. But God isn’t just at work to bring us through it, essentially out of it. But for our good, to make us better human beings, more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). In the end God indeed wants to bless us, and make us a blessing. But a big part of the blessing is the impact for good as a result of our response to the trouble. If we look to God in faith and keep doing so, God will be at work in that way. We have to be willing to go through the trouble in faith, not just escape it.

It may be perturbing at times, but part of the beauty of the above passage is that it’s specific in an instructive kind of way, while being general enough to encompass all kinds of situations and people. It is best to meditate and pray on it, and go from there. Scripture is for life, no less. God will see us through as we look to him. Not just to get past the trouble, solving the problem. But to change us through it. Yet at the same time yes, to help us, to see us through. In and through Jesus.

handling trouble in a godly way

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[b] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job lost everything except his wife: his livelihood, his seven children, and then his health. And the rest of the book is well worth reading, rereading, and pondering. But Job did not abandon his faith in God. He was up against it, at his wit’s end. The story ends well. But part of what can be instructive for us upfront and right away is Job’s initial response to all that happened.

It’s interesting how some seem to go along in life without little care. And that includes those who are responsible. While others of us seem to be chomping at the bit to descend into fear and the fretting that ordinarily accompanies that.

How much better to trust the heavenly Father, just as Jesus taught us (Matthew 6:19-34). To leave everything into God’s good, more than capable hands. To trust that the Father will see us through. And to learn to live in that prospect with the peace that accompanies it. So it’s a matter of trust versus fear.

Paul gives us what perhaps is the most direct, specific direction in dealing with trouble and troubling thoughts when they come:

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

Seems like an impossible command, I say loving directive, not to be anxious or worry when trouble comes. But instead, in every situation we’re to pray, and tell God our concern. And thank God for the good in our lives. With the promise that God will give us peace, a peace that goes beyond our limited understanding. That our hearts and minds will be guarded in Christ Jesus. I have thought that worse than nearly any problem is my own reaction to it. We do our best, but in the end, God is the one from whom all blessing flows. This world is not trouble free, even as Jesus told us. We simply need to submit ourselves to the Father’s care.

I wonder if this is a part of the spiritual warfare we’re up against as Christians. I’m sure the spiritual enemy does try to exploit whatever weakness we have. We do well to go back to Ephesians 6:10-20 and ponder that in prayer.

What is crucial for us is how we react when trouble comes. Job initially does well, and then we see the rest of the book, how he responds further. Of course he didn’t have all the revelation we have now, or the person writing the wisdom story, one of the oldest if not the oldest writings of the Bible. It’s not like there’s going to be no wrestling or anxious moments. But whatever we’re experiencing within or without, we need to commit ourselves to growth in doing so in a godly matter, depending on what God’s word tells us. In and through Jesus.