little by little over time

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3b

Oak trees are among the most sturdy and long lasting trees, it seems. But they don’t grow quickly. The kind of growth required for the tree it is takes time.

In Isaiah, people are likened to oaks, those God is “planting.” When you read Scripture and consider the spiritual life, all of this takes time. Christian spiritual maturity is not arrived to overnight. Nor does some overwhelming experience add up to Christian maturity. In fact that can easily lend itself to deception, someone thinking they’ve arrived when they haven’t, or couldn’t. We need the young saplings, exuberant in their new life, glowing in their witness of that. But it will take time, wind, storms, sunshine and rain, and more time for them to grow into the sturdy, mature trees they need to become.

Some of us are pretty full grown, but as Christians we know our growth never ends in this lifetime. We have weathered many a storm, learned to stand firm in the winds with roots embedded in the water of life found in Christ and Scripture. And as part of God’s community, the church. But if we don’t watch out, we could become diseased and in danger of no longer standing. It is sad, the accounts of those who didn’t end their Christian lives well. Sometimes the older trees are not appreciated for all the blessing they give. It’s like, they’ve seen their day, they’re old now and not of much consequence, not to be paid attention to. But we need to keep growing, and in silence and prayer continue to bear fruit from and for God.

Little by little, over time. That’s what it takes. And to keep on doing that come what may. That God might be honored and glorified. In and through Jesus.

accept difficulties?!?

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

Job 14:1

Job’s words may seem like a far too pessimistic view of life, and that this passage should be taken in the context of Job’s great troubles. Yes, maybe so, but there are numerous people who have faced tremendous difficulties. And we all do to some extent. Where I live we talk about “first world” problems to give some perspective. But even in our situation, we’re not immune to most any of the difficulties others face aside from the differences in stark places where one’s faith and even humanity are not accepted.

It’s good to accept the inevitable bad that will come with life. “With acceptance comes peace.” In fact it’s a necessity if we’re to go on and do well in life, do what needs to be done. Of course we’ll have to prayerfully work through our problems. And perhaps just pray about other problems that we can do nothing about.

In this wisdom book, Job was trying to help what became his accusers to see that his plight was illustrative of life, what can happen in someone’s life, and what on a lesser scale occurs in one way or another in everyone’s life. Their lack of understanding seemed to be partly in the idea that the righteous are blessed so that they don’t encounter what would plainly be understood to be a curse. Imagine someone venerated for goodness who falls on hard times and then whose goodness is questioned. Fortunately for us, this book helps us see the precariousness of such a position.

It’s important to hold steady during the troubling times, even the most difficult. Hold steady in faith and perseverance in trying to do what is good and right. Admittedly that is more challenging when one is faced with the hardest things of life: the loss of a close loved one, one’s livelihood lost with little or nothing to fall on, etc. We don’t do well to point fingers at people and tell them something trite like simply, “Accept your difficulties.” We need to stand with such people as individuals and as a society, something which should be natural for the church, but should include the state as well. There needs to be a safety net, and God’s people need to be present for each other, as well as for others.

In the meantime we need to hold steady ourselves. Not living in some sort of denial, but facing our problems honestly, head on, thoughtfully and above all, prayerfully with faith that God can and will see us through each and everyone of them. In and through Jesus.

during difficult times

ע Ayin

I have done what is righteous and just;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
Ensure your servant’s well-being;
do not let the arrogant oppress me.
My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise.
Deal with your servant according to your love
and teach me your decrees.
I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes.
It is time for you to act, LORD;
your law is being broken.
Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.

Psalm 119:121-128

I sometimes hear/read something like all we need to know is that God is love, that love is what it’s all about, and we need nothing more. This passage is one example among many of why we need all of Scripture. I too would like to live in the sense of God’s love for me and for everyone else. But life hits me along the way from many different angles, and there’s no escape from spiritual warfare for us Christians, as much as we would like to avoid it.

The psalmist here certainly doesn’t have it altogether. He/she is at a loss, and feels lost. We’ve all been there when we feel threatened or for some reason or another ill at ease. When we’re simply not resting in God’s unchangeable love for us, or we’re not able to experience that love at the moment.

How the psalmist engages God during such a time for them is helpful for us. We look to God, and we are set on obedience to God come what may. Our faith and commitment is not dependent on our circumstances. At the same time we also realize our complete dependence on God. To give us discernment and yes, to bring deliverance from our struggle. The only path for us. In and through Jesus.

when one feels threatened

כ Kaph

My soul faints with longing for your salvation,
but I have put my hope in your word.
My eyes fail, looking for your promise;
I say, “When will you comfort me?”
Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke,
I do not forget your decrees.
How long must your servant wait?
When will you punish my persecutors?
The arrogant dig pits to trap me,
contrary to your law.
All your commands are trustworthy;
help me, for I am being persecuted without cause.
They almost wiped me from the earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your unfailing love preserve my life,
that I may obey the statutes of your mouth.

Psalm 119:81-88

When did you last feel threatened? Probably not with your life at stake like the psalmist here, but just threatened in one way or another? This is a big part of the enemy’s arsenal. Schemes to put us back on our heels, so that ultimately, we might lose our foothold and fail to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Fortunately for us we have God’s promise in his word to be with us always, and help us. Of course we have to pray, believing God will give us wisdom, and whatever else is needed.

Our goal in the end is nothing more than living in the light and love and will of God. Nothing more and nothing less. In and through Jesus.

the good of adversity

ט Teth

Do good to your servant
according to your word, LORD.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I trust your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Psalm 119:65-72

We often liken adversity to an enemy, indeed, an adversary. At times we find that our trouble lies significantly in ourselves, and not only in outward circumstances. Sometimes only in ourselves, though in this world- in this present existence one has trouble.

I have found and come to see as valuable low and hard places as opportunities for spiritual growth, even needed spiritual breakthrough. During those times I want to keep turning to God’s word. God might have my attention then in alas a way he didn’t have before when I was more or less happily drifting along, or just living. It seems like such affliction and suffering are necessary for our growth into Christ-likeness.

Adversity is adversity. But faith in God through it helps us find something of infinite value in contrast to the finite things we often cling to. In and through Jesus.

 

 

ponder or perish

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

Psalm 119:92

Real life means real need. There’s no end to the help we need along the way as we face challenges and difficulties. What I have found and still find to be true, is that the more I stay in God’s word, the more I’m able to navigate such times in a way that is helpful, even pleasant. And find my way into God’s way in just how to approach and work through such matters. In and through Jesus.

dealing with the troubles of life one day at a time

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

Jesus’s words here have to be taken in context. He is talking about both avoiding the love of money, and trusting completely in the Father’s provision as one is seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness with the promise that all of one’s needs will be met.

Go to the most wealthy. They too will die, and it’s not as if their lives are free of problems, or even that money will get themselves out of any and every trouble. It is true that plenty of money helps mitigate a host of problems and that the rich should be sensitive to the poor whose resources are sometimes not enough to get them through adversity. All of this is surely part of what Jesus is getting at, considering all he says here and elsewhere, and all Scripture tells us.

To the words quoted above: Jesus is making a point. He is certainly not telling anyone to not plan for the future. That would contradict other Scripture, and Jesus is not going to do that. The point is that in our trust of the Father, we deal with what is in front of us today. We have responsibilities and tasks and likely some either lingering or new problem to deal with today. Tomorrow will bring on some new situation, entirely out of our view now. We’re not to fret about yesterday or tomorrow, but deal with today and the task at hand.

The thought on trouble is a helpful one. Christians, followers of Jesus are not set free from trouble of any and every kind. We’re set up for disillusionment to think otherwise. It is helpful for us to accept all of that as a part of this life. And hold on to the truth that God is faithful in all of it, and will see us through to the end, even through death itself.

So we can deal with the problems today without preconceived notions as to how everything must turn out. Instead accepting what comes our way with the consequences. As we learn to trust our Father more and more in and through Jesus.