victory in the stress and strain

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

There is no end to stress in this life. And at times it’s heightened, so that we call it “distress.”

Our help always and forever is in God. When we’re in over our heads and can’t see our way forward, that’s when God’s salvation is needed. We are unfit ourselves. Our only qualification and ability is received indeed as a gift in and through Jesus, God’s anointed one. We who are in Christ are part of God’s victory in Christ.

It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we receive this gift. God helps us desire what is really good: God’s will. And answers our prayers to that end. We have to hold on to faith in him through all of that.

Does that mean that all will go perfectly in this life? No. What it does mean is that through the stress and strain of it all, God will give us victory, and enable us to be part of that. Again, not in our own strength and ability. But only in and through Jesus.

 

 

utter dependence on God

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It’s interesting how time and time again in Scripture, we see God’s people have to push through in the midst of great weakness. I find it to be true that God meets us not when we might think we’ve arrived, but when we know we haven’t.

The point is not feeling like we can’t do it, but only that we can’t do it ourselves, in our own strength. Continuing on, seeking to be faithful to God’s call in dependence only on God. Which means we’ll often feel like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, so to speak. And always and forever entirely dependent on God. In and through Jesus.

no strength left?

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

This passage was a game changer for me recently. I was more than tired, bone weary. But then I thought of this passage, or I would say, the Lord mercifully brought it to mind. And that made all the difference.

The idea of hoping in God is about attitude, not merely some psychological ploy. Faith in God in terms of expectation. It’s like right then and there God gave me renewed strength to carry on and do what I needed to do.

This isn’t just about physical strength, but it’s all the strength necessary for us to carry on, including spiritual strength. The strength needed to do God’s will.

Of course this isn’t just a one time thing, you do it once and you’re good to go forever. No. We have to keep looking to God time and time again for needed strength.

We must beware of thinking this will make us super human. We need our rest. But just the same, the promise is for us whenever we feel depleted and in need, which for me is every day. In and through Jesus.

 

the gospel is what we’re to be living out, as well as witnesses to

We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.

2 Corinthians 10:14-16a

What seems beside the point in Paul’s addressing of his concern in passing, but really is at the heart of the point is what he was all about: not self-aggrandizement or self-glory, but only and always about the gospel of Christ.

Paul is getting after those who were set in opposition to him, claiming apostleship for themselves perhaps because they found themselves in opposition to Paul and somehow thought they could do better, or more likely out of an underlying self-ambition with a professed belief in Christ. But Paul wasn’t about self-ambition in the least, but again- only and always about Christ and Christ’s gospel.

Sometimes we may not feel we have anything to offer to others, or at least not anything they would accept. After all, people look at another according to their status, what they’ve achieved in life, or whether that other is beneficial to them, not to mention whether it all seems relevant or jives with them.

Paul was concerned about none of that, because the gospel is inherently weak and foolish in the world’s eyes, just as he had told them in his first letter to the Corinthian church. God takes the weak and despised and nothing things as his instruments to help others. The gospel is not only to be proclaimed, but lived out by those who proclaim it. Christ’s weakness in his death on the cross is to be embraced by his followers, that they might know God’s resurrection power in Christ. When we are strong in ourselves, then the only help people will get is what help we can give them, not God’s help.

And so we must continue on no matter what we’re facing or going through. Believing and knowing that we are on course only in the weakness of Christ for the good news that will bring others into the power and blessing of God. In and through Jesus.

misplaced expectations

I think that often we place expectations too high on ourselves and others, which actually are misplaced. We expect what we think is important, needed for the time and occasion, when actually it’s really neither realistic, or actually not needed at all.

I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. It’s chalk full of misplaced expectations on the part of the Corinthian church, as they looked down on Paul and we’re dazzled by the super apostles who were promoting themselves. And Paul had to get past his own misplaced expectations as well concerning his thorn in the flesh. Not to mention his/their weakness and even despairing of life itself, indeed “perplexed, but not in despair.”

The fact that we don’t measure up to our preconceived notions can cause us to retreat and become idle when we should press on in humility and hope. Yes, we certainly don’t have it all together. That’s a gimme. But we press on regardless, not confident at all in ourselves, but finding our help, all we need in God. That is where our expectation is never misplaced. We can and indeed need to look to God for his help. And that’s what can help us to continue on when left to ourselves we would give in and give up.

Our problem or problems may be different than what Paul and his apostolic band encountered and experienced. They can run the gamut from either poor, wrong choices of the past, or not the best of wisdom even in the present. But that doesn’t mean we fold our tents and quit. We go on in prayer in dependence on God in our own weakness and in that even in the weakness of Christ himself, that we might find Christ’s power by the Spirit through his resurrection life. And we keep on doing that hopefully to the end. And find in that God’s moving and work in unexpected ways certainly beyond us. In and through Jesus.

the difference resurrection makes

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in our Bibles tells us that if Christ was not raised from the dead, then there’s no resurrection of the dead for us who believe in Christ, and our faith is then worthless (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). In the context (click link above), Paul is talking about fixing our eyes on what lies beyond the weakness of this present life. He makes it clear that in their following of Christ, the calling they had, their lives were on the line. This was especially true of Paul himself, who was the target of relentless attacks from those who opposed the gospel, those determined to see his life come to an end.

Today it is no less dangerous to be a Christian in some places, in fact one’s life or well being is in some way in jeopardy in many places (see Open Doors for information on this). And as I get older, I realize more and more that my days in this present life are less and less, that they are indeed numbered.

Paul encourages us to press on, fixing our eyes on what is to come in the resurrection, so that we are willing to risk it all for Christ in the present, and also so that we don’t see holding on to life as the end all, because it’s not for those of us who are “in Christ.”

Paul is not advocating a “grin and bare it” approach. Instead we’re to rejoice in the midst of our weaknesses and sufferings, because Christ and his life is present with us now, someday to be completed in no less than our resurrection when we receive our new body, raised with other believers to be presented to Christ to the glory of God.

In the mean time we live in bodily weakness, even for those of us who have a measure of good health. We enjoy God’s good creation, but we live as those who look to the new creation in Christ as present in this life for ourselves and others, and the promise in that when this life ends. In and through Jesus.

accepting weakness

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 12:7b-10

I keep coming back to this again and again. It’s probably because I haven’t sufficiently learned it for myself. It’s only when I simply accept whatever I’m experiencing, especially inwardly, but I suppose outwardly as well, that you might say, I find faith, and eventually God’s peace and rest.

And it’s important in this to accept the humility which comes with it. We are beset with weakness in whatever malady afflicts us, and in that we feel a dependency like never before. Maybe to some extent on others, but completely cast on the Lord.

This is where we’re to live from day to day. At times it’s especially acute, so that once again we have to accept it. It’s not wrong to ask God to remove it, but God may not. In Paul’s case, certainly unique in that he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and received astounding revelations (click link above to see that). But applicable to all of us who name the name of Christ. In and through Jesus.