waiting on God

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted,
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

If there’s something we don’t want to do in this day and age, it’s wait. Everything is at our fingertips, and either things are immediate, or very soon. That’s the day and age we live in. But the things of God are different. It takes time. Circumstances like what Israel of old was facing are a blessing in disguise if they help us turn our attention to God.

Surely we have to wait for a number of reasons. God’s timing and ours is different. And a big part of God’s answer is to change us. And that rarely happens in a moment, in fact by in large we’re always in process. God might address the circumstances in some favorable way, but God will help us through whatever we face.

I take comfort in all of this. God will help and give us the strength not only to carry on but do well. In and through Jesus.

 

take what joy you can, but live in reality

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; NRSVue

The title for Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 in the NRSVue is “A Disillusioned View of Life.” Probably Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” is off the mark in at least some of what he (or she) is saying. We can say it’s all a matter of perspective. From their point of view, from where they were looking, they were telling it like it is, and trying to express wisdom. And there definitely is a measure of profound wisdom (see toward the end of Ecclesiastes).

I find the part quoted above most helpful for myself. Life “under the sun” and in seeking to follow Jesus and just considering our own weaknesses and limitations along with difficulties we face is indeed at least full of challenge. Life is hardly foolproof. We make many mistakes and hopefully keep learning along the way. If we expect a bed of roses here, we might as well forget that. Instead we’ll find some good, some joy, but much sorrow and possible hardship, even some possible danger along the way.

Paradoxically if we can just accept this, and choose to comfortably live in it or settle in it, then we can find not only a bit of joy here and there, but really joy even in the midst of sorrow. The Spirit helps us, but only as we accept things as they are.

“The Teacher” in Ecclesiastes is trying to help people steer a good course or if the title is apt, make the best of a bad situation. Yes, much is pretty dour in this book. Maybe that’s in part why I’ve been drawn to it over the years, because it does seem to line up with life in the real world, or at least much of my experience of it.

Our hope and expectation is in God through Christ, not in the circumstances of life itself. We receive all that God gives, and can enjoy some of that. But ultimately that we might live for others, even as Christ is teaching us by the Spirit together. Enjoying life even as “the Teacher” tells us in Ecclesiastes, but with our feet on the ground not in some make believe place, but in the real world where we all live. And especially with a heart and ear turned toward suffering, that we might help others. In and through Jesus.

no excuses. go on.

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10; NRSVue

I’m not sure why anyone would like any weakness in and of itself. If you’re looking strictly at the problem and what accompanies that, whatever it might be, you would simply want it to be solved, to become a thing of the past. There is nothing in the list from Paul here that we would naturally say, “Yes, I want that.”

But Paul did learn something profound in the midst of whatever his thorn in the flesh was. He was content because he knew that the power of Christ was present in his weakness. And yet it’s weakness, which is paradoxical. We naturally want to feel okay, even strong, and certainly not weak. It’s another case of paradox within the Christian faith.

By faith we need to quit making excuses, even excusing ourselves, and move on. God will help us, and the Lord’s strength will become evident yes in our weakness, if we by faith go on. In and through Jesus.

“be instant in season, out of season”- KJV

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound teaching, but, having their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

2 Timothy 4:1-5; NRSVue

I love the King James Version‘s rendering in this passage, “be instant in season, out of season.” The idea as we read above is to keep doing what we’re called to do no matter what. Whether it’s convenient for us or not, or for that matter even convenient to others. Of course, we want to be helpful to others, but the only help they’re going to get which matters is help from God. It can be through us, but definitely from God. Just as all help we ever receive ourselves is from God, though often through others.

We need to be ready, prepared, above all in our spirit, in our heart, through prayer, through trying to walk day by day, every moment, through every time whether good or bad, whatever the case may be, we need to always be ready to do whatever it is that God has called us to do. The gospel is at the heart of that, but the specific calling, though we might divide it in general categories such as speaking and serving and for many of us, some combination of both, will be as different for each of us as each of us is different ourselves.

The point though is to be ready. And the test of that will come when we’re especially feeling not ready, maybe under siege, under spiritual attack. We must not give in then, because that actually can end up being the time of greatest blessing. God can pour out God’s Spirit in answer to prayer, and never forget that the Lord’s power is made perfect in our weakness. It’s never about us, but only about what God has given us to do, and the love of God made known in the good news of Christ.

In and through Jesus.

continuing on in weakness

This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not be lenient— since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

2 Corinthians 13:1-4; NRSVue

Paul ran up against some of the expectations out there today. Charismatic, flashy, powerful preaching in a way that somehow is appealing. Let’s add to that a kind of personality that just draws people in and with always the right word. I doubt myself that Paul had much of any of that. It seems like instead that he was characterized by weakness. There’s the thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him which we find in the previous chapter. He was a person who not only was looked on by others as weak, but who lived out a felt weakness. And learned to do so, even delighting in that, since Christ’s power became evident in that.

But did that make it easy for Paul? Or was he not tempted to wish such would be removed. Yes, I think at least early on such was probably the case, that he indeed still would have wished the weakness to be removed. But later on, I’m guessing that he had learned to live that way as simply part of his identity, who he was in and with Christ. That he was sharing our Lord’s weakness in a cruciform way, and thus sharing in the resurrection power and life accompanying that.

For me, I really would rather not feel weak and even oppressed at times. But that’s where I live so much of the time. That doesn’t come without trial, and too often feeling on edge, so that I can be edgy myself. But because of that I am much more in prayer than what I would be otherwise, at least in prayers of weakness. I don’t think people have to feel this to be people of prayer. But I also think in some measure that this is meant to be the experience of all who follow Christ, who take the way of the cross. And that helps me to go on, believing that God is with us in a peculiar, saving way for ourselves and others in that weakness. In and through Jesus.

that same “thorn in the flesh”

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10; NRSVue

I am in an off and on, seemingly perpetual battle to overcome anxiety over this or that or something else. Usually house related over this or that concern, which sometimes for me can seem overwhelming. I would like to get rid of anxiety once and for all. I think decades back I naively wanted to simply make a commitment with necessary follow through to not be anxious, never worry again. If we seek to apply passages like Philippians 4:6-7 which tells us not be anxious about anything, but what to do so that in the end the peace of God which surpasses all understanding would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, that’s all well and good. But we have to apply those scriptures and keep doing that, realizing that we’re never going to do it perfectly, and that it’s a matter of being in a process of spiritual growth.

Your besetting sin, or propensity toward what’s unhelpful (Hebrews 12:1-2) might be something different. Let’s add to that felt weakness, which actually might not be categorized as besetting sin. It is important that we seek to address all such in the best way we know how. And that might well include some professional counseling in the mix. But seeking to apply scripture prayerfully throughout.

But now to the main topic. The thing is that our experience in this life is going to be pretty bumpy with ups and downs, sometimes down and outs. We just can’t control how we feel, at least not directly. Indirectly we can have some influence on our experience by doing what Paul did in the passage above. He certainly prayed to the Lord to take his thorn in the flesh away, three times, likely extended times. What was that thorn? We don’t know. That’s part of the genius of this passage. It might have been some human enemy since thorns are said to be that in the Hebrew Bible. Or maybe Paul’s eye malady. Whatever it was, Paul’s description and application open the door for its application to us, regardless of what our own “thorn in the flesh,” even a tormenting “messenger of Satan” might be.

We seek to do all that is right in total dependence on God, waiting on God. But if the answer we want doesn’t come, we continue on regardless with the promise that God’s grace is sufficient. That power probably meaning the Lord’s power (as in some Greek manuscripts) is made perfect in weakness. So we press on, looking forward to the day and time when this is removed, but realizing that it can all be somehow for our good and the good of others. God will help us, even if it’s not the help we would choose ourselves. And in that we’ll find something far greater than the help we wanted. Yes, even in the midst of the weakness. God’s strength and presence. In and through Jesus.

needed strength from God

[God] gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

Isaiah 40 is the Romans 8 of the Old Testament. It is a great chapter of encouragement for God’s people. Like Romans 8, Isaiah 40 ends on a momentous, uplifting note, speaking about the hard places of life where we live. We need to take into our heart and bones all these great passages are telling us.

The point at the end of Isaiah 40 is that God will give us the needed spiritual and physical strength to keep on keeping on, regardless of what we’ve went through and what we’re facing. 

Oftentimes our weariness is a combination of being tired in spirit and in body. I can overcome a lot of physical tiredness if I feel strong, good, or okay in spirit. But when I’m down in spirit, then physical strength seems hard to come by.

We’re told to hope in or wait for God. That as we do so, God will renew our strength. It’s a strength of resolve to keep on going in the midst of difficulty, whether discouragement, doubt, even despair. As we wait on the Lord, the Lord will give us the resolve and ability we need.

Physical rest and asking for prayer from a good friend or one who is mentoring/directing us are important. While we also look at the great encouragement Scripture passages like this give to us, right where we live no less. In and through Jesus.

keep on going

…and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:4

When we feel up against it, something akin to what is being described in the first part of James (click above link to see context), a natural reaction is to want to escape as soon as possible. To get the answer needed, and the relief that comes with that.

But when we do so, we essentially short circuit the process. And according to James, it’s a needed process if we’re to arrive to some full-orbed maturity.

So we need to hang in there in the midst of weakness. To go through it, looking to God for help both through prayer and through the help of others, particularly the church. We have to get out of the habit of bailing out. God will see us through, yes into some good relief. But most importantly increasingly into the person we were created to be. In and through Jesus.

not about getting through the trial

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.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

It’s not enough to simply want to get past whatever trial we’re in, then call it good. That is not taking seriously what James is telling us here. We’re supposed to count it as nothing but joy whatever trial we’re encountering, because the testing of our faith produces endurance in us. And to get the full benefit of this, we’re to let endurance have its full effect so that we might be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. The maturity spoken of here may not be so much a place of arriving in this life as much as an ongoing as it were cyclical growth, an analogy like rings on a tree, toward a larger, fuller, as well as more comprehensive growth.

It’s not like we might not get any good out of it, but often, or at least I can say so in my case, we tend to see it as all good, and that we’re in the clear when the trial is over. That’s as if the goal is for the trial to end well. But the real goal for us is not that the trial might end well as good and important as that is. It’s rather that the testing of our faith might end well, that the endurance with which we’re facing the trial will have its full effect. The trial itself in a way is beside the point compared to what’s at stake here: being mature and complete, even lacking in nothing.

And James’s word on asking God for wisdom is most helpful in this. Even with the rather seemingly harsh and blunt word on doubt which properly understood goes with doublemindedness and really concerns those who are not completely engaged if at all in the commitment and attention this needs, but who would be happy to be rid of the trial with really little or no care for spiritual growth. It is not about those of us who really want to press on to this maturity, but often find ourselves weak in doing so, and tempted with doubt along the way not only about our own lives, but God in our lives.

This isn’t easy, not for the faint of heart. On the other hand the alternative is not great, continuing to live in less than full maturity and all the problems which come with that. And paradoxically, as we press on toward maturity, we become more and more stable, able to weather the storms, that is go through the inevitable trials of life better.

A necessary, if not welcome part of our lives, which we are called to welcome fully since God can and will use every trial for our good if we trust God. In and through Jesus.

staying on the cross where the resurrection power of Christ resides

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:19b-20

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:24

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him,[a] but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

2 Corinthians 13:4

In Timothy G. Gombis’s most helpful book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry we are given a paradigmatic shifting truth which can make all the needed difference in our lives if we just hold on to it, and let it do its work in us. Well, I just finished the book this past weekend, and did read it over like a month or more, so that the truth there could hopefully begin to sink in some.

The idea and truth is that resurrection power is at the cross. This is not just for our salvation, but for all of life. As Tim says in the book, and has said in his podcast, something like, we need to take our rightful place on the cross in Christ, and stay on it, and suffer the indignity that comes with it, and as we do so, the resurrection power and life of Christ will be present.

I have found this so helpful. Just thinking of myself nailed on a cross, not coming down when tempted to do so, of course the thought much more convenient than the actual harsh physical reality of such. But just the same, spiritually we’re to take up our crosses and follow, think of ourselves as crucified with Christ and live as though nothing else matters except the resurrection power, life and love of God in Christ.

In and through Jesus.