Pondering Divine Sunglasses

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“Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.” (Daniel 7:28)

 
So, some of those words aren’t words we use much nowadays, but it made me think about the intensity of feelings this dream left with Daniel. Daniel had a dream, a vision given from God, and it was pretty intense. It was so intense that he was “grieved in [his] spirit in the amidst of [his] body, and the visions of [his] head troubled [him].” So he asked one of the bystanders in the vision what it meant. He wanted to know the “truth” of it.

 
Four kings would arise out of the earth but the saints of the most High would take the kingdom and possess it for ever and ever. But there was a fourth beast with ten horns and another little one comes up with three of the first horns plucked up by the roots. And then comes the vision of the Ancient of Days with garment white as snow, hair like pure wool, a throne like a fiery flame, wheels like burning fire, and a fiery stream from before Him. Ministering around him were too many to be counted. And there’s more, but you can go back and read it and dig into it for yourself.

 
All I know is that this vision and it’s interpretation was not only hard to grasp so that Daniel needed help but that even starting to grasp it was terrifying to Daniel’s thoughts or cogitations so much so that it altered his whole mood. But he didn’t dismiss it. He kept the matter in his heart. Now, heart for the Hebrew (leb) isn’t just that organ inside that pumps blood or what we think of when we think of strong emotions. Putting something in your heart was about your feelings, your will, and your intellect. It wasn’t just about your thoughts or feelings. Your will is what you do. So, when the Psalmist says, “Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You,” he’s not just talking of tucking an emotion or memory away. He’s talking of tucking that emotion and knowledge in so deeply that it effects his will and actions. So too was this vision for Daniel.

 
Daniel didn’t just remember this vision as a vague memory attached to strong feelings. It now colored how he looked at events in life around him. It was as though God gave him a pair of divine sunglasses to think about things in the world. Daniel would now look at his world expecting to see, expecting to spot these kings, these events. Daniel was walking in faith because he didn’t just tuck God’s word away in some crevice of his brain.

 
I think of someone else like that. Her name was Mary and she was young and was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And she had no idea how it would all pan out, only that it would come to pass, because the angel sent by God had said so. There was that day that God chose to have Mary give birth to Jesus in that little sheep cave of a stable. And these shepherds see angels declaring “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12) And here was this multitude of angels praising God and saying, “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” So the shepherds run to see this baby and tell of all that has passed. And other people wondered about those things. They marveled, like, “Wow! That’s amazing!” But Mary kept all those things and pondered them in her heart.

 
What’s the difference between marveling and keeping and pondering? The word for keeping is suntero. It’s when you keep something closely together. It’s remembering mentally and obeying. Mary remembered and held on to these words and happenings in a way that she would act upon them. Marveling is like standing by and watching a really cool air show, seeing some outrageous stunt or a crash, and walking away and living life as usual without it having any effect except to say, “Wow!” But not Mary. She pondered these things in her heart. That’s the word sumballo. It’s like she consulted these things. She considered them over and over again. She used these events to help her as she walked through life. These events became her divine sunglasses through which she saw and interpreted and acted upon life. She understood what Daniel understood, at least on seeing things through God’s perspective.

 
Even when Mary and Joseph “misplaced” Jesus and he had remained behind in Jerusalem dialoguing with the teachers at the temple, we see this attitude again. This is twelve years later for Mary. And Jesus has asked, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” And even though they didn’t understand it all at the time, as Jesus returned with them, Mary kept all these sayings in her heart. It painted and effected how she thought and how she lived out life.

 
I’m not a trained Bible scholar so I’m not going to get into hashing out Daniel’s dream here. But I do care about it and I care about Daniel’s character and how he handled the word of God, whether written Scripture, oral tradition, or visions. And I do care about Mary’s character and how she handled the same, including the life and actions of her own son, our Jesus Christ. And I do care what I can learn from their examples before me.

 
It’s such an easy trap to fall into to intellectualize God’s word, to hide it in my heart by just memorizing and being able to spout it out in a moment’s notice. But that’s not the same as meditating over it and asking God’s help to understand it His way and be able to live it out in my life His way. And Lord, You went so far to make it clear on how to live it, that You sent Jesus to demonstrate it in real life for me and for each person.

 
I know by Daniel’s actions and not just his words that he truly believed and acted upon that belief. Had he been one of the 12 spies sent into the promised land, he would have been a Joshua. Like the Psalmist who shared, “In God I have put my trust: I will not be afraid of what man can do unto me,” (Psalm 56:11) so was Daniel. And Mary was learning the same in a world not favorable to women at all. And each of us has the ability and the wonderful opportunity to learn what it is to truly trust in and rely on a God who cares and is intimately involved with us, a God who sacrificed His only Son for those who had turned from Him and denied His way to follow their own. I mean, how great a love is that?

 

Maybe if we took time to ponder and hide that down in our hearts so that it could take effect and reshape every bit of our being, maybe then our lives would resemble what they were created for- to be Your image bearers, Lord. So today, Lord, let Daniel and Mary and Your working as a living God be our example and may we let You change our thinking and our actions until we are Your spitting images in a world that needs to not only see You and be amazed, but needs to know You and be changed.

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If You Want To Hear His Song Of Deliverance, You Have To Be Delivered!

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Photo credit to Lois Pannabecker

“You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.” Psalm 32:7

I was just thinking about these words and what they mean. How can You, Lord, be my hiding place unless I have something in my life I must hide from?  Do I run to my Father and hide if I am not scared or in danger?  How can I experience You as my hiding place without such things in my life.  I must need to hide in You.  And I must need to hide from something of danger that pursues me.

I could be angry that there is something that pushes me to run and hide.  Or I could be glad, abundantly glad.  Because whatever that situation was that pushed me to run to You, it enabled me to learn of Your safety and care and Your ability to preserve me.  It brought me to the safe embrace of Your arms, where I was close enough to feel their mighty strength.  It chased me so close to You that as I rested under the shadow of Your wings, though the fire raged, I was unscathed.  I learned that You truly are my hiding place and what that means.  I experienced it and thus I experienced You and Your presence.

I was there so long that eventually the trouble could no longer stand against You and You surrounded me on the inside and out with songs of deliverance.  I can’t hear them and I can’t sing them and I can’t be part of the song if I haven’t been delivered.  And to be delivered I must go through the experiences that give You the opportunity to deliver me.  Oh!  This so needs to change my attitude!  This so needs to change the way I think!  Oh!  This so needs to change the way I respond!

These hard things in life, whatever they are for each of us, they must be.  I must experience this.  Because I must run to You and hide in You and experience You so that I get to experience that song.  I want to live for that song because living for that song is living in You.  Living for that song is waiting on You and waiting for You and not giving up until I hear from You.  Living for that song is hiding so deep that I hear Your every heartbeat instead of mine.  Living for that song is hiding so deep that I hear Your voice instead of my cries.  Living for that song is hiding so deep that I hear the tensing of Your muscles, so to speak, over the weapons of the enemy.  Living for that song is when I finally learn what it is to trust in You.

A hiding place, I truly think,
Implies to me some things.
A hiding place, it seems to me
Is only needed when
A fearful thing is in pursuit
Or I the truth conceal.
But if You are my hiding place,
And to You alone I run
Then something hard must come my way
That I need You to preserve me from.
From no light thing would I choose to hide,
But something ever large,
Or something that would do me in,
From this preserve me, Lord.
So rough times will come,
Could last for years,
See Moses, Joseph, more,
But if You are my hiding place
You’ll preserve me through them all.
And here’s the piece de resistance,
Through it all You’ll compass me about-
You’ll compass me about with songs!
Like Moses sang You’ll fill my heart!
Like Deborah and Barak that day!
See, there’s something about deliverance,
A truth I need to know
That I won’t understand the song at all
Unless I’ve been delivered so!
I have to see the trouble
And have lived within it’s grips
I have to know the special joy
Of trusting You in it.
I have to be there on the days
When waiting, hiding was my way,
To be there on that special day
When deliverance takes that stone away!
The experience must be something lived
To know the depths of joy
For I must come to know You first
To see Your hand employed.
And what a song it always is
When You deliver me!
And so I wait, it’s worth it all
And evermore shall be
To hear You sing Your very song
Of how You delivered me
Because it happens as You sing
We also join in too
And we’re surrounded on all sides
By the deliverance of You!
Compass me, Lord, on either side,
The side where I may need to hide,
Or on that other outcome end
Where in Your presence
We sing again!
And I will wait, and hide in You,
Though long it take and hard,
As You preserve me and compass
My life with songs of Joy.
And this I must remind myself.
Of this I stop and think.
So, hard things come,
They may last long,
But this is still o.k.
For You are here preserving me,
And I’m with You to stay,
And though the time may tarry long
Wait for that delivery day!
For I will hear the song You sing
And I’ll be singing too!
And many voices will join in
Singing what that Lord can do!
So don’t be sad, my Soul,
We’ll sing, and we will hear that song.
For there is no one surer
Than my God I wait upon!

My Great Reward

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

“Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them:  otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:1

Am I living for a reward mentality?  Am I supposed to be living this “Chrisitan life” because I’m aiming towards receiving a reward one day when I get to heaven?  Is that what this and all my righteousness, all my good “deeds” are about?  Or is it something more?

Jesus, here You are warning me.  Be careful.  Be careful about what?  Be careful that when I’m doing the things that delight You, that I”m doing them for Your delight and not the delight of men instead.  Does it matter if anyone else knows what I’ve done, what “good” thing has transpired?  Does anyone else need to know it was from me?  Ultimately, was it really from me?  Because when I really get down to Your word, it’s actually You who are doing every good work in me.  If it’s a good thing and it comes out of me, it’s because I surrendered to You so that You could have Your way in me.  So whose good work is it anyway that I’m taking credit for?

What?  If I take credit for it before men, I won’t have a reward in heaven?  Why?  Aren’t there endless rewards?  Are Your rewards limited?  What reward am I looking for anyway?  And what reward do You desire to give to someone like me who doesn’t even deserve a reward based on my own merits?

Well, the Greek word is about a reward for work or payment for hire.  Misthos definitely has to do with action, effort, and behavior.  And I suppose there is always some sort of reward for our actions, for our behavior, for our efforts; there is always some type of consequence, whether good or bad, reward or punishment.  So if I receive my “full” reward now, then the just reward will go to those who have waited on You and there will be nothing but lack for those who wouldn’t wait.  So some recieve their “reward” now and will recieve suffering later because they’ve used their reward.  But others receive suffering now, and receive the reward in the Kingdom.  Didn’t Paul say,  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)?

We’re all working toward something.  We’re all expending our efforts on something.  The problem is that some of us are expending our everything on something that will leave us nothing in the long run.  But some of us are waiting on You, Lord, and You are what we are expending everything on and that is the only thing worth working towards.  Why?  Because You are coming quickly,  and You tell us, “I am coming quickly, and My reward with Me, to render to each as his work is.” (Revelation 22:12)  I think that there is something significant for me to understand there, that Your reward is with You.  It’s with You.  It’s not separate from You.  It’s with You.

At one point, You told Your disciples, Jesus, that they always had the poor with them, but You were not always with them.  That was before Your resurrection.  But afterwards, You told them the work You wanted them to be about, teaching others to observe all things whatsoever You had commanded them, and You went on to tell them that now, because of Your resurrection, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)  Hm.  The reward is with You.  You are with me.  That means that when I am with You, the reward is with me.  At least I think it does.  Therefore, the reward is always found in You.

Is that what my walk is all about?  Is it all about You and being with You and fulfilling Your desires?

2 John 1:8 tells us to watch ourselves, “so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.”  It continues to talk about people walking ahead and not abiding in Your teachings and not having God.  I suppose they have their reward and they didn’t consider You that reward worth clinging to.  But I consider You my reward and everything else emptiness.  So give me the desire to do the work that You require and that You delight in, because I want to be there doing Your Father’s work with You.  I want to be right in the midst of the rough of it with You because that’s where my reward is, wherever You are.

See, I’ve already had this glorious taste of the reward when I tasted You.  And as I remain in You and join You in Your work, I know that the full meal is coming to fruition when I will know You as I am known.  You will fill my cup and it will overflow with You.  Your promise to me is true.  You have already begun the work that will lead me to the final installment of Your peace and presence.

So after all this, I ‘m going to get personal.  What is my reward?  Do I complain when things don’t go my way,  when things that I believe are Your plan for me appear thwarted?  What is my treasure really?  Is it what I do or how I serve You?  So what if I can’t?  What if I was put in prison like Paul or so many present day martyrs in other countries?  Has that defeated me?  Has that defeated Your plans?  What if my family seems to be falling apart?  What if noone understands what You’ve layed on my heart?  What if everything goes wrong and falls apart around me?  What is my reward?  Where is my reward?

Sometimes, I forget that my focus is on You, Lord.  I get all caught up in what’s going on around me and the people around me.  I don’t even try, but it just happens.  I guess it’s kind of like Madonna’s song, I’m a “material girl” just by nature.  But I’m not a material girl by  the power of Your spirit in me.  I need to focus on You instead.  When You say that the “mountains may depart and hills be removed, buy My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” (Isaiah 54:10) I need to trust that and that alone.  See, You are the One who has compassion, true compassion on me.

I may feel afflicted, storm-tossed, and discomforted, but maybe it’s just a test of my faithfulness.  Maybe this is just a test of where my treasure is, of Who and where my reward really is.

The choirmaster in Psalm 46, one of the Sons of Korah, I think, learned this lesson through hard things. It appears that You were his treasure and his reward.  He put it to song.  He said, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  He must have stopped looking at the people and events around him.  He must have been surrounded with trouble but found Your presence even stronger in the midst of it.  He must have allowed himself to receive the reward of Your presence and strength and refuge in the midst of whatever was going on.   I doubt he started there.  I think it took the earth giving way sometimes, and the mountains being moved into the sea around him, and the waters around him roaring and foaming, and the mountains still trembling and the waters swelling.  But that’s when he realized that if it weren’t for You being with him, he would have perished.  That’s when he realized that if it weren’t for Your being a place of refuge, he would cease to exist.

This Son of Korah learned to focus his heart on You despite the storms around him.  And isn’t that what You warned me?  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  Where do I keep all my stores of treasure?  What is most valuable to me?  Is the reward what I get or what I get to do, or is my reward really You?  Then, even if the world should fall apart around me, if You are my treasure, if You are my Great Reward, what changes, because surely You never change.

Maybe I need to take Isaiah’s words in chapter 11 more to heart.  Maybe I need to delight in the fear of the Lord and stop judging by what I see with my eyes, or deciding by what I hear with my ears.  Maybe I need to remember the words to Abram, “I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.”  (Genesis 15:1)  Maybe I need to remember and not just remember, but really take it to heart and live like I believe it with all my heart and all my mind and all my life.

When Boaz was noticing how much Ruth had taken You to heart, Lord, he said these words to her, “The Lord recompense your work, and a full reward be given you of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to trust.” (Ruth 2:12).  What was he talking about her recompense being for trusting in You and living in that trust?  It sounds to me like the full reward was of You Lord.  I mean, maybe he meant that a full reward would be given from You, but I can’t help but think that You Yourself are the full reward that You give to those who seek You and display that seeking in trustful actions.

Where is my reward?  Isaiah tells me, “Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.  He shall feed His flock like a shepherd:  He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”  Though Israel has sinned and has reaped that price, their comforter is coming and His reward is with Him.  There’s a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  Sound familiar?  The glory of the Lord is revealed.  Could Jesus be the reward?  Could God’s redemption and forgiveness and grace and everything He gives us in Him be the reward?  What glorious work is before Him?  Is creation the climactic work of His hands or is a redeemed people with new hearts, a redeemed people after His own heart, a renewed people abiding in Him in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit His climactic work that stands as a testimony before Him?

Isaiah was really given to think about this reward.  “Behold, the Lord has proclaimed unto the end of the world, ‘Say you to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, His reward with Him, and His work before Him.'” (Isaiah 62:11)  Like Israel, God, You are continuing to make a people.  Your work is still going on.  You are still making a holy people, redeeming Your own, seeking us out, not leaving us forsaken.  You are rewarding those who don’t deserve such a reward with Yourself.  You are rewarding those who don’t deserve such a reward with the sacrifice and love of Your one and only Son, Your beloved Son.

The reward is my relationship restored in and with the God of my creation.  Everything that I lost by my choice to relate my being to my self and to the delight of others is restored when my delight in You is restored.  And the amazing thing is that You did all that work to get me back to delighting in You again.  You sought me so intimately that I experienced my need for You again, that I experienced my delight in You again.  You awoke in me what was lost and returned to me the reward I had forsaken.  It is You.  It was You.  But my focus was averted to other worthless things that had no power to reward because they are not the Reward itself.  There is One Reward above all rewards.  And I will only find it in my Father in heaven.

Circumstances can’t give me that reward.  All the blessings showered upon me from above can’t give me that reward.  No man can give me that reward.  No amount of good things I do will give me that reward.  No beautiful thoughts I have or any many shares can give me that reward.  I have no reward of my own to give back to You or to others if it is of myself or of other men.  If I want to have a reward to share with others, it must not only be of You, if must be You.  Simply stated, You, the Reward, must be my alms.

In Luke 11:40-41 You told the religious people, “You fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also?  But rather give alms of such things as you have; and behold, all things are clean unto you.”  Obviously it wasn’t the good stuff they had that made them clean.  They were like beautiful cups that were filthy on the inside.  They were empty of the real reward.  And You can’t give what you don’t have.  But if You have the Alm of Alms within, then beautiful stuff flows from within, the good stuff that God is made of, the good stuff that makes us clean and holy like Him and capable of God goodness and God love and God compassion and God giving.  See, I’m not blessed because I hear and do the good things I hear.  Jesus tells me in Luke 11:28 that I’m blessed, that I live in this blessed state because I hear Your voice, and keep it.  I guard it like my treasure because it is my treasure.  I value above everything Your reward.  Your reward is my life.

What You were telling that woman that wanted to “bless the paps which You had sucked,” is that unless I truly have a relationship in You, my relationship with You is empty.  The Word of God is a person.  This Person is my Reward.  Either I am in Him, and all of my being is placed in ultimate trust and dependency and preservation in Him, or my trust is elsewhere.  You are not just a good person, good idea, good thing.  You are the only Good One and the only One who can make me good.  Are You not only my most valuable treasure, my greatest reward, but are You my only treasure and my only reward?  Why?  “Because where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  Lord, I just pray that You would be what brings every beat of my heart to life and that my heart would continually run after You and with You.  I guess my prayer is that just as Your reward is with You, that my Reward would be with me and I would be with my Reward always, moment by moment.  May my alms come from You and may they be brought forth for Your glory, regardless of what others think or do.

The Most Glorious Worm

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham

Mat 26:41  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Stress.  That’s my word for today.  Stress.  Stress.  Stress.  How am I supposed to deal with it rightly?   You, Lord, repeatedly tell us, “Therefore do not be anxious…”  You even go so far as to say it this way, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  So what does that mean?  Because it sounds to me like even if I keep myself from making myself anxious over things, the days in themselves are going to throw their own anxiety at me without me even contributing.  Yes, that’s happening a lot lately.  So my question today is, Lord, how do I handle it rightly?

Here’s the deal.  It seems to me like my heart and my mind aren’t anxious.  I’m not worried.  I know that You are working all things, yes, ALL things for my good and Your glory.  But I feel the anxiety in my body.  I wonder if I’m grinding my teeth.   I’m getting headaches.  I feel on edge.  I can’t concentrate as well.  I just feel it in my body.  It’s tense.  It’s like my body acts one way and my mind and heart want to act another.  How do I get a handle on it?  Do I get to get a handle on it?

So I’m glad to come to remember Your words about the spirit being willing but the body being weak, because, obviously, my body is weak.   My spirit is willing, it’s eager and prepared.  But my flesh is a whole other story.  My flesh is weak.  It’s asthenes.  It’s strengthless whether you look at it literally, figuratively or morally.  It’s feeble, impotent, sick, without strength.  And that’s bad, isn’t it?

Or is it?  Because You say that when I am weak, then I am strong.  Well, that’s a paradox, isn’t it?  How can I can I be weak but strong?  Maybe it’s not about my strength.  Maybe it’s always about Your strength.

It’s interesting to say the least, how I started thinking about this a couple days ago, and then at church this morning, Pastor Mark preached on how You, Lord, handle trouble.  And I really appreciated the verses he shared.  “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly , I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  Now is My soul troubled.  And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?  Father, glorify Your name.”  Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”  (John 12:23-28)  And this is such a tremendous help because if I want to know how to rightly handle trouble and stress, I need to know how You handled it.  And if there was ever a place or a time that You were under the most stress ever, this is that time.  So how did You handle it?

I want to look closely at verse 27.  Here’s how You felt.  “Now is my soul troubled.”  That word, troubled, is “tarasso” in Greek.  It can mean anything from stirring the water or being agitated, or extend all the way to the extreme of being terrified, or effected by grief or anxiety.  Really?  Jesus, You felt those things?  You felt that way?  It’s not hard to understand that You would feel this way at this time.  You knew what was coming; it was the whole reason You came.  You were about to offer Your life for mine, for all people.  You were about to do something no other person could ever do.  You were about to go through the greatest suffering ever and it was by Your own choice and design.  God had purposed this from the start.  And the moment was almost here.

It was more than physical suffering and humiliation and crucifixion.  Lots of people have been put through that and still are being put through that, especially at the hands of ISIS.  But You were the only One who could bear our sin on top of all that.  Now I’ve been thinking about that.  I’ve been thinking about the intensity of Your suffering for me.   I’ve been thinking about the physical and emotional pain You bore.  But I’ve also been thinking about the pain of bearing all our sin.  I can’t even understand that.  How does a perfectly holy and just God who abhors sin, take the sin of every person on Himself?  How do You bear that which You loathe?

Yes, Your soul was more troubled than I have ever been and than I could ever imagine.  For me, for every individual person who has ever existed or who ever will, You bore what was antagonistic to Your very being.  You became sin for me.  That in itself was worse for You than all the torture.  But You took on both the torture and the darkness and grossness of our sin.  And what should You say?  “Father, save Me from this hour.  Father don’t make Me bear their sin.  Don’t make Me suffer like this for them.  Don’t make Me bear and experience their darkness.”  Is that what You should have said?  No.  If You had said that, then You wouldn’t be Who You Are.

Who are You?  You are the One who came for this specific purpose.  This was the cause You came for .  This was Your hour to shine the brightest.  This greatest trouble of all time was Your time to glorify the Father above all troubles and be glorified in Him.  This was Your opportunity to overcome darkness.  This was Your opportunity to redeem Your people unto Yourself.  Through this act, God would be glorified.  His plan would be fulfilled.  His will would be done.  This was the hour that had been designed before time to fulfill God’s plan and bring glory to His name.

So what does this teach me about how I am to handle my problems and trials and stressful situations?  I need to view all these tough situations as being designed in my life for one purpose- that God should be glorified.  Every one of these tough things in my life brings me face to face with determining who I love more, my way and my life or Your way and Your life.  Can I come to the point of detesting my own way and loving Your way more, despite the pain?  Would I accept what I detest if it meant glorifying You to bear it for a time?  Because if I can’t do that and if I’m not willing to do that, then how can I really serve You?  If I can’t follow You where You walk, then how can I be where You are?  If bearing suffering in a God glorifying way isn’t part of my life, than how much are You a part of my life?

Do I cry out to be delivered from all my troubles?  Or do I cry out for You to be glorified in the midst of them?  Could I declare like Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him”?  Can I see the bigger picture and trust in You regardless of whether I see?  Can I trust that You see and know all that I need?  Because isn’t that what trusting is?  Isn’t that when I know, without having to see, that You have it all under control and that You truly have my best interests in mind?  So, can I surrender to the tough situations in my life as unto You?  Is Your glory that important to me?

I think of people that You have placed in my life.  People who have been through very hard trials in their lives.  People who are still going through hard trials.  I watch them.  I listen.  I walk with them.  I see how they surrender to You.  I see how they look at these hardships as times to grow in You and glorify You.  I see You using their weakness to make much of Yourself.  Because how can we be strong when we are weak?  The credit has to go to Someone Else.  And it does.

I just looked up and saw these following words from Job.  He says this of You.  “He also shall be my salvation…” (Job 13:16)  “He also shall be my Yshuah.”   That’s Your name, Jesus.  You are Yshuah.  You are Salvation.  You are deliverance.  You are victory.  You are health.  You are aid.   You are my welfare.  You gave Your life for me to become my Yshuah.  And it wasn’t just in word.  You gave Your life so I could have Your life.  But I must give my life to You to receive Your life.

Lord, I don’t know how to respond in every situation.  I’m flawed.  But I want to glorify You in the midst of every trouble.  I want to understand how You would respond and I want to respond in Your love and power and grace.  Fill me with You so that I will respond rightly.  I’m weak.  I’ll be the first to admit it.  I can’t respond rightly without You.  I’m desperately needy.  But You are able to deliver me through my troubles.  Even if I must stand in the midst of burning flames, You can give me the strength to lift my hands above my head and clap as I burn so that You are glorified and others know that You bear us in Your strength through every tough thing.  (That account was related in Fox’s Book of Martyrs)  Let me always remember Your troubled soul, so that I can always run to You for understanding, strength, and encouragement.

You know, sometimes I feel like a worm.  But that’s OK.  You understand what it is to be treated like a worm and feel like a worm too.  They made fun of You for trusting in God.  They made fun of You for delighting in Him.  But Your trust paid off.  He did deliver You.  He always has and always will delight in You.  And I want to trust You like that, no matter what the people say or what the circumstances around me say.  Thank You for experiencing being a worm.  Because You know me.  And You are the most glorious Worm ever.   And if I must follow You as a worm, then make me a beautiful worm in You.  I’d be the most joyful worm in the world to look like You.

Got Trouble?

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“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace.  In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33Image

Nope.  This is not an error.  Yep.  I am still here, still on John 16:33.  Here I am, still drilling in this message.  “In Me and Me alone, you have peace.  In Me and Me alone you are made whole and complete and everything fits together.  Only in Me are you one and everything is right.”

So now, spiritually I am in You but physically I am in the world.  I mean, there’s no way around it right now.  I am in You  and I am in the world at the same time…but fortunately not in the same way.  And “in the world [I] will have tribulation.”  I wish that Your words had just ended with “in Me you have peace.”  But they didn’t because You were preparing me and making me ready for reality.

The world is full of tribulation.  So what is tribulation really?  The Greek word is “thlipsis.”  It seems only appropriate for a word so filled with difficulty to be difficult to say.  Strong’s Concordance defines it as “pressure,” as “persecution, affliction, distress, tribulation.”  It’s explained as “properly, pressure (what constricts or rubs together), used of a narrow place that ‘hems someone in’; tribulation especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, ‘without options’).”  (HELPS Word Studies).  They continue to define it as “(compression, tribulation’) carries the challenge of coping with the internal pressure of a tribulation, especially when feeling there is ‘no way of escape’ (‘hemmed in’).”  It’s not just about coping with the “external pressure exerted by circumstance.”  The external has caused or moved to an internal pressure, an internal constriction,  and that’s the part we have to be watchful of.

I need to share a little more about “thlipsis” because this is really tough stuff.  This is what I’ve been going through for a while.  Maybe you are going through this now.  Maybe you have.  And if not, Jesus is saying, “You will go through this.”  And my first response is, “Why?!”  But not any more.  I already learned why.  But then my second response is more like an adamant, “No!” because I just don’t like it at all; who would?  Give me the peace and leave off the tribulation.  But the real peace in You comes through the process of handling “thlipsis” correctly and seeing that it is orchestrated by You for my benefit.  Does that make it hurt less?  No.  But it makes me look at it differently and gives me not only a reason to handle it differently and to look at it differently, but You give me the power to handle it correctly.

So, I want to look at “thlipsis” some more.  If I am going to be brought up against a strong army, I want to know fully what I am going to be up against.  “Thlipsis  is a strong term which does not refer to minor inconveniences, but to real hardships….It is a pressing together as of grapes. It conveys the idea of being squeezed or placed under pressure or crushed beneath a weight. When, according to the ancient law of England, those who willfully refused to plead guilty, had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and were pressed and crushed to death, this was literally thlipsis…Thlipsis thus refers not to mild discomfort but to great difficulty…In Scripture the thlipsis is most often used of outward difficulties, but it is also used of emotional stress and sorrows which “weighs down” a man’s spirit like the sorrows and burden his heart. Thlipsis then includes the disappointments which can “crush the life” out of the one who is afflicted…The English word “tribulation” is derived from the Latin word tribulum (literally a thing with teeth that tears), which was a heavy piece of timber with spikes in it, used for threshing the corn or grain. The tribulum was drawn over the grain and it separated the wheat from the chaff.”  (Precept Austin)  Yes, this is tough stuff and I will experience this because this is what is in the world.  So, what am I to do about it?

I don’t like this.  But I don’t have to like it.  It’s designed for me not to like it.  I think it’s designed for me to want to run the other way but to refuse myself and stay.  What?!  I think that tribulation is designed to teach me to die to self.  I think that You, Lord, put these things in my life to wean me from my natural responses.  But it only works if I am in You.  In You, You change my thinking which changes my response.  A Bible commentator by the name of Morris noted, ” No one likes troubles of this kind, but they may be seen as difficulties to be overcome, as ways of opening up new possibilities.  One who sees them in this light glories in them.”

In Hebrew this idea for tribulation or “distress” is “tsarar.”  Read Psalm 102 and you’ll get the idea.  The ESV begins with “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.”  Have you felt like that?  I have.  “Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress!  Incline Your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!”  I read it.  And this afflicted one came to the same conclusion as this afflicted one here is coming to, or rather has been brought to this conclusion by You.  That this stuff that makes my days seem meaningless and futile, this stuff that burns me up inside, that strikes down my heart and wants to whither it, that makes me lose my appetite, that causes me to groan from within,  and lose sleep, that sets up enemies against me and makes me feel miserable, that makes me feel like You’ve picked me up and thrown me down, that shakes my whole world upside down…is in the process of bringing me to know that You are in control of me and ALL things and everyone.  And that will bring me, at Your appointed time, to really see and know and experience Your glory.  And then You will have created me, yes, fragile me, broken me, to really praise You.  Because You are just waiting until it comes to that point where I stop moaning about the stuff and start moaning for You.  When the stuff stops mattering and You become everything, You will set Your captive free.  Then I will be declaring You; then I will know what it is to worship You.  But first, You have to break my strength so I depend on Yours.

Yesterday we talked about how You give peace.  Today we are talking about tribulation, distress.  But we need to look at them together, as You intended.  Skip Moen shared, “the Hebrew word for “distress” is tsarar.  It means being wrapped up, bound, constricted to a tight place, tied or restrained.  The Hebrew idea of peace carries the imagery of a wide space, a lush and open grazing land, while distress means being cramped, constrained on all sides…Most of us quickly turn to the Lord when we perceive things that we consider threats, but it seems to me that few of us cry out to God when we face what He perceives as threats.  Oh, He warns us, no doubt.  But we hear the voice of our Mother as she contemplated the suggestion of the serpent.  ‘It looks perfectly good to me.  Why would God ask me to avoid what is pleasant to the eyes, good for knowledge and nourishing for my well-being?’  Instead of red flashing lights, we see green permissions…What’s the lesson?  Maybe it’s this.  Measure distress according to biblical standards, not yours and mine.  Threat assessment will change.”

Am I looking at this trial through Your standards?  Or am I looking at it through mine?  Am I so focussed on the end product where I know You are taking me that I am not responding correctly in the here and now?  What makes this situation so tough?  It all goes against me and against my wishes and against my plans, even if I am following Your plans.  So I get bossy.  I lift up my “complaint” just like in the Psalm.  I don’t like it.  “Stop this ‘speedily’!”  But if You are using this pressure for my good, then shouldn’t I be asking, “Lord, how do I respond appropriately like You and in You in the midst of this?”  Shouldn’t I be asking, “Lord, how can I respond so that soon, I have a glorious testimony to share of You?”  “Lord, how can I respond and what do I need to learn about me and about everything and about You that will draw me closer to You?”

Because if I choose to complain, what happens?  My thoughts are drawn away from You and onto the circumstances or onto the people.  Complaining changes my focus.  Complaining turns to bitterness and regrets.  Complaining digs in deeper.  But focussing on You breaks the chains.  Looking for the goodness of You in the people causing the bad, changes them by setting me free.  Looking for the goodness of You in the tough circumstances changes them by setting me free.  And the problem is, I am naturally a captive with a captive mentallity.  You have to retrain me to realize that I am ALWAYS FREE in You!  You have to retrain my thinking and perceptions and teach me to continually pray and be in communion with You.

 And that’s the rest of the good news here.  “But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  In You I have peace; in You I am an overcomer.  It’s a done deal if I would only look at it and live in it that way.  I need to change my thinking.  I need to change my responding.  I need to “Be of good cheer,” “Be of good comfort,” “Be of good courage,” Be confident,” “Take heart!”, and “Cheer up!”  And this is not a suggestion.  This is a command.  In the midst of the hardest times of my life, I am to be “full of encouragement, to be joyful, expectant, confident…” (Precept Austin)  “‘Having the deposit of the Spirit, therefore we are confident.’  This confidence is not mere temporary feeling due to some transient excitement, but a permanent state of mind.” (Hodges)  O.K., Lord, You are in the process of changing my way of thinking, teaching me to take every thought captive to You, teaching me to continually come to You and rely on You.

Spurgeon continues that line of reasoning.  “What, then, is the way to maintain peace when there are changes in the soul; when we are sometimes taken up to heaven and are anon cast down?  Why, the only way is never to unduly be elated by prosperity without or within, and never to be unduly depressed by adversity or by doubts and fears, because you have learned to live neither upon the things without nor upon things within, but upon things above, which are the true food for a new-born spirit.” And what are those things above?  They are all summed up in You, Jesus.  When my focus is not just on You but in You in the here and now, that this moment is Your moment and I am here to serve You right now, right here in the midst of all of this.  Then I can become an overcomer in You.

It’s all about me learning to live out Your message in every moment of my life.  I’ve accepted Your invitation, and Your invitation has been continuous since before the beginning of time.  And that means something really important here.  You gave out the same message of invitation in the good times and the bad times.  You didn’t stop inviting while You were on the cross.  As a matter of fact, that became Your greatest and most gentle invitation.  So what about me?  What about my life message?  What does my invitation to You look like to others when I have to carry my cross?  Is my life message about You, “Leave me alone!  You people are getting in my way and God’s way!”  Wow!  That hurts.  That hurts big time.  What is my character and life saying?  Is it attracting or pushing away?  Am I intimidating, repulsing, or drawing gently?

Lord, now that I know and You have shown me, what will I do with tribulation and distress and the pressures in my life?  I mean, they’re still here.  Keep me from being caught up in them, from becoming captive to them.  Ever remind me that I am free in You, so keep me in You.  Keep me relying fully on You.  Keep me in Your Word because I need to be continually reminded.  I need to be continually refilled.  Give me a right focus on and in You.  Keep me constantly close to You in prayer, listening for You.  Let me be obedient and be of good cheer.  May my hope and wholeness be in You right now.  I know I have a good future because You’ve planned it all out.  But You’ve planned out my now, my present also, and it’s for my good, no matter what it seems.  Make that truth reality in my life and in my mind.  May I look at every circumstance as an opportunity to learn how to glorify You and to be drawn closer to You in worship.  Not my will, but Your will be done.  Use it all to make my life a glorious gentle reflection of You.  I’m far from there, but You aren’t finished with me yet.  Oh, that I would always be pliable in Your precious hands!