Category Archives: Trust

Lay it down…

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suffering

 

When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his own brothers, I’m sure there was some clawing and scraping at the sides of it to try to get out… but there was no escape.

 

When he was sold to the traders on their way to Egypt, I’m sure there was some begging and pleading and serious efforts to wrest himself from the chains… but no one’s heart stirred to relent, and he was hauled away.

 

And when he was unjustly thrown into prison, I’m guessing there were some pleas and cries for justice… but bars and locks only mocked his appeals.

 

When Job learned that all of his possessions and ten children were gone in a succession of calamities that would make anyone’s heart faint – his did.

 

The raw reality of human suffering is not meant to be sugar coated with platitudes and “sticker-verses” that make the speaker feel better but not the sufferer.  But it is meant for something.

 

Suffering is agonizing.  It is life-stealing.  Suffering is loss of the most intimate kind and produces groans too deep to understand.

 

But it is also good.

 

We may suffer evil, but the suffering itself is good.

 

We may fight and claw at it.  We may plead with God for it to stop.  We may cry and rail against the injustice inherent in much of it.  And almost always, our hearts grow faint under the weight of it.  But in the end, those of us who are called by King Jesus, must greet it as the good gift it is intended to be – that it actually must be – because of the One who has placed it in our lives.

 

The struggle is real, and it is part of the process we all need to go through to learn what we need to learn from the suffering.  But eventually, if we are to gain anything at all from pain and sorrow and loss, the struggle against it needs to stop.  We must all – every one of us – come to the place where we can hold that burden of struggling against the trial, look at it with full-frontal, honest scrutiny and lay it down.

 

If we believe what we say we believe – that for those who love God all things work together for  good for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28) – then this, too – this suffering, was meant for our good. If we believe that 1 Cor 4:17 is true – that our sufferings are producing an eternal glory that far outweighs them all – then we can begin to see that God is giving us something better than we would have even imagined to ask for.  If we believe what Eph 3 says – that this is the very way that we are strengthened to be able to comprehend the love of God – then we can see this as a gift from our Father who says, “I want you to know me this deeply, and widely, and broadly, and for this long.”  And that none of these things can separate you from that love (Rom 8:35).

 

If all of these things are true – really, actually, undeniably true – then we can begin to loosen our grips on the hair roots that promise to lift us out of the pit but never deliver, and the shackles that delight to keep our minds and bodies enslaved, the prison walls that mock our broken hearts, and even the soul-rending cries that long for good to be restored… and cling instead to these promises of God for our deliverance.

 

We can lay down the struggle against it all.  We must.  Or we miss the good that is inherent in it and we miss the good that only comes from believing and trusting Him through it.

 

This isn’t a decision that someone else gets to make for you, beloved sufferer. No one can tell you when it is time to cast your burden aside.  The only words that can help you are the ones that help you get to the end of your struggle – not avoid it.   You and I, each in our time, must struggle through the suffering.  We may feel alone, but our Savior, who is able to sympathize with our grief because he has borne the same, has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  He is patient, though and will wait for you to lay down the burden of struggling against his good gift on your own.

We are not wrong to rail against the evil in this world.  We are not silly to want love to prevail. We are not idealistic fools to long for peace and joy and goodness to be reality. God agrees.  But God’s path for us to see and know and live those things is not the path that we would choose.  There are no shortcuts for mercy.  There are no detours that bring peace.  

If we are to experience the full measure of God’s ultimate gift for us – Himself – we must do things his way.  We must accept that he knows what we do not and that his hard path is better than going the wrong way, no matter how tempting it may be.  

We learn how strong God is through the struggle, but we learn how good he is when we lay it down.

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Further thoughts on Luke 10:2… therefore

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“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

 

Therefore

You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth saying here:  whenever you see the word “therefore” you need to look and see what it’s there for.

Therefore is a connecting word.  It connects what has preceded it to what is coming next.  There is culmination involved.  The speaker or writer has been building a case, setting the stage, laying it out as it were to get to something else.

Jesus has done just that here.  The stage is set:

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” has been laid out for all it’s glorious, yet problematic reality.  Jesus has a gargantuan task for his followers to work hard in.  A task so big and so far reaching that it is impossible, except that we know that nothing is impossible with God.

And now he’s about to explain how we are to participate with Him in His glorious plan.  There should be anticipation, expectancy, hope! – for we’ve just seen the problem but we know that the Savior we serve is full of miraculous, unexpected answers for the impossible.

We’ve looked closely at each of these words, both in their meaning separately and in how they stand together.  This is Jesus talking to us.  This is our Savior who has drawn us so effectively to himself that he has taken our hearts of stone and turned them into hearts of flesh to follow hard after him.  This is our friend and teacher – our guide and protector – who has told us “fear not, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  He will never leave you nor forsake you…”

Everything that precedes the “therefore” is to remind us of the kind of Master we serve.  It is setting the foundation for what follows.  It gives us all the reasons for the next part.  It is saying, “because of all of this….”

We need the foundation because we forget who we are talking about.  We need the setting of the stage because we lose sight of the plan.  We need the case to be built again for us – plainly – because we get distracted by so many lesser things.

Remembering that he is good and kind, faithful, true, loving, patient, powerful, and every other thing that we know is TRUE of the mighty God we serve  will give us courage for the impossible task he is calling us to.  It is because of this that we are reminded that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and like Paul we preach to ourselves, “It is no longer I who live, but 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.”

These truths anchor of our souls.  They keep us from being blown and tossed by the storms in our lives.  They center us on what is important and our focused gaze on who is talking to us will help us ignore the thousands of things around us at every given moment on every given day.

Being reminded that Jesus has a purpose to all of this and that he is calling us to see his plan – to be intimately engaged in his mission –  reminds us that the world is not spinning aimlessly into oblivion.  He is in control of all things and through Him all things hold together.  He was sent to bring a people to himself and he is calling us – inviting us – to the same purpose.  He is calling us to be actively involved in his Kingly work.

In calling us to remember that he has already accomplished everything he needs to achieve his stated goals.  He reminds us that His work will be accomplished – we need not ever fear that our labor for Him will be the toil that grinds us into the ground.  Instead, he promises good fruit for faithful service.  Jesus says there is a plentiful harvest.  He doesn’t say, “Look guys, if we all work together we just might be able to pull this one off.”  No!  It’s a sure thing.  A sealed deal.  We have assurance that the One with the power, might, and authority to do all of this is telling us it has already been secured.

“With my plan and purposes in mind,” he says “therefore…”

“Because I am the God of the Universe,” he says,  “therefore…”

“Because I have conquered sin and death,” he says,  “therefore…”

“Because I have a people to call to myself from every tongue and tribe and nation,” he says, “therefore…”

“Because I am who I am,” he says, “therefore…”

And here, if we’re listening and paying attention to the One we know and love and trust, we hear what Jesus is saying.  He is telling us, “Because I have a beautiful harvest that is ready to be brought into my good and perfect kingdom storehouses of souls that will live forever in My presence and sweet communion with me and all who are mine, and because there will never be enough of you to accomplish that – to bring in all the magnificent, glorious, God-magnifying plentiful bounty I have prepared to reap today and in every age until I return, from here and every group of people on the face of the earth… therefore.

These are unshakable truths.  They are not hopeful wishes or sighs of optimistic, positive thinking.  They are givens.  Absolutes.  Unqualified and unconditional.  Jesus will accomplish what he has said he will accomplish because he already has done everything needed to accomplish it.

They are because he says they are – and we can trust in them because we trust in Him.

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2… are few

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“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

Are few

Let me ask you a question – and Indian idiom (or so I’ve heard) – that  I’ve asked my children many, many times…  How do you eat an elephant?

The answer (and they all know this, too) is, “One bite at a time.”

When they are facing a task that seems to be too big for them to ever be able to accomplish (like catching up 30 lessons of math or cleaning out the garage or earning enough money to pay for something big) I’ve tried to teach them to just get started and do the first bit.  After the first bit is started the next bit is a little easier, and soon, you’re trucking along with a song in your heart and the job is getting done.

Most of the time a little more encouragement is needed, the mountainous task in front of them looms large until it’s more than half way gone, and there is a whole lot of discipline that goes into continuing to the end than the above description might lead one to believe.  But in the end, one faithful foot in front of the other – one bite at a time as it were – really is the best way to go.  We see a big thing and we just need to get on with it.

But sometimes the task in front of us really is impossible.  There’s too much work for one person – or a few – to ever be able to get done.

What do you do when there is a job in front of you that is simply too big?

What do you do when the job is like digging a well in the desert with a spoon or building a road through the mountains with a toy dump truck – a job that just can’t be done without more?

When Jesus told his disciples that the laborers were few he was, perhaps, opening their eyes to the enormity of the task he was setting before them and the impossibility that they alone could do it.  It was as if he was saying, “Look –  I have a harvest that is more plentiful than the stars.  My harvest is more numerous than the grains of sand at the sea.  There aren’t enough of you.  You can’t do it…”

I don’t know – maybe I’m a little looney – or maybe my imagination just gets the better of me sometimes, but I think if I had been listening to this I might have been having mental whiplash setting in about now.

OK, let me get this straight, Jesus – I really am trying to understand what you’re saying here…  Harvest – really good.  Plentiful – check.  Labor – hard, but fulfilling, got it.  Task – impossible…  huh???  I don’t know, Jesus – this sort of sounds like you’re setting us up to fail, doesn’t it?  You’re sending us out there without enough workers to do an impossible task?  What is that supposed to accomplish?”

Settle down there, Sparky (that’s you, reader, and me) – let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Be perfect as I am perfect.  Impossible task.

Love your enemies.  Impossible task.

Forgive them seventy times seven.  Impossible task.

Turn to him the other cheek.  Impossible task.

If anyone would follow me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  Impossible task.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Impossible task.

Do not fear them that can kill the body…. OK – is it just me or does this sound impossible, too?

All of these things are impossible, except that nothing is impossible with God.

So let’s look at those commands again.

Be perfect – Christ makes it possible.

Love your enemies – Christ makes it possible.

Forgive those who wrong you – Christ makes it possible.

Turn the other cheek – Christ makes it possible.

You get the idea…  Go to work at a task which simply aren’t enough of you for…. Christ makes that possible, too.

The beauty in all of the “impossibles” in our lives is that God gets all the glory.  When Moses had to win a battle against the heavily armed, highly trained Egyptian army with a bunch of terrified, cowering slaves – everyone there knew it was impossible for God’s people to prevail – except that with God, it wasn’t.

When Gideon had to win a battle being ridiculously outnumbered 300 to… so many that they are described as, “like locusts… and grains of sand in their abundance”… everyone there knew God’s people prevailing there was impossible, too.  Except that with God, it wasn’t.

When Joshua was told to instruct the priests, and then the army to go march around a city blowing horns in order to prevail against it, OK, come on – that was just humiliating in its impossibility.  Except that with God, it was anything but.

So this is starting to get clearer, now, isn’t it?

Jesus is telling us – “Go.  I have a ridiculously impossible task for you to do.  Trust me on this one, it’s completely outside of your skill set – I mean really.  There aren’t enough of you and there’s no way you can do it, but I want you to go and do it anyway.  Because with me, all things are possible.”

So what are we waiting for?!

The discomfort of struggle

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“NO!  DON’T TOUCH IT!”  I remember quickly intervening before my four-year old son “helped” a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.

“You have to let it come out by itself,” I instructed.

“But it needs help!” he demanded.

“No, it doesn’t.  It needs to struggle its own way out, or it will die.  It needs to get stronger by working itself out of that cocoon – if it doesn’t, it won’t be strong enough to fly away.”

Obedient, but dissatisfied, he relented and watched the grueling struggle as the wriggling, writhing thing slowly – ever so slowly – finally emerged and spread its wings to dry.  With revelry, he squealed in exaltation when “his” butterfly finally took flight, under its own power, and left the safety of our observation tank.

But there was another butterfly in our collection that had yet to emerge, and I did not catch my son before he gently “helped” the next one out.  That butterfly never spread its wings.  It never flew away.  It never did what butterflies were meant to do.  We found it on the floor of the terrarium, dead, not long after.

I knew what had happened without him confessing, but I asked him if he’d tried to “help” his other butterfly.  Embarrassed, he denied it at first, and then with tears he said, “I just wanted to help him!  He couldn’t get out!”

So many times I am tempted, like my son, to take a short-cut through the struggles in life.

I want to “help” my kids figure things out.

I want to “help” myself by bypassing the hard things.

I want to “help” the friends and loved ones in my life out of the pain and suffering they find themselves in because I don’t want them to struggle.

But when I look back at the times in my life when God has revealed his character to me best and deepest, I can point, without exception, to the painful and difficult struggles I’ve gone through.

I could not have known God the way I know him without them.

Why then do I insist on looking to avoid the uncomfortable struggle of getting through them?  Would I trade knowing God deeply and richly for an easier life?  God forbid that I would ever say so… but isn’t that exactly what we say when we try to escape the hard things?

I know that there is joy when the hard things are over.  And there is a depth of gratitude that comes when seasons of pain are memories and no longer daily realities.  In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but love cannot cease to will their removal.”

But the joy and the gratitude are impossible without the pain that precedes them.

I would not be able to know how sweet joy can be without knowing the bitterness of bone-grinding difficulties.  And my gratitude grows as deep as the plumbs of my despair when I have suffered loss and seen that God is good.

The struggles we face – and we watch others face – can, indeed, be uncomfortable to watch, to endure.  But there is such beauty ahead if we will wait with patient anticipation of the strength and character he will mold in us through them, if we will just trust Him.

By all means, help when it is necessary – but only when it is absolutely necessary.  And that is likely much later than we are typically comfortable with.

Do you trust Me? Or do you just say that you do?

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Someone sent me this drawing yesterday.  She is learning the beautiful, but sometimes painful lesson of trust.

This is a lesson God wants us all to learn.  From the time we are aware of God working in our lives until the day we die, we will be asked, “Do you trust Me? Or do you just say that you do?”

As C. S. Lewis so aptly stated:  ”

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is not part of the Christian faith.

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It’s not that we want wonderful things that is the problem – it is that the things we want are not wonderful enough!  “I want more” is not a bad desire!

But we hold on to trinkets and dollar-store substitutes rather than all that is Good and Beautiful and True.

I like the little drawing above – I especially liked that the dear soul who sent it to me is doing the hard work of struggling through whether or not she can let go of the cheap substitutes that she has been clinging so tightly to.  But I do have an issue with this portrayal, and that is this: the teddy bear that is being offered to this child is far too small a gift!

Jesus offers us so, so much more than a bigger toy.  He offers us Joy and Peace.  He offers us new dimensions of every single human emotion.  He offers us pressed-down-shaken-together-soul-satisfying fulfillment in ordinary and spectacular ways.  How?  He offers us Himself.  There’s no blind acceptance necessary – he’s clear and honest about what we receive when we receive him as the gift.  We get everything because he paid everything.

If you are afraid that yielding your life over to King Jesus will make you miserable and kill all your fun, ask yourself why you are willing to settle for such shallow, fleeting, temporary substitutes that leave you empty and always wanting more, when Jesus offers you the real thing that fills and quenches and slakes every thirst and desire you could ever have.  Don’t let bad examples of his followers ruin the perception you have of Him.  We’re all in the process of becoming more like him – but we all have such a long way to go.  Look past his children and see Him.

We all need to stop being deceived into thinking that there could be any lasting contentment or peace in anything other than the One who is Everlasting Peace.

So I ask again, “Do you trust God?  Or do you just say that you do?”  The answer makes all the difference.

As always, I welcome your comments.

PS.  I searched and searched for the artist of the above drawing but kept coming up empty-handed.  If you know who the artist is, please let me know so that I can give credit due.  Thanks.