Saturday, April 15, 2017

Stop, Drop and Pray

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:7). When God spoke these words to Cain, His kind warning was unfortunately ignored. Instead, Cain yielded to the covetousness and envy in his heart and took the life of his own brother. As I consider the tragic outcome of his choice, I am all too aware of my own sin nature and the opportunity I have each day as a Christ follower  – to listen to God’s Truth, trust and follow Him or do it my way and suffer.

It seems an easy choice up front. In fact, I don’t think any logical person if presented with this story and the options would choose to ignore God’s leading and walk in misery. But, interestingly, we do it every day. The Lord shows us that going to bed angry or with unforgivness in our heart will result in a root of bitterness (Eph 4:26), but we often ignore the warning and refuse to let go of the anger. He says that if we worship idols we’ll become like them and our hearts will be darkened (Ps 115:8), but we reason that He couldn’t be serious and continue to bow our hearts to money, people, pleasure and our own selves hoping for the best. He says that if we leave “jealousy and selfish ambition” in our hearts, our lives will be chaotic and filled with all kinds of evil (Jas 3:16), but we refuse to let go of what we want and disregard the warning.

Like Cain, “sin is crouching” at the door of our hearts and desires to have us. It’s only as we submit to God, resisting the enemy and choosing instead to walk in the Spirit that we have victory (Jas 4:7). But how do we actually “do” this in the midst of hectic lives and not nearly enough time and space for reflection?

When we lived in Korea, we often exercised on the trails by the ocean and mountains nearby. It seemed I got a pebble in my shoe almost every time we walked, but I usually tried to ignore it to keep from stopping. I didn’t want to lose my momentum, but the pebble became so distracting that ignoring it became far more frustrating than the inconvenience of stopping for a few seconds to get it out. That’s the way it is with sin in our lives throughout the day. As soon as we notice that something is not right, that we’ve lost God’s peace or that we’re convicted of saying or doing something we know in our hearts is not pleasing to God, it’s time to stop. Delaying dealing with it only steals from what could otherwise be a joyful and peaceful day.

Once we realize that our communion with God has been breached and we stop to acknowledge it, there’s the opportunity to either yield our hearts to Him in prayer or keep moving forward, maybe with excuses and even good intentions to deal with it later. This reminds me of when the girls were young and would start crying about a problem. Depending on how focused or busy I was, I was tempted to ignore it, which only made it worse and usually the tension escalated. If, on the other hand, I would stop and carefully consider what was happening, drop what I was doing and deal with the struggle it was much more quickly resolved.

The decision by faith to go before the Lord and ask Him to show us specifically what has happened to unsettle our hearts really doesn’t take much time and it frees us to keep a clear conscience.
Not only that, the answer is guaranteed! He promises that when we ask for wisdom with sincere hearts, He’s not going to turn us away but will show us His truth (Jas 1:5-6). When He reveals what we’ve done or not done or how we’ve taken offense at another person’s action or inaction or allowed our emotions to rule us, we can acknowledge and repent of these sins and claim the cleansing blood of Jesus over us (1 Jn 1:6-8). As we strive in the Spirit’s power to keep a clear conscience before God and others, we not only experience inner peace but we are able to reflect Christ’s light and love (Acts 24:16; Matt 5:14).

It Makes All the Difference
We may think that it doesn’t really matter if we leave sin in our hearts, but we see from Cain’s life that it made the difference between life and death. Not that we’ll have such a tragic ending, but each day we ignore God’s Spirit nudging us to listen, trust and follow, we become less and less spiritually sensitive and our relationship with the Father grows cold. This, in turn, impacts our relationships with others. As we grieve the Holy Spirit, we lose interest in reading the Word, praying and seeking God’s Kingdom and our hearts begin to chase after other idols to satisfy the longing only Christ was meant to fill (Eph 4:30). As our hearts become hardened, we cease living in joy and fellowship with the Father, which leads to many other sins (Rm 1:21-25).

Cain’s struggle is our struggle, too. And God’s warning to Him is the same one He gives us. As His children, we have access into His presence at all times (Heb 4:16). Not only that, we’ve been given all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3) and we have His promise of forgiveness for all our sins --- past, present and future (Col 2:14). But we have to choose to walk in this truth to experience His love and freedom (1 Jn 1:7). It’s a choice we make throughout the day that can certainly seem cumbersome, but dealing with the sin that seeks to master us is by far the wiser choice that trying to ignore it. Like a pebble in our shoe, the sin and the Spirit’s conviction remain until we stop, yield our hearts and turn back to Him, confessing and forsaking those things that separate us from a life of loving fellowship with the One who loves us perfectly!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Blessings and Trials Intermingled

It’s not that popular as Christians to talk about suffering, but even more unlikely to connect trials with blessings.  We tend to polarize the topics – a lot like we do life and death, marriage and divorce, sickness and health. But Jesus did the exact opposite. He told the disciples their new life in Christ included an intermingling of blessings and trials. When Peter wanted to know about the good things they would receive for leaving everything to follow Him, Jesus said they would get “a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions” (Matt 10:30).

He wanted to be certain they knew God’s intention to bless them, but He didn’t want them deceived into thinking life as followers of Christ was without trials and suffering.  James said we shouldn’t just expect them, but rejoice whenever we face troubles of many kinds. Because it’s the testing of our faith, not the blessing of houses and farms and other means of prosperity, that produces in us perseverance so that we’re mature and complete lacking in nothing (Jas 1:2-4).

I’ve found this principle to be true, not just in my own life but in countless others, including people of faith in the Bible. Each life reveals God’s sovereign plan of interconnected blessings and trials that He somehow uses for His glory and the good of those He loves.  

There’s Abraham and Isaac

God sought out Abraham and promised his offspring would be uncountable, more numerous than the stars. Though Abraham and Sarah were too old to have a child they believed God and took Him at His word.  Even though they were promised a gift beyond comprehension, it carried with it the trial of waiting thirty years as they moved from place to place, following God’s leading. Once Isaac was born, Abraham may have thought his season of struggle was over. But God in His wisdom allowed Abraham to go through a painful surrender of his only son. While God wanted him to enjoy the blessing, he wanted even more to test Abraham’s heart and protect him from idolatry.  

Then there’s Jacob wrestling for a blessing

As he fought all night with the angel of the Lord, Jacob wouldn’t let go until God blessed him. Interestingly, he got the gift he so longed for – along with a “touch” on his hip socket. Jacob left that place with the blessing of a new name signifying his overcoming spirit, but he also had a new limp to remind him that he’d wrestled with the Lord.  He knew Jacob needed both – the promise of His favor after all he’d suffered, and a symbolic reminder that God’s power was infinitely greater than his own.

The Israelites asking for deliverance

As the Israelites were crying out to God to rescue them from exile, He assured them of plans to “prosper them and not to harm them – to give them hope and a future” (Jer 29:11).  But, in the context of that promise, He also gave them the hard news that they would go through seventy more years of exile before they came to a place of humble submission, seeking Him with all their hearts. He knew what they needed to receive the promised blessing, and it included the trial of suffering for many more years.

Jonah, David and Jeremiah

One of my favorite prophets, Jonah, was blessed with taking the Good News to the Ninevites, but only at the cost of giving up his own desires, demands and prejudices.

David received God’s promise that the throne would remain with his descendants forever. Yet, shortly after being anointed by the Spirit, he was thrown into an intense trial of being hunted down by King Saul. His blessing of ruling as king included many chapters of suffering, including hiding in caves where he was pleading for God to protect him. 

Jeremiah, appointed by God as a “prophet to the nations”, was reminded he’d been chosen for the job before he was born. God gave him an extraordinary task of tearing down and destroying as well as building and planting nations. But, this blessing didn’t come without a cost. God reminded him at the start “they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you.” Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, was threatened with treason, thrown into a pit and left to die. He was given a great calling but daily faced threats on his life.

And many others

Hebrews gives a brief list of them in chapter eleven saying, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”  Some were “tortured, put in prison, stoned, sawed in two, killed by the sword, “destitute, persecuted and mistreated…They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”  These men and women of faith, great leaders in His earthly kingdom, were blessed with God’s presence, given the Spirit’s power and wisdom. They each had the sense of knowing that they were called by God for specific tasks as Kingdom builders, but they had to suffer intensely as part of the blessing.

The mysterious interconnection of blessings and trials

It’s almost impossible to experience blessings without trials, at least in all the lives I’ve seen in the Bible and those I’ve been close to. Yet even with the overwhelming evidence that points to this reality, we tend to form a dichotomy that almost polarizes the two, keeping us from accepting them as part of the same package. In fact, we ask for blessings all the time without even thinking that suffering is going to be an important part in receiving and being able to enjoy them.

I’m coming to a place where I’m ready to accept the truth, as painful as it is. By embracing them both, I can enjoy what I consider the “good stuff” without becoming addicted to it. At the same time, I can be certain that trials will be part of the package. For reasons beyond my comprehension God allows them to be interconnected. He’s the giver of every good and perfect gift – both the blessings and the trials. And often the greater blessing comes out of the trial.