Wisdom Seeker: Day 30

Proverbs 30

Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9

Have you ever thanked God for affliction and trouble?

It’s a sincere question. Think about verses 8-9 of today’s reading. The author asks God to keep him in a state of in-between. He asks for neither enough wealth that he has no worries nor poverty where he has nothing but worries.

Not many of us in America fall into the second category. Oh, we may have our share of bills and not quite enough to pay them, true. But few of us have ever been tempted to steal just to fill our empty bellies.

To get to that point of need you’ll have no electric bill nor water bill to trouble your mind. No cell phone or internet service to speak of, so if you’re reading this, you’re not that poor. To face starvation, it’s doubtful you’ll have rent or a mortgage. If you have any of those things, you have something you can trade in or sell that would purchase a few decent meals at least.

It may seem counter-intuitive to actually thank God for hardship, though. After all, would you rather thank Him from a position of unshakable financial security?

I’m sure. Yet for one thing, there is no such thing as unshakable financial security. Not to mention I know of no soul so pious that it isn’t prone to relying more on it’s bank account than on God.

But that, my friends, is a dangerous place.

It’s best if we have enough difficulty in life to remind us of our need for God. The problem with wealth is that, too often, it begins to own us. Like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22, we feel so secure in our stuff that we hesitate to leave it behind for the lasting riches found in Christ.

When I think of this thing in terms of eternity – of the fleeting nature of health and wealth in my present state, of the rapidity with which all my earthly security can come crashing down due to an accident, diagnosis, or natural disaster – then yes, I can thank God for adversity.

For me, chronic pain has taught me more about His goodness and mercy than life as a healthy billionaire ever could. And I am thankful.

Lord, thank You for loving us enough to keep us dependent on You. No matter what life may bring, keep our eyes turned to You and our hearts inclined to loving obedience to You, amen.

Wisdom Seeker: Day 24 – An Open Letter to S.S.

Proverbs 24

My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 24:13-14

OK, I’ll confess that a part of this exercise of writing a bit about a proverb each day is to get me back in the habit. After taking July off and since I’m now getting paid to write (not here – an entirely different project), I need the accountability to write some words each day, even if they aren’t perfect.

So here I am. But today I have something else on my mind. Really, I have a person on my mind.

Mr. Sparkman, I doubt you’ll ever read this, but know that I’m praying for you. Seriously. I pray that you will know the goodness and peace of the Lord. I’m praying for you to find this wisdom that is sweet for your soul so you may find a future and your hope will not be cut off.

The thing is, none of this hope and future apply to your life here on earth. Horrible things have happened to you. There’s no denying it. And I know you believe God turned His back on you and you’re angry.

Well, today I invite you to let Him have it. You’re in yet another horrible place, so lay into Him. Yell to the heavens, fling all your anger and accusations into His face. Scream, rant, rave.

Because the thing is – He already knows it. Getting it out can be cathartic, like lancing an infection. And God – He is big. Huge. More than you can imagine. He can handle it.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

Psalms 139:4)

And what’s more, He knows what you are made of. He knows your weaknesses, your insecurities, your strengths, the good, the bad, the ugly. He knows you better than you know yourself. All of it.

And I know you don’t believe this, but He loves you anyway. He really, truly does. He’s given me a glimpse of that love which is why I continue to call you when I can, why I continue to pray for you when I can’t.

I want you to be free from the prison of deceit the enemy of our souls has locked you into. I want you to be able to experience the joy of repenting of sin and knowing that it is forgiven because God Himself came as a man to suffer pain – on purpose – so that He could pay the actual cost of that sin.

You can continue to pay it. Or you can surrender to Him and accept His forgiveness instead.

Yes, I know you’ve been sinned against. Atrociously. Horrifically. But the thing is, those people are accountable for their actions. If they didn’t face the consequences here on earth, they will face them in eternity. Some of them are already paying that price. I shudder to think about it.

It would have been better for them to pay it in this life and repent. Believe it or not, I’m sad for them. Eternal suffering is no joke, and once you get your mind around it, it’s hard to wish it on even the most evil person you know.

Forever, S. Forever suffering. The hell of this life multiplied by a million and extending for time out of mind.

You don’t want that. So please, please, please – let me talk to you more about my Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Let me tell you how good He is – even though bad things happen. Let me tell you of the freedom of forgiveness and the joy of knowing your eternal future is secure – free from pain and sorrow forever and ever and ever.

Because although I know you have been sinned against, you also know you’re no saint. None of us are outside of Yeshua. You know I wasn’t. Those who embrace Him are given His righteousness to put on as a cloak. It isn’t our goodness we wear – it’s His. Can you see that? I am not saved from my junk because of anything I did. It’s what He did for me that saved me. I simply surrendered to it.

And nothing can take that away for those of us who are in Christ. Nothing. No matter how bad life on earth gets – and it can get worse, believe me – nothing will change the future of the believer. Our hope is not in this world – it’s in eternity. Forever free from pain and sorrow and despair.

That is why I can have joy in the middle of severe physical pain. That is why I can smile even when I am rejected by other people. That is why I can love people who don’t love me back.

You see, Yeshua – Jesus – did that for me. He loved me when I ridiculed Him, when I hated Him, when I rebelled against Him. He loved me until I wrestled with Him and shrieked at Him until I finally lay spent at His feet, weeping.

And I surrendered.

He loves you, too. He really does. Please consider him.

Your old friend,

Heather

Sufferin’ Succotash

There’s an idea I hear tossed around from time to time among well-meaning Christians which goes something like this:

Christian A is speaking (texting, emailing, whatevering) with Christian B who is in the midst of a painful ordeal, possibly looking for ways out. In a sympathetic effort to console, Christian A says something to the effect that “God wouldn’t want you to suffer like this.”

But frankly, I find this concept puzzling. Why? Well, because I don’t see it reflected in God’s Word. Quite the opposite, actually.

Now before you accuse me of thinking God is a sadist or some grumpy old lightning-bolt thrower, let me state my case clearly: I don’t.

He is, was, and always has been a loving Father who is devoted to what is best for His children. And sometimes what is best for us in the long run (ie-for the next ten zillion years) us difficult or painful right now. In short, sometimes we have to suffer to be prepared for what’s next. God also happens to be the Creator, so his definitions about what is and is not “good” kinda trump ours in every single instance imaginable, but that’s a story for another day.

If I’ve learned nothing else from living half my life for me and the other half for Him, I’ve learned that suffering serves a vital role in the life of a Christian. After all, the Christ suffered, so it follows that if we are to become more Christlike, we will follow His lead.

Or as Paul put it to a young preacher named Timothy several centuries ago:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 2:3, emphasis mine)

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  (2 Timothy 3:12-13, emphasis mine)

**Note that persecution = suffering

Again, I do not view God as an angry deity just waiting to catch me in the act of doing wrong. I do, however, understand God’s perspective is so much wider and deeper than mine. Sometimes big benefits in eternity are purchased with a few drops of blood, sweat, and tears for His sake here on earth.

But please note the “for His sake” part of my little soapbox stance. If we suffer for wrongdoing, that’s merely us getting our due. But if we suffer for His Name’s sake, well… one possible solution is to embrace it. Maybe even count ourselves lucky like these guys did:

…and when they [the Sanhedrin – Jewish council] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name.  (Acts 5:40-41, again, emphasis mine)

But what about suffering that has nothing to do with His Name’s sake nor with our wrongdoing?  There’s a topic you and I could spend hours one.

I have learned not to trust my own judgment in discerning when I’ve done wrong because I am diabolically clever at lying to myself. Thus sometimes, my suffering is disciplinary and I need to ask my Father where I erred.

Once unintentional sin is ruled out, I’m left with the raw fact that suffering is a product of living in a fallen world.

And my friends, it’s at precisely these two points where hope comes in.

You see, if disciplinary suffering is lovingly administered by our Father, we can trust that it is for our good even if we don’t understand why.  No matter what mistakes our earthly fathers may have made, God is not earthly.  He made the thing, and believe me when I say we can trust Him with all of it. Even the pain.

As for other reasons for suffering, they may not be what we call “fair” (which is really just a monosyllabic way of saying “I don’t like this”). The crucial point about suffering for a Christian is that our suffering is not purposeless. Every single thing which happens to us, good or bad, is being used by God to mold, refine, and shape us into the Image of God as we were meant to bear it.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

Christian or not, we will all endure suffering in some measure. But for a Christian, there is a hope beyond suffering and even a reason to embrace it. This is the good news we ought to be sharing even when we are suffering. Even when we suffer for sharing it.

If you are interested in more Scripture-based thoughts about suffering (and have more time than me), feel free to select “migraine” in the drop-down box beneath the heading on the right side of the page. And let’s pray for each other, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:9)