Thursday, August 30, 2012

Minding the Thorns

"...For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do...For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." Romans 7:14-19

Why did God create man and woman with potent passions and desires, and then call us to control their power?  It seems we have been set up to fail.  “Behold! I give you an appetite you can’t satisfy.”  Why would a loving God torture his beloved so?  Seeking a biblical perspective, I learned that “self-control” is not used often in the bible.  Righteousness, however, is found over 400 times.  Self-control is a requirement for righteousness.  Practicing self-control is like a granddaddy's childhood memory of walking to school, barefoot, day after day, mile by mile, through the snow going uphill both ways.  

A righteous person is identified by her willingness to control herself.    Assessing my own identity, I find that I am very willing.  Able? Not so much.  If I had a dollar for every time I was willing to control myself, I could have retired years ago.  If I had a dime for every time I was able to control myself, my debt would match what I owe in college loans. 

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh against which he must struggle. In my lifetime, I have stepped on my share of thorns.  Alcohol was one of them; drunkenness sharpened the others.  I knew I needed to stop drinking.  More than willing, I was desperate to quit.  I would succeed for a season, but my resistance didn’t last. In time I failed. I hated myself for failing. I hated being a slave to my sin.  On my own, I was powerless to win my freedom.

Our little independent selves cannot maintain righteousness for long, not by our own strength.  We may do well for months, even years, but eventually we will get tired, we will have bad days, and the enemy is patient.  So why wouldn’t God provide thicker skin to protect our soles from stepping on those wicked thorns?  The answer is found in another question: Why would man need God if he could do everything himself?  

Through Christ I was able to withdraw my most life-threatening thorn. The hole remains open, sensitive to the irritations of life, but the wound doesn't control me. Still, the devil never sleeps; if it's not one thorn it's another.  Though some thorns are lodged deeper than others, it's those little ones that can be harder to dig out.  Worry and anxiety.  Anger.  Sugar.  

Self-control may be last on the list of spiritual fruits, but this character attribute is the seed that produces the preceding holy bunch.  We cannot ripen in love, joy, peace and such if we cannot first master self-control.  But we can’t do it alone.  Fortunately, His power is made perfect in our weakness.

"Lord, you give power to the weak and strength to the powerless.  Forgive me for thinking I can live righteously by my power alone.  Thank you for your grace that covers me when I fail.   Strengthen me when I am weak and continue your work in me." Amen

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dancing with Trouble

The word suffering usually brings to mind an extended period of pain or other unpleasant sensation. It’s the feeling associated with a bad situation, some sort of trouble, trial or challenge.  Not many of us would be willing to open the front door of our lives to suffering.  I know if I see trouble walking close by my first instinct is to bolt the door, close the blinds and pray it keeps on walkin’.  I had a pastor once who suggested that his congregation could use a little more trouble in life.   I was already going through it.  Recently divorced and struggling as a single parent, more trouble to be the last thing I needed. 

It’s not just the external situation that causes suffering but also the internal conversation that talks to the trouble, attacking my self-esteem.  The negative voices in my head play louder than the bass rattling the trunks of some of those cars in the hood. Fear of failure and self-doubt free-style a off-beat rap that pinches the nerves in my shoulders and makes my spirit slouch.  It’s difficult to see the benefit that comes from keeping step with trouble.   

There are two biblical promises that I’ve come to count on; one helps me deal with the other.  Jesus promises that we will experience trouble in this world.  It’s guaranteed.  But here’s the deal: the promise that covers this guarantee is God’s love for us.  Because of God’s love “all things  [yes, even that ugly “thing” hidden in the closet] work together for good to them that love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28)  Because of God’s love, Peter reckoned that “the suffering of this present moment is not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) 

When trouble is done with us, we are left stronger, glorious.  We are stiff and sore from the work-out, but the exercise has served its purpose.  Great suffering creates a lean, mean fightin’ machine and if we’re armed with God’s Word, we’re ready and able to “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” (Romans 5:3)  I’m not saying I’m going to dress up and go looking for a night out on the town with trouble, but with God’s love, I’ll be ready to tango when trouble finds me. 

Reflection Questions:
1. How does self-esteem help or hinder your ability to persevere?
2. Consider the times you have suffered in life.   How did these experiences make you better?  How does the past suffering prepare you for the troubles ahead?

“Lord, you are the potter and I am the clay. Forgive me for thinking I know what’s best for my life.  You know what is needed to shape me into the image of your Son, Jesus Christ. I surrender my suffering to you to use for your purposes.  You are my hope.” Amen