Wednesday, October 22, 2014

By the Book

There are many books that have been written about living the Christian life. Those of us who suffer physical pain, and desire to honor Christ in it, are often thirsty for words that will encourage, strengthen, and help us to persevere. When pain is relentless and our limitations frustrate us, we can be tempted to believe authors who tell us that we can have our best life now, or offer us a 7-step process to get out of that pit! So, what is a suffering believer to do in these difficult times? What author or book should be our go-to source of encouragement?

You probably already know the answer to this question: The Bible! So often though, we overlook it, and we seek the words of man. Maybe we do this because we think Jesus can’t truly relate to our fully human experience. Though He was fully human, He was also fully God, so that somehow gives us a pass on following His example. We can’t possibly be perfect like He is, so we look for another human being, someone who has been where we are, to give us encouragement. But this is not what the Bible says. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that our Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  He can indeed sympathize with our weakness, so we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” This is the truth we must cling to as we live out our calling from day to day.

So, the first place we go for encouragement is to God’s word. Once we are saturated in truth, we can use it as the lens through which to evaluate the many books and articles that have been written about suffering for Christ. We must ask the Lord for discernment as we browse through the titles that promise encouragement, and there are some good ones out there. But what are the criteria that make this genre of books good for us? I believe there are a couple of deal breakers when it comes to extra-biblical resources.

First, they must be true to the Scriptures. For example, if a book tells you that you can live your best life now, you should put it down immediately. The Bible tells us that we are aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11). How can this possibly be the best that is to come? We are unwelcome foreigners here! Our home is with Christ, and that is where our best life will be. This life is a vapor (James 4:14), and most of what we do here is meaningless (Ecclesiastes). There is no way that our best life is now!
Second, any book that says that God wants you to be happy, or that you deserve a positive outcome to your trial, is useful only as a paperweight, foot rest, or door stop. It is you who wants happiness and pain relief. God wants to use your pain for His glory. You belong to Him, because He purchased your soul at a very high cost to Himself. It is He who is deserving, not you. He deserves your love, devotion, submission to His will, and complete surrender. Trust me friend, you don’t want what you truly deserve. In fact, that price that God paid released you from that very bondage. And that is exactly what the pursuit of worldly happiness is: Bondage. You will never find happiness on this earth, and seeking it will keep you shackled to yourself. It was for freedom that Christ set us free. Therefore, keep on standing firm, and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). Seek Christ’s glory, and your happiness will be the result!

There is always much talk and debate about books by human authors. These will come and go as long as people suffer. But the Word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword Hebrews 4:12). It is the filter through which all other words must come to us, and the light by which we must read everything written by men. Humans are fallible. God is not. We are not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5&6) or anyone else’s, but on God, whose Holy Spirit gives us discernment and wisdom. As we trust Him, He will lead us to those authors who represent Him best.