Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rare Jewel

I’ve been reading a book lately that I highly recommend. It’s called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, written by Jeremiah Burroughs, who was a minister in England in the 1600’s. I have found this book to be convicting, yet at the same time encouraging. It has taught me much about contentment, and today I’d like to share a couple of the things that have stood out to me.

First, let me say that this book has caused me to examine my heart in a number of areas. One of the things I have found there is a covetousness of others’ gifts, strengths, and successes. The most prominent ones are physical capabilities that I no longer have. Seeing the strength and fitness of others can tend to make me turn inward to what I do not have. This is sinful self-focus, and must be put to death. Burroughs shares insight here. To paraphrase what he says, “Well, they may have something I’ll never have, but I can have something they may never have: Contentment!” 

Contentment is rare indeed, and very few people really have it. But the Lord has promised that we believers can have contentment, if we will only practice it. So, when I hear of others’ trail hiking and long walks, I will think on my wonderful Christ who loves me, who saved me, and who is preparing a home for me right now, where I will have no pain. These thoughts will bring me to that place of contentment, where I truly believe that all I need is mine.

Another great blessing I received from this book is the instruction to examine my expectations. As I strive to change or improve some aspect of my physical problem, I am often disappointed as it actually becomes worse, or stays the same, after an expenditure of time, energy, or other resources. In these times, Burroughs reminds us to check our expectations. What has God truly promised? After all, only the promises of God can truly be counted on to come to pass. When I base my hopes or expectations on something else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. If I know that that disappointment will lead to sinful self-pity, then I am really setting up my own stumbling block! Based on this wisdom, I will look at my expectations through the lens of Scripture instead of the latest ad or medical study.

The overall tone of the book is one of great reverence and love for God. It urges us to see that our afflictions are actually gifts of God, to teach us to be content with such things as we have. In fact, the opening Scripture of the book is Philippians 4:11: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Oh, beloved, can we reach this state? Our great apostle Paul proves that we can. But in order to do so, we must believe that our Sovereign God loves us, and wants us to have the greatest gift available to us: Contentment! Can you imagine a more pleasant state in which to live? If we had true contentment based simply and solely on God’s great, eternal love, nothing else would matter. That contentment would trump any trial, and would keep our eyes firmly locked on heaven.

I’ll close with the context of Burroughs’s theme verse for his book, Philippians 4:11-13. Meditate on this passage, and ask the Lord to grant you this gift of contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our Magnified God

I will praise the name of God with a song
And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.
Psalm 69:30

What does it mean to magnify something? Basically, it means to make it bigger, right? If the letters on a page are too small for me to read, I can put on my bifocals, and look through the magnifying section, and then I can read it just fine. Back when my kids were young, we loved to take nature walks and look through a magnifying glass at leaves, bugs, and almost anything that sparked our interest. The only way to make something look physically bigger is to change your visual perspective by getting closer to it or looking at it through a magnifying lens.

Sometimes, we need God to look bigger than the way we’ve been seeing him. Of course, God is God, and He is always big, no matter what our spiritual perspective may be. But every now and then, we may find that we have made God small in our hearts. Perhaps we have been caught up in trying to please people. Maybe we’ve become consumed with a trial for a long time, and have been so focused on that trial that our image of God has shrunk without our even realizing it. Maybe we’re disappointed in God for not doing what we thought He should do, and so we have justified making him small in our mind.

When we recognize this problem, we may try to fix it by going to church more, or reading the Bible more, or meditating on the attributes of God.  These are all very good things to do, but when I read this Psalm this morning, it struck me that there is one sure way to magnify God, both in our own hearts and in the world: With thanksgiving! Regardless of the trial, if the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, there will always be a spark of gratitude. A verse like this one is a puff of air on that spark, to fan that flame that will make God big again.

How does thankfulness magnify God? I’ll answer that question with another one: When we express gratitude, to whom are we expressing it? To God, of course! That very fact makes gratitude a reminder of the goodness and love of God in our lives. As we are continually thanking Him throughout the day, those reminders build a bigger and bigger picture of God, and soon our perspective is restored: God is big again, and problems are smaller.

When others hear us thanking God for His goodness, He is magnified in the world. Do you ever respond with, “Praise the Lord!” when someone tells you of some good news they’ve just heard? These three little words turn our thoughts immediately from our circumstances to the God and Sovereign Ruler of those circumstances. Even unbelievers will usually express agreement with that statement, and this is an opportunity to make God big in their eyes, too.

Finally, God is magnified by the renewing of our minds. To renew your mind means to think differently about your circumstances, your life, and your very soul. It means changing your mindset from a self- or circumstance-oriented one to a God- and others-oriented one. When we express our thanksgiving to God, it takes our mind off of ourselves and our problems, and puts it onto God, His goodness, His mercy, and His blessings. When we are thinking of these things, God is bigger, and our prideful hearts are brought down to size.

As we draw near to God through thanksgiving, we can see Him more clearly. As we continue to nurture a heart of gratitude, the magnification increases, and we see the truth of His love, His mercy, and His grace. Soon, He is so big that our troubles are swallowed up in the comfort of His love, and what do we do? We praise Him and thank Him more! Hallelujah! What a big God! What a Savior!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Glory Days

I’ve been struggling lately with a particular situation, and have been asking the Lord to give me a fresh shot of encouragement in it. Today, He did just that, and I’d like to share it with you.

At the time when I usually go to the gym, there is a particular exercise group just finishing up as I arrive. Most of the people in it are my age or maybe a little older. It’s obviously a class forpeople who are 50 plus, so it’s low-impact, but still offers some cardio. Every time I see these classmates coming out of the studio, sweating and laughing together, there is a twinge of jealousy in my heart, as I long to participate in a class like that, but am unable.

The Lord has been very gracious to me though, giving me power to train my thinking to turn to thoughts of Him, gratitude for the many years that I was able to do that intensity of exercise, and thankfulness for the pool and other modalities that enable me still to exercise regularly. These are all good thoughts, but as I chatted with another lady today, God gave me an even better way of thinking about this, and I am excited to begin training my mind to this response. 

This lady and I were chatting about the days when we used to be able to exercise “with the best of ‘em,” keeping up and loving the endorphins and the sweat. “Those days are gone now though, for sure,” she said to me. “Yes,” I replied. “Those were the glory days!” But even as those words left my mouth, the truth about that statement rang out in my heart. Glory days? Really? Whose glory were you pursuing back in those days when you were exercising your heart out to keep looking good? Who was glorified in your proud habit of daily exercise and weight control? Who was exalted as your friends admired your discipline and fitness? The answer to all these questions is, of course, me, myself, and I!

Back in those days, before I knew Christ, I had no desire to bring glory to Him, but I did have a great and burning desire for my own glory, comfort, and happiness. Without my exercise, I was certain I would be overweight, depressed, and useless, all of which were completely unacceptable to me. Back then, there was nothing more important to me than how I looked in the mirror and in the eyes of those whose opinion of me mattered (which, looking back now, was pretty much everyone)

As these thoughts ran through my head, and I began to see what was really true about those long-ago days, it dawned on me what is really true about today and the days ahead: These are the glory days! Today, I belong to Christ. I was created to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7), but back in the days when all my joints worked right, I was unaware of this fact. I had no idea what my purpose in life was, so I pursued worldly achievement and admiration. Today, I am privileged to know the truth about my life’s purpose, and I am blessed by the Holy Spirit with the ability to fulfill it! This trial of physical pain gives me many opportunities to bring glory to God in my response, as I strive to please and honor Him instead of myself.

How about you, my friend? Have you looked back wistfully at your “glory days,” when you were in better shape, and didn’t suffer with pain or disability? I’d like to challenge you today to join me in a new kind of workout. Let’s train our minds to think differently about the past, present, and future when it comes to our bodies. If we think of today and tomorrow as our glory days, we will get into the habit of looking for ways to bring glory to our great God, as He provides the training sessions we need to become more like Him. Are you with me? Let’s praise Him for creating us for His glory.  Hallelujah! What a purpose! What a Savior!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Prayer For a Difficult Day

Dear Father,

We come to you this morning, broken and hurting. We are so weary of pain, sleepless nights, and disappointments. We long for just one day (sometimes just one hour) without pain. Yet, the pain persists. And we know that You are good.

So, we get up, do what we can to ease the pain, and keep going. We long to serve you, so we do the best we can, even as our bodies ache. As we care for ourselves and our families, we trust that You will sustain us through whatever you’ve called us to do. As we go to work or school, though the pain persists, we know that, whatever You have called us to do, You will provide the strength and stamina to do it. And we know that You are merciful.

As grateful believers, we want to see You glorified in our pain! How will You use this pain for Your glory, Lord? Won’t You please send someone today that we can encourage? This journey has been so hard, and we want to use what we’ve learned to prop up another believer, or to share your love with one who doesn’t know You. This desire to glorify You makes the pain more bearable, and helps us to keep responding in a way that is pleasing to You, for we know that You are holy.

Oh, God, You know our hearts. You know that we are weak and desperate sometimes. Thank You for understanding when we weep and grieve our losses. Thank you for being our Great Comforter in those times of deep sadness. Holy Spirit, strengthen our hearts, and help us to look up--not down, not back, but up, to seek Your face in these times, for we know that You are gracious.

Oh, our good, merciful, holy, and gracious God, we beg you to use our pain for Your glory. You have said that all things work together for good to those who are called according to Your purpose (Romans 8:28), so we trust that this pain is ultimately for good. Because of that truth, we will persevere. Though our physical problem has taken some things from us, we know that it can never take our greatest Treasure. One day, in the blink of an eye, we will be with You. No more pain. No more disability. No more tears. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your promise of eternity. Hallelujah! What a Promise! What a Savior!  

Pain and the Upward Call

I was chatting with a lady in the pool today who has struggled all her life with her weight. Over the years she has gone up and down the scale too many times to count. As she spoke about her new plan and her goals, I couldn’t help but think how much energy, thought, and money she and others  have put into such pursuits. Weight loss and other disciplines get so much attention in our culture but very often, as we are preoccupied with these things, we miss out on the most important goal of all:

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”   (Philippians 3: 12-14, NKJV)

Did Christ Jesus lay hold of you so that you could set a weight loss goal? Did He save you so that you could get on a spending and saving plan toward a comfortable retirement? No, Christ Jesus laid hold of you so that you could lay hold of him:

“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”  (Philippians 3:10-11, NLT)

Ah, but there’s the rub. This goal includes some suffering along the way, and we don’t like to suffer. Oh sure, if we’re going to see a difference in the scale or the bank account, then it’s worth it to sweat or save. But these are outward changes and, if we’re honest, it’s our pride that drives us to work toward these goals. To really seek the Lord, though, the opposite is necessary. We must seek Him out of humility. We must die to ourselves, as He did, and suffer as He suffered if we are to share in that great resurrection. He was meek and lowly as He faced death, and He suffered without complaint or bitterness. We must do the same, leaning on Him and His strength to help us honor Him even in our pain.

My friends, as we are suffering in pain or disability, our goal must not be only to get relief or physical comfort, but to know Him more. I would like to challenge you today to study how He suffered. Reread the Gospel accounts of His persecution and trials, His death and resurrection. Ask Him to supply the strength you need to imitate Him in His suffering. He was a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). He knows what suffering is, and He is able to help you through yours.

A new year is fast approaching. What will be your goals for 2016? My prayer for you is that you will  fix your eyes on things above, where Christ is, having finished His suffering (Colossians 3:1-3), and press toward the goal of knowing Him.