Monday, July 28, 2014

Be Patient in Tribulation

Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer. #HisWord
Almost a month ago, I was out of town and I was visiting a church on Sunday. I don't know about you, but sometimes visiting a new church can make me a little nervous. Walking in the doors of an unfamiliar church, I don't have any idea how they worship, if they tend to be more traditional or more modern, the way they handle "greeting time," or even the doctrine the church itself holds to. And this church was even in a different country. (Okay... Canada :) 

God taught me that I was trying to put him in a box. I somehow had this idea that the Spirit could only move in certain kinds of worship that were, as I thought, the "correct" way. Yet, at this church so far from my home and so different from what I am used to, God spoke to me in a powerful way. He captured my heart to the place where I was worshipping and praying with tears running down my face, totally amazed at the goodness and grace of God. 

The message was on this exact topic: being patient in tribulation. We studied a passage from 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul is speaking of all the ways that God has revealed himself to Paul. It even says that God brought Paul up to heaven in a vision. But then Paul goes on to say:

"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
- 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

So Paul received a "thorn in the flesh." We don't know what it was, but it is clear that it was something that hindered Paul in some way; it was something Paul would love to be rid of for good. This is how I often feel about tribulation or struggles— I just want to get rid of the problem. God does not work this way, however. When I see a struggle, be it physical, spiritual, or relational, I think that it is pointless, but God often has a deeper purpose. Many times it is to make me more reliant on him.  
my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness -- 2 corinthians 12:9
I love the above verse so much. It fills me with so much peace. In American culture, we are taught that we have to be strong. We have to fight our way to the top, get the good grades, be independent. The truth is that the more I try to fight through things on my own, the more I realize how weak I really am. This is the beautiful part. Because of God's power, it is okay that I am weak. I don't have to put up a facade and pretend that I have it all together. He is great and his power is made perfect in my weakness. 

This is why we can be patient in tribulation. The pattern is simple: tribulation comes and shows our weakness. God's power is made perfect in our weakness and is shown all the greater. He receives glory. Honestly, when everything is going great in my life, I can ignore the fact that I am weak. When I am healthy, making money, living a comfortable life, it is easy to pretend that I am strong. But when I fall to my knees and realize that I can't continue on my own, God's power becomes evident in my life in bigger and better ways. So while intense pain, spiritual attacks from the devil, struggles with people, etc, may not seem to be good things, I can choose to see them as blessings and let God's power shine in the midst of my weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rejoice in Hope!

Romans 12:12 ~ Scripture ~ Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Hey there! I know, I know, I have been absent for much longer than I said I would be. God has been so good to me during these past few months. When I obeyed his call and took a break from the things that were distracting me, he truly relieved me of that idol in my life and drew me closer to him. 

More than anything, these past few weeks have been simply amazing! God's hand in my life is becoming clearer every day. He is revealing his glory to me in bigger and better ways and I am so excited to serve him. 

In short, my last few weeks have involved God teaching me in three key areas, all of which happen to be covered in the above verse, Romans 12:12 — "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." I hope to cover each of the areas in which God is moving in three separate posts over the next week or two. 

So to start off, the Lord has been showing me how to rejoice in hope!  "Hope" is such an odd word in the English language. We use it in so many contexts and ways, whether eternally meaningful or not. "I hope my team will win the Super Bowl." "I hope we have pasta for dinner tonight." "In this hope you were saved." With all of these different uses for the exact same word, I find it easy to lose the deep meaning within scripture. 

Here's the awesome thing. God gives us two kinds of incredible hope for this life and the one beyond this earth. First, he gives us the hope of salvation. I know we have all heard it a hundred times, "Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sin." Sometimes when you grow up in the church, this important part of following Christ becomes rote, if not mundane. When the pastor gets up to preach the plan of salvation on Easter morning, many of the "older" Christians sit back in their chairs, expecting to get nothing out of a story they know by heart. I too am guilty of this attitude. Lately, however, I heard a song that truly put it in perspective. Would you take two minutes out of your day and listen to it?

God hit me hard with this truth all over again. Every single thing that Jesus suffered— the beating, the crown of thorns, the humiliation, the excruciating pain of the cross — that was my punishment. I deserve to die like that. Yet our God loved us to such an extent that he sent his very own son who was completely innocent to die in our place. He washed away our sins as far as the east is from the west. He gave us life, and life eternal at that!  In Romans 8 it says that "in THIS hope we were saved." I still struggle to comprehend the kind of love that God has for us, that he gives us hope for eternal life when we did nothing to deserve it. Really, pause and think about how incredible that is. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. What an amazing God we serve. 

And not only do we have hope eternal, but we have hope for God's plan in our lives in the here and now. Isn't it neat to think that God has a specific plan for how you can be used in his kingdom, today. Not in the future, not when you have a family of your own someday, but today. Now. The great thing is, when we are willing to listen to his voice and obey his call, we can know that his plan will prevail and that "for those who love God, all things work together for good." This hope brings so much peace to my soul. I gotta tell you, there was a time in my life recently where God asked me to do something, I obeyed, and for a while the result was nothing like what I had anticipated. Satan was talking in my ear constantly, telling me that I didn't really hear God, that I had destroyed something perfectly good, and that my obedience to God brought evil on someone else. But because God is good and the hope we have in him is sure, I was able to turn around and say to the Evil One, "NO. I know that God spoke to me; I know he directed my actions, and because of this I know that he will work this out for good." And when I surrendered to God's plan, even when I didn't know how things would turn out, he was so good as to confirm to me that I had done the right thing. 

This is the most awesome part of serving our God. He lets us be involved in his kingdom. He takes our little acts of obedience and gives them eternal impact. This leads me to my second point of the above phrase, simply, rejoice!

Elsewhere in the Bible it says "rejoice in all circumstances." Now, I often mistake this to mean "be happy in all circumstances." That is not the same thing. I believe it is totally possible to be down on my knees, crying to God that I can't continue without his help, and still be rejoicing in the fact that he is strong enough to carry me. I see rejoicing as shouting out victory songs while trudging through the muddy battlefields of life. God does not promise us a life of ease and comfort. In fact, I believe fully that a hard life is the most fulfilling kind. Because when are you more likely to call out to God and rejoice in his love: when your bills are paid and your family is perfectly happy, or when you are struggling to even find the strength to get up each day?  I know I live a pretty comfy life in suburban America, but even I have seen that I reach out for God and rejoice in his goodness far more when I feel weak than when I feel strong. 

He is good. His love sustains me and carries me when I can't take another step. 
This is why I rejoice in hope. He saved me, He has a plan for me, and I rejoice in his love that fills me everyday.