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Posts Tagged ‘Difficulty’

We need hope, but from whence does it come?

Certainly a sense of purpose or destiny or family and friends bring hope, but what about when these fail or seem distant? Hear what source of hope the Scriptures give us:

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:4-6

Given that this was written before any of the four Gospels and the book of Acts, it must refer to the Old Testament from which Jesus had “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”” Luke 24:45-47 Now, I am not excluding the great encouragement and instruction given by the New Testament, but I magnify the value of reading and studying the Old, especially for those many of you who don’t spend much time there or see much value in it, thinking I’m “not under law but under grace” Romans 6:14 (1) It was written for our instruction, so read the instruction manual before assembly.

Now we get to the meat of our source of hope. The passage reveals a two-fold instruction on hope from God with an ancillary instruction on hope from fellow believers.

Those who are blood bought, Holy Spirit sealed believers (2) increase in hope of their relationship to God and future rescue through persisting in faith in the midst of difficulty- perseverance. In fact, the teaching of perseverance of the saints is pointing out how believers persist in belief to the end while “the Spirit explicitly says” of those who do not truly belonging to God through belief in Jesus “that in later times some will fall away from the faith.” I Timothy 4:1

How does this strange occurrence of hardship increasing trust in God work? As the believer comes to understand that he or she does not deserve anything and yet God is carrying him or her through difficulty and revealing Himself in the process, the believer trusts more. The unbeliever begins to doubt that God cares and pulls further away. Many a believer will also struggle with doubts and be estranged, but it will not persist. In the end faith will persist. The believer perseveres.

The greatest help to perseverance is the Word of God. For this reason, Open Doors, a ministry to persecuted believers all over the world, frequently reports how believers ask for Scriptures over security, food, or shelter. The Bible brings hope and especially when we are paying attention during difficulty. The passage says “the encouragement of the Scriptures”. As we read of others who struggled but found God’s grace to persevere, we find strength. Promises of God impart strength. Ultimately, the excellency of the character of God imparts strength. Strength comes in the form of hope. When we are hopeless, then we are weak. When we are full of hope, then we are strong, strong in the Lord.

But God gives yet another avenue for increasing hope- fellowship. The passage speaks of “same mind”, that is, unity of belief and purpose. Then it says “with one voice glorify”, which is unified worship. When we worship together in unity and convey how God has increased our faith in difficulty and have comforted others in their difficulty with the hope of God and shared Scriptures of encouragement and instruction, then true fellowship and encouragement has occurred and hope is increased. For this reason “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The other disciplines of the faith like prayer, witness, fasting, service, and so forth, are all a part of this perseverance-Scripture-fellowship encouragement that strengthens faith leading to hope. What a good God we have who for His glory and our good by “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

And one day we will be removed from all difficulty and spend eternity in His presence. That will be glory!

  1. In context, this verse has nothing to do with the value or truth of the Old Testament. Rather, it refers to the source and power for overcoming sin, grace applied by the Holy Spirit and not striving to fulfill the requirement of the law. Why? Well it is because “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 2:16
  2. These are not a special breed or dispensation of believers, just plain believers. I use these adjectives to exclude those who have mental assent to the things of God and are spectators in the church, but not saved.

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We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

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I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains