Consider it Joy?

“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.”  –William Shakespeare

 

Biologists have discovered, as strange as it seems, habitual well-being is not advantageous to a species. Life without challenge takes its toll on every living thing.

Consider animals in a zoo. Zoo animals have a trouble-free shelter and environment constructed for them, food and water delivered to them, all while they lie around and get fat. Their survival instincts and their spirits are dulled. They can never be set free.

Or consider trees in a rain forest. Because water is so readily available, their root systems don’t extend more than a couple feet below the surface. They’re so shallowly anchored they can be easily toppled by a gust of wind.

Contrast this with the wild fig trees in the arid region of South Africa. Their root systems are forced to sink some 400 feet into the earth to reach moisture and nutrients. As a result of their being solidly anchored, there isn’t a wind that can harm them.

Nature shows us: an unfriendly habitat actually contributes to stability and vigor. The same is true of our spiritual lives.

The apostle Peter addressed a letter “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered …” (1 Peter 1:1). The Jews of the dispersion, they were called.

Persecution and trials were their everyday norm. Peter reminds them, they and the adversity they endured, were deeply rooted in the sovereign will of God—and were bringing forth fruit.

Concerning trials they faced, he offers: “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).

James, of course, set the trials and adversity of this life in proper perspective when he urges, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

These passages call on us to consider adversity and trial from the vantage point of confidence in God’s sovereignty. He’s accomplishing something in us. When suffering, “Do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus. We may not completely understand, but with roots of faith sunk deeply in our God, life’s strongest gales won’t topple us. Rather, they’ll further contribute to our stability and vigor. Oh joy!

 

My prayer this week – Father, thank you for the many things you use in my life to grow my faith—even trials and adversity. Would you help me to bring a heavenly perspective to my struggles this week? Will you grow my faith—deepen my roots— in you?

What is Most Important?

“Time is all you have and you may find one day that you have less than you think.” Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

 

Professors are sometimes asked to teach on what wisdom they would impart if they knew it was their last chance—their last lecture.

In August of 2007, Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, received a terminal diagnosis: dying of pancreatic cancer, he might have six months left to live. One month later he delivered his last lecture.

His lecture went viral—it was viewed more than a million times in the first month after it was delivered. Pausch then co-authored the book The Last Lecture, which became a New York Times Best-Seller. Pausch died on July 25th, 2008. He was 47 years old.

What would make up your last lecture? What would be most important to share if it were your last chance?

Consider Jesus’ last lecture. It’s recorded in John chapters 13-16.

John 13 begins with these words: “Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world.” He knew this was the last chance to impart what was most important. John sets the stage with these words: “Having loved his own in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).

The Lord begins with a demonstration. He gets up from the meal—referred to as ‘the last supper’—takes off his outer garments, gathers a basin and towel, stoops and begins washing the feet of his disciples. In Jesus’ day, this was the task of the lowliest of servants. The demonstration ends, and Jesus says, “I have set you an example” (John 13:15).

Indeed he had, but not just on this occasion of foot washing. The disciples had seen Jesus day in and day out. They knew the content of his character. They had experienced his love.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Later in this same last lecture he reiterates: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And still a third time, “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).

Jesus’ last lecture is followed in John 17 by the record of his last prayer. Look at how the prayer ends: “I have made you known to them in order that the love you have for me will be in them” (John 17:26).

With the last words, last lecture, and last prayer, we can believe Jesus conveyed what was of the utmost importance in his heart—love one another.

 

My prayer this week – Lord, the manner in which I love others was important enough to be the theme of the last lesson you shared. Would you help me to see others with your heart and to love them with your love? May they come to know I am your disciple by my love?

Are You Wanting of Wisdom?

“There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” –C.H. Spurgeon

 

There’s an old story about a pompous young man who approached Socrates and declared, “O wise Socrates, I’ve come to you for wisdom!” Socrates led the man out into a nearby body of water, and when they were chest deep, asked, “What is it you desire of me?”

“Wisdom,” the young man proudly replied. With that, Socrates grabbed him by the shoulders and thrust him under the water. He held him down while he counted to thirty, then raised him up asking, “What is it you want?”

“Wisdom,” sputtered the young man. Again, the philosopher dunked him, this time counting to forty. Raised again, the teacher asked, “What is it you desire?” “Wisdom,” the student choked. This time Socrates held him under to a count of fifty, then raised him again, “What is it you want?”

“Air!” the desperate youth cried out. Socrates smiled, “There you have it—wisdom!”

Wisdom isn’t an innate virtue. It’s acquired. One of the ways it’s acquired is through experience—as the repeatedly dunked young man illustrates.

But for believers, there is a tremendous promise in the Bible to behold—“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

God gave King Solomon an enormous blessing and responsibility—to lead the nation Israel, a people “as numerous as the dust of the earth.”

Solomon was a smart guy. He knew enough to recognize his knowledge was insufficient. He prayed, “Give me wisdom, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)

God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor … but for wisdom to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom will be given you” (2 Chronicles 1:11-12).

The weight of the task and his own want of wisdom drove King Solomon to his knees. And God responded. It’s a formula that works. Consider this testimony:

“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of those about me seemed insufficient for the day.” –Abraham Lincoln

When overwhelmed by the weight of tasks at hand, the burden of outcomes unknown, and in recognition of our own want of wisdom for a given situation, what we need is readily available. Will we ask?

 

My prayer for this week – Lord, I give thanks for the roles and responsibilities you’ve called me to in this life. I especially give thanks for those things which drive me to my knees, in want of your wisdom. Will you grant me wisdom to meet my calling each day?

Why Worry? Why Not Trust?

 

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”  –Corrie ten Boom

 

If you’ve spent any time on a pool-deck you’ve likely seen this drama play out: a terrified child stands on the side of the swimming pool facing a parent, who is chest-deep in the water and pleading, “Jump to me! I’ll catch you!”

You may even recall the experience from your own childhood as you learned to swim. You knew, cognitively, Mom or Dad wouldn’t let you drown. But still, the decision to step off the edge—to trust—was daunting. The water was unfamiliar … and deep!

Worry never works. Jesus asks, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25) Not only does worry fail to add a moment to life: it wastes life. Think about it: Worry saps you of energy and time—what would you call that if not a waste?

Worry doesn’t lighten a matter. Proverbs 12:25 begins, “An anxious heart weighs a man down.” Instead of relieving a burden, worry makes matters heavier to bear.

By contrast, trusting in God results in rest. Jesus invites, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Doesn’t rest from worries sound good? It is!

The Bible declares: “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). When staring into the unknown, I want to remember I trust in a God who demonstrated his love for me by sending Jesus, the One in whom every promise of God is “yes” and “amen.”

We know it cognitively—like a loving parent extending their arms in a swimming pool—our Heavenly Father won’t let us drown. Worry never helps; trust never fails. And trust over time builds.

Fast forward through that swimming pool memory. The same child once terrified, a summer later, is now a capable swimmer. Now they won’t stop running and jumping into the water, usually accompanied with an ecstatic shriek to a parent sitting in a deckchair, “Watch me!”

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

 

My prayer for this week— Lord, would circumstances and concerns of today, the outcomes of which are unknown, be occasions for me to trust in you? Would you remind me of your promises and your faithfulness, “catch me,” and give me rest? Would you grow my faith?

Are You Resting On Your Laurels?

“What you are must always displease you, if you would attain to that which you are not.” –St. Augustine

 

No matter what you do, there’s room to grow at it. A certain amount of dissatisfaction with your abilities, achievements and accomplishments is a healthy thing. Those who are entirely satisfied won’t ever reach their full potential.

Polish composer and pianist Ignacy Paderewski thrilled audiences around the world with his tremendous talents. Yet he remained very humble.

On one occasion he was introduced to a polo player with these words, “You are both leaders in your spheres, though the spheres are very different.” “Not so very different,” Paderewski replied. “You are a dear soul who plays polo, and I am a poor Pole who plays solo.”

While the world considered Paderewski’s talent near perfection, he continually worked to improve his craft. “There have been a few moments when I have known complete satisfaction, but only a few,” he offered. “I have rarely been free from the disturbing realization that my playing might have been better.”

If anyone could have rested on his spiritual laurels it was the apostle Paul. Yet, he confessed, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

There’s always room to improve. There’s also more to consider.

A body at rest atrophies. In other words, when you stop “pressing on” you inevitably slip or regress. This isn’t a mystery. We’ve all experienced it. If you’ve forgotten, stop exercising for a month and then climb back on a treadmill. You’ll be able to measure atrophy by your huffing and puffing!

This is true of our physical bodies, it’s true of our spiritual lives, it’s true of our talents and abilities—when they’re not exercised they cease growing and start to atrophy.

The key to moving ahead is to keep your eye on the goal. Paul explained, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on” (Philippians 3:13-14).

If our eyes are not on the goal, we’re like the captain of a ship with no course. But by focusing on what is ahead we’ve got a compass, and we can depend on God’s grace to provide wind for our sails.

 

My prayer for this week— Lord, I am thankful you are faithful to finish the good work you’ve started in my life. Would you stir within my heart this week some holy dissatisfaction with where I am, so I cannot rest here on my laurels? Would you help me fix my eyes on the higher goals you’ve set before me? May you be glorified!

What Legacy Will We Leave?

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” –Stephen Covey

 

What do you make of genealogies? On the surface, a list of names and dates can look about as interesting to read as a telephone directory. But every now and then you run into an ancestor with a story—something more than just a dash between their dates.

There’s a long genealogy list in Genesis 5. It follows a repetitive pattern: “When so-and-so had lived x number of years he had a son named so-and-so; then he lived another x number of years and had other sons and daughters.” Next!

But then you get to a guy named Enoch, and the wording is very different. It reads: “After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:22-24).

At first glance it’s the last part that catches your eye—you wonder how Enoch was somehow transferred from life directly into heaven without dying. But it’s the first part which is more important to consider—a man who is noted for having walked closely with God for so many years, Enoch obviously enjoyed an intimacy with God that our souls crave.

What does it mean to walk with God? Enoch didn’t literally walk with God, so it’s meant figuratively—Enoch’s life was moving the same direction as God, keeping pace with Him, and agreeing with Him.

Enoch stood out because walking with God wasn’t the norm—he was part of a generation that was indifferent towards God. Sound familiar?

The writer of Hebrews recorded this epitaph of Enoch: “By faith Enoch was taken from this life so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken he was commended as one who pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).

How do you want to be remembered? As one who marked time, whose name appears in a list like everyone else’s? Or as one who is set apart by the distinction: “he pleased God with his life?” What legacy will we leave?

 

My prayer for this week— Lord: May I grow increasingly more in step, more in tune with Jesus. May it be evident to all I interact with: at home, in the workplace and in the community. May it be said of me as it was of Enoch: “He walks with God!”


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