Thursday, March 21, 2013

Can the Thorns of Affliction Really Be A Gift? The Paradoxes of Living Life with Jesus

“Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish”
(Isaiah 38:17).

A paradox is a statement or situation that seems to be contradictory but is in fact true, and Scripture is full of them.  In dying to self, we gain eternal life; in humbling ourselves before others, we will be exalted before Christ; in becoming a slave to Christ and His commands, we are free to live as we were created to live; in our weakness we see God’s powerful strength; although poor by the world’s standards, we have eternal riches.

The thorns of affliction touched many Biblical characters.  How many times have we remembered Job when life seems too unbearable?  Could Paul have written such words to spur us on if he had not had a thorn of his own?  And the crowning thorns of affliction were placed on the head of Christ himself.  Without that affliction we would be eternally lost. 

Psalm 119 says God allows affliction that we might learn His decrees and see His faithfulness.  James tells us that earthly trials bring eternal reward as well as perseverance and spiritual maturity now. Affliction forces us to rely completely on God and His strength, trusting Him to bring us through no matter how overwhelming our circumstances or how excruciating our pain. It brings a depth of character that nothing else can. We may think that we would prefer less character and maturity, but God knows what joys and blessings await us as a result of them.

The thorns of a rose bush cause great pain but the roses themselves bring great beauty.  God is using the thorns of affliction to show the most beautiful paradox of all – in dying, we live.

Prayer:  My God, I have never thanked thee for my thorn.  I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn.  I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross itself as a present glory.  Thou divine Love, whose human path has been perfected through suffering, teach me the glory of my cross, teach me the value of my thorn.  Amen.  (George Matheson).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Appearance Isn’t Everything

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”
(I Samuel 16:7).

My mother recently downsized to a smaller apartment.  In the process she parted with some lovely European cut glass which she rarely used.  She displayed them occasionally, but the rest of the year they stayed packed away.  Although lovely to look at they were not very useful.

I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy things because of their aesthetic value.  After all, God is the creator of beautiful things.  But sometimes appearances are not everything.

Pain and illness can affect our outward appearance.  One of my daughters saw a picture of me taken 30 years ago and remarked how good my makeup looked.  I somewhat laughingly told her that pain and age have taken their toll.  No matter how expensive the health or beauty treatment, it can’t always hide the effects of chronic pain.  Sleeplessness causes eye circles, medications cause weight fluctuations and other physical changes, and ageing causes wrinkles.

Being useful does not require a perfect outward appearance.  It requires a mind and heart attitude that is willing to be used by God in whatever ways we can in our specific conditions.  Focusing too much on outward appearance can promote a self-centered rather than God-centered life. 
Beautiful, healthy people may look at us and think we are not very remarkable, but God sees the inside as well as the outside.  If we are allowing our pain to conform us to the image of Christ - praising Him and giving thanks even when life is incredibly hard, trusting His decisions for our lives, forgiving those who don’t understand our limitations - our spirits are lovely and pleasing to God. 

My mother enjoyed the beauty of her cut glass, but she only has room now for what is useful.  In heaven we will all be perfect in appearance as well as continuing to have great purpose.  For now, even while in pain, I want to prepare my inner self to match the outward beauty yet to come.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, keep me from becoming distracted or discouraged by outward appearances. Rather let me stay focused on developing the beauty of Christ in me, and in serving the purposes for which You created me. Amen.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Keeping Balance and Focus while Walking the Tightrope of Suffering

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”
 (Hebrews 12:2).

I have been to the circus three times in my life, always in March.  One of my favorite acts was the tightrope walkers, although I always breathed a sigh of relief when they safely finished their performance!

Our pastor recently stated that our Christian lives should be focused as well as balanced, and I thought of those tightrope walkers.  To walk a tightrope requires the balance of keeping one's weight distributed as well as staying focused on the final goal - the end of the rope - rather than on distractions which could be dangerous.

We do need both focus and balance in our lives, especially if we live with health challenges.  It can be difficult knowing how to distribute ourselves evenly.  We don’t want to overcommit but we want to do what we can.  We have to choose between healthy and unhealthy relationships.  We need balance in our medical treatments, foods, and other areas of our lives.

Balance is definitely a part of healthy living, but we will still struggle without the correct focus Christ and His Word.  When He is our central focal point, we don’t get distracted by the worries and fears of our pain or what the future may hold. No matter how far away the end of our tightrope of problems may seem, Jesus is there encouraging us to continue moving forward toward Him.

The performers I saw had a safety net beneath them.  Praise God, the safety net of His presence is all around us.  If we become too focused on the concerns of this world, lose our balance, and fall, He is there to catch us and put us back on the wire.

The circus is sometimes called the greatest show on earth.  The tightropes of our earthly suffering will always be challenging to walk, but this practice is preparing us for the greatest show on both heaven and earth - God’s eternal kingdom - where our only need for balance and focus may be to choose which wonder of God’s to experience next.  So let’s keep our balance, keep our focus, and keep walking.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank you that Your presence always surrounds me.  Give me Your wisdom and discernment as I seek balance in my life and, keep me focused on You and Your Word rather than on earthly distractions and problems.  Amen.