Archive for the ‘Dealing with Difficulties’ Category

The Deep Things of God

October 1st, 2018

But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Cor. 2:10)

Our hearts are not satisfied with shallow moments alone. We long to launch out into the depths of the knowledge of God – the experiential knowledge that blends knowledge and intimacy. It is never enough to know facts. We want to know God and we wish to be known as well by God.

Our Need

The world is fallen and corrupted by sin. We only can see the slightest remnant of the Creator’s character here in the earth and in human cultures. We need more. This world is like a fine work of art that has been marred and scarred, neglected and misused, and chipped and dirtied – and though through carefully looking we can still see some hint of the original artist’s skill and intent, its beauty is obscured by the damage it has sustained.

And our hearts are much the same. We need to see the beauty of God that truly satisfies. We need to know the plan and purpose of God that calls us to a higher level of purpose and of hope. We need to see the face of God that comforts our hearts, gives us peace, and lets us relax in the acceptance we find in His grace.

Eternal life is summed up in knowing “the one true God and Jesus Christ” whom was sent by God to redeem us (John 17:3). To know God becomes not only a hope, but it becomes our very purpose in life. To know Him is not merely to have a new affection for someone. It is also to know ourselves, for He reveals who we are through His love. This liberates our hearts as nothing else will or can.

The “How”

It is the grace of God in Christ that reveals God to us – that is the “why” of knowing God. We can know God because He chooses to reveal Himself to us out of His love.

The means of His revealing are found in four main areas: the Word of God; the life of Christ; the movement of the Spirit; and through our fellow believers. We do more than learn facts and truths about God in the Word – we meet God Himself. And specifically as we follow the life of Christ, the gospel narratives, a person emerges and a personality is revealed to us. Paul wrote that “light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

And the Spirit searches our hearts and reveals the heart of God. Christ said, speaking of the coming of the Spirit upon the Church:

And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:21-23)

What stronger words could Christ have used to teach us this principle other than to say that through the indwelling Spirit He and the Father will make their home in the hearts of those who believe? And we also see Christ revealing His personality among the believers themselves – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

So the how is simple – get into the Word of God regularly, read the gospel narratives with interest, listen to His Spirit speak to your heart through the Word, and spend time with spiritual Christians who are also experiencing closeness with God.

The Deep Things

But there is something else here – that God wants us to go deep in our knowledge of Him. It takes time and honesty to do this. We need to let Him confront us with the shallowness of life. We have substituted entertainment for worship, pleasantness for real joy, and an absence of conflict for the peace of God that is deep and profound.

I believe this is why God still allows sorrows and losses to hound us here, because these force us to go deeper. We need to find the Rock that is stable, not the slippery mud where we have no solid place to stand. David wrote of what is on the hearts of many of us:

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God. (Psalm 69:1-3)

Knowing God must be more than a passing fancy for our lives. It should consume us. And it will be experienced more deeply at some times than at others – most often during times of hardship and difficulty and grief. But there, in those painful moments, if we will let Him, God will reveal to us who He is in a deep and unforgettable way. Sorrows do not merely make us wiser – they also transform character.

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties

Persevering in Love

July 31st, 2018

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)

If I may be transparent, here is a scripture that I disobey regularly. I do not usually greet the various trials of life and ministry with “pure joy.” If I can even muster the slightest amount of neutrality on the matter, I tend to congratulate myself – and that all too enthusiastically, apparently, from this scripture. Here is a command I could work on, and perhaps you could too.

The word “consider” is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and it means to esteem something. The word was often used in the sense of esteeming something in a different light than it first appeared. Paul used it often in Philippians, such as when he said, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). So, here in James it is used in this sense, to “consider,” to “count,” to “esteem” trials and difficulties differently than they appear – in a positive light and not in a negative light.

This speaks of the power of faith, that out of an inner understanding sees circumstances in a different light. Our faith, for example, has taken the cross – which was an instrument of cruel torture and carried a stigma of a criminal’s death – and transformed it into the most endearing symbol of love and grace we can imagine. We do so because we know the scripture, that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). So, we can do something similar with our trials – see them differently than they appear to be.

A few other words, in addition to “consider,” could be clarified in these verses, because they are subject to be misunderstood. First, the word “trials,” peirasmos in Greek. It means an experience, a trial, or a test. It can be translated “temptations” as well, and can mean something negative or positive. It is the noun form of the verb that was used in James 1:13-14, that plainly says that the Lord does not tempt us with evil. That is, the Lord allows temptations to come, but He does not send them, nor does He place the evil thought of sin in our hearts. In fact, He always provides a way of escape out of temptation, according to 1 Corinthians 10:13.

This means that that which appears evil, even that which comes from the devil himself, in the hands of God can lead us to greater levels of maturity. Another word here is helpful to understand: “testing” or dokimion in Greek. It means that which can be proven by experience. An untried faith is a useless faith, and it is our trials that God allows into our lives that strengthen us and solidify our faith.

Sometimes we persevere through trials simply through the knowledge that these things are all temporary and will pass away eventually. Other times, we persevere in the sense that the Lord is using the trial to show us some weakness of our character, some area which needs more work. This word “perseverance,” hupomone in Greek, is a key word here. It literally means “to remain under,” and it is the opposite of the idea of throwing off responsibility and running away.

Perseverance is a general idea and takes different shapes in different circumstances. For example, Christ sent the apostles out to the various villages of Galilee and told them to look for the “son of peace,” that is, someone who would welcome them and be open to their message. If he was not there, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on. That was an example of perseverance in the sense of the calling and command of God. They persevered in that they left those unreceptive places and moved on to other more fruitful places for Christ. We persevere first in our obedience and devotion to Christ more than our attachment to a place and a people. A soldier goes where the command sends him, and the same is true of Christians.

Perseverance sees the promise and command of God more clearly and distinctly than the comforts or discomforts of this world. Have you learned to persevere? Have you learned to rejoice in the midst of unpleasant trials and temptations, and learned to consider them differently than they appear at first look? God will give us the grace to endure, withstand, bear up beneath, and persevere, and to do all of this in the good joy of the Holy Spirit.

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties