Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Don't Lose Heart

Have you ever made the mistake of thinking that becoming a Christian meant that you got to join the Red Carpet club? If you haven’t, I’m sure you know of someone who accepted Christ thinking that life afterwards was designed to be easy and care free. Wrong! Becoming a Christian may actually mean that the pressures and problems of our lives are intensified and amplified. Our guest pastor (Scott Morgan) at church last week spoke on this misconception using scripture from 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 where Paul encourages the Corinthians to “keep on, keeping on” despite discouragement or persecution in their walk as Christians. I wanted to share my notes from the sermon as well as my personal thoughts on how this relates to me and some of my recent struggles.

“7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but no abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

Looking back at verse seven, Paul speaks about a treasure held in jars of clay. Verses one through six indicate that this treasure is the gospel; as believers, we are the jars of clay. Why would God place something that is invaluable in something of so little value? Living out of our weaknesses illustrates God’s power in our lives. We shouldn’t think that God is incapable of using our weakness and frailty to adorn the halls of heaven—this very concept is illustrated in the following story.

Every day a servant placed a pole across his shoulders that carried two clay buckets. He walked to a stream that was several miles away, filled up the buckets and then painstakingly returned to his master’s home. The bucket on the left was without imperfection and always returned a full measure of water; the bucket on the right however was cracked and by the time the servant returned, this bucket was only half full every time. One day the cracked bucket cried out, feeling sorry about his deficiency; he didn’t understand why the servant continued to use the cracked bucket since it was incapable of completing the very task which it had been designed for. The servant gently asked if the bucket had ever taken notice of the path on the right side and the left as they returned from the stream. The very next day, the cracked bucket noticed that there was a path of beautiful wildflowers growing, all the way from the stream to the master’s house on the right side of the path; whereas the left side was without. The servant explained that he had known all along that the bucket had a crack, but he chose to sow flower seeds in its path cultivating beauty out of something that appeared to be purposeless and wasteful. The servant explained that the master’s table is adorned with the beautiful flowers all year long that grow because of the water that drips out of the cracked bucket. WE are the cracked bucket my friends—we see our weaknesses as something that are purposeless, and designed to simply frustrate us or trip us up. How dare we limit the power and purpose of God in our lives though. God is able to use our cracked and broken bodies to bring goodness to those around us. He has a purpose and a plan, and is far more capable than we’ll ever know of bringing goodness and beauty out of our “deficiencies.” Take heart my dear friends, for God is at work in our frailty.

Have you noticed the hope and endurance in Paul’s voice when you read verses eight through nine? He speaks of challenging times for the Corinthians where it seems they are attacked from every side; however they are never completely destroyed or ruined. God is going to allow challenging times in our lives. But it is in these challenging times that we have a huge opportunity to communicate that we are tied to the eternal anchor in heaven—God is not going to put us in a situation that is greater than us. He knows our limits and he will pull us through. The message that we communicate in these trails though should speak of the hope and endurance we know we have through Jesus Christ. Don’t lose heart in challenging times; be confident that God is at work in our experiences.

In verses 10 through 11, Paul speaks of Jesus’ death and life, but you will notice that His death always precedes His life. If we are to identify with Jesus, we have to embrace the dying of Christ in our lives by dying to ourselves each day (Luke 9:23). This is an active element in our lives, something that we have to consciously choose. This process of dying to ourselves and allowing Christ to be displayed in our lives is called sanctification; after accepting Christ, sanctification is the journey that we go through where God makes us more like Christ. This journey is life long and there will be many seasons of “death.”

If you haven’t had a dying season, you can expect it. When I speak of a dying season, I speak of a time where God puts you in a position that causes us to die to ourselves—we are forced to abandon hope that we have placed in things and rely on God’s strength and character. As we die to ourselves though, we can identify with the death that Jesus Christ chose, therefore allowing us to also identify with Him in life. As human beings our natural tendency isn’t to gravitate towards challenging situations that refine our spiritual character. Instead we choose the smoother, easier path that often times wouldn’t be rough enough to take calluses off our hands. God loves us enough though to place us in these situations to refine and purify us.

This point here struck me in the very core of my being as I listened to this sermon last week. If you read my most recent blog or you have spoken with me about my first year of teaching you know a little bit about the struggles that I went through last year. Last year felt like one of the longest periods of my life—it seemed to drag on and on and on. There was no end in sight, and it seemed that near the end things couldn’t get any worse. I kept telling myself that there was a purpose in all the adversity that I kept facing however it was like being blind and trying to trust the voice you hear guiding you through an adventure course. I knew the voice was there, however I lost confidence in the purpose of the adventure course. It was in the challenges of last year though that God was working to make me more like His son. I will readily and enthusiastically admit that I would have never placed myself in any of those situations last year just so that my spiritual character could be refined and so that individuals around me could see the wisdom and grace of God displayed in my life. I’ll admit it—I’m shallow and lazy, and I would prefer that life were easy. However, because of God’s love and purpose for me, he stuck me straight into the fire. I am thankful for this though because I learned sooo much and I am far more confident and aware of God’s purpose for my life and career as a teacher. I think the only thing that can help us endure the pain of our dying seasons is knowing that God will complete his perfect work in us until the day of His return (Philippians 1:6). Take heart in your season of dying—there’s nothing fun about it but you can be confident that God is at work in your sanctification.

Finally, you can have heart knowing God is at work in your influence. In verse 12, Paul says that while death is at work in us (our dying season), life is at work in you. We may be going through a death season, but this death will produce life in you. Your reaction in your death season will speak volumes about what and who you have hope and endurance in. Don’t under estimate the power and ability of God to use you in the lives of friends, family and complete strangers around you. May they be encouraged by your patient endurance. May they be strengthened by the hope that you display in the eternal God. Remember—someone is always watching. Make sure they glean God’s character from your life.

In closing, take heart in your journey as Christians. We have a faithful and all powerful provider who has the perfect plan for our lives. Don’t box him in. Don’t underestimate him. Simply be encouraged by what you read in God’s word, knowing that God wants to refine you, make you better and use you for the glory of His kingdom. It may be hard and uncomfortable but God will never abandon you. Trust in him. Have hope and endurance.

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