December 10, 2010

To Live is Christ — considering the options

This week’s devotional reading is titled “Our Only Option.” Thinking about the verse again reminds me of a story. I’ve told it before, but it fits so well that it must be repeated.

A man fell off a cliff. On the way down he grabbed a tree branch. For several minutes he calls out, “Help. Is there anyone up there, anyone?”

Finally a voice said, “This is God. I’m here. I will help you — but first you have to let go of the branch.”

After a long pause, the man said, “Help, is there anyone else up there?”
Affliction is supposed to remind us that God is our best option, but how many options can I come up with before going to Him? I can be quick to my own resources. Even when those run out, I might look for human help or mechanical help or some other kind of help even though I know that this going-my-own-way is the essence of sin. 
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)
After threshing about, I finally realize that clinging to my branch will not get me out of my trouble. I also realize that even if I haven’t fallen off a cliff, trusting God is always the best choice. The wisest man in the world, King Solomon, wrote these words: 
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5–8)
I’m not sure why affliction seems to work better than mere lessons. It likely has to do with that sin nature. Even a child will try to get away with mischief until something sharper than mother’s tongue inflicts some pain. If it isn’t a swat on the bottom, it might be the principal’s office at school or the bars at the local jail. Solomon also wrote this: 
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
He had learned that delayed consequences for sin do not stop sinners — just as delayed punishment gives children greater freedom to misbehave.

This same wise man also wrote, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3) No doubt he was thinking of the sorrow of affliction, self-inflicted or otherwise.

Being in trouble rarely puts a smile on my face. Yet two things have taught me the folly of hanging on to my branch. One is that sometimes God gives me great peace of heart before the affliction hits. Because of that, I am so certain that He is involved that I can more easily keep my mind on Him and stay at peace.

The other is that after the trial is over and I take time to think about it, I realize how much He has taught me in the trial, particularly about His faithfulness. The lessons learned put value on the affliction. Why bother asking for anyone else to help when I have Him? 

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (Psalm 119:71–72)
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