June 11, 2013

Choose grace

There is a saying, “The same sun that softens the wax also hardens the clay.” That is true also for suffering. The good that can come from it is not automatic. One man loses his wife and he becomes more tender and with greater sympathy for others. Another faces the same loss and it makes him bitter and hard. One woman has a great sorrow and it turns her to God. Another has a similar experience and she is never seen inside a church again.

Today’s devotional reading points this out. Trouble in itself is neither positive nor negative. The result depends on my reaction. God offers grace to use sorrow creatively and to force it to yield up its hidden blessings, but I do not always rise to that. My negative reactions throw barricades against the will of God to bless me. And if it is not a negative reaction, it will be my own attempts to solve, eradicate or somehow escape the trouble.

My concern with suffering starts out as if I’m trying to find an explanation for it and for my own ineffective responses. I think that if I can find a reason for it, then I will cope, but what I really want is victory. Even if I come up with answers to those questions and fully understand the “why” of pain or loss or inability, I’d still have to bear that pain, loss, inability. The bottom line is that I really want and need the grace of God. If I cannot be rid of the suffering, then I want Him to help me stand under it. And that is why God gave me Jesus Christ.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)
When life gets hard, people come up with various coping mechanisms. Some use pills, booze, or distractions. Some pray, or become involved in work or play. These might work for a little while, but not for the long run. God has a better solution, and I’m always amazed at His way of dealing with the difficulties in my life. He uses truth.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)
Before I got out of bed this morning, I felt overwhelmed. This week’s module in the current course I’m taking has three times as many lectures as a normal week, and hundreds of pages of reading. My prayer list is heavy, as are other responsibilities. I wanted to escape, run away from home, or at least think about something more pleasurable. However, my spirit was saying I should rise to this, not run away, not even for a moment.

As I wrestled with not wanting to do that, yet also wanting to respond to all this in a way that honors God, the Lord put a verse into my mind that I’d learned years ago. Instantly, my wrestling match ended. Those weighty circumstances have not changed, but my attitude is more like it should be. I am more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me.

God knows how to bring me closer to Him. It is by giving me challenges that I cannot handle without Him. Will I choose some sort of escape as I suffer this sense of helplessness? Or will I turn to Him who holds out all the answers to my questions, and even better, offers a liberating grace that gives me truth to bear all challenges without folding up under their power? Thankfully, His grace also includes the power to make the best choice.

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