Supposedly written by an unknown Confederate soldier, the following expresses a glimpse into the way God works, the priorities He has for my life . . .
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.I asked for health that I might do greater things.I was given infirmity that I might do better things.I asked for riches that I might be happy.I was given poverty that I might be wise.I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.I was given life that I might enjoy all things.I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
Of these requests, I relate mostly to the two about strength and power. Raised by parents who applauded achievement, praise for accomplishment seemed the most important thing. It would elevate my status and self-esteem and give me a sense of being a valuable person in the economy of God. Yet God isn’t concerned about achievement, particularly accomplishments done in my own strength. He isn’t into things done in His strength either if they are for my gain. Alongside Him, who am I to expect praise? He has a different set of values . . .
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
My understanding of what makes a person great is not the same as God’s value system. In fact, Jesus said that the priorities of God are always going to be a surprise. In speaking to the Pharisees who loved money and wanted to appear pious, He said to them . . .
You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15)
Because the Lord shows me that God’s ways are higher than my ways, and because Jesus says such outlandish things about the value systems of this world, I need to continually inspect mine, but even then, my estimation is inadequate and prejudiced. I must ask Him . . .
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)
He describes the process of this change of values with words like renewal and regeneration. He gave me His life and His mind at salvation, but the process of learning to live out that life and think with that mind only began there. After more than forty years, I am still in the process of “not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewal of my mind, so that by testing I may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) More and more I see the daily need for setting my heart to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, setting my mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth . . .” (Colossians 3:1–3)
These are the challenges, and even in ordinary living, they are constant.