January 15, 2014

Leaning lightly on my friends

Yesterday was a long day of study, reading dense material and listening to lectures. I was feeling sorry for myself, complaining to God that I missed the encouragement that I needed, particularly from Christian friends that we didn’t see during our recent month-long holiday. I went to bed feeling discouraged and woke up the same way.

God amazes me with His timing. Today’s devotional is about leaning lightly on my Christian group of friends. It says, “Enjoy the group but don’t become over-dependent on it. Watch that it doesn’t become an idol, for you will find (if you haven’t already found) that it has feet of clay . . . never forget that God and God alone is the One who will never let you down.”

In the New Testament, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about this problem. They had put certain people on pedestals to the point that they divided over it . . .

For it has been reported to me . . . that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11–17)

While it is not wrong to put Christ on a pedestal, they were doing this to elevate themselves, not to glorify God. I can relate to that. I’ve talked about my group of friends with that same motivation; “Look at me and how well off I am to know these people . . .”

The rest of the devotional reading points out that this is another subtle form of idolatry. I am to “lean lightly” on my church, denomination, the small group that we attend, the ladies in the study group that I lead, and my Christian friends who are a blessing. I can become addicted to their supply and forget that it is God who supplies all that I need.

As for that wretched self-pity, this same devotional reading addresses this also. As I was feeling sorry for poor me, God directed me to this . . .

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1–4)

What could be more direct! Besides this, the rest of the passage addressed my reason for self-pity. I have struggled with a certain issue for a long time and God has been disciplining me. Great victories have been won as He shows me the parts of my heart and thinking that need His touch. Yesterday, I became weary of the struggle and tired of the discipline. I just wanted it to be finished. But He said . . .

 . . .  Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5–13)

He didn’t leave me with just that directive, but took me to three more passages of encouragement. The first one was after Moses died and Joshua was told to take God’s people into the land He had promised them. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them . . .  No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:1–6).

The second was in David’s words to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished” (1 Chronicles 28:20).

This third verse was like icing on a very satisfying slice of rich and filling cake. In the original, the blank space is “money” but it seems safe to fill this blank with anyone who has toppled off or simply abandoned that pedestal where I foolishly placed them.

Keep your life free from love of __________, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

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