May 15, 2014

Rising above . . . or embracing life’s irritations?

He makes me lie down in green pastures . . .  (Psalm 23:2)

Lying down in green pastures gives an image of a sunny day with balmy breezes and total rest — no irritation at all. Yet this is not so with sheep. Unless conditions are right, and unless the shepherd has rid them of ticks, their rest can be totally ruined by small but irritating insects.

This happens to many Christians. The irritations can be anything from losing car keys to constant calls from telemarketers. It can be a whiny child or a hard-of-hearing partner. I’ve heard rants about parking problems, peeling paint, sticky windows, and rude sales people. I’ve done some ranting myself.

As I read the following passage again this morning, I think of all the ways God has used it to speak to me. Sometimes He has scolded me with it, but mostly He reminds me that no matter what I might think about myself, I am not above the irritations and struggles of life.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)

Paul’s credentials might be cause to boast. So might be His experience of God’s care in terrifying situations. He previously mentioned both . . .

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

But then he adds, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:22–30) because he had learned an amazing truth: life is one big classroom where we learn to stop trusting ourselves and learn to trust God.

Each student will experience a different lesson plan and their own specially designed tests, but the goal is the same. Will I trust my own resources or will I throw myself on the care of God? Will I use the grace that He shows me to glory in myself (as if grace had something to do with my worth) or will I glory in my weaknesses and in the God who delivers me?

Jesus knows about weakness and the struggles of life. He can identify with temptations and even irritations . . . “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16)

While He did not sin, He knows the weight of my guilt because He bore all my failures: to hold fast, to give in to weakness and temptation, to let the bugs bug me. When I do not rely on Him and instead rely on me, God put my sin on Him so I could be forgiven. Because of His incredible grace and mercy, He asks me to glory in my need of it. 

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