This will be the last post on Jeremiah. I promise.
Mostly because I've just finished Jeremiah with Search the Scriptures.. and have moved on to Colossians.
...consider yourself warned!
Ever since I was little, I used to have these creepy moments when I imagined myself as one of those early Christian martyrs facing horrific deaths.
I officially acknowledged to myself that I would chicken out. Inglorious as that would have been.
Nowadays I let my imagination run amok on more realistic terms. What if I had an accident and became a quadriplegic? What if I lost someone beloved? What if there was a war, or an epidemic, and my comfortable world was turned upside down--would I still be able to trust God?
Honestly, I wasn't sure. I couldn't imagine myself with the sort of superhuman, supernatural calm and fearlessness those martyrs had. And that made me afraid of circumstances like that. How would I face suffering and heartbreak on such a devastating scale? Would I just go to pieces?
I saw this happening exactly in Jeremiah's life, which was torn apart by war and national displacement. Trust was at a whole new level. Your life, your family, your home, and any hopes for a peaceful future--let alone your personal dreams and ambitions, as Baruch the scribe had to struggle with--were on the scale.
Jeremiah and the Israelites faced the same situation--living in dread of frighteningly real and close dangers. He felt the same fear and doubt that the people did, despite God's promise to keep them safe if they remained in faith. (Jeremiah chapters 42 and 43)
Jeremiah was not superhuman or supernatural. From the rest of the book, and especially the beginning, I see a sensitive man struggling with the troubled times he lived in and the difficult task he was given; very much human, very much flawed--and knowing that.
Torn with intense feelings of sorrow, loneliness, anger, helplessness, fear, and insecurity.
Emotions that are alive and kicking in our own hearts today.
In the very first chapter of Jeremiah, God had to reassure him multiple times:
Do not be afraid.
Do not be dismayed.
I will deliver you.
I am with you, to deliver you.
Like me, he was consumed by fears and doubts, influenced by the people around him.
The difference was that Jeremiah had made a decision to trust and obey God regardless of his emotional state. The same circumstances produced unbelief and disobedience in the people, but unwavering faith and obedience--despite his conflicting feelings of doubt and fear--in Jeremiah.
It's all right to experience fear and doubt. Those emotions in themselves are not sins, are not proof that you've lost your faith in God. Sometimes, in fact, they're the signs that your faith is alive and struggling.
Circumstances aren't what we should fear. If we truly desire and decide to trust God and live in obedience to Him, we will be given the courage to do so, even when our circumstances are anything but conducive; to--not obliterate, but overcome--our human frailty.
I am with you, to deliver you.
In Chinese, my name means God's Precious Love. I have always wondered how my parents knew that love would be such a great theme in my life and to my heart.
Struggling to love unlovable people, struggling with my own unlovable-ness, struggling to live out the love I felt but so seldom knew how to express.
Love is the theme of 1 Corinthians 13, that famous passage which I memorized once at a evangelistic children's camp and ever after associated with hearts cut out of coloured paper and fingers sticky with glue. For those of you deprived of such memories, you likely remember this passage as a sort of last warning to nervous grooms and veiled brides.
This passage needs to stop being seen merely as a text for innumerable wedding sermons, and applied to every relationship we hold in our life. Love, as Christ called us to, is the great theme of Christianity. Every relationship in our life is an opportunity to grow in and show this love.
If we take 1 Corinthians 13 as the standard, how many of our relationships pass the test?
I was sobered to realize that often even my strongest, closest relationships failed several points.
Love is patient and kind.
As a Sunday School teacher and violin teacher, with more opportunities to work with children and understand them better, I ironically still struggle with impatience and unkindness. When we are more knowledgeable, more skilled, (or, more accurately, think we are); when we are in a position of authority, running a program, or the like--it's so easy to get impatient. Brushing questions off brusquely. Being unnecessarily harsh, even if for a legitimate reason. Assuming you know best. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm being impatient or unloving till after it's all over.
Perhaps you face this, not so much with kids, but with other people who arouse similar emotions in you--the elderly; people who are mentally or socially challenged; young people who are immature in your eyes; people who think and assess differently from you.
Love does not envy or boast.
We've all had that one glamorous, talented, or poised friend which we struggle not to be jealous of, in one aspect or another (or alas, maybe all.) So good at sports. So good with people. So skilled in serving--gorgeous and photogenic--popular and well-loved--well-dressed--well-rounded.
Or perhaps, you are the glamorous, talented, poised friend. Perhaps you've gotten used to the admiration of your friends and unconsciously start to see them as humble fans to keep your ego floating.
It is not arrogant or rude.
Humility is not the pleasant, watery self-discount-thing we like to think it is (' ah, you flatter me..') but a state of the heart. Being humble means knowing how to accept criticism as well as praise.
I find this a major conviction for me as a daughter. If we cannot respect our parents at home, we are not humble, no matter how many times we use the phrase 'Aw, I'm really not that good' in our conversations. God intends this to be our basic training ground for true humility.
Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, arrogance and rudeness is never justifiable--in both parents and children, but especially children. I am learning that, way too slowly.
Recently on reading Jane Austen's Persuasion, one phrase struck me. Anne Elliot, the gentle and sensible heroine, had an overbearing and conceited father who scolded her for 'degrading' the family by her interactions with socially inferior people (think the uncool group, for those who aren't familiar with Austen.)
If anything, this was the sort of scenario in which speaking out against one's parents could be best justified. However, I found Anne's response--or lack of one--significant; 'Anne could have said much, and did long to say a little...but her sense of personal respect to her father prevented her.'
Unlike the stereotypical Victorian heroine who was passive and silent only because it was expected of her, reflected well on her, or because she was told it was the right thing to do, Anne's passivity arose from genuine love and respect for her father. She understood and cared for him--without condoning his views or compromising herself, (she still continues to see those inelegant people, by the way)--understanding that simply arguing with him was not going to change his mind, but rather undermine their relationship unnecessarily.
Respecting our parents is unrelated to whether we agree with them or not, just as (which is easier for us to grasp) loving is.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful...
Ironically, in my closest and strongest relationships, I'm ashamed to say that this seemingly basic requirement is the very one I fail most in. We take our nearest and dearest for granted.
I'm sorry, numberless cutesy cartoons on Best Friend vs Good Friend; I do not agree with the popular belief that one should treat your best friends like dirt to prove how close they are. For the longest time I felt this strongly but could not express why till I read The Four Loves and C. S. Lewis so aptly summed it up : Affection takes liberties, but taking liberties is not affection.
(Thank you, for the millionth time and counting, C.S. Lewis. I can't wait to meet you in heaven.)
It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Honesty in friendship is key, at least all those Pins and Twitter quotes tell you so.
What exactly that means in practical application, they just don't get around to telling you.
To me, a very obvious aspect is that uncomfortable feeling you get when you're thinking something and you don't dare to say it because you know things are going to get serious if you do. Sounds familiar? Maybe you've done something which you wish you hadn't. Maybe they did something you wish they hadn't. Regardless, when you have to hide something to keep your friendship going, you need to be very careful. Too often, you're failing your responsibility to rebuke your friend when they need it. Or failing the trust they put in you.
Love values honesty above the hurt it might bring. It is strong enough to run the gauntlet. It is not blinded, to treat evil as less than what it is.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Hope. I never thought of this as an important aspect of love before, but on second thought, it is. Endurance of any sort is not possible without hope of some sort. Love which does not expect or hope for improvement is not real love either.
Love never ends.
Two years ago, my dad handed out little slips of paper he had prepared, with ten questions.
He encouraged us to take the time and thought to answer Donald Whitney's Questions for a Fruitful New Year on our own, taking a day for each question so we wouldn't be tempted to rush through the list with vague or superficial answers.
I grimaced inwardly when I glanced at the list. These were soul-searching questions which would disturb you, poke you out from your comfort-zone. Questions you couldn't just answer with a yes or no. Tucking it into my Bible, I mentally tucked it away in my mind under the convenient label when I have time. (this label is where we stash all the stuff we know we ought to do, but are too lazy to take the mental energy to plan time for; we call it when I have time, but in reality it's more like 10yearstorage.)
Thankfully, it didn't stay in 10yearstorage till it crumbled into dust. Somehow I discovered the slip of paper (very wrinkled by now) and somehow decided to give it a go. Since then, it's become one of my little routines for transitioning to a new year. The piece of paper is sitting before me now; still hopelessly wrinkled---but this time because it's been well-used, not because it's been tucked away for a year and a day.
I'd like to share those 10 Questions here, in the hopes that you too will be helped by it. Whether or not you end up writing out all the answers, or whether you simply browse through and mull over the thoughts these questions should instinctively arouse in your mind.
Some are deeply personal. Some are wake-up calls.
All of them are specific.
1. What's one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
I appreciate that this question came first of all--it was a timely reminder that we need to seek to grow in our joy and love for God. and not only agonize over our spiritual disciplines, our failures, our 'walk'.
Our heart comes first of all.
2. What's the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
Sometimes, we get so focused on our spiritual life, our struggles, that we forget to focus on the person of God. We're out of touch with His attributes. We doubt, because we forget He's faithful. We get cynical, because we forget He is powerful. We fear, because we forget He is good.
We need to stop looking only at ourselves, and look up.
3. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life?
4. In what spiritual disciplines do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it?
(I think I can hear echoes of the ouch this question stung from me!)
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What's the most important way you will, by God's grace, make this year different from last year?
The previous questions had forced me, from my comfortably zoomed out view of the year, to a close look at the specific, practical details and actions I needed to take.
Question 8, however, suddenly zoomed me back out to a big picture view with breathless speed.
But this time, having dealt with the practical details that I had previously comfortably blurred out, the year became simpler, clearer. If I had had to answer this question first I would have probably dashed off something generically correct and hopelessly vague, such as 'grow spiritually' (and most likely end up doing nothing about it.)
This time, after having first thought through practical steps in the previous questions, I knew that what I wrote in answer to this question reflected the ultimate outcome I hoped those practical steps would have. That put the whole year into a different perspective. My answer to question 8 was something which tied in with my answers to the other questions--no longer hopelessly vague, but the overall effect, so to speak, of a concrete plan.
9. What 1 thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years--in eternity?
Eternity is a big word.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are