I am lousy at suffering.
It seems only fair that, having been blessed with a happy life, I should be able to take whatever breaths of trouble or suffering blow my way. Puffs of the real thing, really--nowhere near the heart-wrenching, life-changing extent that some others have to face.
But I can't.
I find that often I react to suffering the same way I would to a blister. Even if I'm not crippled by it, I still limp as I go on with life. I chafe and complain and feel like my whole life is ruined because of that one thing (read: whole body disabled because of that one little white blister.) Maybe I mean to keep a stiff upper lip (sometimes not even just out of sheer silly heroics, but perhaps because the rational side of me actually realizes what a silly little thing it is)--but end up with a long face. Maybe I do bear with it without too much fuss--but I let it irritate me more than it should, ruin my mood, make me unreasonably cross and grumpy even to those trying to help and sympathize. (Humans are foolish in a very complicated way.)
(Hopefully this analogy isn't completely serious. I'm horrified at how out of proportion my reaction to a mere blister seems to be becoming.)
I may bear the suffering, praying for strength and telling God I'm trusting Him--but I do it with bad grace. Reading Psalms, reading Isaiah (Isaiah had one of the most tragic lives of all God's servants in the Bible), I know that I'm not bearing the suffering as I should. Where's the joy in God that should characterize a Christian, even in suffering? I didn't have it.
Even as I professed to know it was for my own good, I squirmed and made faces and complained when I had yucky medicine to take.
As Dad once shared at a prayer meeting, it's not just an added bonus to have joy in suffering. It's important--because it means we are accepting God's plan for us, trusting Him. Lack of joy leads to dissatisfaction, unhappiness (well duh), even a grudge against God, despite professedly accepting His will.
We have to pray for joy, as well as strength, for our suffering. Specifically, joy in God.
Not joy in His gifts to us (duh that's a natural response at any rate), which turns our happiness into an erratic, superficial roller-coaster of an equation, Me + Good Things Happen = I'm Happy/I Love God; Me +Bad Things Happen = I'm Sad/I Hate God.
Joy in the Giver. Because He never changes, His love for us never changes, and His goodness never changes.
Today's Search the Scriptures covered Isaiah 5:22.
"...Woe to men mighty at drinking wine,
Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink,
Who justify the wicked for a bribe,
And take away justice from the righteous man!"
I didn't think much of this--okay, the Israelite princes were irresponsible drunken bums who played drinking games all day instead of governing their suffering city. Nothing much in common with me, either the drinking or the governing. I could judge them comfortably from a safe distance.
What I didn't realize was, the real focus wasn't on the drinking; it was on what the drinking replaced.
Search the Scriptures' prompt was disarming: rephrase the 'Woes' in this passage in 20th-century terms.
For verse 22, I ended up with this:
Those who use their strength, talent, and/or ability for frivolous, damaging pursuits that gratify themselves, but which hurt rather than help others.
These men could have been strong, mighty, in such a different way than the satirical way Isaiah condemned them in. Leaders who could have given their people hope and comfort and security and order. Leaders who could have fought for justice, been inspirations, caused reforms.
They were meant to 'serve their generation', as David had, with the strength and ability and resources God had blessed them with. Instead, they added to the corruption. At a time when they were most needed, they were happily entrenched in endless, aimless partying that hurt both themselves and the people they were responsible for.
I had to look at myself, even without Search the Scriptures prompting me with an 'application question'.
I've done this. I'm guilty. God has given me my own small share of abilities, resources, strength--because He intends me to serve my generation with them, in my own small way.
What have I been doing with these gifts?
Playing (my equivalent of) drinking games?
I think so.
Frivolous, damaging pursuits to gratify myself. I'm afraid I can think of many; ranging from the actually sinful to the not-wrong-in-itself-but-not-useful-or-helpful, and its fine-line relatives, the not-actually-wrong-in-itself-but-not-something-worth-spending-so-much-of-my-life-on's. Things which I do mainly because I just feel like it and it's so easy to lapse into doing. Things which seldom actually benefit me, and more often hurt myself. Things which are comparatively worthless but replace the genuinely worthwhile things I was meant to do and should have done.
Perhaps it's more comprehensive than that even.
Perhaps God has blessed you with a natural knack of making friends, getting on well with others, influencing them. Maybe you're using this gift mainly to boost your self-esteem, feeling good because you can make people like you, because you feel you have so many friends/admirers, taking advantage of it to manipulate others or pick only the people who appeal to you for your friends...
Drinking games, again!
In this light, there are many areas--too many--of my life that need to be reviewed.
I need to look at myself whenever I come across sinners in the Bible--to realize that I too am no better. But also, that I too can find grace and forgiveness with Christ--and with Him, the power to change.
I have often asked God to give me more love for others. It took me a while to realize simply loving more wasn't the same as loving rightly.
Too often, I realize, I'm not loving others the way I should. What happens as result is that either they are hurt by it, or I am hurt by it. What I really needed was not so much more love, but wiser love--love that reflected Christ's perfect love, which would truly bless both myself the recipient.
I probably focused too much on the front part of Philippians 1:9--
"And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more..."
...and didn't focus quite so much on "in knowledge and all discernment."
Focusing on the rest of Phil 1:9-11, which described the results/characteristics of perfect love, made me compare the way I currently loved others, with how I ought to love them:
"...that you may approve the things that are excellent..."
Love shouldn't blind you to right and wrong. Yes, love should not judge; but equally it should not cause you to compromise. I thought of Christ, how He loved sinners like the tax collectors and us, so tenderly; yet without once condoning our sin (which was the whole reason why He was here on earth.)
"...that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ..."
Examining my own heart, I realized my love for others, if well-meant, was often colored with ulterior motives. It wasn't always completely sincere. Sometimes I depended on the love they returned, to feel secure. Sometimes my love for them depended on how well they pleased me, how lovable they were--not for themselves.
"...being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
What a beautiful conclusion. This is why we're struggling, and what we're struggling for. This is also why we can struggle--enabled by Christ.
"The days of our youth are the days of our glory." ~Lord Byron
Everyone agrees that youth is a wonderful thing.
Full of curiosity.
Full of dreams.
Full of hope.
Full of possibilities.
Full of excitement about life.
"Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth."
Ecclesiastes (11:10) agrees.
But what comes next?
"Walk in the ways of your heart, and the sight of your eyes..."
--isn't that exactly what we tend to do? Follow our heart! Go where our fancy takes us! Jump at impulses! Grab at what attracts us! Maybe the four letters that make up today's teenager's catchword can sum all that up pithily for us: YOLO!
"...but know that for all these God will bring you into judgement."
That may sound a bit harsh to us, people whose brains have inevitably been affected by the constant YOLO-ing pouring into our ears.
But Solomon doesn't leave it at that. That's merely what leads up to the conclusion:
"Therefore remove sorrow from your heart and evil from your way..."
Youth isn't an excuse for sin. Yes, you only live once; in fact you do only live once, and after that you face judgement for how you have lived your one life, like everybody else. (Honestly, on second thought YOLO has more serious connotations than it's supposed to have. In fact, it could even just have the opposite effect...)
Basically...don't use the YOLO mentality of youth as an excuse for sin. But God meant us to be, wants us to be joyful too. To rejoice in the season of youth He has given us, with all its blessings and abilities and experiences--without making an idol of it. Value it to use wisely and well.
You're Only Young Once, after all...YOYO.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are