It’s not the problem you face but how you face the problem.
We used to spend a good deal of time with Pat, a woman who had an endless string of problems. Perhaps you know someone who seems to always have a terrible crisis coming down the road, but actually that wasn’t Pat. While she thought that she had an endless string of problems, what she really had was a steady flow of fairly insignificant matters, many of them created by her own folly.
“My supervisor complained that I made too many personal calls!”
“The bank repossessed my car, and now I can’t get to the casino.”
I listened and gritted my teeth. Finally, one day, as she cursed “my luck” because something really important–I think maybe her toaster quit working–had marred her day, I had listened to enough.
“Trent is paralyzed,” I noted.
Trent, a father of two, had gone from a capable, active young man to a hopelessly paralyzed fellow in a motorized wheelchair in the course of a few weeks. His wife didn’t know how they could pay for their house, pay for his care, or raise their daughters.
All the while that Pat complained about her luck, Trent and his family kept as strong an outlook as you could hope. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t experience some dark days, but mostly they kept their faces toward Christ throughout the worst of times.
Pat, I’m afraid, kept her face toward the toaster. I’m sure I needn’t mention that her outcome was less satisfactory.
- What is the biggest problem that you are facing at the present?
- Do you find it easy or difficult to turn first to Jesus in the face of problems great and small?
- Ask God to assist you in making your problems His problems.
Discovering God’s plan requires vulnerability.
Here’s Saul–mighty, mighty Saul–blind and led by the hand into the city where he intended to round up those pesky Christians. Saul was a powerful man, a man on the rise. Named after a king of Israel, a magnificent physical specimen and, at least at first, a successful king, Saul probably reveled in the glow of that name.
Saul knew his Torah. He knew the interpretations and the teachings and everything else. He had things figured out. He was a powerful young man with the prospect of becoming more powerful still. Yet here he is, knocked to the ground with his understanding of the universe lying in shattered pieces about his feet. He couldn’t see them, of course, having been blinded.
After having things figured out so well, Saul’s experience outside Damascus must have been devastating. God’s plan for Saul did not change when Saul lost his sight, but Saul’s ability to accept that plan did change. Could the self-satisfied, know-it-all Saul have possibly received that plan before the Damascus road? I don’t think so. I think he needed to be literally and figuratively knocked to the ground and made vulnerable.
To his credit, Saul didn’t just roll up in a ball of self protection. Instead, he yielded his vulnerable self. “What do you want me to do?”
What worked for him can work for us.
- In what part of your life do you find it most difficult to allow yourself to be vulnerable?
- Think of a time when you have yielded yourself and allowed God to make His plans more clear to you.
- Pray that God will use your weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the coming days.
God’s purpose depends on your humility.
Weird Al Yankovic isn’t the most spiritual guy in the world, but I have to confess to enjoying his parodies of popular songs. In one of them, “Amish Paradise,” a send-up of “Gangsta’s Paradise,” he employs a fairly obvious but still delightful little joke.
Think you’re really righteous? Think you’re pure at heart?
Well I know I’m a million times as humble as thou art.
Humility is a tough virtue. Read down the list of virtues–say the fruits of the spirit–and you’ll find that most of them can be perverted by the wrong spirit. You can be generous in order to impress other people with your generosity, for example. But is there another virtue that seems to just naturally defeat itself.
And still, humility is essential in the Christian life. Our walk with Christ has to start with humility. I have to recognize that I am not as pure and righteous as I’d like to think myself. I have to recognize that my problem with sin is one that I cannot solve myself.
I manifest a bit of humility and then suddenly I find myself taking pride in my humility. It’s tough, but it is essential.
If I’m going to learn God’s plan for my life, I have to put myself and my pride deep in the cellar. I have to accept that He is greater than me, remembering that every moment of the day. Or at least as much as I can. It’s hard, like I said.
- What parts of your life make it hardest for you to be humble?
- Are there areas in your life where you have justified pride? Is that possible?
- Pray that God will help you to have whatever measure of genuine humility you can manage this week.
Rest assured that God’s purpose for you is promised.
You know that verse cited above. Even if you don’t recognize the reference, even if you didn’t look it up like you should when reading this sort of thing, you know it. I could start speaking the words, “I know the plans . . .” and you’d have the rest come into your mind. Maybe you wouldn’t know it word for word, but I’m fairly confident that you know this verse.
I’ve had this verse rattling around in my mind a lot recently. I’ve heard two pastors whose teaching I respect share completely different views on it. A couple of friends and I have also discussed it. Our question, and the crux of the difference between those pastors, was whether that verse applied to us or just to the people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day.
On one level, that verse does just apply to those residents of Jerusalem, but do we really believe that God only knew the plans that He had for that crowd? Do we really believe that God had plans for good and for hope for them but that He has instead a bag full of poisonous snakes for us?
God’s purpose for us is promised. He had a plan for Abraham and a plan for Saul. He actually had plans for both Sauls, but one of them ran his plan off a cliff, Thelma and Louise style.
What is my destiny? I don’t know. Does God have one for me? Absolutely and without a doubt.
- In what ways has God revealed His plan for your life along the way? What questions remain mysterious?
- To what extent do you trust that God has plans to prosper you, even if He doesn’t fully reveal them right now?
- Pray that God will grant you the confidence to trust that He has plans for you and they are good ones.
Be an encourager by rebuilding relationships.
I’ve written children’s curriculum for LifeWay for something like fifteen years now, but that’s not entirely true. I’ve written steadily for them for fifteen years, but there was a hiatus of a few years on bible study materials.
For some reason, my first editor and I didn’t see eye to eye. Was it his lack of vision or my lack of skill? Probably it was a combination of those, but after two years, he cut me loose, which would have been the end of the story, except for my Barnabas.
Cheryl was editing Bible Express, a devotional magazine for kids, back then. She gave me assignments almost every month, eventually telling me that she was trying to let me build up my credibility. After a couple of years, a new bible study editor came on and she persuaded him to give me a try. I’ve written constantly for them now for–honestly I don’t know how long. I’ve moved from rookie to old man of the team.
Now Cheryl is editing that material, and she keeps me busy, which I guess means that I’m pretty good at the job. You have to know that I will always be loyal to her, helping in whatever way I can. After that restoration, I’ve been able to write for other products and otherwise use the gift that God gave me.
Thank you, Cheryl–friend, sister in Christ, encourager, rebuilder of relationships.
- Who has helped you to rebuild relationships in the past? What has that opened up in your life?
- For what relationships have you served as a Barnabas? Are there some that you should?
- Give thanks for Jesus rebuilding your relationship with God. Ask God for opportunities to do similar work.