Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Relying, Contentment, Trusting, Losing, and Gaining

I feel like I've learned something really significant. Actually, I think it's the most important thing I COULD learn. I've shared now and then some things that God has been teaching me and how I've been growing, but the last two years have been pretty significant. In some way I feel like they've been the completion for this set of things that God has been working me through for the past 8 years at least. Two years ago I had an epiphany and "got" something that I didn't "get" before. Then that fall (after we moved to this basement) I started to "get" another part to it. I've tried to share on here or with friends what I've learned, but it never seems to come out in an understandable way. And perhaps it won't this time either, but it's important for me to think through it all and try to organize the thoughts because I will be able to remember this lesson if I "teach" it (so to speak) or at least share my thoughts with whoever is in blogdom that might be reading this.

1 Tim 6:3- 10
"If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our LORD Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

I've bolded the verse that I'd like to focus on here. "But godliness with contentment is great gain." How many of us are truly content? DIScontentment seems to be the most prevalent part of the American life. It doesn't seem to matter how blessed we truly are because we always want more. Our society is forever holding up adds and complaints and anything to remind us how bad we've got it. Or at least how we'd feel better if we just had a little bit more.

While it IS natural for us to want "more" or to be selfish or to dislike change or to hold onto what we have more tightly than we hold onto God... all of those things are from our sinful flesh. We should never shrug our shoulders and give up when God wants us to grow and learn and become more like Christ.

The question I used to always come to at this point and that some of you might be asking is the balance of works and of faith. Should we be striving to build spiritual disciplines in our lives? Should we try to develop good habits?

Before I answer those questions I have to admit something. I'm a complete and utter failure. People who know me and see my life might argue with this because I "look" like I get a lot done or I "look" like I'm good at things, but all of my journals when I was a teen were just completely full of prayers that generally had the word "HELP" in them more often than most other things. I never felt like I would overcome my procrastinating tendencies or wake up early or be consistent about reading my Bible or doing school or any other goal that I (or someone else) set up for me. I couldn't stick with stuff no matter how hard I tried it seemed. I hoped at that age that when I was older (like the age I am now.. 29) I'd be free from these struggles within myself. The truth is though that my internal struggles haven't just gone away as I've grown older, but a few years ago I finally "got it"... and what I finally understood is such a basic truth I wish that someone had of told me before.

What I realized was that it doesn't matter what we are going through in our lives, be it health problems, loss, fears, or dishes, that is the source of our "suffering" the answer is all going to be the same. Just as the woman who is struggling every day as she goes through breast cancer can say "God's grace is sufficient" and she can say that with confidence, recognizing that there are bad days and better days, but it all boils down to God giving her strength and the grace to make it through each day. For me... the sort of person that seems to have the hardest time, not when a broken leg happens right before Christmas, but when those little every day things come in where I need to be consistent. Or when those bigger obligations come where I need to push through and finish something even when I'm completely drained. Who gives me the strength for these things? I've realized that the times when I struggle the most and complain and am feeling anything but content are those times when I'm not trusting God for strength to do what He wants me to do.

I've gone through an organize/simplify/Bible study thing recently and it's taught me not only to simplify my house and systems so that the dishes don't pile up and the house is easier to maintain, but what I keep coming back to is realizing that even in those small daily things I have to rely on God for strength. Sometimes it's a matter of trust as well. I don't "feel" like doing something, but I think of how I need to be faithful in the small things and I also need to trust that if I just step up to something even feeling like I can't do it or just that I don't "want" to do something I can KNOW that God will give me the grace and strength to make it through.

Now it's time for another verse. This one is too often taken out of context.

Philippians 4:11-13

"...for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity ; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."

Paul learned to be content in EVERY circumstance! How? Through relying on Christ who gives us the grace or "strength" to make it through absolutely anything "easy" or hard.

There is SO much complaining in the world and all around me and in my own head and in the words that come out of my mouth... yet if I can't learn to be content where I am right now (no matter where that is with whatever benefits or disadvantages I have around me) how could I ever expect to be content any where else? Human nature is to want more. "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence..." as they say, but we who are Christians especially, who know this side of our nature, should be even more mindful to be ready and willing to learn to be content and to grow in this area of our lives.

Now let me go back to those questions that I didn't answer before .. they were these.

Should we be striving to build spiritual disciplines in our lives? Should we try to develop good habits? I struggled with this a lot when I was young. Partly because I wanted to know God and I wanted to read His word and live every day to show Him my love and glorify Him in all that I did and do.

I couldn't.

I was never enough and never could be enough. I always failed and I do always fail.

But it's not about "me" doing everything right. I don't claim to understand how all of this works, but I can tell you how it feels from my limited human perspective. I want to do good. I want to be the proverbs 31 woman in my home and raise my children in a way that will nurture who they are a please God and love my husband more than myself, yet I fail so often. But... is my human failure a reason to not try to be these things? To not try to show my love for my family and Savior and live in the way that I so desperately WANT to live and become the woman that I feel like I could never be?

--- Just a quick interlude here... I overheard some women a little older than my Mom talking about a lady around my grandmothers age and describing how they wanted to be like her when they were older. How she was giving and caring and had a quiet servants heart. Well, all I could think of at the time was this.. over and over... if you want to be like that in the future than you should practice to be like that now.

Why do we think (as I did when I was a teen) that at some point in life we will just "arrive".. as if the years between now and then are what teach us rather than what we DO in those years. I've seen many older people that I don't want to emulate and all the older people that I want to be like are the people that have learned this lesson some time in there life. Whether they were forced into an extreme circumstance that pushed them into a place where they had to rely on God and trust Him each and every moment, or whether they simply were faithful in all the little things in life and trusting Him in each and every small thing and grew more like Christ.

My Dad used to say that "practice doesn't make perfect.. practice makes permanent." Meaning of course that how we practice something has more to do with the end product than simply that we "practice."

If I read my Bible every day, but did so in my own strength and wasn't relying on God than I wouldn't be practicing what I really need to be learning would I? I'm sure there are people out there who are strong enough in themselves to look 'perfect' in everything they do.. their house is tidy their children are polite and so on and so on, but how long can any of us keep that up? I can hardly keep up that sort of "perfection" for even a day.

But.. while I've answered "yes" to those earlier questions ( Should we be striving to build spiritual disciplines in our lives? Should we try to develop good habits?)
It's not with our own strength that I propose we do these things.

Therefore, knowing now that in whatever we try to do we should be trusting God to give us the strength to get us through those things we need to simply start by asking Him (and listening for his answer!) what HE wants us to do. What areas do I struggle with? Some people might have no problems with folding their laundry the same day that they wash the clothes or with being annoyed and snapping at the kids or husband.

My advice is to start simply. Just like through the "Organizing/simplifying" thing that I went through that started out just working on making the bed every morning, we can start simply with one "spiritual discipline" sort of thing in our walk with Christ. When I was younger I forced myself to simply pray (on my knees so I wouldn't fall asleep) every night. It wasn't about "being or looking" perfect it was simply a start. A reminder, if you will... I wasn't sinning by NOT doing it and I wasn't earning points when I DID do it... it was just something that helped me. Just like writing those "HELP" prayers in my journal or writing these "profound" thoughts on our blog. JUST LIKE singing praises helps me focus on Christ. It reminds me of WHO God is and why I shouldn't be afraid.
Any of these "spiritual disciplines" start out (at least for me) in a rather difficult way. It's HARD to read my Bible every day or stop complaining and being depressed and singing a praise song to remember His goodness, but it's what He wants me to do.

Not so that I "look" perfect, but so that I can receive His comfort.

1 Corinthians 1: 3-5
"Praise be to the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows."

As Christians we should expect to have more hardships than not. Life doesn't turn "easy" when we become Christians. In fact it often gets harder. If the world or other Christians aren't shooting us down or our own natures aren't crippling us even more when we try so hard to NOT be a certain way (like an addict that is trying to get clean and always falls back into their old ways...) Even IF (that's a big if) none of that is going on in our life for God to use to grow us, then inevitably at some point we or someone close to us will have health problems or a death in the family or some trial or other that comes to test our faith.

YET even though "the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows."

"who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

I read that verse and I think back to two years ago when we first moved to this basement. I was overwhelmed with every day life the inconvenience of only having one sink in the house (behind the bathroom door) and not enough windows and light and being cold and a ridiculously heavy winter of snow and the grief of everyone around me (and my own grief) when my last Grandfather died, and on and on and on it seemed. Troubles with our triplex as landlords and misunderstandings with friends and all of these problems weighed heavily on our marriage. Yet I knew... I knew at the time even when I was struggling so much, that God's grace wasn't enough for me only because I wasn't receiving it. I wasn't asking God for help. Somehow I figured the housework and kids and whatever else in my life I should be able to handle.. right? They weren't huge things (most of them) it wasn't like I was dying or dealing with a terminal illness or injury.. it was just a bunch of tiny.. little things that kept building up and up. And I started to realize that it doesn't matter how big or small our "sufferings" are.. even if we have the lives that other people only dream of (A loving husband and healthy children and supportive family, etc.) You see... I knew this. I knew I had the life that I'd dreamed of and asked myself why I wasn't content... but it doesn't matter what any of us have. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We are all broken inside...

.... No one. Can escape the need for a Savior.

Our good works mean nothing to Him if He is not the one we are relying on to do those good things in and through us.

Apart from Him I can do nothing.

And to bring these final concepts full circle I will quote again the verse (in part) that I quoted earlier... "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" But to put that verse into it's context I will remind the reader (and myself) that this quote is talking about contentment. It could say.. "I can (be content) in all things through Him who strengthens me."

Learning to be content is an amazing thing. When I am in that good spot of relying on Him and being content a wonderful thing happens... how do I put this? ... I feel effortlessly joyful.

Imagine it!!! Free from worries and doubts and insecurities and fears and pressures and stress and depression and anger. It's like being a child again when I didn't know the day of the week or cared and didn't worry about what I'd have to eat or where I'd live because it was provided for me.

This is why Jesus said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." It was a picture of the two oxen that were hooked together with a "yoke" so that they could pull things. Too often we try to carry far more than Jesus ever intended for us to be concerned with. Or perhaps we try to do all the pulling on our own instead of trusting Him to pull His share of that "light burden."

When I think about that verse combined with what I've learned, I can't help but think how sad it must be for Him to see us struggling in our lives and know how much He wants to comfort us or give us help, but we can't receive it....

Why is that? Is it because we hold on so tightly to what we think we need or what we have now that we can't open our grasp long enough to take anything that he offers? Even if it is a better thing?

My final thought is regarding fear and trust.
I have a pretty big fear of success. Most people think this is silly, but for an introverted shy person that has been burned too many times by being vulnerable (yet.. perhaps stupidly.. continues to try to be vulnerable with people still) isn't so thrilled with any remote possibility of being the center of attention where judgments and gossip and misunderstandings are most prevalent.

But I realized something a little over a year ago... If I didn't use my gifts and develop what God has given me to the fullest (all the time trusting Him for strength as I mentioned before) IF I let my fear of the future stop me, I wouldn't be trusting my life completely to God.

And these things are what our faith boils down to... so complex in it's paradox and yet so simple at the same time.

While we have all sinned and while we ARE all broken and needing a Savior the simple truth is that we only have to "Confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead and you will be saved."
Jesus also said,
"Don't imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! No, I came to bring a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household! If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it." (Matthew 10:34-39)

The first part of this blog post was about what I've learned in how I have to do everything, but this ending part is to remind me where I'm going now. Just as at the beginning of my walk with God it is the same now, and all my fears of the people around me.. of being misunderstood or disliked or whatever - mean nothing.

I cannot cling in anyway to my life or what is here. I have to continually trust my present and my future to God. Continually releasing my grasp on my own life and desires and fears, trusting Him, and some how, suddenly what I have is more than I'd ever realized I'd wanted...

Psalm 37:
4-5 "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:"

l of these concepts are in some ways (when I think more deeply about how it all works) are too complicated for me to understand. So I simply go back again and again, each and every day to trusting Him with my life and for the strength to make it through the day.


Hannah Tucker said...

Lynne', I am so glad I took the time to read this post! You put it all so clearly and beautifully! I was greatly encouraged by your example in this.
God bless you!

Daniel and Natalie said...

Wow Lynne! For many years I too have stuggled with these questions. I always got so hung up on my failure I couldn't see the way to move forward. Also, I love the description of "effortlessly joyful". There have been moments of my life I have felt this and understood that it is those moments when I am filled by His spirit because I am OPEN TO RECEIVING IT. My full reliance is on Him for any need and I watch Him provide more abundantly than I could have dreamed up myself. And every little thing (even the challenges) are BLESSINGS! Thanks for the awesome reminder of where I am still going too! See you later today

jeremy and lenore diviney said...

good stuff. that must have meant a lot to you to take so much time to think through and put down. well I guess that would be for about eight years huh? it's very enouraging. praise God, to Him be the glory