Tag: Burdens

God, Our Strength

Every now and then, I will sit at my desk, look at some website, news story, or social media post, and feel so helplessly, overwhelmingly disheartened. The surrounding world is rife with hatefulness. It is rife with ignorance. It is rife with malcontent. I listen to my fellow Christians berate each. I watch as they accuse others for lacking faith; for what? For utilizing universal health precautions. For using sound judgment in the face of global catastrophes. I have seen the non-believer and believer, alike, question whether God truly exists and, if so, why does He not seem to care about us anymore.

Confession. I have had a lot of anger towards God. I have felt His hands drop the weight of the world on my shoulders. I have begged for Him to take the cup and offer it to someone else. This year is hard. It sucks sometimes. At a church service I attended recently, the pastor communicated that God absolutely gives us more than we can handle. That’s partly why we’re to turn to Him, to use His strength when ours is lacking. Maybe it’s the whole purpose of faith. Believe, when there seems no reason to, because He is there and He is waiting.

1. God is bigger.

It’s easy to imagine our burdens as giants. They tower overhead, causing us to feel smaller and smaller. What is your giant? What burdens oppress you to the point you want to shut down? Is it a family member? Job? Health concerns? Is it society? How about any of the countless burdens we face in our lifetime? When we do not have God in our lives, or we’re not keeping Him where He belongs, life seems too much. Matthew 19:26 tells us: ““But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”” Likewise, Jeremiah 32:17 states, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” He encompasses us- including our burdens- in His love. We are incapable of enduring all our hurts; our strength is not infinite. God is. God’s is.

2. God keeps welcoming us back into his arms.

Remember the parable of the prodigal son? What about the lost sheep? How about the story of Jonah? Peter? Paul? David? Throughout scripture, God sees us turn away, ignore Him, and go about the world’s business. And yet, every time we turn back to Him, the Father welcomes us into His embrace. I can be angry at Him. I can want to do my own thing. But, God’s still there- the ever-patient parent- waiting for my return. That’s not to say we should live in sin and keep running to Him when we feel like it. No, we should always seek God. We should humble ourselves before Him. But, God knows our sin. He understands us in ways we never can comprehend ourselves. Isn’t that beautiful?

Keep in mind, that’s simply not saying that if we cry out for Him, God will welcome us back. Matthew 7:21 says, “”Not everyone who says to me, ‘LORD, LORD,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Faith and obedience. Living the Christlike life is important. Moreover, believing in it. Believing God sent His son to perish for our sins. Believing that Jesus is the ONLY way to the Father. Believing that God’s plan and His will is bigger than us. And better for us.

I think when we can return God to where He belongs in our lives, we can start seeing just how small our burdens and the hatefulness of the world really is.

Our Stumbling Block

Life presents each of us with a series of events, ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary, that defines who we are. We move from one day to the next, drawing on hindsight for clarity. Humans are incapable of absolute purity, absolute sinlessness, while we traverse this earth. So we get distracted. So we turn aside from the call Jesus has on our lives. The devil’s in the details, right? We are- we should be- better than this.
We are stumbling. As Christians, we know it is likely we will stumble off and on for the rest of our mortal lives. That’s why there is a need for repentance. It is not to provide an excuse- a spiritual loophole if you will. No, it is so we can honestly beseech the Father, our Lord and God, for His mercy and grace. It is our acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the desire to change. Now this is important to keep in mind as we talk about some ugly things.
But first-
Lately, the world has been plagued with a health pandemic that has affected millions, whether through death, economic hardship, social isolation, etc. People have reacted to this in numerous ways, not all of which are good. Regardless of whether you see it as a hoax or as legitimate. Regardless of where your concern for the health and well-being of others lies. Regardless of these, and ugliness has reared its thorny head. Galatians 5:13 tells us “For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Likewise, Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again, but the wicked stumble into calamity.” A much bigger crisis rears its head. It is the absence of human decency and compassion in many forums.
Let’s talk about social media. How often do you read the comments to an article, only to see hateful, angry rhetoric? How often do we see people belittle others because they do not see things exactly how someone else does? I’ll be honest. I have been a member of Christian groups, writing groups, art groups, gaming groups… you expect to see people who only want to stir the pot, just to get any sort of response. We call them trolls in this digital age. But do you know where I saw the most appalling dialogues? Christian groups. From self-professing Christians. I will not discount the good, but there is too much hateful dialogue and rhetoric present for anyone claiming to serve God.
I will not share what I have seen, as it is something you can see for yourself, but there are three things I want to communicate.

  1. No one has the authority to judge the depth of one’s faith. We are commanded to help guide people to Jesus, to make disciples in His name, but we can never know the full depths of someone’s relationship with God.
  2. Hateful rhetoric is not Christlike. Even if you are right, no amount of demeaning talk will make it good. Harshness is one thing. Jesus was harsh. Hatefulness is another. Do all things in love.
  3. We do not know God’s mind. He’s God. We aren’t built to fathom all the threads He holds to bring a given moment to fruition. We can guess. We can take His words that were laid out in the Bible, but we do not and cannot know all.
    James 1:26 tells “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
    Psalm 34:13 says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Proverbs 10:19 also says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
1 Corinthians 2:15-16 says, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
It is not wrong to hold people accountable. Through Christ, we are given more understanding into the mind of God. But we are held to a higher standard. We can disagree. We can discuss more Scripture-centered processes. We can question. We can even be angry. But we are not God and we cannot know every detail of someone. We cannot know just how much harm our ugly words do; whether they repel those who are not of the faith or they drive away those who are. Oh, I know these times are hard. We all deal with it in some way or another.
But if you think God’s body will not suffer because you belittled someone you disagreed with, if you got on your high horse and decided to mete out God’s judgement, well… maybe it’s time to open the Bible and get down on your knees. We are commanded to live lives focused on building God’s church. Not tearing it down. Throughout Scripture we are called to do things with love. Love can be harsh. Love can seem unkind. But love is not wicked. At least God’s love is not. So maybe, as we progress towards an uncertain future, we’ll draw on Him to better engage with others.

On Ruth: Suffering

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lover for ever” (Psalm 23:1-6).

Our Father in heaven never promised an easy life. Time and time again, his flock are reminded that to seek Christ, to go through the Son to get to the Father, is a demanding, often overwhelming path. Quite honestly, it is meant to forge Christian men and women into that which can best serve God’s glory. And you know what? That’s not even close to being an easy Crucible to run through.

Snapshot: Single parent juggles multiple part or full time jobs to make ends meet, put food in their children’s bellies, and weigh out which bill can be paid late.

Snapshot: Man loses his wife, children, and house in an accidental fire. Insurance says. “Sorry, but there just isn’t enough coverage.” He’ll have to find a bed to lay his head as he struggles to understand why he didn’t perish with everyone else.

Snapshot: Young man sits in an otherwise empty cell because he lost control for just a moment. Now, he’s potentially facing a lifetime behind bars or, at the very least, one full of guilt because of a mistake he can’t take back.

Every single person, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ, finds themselves walking a fine line between joy and suffering. As we are told in 2 Corinthians 1:5, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” I get it. Life can- and often does- suck. We’ve all heard the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear.” If we are being honest, most of us don’t agree. Hey, we’re human. Life is tough. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 4:16). Life is hard, but God is bigger than any burden. So it isn’t that he gives more than we can handle because He is much bigger than ALL our troubles.

A lot of times we, as Christians, look towards scripture for examples of suffering and God’s grace. There is Jesus, of course, and Peter, Joseph, David… pretty much everyone of note in the Bible is riddled with times of suffering. Reflect on this: Pointless suffering does not exist; rather, there is only suffering that should- if we allow it- draw us closer to God. Let’s take at Ruth for now.

A little context: the story of Ruth takes place during a volatile time for God’s children, the age of the Judges. Here are three important people to remember as we discuss the Story of Ruth.

  1. Naomi – the Israelite, Ruth’s mother-in-law, widowed, lost her children
  2. Ruth – Moabitess, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, dutiful. Faithful, pagan
  3. Boaz – family redeemer, good man, Israelite

Though not as important, we should also note the other daughter-in-law, Orpah.

At this time, there was a great famine in the land. Now, “when Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had came to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there” (Ruth 1:6).

Point 1: God is master over our calamity.

Naomi wanted Ruth and Orpah to return to their families, so she would not be responsible for them anymore. Orpah, the second daughter-in-law initially came with them until Naomi commanded the women to turn back. We will get into Ruth’s response a little later, but for now, it’s important to note that Orpah obeyed.

Think of it this way. Moab can represent the world, which is complete with the things we know and are familiar with, regardless of if they are good or bad for us. At the time, Moab was afflicted by famine. And yet, there are familiarities to latch onto: families, the land Orpah had grown up in, even the known hardships. Naomi commanded the younger women to “Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?…” (Ruth 1:11). It is important to note what Naomi said later in the passage when they tried to follow her. It is also important to note that Orpah did not initially want to leave. Naomi said, “No my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:!3). Even though she was determined to go home, she felt the Lord wasn’t on her side. This is a common thought Christians have when life isn’t going our way.

It’s easy to retreat back towards what we know, especially when we think God is against us. Remember the snapshots? Each scenario displays circumstances where the person could, as Naomi did, believe the Lord had set His might against them. A commonplace thing among humans is the propensity to wallow in the hurt. Oh sure, most people are absolutely justified in their hurt, but God commands us to turn it over to Him. 1 Peter 5:7 commands us to go about “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” Likewise, Psalm 55:22 states, “Turn your burdens over to the Lord, and he will take care of you…”

We must remember God holds dominion over all things. That includes the times when it feels life has stacked all the cards against us. Understand, because we are given free will, we can make the decision to separate ourselves from God. He lets us destroy ourselves (this does not mean He does not love us). Sometimes, the fall seems hopeless. Sometimes, where we fall is into a pit whose only escape is into a position we might not like or want.

Point 2: God pushes us forward on His terms.

Let’s go back to our snapshots really quick. The first is a woman struggling to survive in a life where she must choose between necessities. The second is a man who must start over after the most devastating events one can imagine, all with the compelling desire to surrender. The third… well, I think that’s pretty obvious. But going biblical, imagine the first as Naomi, the second as Job, and the third as Peter (remember when he cut the soldier’s ear off). God had purpose for their struggles. God did not abandon them to their hurts.

God cannot control our circumstances if He isn’t the supreme God. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but He’ll let us arrive at this conclusion if we want. But, we can also accept He is a benevolent father, guiding us through our troubles. We’re human and don’t always want our circumstances. Sure, they aren’t always ideal; we can choose, then, to handle them gracelessly- as Naomi did- or with class, as Ruth did, which we see in her entreaty at the end of the section. Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). She had every reason to turn back, as her fellow daughter-in-law did, to the world she knew. So many of us are like Orpah; we consciously accept trouble when it comes from waters we’re familiar with, instead of risking greater reward and maintaining faith. Ruth made the harder choice. She followed Naomi, despite the older woman’s desire for her to leave, to a future of unknowns, where there were not obvious outcomes. She did it and next time, we’ll look into what happened when the two women reached Judah.

For now, let me ask you this. Does your fear of present circumstances outweigh the trust you have in God’s plan for your life? Does your suffering foster a need for Him? Or, do you share Naomi’s sentiment that the Lord has gone out against you? Do you mirror Orpah’s actions and retreat to the world you knew? Leave it at the cross friends. Leave your cares to the Father. Life is hard, but God is so much bigger than anything you carry.

On burdens and testimony

Do you wake up each day, only to feel the weight of yesterday pressing down on you? Do you feel alone? No one can possibly understand how you feel? Do you wish you could go back to sleep or never wake at all? Do you cry, scream, or maybe just linger in unmoving catatonia? Do your burdens make you older? Do they steal vitality from your body and vibrancy from your being? Are they your shield against God and the rest of the world?

Thomas Watson once said, “The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles: the heavier the saints’ cross is, the heavier will be their crown.” At no time has God promised us an easy life without burdens. In fact, life pursuing Christ is- and should be- rife with suffering. Romans 5:3-4 tells us, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.” 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” The world hates Christ and, if we are truly afflicted with the desire to follow them, it hates us too. A Christ-follower endures great suffering in His name. Romans 8:17 says, “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

It is easy to get lost in our burdens, to think we suffer for no reason. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, everything happens for God’s reasons. It’s far easier to get lost in drink and drugs, television, or any number of distractions to avoid the growth desired of us. Yet these hardships are necessary.

Point 1: Our burdens are necessary parts of our testimony

Our testimonies are important. Understand though, they pale in importance to the Gospel. The Gospel is the point and the message we absolutely must share with everyone. For the longest time, I only saw the testimony as our story. Nothing more significant than that. Yet, what if I posited that our testimonies are tools to forge perspective to the Gospel? Scripture is a wonderful pathway to the heart and mind of God. For many people, they are just words. The nonbeliever struggles to see the gravity in those words. Sure, they can tell the Christian believes- or should be able to see- but it isn’t the same. It’s knowing of without really knowing. 2 Timothy 1:8 tells, “Therefore never be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, by God’s power, join me in suffering for the sake of the gospel.” The perspective comes when we realize our scars show the depth of our commitment. It is easy to claim faith, to profess love, when life seems so much smoother. But when there are more reasons to give p and run from God, but you still cling to Him… the testimony becomes sharper, the image clears. The testimony is not just backstory, it is the living, the doubts, the joy- all things- that push you from and pull you to God. It is a living thing. And in that way, we may connect to the Gospel as the Living Word. Our testimony is not lessened by the doubt and hurt. No, it is strengthened by us intentionally turning to the Father. Our pain is necessary. It make sour need that much greater.

Point 2: All to the Glory of God

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Philippians 1:12 tells us, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” When things go wrong, people watch how you respond. It serves God when we lay our burdens at His feet. We show our trust. We show our surrender. We show our love. There is more power in belief when we don’t feel reason to have it. Matthew 5:14-16 reminds us “You are light for the world. A city cannot be hidden when it is located on a hill. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, everyone who lights a lamp puts it on a lamp stand. Then its light shines on everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Christ-followers must take hold of their hurt, lay it at His feet, and adorn the armor so they- so we- can take His word into the dark and set a beacon. We cannot flourish in the shadows; its easy to wallow in our burdens and let the shadows flourish. Nay, we must take the Gospel and let God’s glory batter the shadows into submission.

So, I’m going to end this a little differently. I started writing this with the need for catharsis. My own burdens threatened to overwhelm me. At first, being a sinful human, I wanted to wallow in my own anger. I wanted to wrap myself in the hurt and deal with things on my own. God will let us try, but He has the strength to help us deal. My testimony, my life, my hurt… it’s not for me. I had to acknowledge this before I could really start writing. Turning it over to God isn’t always easy. It’s not second- nature. It runs against our sinful, self-important natures. Life is meant for God’s glory and we never have to carry the burdens alone. So I started writing. And I’m ending with this. We can carry our hurts for as long as we choose to and, in some respects, we will always carry them with us. But, if we are to follow Him, we must stop hiding in our suffering.