Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"I could be a great missionary if it weren't for you natives!"

Have you ever felt that way?

Missionary Otto Koning uses the phrase in his famous Pineapple Story; "I could be....if it weren't for..." In his case, it was missionary and natives, but did you ever find yourself substituting your own nouns?

"I could be a great sister if it weren't for my younger siblings!"
"I could be a great student if it weren't for my confusing textbook."
"I could be a great musician if it weren't for my packed schedule that keeps me from practicing."
"I could be a great daughter if my parents were more understanding."
"I could be a great Christian if it weren't for temptation!"

Yes. Ahem. ...Well, welcome to the real world. Things go wrong here. Life is not centered around making it easy for you (or me) to be "good."  ...At anything.

Seriously - due to the natural order of things since the entrance of sin into this world, nothing good just happens.

....Actually, forget that. Even BEFORE sin, nothing good just "happened." This wonderful world of ours required the spoken Word of God to call it forth into existence. Every good thing has a source. And since the arrival of sin, it's an uphill battle, all the way. Gardens have to be planted, watered, and weeded. Even wild plants require rain, and sunshine. They have to survive animals that smash them down, eat them, or uproot them. Training an animal takes work. Dogs aren't born knowing how to sit on command (much to the general publics' dismay). Learning a skill or a sport doesn't just happen. It takes committed hours of practice.

Why should our spiritual life be any different?

Yes, God could smooth the way for us; remove all temptation, remove headaches that make us cranky, remove annoying relatives, remove that knat buzzing around my face while I try to type....anything He wants to do, He can do. But would that really do us good?

What's our definition of good?

Does good = easy? 
Does good = fun?
Does good = rewarding?
Does good = satisfying?
Does good = pleasant?
Does good = stress-free?

Or does good equal anything that draws me nearer to God? Anything that makes me more like Christ? Anything that shows me what He is like?

Sometimes those things can be wonderful experiences. More often, they are hard ones. Think about it; these things that we think "hinder us" or make it harder to "be good" are designed to chip away at a part of us that we were born with; our sin problem. That doesn't come off easy. It's like scrubbing burnt eggs off a stainless steel pan....only harder.
So, are we destined to go through life miserable, hanging our heads and saying, "yes, these annoyances and trials are for my good, and I'm going to suffer through because I know it's good for me"? Do we pinch our nose shut, close our eyes, and swallow the medicine?

Yet...what about the joy of the Lord? Abundant life? Love overflowing? Joy unspeakable and full of glory?

How do we reconcile these two separate pictures of the Christian life? Do they describe two different kinds of Christians?

A resounding "no!" echoes within my spirit. Surely not. Surely that's not His plan.

I find the answer to this apparent contradiction in Paul's life. No one could deny that he had his share of trials that made it hard to be kind, loving, unselfish and "good." I've never tried smiling at a soldier who is chained to my wrist, but I imagine it isn't easy. I've never suffered a day and a night in the ocean because the captain of a boat wouldn't take my advice about the weather, but I imagine that when your ship wrecks, it's hard to keep from thumbing your nose in his face and shouting "told you so!" I've never been betrayed by a church that I gave my heart and soul to found, but I can imagine it takes a lot of strength to write to them and tell them I still love them and care about their welfare.

All in all, Paul had every excuse you could want. He could have been the perfect grumpy Christian. But he WASN'T! Why? Because he was super spiritual? Because he knew all the right verses to quote to himself? Because he was naturally even-tempered? (Ha!)

I think the answer is that he was able to rejoice because he trusted.

Just that. A childlike confidence that everything was going to work out. That there was a reason behind every little thing that seemed to be a bother or annoyance. He even learned to REJOICE in his weaknesses, because they made Christ look all the stronger - and He is. Paul didn't mope about his sin - and I'm sure he was just as capable of feeling pain as the rest of us when God starting chipping the layers off - but he REJOICED that God was purifying him. And he identified the process. He knew what was going on; God had caused or allowed this annoyance, and He had done it for a reason.

That trust. That rest. Ooooo, I want that.

What's more (can you stand any more excitement?), He actually gives us the grace to meet these trials and WIN! We don't HAVE to be grumpy or annoyed. We don't! Believe it or not, He doesn't bring every trial for the sole purpose of watching us fall flat on our faces and bemoan our weakness. Yes, there have been times when I needed to be humbled and fall flat on my face, but most of the time I believe God wants us to win. And He provides us with the grace - if we'll just use it. He's rooting for us.

Just something to think about. ...For me as well as the rest of you. I wrote this post because I kept catching myself using the "native excuse," as I've dubbed it, and I needed a place to collect my thoughts on the matter. I think I've just convicted myself.

Lord, teach us to rejoice in all Your works!



Leah said...

Amber, I have not been to your blog for a while and was reading through your recent posts. This one resounded with my soul and what the Lord has been teaching me for the last few months. Sometimes we have to learn and relearn things in a deeper way than before and I am so thankful that our dear Heavenly Father loves us enough to teach us. So, Amen and Amen to what you said here! It is so true! Though surely not an easy lesson to learn! To be able to say that even what seems bad, is good because God is allowing it for a purpose and He is getting greater glory through our lives. To be able to offer up a sacrifice of praise in the middle of hardship, when we least feel like praising. To be able to rejoice in Christ for trials. These are gifts from our dear Savior and how thankful I am for Him mercy and love in giving them to His children. May He be greatly glorified through our lives!
Thank you so much for sharing dear sister, you have blessed and encouraged me greatly!
Love in Christ,

Amber said...

SO nice to hear from you again, Leah! Thanks for taking the time to comment; you always make my day. :) Joy in the midst of trials IS such a hard lesson to learn, isn't it? But the end goal is such a worthy one! Thanks for encouraging me. :)