Thursday, January 21, 2010

Prosperity Redefined

I was reading Psalm 1 recently.

In verse 3, the psalmist says of the righteous man (one who follows God):
"He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers."

Although I aim to follow God, I don't always feel very prosperous. Usually I evaluate prosperity in terms of "externals" - house, health, career, marriage, kids. However, I saw prosperity in a different light when I read the study note in my Bible:

A tree bears fruit, not for itself, but for others;
thus, when the faithful prospers, it is not for himself, nor is the prospering even necessarily material, but he succeeds in bringing benefit to others.

What an amazing God we serve, who can use brokenness to bring true prosperity.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I have a habit of starting books and not finishing them. True to form, I had set another book aside in late August after reaching page 167/492. The book is called "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn.

Last night, I picked it up again. I'm glad I did. What I read reinforced the very lesson God has been teaching me recently - primarily that He is my ultimate dream and the very essence of my fierce hunger for all things good. Here are two encouraging passages I just read about this:

Yet if someone says, 'I want to go to Heaven to be with God forever,' others wonder, Wouldn't that be boring?
What are we thinking? The very qualities we admire in others - every one of them - are true of God. He is the source of everything we find fascinating. Who made Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart? Who gave them their gifts? Who created music itself and the ability to perform it?
All that is admirable and fascinating in human beings comes from their creator.

Alcorn also quoted a Jonathan Edwards (not the politician!) 1733 sermon as saying:

Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.


Soli Deo Gloria! - To God alone be the glory!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is it still blessing if it hurts?

I've been so busy trying to deal with trusting God when bad things happen that I was delighted today to receive a quite straightforward and obvious blessing. I was actually surprised! This was easy to swallow. I was planning a visit that didn't work out. For some reason, I said offhand, "Maybe God was protecting me from being exposed to illness." I found out today that God was indeed protecting me from being exposed to illness. Not hard to see the good in that.

For much of my life as a Christian, I've been trying to find the hidden good purposes of God in life's circumstances, like a little boy searching for creepy crawlies under rocks. I think this spiritual creek walking helps me feel like I'm in control. However, I've realized in the past few years that it's possible to turn over all the rocks and find no obvious purpose whatsoever. I only come out tired and muddy from the experience.

I "met" a family through the internet that has been through a horrifically traumatic experience. The father of that family recently shared on his blog that there are times you cannot "spin" life. Bad things happen, and you just can't wrap them up in motivational stories or share them with happy anecdotal endings. The unanswered questions remain. It just defies human understanding why God allows some painful experiences into our lives. We see them as negative, and we can't possibly understand them in our own capacity to be anywhere near "good."

But "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..."

Though true and ultimately a comfort, that verse can almost taunt a sufferer in senseless pain. How can this be allowed by God, used by God, condoned by God, much less be worked for "good"? This can break the faith of many, and even keep some people from ever believing.

I know this in part because I've had experiences so painful that I felt God had abandoned me by not showing up when and how I thought he should to prevent my suffering. I counted on him to intervene, to heal me when I asked him, to change people who hurt me, and to provide protection for me when I needed it most. He didn't. At least not in the ways I expected. I struggled with how God could still be good. Where is his good purpose? How could this be blessing?

It's interesting to me that Jesus disappointed a lot of people's expectations of the Messiah. He didn't heal everyone who was sick. He healed some. He didn't raise every dead person. He raised some. He didn't feed everyone. He fed some large crowds. He didn't reign as an earthly king. He died on a cross. It's confusing when you first think about it. Why only some healing? Why only some miracles? From a human perspective, Jesus didn't do what we expected. He didn't save Israel from the oppression of Rome because he didn't come to rule a physical kingdom. His purposes were spiritual, not physical. His miracles were a temporary foretaste of heaven and testified to his real reason for living - reconciling sinful man to a holy God. Repentance and faith and forgiveness of sins dominated his ministry.

Even the paralyzed man on the mat had his sins forgiven first. He was then told to take up his mat and walk as proof. Which miracle was more impressive to us? A paralyzed man walking. Which miracle was the most amazing in reality? A man's sins forgiven forever by God.

I think spiritually I have a long way to go. I'm still searching for the physical blessings. I'd almost rather take them over spiritual growth sometimes. Give me healing over character! Give me freedom over maturity. Sometimes, that's the way I feel if I'm honest.

God's focus on spiritual growth through pain is not high on my list of enjoyable activities. It's like medicine that tastes terrible. I need it, but I'm consumed by how much I don't want to swallow it. In my ignorance, I'd rather feast on the luxuries of physical blessings that feel good to my flesh here and now, even if they offer me little in the way of spiritual power or eternal benefit.

It's the end reward that keeps me going. It's knowing that when we share in Christ's sufferings, we will share in his glory. It's knowing that my suffering can open doors which enable me to relate to and comfort others in pain.

God does not always change circumstances or move the mountains, but through faith in Jesus, he does work ever so slowly in our hearts, purifying us, and healing our spirits of the deadly effects of our sin. Only then can God's light truly shine.

"What is to give light must endure the burning"
-Viktor Frankl