Calvin, a friend of mine, worked in the Big Stick Community pasture in SW Saskatchewan, and I was helping him bring a half dozen pair into the corrals to do some sorting. To get there we had to cross a large hay field that had a couple of old irrigation ditches across it. They were about eight to ten feet deep and maybe twenty feet across. The most direct route to the corrals meant crossing through these ditches but they were dry and we were able to push the cows through them with little difficulty. Except for one cow. She balked and then spun and bolted back the way we had come. We had closed the gate on the hay field and since all the other cows were already through the ditch we decided to keep pushing them in and then go back for this obstinate one.
When we returned for her she was a little wound up from being by herself but still would not go into the ditch. Every time we got her to the edge she would spin off one way or the other. Finally I got right on her rump and pushed her hard towards the ditch. Every time she tried to spin my horse was right there cutting her back. I was determined I would not let her squirt out again but she was determined not to go into that trench.
At that point I should have realized that the fight in her eyes was getting to the point where she would rather go through me rather than the canal , but I had gotten the blinders on myself so bad that all I could see was the one way of getting her home – through the ditch. Fortunately Calvin stopped me and suggested we take her the long way around, which was an extra mile but meant we didn’t have to get her to cross a ditch.
We get that way at times with each other, even in our churches. (Maybe especially in our churches.) We get hung up on one way of looking at a situation or one way of doing things and, dag-nab-it, that’s the way it’s got to be. Two verses come to mind on this. First in John 13:35 where Jesus said that people will know we are Christ followers by how we love each other. Not because we always agree, but by how we treat each other especially when we disagree. The second verse is in Philippians 3:15 where Paul says that those who are spiritually mature will generally agree on things, but that you think differently he trusts God to make it clear to you.
We can discuss, and debate and challenge each other’s thinking, but it’s not my responsibility change you; that’s up to God and I need to trust him to do that. Of course it’s entirely possible it will be my own blinders that he removes.
Today I tried to make my sister cry over the same issue I made her cry about when we were kids. At that time Mom and Dad had gone out for the evening and left the five of us kids home to practice some responsibility. Jeneanne, who is a year younger than I am, had the responsibility to cook supper and I was supposed to do the dishes. I looked at one of the pots and was frustrated to find that she had cooked whatever it was to the bottom and it was going to take some serious scrubbing. I hated doing the dishes at the best of times but this was, to my way of thinking, far beyond the call of duty.
The rule in our house was that if you cooked you didn’t have to do dishes, but I was convinced that since she caused the extra work she should scrub the pot. And since I was the older brother I thought I could force her to do it. Well if you know my sister, you know she does not force easily and she strenuously resisted my efforts to make her do my job. The result was a very loud and animated “discussion” that I pushed her to tears in and lasted till Mom and Dad got home. They ended it fairly sharply at that point and, after appropriate ‘ahem’ reinforcement of the house rules, we apologized to each other for handling the situation the way we did.
This week I was studying why God was so upset with his people in chapter 5 of Isaiah. A careful reading reveals that his strongest condemnations were for the way the privileged and those in authority oppressed the vulnerable and took personal advantage of their position and strength. I, as would be true for most of us, didn’t see myself reflected in this passage, until God brought to mind that night when we were kids. I realised I had been trying to oppress Jeneanne and I knew immediately that I needed to call her and apologize. (No, I didn’t make her cry.)
Yes it was a long time ago, and yes we were just kids and it doesn’t seem like a big issue, but God hates when those who have strength, or authority, or position use that for their own benefit rather than to serve others. How many times have we done this in churches, or families, or at work? Before you protest your innocence ask God to bring to mind when you have been the oppressor. If you are willing to listen you may be surprised. I was.
There is a fairly common misconception out there that we try to encourage ourselves with when faced with circumstances that threaten to overwhelm us. Even in this last year I have heard a number of people say “Oh well, God promised he won’t give us more than we can handle.” Quite frankly that’s just not true. In fact if you are serious about following God you can pretty much count getting more than what you can handle.
I think the error occurred from a misapplication of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is actually talking about temptation and sin not about trials and difficulties. For that 1 Peter says we shouldn’t be surprised when we have to suffer through painful trials as though something strange were happening to us. James opens his letter saying to rejoice when we face all kinds of hardships.
But the definitive statement on this comes from Paul talking about his weakness. In 2 Corinthians he says that in his weakness Jesus’ strength shines through. So he would boast about his weaknesses because, and here is the key, he relies on Jesus’ strength to enable him to come through the hard times.
Here is the point: If God only allowed us to face difficulties that we could handle, we would never need to rely on him; we would never know the wonder and joy of seeing God accomplish things that we never could. And, most importantly, we would never know God as intimately as happens when we allow Christ to live his life through us. Really, it’s all about the relationship.
So when circumstances are starting to get the best of you, look to God – not to get you out of it, but to get you through it. But don’t wait till you are beginning to feel overwhelmed. When Jesus walked on earth he said that he did nothing and said nothing that he did not first receive from the Father. That’s the sort of intimate relationship God wants to have with you. It will mean relinquishing to God your independence and self directing, but what you gain will be far better. This is what Jesus meant when he said “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find his it.”
God will allow you more than you can handle, but that’s the best place you could be.
Have you ever heard or even used the phrase, “Well, all we can do now is pray?” I’m sure I have. I know I have heard similar words said by people who don’t even believe in prayer. The insinuation is that we have exerted all the control or influence on a situation that we possibly can and now it is out of our hands, and the best we can do is hope for the benevolence of God (even if we’re not certain he is there or listening.) If that’s the way you have looked at praying, I have a passage of scripture that is both exciting and sobering when considering the privilege and responsibility we have in prayer.
The passage is in Revelation chapter 8, the last book in the Bible. An angel is described as burning incense on the altar and the smoke rising up to God. Some translations say the smoke rises with the prayers of God’s people, but it is more accurately that the smoke, and maybe even the incense, represents the prayers of all God people. (The term used is “saints” which is a common New Testament way of referring to all those who have been made acceptable before God through Jesus Christ by faith. If you are not sure this describes you but you would like to feel free to contact me and I will help you to know for sure.)
It is only after these prayers are offered that God enacts the final events that bring to an end the influence of sin and death and usher in the eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ. But notice that while it says the prayers of all God’s people, it doesn’t say all the prayers of God’s people. In my experience much of our praying is so self driven and focused that it is ineffective. (See James 4:3) We need to be praying more like Jesus did: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” It is significant that praying God’s will follows closely after fervent worship both in the Lord ’s Prayer and in Revelation 8. Effective prayer flows from fervent worship.
When Jesus would spend the entire night away by himself praying what do you suppose he prayed about? What would you pray about for a whole night? Not sure? Maybe you should spend some time alone in worship and ask him to tell you.