TOUGHING IT OUT
“Twenty-Thirteen ~ it’s a Birth-Thing.” 2013 is going to be a year for open doors of opportunity; birthing new things; taking the keys God has given you and to striking out in faith/risk. It’s going to be a time of acceleration in the Spirit.
One of the more interesting dynamics of living a believers life is finding out that no matter how faithful we may be, how obedient we may try to be, life can be downright tough sometimes. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The times where fear and frustration settle in like unwanted houseguests. How we approach life is generally determined by how we see ourselves interacting with the world around us. This can be seen in the way we develop our worldview, whether we are conscious of it or not. A worldview simply acts as the lens that we use to see what is around us and how we respond. We see this in every aspect of life, even in our favorite use of phrases, like:
- A day without sunshine is like, night. 2. On the other hand, you have different fingers. 3. I just got lost in thought. It was unfamiliar territory. 4. 42.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot. 5. 99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name. 6. I feel like I’m diagonally parked in a parallel universe. 8. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you. 9. I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be without sponges. 10. Honk if you love peace and quiet. 11. Remember: half the people you know are below average. 12. Despite the cost of living, have you noticed how popular it remains? 13. Nothing is foolproof to a talented fool. 14. He who laughs last thinks slowest.
These humorous contrasts were designed to help us to see that there is always a different way of seeing things, a way that transcends the way of this world, which brings me to our purpose today: The relationship between struggling and character.
Paul, in writing about his new prison ministry to the Ephesian believers, gives us a formulaic understanding of how to cope with hard times as Christians, even helping us to see our way to victory. This was particularly important to the Christians in and around Asia Minor at the time, as they were probably being ridiculed for supporting Paul and his mission, particularly in light of the fact that he had jumped bail. Paul was asserting to them that you can emphasize the victorious life even while serving time behind bars. How, may you ask? By entering into the plan of the LORD and realizing that God uses all things for His glory when we are in pursuit of Him.
This change of perspective is the deal changer for us, when we let it alter our perspective.
A PERSPECTIVE OF THE TRIUMPHANT
While incarcerated by Rome under charge by the Jews, Paul says he is the prisoner of Jesus, For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles not man. He wasn’t imprisoned by Rome or Jew, he was the prisoner of Christ. The bars he fought weren’t made of metal, they consisted of substances like pride, lust, legalistic attitudes, self-righteousness and various other sundry and tawdry affairs of the heart. This slight adjustment in attitude changes everything. This is the view that extinguishes the fear of man. This view actually harkens back to the day Jesus captivated the soon to become Apostle when they met on the Road to Damascus. It was during that encounter that Jesus both captured Saul and conscripted him into the LORD’s Amy, As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Paul was a changed man. Everything he did from that point forward centered around Jesus. His passion was Christ, knowing Him, being filled with Him, making Him known, even to the point of being consumed with seeing things Jesus way. Paul experienced freedom that few achieve through belonging to Jesus. The pathway to freedom from the difficulties of this life will always travel the same route, becoming a prisoner of Jesus, captivated by His great love and His unchangeable and unqualified grace. Becoming committed to Jesus sets us free from life’s encumbrances and burdens with all its fears and unknown, for me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Freedom comes to us when we commit our loyalty, purpose, security and hope in Jesus. Finding this place allows us to enter into Count Zinzendorf’s profession, “I have one passion, It is He! It is He!”
A PRIVILEGED PERSPECTIVE
Paul also saw life through a different perspective. He was thrilled to see life in Christ as a privilege, not an obligation. This helped him tough out tough times. Ephesians 3 is a litany of his view of the blessed life he had lived to this point, even in prison. Paul realized the incomprehensible nature of his transformation, a persecuting murderer turned into a God pursuer who lived under a mantle of change, as he became the carrier of Good News to the Gentiles. This became his driving passion. Paul was engulfed in his desire to steward his calling as he served his calling in the grace of God. Paul rolled with whatever came his way because he embraced life’s difficulties as new ways to tell people about Jesus love and grace, if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power… 8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:2, 7-8).
The word that we translate dispensation means stewardship. A steward is a person whose sole role in life is to be dispenser, a manager who distributes his bosses resources. It’s the call of the releaser. Paul saw his life as being one that was immersed in this distinct privilege, dispensing the blessings of heaven. He was aware of his part in the LORD’s strategic plan to evangelize the world, and he knew that God’s grace would always be sufficient to the challenges life brought his way. Paul always seemed to focus on graces provision in times of personal difficulty, rather than the grief he faced.
This my friends, should be our life strategy also. When life gets tough, move forward by looking for new ways to communicate grace and mercy. The quickest way out of a pit-stop is to focus on Jesus the liberator. Use life as a means to grow in grace. Let grace school you and always remember that to be schooled in Christ means you have to get beyond Kindergarten, the place where life’s challenges are easiest. One of faith’s most important lessons revolves around this truth, as the way we handle tough times really is determinative of how capably we communicate grace. Think about your conversations when you talk about your past. Do you focus on the pain or what led into transformation and how that transformation will lead you into helping others? This paradigm shift expresses itself like this, instead praying, “God get me out of here,” pray, “how deep into your pool of grace am I diving today?”
Paul’s statement, the stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for you, is a good life statement or motto that is motivational. It helps us to see that everything we encounter isn’t just about us and our personal progress and our personal benefit. Grace is sufficiently given to help us enter into the privilege of others. This way of life helps us see the difficulties others bring our way into a different light, one that sees them as a privileged person. “I am honored to know you and love you in spite of our problems. I have the distinct blessing of being to you what Christ has been to me.” That’s a biblical worldview that’s worth embracing.
A POWER TO TRANSFORM
When Paul talks about the “effective working of His power (7),” he was addressing the power of having direct access to God. The word access is prosagoge in Greek. The words literally means “to lead a person into the presence of another,” with the person being accepted on the merits of the presenter. This is what Jesus did for you at the Cross, and it is what we are now enabled to do for others as we present them to the King of Glory.
Outbreak and overflow
There are times in our lives when everything argues for another course, but deep in the integrity of your heart you know that isn’t the Father’s way. The living Jesus who has come to forgive us and save us, comes to live in us to give us the same strength of character as He had. Having made the choice of incarceration to Jesus two things are unleashed:
- The outbreak of redemption
- The revelation of eternal life and glory
Bring your struggling to the Cross
Whenever you and I bring our struggles to the Cross, and opt for the Father’s way rather than our own—if that pathway is of suffering—it is for two things:
- An outbreak of some manifestation of God working redemptively in people whose lives you touch. You can’t imagine the degree to which your submission to His way will work redemption for other people. You are not their Savior, but you’re an instrument of His saving grace.
- Everything you thought you were losing when you were “dying” you discover not only in the glory of the outbreak of His resurrection blessing in your soul, but in the expansiveness of it abounding through and beyond you.
The central issue in any problem is finding Jesus heart. It’s living in intimacy and willingness to bring your struggling to the Cross, which is book-ended by two things:
- A willingness, restfulness and surrender
- An intimacy of relationship and trust
The intimacy of relationship is in the opening words of this prayer: Abba, Father. They describe Jesus’ trust in and availability to the Father; his readiness to reach up and take “Daddy’s” hand for support. What is the heart of the heavenly Father who, if there were another way, would delight in nothing more than to send 10,000 angels and rescue you from this moment? In that light, can you still call God “Daddy” when there is no other way out but through? Your character will tell you the answer. It will say “No,” unless it has been shaped by Calvary. “Nevertheless not what I will, but what You will” are not words of resignation. They are words of restful commitment.