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How to Have the Same Mindset as Christ Jesus

It’s been a crazy two weeks for our family. An unexpected event has turned our world upside down. We’ve grieved. We’ve felt angry. We’ve felt hurt. We’ve had to process those emotions with the Lord and with others. And then we had to start making several significant life changes for our family that weren’t even on our radar 2 weeks ago.

The Lord doesn’t waste turbulent times like these.

His biggest challenge to me in the midst of this craziness has been to take a look at my heart and to really examine how well (or how poorly, as the case may be) I love other people

There’s a passage of scripture that reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Ah.

This is a convicting knife to the heart when you’re feeling wronged and hurt by someone else. We still have to value them? We still have to consider their interests? We have to think about them as Christ thinks about them?

What, exactly, is “the mindset of Christ”?

Verse 7, “…he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” and verse 8, “…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…” (Philippians 2:7, 8).

Christ’s mindset toward others - all others, even those who don’t “deserve” His love – is to serve them humbly and to die to Himself. When Jesus hung on that cross, He didn’t do it because it was in His best interest. When He was beaten beyond all recognition, Jesus’ thoughts weren’t fixed on Himself. He was solely concerned with doing what was in our best interest.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters,” 1 John 3:16.

Even our brothers and sisters who hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Even our brothers and sisters who repeatedly hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 18:21-22)

I struggled long and hard with that last one. I wrestled all last week, looking for scriptural loop holes. I came up empty. The Lord kept bringing me back to two thoughts:

  1. If I give up on those who hurt me, how will they ever grow?
  2. How many times has Jesus given up on me?

That second thought puts a lump in my throat every time I think about it. Jesus has never, for any reason, ever refused me another chance. How dareever consider, for any reasonrefusing to give someone else another chance? Jesus has forgiven me too much for me to wash my hands of someone else (Luke 7:47).

Having the mind of Christ toward others is longing to see them grow in their relationships with the Lord no matter what it costs me. 

How to Combat Spiritual Warfare

I’m a little Type A (my score: 14/16).

I’m also slightly sarcastic.

But you know this already.

I have a point. It’s coming. It will be here soon.

Oh, yes, when I am told to do something at which I am inexperienced, I need instructions. Step by step, tell me how to do it, on account of the Type A in me.

One subject in the Christian world where there seems to be great confusion and hocus pocus is spiritual warfare.

I mean, we hear about it. We read about it in our Bibles. We’re told we’re all in a battle that is not of flesh and blood but is somewhere out there in the 4th dimension we can’t see (Ephesians 6:12).

(Or is it the 5th dimension? I’ve never been friends with the science.)

The point is spiritual warfare is invisible and intangible and the majority of Christian instruction about it has proven unhelpful for me.

Things like “Take every thought captive to Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

What does that even mean, really? Handcuff our thoughts? I can’t deal with this ridiculous imagery.

Most people explain this verse to mean that when you have a thought, check it against scripture to see if it is true.

Ah, now that is more practical.

However, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but the Bible IS A HUGE BOOK. How can I check my every thought against thousands of pages of words, especially when I am emotional about something?

I did an exercise the other day that proved helpful.

Step 1 – Don’t wait until you’re upset and prone to think unclearly to do this exercise. Be proactive and do it before you need it.

Step 2 – Write out the lies Satan baits you with most often. Off the top of your head, write them out until you can’t think of anymore. You may end up with a list of 10-20.

Step 3 – Look for similarities in the lies, and reduce the list to the Top 5 Lies Satan Gets You to Believe on a Regular Basis. Write this list on the left half of a piece of paper.

Step 4 – For each lie find a specific scripture that refutes it. The Bible is huge; there are lots of details in it. Use a Bible search engine like BlueLetterBible.org and enter the key words from your lie to see what truths are returned about it. Sift through them and find one that speaks to your specific lie as well as your heart. If it doesn’t encourage your heart when you’re calm, it won’t encourage you when you’re emotionally involved in spiritual warfare. Write this list of scriptures on the right half of the paper, lining up each truth across from the corresponding lie.

Step 5 – KEEP THIS PAPER WITH YOU. Take a picture of it with your phone. Save the list to your computer. Post it on your fridge, in the car, everywhere you frequent.

Step 6 – When you sense Satan baiting you in one of the usual ways, look at your list, find the corresponding truth, and read it OUT LOUD. This is the model Jesus left for us; refute lies by saying, “It is written…” and quote the scripture (Matthew 4:1-10).

Step 7 – Tell Satan to leave. This is also what Jesus modeled (Matthew 4:10-11). Because the Holy Spirit – i.e., God – resides in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), we quite literally possess the same power Jesus had, also being God, to tell Satan what to do. And he must obey, not because we’re hot stuff, but because God in us is the authority over him (1 John 4:4).

Step 8 – Be aware that Satan will leave, but he will also return at a more opportune time (Luke 4:13).

I know the temptation is to think, “Huh, this is a good idea,” and close the page and not think twice about it.

Guess what?

THAT WON’T HELP YOU.

Do the exercise.

Now.

Don’t tell me you’re too busy; you’re reading a blog for crying out loud.

Come on, go do the exercise.

I’ll wait. :)

Do You Want to Get Well?

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” – John 5:6

Jesus had said this to a man 2000 years ago, but He may as well have said it to me.

To you.

The man in the verse – he had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

3-8.

I shake my head as I read, thinking how sad a situation…

But then…

How long have you and I been disabled in our own ways? 

I’m pushing thirty-one. How about you?

I shake my head as I reflect, even if I had a couple good years on the front end of my life, I’ve been an invalid for far too long… saved by grace and Heaven-bound, but disabled nonetheless…

The man in the verse – he doesn’t answer Jesus’ question. Jesus is looking for yes or no – do you or don’t you want to get well? But the man says, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me,” (John 5:7).

I guess that’s as good as a yes to Jesus… the man had been trying to get well… he just couldn’t find the help he needed. His heart wanted healing; but the path to healing was so difficult, especially for an invalid. The way to the healing water was littered with people inadvertently blocking his way to full health.

They were probably his friends, those people going down ahead of him. They had spent many days (years?) together, forming relationships as they begged on the side of the road, waiting for the pool to stir… They had nothing but time to build friendships…

So when the waters stirred and all his friends rushed ahead of him, pursuing their own healing, not one stopping to help him down to the pool… I wonder if the invalid was angry… or if he had compassion on them, wanting healing for them, too, because he understood the emotional pain of being disabled…  or if, on account of his love for them, he let them go ahead of him?

If real love is laying down your life for another (1 John 3:16), looking to another’s best interest no matter the cost to you, how are you and I loving the broken around us by encouraging them to pursue healing?

Whatever his feelings about the others going down ahead of him, the man expressed the desire to get well. So Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” and the man was healed (John 5:8). Not by some magic waters, but by the very Word of God. 

I wonder if Jesus would’ve healed the man if he had responded differently to Jesus’ question… if the man had said, ‘No, Jesus, I don’t really want to get well… I’m pretty content to sit here and beg my way through the next 30, 40 years with my broken legs and empty heart.”

I can’t think of one example in the entire Bible of God forcing healing or blessing or favor or health on someone who didn’t want it. 

But the examples of the Lord healing those who want to get well? Those are numerous.

 I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. – 2 Kings 20:5

They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. – Isaiah 19:22

LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. – Psalm 30:2

How many years have you and I been sitting disabled by the pool?

Do we want to get well?

Or are we comfortable, albeit miserable, with our familiar disabilities?

Like the invalid by the pool, I think healing of any spiritual infirmity must start with our wills…

Lord, help us want to get well, and help us to trust that You will heal us if that is our desire.

Isaiah 43:11-13

Isaiah 43:11-13. I read it and smile. Because the Old Testament always points to the New. The Bible isn’t 66 books – it’s one book pointing us to our need for the one God.

“I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.”

God said this to the Israelites some 700 years before Jesus was born.

God gave Himself in Jesus to save a people that could be saved no other way.

God gave Himself in Jesus to save you and me because we can be saved no other way (John 14:6).

“I have revealed and saved and proclaimed… You are my witnesses that I am God.”

God revealed Himself to Israel in a number of ways… burning bushes and separating seas and babies for the barren and on and on.

God reveals Himself to us in the pages of scripture and in the pulse of His Spirit keeping time with ours and in promises proved sure and on and on (2 Timothy 3:16, John 16:13).

God saved His nation from enemy after enemy – Egyptians and Canaanites and Philistines and more.

God saved you and me from the death our sins worked hard to earn us when we accepted the gift only Jesus could afford to give us. And He saves us still from living each day as if we are still hell bound (Romans 6:23, Galatians 5:1).

God proclaimed to Israel over and over – speaking it loud to messenger after messenger – “I am the Lord your God,” (Leviticus 18:4, Exodus 20:2-3).

God proclaims the same message to us – speaking it loud in book after book – “I am the Lord your God,” (John 17:3, Colossians 1:16).

Israel witnessed God’s displays – grand and subtle – of His Godness. Passover protection and morning manna and lavish land…

Do we see?

Look around at our divinely orchestrated lives within a divinely complicated creation. He still protects and provides and pours out blessings too numerous to count and too good to convey on us.

We are witnesses when we choose to be.

“No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

Not then. Not now. No one can undo what the Lord does. He has revealed and saved and proclaimed, and there will be no undoing any of it.

We can’t cover up His working. We can’t explain it away with scientific theories or paint over it with another coating of skeptical shellac.

He has revealed what He has revealed.

We can board a ship sailing away from Nineveh – we can try to flee His presence – but He goes with us. We can deny we love Him – deny we know Him – three times before the rooster crows, but He still claims us, holds us, preserves us, redeems us from ourselves.

He has saved whom He has saved.

We can say it’s all untrue – believe lies about ourselves and our God – but He still says what He says in scripture - we are His, we are forgiven, and He has good plans for us (1 John 3:1, Romans 8:1, Romans 8:28).

He proclaims what He proclaims.

Who can reverse it?

Not us.

Not any one.

Amen.

I Want to See You Be Brave

There’s something they don’t tell you about this Christianity thing when you sign up.

I’m not saying it would be a deal-breaker if you knew about it on the front end, but I am saying we’d think longer and harder about declaring Christ to be not just our Savior but also our LORD – our Master, our Ruler, the One from Whom we will take our orders forevermore – if a seasoned believer took the time to share the secret only they can know while they were sharing the Gospel with us.

When we meet Christ for the first time, when we realize He is what we’ve been looking for our whole lives and that we need Him more than we’d ever known, we tend to focus on the benefits we will receive if we accept Him. Namely, Heaven.

And that’s definitely not something to gloss over. Heaven is a huge deal, and Christ’s getting us in is something we should thankfully reflect on regularly. It should soak into our bones and spur us on to unashamed devotion and obedience to Him.

But what most of us miss when we accept Christ is that we are choosing a hard road.

What’s so hard about a free pass to Heaven?

It’s not free.

And I don’t mean that in the it-cost-Christ-everything kind of way most people say it.

I mean that in the it-will-cost-US-everything kind of way.

John said it like this, “We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him… Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did,” (1 John 2:3, 4, 6).

Calm down there, John, buddy. Alls I want is a get-out-of-hell-free card.

And that’s all most of us think we’re getting when we choose to believe in Jesus.

But we get so much more! You’ve heard it said Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, and as much as I hate tired catch phrases, it expresses the truth that there is give and take with Jesus if you want to call yourself “Christian”.

Jesus gave His life for us, and we are to give ours for Him. Not on a cross, hopefully, but in daily obedience to what He says.

Which is fine and dandy until He starts asking us to do some things we don’t want to do.

And that day will come. And it will be H-A-R-D. Which is why no one includes that on their tracts.

The truth? If you want to follow Christ, you have to be brave.

I am raising two little girls who are terrified of animals. They both scream and cry and climb me like a tree if they see a dog… the size of a tea cup… 100 yards away… on a leash. They have broken into hysterics upon seeing a dog WHILE WE WERE IN THE CAR. If we go to someone’s house, they choke up and make me go ahead of them to ask the people if they have a dog and if they have put it away. We can’t go for walks or ride bikes in our neighborhood because a dog – what if we see one?!

We have regular conversations, then, about courage and bravery and what that means. And I always underscore something for my daughters.

Bravery is not the absence of fear; it’s the willingness to do what is right even when you are scared out of your mind. 

We cannot wait until we no longer feel afraid to act; we’ll never act.

My daughters cannot wait until the Lord supernaturally removes their fear of animals to go outside. Not to mention, there is something to be said for having a healthy fear of dogs they don’t know.

So it is with us. We cannot wait until the Lord takes away our fears of doing whatever it is He is asking us to do that makes us want to refuse to obey. We’d never get around to the obeying part. Which, thanks to our blunt friend, John, we know we must.

The Christian life is only for the brave. 

I want to see you be brave.

Why I Can’t Love My Neighbor as Myself

A common misconception is that Old Testament Jews were saved by keeping the law. A lot of people think if those who lived before Christ obeyed all the Jewish rules and/or made all the appropriate sacrifices when they did wrong, God would let them into Heaven. Wrong.

image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Keeping the Law never saved anyone. Paul, who kept the law faultlessly (Philippians 3:6), tells us the truth about the law, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin,” (Romans 3:20).

So the 613 commands given in the Old Testament were given, in large part, to prove how inadequate humans are. We can’t keep all the rules. We fall short daily, which proves to our prideful selves that we have a real need for a Savior.

(Note: Our friend Paul, who claims his “righteousness based on the law” was “faultless”, is prone to exaggeration. One commentator puts it this way, “Paul achieved the standard of righteousness which was accepted among the men of his day – though this standard fell short of God’s holy standard,” (Guzik).)

Knowing this about the law, fast forward to a peculiar verse in Galatians. Paul says, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Galatians 5:14).

But what do we know about our ability to keep the law? WE CAN’T!

So, putting two and two together, we CAN’T love our neighbors as ourselves. When we try, our inadequacy quickly becomes apparent. Our need for a Savior to help us love well becomes glaringly obvious.

Realizing this, I can give myself a little grace when I don’t love well. I’m human, and I can’t expect myself to have the capacity to love well given that fact.

But much more importantly, I would do well to remember how utterly dependent I am on Jesus.want to love others well. I want to consider them more important than myself (Philippians 2:3-4). And I want to please God by obeying the commandment to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39).

But I need Him to help me. And He will. All I have to do is ask (1 John 5:14-15).

Jesus is Praying For You Today

Prayer is good.

Praying for each other is good.

And I appreciate people who pray for me in the privacy of their own minds.

But I am taken to a whole new level of honored when someone prays for me out loud in my presence.  I am humbled.  I am touched someone would take time out of his or her life to talk to God on my behalf.  I feel valued when someone lets me eavesdrop on their intimate conversation with our Father about me.

These are the emotions I experience reading John 17.  In this chapter, Jesus is praying to God the Father for Himself, for His then-disciples, and for all believers to come.

We have every reason to assume that Jesus is praying in front of His disciples.  They are conversing in the last verse of John 16, and the first verse of John 17 reads, “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed” (John 17:1).

Can you imagine listening to Jesus talk to God the Father?  Just to hear Jesus pour out His heart about Himself would have been moving enough (John 17:1-5).  But then He prays for the disciples in their presence (John 17:6-19).

Jesus spends the first three verses commending the disciples to the Father.  Jesus tells God the disciples have “obeyed your word” and “accepted [your words]” and believed “with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me” (John 17:6-8).  In other words, Jesus is vouching for the disciples.  JESUS.  Not just some random person.  Jesus Himself.  What an honor that must have been for the disciples to hear.

After Jesus verifies the disciples’ faith, He begins to pray for them (John 17:9;11;13;15;17;19).  Jesus asks the Father to protect the disciples while they remain in a world hostile to them and the Gospel they represent (John 17:14-15).  Jesus asks for protection from the evil one and for God to “sanctify [the disciples] by the truth” (John 17:17;19).

The footnote in my Bible defines sanctify as “set apart for sacred use or make holy”.  How honored must the disciples have felt for JESUS to ask the Lord to use THEM – a ragtag crew prone to doubt, density, and denial -for Kingdom purposes?

There is a curious verse in the middle of Jesus’ prayer for the disciples.  In verse 13 Jesus says “I am coming to you (God the Father) now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

Jesus is explaining that his praying for the disciples in front of the disciples will yield the full measure of His joy within the disciples.

And I kind of know what He means.  When someone pours out a heartfelt prayer on my behalf, I feel valued. How much more so when the person praying is Jesus Himself?

Lucky for us, Jesus prays for us in the next section of the chapter (John 17:20-26).  Jesus prays for “those who will believe in me through [the disciples'] message” (John 17:20).  To be clear, that means every believer who has ever lived since that first batch of believers who walked and talked with Jesus Himself.  The discples’ message – the Gospel – is still being spread today.  And anyone who believes in Jesus on account of hearing that message is the subject of Jesus’ prayer.

So what does Jesus pray for us?  Unity.  Unity with each other, and unity with the Godhead.  Jesus also prays, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory…”  I think this is Jesus’ invitation for us to experience His glory during our earthly lives.  But what does that mean?  Maybe it means having spiritual eyes to see Him working around us.  Maybe it means working with Him to accomplish Kingdom objectives – like spreading the Gospel, seeing hearts changed by the Word, and serving others with Christlikeness so they will see Jesus in us.

Jesus finishes His prayer for us by asking that “the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:26).  I don’t think I can come up with two greater gifts than the Father’s love and Jesus Himself in me.

Jesus prayed for you.  And He still – currently, continuously – prays for you (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1).

Knowing this, may you have the full measure of His joy within you.

A Little Change of Perspective Goes a Long Way

With the Lights Out

Image via Wikipedia

Hi, my name is Kelly, and I am a rebel.

I’m sure this is true of all people to some degree or another, but I feel particularly prone to resist authority.

I blame my older brother.  He modeled rebellion well for me, for which he spent the better part of the 90′s grounded.  I also blame alternative rock stars.  Kurt Cobain, in particular.  He was my idol for 3 or 4 years, and his anti-authority attitude rubbed off on me.  Lastly, I blame my friends at the time, who were a lot more courageous than me in bucking any and all authority, but nonetheless inspired me to resist rules and rulers in the depths of my heart.

Oh, and I guess I blame myself, too…  If I HAVE to…  Personal responsibility, blah, blah, blah…

All that to say that I had many years of training in refusing to submit to authority.  But I was usually too scared to outwardly resist, so I just kept those disgruntled feelings stewing inside of me while I towed the line.  Then, afterward, I’d sit around with my rebel friends and talk about how stupid those rules were and how stupid those authority figures were for enforcing those rules.

Enter God.

He came into my life when I was 16.  And all of a sudden, THE Authority Figure desired my joyful compliance.  I had to be rewired.  I had to learn that He was trustworthy.  I had to learn that obeying Him was actually in my best interest as well as His.  I had to learn to follow Someone else’s rules, not so I could get into Heaven, but as a sign that I really do love God (John 14:15,24; 1 John 5:3).

To be honest, I have to relearn these things a lot.  It’s hard for me to not slip into the mindset that God is a demanding authoritarian whom I must obey or else run the risk of severe consequences.  I often forget that He is love, subconsciously transforming Him into a harsh Disciplinarian whose chief concern is that I obey Him simply because He says so.

THIS IS NOT AN ACCURATE VIEW OF GOD!

It totally misses His heart for me.

At the core of who God is, He LOVES me (John 16:27).  And if we don’t understand God’s desire for our obedience in the context of His love for us, we turn Him into something He isn’t – a tyrannical authority figure.

We must leave this faulty perspective behind and intentionally adopt this new one – this correct one.

Because God loves us, He wants what is best for us.

God tells us what to do because He knows better than we do what is best for us.

If we obey Him, we experience what is best for us.  God is overjoyed that we trusted Him and loved Him enough to obey Him.

If we do not obey Him, God is grieved.  He is angry and sad that we, His precious children, are experiencing less than the best.  And he is sad that we did not trust Him or love Him enough to obey Him.

More concisely, when we disobey the Lord, He is first and foremost heartbroken.  Anger may be His secondary response, but immense sadness is His first emotion.  He is sad for us.  He is hurt by us and our lack of trust in Him.

What’s my point?

This slight change of perspective ought to help us resist temptation much more easily.

Our previous line of thinking was this: I shouldn’t do ______ because the Bible tells me not to or because God will be mad at me.

Our previous reaction was this: Frankly, who cares?  I want to do what I want to do.  He can be mad if He wants, but I’ve got to take care of me.

Animosity and isolation, then, rule our hearts, distancing us from God emotionally and making Him the “enemy”.

But with this shift of perspective, our thinking becomes this: I don’t want to do ________ because I don’t want to make God sad.

Love becomes our motivation.  We feel like we are on the same team as God.  We love Him; He loves us; and we’re in this crazy life together.

This same change of perspective can be applied to relationships with other authority figures in our lives.  Bosses, parents, pastors, spouses.  When they ask us to do something we don’t want to do, we can choose to be angry and do what we want to do anyway.  Or we can change our perspective to one of love – I don’t want to hurt this person by selfishly disobeying.  Perhaps this will make it easier for us to submit in these relationships as well.

**Insert your own disclaimer here that we shouldn’t always obey everything someone tells us to do just because they are in a position of authority over us.  I don’t want to take the time to write such a disclaimer because that should be obvious. :) **

Being motivated by love to resist temptation to buck authority… that sounds like Jesus to me.

 

It’s What We Do

Most of the times that I find myself lacking, I ask, “Why am I not ______?”  I ask it as though I expect that “normal”, “good”, “healthy” people are ______ by nature, but, for some reason, I am not.

I search for an answer.  I read books.  I talk to counselors.  I ponder my childhood.  I analyze my personality.

On and on I go.  Sometimes I come up with some possible factors that may have contributed to my not being _______.  But I am learning that factors are not underlying, definitive reasons.

The truth is that whatever I am lacking comes down to one single reason each and every time.  I am broken.  I was born broken.

Psalm 51:5 says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

By definition, my human nature lacks good and is full of bad.

One author puts it this way, “We are not sinners because we engage in sin; we sin because we are sinners, rebellious and sinful from birth” (Tan & Gregg).

In other words, sin is what we do.  It’s our m.o.  We can’t not sin.

With that in mind, I should not be at all surprised when I find myself lacking in an area.  Rather, my deficits should simply be a reminder of how much I need the Lord to enable me supernaturally to act right.

Titus 2 confirms that, left to our own devices, we have no idea how to “be worthy of respect, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in endurance…” (Titus 2:2).  We have to be taught these things.  Women have to be trained “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands” (Titus 2:4-5).

Trained to love my husband and children?!  Of all the things on that list, shouldn’t loving my own adorable flesh and blood come naturally?

Let me just free me up and say, “NO!”  I am naturally SELFISH, not naturally LOVING.  And I am not alone!  All of you are naturally selfish too!  That is glorious news, isn’t it?  I breathe a huge sigh of relief to know that, while it’s true that I am lacking a patient, loving demeanor, it is also true that every other person on the planet also naturally lacks that!

Except.

Except for the person who does not live according to his nature.

It is possible, by the very power of Jesus Christ, and only by that power, for you and I to STOP living according to our selfish, sinful human nature and to START living “in accordance with the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).

And just what is that supposed to mean?

Galatians 5:22 tells us that those who live by the Spirit are characterized by “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Can we live this way on our own? No.

Can we resolve to live this way? Not for very long.

Can we tell God we want to live this way all the time, but we can’t do it without His supernatural enabling? Sure, but He already knows.

Can we ask Him to help us? Yes.

Can we be sure He will help us? 1 John 5:14-15 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Desiring to stop living according to our sin nature and to start living according to the Spirit is desiring God’s will for ourselves.  He will hear us.  He will help us.  We just have to ask.

The Point of Pain

A popular argument agnostics and atheists like to use to justify their unbelief in God is that if God existed, there wouldn’t be pain in this world.  If God existed, they say, He’d be powerful enough and good enough to make our lives pain-free.  There would be no tornadoes, no Osama bin Laden’s, no domestic violence, no cancer, no anything unpleasant at all.  In the unbeliever’s mind, the mere existence of suffering proves that God, at least as we Christians define Him (all-powerful, all-knowing, completely good, etc.), does not exist.

But there is a problem with this argument.

Those who argue to this end assume they understand what God’s chief objective is.  They assume that God’s whole point for doing anything is to make us humans happy.  Don’t get me wrong, I would love for that to be the case.  I would love for it to be all about me.  Truth be told, I often act like it is all about me and my contentedness. 

But it’s not.

The end all be all of life is not to have 7 billion happy people running around the planet kumbaya-ing.  That would be nice.  And God wouldn’t mind if we managed to work that out.  But, unlike John Lennon, that simply isn’t God’s main objective for humanity.

God is concerned about more than our happiness.

Notice I did NOT say God is unconcerned with our happiness.  He is very much affected by our pain.  He grieves for and with us in our suffering (John 11:33-35).  He responds with great compassion when we are hurting, which He certainly would not do if He didn’t care about our pain (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

But He is even more concerned with something bigger than our hurt.

His primary concern is having a living, breathing, active, dynamic relationship with each and every person on this planet.  Like a father of multiple children, God longs to spend as much quality time as possible with each of us.  Why?  Just because He loves us.  Oh, and it also happens to be in our best interest.  The more time we spend really connecting with God, the better off we are.  We have more peace, even in the midst of suffering (John 14:27).  We gain wisdom and understanding about all kinds of things (Colossians 2:2-3).  We become more effective at showing unbelievers that a personal relationship with God is not only possible, it is the most rewarding relationship we can pursue (1 John 5:10-11).

More than our earthly happiness, God wants an eternal relationship with us.  And sometimes it takes pain in our lives for us to realize that.

Paul understood that.  And he told the church of Corinth about it in 2 Corinthians 1:8-24.  As Paul talks about hardships he faced in Asia, he said, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).  Paul is talking about extreme suffering and pain.  How many of us can relate on an emotional level?  We find ourselves in circumstances that feel “beyond our ability to endure”, causing us to “despair even of life.”

Why does a good God let us experience such utter misery?

Paul’s explanation is, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

What?

God allows us to suffer, even though He could stop it, so we might rely on Him?  You mean He is more concerned about relationship with us than He is about our happiness?

Before you tell me you don’t want a relationship with a sadistically self-centered God like that, let me make one more point.

Our complete happiness can only be found in relationship with God.

We Americans tend to be an either/or society.  Things are black or white, right or wrong, this or that.  Never both.  Never simultaneously.

Yet, this is not an either/or situation.  We are not choosing between happiness or a relationship with God.  We can have both.  In fact, we can’t truly have either independently.  A relationship with God births a capacity for happiness in our lives that does not exist without that relationship being in place (John 15:9-11).  I’m not talking prosperity gospel here, which says, “Accept Jesus and you ‘ll be healthy, wealthy and care-free.”  Believers certainly have their fair share of hurtful situations.  But they also have the ability to find peace, fulfillment, and joy in the midst of pain (James 1:2-4).  Not when it is all over; not when things are wonderful; right smack in the middle of their worst days.

Pain has a point.  Pain is supposed to drive us deeper into relationship with God.  If we aren’t letting pain accomplish that, we are suffering for nothing.

Make your pain count.