How to be Ineffective and Unproductive

(If you read the title of this post and thought, “I can be ineffective and unproductive right now by reading this blog instead of doing ______,” then we’re going to be great friends. Sarcasm is my spiritual gift, and I salute your wittiness.)

Now, in Peter’s second letter to believers in Rome (presumably), Peter opens by correcting a false doctrine that had splintered off of Christianity called Gnosticism. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a test.)

The Gnostics taught that salvation came through the attaining of a mysterious “higher knowledge,” which is in contrast to the true gospel that says salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ.

So Peter opens chapter 1 with 4 verses that all emphasize the gospel vs. Gnostic garbage. Peter is reminding the believers in Rome that you are saved because of your faith–not because you have some special knowledge. And you have that faith because Jesus is righteous–not because you have attained some sort of enlightenment others haven’t (v. 1).

Further, Peter says God’s power has given us every thing we need for life and godliness (v. 3). In other words, believers wouldn’t even need some special knowledge, even if it did exist, because their abilities to live in a way that both fulfills them and pleases God don’t depend on what they know; their abilities depend on the power of Who they know.

In verse 5, Peter seems to get out his megaphone and yell, “FOR THIS VERY REASON, make every effort to do what I’m about to tell you to do.”

I had to read this 45 times before I could nail down what the exact reason is (because I’m sharp like that). I’m sure you’re much more astute and don’t need me to point out the reason, but for the sake of clarity (and so when I forget later I’ll have something to remind me), here’s the reason: in order to actually live out the fulfilling life that sits there for the taking.

Life, godliness, relationship with God (i.e., “participation in the divine nature,”), and no longer being a slave to sin (i.e, engulfed by “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,”) all await each believer (v. 4).

Peter is imploring the Roman believers to make every effort to do the following because their wholeness and God’s being glorified hang in the balance.

If that’s what we want–to be spiritually healthy people who thrive in our relationships with Jesus and who regularly resist the seduction of sin (characteristics that all bring God glory)–here is what we need to do:

…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (v. 5-7).

And this is the point in reading where I set the Bible down and say, “Nope. Can’t do it.”

This is a tall order. Like, Empire State Building tall. Or Everest tall. Not only do I lack most of these things, the thing I lack the most is the very effort needed to gain more of them!

Peter says make every effort. Why can’t I just make some effort, like maybe when I’m having a good day and there’s nothing on TV?

“Lord!” I whine, “I can’t make ‘every effort.’ It’s too haaaaaaaaaaaaard.” And He smiles and says, “I know.”

Well. Now that we’re all in agreement…

Peter’s very point is it is by God’s power–not by human effort–that any of this growing in godliness stuff actually happens anyway.

HOWEVER.

We have a cooperative role to play. We put forth effort toward a goal we can’t achieve, and God miraculously infuses said effort with His power to bring forth His desired outcome: godliness in His children. And on account of His power being put on display in our lives, His glory is revealed.

It’s like if I were to run into someone from my freshman year of high school. To say I wasn’t a believer back then would be an understatement. I didn’t worship Satan, but I was a pretty smug atheist, and I wasn’t afraid to let my peers in the Bible belt know it. If there had been a superlative for “Least Likely to Believe in God,” I’d have won it.

Enter God.

I became a Christian at 16, started attending church at 17, became FASCINATED with the Bible, earned a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and Theology, taught and wrote about the Bible for years, earned a Master’s in Christian Ministry, and now I build websites. Just kidding. But, seriously. I do. But I ALSO continue to teach and write about this Jesus guy.

If someone I knew B.C. ran into me on the streets today and learned all this about me, they’d have little choice but to say, “Wow, there really must be a God because there is NO WAY she would have transformed like this on her own. Not possible.”

Well, Peter and I have news for you: nothing has changed. I still have no capability to transform myself into a person who has measurable amounts of faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

And neither do you.

So when we increase in any of these areas, it is clearly God transforming us, which brings Him glory. We bring God our meager offerings (i.e., our “every efforts,”), and He multiplies what we give Him into an abundance of fruit.

Peter puts it this way: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (v. 8).

There aren’t many things more terrifying to me than the thought of being ineffective and unproductive in my knowledge of Jesus. The seminary degrees are nice and all, but what am I doing with the knowledge rolling around in my brain? If it stays in there, it only benefits me.

And the same is true for you, whether you have “more” knowledge than me or “less” (can we even quantify that?). Knowledge un-shared, at best, only improves one life.

But if our knowledge manifests itself in our actions–like in our self-control and brotherly kindness and love–it benefits others. What we know about God should motivate us to try to live like God.

And when our motivation collides with His power, we are anything but ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Christ. In fact, we are the opposite: effective and productive.

If that’s not what you’re after, by all means, make no effort to add any of the qualities Peter speaks of to the knowledge you have of Jesus. And, whatever you do, never share whatever knowledge you have with anyone else. In little to no time at all, you will surely be ineffective and unproductive!

 

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Above All

I have a love-hate relationship with relationships.

I love them when they’re going well, but I hate them when they’re going poorly. I love them when they are well-established and comfortable, but I hate them when they are new and awkward. I love them when they fulfill me and make me happy, but I hate them when they hurt me and leave me empty.

You, too?

Fortunately/Unfortunately, people are made for relationships…with each other and with God. Even us more introverted folks are made for relationships, and we cannot be well emotionally without participating in a few.

God knows this, which is why He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) and makes relationships the fabric of His Church.

As much as I wish it was the case sometimes, relationships are not optional. 

And given that relationships between two people are always relationships between two broken relaters, we’re going to find ourselves in relationships that are hard and messy and make us want to quit and move to the beach alone forever and ever, amen, far more often than we’d like.

Which is probably why the subtitle of the New Testament letters could be “How to Get Along with People in Ways that Make God Happy.”

Every one of Paul’s and Peter’s letters is brimming with instructions on how Christians are to relate to themselves, non-Christians, other Christians, and God, in a variety of different circumstances.

I’m not excited to report that I am currently in the middle of a great friendship that is going through a very not great rough patch. As I prayed about the situation this morning, I didn’t get any direction from God on what needs to occur next in this relationship. So I opened my Bible to read it in preparation for a Sunday School lesson my teacher would be leading me in a couple hours later.

We’ve been going through the whole book of 1 Peter, and it “just so happened” that we were going to be on chapter 4 today. And it “just so happened” that this morning I couldn’t remember which portion of chapter 4 we’d be learning about, so I decided to go ahead and read the whole thing.

In the letter Peter is encouraging believers who are experiencing severe persecution to live godly lives in the midst of their suffering. And in verse 8 Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

My eyes stopped and re-read that verse three or four times.

I pretended to not know how this instruction I “just so happened” to read had anything to do with my prayer for direction in a difficult friendship I had literally prayed 1 minute and 28 seconds prior to reading this verse.

I put on my best pensive face and said, “Lord, what do you mean? How does this verse apply to me right now?”

He didn’t even dignify those questions with a response.

I went to church and successfully avoided thinking about the verse 98% of the morning. But this afternoon I started praying about my struggling relationship again, and the verse popped right back in my mind. So I grit my teeth a little and said, “Ok, Lord, let’s look at this again.”

I opened my Bible and started reading 1 Peter 4 again. But this time verse 7 stood out to me in addition to verse 8. Verse 7 reads, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”

I paused.

I had never considered that when we are not clear-minded and are out of control that we really can’t pray. But I think it’s true.

I was just telling the Lord prior to reading this verse that my friend and I are both out of control. We’re both very passionate people who have big emotions that can cloud our minds and blow our judgment out of the water.

And when I am in that kind of heightened emotional state, my prayers are hindered. I still pray…but my prayers are not usually efforts to understand what God is doing so much as they are efforts to tell God I want things to go differently than they are going.

And pushing my agenda on God is not an effective way to pray. Mostly because I am a moron who can’t discern a “good” plan from a “bad” one, meaning my agendas are usually not what’s best for me or anyone around me.

I need the Spirit to override the stupidity that comes with being fallen and to lead me into truth…the truth about what’s best for me and for others. That’s the purpose of prayer: to allow the Spirit to align my heart with God’s heart. And I just can’t go to God in prayer with a level-headed aim like that when I am not clear-minded and self-controlled.

I prayed verse 7 for my friend and me, and then I went on to verse 8.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Above all.

Above all.

Loving each other deeply is more important than being clear-minded and more important than being self-controlled.

Hmm.

On the one hand, that sounds like good news for those of us who struggle with being clear-minded and self-controlled in the heat of emotions. If we can’t master those two things, maybe we can put all our energy into this most important thing and still come out all right…

But it’s really hard to love other fallen humans deeply without first having gained God’s heart for them through prayer. 

That Peter.

He’s not giving me a pass on the clear-mindedness and self-control. He’s not saying loving each other deeply trumps having clear-mindedness and self-control, so don’t worry about those last two.

He’s saying we have to be clear-minded and self-controlled so we can be strengthened by the Spirit through prayer to love each other deeply, the most important thing of all in relationships. 

Why?

Because love covers over a multitude of sins.

When we love each other deeply, we will still sin against one another. We will still blow it. We will still hurt each other. And when that happens, those things will still need to be addressed. But our deep love for one another will enable us to forgive quicker and get on with the business of loving one another all the more.

And when a watching world sees Christians who live this out–even and especially when we love/forgive/love over and over and over again–they see a picture of Christ. They see a picture of grace and mercy and redemption and unconditional love.

And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be known for?

Didn’t Jesus say, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:34-35)?

Loving is hard. Relationships are hard. I have yet to ever be in any relationship of any value that didn’t have its rough patches…but when both parties commit to persevering through the hard times, both parties become better and better at loving one another deeply, above all.

What to Do while You’re Waiting (Even if You Don’t Know What You’re Waiting for)

As I hang out in a bit of a limbo phase in life, post seminary but pre whatever is next, I’m struck by what Jesus’ calling of Peter and buds to follow Him is teaching me about waiting.

The longest account of the calling is in the gospel of Luke. So let’s start there.

Luke 5:1-11

1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

In verses 1-3 Jesus is teaching a crowd of people the word of God, portions of the Old Testament, I presume. After the lesson Jesus focuses on one follower, Simon/Peter. Jesus tells Peter to do once more that which he has been doing for hours to no avail–let down the nets. Jesus, THE CARPENTER, instructs Peter, THE PROFESSIONAL FISHERMAN, to go fishing in the heat of the day, the least likely time for fish to bite.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t super love it when someone tells me how to do my job, especially when they themselves have never done it before. The absolute worst form of this is when someone commands me to do my job in a certain way. When Joe Schmo comes up to me and says, “You should…” or “You need to…” and Joe is not my boss or a fantastic web designer (what I do for a living because writing’s pay off of self-fulfillment and warm feelings is not, as it turns out, acceptable payment for a mortgage and groceries and all the whatnot), my eyes glaze over and mind wanders off in search of a way out of the conversation as soon as possible. Because I’m mature like that.

All that to say, if I’m Peter, my response to Jesus’ command to go fish is, “No, thanks, I’m good. And, also, could you build me a new table?” But Peter doesn’t say that (although, I do like to think he certainly thought it). On the contrary, Peter says, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Peter respects Rabbi Jesus enough to obey Him even though Peter has his doubts. Peter tells Jesus he is tired and has had a hard day at the office (or night, as it were), but on account of the fact that Jesus, a respectable member of the community, is instructing him, Peter will act.

You know what this exchange tells me?

You don’t? Fine, I’ll spell it out for you.

  1. Sometimes Jesus comes to us when we’re tired and failing. He doesn’t always wait for us to be on point emotionally, mentally, or when it comes to being “successful.” He’s not scared of our bad days or bad moods or bad sides. He can teach us in bad times as well as good.
  2. It is okay to express our doubts to God. I’m not sure this next statement is true. In fact, it could be heretical, but I trust you, Internet, to correct me if I’m wrong by leaving all manner of “edifying” comments below. My thought is maybe it isn’t a sin to doubt? If we classify doubt as an emotion, it isn’t “right” or “wrong.” Emotions are morally neutral, and, therefore, not righteous or sinful. It’s what we do with our emotions that is either good or bad. If this line of thinking is right (play on words totally intended), doubting becomes a sin when we act on our doubts in a distrustful manner. Peter did not. He felt his doubt, he verbalized his doubt, and, then, he chose to act in accordance with the faith he did not have instead of in accordance with his feelings. Whoa.

And you know what happens after he obeys Jesus?

Peter reaps an inconceivable blessing–more than he could ever ask or imagine (shout out to Paul for the verbiage). Yes, the catch that filled two boats would earn Peter and company a vast sum of money. But, the even bigger blessing is their witnessing Jesus perform what they could only describe as a miracle.

The catch is so ridiculously voluminous, the boats begin to sink under the weight of the fish! (Side note: Blessings can turn to curses.) As the boat is going under, Peter kneels before Jesus and implores Him to leave. Peter recognizes there is something special–holy–about this rabbi. And Peter immediately feels unworthy to even be in Jesus’ presence on account of Peter being a “sinful man.”

On one hand we are right to feel unworthy in Christ’s presence: Jesus is holy, we are not. On the other hand, Jesus does not see our sinfulness as a reason to not have relationship with us. He pursues us despite our sinfulness.

We are the ones who bring feelings of unworthiness to the relationship, and we allow those feelings to put emotional distance between us and Jesus. We must stop this!

If Jesus does not see our sinfulness as a reason to not have relationship with us, WE SHOULDN’T EITHER(I know double negatives are bad grammar, but how does the Internet feel about triple negatives? Never mind, I don’t actually care how the Internet feels about it.)

Peter’s sinfulness is probably not the only reason he wants Jesus to leave, however. Back in verse 7 we see that–oh, crap–He is sinking their boat! They are out in deep water–the Sea of Galilee: 11 miles long, 6 miles wide, 150 feet deep–and there is a very real possibility that if their boat goes under they will drown.

But Jesus reassures them, “Don’t be afraid.” And then He gives them a new, cryptic, job description: “…from now on you will fish for people.” I imagine the guys cutting their eyes at one another, furrowing their brows and mouthing, “What?”

Even though probably none of them had any idea what Jesus was talking about, what gets me is NONE OF THEM ASKED ANY QUESTIONS!

I do believe I would’ve been raising my hand, “Um, Jesus? What even does that mean?” I’d have been racking my brain trying to come up with possible things “men” might have been symbolic for. Or perhaps the symbolism was at the other end of the phrase: what exactly could “fishers” be representative of?

But not Peter and friends.

They got their sinking boats to shore, left all their gear and fish (read: income), and followed Jesus, having no idea where He was going or what was coming next for them. Unbelievable!

They clearly believed, to some degree or another, that Jesus’ new job description for them was worth pursuing. And they had to have believed Jesus would show them what He meant by “fishers of men.” They trusted Jesus to lead them in how to fulfill their new call.

Matthew and Mark say in their accounts of this story that Peter and friends immediately followed Jesus. They didn’t go home and pack a bag. They didn’t kiss grandma goodbye. They didn’t have a going away party. They got off their boats and immediately followed Jesus.

The group of men knew Jesus was the key to their new marching orders. They could not afford to let Him out of their sight. They had no idea where He was going next or when, and they were unwilling to risk losing sight of Him for even a moment. For without Jesus they could not fulfill their calling. 

And so it is with those of us who are waiting.

We may not even know what our call is (perhaps the proverbial phone hasn’t rung yet). Or maybe we have a vague sense of our call, but we have no idea which way to go to step into it more fully. Or we might know very well what our call is, but we don’t know how to live it out.

So we’re waiting. Waiting for the One who will call or is calling or has called to lead us in the way we should go.  And while we are waiting, we all need to do what Peter did: don’t let Jesus out of our sight. He is the key to our new direction. We cannot afford to not follow Him immediately…closely… and at all times.

As we follow Him, sticking close by His side, He will walk us straight into the heart of our calling.

What to Do When You Go through a Trial

Hi. My name is Kelly. I used to write here. Often. And I used to love it. And some of you enjoyed it, too. But in January, 2015, I started working on my master’s and all but totally stopped writing here. And I missed it. A lot. And some of you missed it, too. Fast forward 3 years, and my degree is complete. I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot of things. But now I don’t know what to do with myself. So here is me shaking off the dust and seeing if I remember how to write…

Yesterday, I sat down and read through the whole book of 1 Peter to get the bird’s eye view of the thing before we start dissecting it next week in the Sunday School class I attend. As I read through the first chapter, a sermon started welling up in me down around verse 7. It seemed particularly fitting for a friend of mine grieving a death in the family, so I tapped my thoughts out with my thumbs and sent them as a text message. Today, I sat down and turned that sermon/text into a post here.

(I don’t know why I think you care about all that back story, but I’m just going to go with it serves as a “practical application” of what follows. My preaching professors would not be happy with the application coming before the explanation, so it looks like those three years away were for naught. Oh well.)

Now then, in Peter’s first letter to early Jewish Christians, his primary goal was to encourage them to live godly lives as they endured terrible persecution for being Christians. This was back in the time of Nero, that Roman emperor who outlawed Christianity and thought it fun to light Christians on fire in order to illuminate his palace gardens at night. Most of the references Peter makes to suffering, then, are on par with levels of persecution we contemporary westerners know nothing about.

However, in 1 Peter 1:6, Peter expands his thoughts to include “all kinds of trials that produce grief.” And that is something you and I can relate to. The next verse reads, “[All kinds of trials that produce grief] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed,” (1 Peter 1:7).

Trials produce grief for two purposes.

First, trials that produce grief have come so that your faith in God is proven genuine both to yourself and to those around you. It is when you are in the midst of trials that you and others will see whether or not you really trust God’s decisions to allow/cause your trials and whether or not you have faith in Him to perfectly handle the results/consequences of your trials. As you trust Him in the middle of trials, other believers will be encouraged to do the same, and unbelievers will see Jesus in you. Your attitude will pique their curiosity in Jesus.

Second, trials that produce grief have come so that praise, glory, and honor will be the results when Jesus Christ is revealed.

This may be Peter’s way of saying YOU–the under-goers of the trials–will receive praise, glory, and honor from Jesus when He returns. In other words, Jesus will give you an, “Atta boy!” or “Atta girl!” for persevering and handling trials faithfully.

An alternate take on this part of the verse is that Jesus will get praise, honor, and glory when He returns as a result of your handling trials well. Why? Because the lost will get saved when they observe believers going through trials with unwavering faith. You are experiencing these specific trials of grief so lost people can see how you handle things with the power of Christ, and then the Spirit will draw them unto salvation. Maybe not today. But at some point before Christ returns, and, as a result, there will be even more people worshiping Christ when He returns than there would’ve been if these trials had never happened to you.

No matter which interpretation is correct (perhaps they both are), it is important for you to remember this: you don’t save people. God saves people.

So while you are undergoing “all kinds of trials that produce grief,” just focus on walking with Him. Receive comfort from Him. Dialogue with Him. Tell others what He is teaching you. Describe to others what the Bible says about trials (which necessarily requires you to learn what the Bible says about trials…).

Make it your goal to stay close to Jesus in your grief-inducing trials, and your faith will be evident to others. 

100 Times

I love Peter. He’s not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking, and he wears his heart on his sleeve, for better or for worse. I think we’ll be good friends in heaven. (Until we call each other out and get into a fist fight…)

Anyway, I read an interaction between Peter and Jesus last night in Mark. Jesus was telling the disciples it’s basically impossible for man to get into heaven on his own merit. (Mark 10:23)

And Peter didn’t care for that.

Peter was pretty sure people ought to be able to earn their way into eternal life, and, as Jesus repeated himself, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”, Peter blew up. (Mark 10:24)

Peter yelled incredulously, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10:28)

To be fair, I am reading intonation into the text, which probably says more about me than about Peter, but I can hear Peter’s tone inflect in a manner bordering on the line of being disrespectful to the Messiah. (Okay, running clear over the line at breakneck speed…)

Peter was hacked. He had left his family, his livelihood, and the comfort of home to follow Jesus, and now he felt like Jesus was telling him that wasn’t enough to get into heaven… “We have left everything to follow you!” I think Peter was totally exasperated.

I’m not sure if Jesus responded calmly or heightened his emotion to match Peter’s frenzied speech because that’s all Peter would understand in the moment… either way, Jesus responded, “Truly, I tell you…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

Jesus spoke to Peter’s concern: those who give things up for the gospel will have eternal life, for it’s by that very gospel that man is saved.

But that’s not what garnered my attention in this passage.

I found it peculiar that Jesus promised one hundred times as much of what we give up in this present age. In other words, He will provide now above and beyond what we lost or gave up when we became followers of Christ. God will meet those needs this side of heaven, perhaps in different ways than when we were unbelievers, but He will meet those needs nonetheless and in a much more abundant fashion.

My pastor postulated last night that God meets those relational and felt needs through the body of Christ. I think that’s true.

The relationships are most intriguing to me. When we accept Christ, sometimes the people around us don’t understand it. So they distance themselves from us. Or sometimes we distance ourselves from them because we no longer feel like we have anything in common with them. Or sometimes God calls us away physically to be a witness for Him in another town or state or country. We lose relationships for the gospel.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging. He created us; He knows we are relational. He knows we need emotional intimacy to thrive. He promises to supplement those lost relationships 100 fold in this lifetime.

That’s a little bit exciting.

We don’t lose relationships and spend the rest of our lives alone when we become Christians. We get to have a whole bunch of new relationships – relationships that are truer than the ones we had before because both parties are their fullest selves – most actualized, to borrow a term from the world of psychology – when they are Christians.

Paul and Timothy are examples of this. Without taking too much time to elaborate, they both literally left their homes and families and day jobs to take the gospel all over Eurasia (there’s a word I want to start using more often…). No doubt they felt lonely at times… but the Lord blessed them with each other. On more than one occasion Paul refers to Timothy as his son or son in the faith, and Paul even tells the Philippians he has no one else like Timothy. They had a special relationship they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t given up other relationships for the gospel.

I’m thankful I have a handful of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children in the faith. They get me better than any of the people I had to leave behind when I became a Christian. I’m nowhere near 100 yet, but if I’m willing to open my heart to a few more people and invest some time in a few more relationships, maybe I’ll get there.

Grief and Joy

I’ve been mulling over an oxymoron the last 24 hours or so.

At church yesterday, somebody (Keith Thomas – give props where props are due) brought up the idea that, as Christians, we can have hope and joy in the midst of grievous situations.

We can trust Christ is at work – doing His best work, in fact – and the hope we have in Christ will not disappoint us, according to Romans 5:5. The person discussing this issue said, “We can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time.”

It was an interesting concept… He used an example of a mother losing her teenager whom she knew was a believer. Deep grief, yet tremendous joy…

To be honest, the idea didn’t really take hold of me emotionally the first time I heard it. Sure, I agreed with it, but it remained in the philosophical compartment of my brain for the next hour.

Then I went to service, and as the Lord is wont to do from time to time, He put His finger on a part of my heart I’d been trying to pretend wasn’t hurting and communicated, sans words, “You are experiencing deep grief and tremendous joy simultaneously right now.”

He was right.

I’d been trying for so long to convince myself I was only experiencing the joy Jesus was offering in my situation, subconsciously believing that if I never admitted to myself that I was also extremely sad, then I wouldn’t be. I’d be able to keep the feelings of grief at bay.

Except I couldn’t anymore.

Things came to a head, and I – superior emotional wall-builder that I am – couldn’t keep the bricks in place any longer. The wall fell, and I felt firsthand the truth I’d been exposed to earlier that morning… we can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time…

I scribbled something down on Twitter so I wouldn’t forget it…

Grief and Joy

From experience, I think this is a true equation. Prior to my becoming a believer in Jesus, I was hopeless in times of grief. After I became a believer, I was hopeless in times of grief when I neglected to focus on Christ. But those rare moments, like yesterday, when I’ve considered Jesus’ faithfulness and goodness in the midst of my grief, I’ve found hope and joy.

But, to be honest, it doesn’t matter at all if I think this equation is true. My feelings and experiences don’t make something true. Truth is defined in the Bible, and our experiences only serve to confirm truth. But that’s another post.

My point is, I don’t want to post this idea without biblical proof. And Peter gives it to us.

In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter writes to believers, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Joy during suffering and grief…

How? What are they rejoicing in while they suffer so greatly?

If we back up to verses 3-5, Peter tells us.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Verse 6 begins, “In all this…” That is, the believers are rejoicing in the 4 things (at least) I highlighted in verses 3-5 while they “suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

So, it can be done…

You, me.

We can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time… if we keep Christ in the center of our suffering. 

 

What to do When People Hurt You

Sometimes people hurt us.

Insightful, no?

Accidents happen. Feelings get hurt. Egos get bruised. People get overlooked. And, every once in awhile, people may purposefully take a stab at our hearts out of anger or bitterness.

Most of the time this kind of thing happens in isolated incidents. Especially the hurting that is inadvertent. We swallow it, and move on. Or we talk about it, resolve it, and move on.

But what do we do with the relationships in which we know the other person is going to hurt us before they actually do so? Sometimes people aren’t safe or mature or good at loving other people, and, if we had to guess, they are going to hurt us sooner than later.

There are a lot of clues we may be dealing with this sort of person…

Maybe they have a track record of hurting us, and we’ve just come to expect that from them. Maybe we’ve observed them hurting others before, and we figure it’s only a matter of time before they hurt us too.

Or maybe the person isn’t intrinsically hurtful, it’s just that we’ve been around the block enough times to realize that loving others is risky. The more emotionally vulnerable we are with someone, the more deeply they can hurt us.

So what do we do?

The natural tendency is to allow very few people into the depths of our hearts. Keep them on the surface so if they do something insensitive or flat out stupid, it won’t hurt very badly. And if the handful of people we let in ever do hurt us, we quickly learn to construct a wall to keep them out for good so they can’t ever hurt us again.

In other words, we protect ourselves.

Except the only problem is that’s not how Jesus did relationships. 

Jesus had a friend named Peter who swore his faithfulness to Jesus up and down (Luke 22:33). As good as Pete’s intentions were, Jesus knew better, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,” (Luke 22:34).

Jesus knew Peter was going to hurt Him. They had been great friends, doing life together daily for the better part of three years. I can imagine the pain in Jesus’ heart – the heaviness – at the thought that Peter was going to deny even knowing Him. How hurtful…

Sure enough, after Jesus was arrested, Peter was questioned about his relationship to Jesus, and Peter denied knowing Him (Luke 22:56-60). “Just as [Peter] was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter,” (Luke 22:60-61).

I don’t think Jesus was shooting Peter an “I told you so” look. That’s not in our Lord’s character. Rather, I can imagine the look was mainly one of great sorrow and hurt. Jesus had known it was coming, but it didn’t hurt any less.

All that to say, when Jesus was in a relationship with someone He knew was going to hurt Him, He didn’t back away. He didn’t build a wall. He didn’t self-protect.

He let the hurt happen. 

And then He continued to love Peter well and do what was in Peter’s best interest by serving him and sacrificing for him – even unto death.

It was not fun. It was not easy. Peter hurt Jesus deeply. But Jesus chose to respond in love.

And we are called to do no less.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” (Ephesians 5:1-2).