A Place of Training

It’s been a rough week.

After two years of orthodontic torture and enduring near constant discomfort in order to get my adult tooth pulled down where it should be, I was told that the tooth had died in the process.

This journey has been a roller coaster of eager hope crashing down around me, only to be carefully pieced together and revived again. After all, what is life without something to hope for?

The latest news sent me spiraling, numb, into gloomy disappointment and disillusionment.

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I thumbed the pages of my Bible indifferently. Did it even matter? My brain felt calloused. I didn’t want to feel this way…but I couldn’t help it. In the past, I’ve wrestled through times like this by being thankful, grudgingly at first, but gradually moving out of the bog into grateful living.

I tried to thank God for my dead tooth, for the rest of my strong, healthy teeth, but it was forced, fake.

The pages fell open to Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”

“Truth”, I thought. But it wasn’t comforting in the slightest. If anything it made me sink lower into my despondency. My hope had definitely been deferred, leaving my heart ill with worry and confusion. So how on earth do you stay strong in the faith – believe with all your heart that everything is for the best and trust, trust, trust – when your heart is impaired because of hope that never happens?

I hit a new low the next evening and felt like I would burst from the burden of, what I later realized was, unsurrendered pain. My dear parents prayed for me and we talked it out until late.

The next morning I turned to my daily devotional titled, What Do You Expect?

“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you will find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.” C.S. Lewis, God in the Docks

Ah, that’s my problem. I think I’m entitled to certain things in this life – marriage, health, good food, good friends, a decent amount of money, a job I like, fun things to do, and the opportunity to travel – among others, I’m sure. While it’s not something I’ll readily admit, that’s just what it is – expectations I have of life. When one of these gifts fail to meet my expectations I feel cheated. I doubt God’s goodness. I get heart sick because my hope is deferred.

“Sometimes we expect that life should be happy and pain-free. But that is not what the Bible teaches. For the believer, this world is a place of spiritual development through both good and bad times. Jesus was realistic when He explained what to expect out of life. He told His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation…” Dennis Fisher Our Daily Bread October 9, 2014

Why do we think we deserve more and better from life? It truly isn’t the Word of God that gives us this impression! The Bible is filled with warning us about a life of trials and encouragement to get through them.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13

“Imagine a set of people all living in the same building.”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable.”

This keen illustration left me thinking about how I perceive life and what I am expecting from it. Quite a lot to be honest. I want a grand hotel where I’m pampered and waited on. But God has different plans.

Christ continues His dialog with His disciples, “But be of good cheer, I have over come the world”. (John 16:33) The devotional ends with these words…

In facing life’s blessings and bruises, we can have the inner peace that God is orchestrating events according to His sovereign plan.

This life is a place of training. It’s not a 5 star resort where we can kick up our feet and vacation on the beach. Truly, trials make us stronger. Pain surrendered molds us to be the people God meant for us to be.

There really is no reason to hope… in things of this world. But hope in God is not futile.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly

for the salvation of the Lord.

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What Are You Living For?

I’ve watched this video by Francis Chan before, but had to pull it up again this morning because I need this perspective.

I need to be reminded that life is not about having fun and doing what I want to do, or what the culture dictates I should do. It’s not about me and my short little life on this earth.

It’s about GOD, and eternity, and LOVE, and life after this two inches of red rope.

Optical Illusions

Last Wednesday, my sister and I traveled down to the city to clean a client’s house – good clients. In fact, I think they pretty much adopted us as their own grandchildren and they kind of spoil us.

We’ve been cleaning for them for several years now and helped them move to two different houses. Of course, every house has had it’s changes, but a lot of the knickknacks remain the same. One such piece is a plaque – yarn needlework on plastic canvas – that sits behind the faucet of the bathroom sink. The red lines puzzled me every time I moved it to clean. What did it mean? Was it Hebrew or another language? To be honest, it looked like clutter and I couldn’t understand the significance of it being moved with such care from home to home.

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I was thinking along the same lines this time around as I moved it to clean behind the sink, but my mind didn’t dwell on it long. I raced on to other thoughts as I grabbed a rag and headed for the shower door.

New rag, last step…polishing off the faucets. I looked at the reflection of the back of the faucet through the mirror to make sure I got every last spot (ALL cleaning clients check spots like that right? :)…and I stopped. What on earth was reflecting the Name JESUS in the faucet??? There it was clear as day. I looked at the plaque, the only possible source in sight, and still saw red lines.  Staring hard at the faucet through the mirror, though, there was no doubt that it wasn’t just red lines after all, and it wasn’t some foreign language either. It just took a different angle to see the word.

Wait a minute! There, I had it. For a split second JESUS came into focus then faded again into red lines. But that was all it took. Now that I knew JESUS was there, that is what I looked for and I could see it.

Never again will I look at the plaque in the same way I did for all those years. It was enlightening really. I felt like a new realm was opened to me in a very relate-able way.

Can You See It?

I haven’t been “seeing” Jesus lately. Life has been looking like a bunch of red lines that don’t make any sense to me. I’d chuck them right out the window if I could, but I can’t, and those red lines just keep staring me in the face taunting me with their meaning, or lack there of.

I clean around it a lot – avoid it, move on to other thoughts…because it frustrates me. I don’t need more clutter on my counter, but that’s what it feels like. I want to see the meaning… but I’m at the wrong angle.

My focus gets off and the more I stare at the red lines the more I just see red lines and the less sense it makes. It’s depressing. And the more depressed I get about it the bigger the red lines get.

Adjust the Angle

Here’s the thing though… I know JESUS is there. Not just the word JESUS, but the Man, the Savior, the Messiah Yahshua Jesus. And I know that my focus, or my perspective, is part of the problem.

I admit it, my perspective gets off a lot. Somehow the life-sized problems balloon into monsters that feed on discouragement and hopelessness and, if I’m not active about shifting my focus back to my bigger-than-life God, it can be devastating.

I’ve learned this lesson before, but, like many of my posts imply, life lessons aren’t often learned once and for all. Sometimes it takes going over the same lesson over and over again, year after year. I think they get easier though – just a little bit – because you know what got you through the first time. I know now that I have to adjust the angle of my internal lens and I know doing that takes thankfulness. Counting the little things in life I am grateful for and building on it until my “thankful count” far out weights my problems. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

But I Don’t Want to Be Thankful

Yep, it’s true. Sometimes I just want to grovel in my unhappiness. Life is unfair and I can’t possibly deal with it anymore. This is where diligence comes in. I have the power to change my attitudes with my thoughts, but I must be diligent to shun the bad thoughts and immerse myself in good thoughts.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

If I do this, I know my unthankful attitude will go away eventually.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

But let’s be honest here – this is a lot of work!  It’s making constant decisions about every thought and making the right choice about which thoughts to think and which ones to scourge out the door. I have to remember…

JESUS is Always There

It is strength to know that JESUS is always there. When I can’t seem to get my focus right, when all I’m seeing is the red lines, He’s still there for me – for us – waiting, patient, even praying for us (John 17:20).

He has given us the spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  (2 Timothy 1:7) And He will give us the strength to overcome.

Keep Looking

So I want to encourage you – when you’re having a difficult time seeing JESUS, keep looking. Focus on the good things and He will come into view. And believe me, when you get the focus right, you will never see it the same again.

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