Toward the Mark

Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time. To live with no aim, no goals or purpose, is to miss life altogether. We’re created with a sense that life has a purpose, and this purpose relates to a goal. As we pursue our goals we fulfill our purpose, and experience deep satisfaction and fulfillment. This makes for a much more rewarding and satisfying life. (2Ti 4:7)

Frustration is what we feel when we’re being blocked from achieving a goal. Something which seems beyond our immediate control is making it difficult or impossible for us to reach a goal and fulfill our sense of purpose. For example, trying to balance a budget when our spouse is constantly overspending. This can cause feelings of anger, grief and depression – and lead to envy, strife, coercion and manipulation (1Co 3:3), passive-aggression and/or violence to try to overcome what’s blocking our way.

The very nature of frustration tells us how we overcome it. By definition, there’s only one way: change – we must adapt and grow. (Ep 4:15) Frustration is God’s way of telling us we’re missing something; the only remedy is to discover what we’re missing – and put another precious piece into the puzzle of our life.

We might have an improper goal: we might be aiming at the wrong thing, or have an expectation that’s misaligned with reality. This often happens when our goals are not within our power to achieve, as when they involve the will of other people — who tend to have different goals than we do. (1Co 16:12)

Proper goals will always be within our personal control, and relate to our own behavior, not that of others. (1Pe 4:15) When the reality of other people’s goals gets in our way, as they inevitably will, we must ether course-correct or continue to bump heads with the universe. The universe will eventually win, needless to say. Wisdom is choosing to grow up by refining our goals, and learning to aim at better things. (Ep 5:17)

Yet, even if our goal is wholesome and good, aligned with reality, within our personal control, we may still be frustrated if we aren’t pursuing it correctly, or with the correct mindset. In this case, we grow by disciplining and controlling ourselves, praying, and adjusting and refining our beliefs, behaviors and expectations so we pursue our goal more patiently and efficiently, reaching our goal in a timely fashion, in accordance with reality.

If our goal is godly, we need not sin against ourselves or anyone else to achieve it. (Ja 1:16) If sinful behavior is necessary to achieve a goal, then it’s not a good goal by definition; it’s misaligned with eternal reality and pursuing it will bring us to ruin. (Ro 6:23)

As we address our frustrations in wisdom, seeking the will of God as our ultimate goal (Php 1:21), we can receive frustration itself as a welcome friend, a gift from God, exposing another area in our lives where He wants us to grow.

As we ask God to show us our hidden goals and motives, and prayerfully expose them to the light of God’s Word (Ps 119:105), He will reveal Himself and His way to us, that we may cleanse our way (Ps 119:9) and have His perfect peace. (Php 4:6-7)

The path of life is full of challenges and difficulty. It is at times bewilderingly painful and complex. As we face each trial in our pursuit God, we should count it all joy (Ja 1:2), realizing God’s glorious intent, constantly adjusting, shifting and growing to be conformed into the image of Christ. (Ro 8:29) This is how we work out our sanctification (Php 2:12), how we press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ. (Php 3:14)

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Great Peace

Peace is the tranquility of order in the midst of turmoil and chaos; it’s the very nature of Christ in us (Jn 14:27): an implicit, thankful trust in the eternal purposes of God, enabling us to walk in unspeakable joy in every circumstance. (1Pe 1:7-8) Christ is always at peace in Himself, and He offers Himself to us as peace; His yoke for us is easy, and His burden is light. (Mt 11:29)

Even so, peace seems elusive since our old nature resists the prescription, though it’s elegantly straightforward: Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them. (Ps 119:165)

The life of Christ in us loves Torah (Ro 7:22), and those who love Torah not only find peace, we find great peace.

The goal of Torah is to equip us for the godly life (1Ti 1:5), enabling us to understand that God has a plan, a purpose in all He allows, that His plan is good, and that He’s carrying out His plan according to His pleasure; nothing can stop Him. (Da 4:35)

In this knowledge, it’s impossible to be offended, to lose confidence in God, or to lose our hope in Him; with our eyes in eternal focus, nothing can happen to us or about us that will cause us to stumble in pursuing Him, or in seeking to please Him. (2Co 4:16-18) Torah defines moral reality; nothing else can, so being aligned with moral reality inoculates us against being offended, and maintains our internal order in the midst of conflict.

Peace isn’t the absence of conflict, it’s understanding that God’s in control in the midst of trouble, working out His glorious purpose. Peace is glorying in and rejoicing in His purpose, knowing He will glorify Himself in everything He allows. (Ro 5:3) The Father isn’t worried, anxious or afraid, and the Son is always doing what He sees the Father doing. Abiding in the Father and the Son (Jn 14:23), this is where we find life and peace. (Jn  17:3)

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Count It All Joy

Pain and suffering, whether physical or emotional, is so unpleasant that it’s difficult to understand how God can command us to count it all joy under various kinds of trials. (Ja 1:2) Does God expect us to disconnect from reality and not feel the normal, healthy emotional response that trauma typically evokes in our lives?

No, it isn’t actually the pain and suffering itself that God wants us to glory in; we’re to rejoice in the midst of our suffering, confident that God will produce patience in us (Ja 1:3): the ability to endure difficulty without losing hope.

If we value patience, and God works patience in each of us through suffering (He 12:6), then we can rejoice in the outcome of godly suffering. It’s through suffering that God matures and completes us; it’s necessary (1Pe 1:6) for our growth in godliness. (He 12:11b)

Patience seems to be the primary goal in suffering: it’s the tendency or ability to experience distress in hope: the confident expectation that God’s working it all out for our good (Ro 8:28) and for His glory. (1Pe 1:7)

Patient endurance of suffering produces a wealth of practical, life experience with the faithfulness of God, as we see how He works so brilliantly through chaos and pain to accomplish His purposes. And such experience produces hope (Ro 5:3), the knowledge that God will ultimately be wondrously glorified through whatever He allows. (Re 15:4)

And such hope makes us unashamed in our suffering, as the love of God shines forth from us by the Holy Spirit. (Ro 5:5) It is in the midst of suffering that our love for God and others shines most brightly, when it’s clear that we aren’t seeking God out of selfishness, but even when it hurts, even in persecution. We’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain by rejoicing in God and knowing He’s at work; we abound in hope through the power of God in the midst of our suffering, knowing God does all things well.

So, it’s appropriate to be in heaviness as we’re suffering (1Pe 1:6), to weep and grieve and struggle (He 12:11a) – this is perfectly healthy. (Ro 12:15) But this sorrow and heaviness should not be the whole of our experience; we should not suffer like the world does, without hope. (1Th 4:13) We must also look beyond our suffering in faith, rejoicing in what God will eventually accomplish in and through our suffering. (1Pe 1:7)

We can be thankful in our suffering (1Th 5:18), and also for our suffering (Ep 5:20), knowing there’s a glorious purpose in everything God allows. (Ep 1:11)

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Turned unto Fables

Any basic misconception about the nature of God can be detrimental; to the degree that our expectations of God are misaligned with reality, we’re deceived, captive to the devil (2Ti 2:25-26), and prone to bitterness and resentment. (He 12:15)

It is common for the enemy to offer us a fable, a heart-warming story teaching us something false about God. (2Ti 4:4) As an example, consider the following.

As the aircraft is pummeled by turbulence, thrashing violently up and down, back and forth, the poor man is more than distraught, taking drinks one after another, trying to calm himself.

From his first class seat, he notices a little girl back in coach playing with her doll, as calm as can be.

“Stewardess! Another drink, please!” He keeps trying to sedate himself … but it isn’t working. He’s terrified. Yet every time he looks back, the little girl is still playing happily with her doll. Her peacefulness is both an invitation and a rebuke, but he can’t translate, he’s just too upset.

Finally he can’t take it any more. Glaring back at her as the plane plummets again, he sputters: “Little Girl! Why aren’t you worried?” 

The little girl pauses, looks up sweetly and says: “Mister, see that cockpit up there? My daddy’s the pilot, and he knows I’m back here. He’s not going to let anything happen to me; he will get us home.” Then she goes back to playing with her doll.

How comforting! What a picture of divine love, of how we should rest in our Father’s care! (1Pe 5:7)

But isn’t something amiss? Isn’t this half-truth?

To be complete, she needs to add something like,

“But … even if he doesn’t get us home, Daddy doesn’t make mistakes. If this is my last day, or if I get hurt, that’s OK. I trust him, no matter what.” 

Moral of the story? Believing God will always keep us safe and protect us, that He’ll never let anything terrible happen to us, is unrealistic, deception, a false hope: it’s not what God promises.

When suffering does come, and it will if we belong to Him (Jn 16:33), and we don’t have the whole picture, we become bitter, cynical and resentful, turning from God as if He’s unfaithful or evil. (Ep 4:18)

But the problem isn’t with God, it’s with our wrong perception of God: the problem is idolatry — the false, nice, safe little gods we’ve made up for ourselves, and that we’re still clinging to. (1Jn 5:21)

Not only does God not promise to keep us safe, what He does promise is quite the opposite, and so much better. He promises to scourge us (He 12:6) and chasten us; it’s for our good and we all need it. He afflicts us faithfully (Ps 119:75) to conform us to the image of His Son. (Ps 119:67) Though it seems awful to us at the time (He 12:11), it’s part of His plan to glorify Himself in us. (Ep 1:12)

What God promises is that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us (He 13:5); He will be suffering with us and in us through anything He allows in our lives. It’s a precious gift if we’re living for Him. (Php 1:29)

God promises that all things work together for good to those who love Him (Ro 8:28); He’s able give us grace to walk worthy of Him in every circumstance of life. (2Co 9:8)

God is faithful to establish us, to keep us from being overcome and destroyed by evil and suffering (2Th 3:3), and to present us faultless before Himself with exceeding joy. (Jud 1:24) We are His workmanship (Ep 2:10), and He will complete the work He has begun in us. (Php 1:6)

Rather than pleasure and convenience, God offers us something vastly superior: Himself. But we can’t receive and enjoy Him without holiness (He 12:14), so He will do the needful, whatever it takes, to produce His likeness in us.

God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe – He’s a consuming fire. (He 12:29) It’s a fearful thing to fall into His hands (He 10:31), yet there’s no better place to be.

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God Is Able

Life is suffering, and suffering is hard; apart from God’s restraining grace, pain and hardship often produce bitterness. (He 12:15) Fear that we’ll become resentful in our suffering is to doubt God will give us grace to overcome.

God is certainly able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jud 1:24); He’s able to make all grace abound toward us, so that we’ll glorify Him in every circumstance of life. (2Co 9:8)

This motivates us to pray for ourselves (Ps 119:25) and for each other (1Th 5:23), encouraging one another in the midst of suffering (He 12:12-13), that patience will have her perfect work in us (Ja 1:4), and that God will perfect us  — establishing, strengthening and settling us. (1Pe 5:10)

Believers are saved by hope (Ro 8:24), delivered from worry and despair by our confident expectation that, in the midst of suffering, God will strengthen us to the praise of His Glory (Ep 1:12): this is what He’s chosen us for, and predestinated us unto. (Ep 1:11) We’re His workmanship, created by Him in Christ unto good works, in which God has predetermined us to walk. (Ep 2:10)

Once we understand the purpose of suffering, that God’s design is to glorify Himself in us through it, we rejoice in tribulation (Ro 5:3), knowing that the trying of our faith works patience. (Ja 1:2-3) Patiently enduring trial enables us to experience God’s faithfulness, and such experience produces hope. (Ro 5:4) God is faithful to sanctify us, and He will do it. (1Th 5:24)

Look for His smile in and through suffering; it’s only in being willing to die for Christ that we may experience the power of His resurrection. (Php 3:10)

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God Is Just

The human heart longs for justice, to see evil punished: we say, “Don’t get mad; get even!” We demand that wrongs against us and our loved ones be righted, that sin be paid for, that the crooked be made straight. Our sense of injustice, that evil goes unpunished in this life, can be maddening, driving us to both wrath and  bitterness.Lightning

Our instinctive longing for justice is beautiful; it’s God’s image at work in us, even proving His existence, but there’s a problem: we’re unjust. We seldom see our own sins rightly, and our response to evil is usually warped; we exact more than we should.

So God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Ro 12:19) He wants perfect justice more than all the rest of us combined, but only He knows what it looks like.

God is perfectly just, and only God is perfectly just; He will make all the crooked places straight (Is 40:4); He will right all wrongs … even our own. It’s an awesome mystery how God’s justice and mercy work together (Ps 89:14), how He can offer eternal salvation to sinners, His own Son taking our place and satisfying His own indignation against us. We do well to receive His mercy rather than the second death, and to rejoice when others do … especially our enemies(Mi 6:8)

How and when God makes everything right is up to Him; when He does it will be supremely satisfying, beautiful beyond thought! (Re 15:3-4) Enjoying it now in hope, before He does, glorifies Him and gives us peace.

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Man of Sorrows

Our Lord is a man of sorrows (Is 53:3); grief is His companion. He weeps over our sin and stubbornness (Lk 19:41-42) and He’s looking for us to be afflictedManOfSorrow with Him. (Ez 9:4)

Does human brokenness move us to grief, sorrow and weeping? (Ps 119:158136) Or does a certain smugness, contempt or disdain pollute us? When we sense someone’s in error, is our first instinct to triple-check ourselves, hoping we’re missing something? Or do we jump too quickly to find fault? When we must discuss another’s brokenness, is it reluctantly … with tears? (Php 3:18-19)

ManOfSorrowsLoving our neighbors as ourselves means being as grieved in others’ failings as we are in our own. In seeking holiness and truth we often find ourselves confronting and exposing brokenness, but enjoying and feeding off of this is ugliness, enmity and pride. (Php 2:3) As C.S Lewis so elegantly observes, we must not wish black was a little blacker, for soon we’ll be wishing grey was black … and in the end inherit darkness.

The high calling of God is perfection (Mt 5:48), so through Christ we strive after it by faith. (Col 1:29) Christ’s love shines through holy sorrow (Ec 7:3); without it we’re nothing. (1Co 13:1-3) Let’s fellowship with Him in His suffering (Php 3:10), giving all diligence to add this virtue to our faith. (2Pe 1:5-7) It may not seem possible to get there from here, but God is willing and able to help us. (Ep 3:20)

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Too Painful

When I lose sleep over injustice, and recently it seems to be often, I know I’m not handling it well — it’s too painful for me (Ps 73:16); I’m letting the enemy steal my joy. (Php 4:6) It’s time for a little reminder: God is just. (Pr 2:8)

What if God always rewarded good and evil with immediate pleasure or pain,BarnStorm training us like Pavlov’s dogs? We’d never know the depravity of the human heart … or the goodness of God.

In order to fully reveal Himself God must allow evil to go unchecked for a season; this exposes the human heart, and provides Jehovah a venue to glorify Himself. (Ro 9:22-23) The season may be longer than we’d like, but it’s a necessity.

I remind myself that God is faithful; He will bring every secret thing out into light; all will be revealed (Mk 4:22), dealt with and straightened out. (Lk 3:5-6) He may not be as prompt we’d like, but He’s perfectly just (Ro 2:2) and His timing’s always best. (Ps 104:31) My focus is to walk worthy of Christ, in intimate fellowship with God, and leave the rest to Him. (Ro 14:4)

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What If God?

Why does God allow so much evil, pain and suffering in the world? We know instinctively that He could stop it all … but He doesn’t — so we’re tempted to doubt His goodness. What could be His motive?

Well, what would it be like if God never allowed anything bad to happen? Sure, there’d be no sin or suffering, but what would we know about God or ourselves?

We’d never know He was preventing evil and suffering … would we? We’d never FireyTreeexperience His mercy or patience; we’d know nothing of His sacrificial love or His willingness to suffer with us, or of His justice, wrath and holiness … or of our own selfishness and depravity … and very little of His wisdom and power. It would be pleasant for sure, but rather dull … uninteresting … boring. There’d be no contrast.

The truth is that God is preventing most of the evil that could be occurring in this world (2Th 2:7): no one has ever fully expressed their own depravity. (Je 17:9)

By allowing the evil that He has, God has been perfectly revealing both Himself and everything outside Himself; this is actually His motive in Creation: the evil He allows perfectly reveals both His nature and ours. (Ro 9:22-23) God wants us to experience Him, to know Him intimately in all of His character and holiness. This is only possible as we see Him responding to a wide variety of enemies who are opposed to Him.

Will knowing God intimately be worth it all in the end? Evidently, God thinks so … and He’s already there (Is 57:15) … bringing forth unspeakable beauty from all the brokenness. (Is 61:3, 1Pe 1:7)

The truth is, God hasn’t responded to most of the evil in the world yet, but He will one Day. (Ac 17:31) Just because we haven’t seen full justice doesn’t mean we won’t. And if the little we’ve seen of His response so far is any indication, it will be utterly amazing, glorious beyond description. (Re 20:11)

Meanwhile, God has shown us enough to help us rejoice in Him, to trust Him implicitly and confidently, and to glory in Him alone. (Je 9:23-24) Let’s do so, believing He will never break a promise, be unfaithful, or a disappointment in the end. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1Co 2:9)

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Love Your Enemies

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” (Mt 5:44) Perhaps it’s the cornerstone of all godliness, actively seeking the good of others, even those who’d harm us.

The Passion of the Christ

This is unnatural, certainly; it denies our self-protective instinct. Returning good for evil enables and strengthens our enemies to harm us even more. Yet it is our God’s example. (Mt 5:45)

Living this way as a manner of life requires an energy from another world, a Life beyond our own. It is perhaps the greatest witness of the reality of God, that we commit our physical care into His hands, just as we have our souls and spirits. (1Pe 4:19) It is only then that we live as children of our heavenly Father.

There is a time to resist abuse, and a time to suffer according to the will of God. It is the wisdom of God to tell these apart, but there is never a time to wish ill to another. (Ro 13:10) Let us not fear to follow God in suffering for His name, for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2Co 4:16-18)

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