As we open our hearts to minister to those around us, we soon discover we live in an imperfect world full of sickness, heartache, and frustrations. Many of us (many more than we realize) are facing trials which are sometimes quite severe. When we are finally invited into someone's private world and allowed to hear of their pain, it can be difficult to know what to do or say.
As we grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus, we learn of His truths: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We understand and usually have some actual experience with God's loving plan and purpose; "in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him" (Romans 8:28). But there are times when this type of advice - even this type of truth - can be a little cold and fail to comfort or draw someone closer to God.
While it's absolutely true that God will use our pain and suffering for His glory, it may not be the first response someone needs to hear when they enter a difficult trial; "There is a time for everything...a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7). We must learn to be sensitive to the more immediate need.
When Lazarus became very sick, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus but He did not come until after Lazarus died. Mary fell at Jesus' feet and cried: "Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:32). At that moment, Jesus did NOT begin preaching "Rejoice in the Lord always!" (Philippians 4:4). There would be other opportunities for sermons, other opportunities to speak about faith and trust, but in this moment the need simply required compassion.
"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled...Jesus wept."
The Creator of the Universe wept! From the beginning of time, Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead; He knew many lives would soon be changed through this miracle. But "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (John 11:5). Though this pain and sorrow was necessary in the context of God's sovereign plan, these were real people who were grieving and Jesus took time to show He truly cared and understood their pain.
The world is in great need of the healing power of Jesus Christ. Sin has caused separation from God and left many lives in a mess. As we minister through encouragement and the truth of God's Word, we are called to do so while "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). But love does not exist outside of a relationship. And in a loving relationship we will often best demonstrate God's truth by listening and comforting with a Godly compassion.
and treasure my commands.
2 Tune your ears to wisdom,
and concentrate on understanding.
3 Cry out for insight,
and ask for understanding.
4 Search for them as you would for silver;
seek them like hidden treasures.
20 Follow the steps of good men instead,
and stay on the paths of the righteous.
21 For only the godly will live in the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it.
I have been going through a lot of "stuff" in my life lately and, in particular, have been trying to really examine my own life, my actions, throughts, reactions, and attitudes. Seems like a good time to work through Proverbs.
This book of the Bible is pretty cool in that it starts out with an exact description of what it is all about:
1 These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2 Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3 Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
4 These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
knowledge and discernment to the young.
5 Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.
Let those with understanding receive guidance
6 by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
My main take-away from this chapter: Associate with folks who are wise and will give you good counsel.
I bet you can't help but smile at it.
The mature person realizes that life affirms itself most, not in acquiring things, but in giving time, efforts, strength, intelligence, and love to others. Here a different kind of dialectic of life and death begins to appear. The living drive, the vital satisfaction, by "ending" its trend to self-satisfaction and redirecting itself to and for others, transcends itself. It "dies" insofar as the ego is concerned, for the self is deprived of the immediate satisfactions which it could claim without being contested. Now it renounces these things, in order to give to others. Hence, life "dies" to itself in order to give itself away and thus affirms itself more maturely, more fruitfully, and more completely. We live in order to die to ourselves and give everything to others. ...This "dying" to self in order to give to others is nothing more or less than a higher and more special affirmation of life. Such dying is the fruit of life, the evidence of mature and productive living. It is, in fact, the end or the goal of life.
Thomas Merton. Love and Living. Naomi Burton Stone & Patrick Hart, editors (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jonvanovich, 1985)
The recent economic trials of our country and the world are going to increasingly trigger bizarre and wrong behavior. And, to some degree, because we're all in the same boat, we not only come to expect this behavior on the part of others but we actually can fall right in step with it.
Have you noticed how we've all started to wince less when we hear of another grisly mass murder? Maybe we don't exactly take them in stride yet but I suspect we are heading that direction. You almost open up the news expecting to see another story of some horrible tragedy enacted on others by a sadly misguided and incredibly furstrated individual or two.
President Obama -- you need to be the leader to take us out of this increasingly negative mindset. We've become like the Israelites in the desert ... if you do not constantly remind and re-remind us of the promise and hope before us, we become angry ... cynical ... withdrawn ... depressed. And when that happens, bad behavior is expected and indeed ensues.
Ronald Reagan rallied our country as a "shining city upon a hill". Bush Sr. challenged us to be a thousand points of light. Yes, they stole these sayings from others that went before them. And, yes, you can argue the long term positive effectiveness of these "slogans" but, if you lived through them, you will recall that these sayings brought us hope ... they brought us vision ... they brought us direction and renewed optimism.
President Obama, we need this now. You do sometimes speak in optimistic, hopeful and reassuring terms but you have yet to give us something as a country to rally behind. Or, better yet and even more appropriate for our times, as a world to rally behind.
Am I reducing our country or world's future to being dependent upon a catchy saying? Maybe so ... but it is what we need. It has worked in the past and we need it again. It is one way to begin truly leading a people who are increasingly angry, bitter and irrational. It is one way to lead us onward and upward ... to give us vision and a dream ... to help us to aspire and see the lack of a future that exists in normal human behavior during stressful times.
Bring us something that leads us, President Obama. Help us to dream and hope once again. Help us to see what we can be ... what God intended us to be ... help us to live into that shining city upon a hill