One thing I am learning through the trials: Enjoy the peaceful nows. Tomorrow, or yesterday, the previous hour or the next minute may have trouble. I might even see the possibility of real trouble in the future, but if there is no trouble right now, I’m learning to enjoy that. To enjoy the peaceful now. The moments when everything is ok, at least for now. Those are the “peaceful nows” I am finding scattered here and there among the trials and tribulations of life. And though I wish they were numerous and extended, perhaps the very fact that they are not has been a major part of teaching me to relish them more when they do happen. No matter how far between and fleeting they are, enjoy the peaceful nows.
Yesterday afternoon, as I drove west on the interstate, the setting sun glared in my eyes. There were a few clouds just below on the horizon, but the sun was still too high for them to provide any protection for my tired, squinting eyes. It was hard to focus on the road.
I thought about how we sometimes use the expression “clouds on the horizon” to mean trouble ahead, and wondered if maybe we were being a bit too harsh to the clouds. A few minutes later, the sun dropped a little lower and the clouds did their work. Instead of tired eyes squinting into a harsh, bright sun, my eyes were now feasting on the beauty of a glorious sunset. The clouds diffused the overpowering sun and erupted in a colorful chorus of praise to the Creator. I praised Him too. A few clouds made the view of my westward journey an intimate treasure.
I woke this morning thinking about what I might learn from the clouds. The simple lesson came through. And so I pray this morning, that God will send just enough clouds in my life to keep me focused on the road. And that He will use those clouds to make my life a thing of beauty, for His glory.
He kicked the flat tire and left his car baking in the sun.
It was a signal his irritation had reached a tipping point.
His brain was all jumbled by a flamboyant appetite for fun.
But the troubles along the way had left him out of joint.
Would he heed at last the sound
Of the truth he’d found?
Instead of break him,
The trials make him.
Would his life disclose the bliss
The view out my window this morning is beautiful. Last night while I slept warm in my bed, yesterday’s day of freezing rain, ice, and sleet gave way to a sprinkling of snow. The ice on the trees provided a perfect place for the snow to rest. Now every limb of our apple tree is enrobed in perfect white. As I stare at the site, my eyes feast on a rare and wonderful winter celebration. But the tree . . . the tree feels only a cold and heavy burden.
Should we aspire to pass every test? What if we are not ready for the work? What if we are not up to the work’s challenge, lacking skills measured by the test, which are needed to conquer it? Would I prefer to fail the test, or the challenge for which it measures my readiness? Are there some challenges we can not afford to fail, so the prior tests must be passed before we face them?
What about God’s tests? Are they preparation for a future challenge? God knows the state of our preparedness, but do we? Must we pass the test to provide ourselves with more knowledge of the Heavenly way? Must we pass the test to prepare us for some challenge yet ahead? Given the opportunity and foresight, would any wise person choose to face the challenge without first gaining the preparation and approval of a test successfully completed?
Is it possible that whatever tests the Lord brings my way, perhaps I would do well to view them as preparation for the challenges and victories yet ahead?
Fire ants are a part of life in Georgia. If you have never experienced them, then all you are missing is a dirt mound full of the meanest, biten’est, hurten’est, most aggressive little insects that ever lived! And unfortunately, they are all over Georgia. You find them just about anywhere there is dirt. They build huge mounds for their nest, which they defend ferociously, as anybody who has ever stepped on one can confirm.
Sam and I were walking down the sidewalk this past Sunday and just as we got to the end, spotted a fire ant hill. “Can I step on it?” Sam asked. “Sure.” I said. It was not my usual response. I usually prefer not to stir them up. Keeping them all happy and content in the mound makes it much easier to poison them all later. But these ants at the end of the trail were in “no man’s land,” so we both stirred them up and watched them come pouring out of the mound looking for something to attack.
As we walked away from the havoc we had created, I wondered why it was so fun to stir up an ant nest. Step on them. Kick the nest. Poke a stick in the mound. Watch them pour out to defend the nest. Why stir up trouble? Was it malice? Was it revenge for all the past ant bites? Did it stem from a twisted desire to make life more difficult for another living creature? Or perhaps it was a desire to show myself superior to the poor little ants? It could be some of all of these reasons, but I think for me, it’s mostly just curiosity. One of the first questions that pops in my mind when I see the ant mound is, “Is anybody home?” Give the mound a little kick; see the inhabitants come swarming out. “Yep. They’re in there.”
If you think about it, the whole ant mound incident is a little like the story of Job. Job was all happy in his big wealthy ant hill when along comes Satan asking God if he can kick the mound. God gives him the OK, so he kicks it. Stirs it up. Pokes a big stick right in the middle of Job’s mound of comfort zone. Now Satan and God stand back to watch what comes pouring out.
Satan expects a swarm of resentment and hate to spill out all over everything. “Curse God and die” is the stinging bite he assumes to elicit. What he gets instead is “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Not at all what Satan expected to be in the Job mound. But God wasn’t surprised. He knew exactly what lived inside the center of that Job mound, and precisely what would happen when Satan stirred it.
God knows what’s in every mound. Satan, on the other hand, does not. And unfortunately, he is still in the business of stirring up trouble wherever he can. We build our little “me” mounds and ready ourselves to defend them ferociously. Satan comes along and kicks the dirt around so he can watch what happens. He wants to know what’s inside. The real question is, if Satan comes messing with the “me” mound, what comes pouring out? Stinging, biting hurt? Or the Holy Spirit of God? When he kicks the nest, checking to see if anybody is home, what will he find? Will he cackle with delight at the chaos his hardship caused? Or will God smile while a defeated Satan backs away mumbling, “Yep, HE’s in there.”
And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, “thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. “All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
– Mark 7:20-23
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
– Romans 8:11-14
I hate suffering. Especially when it’s near me, and most definitely when it is me. Unfortunately, many of us are called to do it. I used to think that the only good suffering was the kind where I was suffering for being a Christian. Persecutions and such. Now I think there’s more to it than that. There may be times when I suffer for Christ’s sake and don’t even know it.
Take the case of the man born blind in John chapter 9. People asked Jesus why the man was blind. Jesus said, “… so the works of God might be displayed in him.” That’s pretty tough to swallow. This guy was born blind and lived to adulthood without sight so that God could be glorified. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing this guy didn’t feel like he was suffering for God’s glory. I’m betting there were lots of days, especially as an older child, when he was wondering why he could only sit and listen to the sounds of the other kids running and playing. But even then, he was sitting there blind, for God’s glory.
The day was coming. A pivitol moment in history when this blind child had grown to be an adult. Jesus would use this man to display his power and authority to the Pharisees. The point where the line was drawn in the sand and people had to choose which side they were on. By healing him, Jesus drew the line. This man’s lifetime of suffering was the sand.
The point to me is this: Sometimes I suffer for God’s glory and maybe I don’t even know it. It doesn’t feel good at the time. Nobody likes to suffer. But whether I know it or not, whether I like it or not, it happens for God’s glory, and believe it or not, that is a priviledge. Sometimes, I am called to be the sand.
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Sam and I played “disc golf” yesterday. For those of you who are not up on the latest sports, disc golf is like regular golf except you throw a Frisbee to a basket instead of hitting a golf ball to a hole. It’s fun, cheap, and good exercise. (I know of no disc golf course where you ride your lazy butt around in a cart.)
The course we played yesterday was in the woods. There were little cleared paths along the route. I guess if you could throw really straight, you would be fine. Sam and I are pretty new at it so we spent a lot of time in the weeds, mostly after bouncing the disc off a tree. We had fun anyway. Whenever we would hit a tree, we would just pick up the disc and throw it again. We went through all 18 baskets that way.
When we left, the trees along the course had quite a few more dents than when we started. Our discs are now sporting a few more nicks, chips and scratches too. It’s all just part of the game. With determination, perseverance, and a good attitude, we made it to every basket, finished the course, and went home happy.
That was Sunday afternoon. Today is Monday, and it still feels like I am spending a lot of time bouncing off trees . . .
When I was a small child, I used to play in the back yard with a friend named Benji. I don’t remember much about Benji. We moved away when I was 6. I remember even less about Benji’s dad. But there was one incident involving Benji and his father that has always stuck with me.
It happened one hot summer day in Benji’s side yard.
Ever feel like this?
This guy was sitting on my back patio, just slowly flapping his wings up and down. I don’t know if he could still fly or not. One thing I do know, he’s been through a lot.