Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Change Will Always Be a Battle

"Must I be carried to the skies / On flowery beds of ease?" wrote Isaac Watts in the eighteenth century. "Are there no foes for me to face? / Must I not stem the flood?" (Hymn, "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?")

Few of us, much as we may wish to grow as Christians, get particularly excited at the prospects in these lines--especially the implication of constant battle. And if outside wars are bad enough, the one in each human heart--the struggle to travel from where we know we are to where we wish we were--is so unrelenting and painful that it's not surprising many people surrender to semi-comfortable mediocrity. At least it's easy to live with.

Easy, but not fulfilling. God has bigger plans for each of us--plans too important to leave us to fight the battle alone. Praise Him that we have more than conscience and our own will power as "inside allies"--we have the Holy Spirit Who strengthens and comforts and guides us in the Truth. Most of us make the battle harder than it has to be, because we approach it with the wrong attitude. Spiritual growth is not an appendectomy where we can doze off and let someone else take care of everything, nor is it an exercise prescription where someone hands us detailed instructions and then leaves us to carry them out alone. It's physical therapy that only works if we keep our own muscles operating even as someone else provides constant instruction and support, a program where progress and results are re-evaluated and adjusted on a daily basis.

A hard fight? Yes. One we can win--in God's strength and not ours? You bet.

Change will always be a battle,
And the hardest change of all
Is that wrought in one's own spirit:
So it has been since the Fall.

Change will always be a battle;
Though resolve be firm and strong,
Still new ground is gained by inches,
And the struggle will be long.

Change will always be a battle
For mere mortals, weak and frail:
And against sin's lure so cunning,
Human strength can not prevail.

Change will always be a battle:
But those souls who walk in Christ
Find we have a great Commander,
And His strength will yet suffice.

Change will always be a battle,
But fear not: God's holy Son
Is the One Who fights it for us:
Through Him we shall overcome.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord

The popular praise song "Blessed Be Your Name" was inspired partly by the 9/11 disaster and partly by Job 1:21b: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (New King James Version). Job spoke those words from what must have been a very similar emotional state to that of those reeling from 9/11; he, like the world of 2001, was swallowed in the shock and grief of nearly inconceivable tragedy.

The fall of the World Trade Center may be more than a decade past, but the world has found plenty of other disasters to serve up in the meantime, most recently on July 20 when a man gunned down over a dozen people at a Colorado theater. But tragedy needn't make the front pages to hit deep down: everyone who has lost a single loved one to a car wreck, a drive-by shooting, or a sudden heart attack has felt that agonizing blow to the spirit, that feeling that the world itself has had a violent burst of rage and lashed out blindly to destroy the innocent.

Who really feels like blessing God's name when the things "taken away" are no longer theoretical?

We cry out for answers, but perhaps none can be really satisfactory. As far as we know, Job never learned of the spiritual interactions behind his suffering--and even for of us who are privy to that part, the idea that God wanted to "prove a point" is not really a particularly good reason from the viewpoint of human logic. Yet the answer for us is the same as the answer Job ultimately found: to turn his eyes from his troubles to his God, to admit he had no right to argue with One so far above him, and to trust God to make everything right in the end.

That is the mindset that grants God the praise He deserves--and our hearts the peace He longs to give.

As we walk the days of our lifetimes,
May we each come to understand
That the good and the evil that meet us
All have passed through our Father's hand:
Not a thing that touches our pathways,
Be it windfall or tragedy,
Ever falls to the lot of God's children
Unless He allows it to be.

When your way seems brimming with blessings,
And your life filled with wealth and ease,
Give your thanks to the Lord, the great Giver,
Who allots things as He does please:
Do not think it is your own doing,
Nor to use for yourself alone,
But use wisely what God has allowed you,
To His praise and the power of His Throne.

When your life seems drowning in sorrows,
And each day brings another pain,
Still give praise to the Lord Who is Master,
And one day will make all things plain:
Do not moan over life's unfairness,
Nor grow angry and curse your fate,
But accept it as part of God's working;
His grace comes to all those who wait.

As we walk the days of our lifetimes,
Let us take all as from God's hand:
All the joys that we praise as His blessings,
All the pains we cannot understand,
All are shaping us in His image,
All are gifts from the Lord of Love,
Who is painting a beautiful picture
For the day we ascend above! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

When the Last Tear Is Cried

Ironic that, having written my last post on priorities and "not having enough time for anything," I followed that up by slipping into a nearly-three-months-long--and entirely unplanned--hiatus from blogging. I could blame an expanded job search and an overload of freelance assignments--or I could be honest and admit that an overload of nonessential reading, too much time on low-priority e-mail, and plain old "what's-the-use-nothing-ever-works-for-me-anyway" self-pity played at least as big a part.

Most of us have felt that "how did I manage to waste a whole week/month/year?" guilt sensation. For some, it's considerably more painful (and durable) than a moment of regret. Few things are sadder than someone who has become a (barely) living epitome of the old lines, "First, I was dying to finish school and get a real job. Then I was dying to get married. Then I was dying for my kids to grow up so we'd have some quiet around the house. Then I was dying for the day I could retire.... And now, I am dying, and I suddenly realize that I forgot to live." I believe that someone else has said regret fuels the flames of hell, and not only in the afterlife. The regrets of years lost are many people's worst demons: those little voices whispering constantly, "You blew your chance.... you wasted your life.... now it's too late to redeem yourself."

The good news, and the fact most of us fail to grasp, is that we don't have to redeem our own mistakes--indeed, young or old, we never could. As Christians, we who are quite willing to accept the concept of atonement for blatant sins and for our general sinfulness condition find it hard to believe that God's power to redeem extends to the good things we were too lazy or fearful to do when the opportunity stood open. No, God never rewinds the clock so we can do things again differently; but if we yield fully to Him now, regardless of how much earthly time we have left, we will be surprised at how much He yet has for us to do.

Someday, "God himself will... wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4). Surely the tears and pain He wipes away will include those regrets for things done and left undone.

And surely one of the things to pass away forever will be the wasting of time.

When the last tear is cried,
And the last sun is set,
And this old world is gone,
God will be with us yet.

When all earth's work is ceased,
And no more left to do,
When the stars lose their shine,
God will make all things new.

When time comes to an end,
And earth's hours cease to be,
We shall be strong and new,
And in God ever free.