Tag Archives: humility

Strength and Dignity

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I have a dear friend who posted this meme on Facebook the other day:

strong-woman

I love the message! Don’t you? When you think of a strong person, you imagine someone with great physical strength who can rip apart lions (King David) or wield a donkey’s jawbone in a heated battle (Samson). Strong people are capable of tearing right through their obstacles, right? A sign of strength is how easily you can defeat an opponent or enemy. A person who shows weakness is the one who is meek and bows out of the fight, right? Uh. no. Not in this case.

Why is it that we buy into the lie that in order to be a strong person, we need to make everyone else around us feel weak? A brother or sister in Christ is not an obstacle to tear right through. We do not need to try to defeat one another in an effort to show how strong we are. Likewise we do not show weakness when we are meek and defer to another. On the contrary, this is great strength indeed.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13)

Both Moses (Numbers 12:3) and Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:1) are described as meek or humble. There’s no way anyone would consider either of these men as being weak.

You do not prove your strength by belittling another person. You actually prove that you have weak character for it is in the way you treat another that reveals your heart.

I am grieved by what I hear week after week about the way women treat one another. The comparison game is deadly. It’s more like Russian Roulette than Candy Land. What I’ve seen is a twisted form of religious pompousness rather than a real life relationship with another sister. {Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also seen the real life relationships that genuinely bring encouragement and love to each person.}

Here’s what I mean: convictions for an individual quickly become measuring sticks for spiritual maturity.Well, I’m a stay at home mom, and if you aren’t a stay at home mom, that means you’re not a good Christian” “I homeschool my children because it’s the best way to raise a child, and if you don’t homeschool then you must be a lesser Christian.” “You aren’t married? Why not? You don’t have children? Why not?” I am giving up all I know to be a missionary and if you don’t want to do missions that means you don’t really love Christ or the lost.” 

Do I need to go on? Now I doubt that any thinking person would actually say any of those statements. But attitudes can speak for themselves. None of these convictions ever need to be a badge we wear to reveal how spiritual or devoted to God we are. God forbid.

Another dear friend of mine used to always say “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Why do we compare ourselves at all? If we compare ourselves in order to puff ourselves up, we have failed. If we compare ourselves to heap guilt on ourselves, we have failed. Put your measuring sticks far away, and instead of spending your time scrutinizing yourself or another person, take the time to appreciate another sister or appreciate the gifts and path God has given to you.

You can have your convictions and still value another sister’s obedience to God, even if it looks completely different from your own! And let me not even get started on how utterly arrogant it is to think that you or I have anything to do with our holiness or acceptance before God. We don’t wear badges, we actually receive crowns and even then we acknowledge that those crowns deserve to be at the feet of Jesus.

And we sing,

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Revelation 4:11)

{So technically that passage is referring to the 24 elders, but you get the idea.}

He alone is worthy. And it is God who created us to the Body of Christ who serves one another with special gifts in order to edify the whole Church. Edify, not tear down. Nourish and lift up, not weaken or destroy.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

God prepared good works for each of us before we even knew we belonged to Him in order that we could walk around on His earth as the hands and feet of Jesus. We are His ambassadors with marching orders to reconcile people back to Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). To reconcile! Not to draw people away from Him with our selfish motives.

We don’t need to clamor for His attention, trying to draw His gaze toward us, hoping that He’ll take notice of how great we are. No! We humbly submit to the One who is worthy of all glory and honor and power. We can do this by walking in those good works that He’s prepared for us to do. And some of those good works involve building up our brothers and sisters in Christ.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:25-26)

A woman with strength and dignity is wise and kind. Ironically she also recognizes her own weaknesses and even relishes in them, knowing that when she is weak, [He is] strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

My sweet friend reminded me too that we need to be women full of grace for ourselves and for one another. We’re all going to fall, sometimes in small ways and other times in large ways. Wouldn’t you want someone to come alongside you and help you along rather than be put to shame by a sideways glance or a disappointed shaking of the head?

In case you’ve ever been hurt by a careless statement, consider first to give that person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps that woman did not mean to hurt your feelings nor make you feel like a lesser Christian. Sometimes people say stupid things, and those aren’t necessarily judgments about you. More often than not, that individual hasn’t considered the implications of her words and is simply expressing her (not-so-tactful) opinion or strongly held conviction.

Let us all be careful with our words for it is by those words that we will be judged (Matthew 12:37). Wouldn’t you rather spend your limited time here on earth using your words to build up and encourage? I thought so.

(P.S. I know more women who are getting this right than women who are getting this wrong. Christ has given us a beautiful and perfect example of love for His bride, and He’s called us to this same kind of love for each other. We are the bride of Christ, and the world will know we are His based on our love for each other! So go love!!) John 13:35

David’s Wives: Hearts Devoted to a King {Part 2}

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Wise Abigail

In the meantime, David enters the wilderness of Paran and goes into the town of Maon (Maw-own) (near the region of Judah), with hopes to refresh himself and his men. 1 Samuel 25

Here’s a map showing Maon at the southern-most tip of Dead Sea.

David ot_israel-flat (Maon)

David and his men come to the home of a man named Nabal. 25:3 says,

Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite.”

Discerning, beautiful Abigail! Her name meant “my father’s joy” or “my father is joy”. And she sure is a joy to read about!! How did she end up with foolish, boorish, Nabal?

A footnote in my ESV said “Sheepshearing was a time of festivity (v. 8) as well as work.” There would have been LOTS of food, and because this man was clearly wealthy, he would have been able to afford the food David and his men needed. In addition, David and his men had helped Nabal’s shepherds, so he was asking for a simple “thank you” for their protection.

This should have been a simple exchange of hospitality.

At this point in the narrative, David had at least 600 men with him (1 Sam 23:13). He started out with 400 men who had come to him at the Cave of Adullam (Ah-doo-lum), the location he escaped to after fleeing from the Philistine lord at Gath.

Cave of Adullam

Cave of Adullam

1 Sam 22:1-2 says,

David departed from there and escaped to the cave of  Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soulgathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.”

I love the image of David with all these people in their desperation flocking to him. God presented him with a ministry to the distressed and bitter because he was a man on the run, distressed and fearing for his life. And God worked through his circumstances, providing David with a group of people who eventually become more-or-less his bodyguard! A mutually beneficial arrangement. More evidence of God’s presence in his life.

Needless to say, feeding 600 men would have been a huge task! But he doesn’t ask for anything but what he has “at hand” (v. 8). You read Nabal’s response, it was littered with disrespect and anything BUT hospitality. It’s no wonder one of the young men go to Abigail:

But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them.” (v. 14)

He goes on to affirm that David and his men were good to them and that they were kept safe at their hands (v. 15-16).

Abigail got to work immediately, grabbing as much as she could, most likely from the feast tables. (v. 18) It says in v. 19 “But she did not tell her husband Nabal.”

She acted wisely to save the life of her husband whom everyone, including herself, believed was a “worthless” man (v. 17). He was not deserving of her gracious act, yet she does it anyway. What a loyal and honorable woman she was!

She sends the young men on ahead of her with all the food (a peace offering!) and as she comes to him, we see her get down off of her donkey very quickly to assume that position of humility, falling at his feet, bowing to the ground (v. 23). These are two distinct actions. The falling indicates the prostrating of oneself, but the bowing to the ground indicates that she would have gotten as low as she could, pressing her face into the ground. This would have been the most humble, most vulnerable position one could put herself into. How brave this woman must have been to approach the hopping mad David, surrounded by his 400 fighting men, all with swords strapped on their belts. YIKES!

As I thought about her response, I couldn’t help but wonder what’s the quickest way to dissolve someone’s anger? As you read Abigail’s response, you’re reading about the master of diffusing anger. What is more startling though is her opening dialogue in 1 Sam 25:24-25,

On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him.”

This seems rather like how a person would approach a king, begging for mercy to even be allowed to speak to him. And SHE takes the blame for what happened!

What she says next is so remarkable to me as she seems to prophesy over him. For she says (1 Sam 25:28-31):

Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause…”

She then asks him to remember her, your servant.

She has predicted his coronation as king, yet the covenant that God makes with David DOES NOT HAPPEN until 2 Samuel 7:8-16!! It appears as though she is foretelling what is to come! And David being anointed as king (after God had rejected Saul) seemed to be a very private matter, something that took place at his home in front of his father, Jesse and his 7 older brothers! (1 Sam 16:1-13). Had David spread the word about his anointing? It doesn’t appear that he ever said anything about that first anointing, and besides he continues to refer to Saul as “the Lord’s anointed”. So how could she have known any of this?

God has surely revealed this privileged information to her. She was a woman with a heart first devoted to the King of Heaven. She had a heart of gold. She tells him that the Lord will make him a “sure house” which we see later that God promised to “make [David] a house.” She mentions that God will do good to him and has appointed him as a “prince of Israel”, and later God tells David he will be “prince over [His] people Israel”.

Not only does she make this prophecy, but she cunningly or rather diplomatically presents David with reasons why he WILL NOT shed blood. I can just imagine David standing there just nodding his head, “yes, you’re right. I’m not going to do that!” like she’d hypnotized him!

She tells him, look, you’re not going to do this thing because God has already promised you the kingship! God is with you, there’s no need to harm anyone. You will have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience because you’re not going to kill anyone today.

Abigail saves not only her worthless husband, but she saves David from bloodguilt that day!

David’s response is, of course, thanksgiving to God for Abigail and for keeping him from doing evil. Then v. 35 “David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, ‘Go up in peace to your house…”

Abigail, after all that hurrying and rushing and making haste, waits until morning to tell her husband and he has a heart attack or a stroke, but v. 38 tells us “the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.”

David hears the news and acknowledges God’s justice over the death of Nabal. Then v. 39 says, “David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife.” It’s like he thought, “man, I’ve got to have this woman!” I love how he goes and speaks to her himself – it’s the same word used in Ruth when she said Boaz “spoke kindly” to her (Ruth 2:13). The tone of voice is gentle!

Her response, though, is classic. She bows to the ground and replies, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of the lord.” (v. 41)

Do you remember what the text said about Nabal? He was a very wealthy man (v. 2 with 3,000 sheep, 1,000 goats), portrayed as a king (v. 36), so Abigail most certainly would have been a prominent woman, not a servant. She carries herself as one with great strength, virtue, and power. She takes FIVE handmaidens with her. This shows she is a woman of high social class or rank. She would have been nothing like a “servant”. But she goes humbly, and THIS is the type of woman David marries! A heart of gold!

Every woman in Israel would have wanted to be the WIFE of the king! What a privilege! And to possibly carry his child, giving him an heir to the throne, would have been seen as the highest honor. Did Abigail have to pinch herself as she mounted her donkey and set off with her new husband, the soon-to-be king?

What humility she has though! Not once in the text do you ever get a sense that she seems like an entitled bridezilla. She’s not whiny, like we’ll see about Michal later on, and she never tries to place herself in higher places of honor. She must have been a major blessing in his life from the moment he met her until the moment she passed.

(*Jews esteem Abigail as one of the most righteous women of Israel, a wise and practical woman, and one of the 4 most beautiful women who ever lived. They also count her among the 7 women prophets of Israel.) http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/abigail-midrash-and-aggadah

Interestingly David picks up another wife while he’s out, named Ahinoam of Jezreel. (1 Sam 25:43) The chapter ends with the information about Michal being given to another man. 1 Sam 25:44

Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti (Paul-tee) the son of Laish (Lay-sh), who was of Gallim (Gal-im).”

She who loved David has been given to another man. I wonder how that sat in her now stormy heart.

But David was still a hunted man! Saul continued to pursue him, and so what does that mean for Abigail? She’s on this dangerous journey with him! It really makes me wonder if it was Abigail’s influence in his life that helps him to restrain himself against Saul.

He had already spared Saul’s life once right before meeting Abigail.

1 Sam 26:10-11 David finds Saul and has the opportunity to strike him again, but he tells his man

Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?…As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die…The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD’s anointed…”

Interesting that he now says with confidence, I don’t need to kill him, the Lord will take care of him. But I can remain guiltless. Those words from Abigail ringing in his ear:

evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, 31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause…”

After this, however, David actually flees to be with the Philistines because of his fear of Saul, and it says in 1 Sam 27:3

“David lived with Achish (pronounced Aw-keesh) at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal’s widow.”

David, his 600 men, all of their families, and all of David’s family! IN THE LAND OF THE ENEMY! Talk about a test of God’s promise. It’s as crazy as Abram going to sacrifice the Son of Promise! However, God is with David and gives him favor with this king of Gath.

David asks for favor from king Achish who grants his request by giving him the city of Ziklag. He ends up staying here for 1 year and 4 months (v. 7). What does he do to pass his time? He makes raids on the enemies of Israel but tells the Philistine king that he’s been raiding his own people (Judah, Jerahmeelites, and Kenites). He’s secretly getting rid of the enemy even as he’s in the enemy territory!

This Philistine king trusted him so much that he actually asks David and his men to go to war WITH HIM against ISRAEL (1 Sam 28:1-2). HOWEVER, the other kings of the Philistines would have nothing to do with David (1 Sam 29:3-5)! (I wonder if they remembered another Israelite who brought trouble on their people?! *cough* Samson *cough*)

Achish had to tell David he must leave at the urging of the other lords, so he goes.

But while David was away (fighting with Philistines), the Amalekites had made a raid against David’s city, Ziklag, and had burned it with fire, taking captive all the people, including David’s 2 wives! (1 Sam 30:1-5)

What horror this must have been for Abigail! But based on what we know of her, I can just picture her staying level-headed, perhaps working her diplomatic magic on these men too. It says that the Amalekites took everyone captive and didn’t kill anyone. It makes me wonder if Abigail told them, “look, you don’t need to kill anyone today…there’s no need to shed blood…just take us with you.” Perhaps she also knew that because God was with David, that he would come to their rescue. (That heart of gold devoted to the King of Heaven!)

1 Sam 30:6 tells us

David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul…But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.”

For him to be “greatly distressed” literally meant he was “in a very tight place” (sar). The same language is used of Saul in 28:15 when he went to consult a spiritist. Unlike Saul, David’s response was to “strengthen himself in the LORD.” (Brueggeman, p. 201)

What did it mean for David to strengthen himself in the Lord?

The word is chazaq (khaw-zak) and means to strengthen, prevail, be strong, become strong, be courageous, be firm, grow firm, be resolute. (Strong’s Concordance at biblestudytools.com) The word is used in other places in Scripture: (295 times!)

  • Deut 3:28 ‘But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’
  • Judges 16:28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.”
  • Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; / be strong, and let your heart take courage; / wait for the Lord!
  • Nehemiah 6:9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

We know exactly how David strengthened himself because verses 7-10 tell us he inquired of the Lord with the ephod. He trusts God, knowing God will tell him what to do, and we can assume he is willing to listen and obey God.

Isn’t he refreshing?? Rather than acting brashly like Samson, he asks God what God would want him to do! Even though probably every fiber in his bones was aching to rescue his brides, he waits patiently to seek God.

When I am weak, then I am strong. How do I strengthen myself? By admitting my utter weakness and asking for God’s strength to take over!

2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We also have a clue what he was thinking because he writes Psalm 56 in response to what the Philistines did and what happened upon his return. 56:8-11:

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

Again it sounds an awful lot like Abigail had become his inner voice. David, you know that God is for you! He has made you a sure house! If men rise up to pursue you, God will take care of you. He will make you prince of Israel. Do not be afraid.

Do you see why he was a man after God’s own heart? And do you also see how Abigail was the godly wife he needed??! GOLD!

But then we don’t sit around doing nothing, we act, just like David acted! (well not just like David. We aren’t going to kill a band of pagan enemies.) His actions reveal that he is aware God is acting on his behalf and will give him the victory. (Brueggeman, p. 202) This is faith and works working together.

Arnold writes, “The verb translated by the NIV as ‘found strength’ involves a reflexive element – ‘David strengthened himself. This expression emphasizes David’s personal faith…a faith that requires human response, though it is enabled by God (Eph. 2:8). Even though God graciously makes faith possible, it is up to us to respond to His grace.” (p. 389)

God did indeed strengthen David’s hand for it says in 1 Sam 30:17-18,

17 And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. 18 David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives.”

He truly was their knight in shining armor!

This narrative serves to contrast David the kingly hero with Saul, the defeated king, who dies in the battle against the Philistines. It also underscores God’s presence and power displayed in David’s obedient life.

But there is no rest for the weary, because only 3 days pass before David gets news that both Saul and his dear friend Jonathan have been killed by the Philistines (the same band whom he was going to fight with earlier). (2 Sam 1)

Instead of celebrating, David laments the passing of the king and of his friend. The kingship is his for the taking! He could have ridden out in all of his glory, but he doesn’t do that. He could have taken the throne because it certainly belonged to him!

Instead, he inquires of the Lord again in 2 Sam 2:1. And God tells him to go to HEBRON. 2 Sam 2:2-4 says,

So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David brought up his men who were with him, everyone with his household, and they lived in the towns of Hebron. And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David  king over the house of Judah.”

This is the second anointing of David, this time a public one. I wonder if Abigail watched with tears in her eyes as her prophecy began to unfold!

30 And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel”

He’s not king over all Israel yet, but it’s a start!

Now anointing in the Hebrew culture was a major cause for celebration. It was a solemn and sacred event. In Exodus 30:22-25 God gave them a specific blend of oils and spices for anointing the priests and tabernacle. The idea was that “the recipe is unique, so that everything and everyone belonging to Yahweh [would] share the same distinctive scent.” When the kings were anointed, the oil they used was a “pungent and durable perfume.” The fragrance would have persisted long after the anointing and would have stained the garments worn. The anointing “marked [the kings] for the divine service [to God].” And it was bound to the idea of holiness. We learn that David was anointed 3 times (first with his family, then here at Judah, and finally when he becomes king over all of Israel). (All from Dict. of the OT Historical Books)

David was the anointed one of God, chosen by God to be the prince over Israel. The term Messiah literally means “anointed one”. David was anointed to signify that he belonged to God. He would be a fragrant aroma to God.

When the people offered appropriate sacrifices, they were said to be a “pleasing aroma” to God. The aroma was pleasing in that it satisfied God’s wrath over their sins.

Likewise, the Messiah was the Anointed One who offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, making Himself a pleasing aroma to God. Even now Christ makes us a fragrant aroma of God for others to breathe in and receive the knowledge of God (2 Cor 2:14-16).

 

Now, here’s a map of Hebron’s location, just south of Jerusalem.

David Hebron

This map shows David’s “flight” from Saul:

David flight from Saul

Hebron actually has some history behind it. The city of Hebron is actually associated with Abraham, the patriarch with the promise. In Genesis 13:18 it says,

18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre (pronounced Mam-ray), which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.”

Hebron is also a Levitical city of refuge! Joshua 21:13

13 And to the descendants of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasturelands,”

After the loss of their homes in Ziklag, David moves his wives to the city of refuge where God had promised Abram he would allow him to settle and make his descendants as numerous as the dust! Oh if Abraham could have seen his promise coming true in his great great great great grandson David!

{Stay tuned for Part 2 about Wise Abigail}

The Blessing of the Thorn

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thorn

From Creationswap.com

I miss my old Bible study group. 😦 I had the privilege of being a part of that group for almost 5 years. I miss the teacher, and I miss the ladies. We were able to just be real, and you have no idea how refreshing that is when your flesh tells you to hide. I’ll never forget the day we talked about the “thorn in the flesh.” I even remember where I was sitting.

Many people have discussed what Paul meant by the “thorn in my flesh” (from 2 Corinthians 12:7), and the consensus is that no one really knows what his “thorn” was exactly. It’s rather fitting for God to have left that detail out so that perhaps all of us could relate to this “thorn” idea. We know one thing for sure: the thorn was meant to humble him.

If you read the chapter before his thorn confession, it gives some insight into Paul’s dilemma. He is combating the false apostles that have crept into the Corinthian church who have been claiming (or rather boasting) to preach the gospel without charge like Paul had been doing (but without the boasting part). He writes:

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Corinthians 11:22-30

It’s actually quite humorous in parts. I’m talking like a madman! mwahahaha… (*cue music*) “I can do anything you can do better, I can do anything better than you!” Seriously though. He’s got quite a few things to be proud of yet also to be honest about. He got real with us in this section, just like those ladies in my Bible study group. I think we could safely assume that Paul, being a Pharisee, was probably also steeped in legalism and likely struggled with this after his conversion at times. I can relate to this. Somehow it’s comforting to think that he didn’t always get it right. So for him to admit weakness in any area must have been a HUGE breakthrough for him (just like it would be for any perfectionist). He continues on in the next chapter:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Wow.

That is such a nice passage to memorize, and it sounds really good, but it sure is hard to actually do!

In my small group recently we read through Philippians 2:5-11, quite the hefty theological passage. I highly recommend it. 🙂 We see the example of Christ as One who was completely humble, to the point of a criminal’s death (with a ton of thorns stuck into His head, I might add), and because of His work on the cross, God highly exalted Him above everyone and everything. I just can’t get this out of my mind. God exalts the humble. (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6)

My husband raised the question, “is God humble? Is humility actually a godly trait?” Well, after we thought about it, we realized God doesn’t need to be humble. But He isn’t proud either. Humility is just not a quality that God needs to have because, frankly, He’s God and deserves all praise and glory. So although He isn’t humble, He does esteem the humble (Isaiah 66:2). He looks on them with favor. That was definitely true of Christ in our Philippians passage, and it seems true of anyone else who humbles herself.

It begs the question – why? Why is humility such a big deal to God? Isaiah 2:17 gives us a clue:

And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

Will the clay say to the Potter, why did you make me? Will the clay actually try to take from the glory of the Almighty? Do we really do this? Unfortunately we do – alllll the time.

But when we acknowledge our weakness, it is truly a thing of beauty to the Father. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Catechism Question 1!). He delights in us coming to Him, fully acknowledging our need for Him. Ironically when we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up (He’s the One doing the lifting up, not us, and there’s the key). Just like Paul said, when we are weak, then we are strong. It makes absolutely no sense! But there you see the blessing of the thorn.

If any of you have a “thorn”, you may be like me and have a love-hate relationship with it. For without it, you know that you wouldn’t be all God desires for you to be. But because you have it, you get frustrated that it won’t go away. You just wish you could be done with this problem and find yourself on the other side of it, more sanctified and not struggling in the way you do now. You can’t find tweezers large enough or pointy enough to dig it out yourself. You, like Paul, ask God to take it away, but there it remains, doing it’s work to humble you. Arg. and Yay.

In the end, I truly don’t want people to look at my life and say, “Wow, she was one amazing woman, wife, mother, teacher, etc.” I’d much rather them say, “Wow, her God is truly amazing. Look what He did in her life. If He can do that kind of a miracle, surely He deserves all praise and glory. I want to follow Him.” And at that point, I’ll thank God for the thorn and hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Up is Down

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Artwork by Tony Damico

Following on the heals of my last post, I decided (or more like have been undergoing sculpting by the Potter) that the issue of service deserved further attention. Two weeks ago I sat in a Bible study watching a Beth Moore video in which she asked us to write a letter to Jesus telling Him what we seek (what we want from Him…and I’m not talking a fully furnished home and a Rolls Royce). Some of my letter was practical. “I want my baby to be born AFTER my house is completely built.” “I would like to settle into a church home before Your second coming.” You get the picture. Other parts involved spiritual requests. A few were typical “Give me faith to trust You even when things are hard.” “I want to be a woman of courage.” But then I got to this one issue.

Perhaps you’ve done this, and perhaps you felt as sheepish as I did after being brutally honest. Let me shoot straight, you want to ask Jesus to change someone else so that things would be easier for you. Yeah. I did that. The real issue for me is that there are people who are easy to serve and then there are “those other people.” You’d rather suffer through boils all over your skin than to stoop down and just serve those other people. It’s not that you’re opposed to serving, it’s just that those other people have a sense of entitlement (that you should be serving them), and this attitude makes your skin prickle all over. It makes me jerk my head in defiance honestly. I feel like those people don’t deserve to be served. Am I striking a chord with anyone? Am I the only one who does/thinks this? Bueller?

But like a good girl, I asked Jesus to give me a heart of service anyway because I OBVIOUSLY need it. It’s like asking for patience. We all know what happens when we ask for patience. We are placed in situations in which we must learn to be patient, right? So that means if I ask for a heart of service then I’m likely to have LOTS of opportunities to serve those who are hard to serve. And isn’t this exactly what I don’t want to do? Ugh. I’m really speaking with tongue in cheek here. I trust that God will chisel away at the places in my heart that don’t reflect His character. But the chiseling still hurts…

I had to start thinking about the scenarios that Jesus might have encountered as He walked this earth. He certainly came across countless people who had difficult personalities. He did not pick and choose whom He would serve based on how nice they were or how appreciative they would be or how deserving of the service they were. Jesus told the Twelve, if anyone wants to be first (greatest), he must be last (least) and a servant to ALL (Mark 9:35). This statement came from His mouth right after the Sons of Thunder (James and John) were arguing about who would sit at his right hand in the Kingdom of God! They learned that if you want to be great, you have to learn to be the least person. Up is down. No more thinking you’re important or powerful or in control. You get down and serve, and that is what Jesus calls greatness.

One of the best things about Jesus is that He lived this out. He didn’t come to be served but to serve and give His life for us (Mark 10:45). You’d expect the King over all creation to have a grand reception in which He would be waited on hand and foot as soon as He made His entrance on this earth. But no. He didn’t even have that mindset.

http://alisonfurminger.blogspot.com/2010/04/scriptrix-scribblings.html

Artwork by Alison Furminger

He took the form of a servant (ESV translation) and humbled Himself to die a criminal’s death. If God did this, what’s my excuse?

If I’m going to truly obey His word, He leaves me with no excuse but to bite my tongue and quietly serve (and trust me, there are lots of times I just want to smart off with some corrective or telling statement). It may always be the case that person “x” never learns to appreciate your service. The point is that you’re doing what you’ve been called to do regardless of how person “x” responds. You can leave their issues in the hands of Jesus (who is likely to be chiseling away at person “x” too if that person is a believer). I want to be great in His estimation. If that means to get down, so be it. (Just don’t expect me to like it…at least for a while…and don’t think I won’t have trouble serving because I will.)

I’m just not that important

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This post will largely be a topic concerning pride and humility so enter at your own risk. [Disclaimer: I do not want anyone posting comments to try to tell me that I’m important, and you’ll see why as you read through the post.]

When was the last time you thought, “You know I’m a pretty big deal. I’m so important, people should be lining up to be my friend. In fact, I am offended when I’m not asked to do important things…”

You’ve probably never thought those things…or have you? Maybe more politely? Not so dripping-with-pride?

I’m guessing there are personalities out there who could care less about being important. Those people like to work behind the scenes and actually not be noticed. But I’m also guessing that even these people want to be important to someone – children, spouse, family, church. They want to feel valued and feel like what they’re doing is important, even if they’re not in the limelight.

Well God blessed me with a personality that likes the limelight but doesn’t know what to do with myself when I’m there. I’m shy but ambitious. What’s up with that? I like to be in control (because I think most times, that’s better for everyone else since my ideas are just sooo great). I like to be congratulated on a job well done. I love the feeling I get in managing people well, directing them here and there in a task, and watching it work out beautifully. I like for people to ask me what I think about “x” or “z”, particularly when it comes to the Bible. Why? Because it makes me feel smart and that people value what I have to say. But if I’m not careful, all of this that I love can be so destructive, and it can become sin.

YIKES! Do you see the red flags of loving the limelight? Of wanting to be important?

I started thinking about this probably 2 years ago. There is such a rush I get when I’m doing what I know God has called me to do, and people sometimes notice. But then I got to thinking about this much more as we began to move away. As much as I loved the ministry I got to do while I was in Oklahoma, those people don’t really need me. I’m just not that important.

Life goes on. Sure, people may miss me, but they’re perfectly fine without me. And why is this? Because I’m not their God. God hasn’t left them. God is present no matter what happens to His people. His work goes on, and His word goes forth just as it always does.

I have to check my motives all the time as I serve. Am I searching for the spotlight that is actually reserved for Him?

For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it, for how should My name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. Isaiah 48:11

Just take a good look at all the verses in which God speaks of His glory (Is. 42:8, 43:7, 66:18). Jesus even refused to take glory for Himself (Jn. 8:50, 8:54). May we be people who can declare:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of Your laws, we wait for You; Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

Because He’s just that important!