Under Great Pressure

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This morning, I read 2 Corinthians 1:1-11.  Verses 8b-9 especially stuck out to me: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  Paul is speaking here of troubles he faced with fellow believers in Asia.  These pressures proved to themselves and those around them that in and of themselves they were weak and incapable.  They were in need of God and His power.

These verses remind me of 2 Corinthians 12:9 which says: “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  Christ is glorified through our weaknesses because then He is able to step in and show Himself strong.  After all, 1 Corinthians 1:25 reminds us that the “weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 reminds us: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side,but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  I’ve heard a quote in reference to this verse that goes: “Blessed are the cracked for they shall let in the light.”  Basically, the more broken we are–the more humbled we are by realizing our own inadequacies– the more of Jesus’ light will shine through us.  Sometimes, the “great pressure” that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 1:8 is what God uses to break us so that He can shine more brightly.

2 Corinthians 12:10 goes on to say: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  I don’t know about you but I don’t tend to delight in my weaknesses or failures.  I don’t like to admit that I can’t do something.  This happened to me today actually.  For some reason, I thought it was humanly possible to work almost 30 hours a week, take 12 credit hours, and CLEP out on Biology 1408 and 1409.  It took a few nights with practically no sleep for me to realize that I had to drop Calculus.  I’ve never dropped a class before, but I realized that my stubbornness in wanting to keep all my classes was mostly a pride issue.  I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do it all.  That I’m not superhuman.  These verses in 2 Corinthians reminded me that “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  My strength doesn’t come from my abilities but from Christ.  If I was able to do everything, if I had no weaknesses, if I never failed at anything, I think I would forget that I need God.

Perfect Peace

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College starts back up for me in 5 days.  And I’m starting to get a little anxious.  Will I be able to stay on top of the homework for four classes while working close to 30 hours a week?  Will I be able to maintain my 4.0 GPA?  Will my plan of when I’m going to finish school and which classes I’ll take each semester get messed up because I end up having to drop a class?

It’s moments like these when I start feeling myself getting stressed out that I read Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Matthew Henry says, ” There is a care of diligence which is our duty, and consists in a wise forecast and due concern; but there is a care of diffidence and distrust which is our sin and folly, and which only perplexes and distracts the mind.”  It would be foolish not to be cautious or safe in our day to day life but when that care turns into anxiety, it becomes sin.  According to Henry, it “distracts the mind” which is so true.  When I’m worrying, I’m not praying.  I’m not thinking about God.  I’m thinking about myself.  What might go wrong.

Anxiety is sin.  I often don’t think about that.  I get stressed out about life and don’t even realize I’m stressed until I’m lying in bed at 2 in the morning wide awake and worrying.  Anxiety is a lack of trust in God.  We only begin worrying about school or finances or grades or health problems when we stop trusting that God has it all under control.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  My peace won’t come from my grades or my savings account, from work or school.  My peace won’t even come from my relationships.  

Matthew Henry goes on to say: “The peace of God [is] the comfortable sense of our reconciliation to God and interest in his favour, and the hope of the heavenly blessedness, and enjoyment of God hereafter.”  Peace comes from God.  It’s not something that can be fully experienced without Him.  As Jesus says in John 14:27, He gives a peace unlike what the world gives.  Because what the world gives isn’t true peace.  It won’t last.

But God’s peace will.  In the midst of homework and tests and even finals.  God’s peace will last if I fail a test or lower my GPA.  God’s peace will last when my textbooks end up being 5x more expensive than I expected.  God’s peace will last when one of my professors won’t email me back about an assignment question.  His peace isn’t dependent on my circumstances.

 

 

Full Surrender

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In Luke 9, we read of when Jesus sends out the twelve disciples.  Verses 1-3 say: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,  and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.'”  That last sentence may seem like a strange order.  Francis Chan explains that “Jesus was forcing His disciples to trust Him.  God would have to come through for them because they had nothing else to fall back on.”

When life’s easy, we often tend to forget how much we need God.  It’s in the moments that we have nothing, that it feels everything has been stripped out of our hands, when we realize how much we need Him.

Francis Chan says, “When Christ says to count the cost of following Him, it means we must surrender everything.  It means being willing to go without an extra tunic or a place to sleep at night, and sometimes without knowing where we are going.”  If we knew all the details, if we knew where God was sending us, if we knew exactly when and how He would provide for us, then what would be the purpose of trust?  It’s in the not knowing that we must surrender our plans so that we can trust His.

Our Greatest Need

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1 John 2:25 says, “This is what he promised us—eternal life.”  We weren’t promised an easy life or fulfilled desires.  We weren’t promised success financially or a prestigious reputation.  We weren’t promised an exemption from trials.  We weren’t promised that life would always go the way we want or that all our dreams will come true.  But we were promised an eternity in heaven with Christ.

Just the thought of this should bring us great joy.  1 Peter 1: 8-9 says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  

C.J. Mahaney says, “Your greatest need is to be delivered from the wrath of God – and that has already been accomplished for you through the death and resurrection of Christ.”  Our greatest need was to be saved from the punishment we deserve for sin.  We deserved to die.  We weren’t fit to ever be united with God.  We weren’t worthy of heaven.  But then God provided a way for us by sending His son.  We too often forget this incredible mercy and grace and instead think of what our life seems to lack.  But truly, if we have Christ, we lack nothing.  We have everything we need.

First Fruits or Leftovers?

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I’m reading an amazing book right now called “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan.  I usually only have time to read a couple of pages before I have to get ready for work.  Yesterday, the section I read was entitled “Offering Leftovers.”

Malachi 1:8 says, “When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.”  Francis Chan comments on this verse: “they assumed God was pleased because they sacrificed something [but] leftovers are not merely inadequate…they’re evil.  Let’s stop calling it ‘a busy schedule’ or ‘bills’ or ‘forgetfulness.’ It’s evil.”  When I read Malachi 1:8, I focused on the sentence: “try offering them to your governor!”  We know to offer our best to our rulers.  We know to show our best side to those we respect.  We would never give a less than perfect gift to someone like a king.  But we would to God?

Malachi 1:10 goes on to say: “‘Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will accept no offering from your hands.'”  Francis Chan explains that God was saying “no worship is better than apathetic worship.”  Chan compares this to token praise.  None of us like to receive compliments out of guilt or obligation.  Why would we think that these should be our motivations to worship God?

Genesis 4:2b-5 says, “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”  Hebrews 11:4 tells us why God looked with favor on Abel’s offering and not Cain’s: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings…”  Abel didn’t bring leftovers.  Abel brought the best.  What are we bringing God?  Are we bringing halfhearted worship?  Five minutes of prayer?  Are we making excuses for why we didn’t have time to seek His face?