It was one of those days we all have every so often [seems like mine come a little too often]. We were trying to lift our anchors to sail away from Fernandina Beach, Fla., when nearly gale force winds and strong currents caused our dinghy [small boat we tow behind for going ashore] to get its line wrapped around our propeller three different times, the third time resulting in the dinghy sinking under our sailboat!!
To "rescue" our little boat required me to slip into the cold waters and spend almost an hour trying to unravel things. And, yes, I will admit, I gave in to those awful thoughts we are prone to have once in awhile, when everything seems to be coming apart: "God, why are you doing this to me? Are you mad at me? What did I do wrong?? And, why don't you love me like you used to???"
Oh well, blame it on the cold [what is it called: "hypo-thermia"?] or something like that, but at the heart of the matter is the confused idea that God's attitude towards us, and His love for us, changes frequently, usually in proportion to how well, or how poorly, we are 'performing' down here.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Yet, it is a pretty common assumption among the 'faithful' when in 'trouble'. Even the disciples of Jesus, in panic as their boat was sinking during a storm on the lake, awakened Jesus asking, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" (Mark 4:35-38) Just because one has to go through a 'storm' - does that mean God no longer cares, or that He now loves us less??
Rather, the truth is in the plain statement of the Apostle Paul who said, "Who [or, 'what'] shall separate us from the love of Christ?", and he lists: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword!! (Rom 8:35) Then he announces, "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors…" (v.37) Paul should know!! Look at all he had been through [Read 2Cor 11: 23-33] and still he writes, "...we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God...and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts…[for] God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."(Rom 5:2-8) If God loved us as sinners how much more will He always love us as sons and daughters !!!
This is not to suggest that we can become careless with our spiritual lives: our behavior does matter to God!! Of the many verses in scripture which call us to live pure, holy, devoted lives, God is quoted as saying Himself, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." To these sobering words Paul adds, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2Cor 6:17--7:1)
If we do "fall short" of His expectations, the Bible tells us that our Heavenly Father will "deal" with us [sometimes a bit firmly, too] but that it is because of His love for us, not His anger towards us. ["For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."- Heb 12:6] Consider this verse again, and several that follow, as worded in a popular paraphrased version: "For when he punishes you, it proves that he loves you. When he whips you, it proves you are really his child. Let God train you, for he is doing what any loving father does for his children. Whoever heard of a son who was never corrected? If God doesn't punish you when you need it, as other fathers punish their sons, then it means that you aren't really God's son at all-- that you don't really belong in his family." [Heb 12:6-8--Today's Living Bible]
Perhaps one reason that folks in this generation resent the Lord's correction [Heb 12:5 "...despise not thou the chastening of the Lord..."] is that, as children, their own parents may have failed to establish "boundaries", and "consequences" if we strayed outside of them. God gave us "commandments", not just "suggestions", and He has told us that our obedience to Him far outweighs any "sacrifices" we may offer Him. [see I Sam 15:22]
Our own culture is hindering our appreciation of the the Father's working in our lives. If we listen to them, they are likely to persuade us that what God is doing is nothing more than "child abuse!" This is the world's opinion of God--that's he's just a 'grumpy old man' who won't let us live out our own lives. What they refuse to accept is that everything the Lord does for us, and expects from us, is for our own good!!
It may be that for many believers their confusion comes from a sense that God expects more from them now than He used to. Why not? Isn't that a part of growing up? It's okey to stumble when you're learning to walk, but as adults we should be able to run and leap and do all sorts of things. God wants us to grow up!! [Take a look at Heb 5:12] Here's a principle that works: if you want to be a better high jumper you have to keep moving the bar upwards. Well, God says, "The bar has been raised - make the jump!"
Another illustration that I have used many times in my preaching tells of a new pastor who went for a walk one day to think through some of his many difficulties. So engrossed in thought he eventually found himself many streets away when he came upon a man working diligently with a hammer and pieces of stone. Every so often the man would stop his chipping at the stone, look upwards over his shoulder, then continue again making the most awful sounds as his tools cut bitterly.
Anxious to know what this work was about the preacher interrupted him asking, "Sir, what exactly is it you are doing", to which the man replied, "See that church steeple yonder? Well, I'm shaping this stone down here so it can fit in up there." Knowing that in the scriptures believers are refered to as "lively stones" [1 Pe 2:5] this once discouraged pastor now understood that what he was going through "down here" was preparing him to fit in "up there." If his trials are God's corrective dealings then it is certainly for his own good ["Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Heb 12:11 NIV]
But there is more to it than that. In Romans 8, right after assuring us that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (v.28) Paul says that this is so we can be "conformed to the image of [God's] Son..." (v.29), becoming more like Christ. So, God is not just building a kingdom, He is growing a family, raising His children to follow in His footsteps. Thus, after the long discussion on why God chastises His children, the 12th chapter of Hebrews tells us to "...lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet..." telling us we should be "Looking diligently ...lest any root of bitterness springing up..." (v.12-15) Your response to God's correction can either make you better or bitter, the choice is yours!!
There is something else I would like to share before closing. Not all of God's dealing with us is because we have done something wrong. Sometimes it's because we are doing something right. In John chapter 15 Jesus tells us that He is the "Vine" and we are the "branches", and that any branch that does not bear fruit is "taken away", "withered", and "cast into the fire" (v.2,6) Pretty serious consequences wouldn't you say?
But He also says that any branch that is "bearing fruit", doing what it is supposed to do, the right thing, is "purged" so it can bear even more fruit! I have a pastor friend, on the Bahamian island of Eleuthra, who is also a farmer. He took me one day into the brush to see his crop of citrus trees. There he explained to me all about the careful art of 'pruning' the branches, a necessary work to make the trees more productive. He showed me many other techniques for increasing a tree's 'fruitfulness' all of which seemed to me to be harming the tree instead. But my dear brother, with a hand on my
shoulder, said reassuringly, "It has to hurt sometimes if you want to make it better. God doesn't want to hurt us - but what He does to us is always for our own good."
I've often said in recent years, "I'm so glad I'm no longer a teenager - I would hate to have to grow up in today's world." It isn't going to get any easier for any of us, however, if indeed we are in the times the apostles warned often about. But I've learned that God only takes us to the 'next level' when He knows we are ready for it. I like to compare the whole thing to a video game, where you work so hard to successfully complete one level, only to find that the next one is just that much more difficult. But that's the way it is in life - the greater the challenge the greater the reward. And there is no reward more worthy of seeking than the one our heavenly Father will one day present to us when He says "Well done...enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Mat 25:21)
...David A. Goodrum