October 13, 2015

When the Enemy is Encamped Around Us

It is a great Tuesday, and I am at home (sigh!) Yes, today is the second-day of a very short fall break over at ACU. I am thankful for the day off, and I am glad that I have a day to chill out and relax. I have a lot of work to do, of course, but I didn't have to get up, get ready, and then head over to school to teach a class. Instead, I got up, fixed my coffee, and spent some quality time with my parents this morning. It felt good to be at home, and to sit with them a while. As I have blogged previously, neither my Mom nor my Dad are doing well. They are "hanging" in there, but they are struggling with physical issues, and that is causing them to slow down. The whole process of watching them age has become difficult for me. Just recently, I have noticed such a big slowdown in their abilities, and that has grieved me greatly. I know that the plans the Lord has for my life and for theirs is good; yet, it is very hard to watch those you love lose the ability to care for themselves. God is good, of course, and I trust Him for their care and well-being. It is just hard for me to watch them go through this life change because I know what is on the other side of it. I know that their days here on earth are drawing near, and that is something I do not want to think about, at the least, not right now.

Making Plans and Taking Aim

As I sit here today, I am thinking about making plans. Lately, my focus has been misdirected, and that has caused me to become very flustered and overwhelmed. Partly this has been my fault, I mean, I did allow it to happen, and I did allow myself to be pulled off target, so to speak, by my enemy who seeks to keep me from fulfilling God's call on my life. It took me a couple weeks to figure out what my enemy was doing to me and why he was doing it. Once I grasped the significance of his ploy, I was able to stand and defend myself. In doing so, my vision cleared, and I was back where I needed to be, back focused on the plans God has for me rather than any plans I may have for myself. Let me explain...

On Sunday, we had a visiting pastor to our church. He is a Godly man, a retired pastor, who travels around the country preaching in churches as the Lord leads him. He was good to listen to, though not the usual dynamic speaker, that is our Sunday-normal. However, as God would have it, his simply message struck a chord with me, and grace took root, and I came to understand an important biblical truth. The pastor, Dr. OS Hawkins, taught us from the Book of Habakkuk. If you are not familiar with this short book, then know that it sits smack-dab in the middle of the prophetic books in the Old Testament. Habakkuk records the prophetic words of the prophet during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites. The world during this period in history is filled with great uncertainty, and Habakkuk is overwhelmed by all he sees around him. In chapter 1, the prophet rails against God for His apparent lack of interest in the lives of His people. He questions God's use of Nebuchadnezzer as an instrument of chastisement for the Israelites. In Chapter 2, God reveals His plans, and reminds the prophet of His sovereignty over the entire world. In Chapter 3, the prophet bears great witness and testimony to the goodness of God as sovereign ruler, and attributes glory to God's plan for His creation.

It is a simple story, really, one of a man who sees the unjustness and unfairness in the world, cries out to God for help, but feels as though the Lord has abandoned him and the people to a life of misery and hardship. It is through several gentle reminders from God that the prophet comes to see more clearly, and as a result, he gains a fresh perspective on his troubles and his circumstances. In doing so, the prophet's aim is clarified, and his target is exposed once again so that he can see where he is to go, what he is to do, and how exactly he is to do it.

In an interesting parallel, I also came to reorient my perspective toward the will of God and His call on my life. In truth, I never deviated from it, but I was feeling the press of uncertainty and the pain of my circumstances -- almost to the point -- where I wanted to give up and give in. Thankfully, the Lord used this simple Sunday sermon to teach me a powerful truth: When you lose your aim, most often the reason is because you have taken your eyes off the target.

In my case, this is exactly what happened or what was happening to me. I had been very disciplined and focused, so much so, that I was consumed by the will of God and His call on my life. In fact, I would say that since 2008, I have been convinced that God had a unique and wonderful plan for my life, and that plan consisted of me learning how to live dependently upon Him for my sufficiency. Yes, God had other, secondary plans for me as well such as graduate school, teaching, caring for my parents, etc. But at the very core of His plan for my life was this goal -- teaching me how to live my life wholly dependent, wholly devoted to Him -- so much so that I would follow after Him wherever He chose to lead me. I came to this truth after much suffering the past week. I would say I was probably on the edge of the truth for a couple weeks now, but my eyes were so transfixed on my suffering, that I wasn't able to see anything beyond my "nose," so to speak. I was like Habakkuk, and I was crying out to the Lord for clarity, for help, for His restoration so that I could continue on in more comfort, with more control, and with confidence in the Person and the Power of His Authority. Yet, I couldn't get it, I just couldn't figure it out. I was stuck for a long while, stuck with my circumstances, and stuck with suffering in them. I was like the prophet in that all I could see was my life in disarray, my power empty, and my hope failing. Yes, I was a mess, and I was ready to chuck it all in and choose for myself a new way, a better way, a way out of my circumstances.

God be praised, however, He took me to the precipice and showed me the path I am on. He showed me how far we have come, and how far we must still go until we arrive at our final destination. He helped me see, from His vantage point, that all the suffering, all the trials, and all the hardship are not without gain. They have purpose, and that purpose is to help me become more like Him, more Christ-like, more able to do the work He has in mind for me to do. My problem wasn't faulty vision (which is what I thought), but rather it was that I took my eyes off the target, and I moved my aim toward temporary, unpleasant things (my circumstances). It is like this (my best word picture)...
You are standing in the middle of a field and a fierce animal is poised to attack you. You are armed, and you take aim to shoot it down. But right as you are ready to release that arrow, you see these small annoyances, small critters scamper up around your feet. They are not going to eat you, not like the big threat that is ready to charge at you, but they are just going to temp you, bite at your feet, and cause you to become disoriented. You become frustrated with these little creatures so you decide to take them out, one at a time. In doing so, you use all your arrows to stop these problems, without remembering that your real threat is now charging at you. You have no defense because you took your eyes off the threat to focus on minor things. You lost your ability to stand your ground, and you have no other option other than to run away, and hopefully, find some shelter from the approaching animal. You've lost your footing, your balance, and your objective is now to hide rather than to be strong, to be bold, and to be confident in the face of the confronting enemy.
Why did you lose sight of your threat, your enemy? You lost sight of what was really a threat to you for the temporary satisfaction of controlling a minor nuisance. So, you took care of the immediate circumstance, but you did so without considering the long-term consequence of the major threat to your life, to your family, to your eternal security (or to other people's eternal security). Yes, you chose to focus on the temporal rather than the eternal.

Been There, Done That One

Jesus said to his disciplines, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 NLT). He said clearly that in this life we will have troubles, we will have trials, we will have sorrows. This is old news. This is common circumstance, it is life, and it is the life we share as brothers and sisters, as humanity. My troubles and sorrows may be different from yours, but the fact that we both share in them means we are all under the curse of sin and the penalty of death. We will suffer. We will have trouble. We will find ourselves in difficult circumstances. It is a fact, baby, and there is nothing we can do about it.

As I think about my life, I am reminded that my sorrows, my troubles are no different than anyone else. They are unique to me, of course, but the sorrow, the suffering, and the trouble are the same. They cause the same kind of emotional distress. They cause STRESS, and as as result, they often wear us down, cause us to lose hope, and can lead us to debilitation and even death. Yet, as Christ followers, we are called to overcome the world, just as Jesus did. We are called to be stoic, stalwart, and steady. We are called to remain fixed on the prize, the upward calling in Christ Jesus. We are called, after all, to follow after Him, and to remain faithful until the end. He promises us that He will never leave us. He promises us great reward for our obedience. He tells us that our life matters, it has purpose, and that He does have a plan for us. All of these "things" are given to us to remind us that there is a reason, there is a rationale behind what seems to be overwhelming odds, uncomfortable difficulty, and at times unimaginable distress.

Yet...I remember...

I know that the plan God has for my life is good. I know that His presence, His purpose, and the way in which He chooses to perfect me all have rationale and reason. I know this because I trust the One who is Sovereign over my life. I trust the Lord, and I believe His word to me is truth.

So today as I sit here and blog, I am reminded that no matter what circumstances I face, I must never take my eyes off the prize, the target, the goal that He has for my life. I must not lose hope, grow weary or get to the point where I want to give up or in. I must be steady, and keep my aim fixed -- never shifting it toward the annoyances and nuisances of my circumstances. I must be ready, alert, and always watchful. He is coming soon, praise be to God, He is coming very soon. Selah! (pause and calmly think about it!)

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