Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Roll Your Troubles to God

I have recently been reading a sermon by C.H. Spurgeon entitled "How to Keep the Heart." I want to share an excerpt with anyone who reads this blog and I encourage you to encourage others on this matter as well. I am sure we all know someone who is anxious about something if we ourselves are not. The content of the sermon is an exegesis of Philippians 4:7 and the surrounding verses. In his sermon, Spurgeon devotes a section to how "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" is obtained. Here is one of the precepts (as described by Spurgeon himself) that he says is a requirement for obtaining that peace as is found in verse six of the aforementioned passage:

"The last precept that you have to obey is, 'be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication make known your requests unto God.' You cannot have peace unless you turn your troubles up. You have no place in which to pour your troubles except the ear of God. If you tell them to your friends, you but put your troubles out a moment, and they will return again. If you tell them to God, you put your troubles into the grave; they will never rise again when you have committed them to him. If you roll your burden anywhere else it will roll back again, just like the stone of Sysiphus ; but just roll your burden unto God, and you have rolled it into a great deep, out of which it will never by any possibility rise. Cast your troubles where you have cast your sins; you have cast your sins into the depth of the sea, there cast your troubles also. Never keep a trouble half an hour on your own mind before you tell it to God. As soon as the trouble comes, quick, the first thing, tell it to your Father.

Remember, that the longer you take telling your trouble to God, the more your peace will be impaired. The longer the frost lasts, the more thick the ponds will be frozen. Your frost will last till you go to the sun; and when you go to God--the sun, then your frost will soon become thaw, and your troubles will melt away. But do not be long, because the longer you are in waiting, the longer will your trouble be in thawing afterwards. Wait a long while till your trouble gets frozen thick and firm, and it will take many a day of prayer to get your trouble thawed again. Away to the throne as quick as ever you can.

Do as the child did when he ran and told his mother as soon as his little trouble happened to him; run and tell your Father the first moment you are in affliction. Do this in everything, in every little thing--'in everything by prayer and supplication make known your wants unto God.' Take your husbands head-ache, take your children's sicknesses, take all things, little family troubles as well as great commercial trials--take them all to God, pour them all out at once. And so by an obedient practice of this command in everything making known your wants unto God, you shall preserve that peace 'which shall keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus.'"

The other two precepts that Spurgeon says are paramount to maintaining the peace that surpasses all understanding are rejoicing (Php. 4:4) and letting our reasonableness or moderation be known to everyone(Php. 4:5).

Remember, the Lord is at hand and that is NO SMALL MATTER!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

I know it's a little late, but here is a hymn that my last post makes me think of:

O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free:

Turn you eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conqu'rors we are!


His word shall not fail you He promised;
Believe Him and all will be well.
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

For the Joy Set Before Him

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." (Heb 12:1-4 ESV)

The word translated "witness" in verse one comes from the Greek word "martus" which, as you may notice, is where we get our term martyr from. Coming out of the end of chapter eleven and going into verse four of chapter twelve, the use of this term makes perfect sense. "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood" is how verse four reads pointing us back to the blood that some did shed as mentioned at the end of chapter eleven (especially verses 35-38).

It is within this context that the author begs his recipients to endure. Now, to the heart of the matter. How easily is our faith defeated? What does it take to get us to give up the fight of resistance against faithlessness? Have we even come close to being asked to resist sin and faithlessness to the point of shedding our own blood? Not nearly. Why, then, do so many of us grow weary and fainthearted in our struggle against sin and the hostility of sinners? More specifically, why do so many of us grow weary in our fight against faithlessness, for doesn't all sin come from a lack of faith in God? There are a few reasons that this passage seems to offer, but one central and very powerful reason that the others seem to orbit around.

"For the joy that was set before him, he endured..."

What was it that drove Jesus of Nazareth on with such fierce and invariable determination? I beg you, if you think you already have the answer to this question, do not move on so quickly and so miss the great mass and gravity of the truth that is in that most delightful and priceless answer. To have the answer to this question ever before our eyes is to unlock the "secret" to fearless faith, bold determination and relentless love. Just one small drop of the sweetness of this truth has the power to ward off weariness and faintheartedness as we struggle against the hostility of sin and sinners.

What joy, then, could Jesus have had before Him that would bring down the glorious, perfect and self-sufficient Word of God made flesh? What would cause the one "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Php. 2:6-8)" to go to such ends? The answer is in the following verses:

"Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Php. 2:9-11)

Did you see it? The joy set before Jesus was the glory of God the Father. Was that your answer? No? Perhaps your answer was, "the joy set before Jesus was our salvation," or "the joy set before Jesus was the forgiveness of sins." Though these are both true, as they are both to the glory of God, the ultimate joy or "ultimate end" set before Jesus was the glory of God. But how does having this same "ultimate end" set before us give us courageous and fiery endurance? Don't we need something that is "more to our own benefit" to give us endurance? I hope that question looks as wrong to you as it does to me.

As wrong as the assumption behind that question is (namely the idea that the glory of something other than ourselves is not to our benefit), is it not the assumption that most of us base our faith upon? Is it not true that for most of us, our faith is determined by whether or not we perceive that we are in possession of, already, that which benefits us the most? That this is true is most evidenced in the constant ebb and flow of our strength and faith that is ever determined by whether or we do or don't have our definition of joy before us. When finances are secure, when we are healthy, when friendships are rich, deep and profitable to us and when we can express ourselves in whatever way we want, whenever we want no matter who it hurts; then our faith is strong.

The hostile tyranny of sin in ourselves and others seems bearable and almost trivial, then, as we perceive ourselves to have that which gives us the most benefit and joy. And so we think we endure as long as we have our current definition of joy set before us, but if it is removed than our hearts begin to faint under the weight of weariness and sin. An insufficient model or definition of joy set before us, therefore; will forever leave us vulnerable to these crippling curses.

This begs the question, then, of what is most valuable and beneficial to us. What definition of joy can possess both unsurpassed value and eternal sustainability enough to give us true and unassailable endurance to face down the weight of sin in ourselves and others?

So then, what is most worthy to be sought after and take delight in? Certainly, whatever it is, it must be perfect. That is, it must have no flaws in form or function. It must be perfectly beautiful and "operate" perfectly without and alteration in how it functions. It must also be perfect eternally. It's perfect nature must, by the very definition of being perfect, continue on forever. At whatever point in time the thing "looses value" or ceases to be perfect, then it is obviously not that which is most worthy to be sought after.

With these sorts of qualifications, the only thing which is worthy to be sought after and be the object of delight is God Himself and His own glory. What greater joy could Christ have set before Him than the eternal glory of the God-Head? The joy Jesus set before Him was the will of the Father which Jesus describes:

"For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
(Joh 6:38-40 ESV)

It was this glorious will that Jesus set before Himself. That God would be glorified by having his will carried out which was to our benefit. Without God glorifying Himself (more specifically revealing that glory to us), through His will in our salvation (a salvation He was not obligated to perform) we would have no promise of anything valuable throughout all eternity. All the things we esteemed while we were still alive would prove to be useless and meaningless to us without eternal salvation and eternal life.

It follows then, that the greatest joy that we can set before ourselves is the glory of God. It is the only joy that is perfect and eternal and will thus never be susceptible to change. If our endurance is determined by the nature of the joy set before us, then the greatest thing we can have before us is the goal to glorify God through submission to His will. How do we submit to God's will? Through belief (clinging to, total dependence upon) in Jesus Christ. We do this by putting "self" to death, as the glorification of self never really seems to give us sustaining endurance and certainly will not give us eternal life. But what does that mean in reality?

Going back to the original text we started with, we see that the weight of sin and the hostility of sinners, and the negative effects thereof, should mean nothing to us in comparison to the goal of seeing God glorified. If the glorification of God meant our salvation, then it (God being glorified) should be that which is worth the most to us. Nothing we loose or suffer from others sinning against us can take away the joy of God being glorified. Nothing we "gain" or could "gain" from sinning is worth anything in comparison to God being glorified. And, as the author of Hebrews states, we have a great many "witnesses" or martyrs who have proven that with the shedding of their blood.

In each moment we are faced with the decision as to whether or not we will sin, we are standing before the executioner who says "deny Jesus or die." Martyrdom is not, then, just a single act of bravery wherein we loose our physical life in order to prove our loyalty to Jesus. Instead, martyrdom takes places each time we choose the glory of God over the alternative--denying Him in our sin. "The glory of God is not greater than what I will gain from this sin" is what we are really saying.

Every time we face hostility from the sins of others, we are choosing to either despise (in Greek; kataphroneo "to think against") or avoid shame. If we avoid shame, we must avoid our own cross and thus deny God again. If we care nothing for it, or "think against it" then again we prove ourselves to be martyrs by choosing obedience over caring about what others will think about us or what might happen to us. The joy of the glory of God carries us through the most heinous of hostilities of sinners.

And we can keep the joy set before us as we "look to Christ" and His example, as the passage states. And we can do this with the power that He works greatly and mightily in us and in His strength:

"May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." (Col 1:11-12 ESV)

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might." (Eph 6:10 ESV)