Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Leaving Me Behind

John Calvin understood what makes relationships work. He experienced both wonderful relationships (in his marriage and friendships) and unpleasant relationships (with church and city leaders) and he knew the Word of God deeply. What then, did he proclaim as the God-glorifying pattern of relating to one another in covenant relationships - in the church and marriage? He applied again what Jesus and the Apostle Paul proclaimed: self-denial. Here's a look at Jesus, Paul and then Calvin speaking to our need:

What Jesus said:
"“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." - (Luke 9:23-24 ESV)

What Paul said:
"Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
(Ephesians 5:21-25 ESV)

And here's what I read from Calvin this morning:
"Let us submit to each other in all humility.  If this is difficult for us, let us more earnestly work at it until God has mastery of us and until we have denied ourselves.  For we must leave behind everything that pertains to our nature and preserve the sacred union that God has placed among us by making us one body." - John Calvin

Now here are some thoughts that have been simmering in my mind for a while now:
If I am to follow Jesus and become a blessing to all His people, especially those with whom I am in a direct relationship, I must give up my right to be the way that I am. It's not giving up who I am; it's giving up that stubborn will that says "This is how I am and how I like things to be and if you do not accommodate me, I won't serve you." Service on those conditions is not the service to which Jesus calls us - it's not serving at all. It's the stuff that destroys relationships and their potential for magnifying the grace of Jesus, and it has to go. When it does go - when self is denied, when my life is given up for Jesus, when the will is submitted (wife to husband) or the life laid down (husband for wife), when we "leave behind everything that pertains to our nature", we do not become less of ourselves, but more of who God created us to be.

For example, I have an inclination towards extreme aestheticism - I adore beauty and abhor ugliness.
If I will only serve God and others in ways that allow me to keep my life pretty;
if I make my husband and perhaps, children, bow to my ruling desire to maintain beauty and order, or I won't be happy, watch out!;
if I will not stoop to serve in an ugly or messy situation, I have not yet learned to follow Jesus.

Indeed, the beauty-loving person that God made me begins to be lost in the very midst of my attempts to save it. The ugliness that I abhor enters into my heart, and the peace and order that I crave disappears from the relationships that are most important to me. "Whoever would save his life will lose it".
But if I leave behind what pertains to my nature, if I shower my husband with hugs and kisses even when he has not organized his papers on the kitchen counter for two weeks, and I don't stop speaking kindly to the old person at church who has hairy moles and bad breath, if I love Jesus my Savior too much to let my natural preferences get in the way of following Him, I will find my desire for beauty being satisfied in seeing my own heart conformed to Him, and my relationships glorifying His grace.

What "pertains to your nature"? Leaving it behind for Jesus might be the happiest thing you ever did.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Best Lesson I'll Learn

"We cry, 'Abba, Father!'" - Romans 8:15

Several months ago, I read a sermon by Hugh Binning on this text, and found in it a truth that profoundly strengthened my soul to face adversity with gladness and comfort. Recently, I have had to begin practicing in earnest what I learned on that day. Before describing the circumstances that prompted such practice, here is the section of Binning's sermon that instructed me:

"It would not appear by the mean, low and indigent state we are now in that we have so great and glorious a Father, How many infirmities we are compassed about with! How many wants are we pressed with! Our necessities are infinite, and our enjoyments in no way proportioned to our necessities. Notwithstanding even this, the love and wisdom of our heavenly Father shows itself, and oftentimes more gloriously in the theatre of men's weakness, infirmities and wants, than they could appear in the absolute and and total exemption of his children from necessities.  Strength perfected in weakness, grace sufficient in infirmities, has some greater glory than strength and grace alone.  Therefore he hath chosen this way as most fit for the advancing of his glory, and most suitable for our comfort and edification, to give us but little in hand, and environ us with a crowd of continued necessities and wants within and without, that we may learn to cry to him as our Father, and seek our supplies from him.

This way of narrow and hard dispensations, that at first seems contrary to the love and bounty and riches of our Father, in the perfect view of it appears to be the only way to perpetuate our communion with him, and often to renew the sense of his love and grace that would grow slack in our hearts if our needs did not every day stir up fresh longing."

Oh, how we want to be settled in life. Our spirits yearn for security, and a knowledge that everything is in place for our comfort and necessities. But our Father's aim is not to have us settled. He often purposes to have us unsettled continually, that we may cry to Him continually.
Don't we all know the tendency in our hearts? We begin to get our lives in order and to feel satisfied that all is taken care of for the present, and our prayers become cool and tidy. We don't stop praying completely, but that desperate, "Lord, I NEED you right now! Oh help!" is far from us. Our Father loves to hear those words. He loves to be our hero and show us how well His love can sustain and rescue us in the midst of difficulty. So he will not leave His beloved children to be like the rich fool who said, "Soul, you have much good laid up for many years. Take life easy." Our Lord loves us too much for that.

So here is my opportunity. My husband has been away for 8 1/2 months, and hoping that the Army will bring him home at the stated time in two months so college can proceed as planned. We have no certainty that the timing will not change completely and send us back to the drawing board, with a faint "What now?" The least we can do is try to plan, and find an apartment to rent in time for his expected return. So we emailed, searched, discussed, and I finally went to Virginia to look at the few apartment options we had found. The first apartment didn't have a kitchen. The second one I looked at I fell in love with. It was just what we wanted -  affordable, new, beautifully situated - and after brief discussion, we emailed the owner our 'yes'. I came home. We waited for two days. At last we received a reply. The apartment would be rented to someone else. I said cheerfully, "God will provide something else" and then I broke down and cried.

But I am not writing all that for you to pity me. It's to illustrate Binning's text. See, after that news, we didn't know what to do, where to look - and still don't - and in my heart there begins to be a cry, "Oh Father, provide for us! Provide for us! Provide for us! Open a door for us!...Lord, what are going to do? Oh, provide for us!"  And there is the cry of the needy child to the Father, that would not have been there in the same way if the reply had been, "We'll send you a copy of the lease to look at as soon as possible." Whatever makes us say, "We'll just have to keep praying" is a direct dispensation of love from the Father who loves to hear His children pray. That helps me. That comforts me - because our Father is not cruel, loving only to hear us cry. He loves to answer our cries. "Ask, and it shall be given to you."