God put me in my place the other morning.
I had a conversation with a fellow Teen Challenge director the day before. He talked about the various accomplishments they have experienced at his center over the last year. The more he spoke of God’s goodness, the more jealous I got (facebook has the same wonderful effect upon me).
I started comparing myself with him. “I’ve been in ministry a lot longer. I’m more educated. I work harder (blah, blah, blah).”
The pity pot was my next stop. “Why is it always so much more difficult for me? Some folks always seem to get the breaks. Why does it feel like I’m always having to push the rock up the hill when others just coast along?”
And then I “randomly” read these words at my kitchen table before breakfast: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart. . . . He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna” (Deut. 8:2-3).
Ah yes, . . . humility. Man’s best friend.
They say, “Easy does it!” NOT true. Hard does. When things go too easily, flesh starts playing mind-games with us. “You got this. You can handle it.”
So, God in his kindness humbles us. It’s part of his recovery program. Humbles literally means, “to be put down, become low, to afflict and oppress, to weaken.” God makes us suffer hunger and causes us to be famished, and he has many interesting ways of accomplishing this. Perhaps a physical ailment. A psychological disorder. A besetting sin (including your addiction). Maybe your mate, child, in-law, or teacher. Could be your job, where you live, your financial situation, your car (anyone else have a demon or two in theirs?). Could be anything, including your neighbor’s dog. Whatever weakens you and forces you to look upward.
The point is: God knows exactly how to hold us to the ground and keep us from self-destructing. Thus, he afflicts us. Sends problems our way. Complications.
Makes sure the sailing doesn’t get too smooth. That, after all, would be our doom.
We would get cocky, and you know what pride comes before? We need humility, so God makes it hard. Theologian John Stott comments: “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”
Remember these words from Paul? “To keep me from becoming conceited . . . there was given me a thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). The Apostle went on to say that while he pleaded with God to take the thorn away, God replied by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).
His power made perfect in our weakness.
I know my fellow director has his own set of challenges. He may be better at raising money, connecting with community, implementing programs, and etc. But I know that behind the scenes, God mercifully humbles him too. Makes his life difficult. It’s just none of my business how God goes about doing that in him. Remember Jesus’ words to Peter when he began complaining about the cross he would have to bear? (Jn. 21:22) “What is that to you? You must follow me.” (Translation: Mind your own business! Get to work.)
Next time I hit a bump and life isn’t working out as simply and easily as I think it should, I’m going to try to put into practice what James tells his congregation to do: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. Your faith-life is forced into the open. . . Don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (1:2-4, Msg).
“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?” or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9)