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~ Offering It Up ~

One of our newsletter subscribers emailed us a thoughtful question and observation about the lack of zeal in the majority of Christians. After thinking about it, I needed to qualify the description of “majority.” Perhaps lack of zeal pertains to the majority of Christians in nations that do not persecute us and into which we are well assimilated. But in nations where Christians are marginalized and persecuted, zeal and praise are quite evident.

If you have pain in one hand and want to forget about it, just hurt your other hand more, so the joke goes. When oppressed by anxieties and fears, it is futile to try to make them go away by concentrating on them. When something is on your mind, you cannot scrape it off.

Staring at our pain, obsessing on it, strengthens it. Physical pain pushes us to go to someone who can do something about it. If we suffer well, the pain of our hearts and souls push us into the heart of God. We offer it up, our pain and ourselves. The helplessness we feel engenders a giving up...of trying to manage and control the world around us. So we lose our lives, as Jesus said we must do, so that we can regain them back from God’s heart, restored and renewed with the seal of His Holy Spirit and likeness.

The modern “self-empowerment” psychology of our culture promotes having faith in faith, faith in the “power” of positive thinking and self-affirmation, faith in the gurus of our time and their teachings that do sound elegant. The ancient teachings still respond: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit [breath] departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the Lord, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous” (Psalm 146:3-8, NIV).

Self-absorption does blind us to the vision of God and the experience of His pervading presence. The ancient holy teachings counter the secular ones with this approach: “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5, NIV). When we suffer well and offer it up, those are the consequences, for suffering well means embracing in joy and gratitude “all his benefits” and graces. Suffering well makes us all the more hungry for them, and for God Himself.

Then follows the visceral understanding that “[God] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:10-14, NIV).

Upon the cross, being “made sin for us,” Christ loudly prayed the opening of the most frequently quoted psalm in the New Testament, giving words to the experience of so many people through the ages: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). In that cry, Christ testified to His sharing humanity with us. That cry echoed the experience of human longing, despair, anguish and profound pain. That cry was a letting go and offering up.

The psalms frequently condemn the “proud.” These are people who cling to the gods they have created and to their own resources to make and fulfill their own decided destinies. The "poor and needy” of the psalms are the humble. They garner God’s delight in their consistent submission to Him in trust and obedience which is the “fear of the Lord” and the “beginning of wisdom.” Suffering hammers at pride, which gives way to humility, trust and faith, if it is offered up.

Psalm 22 develops the progression of the offering up of suffering from feeling forsaken through to calls for praise, with the affirmation, “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (v. 24).

Ezra lamented, “O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6, NIV). David prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep our servant also from willful sins, may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:12-14, NIV).

We are thus reminded to pause in meditation, pleasing in the sight of God, when we are feeling pretty good about our spiritual attainment. David distinguishes “willful sins” from “hidden faults” and rhetorically asks, “Who can discern all his sins?” This is a humble realization.

Jesus remarked of a woman who had paid Him homage at His feet, “She loves much because she has been forgiven of much.” The discernment of that woman was astute. She offered it up and was delivered up. Now her zeal for the Christ and her faith in Him was proportional to her love.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © August 22, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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