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When Your Pain Is Real And Pressing

Some weeks we feel it more. Some days strung in a row, it’s heavy and it clings. Our pain feels real and pressing.

Some springs we just feel the fall more. Paul wrote: The whole creation groans

Last week, when April showers were snowstorms that dampened weddings and canceled ballgames and delayed burials and postponed buttercup plantings, I think I heard it groan.

Grandpa On Monday

It was Grandpa’s burial that was delayed last Monday.

Not that it that day so much when I heard the moan.  Because we’d watched him fade and Grandpa was blessed to make 98.

Two days before his last, we stopped to say our thank-you’s and good-bye. Grandpa’s head was a little bloodied and bruised from a nasty night-time tumble.

All creation groans.

Grandpa was thirsty. I swabbed three times with water- no hyssop, no wine. Then I leaned in to the “good” ear that could maybe hear a.  We love you Grandpa. He winced and softly moaned.

All creation groans. 

Still- or so?- we sang- Youtube and I- into that one good ear. 

There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear, No more sickness, not pain, no more parting over there. And forever I will be with the One who died for me.

What a day, glorious day that will be! What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,

And on and on we sang for 4 or 5 more songs.  Until the troops got hungry and restless. For all creation groans. 

His funeral was Monday. I heard it then.

Groaning the Rest of the Week

But, got louder- it felt heavier- as the week wore on.

On Tuesday when a tearful friend detailed a long-standing heart-wrenching marriage ache. And Wednesday, I heard it when another friend described her pain as she wrote the hardest word on her son’s tax return- “deceased.” He would have been 18.

All creation groans. 

Thursday, I felt it when a newly widowed friend explained how a court and a judge are needed to unravel wrongs from before her husband died. And I heard it Friday when another friend requested more prayer for a heated custody battle her son is in.

All creation groans. 

Then, Saturday, I felt it in myself. In a struggle in my mind that comes and goes but may not end, I think, till I die, (And that’s okay- suffering is fitting.) And Sunday, Jim and I heard it when our friend’s sick lungs kept him in bed, even on the sunny day when spring came.

The whole creation groans. But He knows.

God knows what He’s about. 

When God Wants to Drill a Man

I’d heard this (anonymous) poem before. But when I woke up Friday last week – that string-of-days week – to hear Joni read it, it meant more.

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.

Hammers and hurts, converts. Bends, but never breaks, when his good He undertakes. For sure: amazed, by God’s methods and ways.

Which may include pain.

When Your Pain is Real and Pressing

But this blog is called Joyfully Pressing On and Philippians 3:8-14 is my theme.

I know this suffering, this all creation groaning, is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. I believe this. The pain and pressing now is not worth comparing to the glory then.

But more.

Our suffering now isn’t merely to be endured. In a sense, it’s to be a source of joy. Yes, joy! Because our groans, our faithful groans, our I-believed-and-so-I-spoke groans, are actually achieving glory.

Our real and pressing pains are some of the God’s means to prepare and produce and achieve this splendid glory. To try his splendor out.

When you see this, says Joni Eareckson Tada, you’re a Rumpelstiltskin weaving straw into gold; like a divine spinning wheel, your affliction works a far exceeding and eternal weight of glory (When God Weeps, p. 210)

Glory will be so glorious not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.

Eternal Weight Of Glory

Let’s don’t doubt it, friends: Our suffering is productive. If we’re in Christ, it’s working for us, even as we groan. 

While we waste away, God is preparing an eternal weight of glory– from our real and pressing pain.

Earlier this snowy, groany month of April, a friend gave me a new Wendell Kimbrough CD. I listened to track nine over and over last week. And if you’ve had your own string of days- if you’ve felt the fall this spring- you might enjoy a listen too.

So I’ll leave you with the lyrics to track number nine- Eternal Weight of Glory- since it’s high time I say good-bye.

Because the snow finally melted and I’ve got some buttercup bulbs to plant.

Eternal Weight of Glory 
Now the days and hours and moments
Of our suff’ring seem so long;
And the toilsome wait and wond’ring
Threaten silence to our song.
Now our pain is real and pressing
Where our faith is thin and weak,
But our hope is set on Jesus;
And we cling to him, our strength.

Oh eternal weight of glory!
Oh inheritance divine!
We will see our Lord redeeming
Every past and future time.
All our pains will be transfigured,
Like the scars of Christ our Lord.
We will see the weight of glory,
And our broken years restored.

For behold! I tell a myst’ry:
At the trumpet sound we’ll wake

“Death is swallowed up in vict’ry!”
When we meet our King of Grace
Every year we thought was wasted
Every night we cried “How long?”
All will be a passing moment
In our Savior’s vict’ry song

We will see our wounded Savior.
We’ll behold him face to face;
And we’ll hear our anguished stories
Sung as vict’ry songs of grace.

Words and Music: © 2015 Wendell Kimbrough.

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Got a Teen? (Lean Hard)

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a fifty times, probably ten in the last two weeks:

God picked Sam for us and He picked us for Sam. 

So this match is a good match. A perfect match, in fact. Even if we struggle sometimes and butt heads. Even if we wouldn’t have picked each other. 

Our family is perfectly fit together. Because God’s ways are perfect and all he does is good.  Because God is always good

Leaning Hard

I’ve never doubted that. But, boy, how I’ve had to lean into that truth a lot lately.

Because disappointment and frustration and troubles of diverse parent-child types have disturbed our peace and bad, scrambled weeks have come around more often than either one of us would wish.

Parenting keeps teaching me- driving me, really- to lean hard on my sovereign, good God.

You more experienced moms out there- I hear you.

You’re nodding, now, and saying, “Just you wait. Keep leaning, sister. Keep right on leaning on the everlasting arms.”

I know it. I’ve been mom to a teen for not quite all of one day, but already I know you are right. I need God’s help. Letting said son have the last word takes epic resurrection power.

And while physical dependence equals immaturity or weakness, dependence on God marks the strongest of saints.

To a Different Drummer

Today Sam turned 13. The “teen-scene” is new to all of us. But Sam has never been our puppet on a string.  From day one- when I first held that stoic 6-month old in the the airport terminal- Sam has always been his own man.

Way back to that furry red, Elmo-basket hat, Sam has marched to his own (thanks, Dad) bagpipes-and-drums beat.

To this prone to bossing mama, God gave a strong son, who wouldn’t be overborne.  And while I might have wished for a kid who would play the sports and read the books and make the friends that I might pick for him, that’s not Sam.

Because Sam’s my beloved son- our A#1. And training him is a big means that God is using to shape me. To train me to cry out and pray when things don’t go my way.

And, for the record, nothing that pushes us to pray is a bad thing.

Humbled And Exposed

So I refuse to write-off or ride out these teen-age years. No, I want to exploit these years.

I want to be shaped by every ounce of Christ-conforming experience that these teenage years afford.

It won’t be easy. It’s not easy. When A#1 calls me out- my motives,  my computer use, my eating habits, my tone of voice- it’s humbling. Having our selfish ways exposed is hard.

In Age of Opportunitywhich I’d highly recommend for parents of teens- Paul David Tripp, nails this truth.

The tumult of the teen years is not the only about the attitudes and actions of teens, but the thoughts, desires, attitudes and actions of parents as well. The teen years are hard for us because they tend to bring out the worst in us.

Those years are hard for us because they expose the wrong thoughts and desires of our own hearts….These years are hard for us because they rip back the curtain and expose us. This is why trials are so difficult, yet so useful in God’s hands.

We don’t radically change in a moment of trial. No, trials expose what we have always been. Trials bare things to which we would have otherwise been blind.

And seeing those things, so we can change these things, is a good thing.

Rats in the Cellar

And we rejoice in our suffering. In our exposures and in our parenting disappointments and broken dreams and let-downs.

C.S. Lewis called those things rats in the cellar. So, too, the teen years expose us. But really, so did the infant years and the toddler years. All the years are capable.

Now he catches me micromanaging his alarm clock, and arguing about video game time, and being stubborn about hoodies and tennis shoes.  These are my rats in the cellar now. Some of my rats.

Like when Sam crept out from a nap early and caught me red-handed eating a forbidden food for a 3- year old. My rats in the cellar were brownies in the pantry.

And my snacking habits were forever changed, because I’d been exposed.

That We Might Not Rely On Ourselves

So while conflict and clash in this little clan can sometimes feel like a royal battle, they’re not. Sometimes I am hard-pressed, but I am not crushed, I’m praying more, leaning more and relying more on my God to bring his perfect will to pass than I did before.

And all of that is good.

Because we like to think we can pull things off- even things like raising kids- on our own. I think Apostle Paul felt like he could handle anything. He was intelligent and articulate and influential.

And, as Ray Steadman explains,

[R]epeatedly God had to break that, to put him in circumstances he could not handle, that he might learn not to rely on himself, but on God, who raises the dead. That is the major reason, I think, for suffering, which is the pressure that is designed to destroy our determined stubbornness. Paul has learned to trust God to take him through whatever life throws at him, no matter what it is.

No matter if there’s a teen-ager in the house.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.

But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:8b-9

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Tuning Heartstrings

“[A] gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hand it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it.” 

John Flavel, Keeping the Heart

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” 

Proverbs 4:23

My friend Hannah and I are reading a 350 year-old book together. It’s called Keeping the Heart and it’s by a Puritan pastor named John Flavel. As we sat recently, musing and quoting our starred, favorite lines, Hannah made a very resonant connection.  

“You should write that up,” I said. The rest of this post is what she wrote, only slightly fine-tuned.

Constantly Tuning

“[A] gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hand it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it. If gracious hearts are in a desirable frame in one duty, yet how dull, dead, and  disordered when they come to another!”

Being an orchestra teacher, Flavel’s analogy instantly struck a chord.

Every day, every class begins with tuning. Some days it is a quick and easy process to tune an instrument. Other days it takes half a class period. And some days we tune at the beginning of the class period, only for someone’s instrument to slip out of tune at a few minutes into rehearsal.

The comparison is obvious: Simply put, my heart- mind, will, and emotions- need to be brought into correct alignment with God’s will and ways.

My heart needs to be in tune with His Word, His ways, His character – with the truth. But my heart is affected by matters both great and small, within myself and around me, that bring me out of alignment.

My heart, like my students’ instruments,  must be constantly realigned and adjusted and reset.

Gut Strings

Upon my first reading of Flavel’s analogy, that was as far as the connection went. But when I read it again, I thought about the time period in which Flavel lived.  Suddenly his analogy ran deeper and truer.

You see John Flavel lived in the mid to late 1600s. In that time, strings on instruments were made of animal gut, typically from a sheep. These strings were very temperamental and prone to going out of tune (and breaking). Once tuned, as Flavel wrote, “a small matter brings it out of tune again.”

The slightest change in temperature, humidity, or any other change in environment would undo the tuning.  A musician could play a Stradivari or Guarneri violin- which are still considered among the finest crafted stringed instruments in history-but their strings were gut strings.

Though capable of producing sweet-sounding music, gut strings were hard to manage, moody and in constant need  of care and retuning.

Oh how my heart resembles a gut string!

Temperamental, prone to going out of tune, and in constant need of adjustment. Yes, I am an instrument made beautifully by the Master Craftsman, but the strings on which I play, have been affected by the Fall.

This means I need tuning not just once in a while, and not just in one context of life or one time of the day, but in every context, every day.

Come And Be Tuned

Now back to the orchestra room for a minute. I think of my students who struggle to get their instruments to stay in tune. Some come to me immediately upon it going out of tune. Others look up at me and make this face.

It’s a face that I’ve come to know as the “oh-no-my-string-is-out-of-tune” face. And they sit there, making that face, as if the looking at me like that will somehow tune the instrument.

I used to respond to this face they make with annoyance, wondering, “Why don’t they just come to me? I could easily help, and I’m a only a few steps away.” That’s what I used to think, as my students would sit and look up at me, out of tune.

But I’ve come to respond to this face with a smile, and sometimes a chuckle, and say, “It’s out of tune, yes? Come to me so I can tune it.” Someday they may come to me right away, but for now they need the observant eyes and ears of a teacher and an invitation to come and be tuned.

I can say this to my passive, sitting out-of-tune students now because I realize how like them I am as I relate to God.

Go To The Master Tuner

I cannot tune my own heart. Try as I may, it just never stays tuned!

As it says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Deceitful – twisted, untrustworthy, misleading. Desperately wicked – incurably sick.

What does one do with an incurable sickness? Take it to the master doctor. He also happens to be the Master Heart Tuner.

Like my students when their instruments fall out of tune and need my help, so I must bring my heart to the God, the Master Heart Tuner. Thankfully, He is not far off. And He knows just the right way to approach the instrument and the perfect way to tune it.

Sometimes the Master Tuner sets the instrument back into tune with great facility. But sometimes it takes a bit more wrestling with the instrument and strings to bring it into tune.

Eventually the “instrument” cooperates, though, and it is perfectly tuned. But honestly, like those old gut strings, it only stays tuned for a minute or maybe a few before the slightest upset brings me out of focus or alignment with God.

But that’s when Christ calls me to come to him. Like my students, I must to go back to God and be retuned. And He invites me to himself and gladly tunes me again and again and again. We come. He tunes.

And all the glory for any sweet tune we produce goes to the Master Tuner.

Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing

Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
mount of God’s redeeming love.

-Robert Robinson

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Easter’s Over. But Do You Know Resurrection Power?

Did you feel it this morning? I mean, when you opened your eyes, did you feel wonder-working power coursing through your veins?

Easter is over, but did you know resurrection power today? Did you?

No?

You’re not alone.

Power Piled Up

Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty strength that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:18a, 19-20

That’s just part of the prayer. But did you notice how Paul heaped up power words to describe what’s available for those who believe?

He could have stopped at just one term, but he piled up all of these:

power – dunamis – strength, power, ability, from which we get “dynamite” ,

working – energeia – working, compulsion from within; from which we get “energy”

mighty – kratos – force, strength; might; in our word autocrat

power/strenth – ischus – physical force, ability, force, strength, might

So much power. Immeasurably great power. And it’s all for believers; for us- for me, for you.

But what does it do?

Wonder-Working Power?

It works so many ways, but here’s what it did in me, today.

You see, I’ve been nursing a certain hurt for a while. But the current strengthened me to look the one who hurt me in the eye and smile.  It helped me fix my thoughts on good things when self-pity and wounded pride flared up. This requires resurrection power.

The more we are united by faith with God in Christ,” Paul Bayne says,the more does His virtue or power work upon us, both in conforming us to Himself.” Bayne describes this power in four vivid ways:

(1) What a power is that which so changes men, and makes lambs of lions, chaste and sober of filthy and intemperate, humble of proud — a thing harder than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

(2) To continue and promote the work of sanctification in us, who are carnal, sold under sin, is a thing no less strange than to keep and make fire burn higher and higher in water.

(3) The quickening of us with heavenly desires and holy affections is no small power; neither is it less wonderful than to see iron and lead flying upward…

Such is resurrection power.

Why We Need Resurrection Power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes two huge reasons why we must know this resurrection power– a negative reason and a positive reason.

Negatively

Negatively, because of the powers set against us. The Christian in this world is one waging a constant warfare– the world, the flesh and the devil are dead-set against us. (See 1 John 2.)

Here Lloyd-Jones explains the urgency in our war against the flesh, specifically against the force of habit.

[C]onsider the force of habits. How many a man has been stumbled by this. He comes into the Christian life and he’s heard, All things are become new. Then he begins to find there are certain habits within him and he finds it rather difficult to break them. The old man is not annihilated. He’s still there and he’s got to be dealt with.

You and I have to mortify the body. Don’t imagine for a moment that evil habits will be taken right out of your life…There is nothing but the power of God that can keep a man going against the force of habit.

To face the force of habit requires we know this power. But that’s not all.

Positively

Then Lloyd-Jones describes the positive need we have for resurrection power.

You and I are called to keep the commandments of God. Christ calls us to keep his commandments. There are the 10 Commandments and the moral law of God- that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. We are called to follow Christ: Be perfect as your Father is perfect. We’re to live like this sort of life now…

We’re absolutely helpless. We wouldn’t stand for a second. We couldn’t live it for a moment but for this exceeding great power of God that is in us.

The power, I say, is in us. The Apostle is not praying that they will receive this power, but that they will realize that it is in them…It’s an utter fallacy to think that God makes a man new and then leaves him. No, he wouldn’t have stood a moment unless this power is in him. It’s our realization of this power in us that varies

So why don’t we realize resurrection power? Why don’t we know it? 

I mean know it. I mean experientially know it- like you know how a hot shower feels or how dark chocolate tastes, how coffee smells and your dog’s fur feels.

That know.

Dull Heart-Eyes

The biggest reason we don’t know this kind of power is that our spiritual eyes are dull.

That’s what Paul says at the beginning of the Ephesians 1 prayer that the “eyes of your hearts would be enlightened.” Because Paul knew that our heart-eyes had to be enlightened to really know resurrection power.

Notice that Paul didn’t pray that God would give us this mighty power, but rather that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened to know this power. Which means we should probably pray this way. That God will help us understand the resurrection power we have.

Unless God gives us “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation the knowledge of him,” we won’t really know it. And Scripture is plain, God is at work in us today (Ephesians 3:20, Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 13:20-21).

But we won’t know that unless our heart-eyes are opened to see what’s already ours.

Power Already Ours

Steven Cole related a story about the late, wealthy newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst had spent a fortune collecting art treasures from around the world.

Then one day he found a description of some items that he desperately wanted to own. So he sent his agent abroad to search for them. After months on the trail, his agent reported that he’d finally found the treasures. And guess what? They were already in Hearst’s warehouse. He had been searching for treasures that he already owned!

If you are a Christian God’s mighty power is already yours.

But maybe like Mr. Hearst, you’re not aware of what you possess and you don’t possess your possessions. Maybe you don’t experience God’s mighty power to resist sin and live a holy life. 

Cole asks if some of us are looking at our lives and asking,

Is there a power that can subdue my tongue? Is there a power that can subdue my anger? What power can subdue my bitterness? Is there a power that can subdue my lust? Is there something that can conquer the sin I don’t ever seem to get a hold of?

Well, Paul is right there waiting for us when we ask questions like those. He’s already prayed that God would open the eyes of our heart to know the surpassing greatness of His power toward us to believe.

Then, with a prayer, it shows up.

How His Power Shows Up

In Romans 6 Paul explains how being united with Christ means we died to sin and we live to God. How resurrection power means we die to sin and and live to God.

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

Then, in Philippians 3, Paul explains how even his own suffering and physical loss is gain,

[T]hat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead… Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 

Paul had been a believer more than two decades when he wrote that to the Philippians. Which means that that pressing on to know God’s resurrection power isn’t one and done. To know resurrection power is our lifelong quest.

I love how John Piper explains this life-and-death, resurrection power paradox:

Sin is defeated at the cross; yet sin remains to be fought. Satan was defeated at the cross; yet Satan remains to be fought. And for this fight, may God answer Paul’s prayer in our lives! May we know the power of God toward us who believe— resurrection power now—to live and die for the glory of Christ.

Resurrection Power Now

Yesterday I asked a few friends how they experience resurrection power now.

One friend said she feels the power when she forgives a someone who keeps disappointing.  Another said he knows it when he is patient with a child who keeps provoking.  And the third said she experiences it when she keeps praying- without losing heart- for a loved-one who keeps straying. The last friend said she felt this power when she stops the vicious cycle of anxious thoughts to cast her cares on God.

How about you? How do you feel resurrection power?

I feel it when I repent and press on when I sin, rather than waste time in guilt and shame. And I know resurrection power when I’m strengthened to wait patiently and serve others with joy. Like when I greet ones who hurt me with friendly eyes and a smile.

And none of these is one bit natural for me. The actions are fire raging in water, iron flying upward. Dying to sin, living for the glory of Christ. 

All are proof of God’s wonder-working resurrection power.

There Is A Power

Maybe yesterday you ate too much at Easter brunch. Or lost your cool, again, with a rude child last night. And maybe today you’re asking, Is there a power that can help subdue my sin or break this force of habit? 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers a resounding yes. Even in these we can trust that God’s resurrection power is at work. We can trust that he who began a good work will be faithful to bring it to completion. 

Oh, beloved people! Is there anything more important to know than this? We are in the hands of God and he’s working in us. He’s given us this power to believe and He’s right now working in us- fashioning us, molding us into perfection.

We can’t avoid it and we can’t escape it. We are in His hands and he will go on with it -Blessed be his name! My comfort and assurance this morning is to know that God is working in me and He will never cease to work in me until I stand before him in glory. 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,

according to the power at work within us,

to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21