8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength." -Philippians 4:4 -13 NIV
Well, I'm home again after what seems like days of solid driving and chaos. And I have such bittersweet joy tonight. On one hand, I couldn't help but cry everytime I thought of my Uncle, and Aunt Brenda, and Carla and Wendy. I think all of us in the family are still in shock that he was taken from us so unexpectedly. But I felt joy upon learning that the lump on my Aunt came back benign. It seems sometimes that so much of life is that way...a mix of joy and sadness. Often we don't get to pick how they come to us. They both come. And sometimes, like today, they come together- a strange mix of happiness and despair. And the same Lord allows us to experience both of them.
Paul was certainly no stranger to pain, or to joy either. He's been on my mind tonight. My friend Jen did a video I posted to facebook about how it was easier to be jaded than to remain upbeat and trusting through all of life's challenges. And she's right. If anyone could have let the hardships of life get Him down, it should have been Paul. But instead, he drew near to Christ. And when he pressed closer to Jesus, the Lord shared a secret...one not too many seem to understand in this life, I believe:"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
Our life circumstances do not determine our joy; our God does.
Who is your god? Many people deny it, but everybody serves someone or something. Some people worship at the altar of self. Others serve money. Still others make a relationship with a significant other the center of their existence. If you can think of it, there's probably someone somewhere who worships it. What is worship? Well, one definition I found online seems to sum it up pretty well: "worship: to idolize: love unquestioningly and uncritically or to excess; venerate as an idol; 'Many teenagers idolized the Beatles'". (http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=worship)
Most people tend to think of a foreign god or some sort of wooden statue when they think of worship. But the Bible teaches that our hearts follow what we treasure. So if we say we treasure Christ, but in our lives we make no room for him or His word, then we are dishonest with ourselves. By the same turn, when HE is the center of our life, he gives us the strength to handle all things, be they joyful or sorrowful. He never promised he would make all of life's storms go away. But he does promise that He will never leave us in the midst of them. Paul wasn't saying his life was easy and smooth sailing...he was saying he knew the one who carried him through the storms.
I know my own heart is quite wicked at times, and I'm not nearly as centered on my Savior as Paul was. Often, I neglect spending time with Him and instead give my worship to other, less meaningful, sometimes even good, but still unworthy things. But my heart's desire is to be more like Paul, more like Jesus every day. Here a little, there a little.
I have been so sad this week. Oh how I hate the pain of a loved one's death. It seems so unfair that life carries on for the rest of us. How can that be? How do we carry on without them? It's like I had my life fixed on one True North, one reality. And then reality changed and they're gone. And I'm left flailing, wondering what is reality at all. Nothing feels certain anymore. We wonder what else we take for granted that could change in an instant. I felt that way after my daddy passed away as well. Flailing, empty, torn. And I do recognize it is normal, healthy feelings to hurt when a loved one is gone.
But in one way I feel, at least, I see my own need to anchor more deeply within the Savior's love. That His love and Him ONLY should be my True North. In all this life, Jesus is the one constant. Only His love and His presence never change. And that is how He means it to be. And THAT is the HOW we can do ALL things through Him who strengthens us. As we anchor more deeply in His love, he holds us and changes us to be more like him. Less doubleminded. More fixed. More rooted. More grounded. In Psalms 1:3-4 , it describes the righteous this way:
"He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away."
What is the water we're rooted and grounded in? God's word. And as we're rooted and grounded in him, we yield fruit in the proper times. Our leaves don't wither, even when autumn comes. Only God can do something as supernatural as that. And that is how we know it's real. Not when things are smooth sailing and we're happy as lambs. No, unfortunately, when circumstances are painful beyond belief, and like Job, we still praise Him. That, my friend, is supernatural. I'm not there yet. But I want to be. No one seeks out pain, but when God allows it, we can trust Him to use it for our good and His glory. It's not usually the word from the Lord we want to hear, but it's sometimes one we need anyway. God is not the author of all our hurts, but he is the perfecter and finisher of our faith. And that is very reassuring to me right now.