Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thankful? Really?

After reading the post on how comparison robs us of contentment, my cousin commented that travel to third world countries has given her a new sense of gratitude.  The the old saying, "It could always be worse," is supposed to cheer us up when we feel down--it's a simple comparison from the top down (or the outside in).
But isn't there more?  After last week's post, I read Matthew 20 differently, looking for gratitude (or glimpses of it) in Jesus' life.
Interestingly, after addressing the dissatisfaction of the early workers, Jesus' next comments prophesy His mistreatment and crucifixion.  If someone didn't know Jesus, they might think He was applying the "it could always be worse" philosophy, but Jesus is very different than we are.
Next, James and John came with their mother to ask to sit at Jesus' right and left hand.  Jesus warned that they would need to drink the cup He'd been given (a cup of persecution and death).  That, I thought, is another way to feel better about today--"Misery loves company."
Jesus followed up the indignation of the other disciples with the teaching of first being last, and the greatest in His kingdom being the servant of all, just as He would serve by giving His life.  Ahh, a twist in the plot.  We'll come back to that.
Finally, Jesus walked the road from Jericho and was drawn by the cries of blind men.  Feeling compassion, He touched and healed them.  Perhaps this is another lesson we apply when we struggle with gratitude--"Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, help someone less fortunate."
The twist in the plot, however, throws off every cliche. Jesus knew it could be worse--the worst was coming and He would be front and center.  Jesus knew His disciples would experience false accusations, beatings and death, but I doubt the thought brought joy and freedom.  He spent significant time instructing them in how to respond to persecution and hate.  And, yes, Jesus always cared for others--the outcasts, the diseased, the unclean--but it wasn't for His personal benefit and selfish desire to feel better about Himself.
Jesus' antidote to comparison was trust.  Trust in His Father.  That is evident in His teaching about being first and last.  It is echoed in Peter's account of the events leading to Jesus' death (1 Peter 2:21-24).  It could look bad today.  It could be bad.  There were times Jesus was hungry.  God provided.  There were times He was cold and tired, but He endured.  He was falsely accused...tortured and crucified, but when God is in control, the end is taken care of, settled (Hebrews 13:2-3).  If God knows my failure, knows my grief, knows my injustice and has allowed it, then He has a plan--and it's a good plan.  Trust, through prayer and reflection on His promises, leads me to live a life of gratitude and service in spite of daily pressure and discomfort. 
"For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
Believing Jesus paid my sin debt--a price that could never be earned or repaid--leads to a life of believing. A life of contentment and gratitude.  It's all about faith.  In Jesus.  By grace.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why Didn't I Get That?!

Today my husband visited a friend who was dissatisfied with his home as compared to another's. "Were you happy with your home when you bought it?" he asked.
"Did you pay a fair price?"
"Did it have the features you asked for?"
"Then why are you unhappy?"
The truth, he realized, was comparison. Comparison robbed him of contentment.
The same is true in ministry. Sometimes I become discontent, not because God has not given me good things, but because I see what someone else has and it changes my expectations. Last Monday Teresa came for our weekly prayer time, and listened to the burdens of my heart.  We shared the weight of personal ministry, Scripture and time in prayer. After she left, I continued my readings in Matthew.  Chapter 20: Laborers in the Vineyard.  Ah, yes, the root of discontent and envy is not the Master, but my expectations.
Here are some thoughts from Matthew 20:1-16:
v. 10-11, 15; “When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it they grumbled at the landowner…. But he answered, ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’”
Impression: The hired men received what they agreed upon—a denarius for a day's work. They were treated fairly by a generous landowner. They began the day on sound footing, working hour upon hour with a reasonable expectation of payment. At the end of the day, they were not cheated or robbed--they were paid. But when they saw their payment compared to others, dissatisfaction surfaced. Even though they received what was agreed upon, their expectations had changed and they reacted to the expectation instead of reality.
They had been content. Now they were envious. They had been committed workers. Now they were resentful. They had worked alongside one another. Now they were critical. They had jumped at a wonderful opportunity. Now they were ungrateful. Expectations, real or imagined, met or unmet, often make way for sinful thoughts, behaviors and choices. The change in expectation (“Look what he got! Surely I’ll get more.”) led to sinful behavior (envy, criticism, discontent).
Application: How often is my disappointment and discontent a function of comparison? God has given what He promised. He has lavished me with lovingkindness, forgiveness, full access to His throne, peace, hope and joy. God has provided and will provide. He is the God of His Word. Very simply, my unhappiness and discontent is most often a function of what others have, not of what God hasn’t given. Envy breeds discontent, ingratitude, resentment, bitterness, dissension, and anger. It has nothing to do with other people or circumstances. It is, much of the time, a change of my expectations—and the fact that they are not met in my time or my way. It is more about what someone else has, not what I don't have.
Discontent is the result of focus. When I am discontent, the question to ask is, "Where are my eyes? Are they on the Giver or the receiver?" When my eyes are on the Giver, I have all I need and more.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

When Busy is Too Busy

Two comments made on call-in radio shows yesterday stuck in my head.  A woman cooed, "Jesus never turned away anybody."  And a centenarian declared, "Everything you do is a choice."
So, I can serve everybody and be like Jesus.  That is a choice.  But is it the best choice?  And is that really true?  This morning I realized that being like Jesus is about more than people.  It's about more than service.  It's about managing my life in a way that honors and pleases Him; being a vessel fitted for His use.
Miles J. Stanford gives new perspective to the this concept when he writes:
"Our Father is not seeking to abolish us as human beings and have the Lord Jesus replace us.  He is seeking to restore us as human personalities so that we may be the vehicle through which Christ will express Himself.  Therefore you find that whenever God gets hold of a man, instead of abolishing his personality, He makes it what He intended it to be.
"Redemption is the recovery of the man, Not the destruction of the man.  And when the Lord Jesus in us is brought to the place He is aiming for, there will not be an atom of the old life left, but the man will be left--glorified in union with the Lord Jesus Christ."  (The Complete Green Letters, p. 180).
Then, this morning after reading in Matthew, as I blended pumpkin bread ingredients for our ladies' workday at church, I remembered my own checkpoint for being too busy.  I am too busy when my weaknesses bite me in the behind.
My priority relationship is with God.  When that time is pushed aside, when I don't have control of my thoughts or the desire to invest in Him each morning and throughout the day, I'm too busy.
My next priority is my husband.  When I am unable to serve him and put him ahead of my schedule and other demands, I'm too busy. (This is my gotcha! and, at the moment, I'm too busy....)
Weight has always been a struggle.  When I fail to eat right and exercise because "I don't have time," I'm too busy.
Each child has a full, one-hundred-percent-experience of life.  When I don't hear or register what is important to them and what is happening in their hearts and minds, I'm too busy.
And our home.  I enjoy having a clean, orderly home.  And I don't even mind the work.  It's just that other things seems more important....  When I'm too busy to manage our home with cleanliness and excellence, I'm too busy.
Now for the hard part:  saying "no."  I think that was in Jesus' vocabulary, too.  It all comes down to deciding who is most important.  When I fill my life with things that make me feel good, with people who pat me on the back, with activities that tickle my fancy, I am pleasing myself.  When I allow Christ to control those areas where I am lacking, my life reflects His approval and design as most important and I am pleasing Him.  How does that ditty go?  "Just two choices on the shelf, choosing God or choosing self" (Ken Collier).