Friday, January 24, 2014

Godly Trouble?

My husband and I read a devotional together every night when we get into bed.  Last night’s was based on 1 Peter 5:6-7 and assured us that God is capable of handling all that threatens to overwhelm us and that God will help us to bear it.  This idea is tough to hang on to sometimes in the midst of troubles, but still good.  At the bottom of each page in the devotional book we’re currently using, there is always a sentence that summarizes the point of the reading.  Last night’s pithy take-away statement was, “God may lead us into troubled waters to deepen our trust in Him.”  That sentence prompted a bit of discussion between us because I felt that it was saying that God causes us to have trouble.  My husband argued that God knows what we need in order to grow, and as we follow we may indeed be led into trouble.  A difference of semantics? 

This morning as I work on preparing the sermon for Sunday, I am looking at Matthew 4:12-23 and considering what it means to follow Jesus.  According to one of the commentaries I read this morning,[1] following Jesus in that time was following him into trouble, as Jesus already had conflict with Satan, and conflict with the leaders of the synagogues.  There was also already conflict with the politicians in power--John the Baptist has been arrested by Herod.  So when Jesus says, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” he’s not promising them an easy life or an easy journey. 

As a wise pastor once told me, God never promised that it would be easy. I had been whining about life being too hard, and I was mad when that pastor said that to me, and maybe some of that response bubbled up again when I read the tagline of that devotional about God leading us into trouble.

Once upon a time I had a dramatic encounter with God in which I did exactly what 1 Peter 5:6-7 calls us to do.  I had a heart full of pain and trouble that I had been determined to handle on my own.  I had been proud of being tough.  On that day I had to admit that plan wasn’t really working so well, and when I let God into that dark space I found a great load had been lifted.  Being in the midst of that trouble did indeed bring me to my knees, so to speak, before God.  But did God lead me into that trouble for the sole purpose of accomplishing that new level of trust in him?

On that day that I let God in I also made a promise to follow, to be a fully committed, radical disciple.  I didn’t know what that meant really, but I trusted God enough in that moment that it didn’t matter whether I knew.  Looking back over the course of my life, there have been many times where I didn’t know what was around the corner, and if I had known I might have run hard and fast in the opposite direction.  Or would I? 

Those disciples who left their fishing nets to follow Jesus surely didn’t know all that they would face as a result.  Peter points out later on, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you.” (Matt 19:27, Mark 10:28, Luke 18:28)

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)

No wonder the gospel seems like foolishness to some.  The problem is that it can be hard to explain what would prompt someone to leave everything to follow Jesus.  We might try to explain by simply saying, “There’s something more.”  The Beatles song maybe says it in easier terms: “Love is all you need.”

Jesus certainly doesn’t shy away from trouble.  He would withdraw at times to pray, but he didn’t stay there.  He did ask God to “remove this cup” in his prayer in Gethsemane when his arrest and crucifixion were looming ahead.  But then he walked on into the fray, and endured it all.

So I can see from Jesus’ experience that God is less likely to remove trouble and more likely to instead help us as we go through it, but lead us into it?  I have to admit as I look again at what happened to Jesus I could make a case for God leading him into it.  Jesus certainly seems to have known from the beginning that his sacrifice on the cross was going to be a part of the deal.  And as Isaiah so eloquently reminds us, God’s ways are not the same as ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), and  Paul may actually be pointing out the obvious when he says, “How unfathomable are God’s ways.” (Romans 11:33)

That doesn’t mean I have to like it.  But I do have to trust that God knows what he’s doing.  And like the squirming child that still lives in me, I reply with a bit of a frown and a pouty stomp, “O-Kayyyyy.”

What do you think?

[1] Michael Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 180ff.

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