Why Does God Let Me Stay So Weak?

Weak

I hate weakness. I don’t like?being weak. And I have so many weaknesses as a husband, father, and pastor. I want to have it all together. I want to be a strong leader, a loving husband, a wise father. But I?m so weak. I fail so often. Why?

Why does God let us stay so weak at times? Why is it so hard to put sin to death? Why do we struggle and fail so much? Why are we so often weak in our faith?

The apostle Paul knew about weakness. And he didn?t like weakness in himself – at least not initially. Paul had some kind of “thorn given him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” that harassed him. Some believe the ?thorn? was Jewish persecution; many believe it was a physical ailment or disease that affected his eyesight. They believe this since he dictated his letters, and he said it was because of a ?bodily ailment” he had originally preached the gospel to the Galatians (GA 4.13). He also said the Galatians would have plucked out their eyes and given them to him (4:15). Also when he was rebuked for calling the high priest a ?white-washed wall? Paul said he didn?t know he was the high priest. Yet Paul was a Pharisee who would certainly have recognized the high priest if he could see him.

Whatever his affliction, Paul struggled with it. He didn?t like being weak. He sought the Lord on three occasions about it and finally God gave him some insight into why he didn?t remove Paul?s weakness.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ?My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.? Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 CO 12:7-10

As Paul sought the Lord about his ?thorn? God showed him some things.

First, it was to keep Paul from conceit and pride, having received great revelations from God. Knowledge puffs up. When we have strong gifts or incredible talent it?s easy to become proud. When we have some serious success it?s easy to forget that all our gifts and success is from God. How many gifted teachers of God?s word have succumbed to pride and fallen into sin. How easy it is for us to judge others out of our strengths. How easy it is for parents whose children are doing well to look down on those whose children are struggling or rebelling. So weakness humbles us. Failure keeps us from becoming conceited. And since pride comes before a fall, weakness can keep us from stumbling.

The second reason God let Paul stay weak was to make Paul rely on Christ?s grace – ?My grace is sufficient for you.” Pride leads us to rely on ourselves; weakness drives us to our knees to seek God?s grace. Strength can lead to self-sufficiency. Weakness makes us depend on Christ. Weakness sends us to the throne of grace for mercy and grace in time of need.

The third reason God kept Paul weak was to reveal Christ?s power through him – “my power is made perfect in weakness.? The more we realize our weakness, then when anything good happens through us, we know it is the power of Christ, not us. When we have tried again and again to conquer a sin, become aware of our own weakness in the battle, then finally conquer it, we know it was by Jesus? grace and power. Then Jesus receives the glory. We won?t think we did it by our own willpower but by Jesus? grace.

Paul got to the place where he was content with weakness! He could be content with insults, hardships and persecutions. And even with calamities! Because he knew that all these things would reveal how weak he was, and the power of Christ would shine through him.

To be content with weakness doesn?t mean we give up trying to put sin to death. It doesn?t mean we quit trying to bear fruit for God. But it means that when we fail, when we realize how weak we are, we won?t despair but turn to Christ and ask him to give us HIS power. HIS strength. HIS wisdom. HIS grace.

Do you feel?weak? Confess your weakness to Jesus. (He won?t be surprised). Confess your sins. Confess your failures as mom or dad. Tell him how much you need his grace not to get angry. Tell him you need his grace to love that brother who it?s so hard to love. Ask him to give you the grace to rejoice in your pain and be content in your trial.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 PE 5:6-7

What Do You Think You Need To Be Satisfied?

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“Have you taken God for your happiness? Where does the desire of your heart lie? What is the source of your greatest satisfaction?… If God would give you your choice, as he did to Solomon, what would you ask? Go into the garden of pleasure, and gather all the fragrant flowers there; would these satisfy you? Go to the treasures of mammon, and to the trophies of honour; would any of these, would all of these satisfy you and make you to consider yourself happy?” — Joseph Alleine

If God is our source of happiness, then nothing can take our happiness from us. For nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If we look to anything else in this world to satisfy us, eventually we will be disappointed, for nothing in this world lasts.

In Jeremiah 2:13 God says,

?My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.?

God is the fountain of living waters. He alone can satisfy our deepest needs. Any other wells we attempt to dig to satisfy our thirst will leak and leave us thirsty.

Marriages get in trouble when one or both partners look for a ?soul mate? – someone who can fulfill their every need. Someone who needs no maintenance on our part. Someone who will love us unconditionally and encourage us and not expect us to change. The Bible nowhere says that our wife or husband is our soul mate. Jesus is our only soul mate. He alone can fulfill our every true need. He loves us unconditionally. He does expect us to change – he transforms us into his own likeness. He alone can satisfy us. No human being can satisfy another human being.

Don?t look to your children to satisfy you. Don?t look to a career to satisfy you. Don?t think If only I could do THAT, or if only I had THAT, or if only I had a husband like THAT, then I?d be happy. Sorry but whatever THAT is, ultimately it is a broken cistern that can hold no water. Ps 16:4-6 says:

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

If we run after ?another god? – anything but Jesus to satisfy us – our sorrows will multiply. But when the Lord is our chosen portion, our cup, and beautiful inheritance, the lines fall to us in pleasant places.

Ask yourself today Am I finding all my contentment in God? If not, turn back to Jesus and ask him to satisfy you today with his love.

photo: visualphotos.com

Do You Have a Napoleonic Complex (aka Small Man Syndrome)?

Time for a history lesson. Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769, had a penchant for posing with his hand in his shirt, was the man whose hunger for power plunged Europe into a devastating and lengthy war, and has nothing to do with Napoleon Dynamite. ?He was also very short. The so-called ?Napoleonic complex? is the idea that Napoleon tried to conquer Europe to compensate for being vertically challenged. (That seems a stretch to me; I know a lot of short guys, and so far none of them have invaded Russia.)

But we?re going to use the term ?Napoleonic complex? differently. Listen to how one of Napoleon?s biographers, Paul Johnson, describes the general after he has just been crowned emperor of France: ?Behind all the tinsel and glitter, he was only as secure as his last victory.? Napoleon won victory after victory in battle. He was a brilliant commander. But no matter how many victories he won, his reputation ? perhaps we could even say his meaning in life ? was no more secure than his most recent success. Now that?s a complex we can relate to.

If you invest your sense of meaning and worth in anything other than Jesus Christ, you will suffer from this kind of ?Napoleonic complex:? perpetual insecurity and a need to prove yourself in a never-ending cycle. If the thing you look to for value is being a caring, merciful person (a good thing in itself!), you will never be able to rest. You will constantly be in need of another down-and-out case to pour yourself into, another underdog to support, another person to take under wing. Because your identity is only as secure as your last victory.

Do you see the pattern? If your worth comes from financial stability, every lost investment will devastate you and every gain will only drive you to pursue more security. If your worth is in being seen as a perfect spouse or perfect parent, you can never admit to marital strife or parenting struggles. I wrestle with this as a pastor when I preach: I feel good about myself if my last sermon was good. I feel insignificant if I preached a dud.

What?s the remedy for this cycle of insecurity and frantic driven-ness? Here?s the answer: you have meaning not because of what you do, but because of who you are. You are a Christian. You are united to Christ, indwelt by the Spirit of God, and adopted by God the Father. Listen to Jesus? words in John 15:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing?By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love?.These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:5, 8-9, 11).

Many of the things we look to for meaning are good things, and may even be things Jesus intends for us to do. I can?t stop preaching because I?m tempted to find my worth in the quality of my sermons! But neither does God want me to be a Christian who is only as secure as my last victory. Our meaning and worth is guaranteed by our union with Christ. There are no insignificant Christians! But because our worth is found not in what we do, but in who we belong to, we can be secure when the fruit is absent.

Are you, like Napoleon, driven to establish your worth by your performance? If so, dear Christian, God calls you to rest. Yes, there are works God would have you do ? but they are not your identity. Christ is. You belong to him. Abide in his love, and be secure.

How To Escape The Snares Of Money Love and Fear

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

The writer of Hebrews tells us we should be content with what we have.

He says this will keep our lives free from the love of money, which is the root of all sorts of evil and brings multitudes of miseries into people’s lives: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. ?For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10.

Contentment helps us escape this powerful temptation: “Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have.” But how can we be content with what we have if we don’t have much?

Here’s the secret of contentment: “I will never leave you nor forsake you”.

We don’t need money or possessions to satisfy us because we will always have Jesus, the fountain of life and beauty and joy and satisfaction. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us.

Here is how to find contentment – by praying, “Jesus, satisfy me with your love in the morning. ?Jesus, whom have I in heaven besides you and on earth there is nothing I desire besides you. ?You are my portion. You are my treasure. You are my inheritance.”

We should not only look to Jesus for contentment, but for all our needs and fears. ?That’s why the writer of Hebrews goes on: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'”

Not only will Jesus never leave us nor forsake us, but he is our Helper. We need not fear anything ? the future, enemies – nothing. ?What can man do to me? ?The Lord – the King of kings who is sovereign over all things, the Creator of the universe, the One who sustains all things – is my personal Helper.

In other words, all we need is Jesus! ?Turn to him. ?Ask him for contentment. ?Ask him to deliver you from fear of man. ?Jesus is our escape from the snares of money love and fear.

 

Let’s Not Shock Any Angels

One day before I met my wife, I was asking God to bring someone into my life, and he spoke to me.

Not audibly, but clearly. ?This thought came into my mind: Mark, if you can’t be satisfied in me as a single person, then you won’t be content when you’re married either. ?Because no human being can satisfy another human being.

No human being can satisfy another human being.

Only God can satisfy us. ?If we don’t find all our delight and joy in Jesus, we won’t find it in anything else. ?God puts it like this in Jeremiah 2:12-13:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, ?for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

The angels in heaven, who continually behold God’s glory are shocked, stunned – even “desolate” – when they see God’s people forsake him, the fountain of living waters, the source of all joy and satisfaction, and drink from broken down, barren, dust-filled wells. ?The angels are dumbfounded.

So what is it you most long for today? ?What is it that you think would make you jump for joy? ?What is that thing you tell yourself, if I only had that, then I’d be happy and wouldn’t want anything else? ?If it isn’t Jesus, your heart is deceiving you. ?Because that?”thing,” even if it’s a blessing from the hand of God, can’t satisfy your heart. ?Things will eventually disappoint us. ?God may bless us with the most wonderful husband or wife, and if we aren’t content in him, we’ll soon find ourselves looking around for something else to fill the void.

Let’s look to Jesus to quench the thirst of our souls. ?Let’s come to the fountain of living waters and drink deeply and say to The Lord,

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. ?Psalm 16:5-6

When The Lord is our chosen portion and our cup, the lines fall for us in pleasant places. ?We can be content in the desert. ?When Jesus is our meat and drink, we’ll always be full. ?Jesus is our beautiful inheritance. ?What more do we need?

Remember, no human can satisfy another human. ?A wife won’t satisfy. ?A husband won’t satisfy. ?A child won’t either. ?Neither will a job, a home, or anything else. ?If God has given you any of these wonderful blessings, then thank him for them ?And it’s not wrong to ask him for these desires if he hasn’t given them to you. ?But don’t look to them to fulfill you.

Let’s make this our prayer:

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Ps 90:14).

Lets not shock any angels, ok?

The Insanity Of Envy

God is a satisfying portion. This world may fill a man, but can never satisfy him. Most have too much, but no one has enough. — Swinnock

Sometimes I struggle with envy. What?s insane about that is I have so much – a great wife, children and grandchildren. ?I get to preach God?s word to a wonderful, responsive church and work with the best pastoral team that exists. ?God has allowed me to write some songs that have blessed others. He?s granted me years of health.

Despite all this, I?ve envied the gifts and success of others. ?Once when I shared with some pastors that I?d envied another man?s preaching one guy said, ?But Mark, you probably receive more encouragement than anyone else I know.? ?Owwww.

In Psalm 73, Asaph confesses how envy almost undid him:

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (2-3)

The wicked appeared to enjoy unadulterated, problem-free bliss.

They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. (5)

Asaph saw them arrogantly strut about mocking God yet growing richer. ?As he envied, he spiraled downward. Until he considered things from God?s perspective.

Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end. (17)

?I discerned their end.? ?This world?s riches vanish at death. ?All we enjoy here is a wisp, a breeze, soon gone. ?In God?s mercy, the Psalmist realized the secret of contentment:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (25-26)

Envy springs from seeking satisfaction in anything but Christ. Contentment grows when God is our portion. So contemplate the end of the wicked. ?Confess your envy. ?Ask Jesus to be your satisfying portion. ?And thank God for saving, forgiving, and adopting you and making you a joint-heir with Christ, crowned with every spiritual blessing.

photo by wackystuff

Finding Contentment As Children Of God

I have a little girl who is two years old, and the affection I feel for her is almost overwhelming at times. Everything she does makes me grin. She pushes Winnie the Pooh around in a stroller, and I grin. She points and giggles at low-flying airplanes, and I grin. She passes gas in that innocent ?did I do that?? sort of way, and I . . . you get the point. I love this little girl with all my heart. And my love doesn?t hold a candle to God?s love for us.

In Zephaniah 3:17 God says, ?The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.? Our lives have a glorious soundtrack. God loves us so much that he exults over us with loud singing. He is so glad to have us as his children that he is singing over us.

Every morning we wake up as children of the King. We?re adopted, loved, treasured, and blessed. No trial, circumstance, need, pain, or heartbreak can ever separate us from the intense love and compassion of our Father. God?s love pursues us relentlessly and zealously. Paul describes this hurricane of love when he says in Romans 8:38?39, ?For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.? God?s love for us is invincible, unbreakable, and unshakable. The legions of hell can?t defeat it. There is no future we can imagine apart from it. Even death itself buckles before the almighty love of our Father.

You may not have an earthly father, but you have a heavenly one who loves you far more than any earthly father. You may not have a husband to shelter you, but you have a heavenly Father who shelters and protects you (Ps. 36:7). You may not have everything that you want, but your Father promises that he will meet all your needs (Matt. 6:26).

This truth is life-giving for the discontented heart. Do you want to be more content? Spend a day or a week or a month or a decade marveling and wondering at your divine adoption. You are a child of God. The Creator of the universe really is your Father, and he loves you with an intense, fatherly affection. He cares for you with the heart of a father. He hears your requests with the heart of a father. He watches over you with the diligent eye of a father. Reflect on and rejoice in every difference between your former state (rebel) and your current state (son or daughter of God). Thank God for adopting you instead of sending you to hell. Thank God for calling you ?child? instead of ?enemy.? Fill your mind with the massive truth of adoption. You?ll soon find yourself dizzy with joy and gratefulness.

Excerpted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment On Your Side of the Fence

We Find Contentment When We Realize That We Have More Than We Deserve

Many times when we don’t get what we want, questions and accusations start to flit about our minds.

?Why won?t God let me move up in my job? I?ve prayed and prayed and prayed for this. Doesn?t he want me to be happy? He could give me what I want in a second. Maybe he doesn?t love me. Maybe he?s not so good after all.?

The truth is, God will never withhold from us. The greatest, irrefutable proof of God?s generosity is Calvary. Look at the beloved Son, ridiculed by the masses, beaten beyond recognition, hanging upon a cross, slowly suffocating, dying for sinners like you and me. God gave up what was most precious to him so that he could save sinners who hated him. If God was willing to do that, won?t he also give us every good thing that we need? In Romans 8:32 Paul puts it this way: ?He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things??

Puritan pastor John Flavel says:

Surely if he [God] would not spare his own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever he should, after this, deny or withhold from his people, for whose sakes all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege, spiritual or temporal, which is good for them.

If we don?t have something we desire, it?s not because God is withholding good from us. God didn?t spare his Son one stroke of misery. He won?t withhold any good thing from us.

Excerpted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side Of the Fence

Contentment Is Not About Circumstances, It’s About The Heart

Do you ever feel like you would be happy if your circumstances were different? I know that I do. But here’s what I’ve been learning about contentment.

Contentment is first and foremost a matter of the heart. It?s possible to deny yourself every worldly pleasure and still be discontent. Self-denial doesn?t automatically lead to contentment. In fact, self-denial can cause us to miss opportunities to enjoy wonderful gifts from God. Steak is a gift from God. Coffee is a drink that is 95 percent heavenly. When I eat a medium-rare steak and give thanks to God for the happiness that is occurring in my mouth, I honor God. Self-denial does not equal contentment.

On the flip side, it?s possible to have everything this world has to offer and still be furiously discontent. King Solomon?s life was a constant pleasure cruise. He really did have everything this world could offer?money, women, power, luxury, and all the alcohol he could drink. Yet after a life of hedonistic exploits, Solomon made the following observation:

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Eccl. 2:11)

Solomon lived life to the hilt. He would have been TIME Magazine?s ?Person of the Year? and would have had his own cable channel. Yet in the end he still came up disappointed. Having it all doesn?t equal contentment.

True biblical contentment isn?t tethered to circumstances either. In Philippians 4:11 Paul says, ?I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.? Stop and grapple with that one for a moment. When was the last time you had a really bad day? On your commute home from work that day, could you say, ?I am really content right now?? The person who is truly content in God doesn?t ride the ever-changing wave of life?s circumstances.

Rather, contentment is inward, untouchable by circumstances, out of the reach of trouble. It can?t be stolen away by sickness or poverty, can?t be ruined by the loss of a job or house or spouse. Biblical contentment is not rooted in circumstances but in the infinitely stronger foundation of God himself.

Excerpted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy:Finding Contentment On Your Side of the Fence.

The Skittle Lined Path

path

I’m going to let you in on a personal secret. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but it’s true: I don’t like it when life gets hard.

I want my walk with Jesus to be all pleasant, all the time. I would prefer minimal to no suffering, and would like most of my “down and dirty” ministry to take place in Starbucks. If I get a missionary call to the beaches of the Caribbean, I’ll be okay with that. Essentially, I would like my path to Heaven to be lined with Skittles. Actually I would prefer sausage, but that’s for a different post.

This “no pain, no pain” mentality has made the past couple weeks particularly challenging. My newborn daughter, Ella, decided that she would like to be awake from 7 PM to 1 AM. If we lay her down, she turns into the human siren. And she doesn’t stop for a long, long time. Let’s just say that I’ve watched a lot of ESPN Sportscenter recently.

In the midst of these nighttime escapades, I’ve really struggled with discontentment. I crave rest, peace, quiet, and a decent night’s sleep. I feel like I deserve these things, like it’s my God given right as a member of the United States of America. My troubles are so insignificant, but they cause me to be discontent nonetheless.

But last night I read the following, challenging words by the Puritan, Richard Baxter:

What keeps us under trouble is either we do not expect what God has promised [suffering], or we expect what he did not promise [an easy life]. We are grieved at crosses, losses, wrongs of our enemies, unkind dealings of our friends, sickness, or for contempt and scorn in the world. But who encouraged you to expect any better? (Voices From the Past, 138)

Jesus didn’t promise me ease and prosperity. He commanded me to take up my cross and promised that each day would have enough trouble of it’s own. Discontent begins to ferment in my heart when I expect something else.

The reward for following Jesus is infinitely great, but the cost is suffering. That’s what I should expect.

What encourages you in the midst of challenging circumstances?

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+photo by richardefreeman