Distress that Drives Us to God

With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.

Trust us, we’ve never hurt a soul, never exploited or taken advantage of anyone. Don’t think I’m finding fault with you. I told you earlier that I’m with you all the way, no matter what. I have, in fact, the greatest confidence in  you. If only you knew how proud I am of you! I am overwhelmed with joy despite all our troubles.

When we arrived at Macedonia province, we couldn’t settle down. The fights in the church and the fears in our hearts kept us on pins and needles. We couldn’t relax because we didn’t know how it would turn out. Then the God who lifts up the downcast lifted our heads and hearts with the arrival of Titus. We were glad just to see him, but the real reassurance came in what he told us about you: how much you cared, how much you grieved, how concerned you were for me. I went from worry to tranquility in no time!

I know I distressed you greatly with my letter. Although I felt awful at the time, I don’t feel at all bad now that I see how it turned out. The letter upset you, but only for a while. Now I’m glad — not that you were upset, but that you were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss.

Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.

And now, isn’t it wonderful in all the ways this distress has goaded you closer to God? You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you’ve come out of this with purity of heart. And that is what I was hoping for in the first place when I wrote the letter. My primary concern was not for the one who did the wrong or even the one wronged, but for you — that you would act upon the deep, deep ties between us before God. That’s what happened — and we felt just great.

And then, when we saw how Titus felt — his exuberance over your response — our joy doubled. It was wonderful to see how revived and refreshed he was by everything you did. If I went out on a limb in telling Titus how great I thought you were, you didn’t cut off that limb. As it turned out, I hadn’t exaggerated one bit. Titus saw for himself that everything I had said about you was true. He can’t quit talking about it, going over again and again the story of your prompt obedience, and the dignity and sensitivity of your hospitality. He was quite overwhelmed by it all! And I couldn’t be more pleased — I’m so confident and proud of you.

2 Corinthians 7

Isn’t it crazy the gentleness and sensitivity we find in God, even when He disciplines us, alerting us to what needs to be changed or corrected in us. He goes so deep, yet He remains so tender.

The Lord has been so intense with me for last few months, showing me how little I trust Him, how impossible it is for me to want His plans, yet how faithful He is to convert my heart to long for what is good. How many of us like junk food, yet would be offended if offered a carrot to satisfy our cravings instead? That is the way my interaction with God has seemed. He wants to feed me and see me satisfied, but He’s never content to use just what’s on hand in my pantry. He is looking for substance that is more than what I’m used, more than I’m willing to wait for or chew on.

I like what tastes good, what feels right and what looks appealing; God keeps on introducing what tastes too-natural, feels strange and looks like I’m going to have to get used to less in the sights department. So, needless to say, it’s taking me time to get used to all these new delicacies, a lot of time. This is not to say that it is impossible, I’m just not always sure whether I even want it to be possible.

I struggle with what God wants, in light of what I want. Why does He always have to have a completely different agenda than I do. I think it would be nice if we could meet in the middle somewhere. Why does He have to insist on acting as if there is such a great divide? I really think it could be simpler.

But, then again, this is all said in an attempt to manipulate God to rearrange His will to be more comfortable for me. I hate the idea that He won’t change for me; that He won’t look at me, take pity and say, “You know, I really should be easier on the girl; she’s only asking for a little lee-way.”

But, if I truly knew the magnificence of His plans, if the eyes of my heart were not so veiled by sin, would I still demand His change? Would I still think His integrity was less than my selfish whims? Would I trust myself less, and cling to Him with all my strength? What I forget about myself and what I want and strain to experience all I can of Him and what He has, rejoicing that I should know anything of Him?

Realizing this makes me wish I was there now. I want God to be everything to me, like the world I know won’t exist without Him; like I’m a rag-doll who can’t be loved unless He’ll choose to play with me; like the symphony of life is playing, and I’m lost if He won’t teach me the part I have to play.

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: agree with each other, love each other, be deep spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came he set aside the privilege of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that — a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth — even those long dead and buried — will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Do everything readily and cheerfully — no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ’s return. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.

Even if I’m executed here and now, I’ll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ’s altar, a part of your rejoicing. Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for me.

And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God!

Philippians 2:1-18, 3:1

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