David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Paul the apostle”

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 16: Joy in Suffering (4 of 4)

In America, we’re raised to be independent—it’s our national hegemony, our motto, our pride, our mission statement; we worship the self-made man, we idolize independence.  Our programming tells us asking for help is a sign of weakness, especially for men—just look at all the jokes about men not stopping and asking for directions.  What does that ever get us except a disgruntled wife and a car running on fumes out in the middle of nowhere!  But life is all about suffering, and that suffering ultimately leads to joy, pure joy, joy unfettered, the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Why?  Because God is our Comforter, and our suffering and our weakness allows His full Glory to be manifested through our trials.

I love the Apostle Paul’s confession in his Second Letter to the Corinthians regarding his thorn.  “In order to keep me from becoming conceited,” Paul confessed, “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a).  Paul never elaborated about what his thorn actually was, but whether it was a speech impediment, an adversary, or bone spurs in his feet, he pressed on in his mission to preach the gospel despite his affliction.  Despite the thorn, Paul persevered.  Despite the thorn, Paul became one of the most influential early Christian leaders in church history.  Despite the thorn, he prevailed because God’s power triumphed over Satan’s attempt to extinguish the fire of the Spirit in Paul’s heart.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this book, joy is despite . . . .

This anecdote about Paul is one of my favorites because I can relate to it so well.  When suffering with depression and spasmodic dysphonia after my first wife left me, I prayed for God to take away the physical and mental manifestation of the evil pervading my life, especially because it seriously affected my job, my pursuit of writing, and my personal life.  But in the throes of my suffering, in the pit of depression, in the rage, the whining, the wall pounding, I continued to clench an idol I didn’t realize had so much power over me: pride.  It wasn’t until God purged out that sin, as He did Job’s, that my heart was opened to the deeper healing He intended for me throughout the entire experience.

When I finally released pride and gave in to Daddy’s discipline, compassion, and comfort, I began to heal spiritually, mentally, and physically.  For six years I relied on His grace and His sufficiency, and at the end of those six years He released me, seemingly overnight, from my thorn, my messenger of Satan.  “It is amazing how full Scripture is of comfort for mourners,” C.H. Spurgeon preached, “because the Lord’s objective is that the mourner be comforted.”[i]  Even though most of the time I didn’t realize it, God held my hand throughout that entire ordeal, He pressed my head against His bosom, He sang songs to me and held me tight.  He comforted me.

It’s funny, I’m an engineer by education, a man well-versed in mathematics, from simple arithmetic to calculus and differential equations.  Even though I struggled with it during high school, I comprehend math, I understand numbers, I “get” mathematical concepts given enough time.  I’ve lived in the world of mathematics the vast majority of my half-century existence, but it wasn’t until I was 49 years old and homeschooling my daughter when I learned that math is the study of patterns.  Doh!  No one had ever explained it to me that way before.  And here it was, laid out in plain English in a first grade homeschool curriculum!  It was a true epiphany—if a teacher had explained that to me back in say, oh, first grade, I may have done even better at it.

And with that revelation I put two and two together and arrived at this: our experience of life is much like mathematics.  God has laid out before us a challenge called life here on earth.  From the beginning—even before the beginning—He graciously planted in our hearts a specific pattern to which we’re drawn: His will, our dream.  He desires for us to live out that dream from the start, but the antagonists—other people, our pride and selfishness, Satan, the world at large—get in the way.  And so we suffer.  But God doesn’t give up on us.  In fact, He allows us to go through those challenges to discipline us, teach us, hone us, and toughen us up.  As the Apostle Paul assured in his letter to the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

So for those of you who are mathematically inclined, here’s a little equation I came up with to explain the meaning of life:

 

∑ Suffering(time) = JOY!

time=0

 

For those who don’t give a whit about math, it all comes down to this: when put into the proper frame of reference, the sum of all of our suffering over the timespan of life here on earth equates to joy.  Factorial!

When I asked Zac Chapman what keeps him going, his response was inspiring: “I believe that God has, as Dad said, fully restored me, so I look forward to that day and I work toward it.  But I want to be sure I’m happy where I’m at, not just looking forward to that day, but that I’m content where I am.  And being content in doing that gives me hope, being happy where I am now.”

And that’s something we can all count on.

 

[i]  Spurgeon, C.H. “The Oil of Joy for Mourning,” Sermon #3341. Spurgeon Gems & Other Treasures of God’s Truth. 13 February 1913. Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. 19 June 2013. http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols58-60/chs3341.pdf.

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 13: Joy in Obedience (2 of 3)

Throughout the Old Testament God is clear about the results of obeying His commands: things will go well. “Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you,” God said through His prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:23b NIV). Here Jeremiah was reminding the Hebrews of God’s promises in Leviticus 26 in return for their obedience. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses wrote: “So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33 NIV).

Several years ago one of our church small group members described an epiphany he experienced while driving. “If you stay within the speed limit,” God told him, “you remain under my covering of protection. But if you speed, you move out from under that covering.” Speed limits have been imposed in an effort to protect folks from the consequences of irresponsible driving; God’s precepts have been given to protect folks from the consequences of sin. Remain obedient and things will go well for you.

When Hannah disobeys us then asks why we’ve disciplined her, Mary and I sometimes paraphrase what the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, regarding the Fifth Commandment: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:1-3 NIV). The alternative, we tell her, is for us to eat her. A little hyperbole never hurt anyone, but it sometimes leads Hannah to paraphrase back to me Paul’s next line: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children . . .” (Ephesians 6:4a NIV). Smart aleck.

Obedience to God’s commands also leads to power. In Deuteronomy 11, Moses instructed the Hebrews “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow–to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him–then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you” (Deuteronomy 11:22-23 NIV). And in Deuteronomy 28:1, God promised to raise Israel “high above all the nations of the earth” as long as they heeded His voice and obeyed His commands. In Deuteronomy 28:9 (NIV) Moses reiterated this truth: “The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him.”

As we keep God’s commands as grace-covered children of the New Covenant, as we yield ourselves to God’s authority, as we love Him and fear Him, we open our hearts and our lives to receive His unlimited power for His Kingdom, His glory, and our joy. As Jesus said to his apostles before His arrest, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:12-14 NIV). And later He promised the disciples, “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24b NIV).

Obedience to God’s commands also results in prosperity. “Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses,” David told his son, Solomon, before he died. “Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go” (1 Kings 2:3 NIV). In the Second Book of Chronicles, the Chronicler described Hezekiah, one of the most upright kings of Judah, as a man who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 29:2 NIV). And as a consequence of “doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God,” Hezekiah flourished. “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:21 NIV).

Obedience to God’s commands also leads to long life. After Solomon asked God for wisdom instead of long life and wealth, God told him “if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life” (1 Kings 3:14 NIV). And again, the Fifth Commandment says “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you (Deuteronomy 5:16 NIV). Whenever Hannah questions the wisdom of what we’re asking her to do, Mary and I remind her that obedience leads to things continuing to go well for her. Then we throw in Bill Cosby’s famous line for punctuation: “I brought you in this world, and I can take you out” (Bill Cosby, Himself).

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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