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Entries in Delight (2)

Friday
May182012

Welcoming Royalty.

Do you remember the incessant media frenzy over the fairytale wedding of Prince Charles to the relatively unknown Diana Spencer? The event brought into sharp contrast the gulf between “commoners” and “royalty”. Constant pictures of everyday people clamoring for the slightest glimpse of royal pomp flash into my mind. It was a magnificent affair for the ages that kept populations from Britain, to Australia, to the U.S. entranced. It’s estimated that 750 million people tuned in to view the ceremony! That kind of riveted attention, the honor given to the couple, the amazement at the trappings, the appreciation of the imperial graces on display, all melded together into a sort of public joy. It’s the sort of joy James encourages when trials come into our lives. His language is truly remarkable. Listen to what he is communicating.

James is encouraging us to treat as the prince of graces, every trial of every kind that surrounds us. Usher in every trial as if it were a king, esteem its presence as you would a great royal (not a royal pain): whether it be from God (Luke 22:28, Acts 20:19, 1 Peter 1:6), from internal battle with sin (Luke 8:13, 1 Cor. 10:13, 1 Tim. 6:9, Luke 4:13), or from external pressure to sin or despair (1 Peter 4:12 Matt. 26:41).  These variegated trials are to be cherished as means to holiness and grace. Conflict is a minister of grace. James is all-inclusive of the types of trials – the word “various” meaning many-colored, multi-striped, or dappled with different hues.

This is an incredible picture to describe what our attitude toward conflict should be! James is asking us to welcome trials/temptations as we would welcome a regal king or queen. Imagine the fuss and toil to prepare for such a visit!  This idea of conflict as royalty comes from the word James uses. The word esteem (consider or count) is a word rooted in the idea of giving honor to imperial figures. James uses this word to describe the joy, anxious anticipation, delight, and diligence we should exercise when engaging with trials that enter into our lives. Not that we are signing gold leaf invitations for more of them – but that when they come we see them as gifts of God sent to perfect us. Even more powerful is the nuance Thayer’s Greek Lexicon adds to the use of the word. He says esteem “denotes a belief not resting on one’s inner feeling or sentiment, but on the due consideration of external grounds, the weighing and comparing of facts.” In other words when we consider the usefulness of conflict to create character it is not a subjective (touchy, feely) whim, it is a truth proposition based on the integrity of God. God says to “consider” conflict a joy! Weigh the evidence – God is working in your crucible of grace!

That’s driving in the rearview mirror to me. Joy is the last emotion I conjure up when facing trials. It’s a contentious correction of my normal response. I’m provoked by this approach and also humiliated that I so seldom get there. But it’s such a radical challenge that it summons me. I want an about-face in my attitude toward suffering. I want to bow to it in honor, expectation, and triumph. I want to be in the holy place of welcome for those friends who would make me more like Jesus. I want joy in the midst of trial so I want James to continue drawing me toward this extreme contradiction to my standard response.

Is God’s instruction a shock to you? Does it surprise you that the Lord directs us into an entirely supernatural attitude toward suffering? Does it irritate you that He does not allow us one moment to gripe about our circumstances or wallow in our “woe is me” self pity? Isn’t it a little perturbing that we can’t invite the attention of others to our trials for a little sympathy? Can’t we indulge ourselves in a rousing chorus of the old Hee Haw number, “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on me, Deep Dark Depression, Excessive Misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me!”

The short answer - No! Why? Because to do so denies the very reason God allows trials to come. These royal guests come with Gifts! They come bearing “an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones” like the queen of Sheba brought to Solomon. (1 Kings 10:10) God sees the gifts brought by His noble ambassadors as worth more treasure than all the empty dainties brought by our self-appointed kings and queens. The store of wealth they bring is of eternal value – unfading, stainless, lasting, fulfilling, and precious. Once their incomparable value captures us, penetrates us, we will find ourselves welcoming these imperial visitors in ways we never imagined. James is going to give us unrestricted access into the regal planning room to reveal to us just what God has in mind for us. He is the giver of “every good and perfect gift” – Want to see what He’s got working for you?

Wednesday
Feb082012

Doable Daily Delight: Finding God In Your Everyday Rubble

“Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4) has been the catalyst for many a recent book on making God our center and source of pleasure or joy. Rightly so – what better springboard into the joys of rejoicing in God than one that ends with so rich a promise! We correctly understand that the point of the verse is when we delight ourselves in the Lord – our heart’s desires are going to be met because He is our deepest desire. Delight in God and He will fulfill our delight with Himself.

In my heart of hearts I’m certain that God is enough to meet every real need I have. As I sort through the everyday rubble that so easily piles up I run smack into the practical reality of seemingly unmet needs; not enough money, not enough time, difficult relationships, physical or emotional weakness, loneliness, or perhaps an overall brooding dissatisfaction with my circumstances. This practical bubble of daily battles I live in often creates a barrier to delighting in God. So, my thoughts often turn to those battles and barriers. Just how can I overcome the daily distraction of temporary cares and get to daily delight in my infinite God? 

That’s a good question isn’t it? Don’t you wonder how to get past the “nasty now and now” and onto the “sweet by and by” in your mind, heart, and soul? If you don’t mind learning from a person many Bible scholars consider rough, doctrinally incorrect, and insensitive, you, like me, may be able to pick up a few pointers on the practice of delighting in God.  I found this person, this “counselor” in the book of Job. He’s one of the “three wise guys” who sat in the dirt with Job but later flung some accusatorial mud at him. Even though Eliphaz dishes out some suspect advice to Job, he does circle around the truth from time to time, and in a few cases lands right on it.

I found some help to my dilemma of pursuing delight in the daily rubble of my life while reading the last few lines Eliphaz as quoted in Job, Chapter 22. The phrase that caught me was in verse 26, “For then you will delight in the Almighty.” Really? When will I delight? I read backward from there to find out what the “For” was referencing and found a great agenda for daily, lifelong, practical delight. Eliphaz, whether he knew it or not, lays out a doable daily regimen for delighting in God. I hope you’ll find this as helpful as I have. Let’s look at the simple steps first and then we’ll dig in a bit.

Doable Daily Delight

Do This:

  1. Yield. 
  2. Receive Instruction.
  3. Return to God.
  4. Remove Unrighteousness.
  5. Bury Your Money.

Enjoy This:

  1. God Will Be Your Treasure.
  2. God Will Be Your Delight.
  3. God Will Hear Your Prayers.
  4. God Will Establish Your Decrees.
  5. God Will Be Your Confidence.
  6. God Will Be Your Salvation.
  7. God Will Be Your Deliverance.

Yield:  This is a fascinating word that has been translated differently in nearly every major Bible version. Some of the options are Acquaint, Submit, Agree, Yield, Reconcile, or Acquiesce.

Regardless of the word choice, the idea is to defer to or be of use to someone deserving of your deferment or service. It’s an imperative that carries with it the idea of “getting to know” God with an attitude of  “yielded-ness or submission”. Verse 29 shines a bit more light on this attitude by saying that God will save the humble person. The simple meaning – Humble yourself and abandon your insistence upon self-defense, self-promotion, self-interest, or self in any of it’s manifestations. You are standing before God, you know!

What does this look and sound like in my moment-by-moment world? It’s the habit of saying to yourself and to God – “Ok Lord, this moment is yours, tell me what to do with it.” It gets repeated tens, hundreds, or thousands times a day in your mind and spirit as you walk with God. It’s a constant, tangible yielding to His desires while retreating from yours.  The immediate outcome of this deferment is peace. When we give up our tightly clutched trinkets of self-promotion, God will replace them with the true riches of delight in Him.

Receive Instruction: I love the NAS’ emoting of this phrase by putting the “please” in front of the phrase. It’s a plea, “Please”, I beg of you, be instructed by God. The book of Proverbs fleshes this out sufficiently as to not need more commentary. In fact, the invitation to learn at the feet of God is extended de facto by the very fact we have a Bible. Every word is a feast of delight because they all unfold for us in some fashion who God is and what He is like.

Eliphaz doesn’t stop there though. It’s not enough to simply receive instruction. We all know that “hearing is not doing”.  He adds a phrase to his plea, “establish His words in your heart.” It means to put God’s instruction in a readily accessible storage location. This is not the self-storage rental space down the road that keeps the stuff you don’t need quick access to. This is the easy to reach pantry of essential items, the silverware drawer, or sock drawer, or key rack, if you will. It’s that place and part of us that’s often hard to organize and manage.  The place that gets messy and disorderly if we don’t keep up with it – in my case and perhaps yours – it’s my Mind. I constantly have to place God’s word in the drawers of my mind and keep them organized for easy access.

There, I said it, and you know what it means – Meditate, Memorize and Practice Scripture. How many times have we heard this? Are we doing it? This is the most basic root-level truth any Christian teacher could express. It’s the golden key to delight. God’s Word is the conduit for every blessing, every joy, and every delight. The Word has to enter in and find a permanent place in our minds and then travel well-worn paths to our hearts. It has to be worked out with every breath and footstep. Will you start now? Perhaps the question we asked about yielding also fits here, “Ok Lord, this mind is yours, tell me what you want me to do with it.”

Return to God: Simple – turn around – go back. Yes, it may cost your reputation, your fortune, your secrets, your position, your pain, your whole self! God’s promise is that it is worth it. (Isa. 35:10) Restoration to glory, joy, and gladness is an abundant substitute for the empty pursuits that are keeping us from God.

“Doable” is a little naïve here. This may be a tough one, depending on what force may have you in its iron grip. Our enemies build their largest ramparts and dispatch their fiercest warriors to prevent our return. It may be a bloody and bitter path back to God but there is healing for any wound once we are there. It may seem like an unbearably long journey to get back but it is really only the distance of a desperate whisper. Cry out to God – He will navigate every obstacle and battle every foe with you. Perhaps a good first step here would be to keep the same theme we have been emphasizing “Ok Lord, my life’s a wreck, I’m coming back, what do you want me to do?” May you find it safely back!

Remove Unrighteousness: Tic Tock, Tic Tock, tic tock, tic tock, tic…. We don’t hold live grenades hoping they fail to detonate. We throw them as far from us as we can. Remove means to thrust away or repel. You may be holding a grenade, not knowing how long you have till it detonates – it’s time to hurl that thing away – violently!

To me, unrighteousness is a soft word. It’s akin to a “white lie”, wrong and sinful but not quite as aggressive to my ears. The KJV uses “iniquity” here and the Hebrew Lexicon’s render it “wickedness or depravity”. Now those are hostile and intimidating words, much more descriptive of the danger. Sin hurts us in every painful way imaginable, like a little boy slowly tearing the legs off a grasshopper before he stomps it. If we could see the complete grotesque picture of it and feel it’s ferocious reality we would treat it like that ticking grenade. Problem is, sin is pleasurable, a short lived but addictive high, insidiously beautiful, deceitfully captivating, and stubbornly adhesive. It’s hard to throw away.

So even while I encourage you, according to Scripture, to cast it far from you I’m painfully aware of the reality of that action. In part, that’s what the Body is for. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who will engage our battles with us. You may need to find fellow Christians to hear your confession, refuse to judge, and fight with you – go to them – NOW! The Holy Spirit is ever at the ready as well. Listen and obey His voice concerning the bomb you’re holding. Again, cry out, “Ok Lord, my sin is killing me, how do I get rid of it?” Find books and lessons by godly writers that address and give practical advice on beating your sinful struggles and demons – then follow their counsel. All of us have besetting sins – few of us discipline ourselves to fight to the death against them. The delight of victory and the presence of God is ours once we slay these enemies.

Bury Your Money: This is a short way to say, “you cannot serve two masters”. It’s God or Stuff! Eliphaz is quite poetic here. He exhorts Job to “place his gold in the dust” and “toss it in the stream” like so many common pebbles. I like that! If we can truly look at our wealth as “dust and rocks” and consider it of similar value in contrast to our delight in God, we will mirror the attitude Eliphaz describes here.

The Bible is ripe with instructions about materialism and money. Books have been written expounding the Bible truth about finances. I don’t want to repeat them, I want to encourage you to read what’s been written. Check out Randy Alcorn, Larry Burkett, Ron Blue, Dave Ramsay and others like them. They will help you. Remember our question again here, “Ok Lord, this money is yours, tell me what you want me to do with it.”

The core of the whole subject is this – When we value God and His works as our treasure above all other possible treasures, we will find our ultimate delight. How do I do that? How do I cultivate delight in our invisible God when the things I can touch, see, and sense cry out for my attention? That’s just what we’ve been discovering – everything we’ve said up till now is included in the answer. Everything we’ve said up till now can be described succinctly with one word – discipline.

To yield, receive instruction, return to God, remove unrighteousness, and bury our money is to practice spiritual disciplines. These are not skills we learn once, master, and never return to. They are cultivated habits that require continual nurturing and laborious exercise. This is the stuff of Paul’s confession that he beat his body (figuratively) to keep it under. He was speaking of the hard work of living for eternity. Investing in infinity by resisting the transient involves work, wisdom, and focus. Mastering these disciplines is what leads us to delight.

Athletes have a daily workout regime often with core items they do every day. Eliphaz gives us the Doable Daily Regimen for Delighting in God. Submit to this routine and we will find ourselves delighting more and more in God. We will also reap a substantial list of other benefits. More on those later…

Yield, Receive Instruction, Return to God, Remove Unrighteousness, and Bury Your Money, ‘Then the Almighty will be your gold, and choice silver to you. For then you will delight in the Almighty, and lift up your face to God.” Job 22:25-26