“That’s Just the Way I Am”

When my youngest son was small, he was a real chatty little guy. In fact, sometimes he could talk too much. I didn’t want to squelch his openness with people or his ability to strike up a conversation, as those are valuable traits (which don’t come naturally to me!) But on the other hand, no one wants to be around someone who talks incessantly. Once he was talking to the wife and mother of a visiting missionary family at church who was trying to soothe a fussy baby and graciously step away from him, and he kept chatting merrily on. When I tried to suggest that perhaps he was talking a little too much, he flashed his bright smile and said, “That’s just the way God made me.”

“Well,” I thought, “What do I say to that?”

After a while the Lord did bring to mind a few principles to share with him, such as the fact that God made us to eat, yet it is wrong to eat too much or the wrong things; God made us to sleep, but warns against loving sleep too much and being lazy, etc. He gives us responsibility to use our natural bent and inclinations in the right way. We talked about the warning signs that you’re talking too much — when other people look bored, sleepy, or glazed, or when they’re trying to step away or start another conversation with someone else, etc.

I’ve heard variations on that response from time to time. I used to really struggle under the leadership of someone who was not good with details: when he overlooked something that caused problems, frustrations, more work, etc., for the people under him, he’d just smile and say, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not good with details. I’m just not wired that way.” I’ve heard someone apologize for an angry outburst by saying, “I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper.” I’ve known people who think they have the spirituals gifts of prophesy or exhortation to harshly lambast a person or movement (and take great pleasure in doing so), forgetting that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24-25).

When my middle son was in about the 6th or 7th grade, he was lamenting that he studied for spelling tests and yet still received disappointing grades, and a classmate hardly studied at all and yet made A’s. I explained that everyone has an aptitude for certain areas, and this friend obviously happened to have an aptitude for spelling. He brightened, thinking that since he didn’t have a natural aptitude for spelling, he didn’t really have to worry about it. I had to say, no, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on your spelling: in fact, in means you have to work harder!

The person who is not good with details is not excused from having to deal with them; in fact, he may have to work harder to handle them, or hire an assistant to help him. The person with a bad temper is not allowed to give it free reign because he can’t help himself. The shy or introverted person had to extend himself sometimes, even though it’s uncomfortable. Even spiritual gifts such as exhortation or mercy or giving have to be kept in balance. A person whose gift is giving for example, can’t run his family into debt or neglect their needs to give to others. He is responsible to exercise that gift in conjunction with other Scriptural instruction under God’s leadership. Scripture contains several passages of instruction concerning how to exercise spiritual gifts.

Understanding they way we’re “wired” does help us to know what direction to go in life, what ministries or vocations to choose, etc. For instance, I am not good with numbers: I can add the same list of numbers up three times and get three different answers — even with a calculator. So I would not look for a job as an accountant. I get rattled in a busy, noisy environment, so I wouldn’t likely work best there  – as a teen I lasted working for a fast-food place for only a week.

However, sometimes God does call people to do what doesn’t come naturally — Moses felt he could not lead or speak, yet God did not accept any of his excuses. Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). We think of the apostle Paul as bold and wise, yet he said, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom” — but he goes on to say, “but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3-5). Sometimes God uses people in the ways they seem to be bent, but other times He calls them to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them to show His power and His grace through them.

Whether dealing with a sin issue, a personality bent, or even a spiritual gift, “That’s just the way I am” is not a good excuse. God wants us to seek Him for deliverance from the power of sin, for power and grace to maintain right balances and to be diligent even in areas where we don’t have natural gifts, and for help to grow continually more Christlike every day we live. He does not want us to remain “just the way we are.” “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). We’re changed….by beholding Him.

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See also: The means of change.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday. Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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I Need Thee, Precious Jesus

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am full of sin;
My soul is dark and guilty,
My heart is dead within.
I need the cleansing fountain
Where I can always flee,
The blood of Christ most precious,
The sinner’s perfect plea.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am very poor;
A stranger and a pilgrim,
I have no earthly store.
I need the love of Jesus
To cheer me on my way,
To guide my doubting footsteps,
To be my strength and stay.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need a friend like Thee,
A friend to soothe and pity,
A friend to care for me.
I need the heart of Jesus
To feel each anxious care,
To tell my every trouble,
And all my sorrows share.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need Thee, day by day,
To fill me with Thy fullness,
To lead me on my way;
I need Thy Holy Spirit,
To teach me what I am,
To show me more of Jesus,
To point me to the Lamb.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
And hope to see Thee soon,
Encircled with the rainbow
And seated on Thy throne.
There, with Thy blood bought children,
My joy shall ever be,
To sing Thy praises, Jesu,
To gaze, O Lord, on Thee.

~ Frederick Whitfield

Mine, mine was the transgression

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This is an old hymn that we don’t hear much any more, but it comes to mind when I think of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. I found a number of different translations and extra verses online (such as here), but this is close to the one I am familiar with.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this, thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Lord, make me thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee..

 -Bernard of Clairvaux

Faithful in Obscurity

Many years ago, our former pastor preached a series of messages about Jesus’s 12 disciples. Several concentrated on Peter, naturally: he’s the one who is mentioned most often in the gospels and Acts and who also wrote two books himself. James and John, with Peter, made up the closest inner circle. We have memorable and telling scenes in the gospels with Matthew (aka Levi), Nathanael (also called Bartholomew), Philip, Andrew, and Thomas. And, of course, much could be observed about Judas. But there are several about whom we know little except their names and the fact that they were chosen of Jesus and were there in all the situations that involved the twelve.

My pastor pointed out that one lesson we can learn from them is faithfulness in obscurity. Their names might not be the ones everyone remembers: in fact, theirs might be the hardest to come up with in a trivia challenge. But they had their purposes and their duties.

Sometimes God has us “in the background” for a season. I’ve just been reading the first few chapters of 1 Samuel was was struck by how often it’s said that “Samuel was ministering before the Lord” or “Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man” in contrast with Eli’s wicked sons. His time of more public ministry came later, and I’m sure he had no idea how far-reaching it would be. But he faithfully served God whether in the background or the limelight. Paul spent three years in Arabia, a section of his life we know little about, before becoming well-known.

Sometimes we’re in obscurity because our mission is to be the help and support behind the one out in front. Perhaps you’ve heard mention of Mr. Edward D. Kimball, perhaps not, but he is the Sunday School teacher who led D. L. Moody to the Lord. From what I have read of him, he faithfully served in that capacity for years, and his ministry in the life of each of his students is as valuable as the one that resulted in a world-famous evangelist. John Newton’s mother was only able to influence her son for Christ for under seven years before she died. But God took the seed sown, watered it, and brought it to fruition years later. I read once where C. H. Spurgeon credited much of the success of his ministry to those who prayed for him behind the scenes.

Some experience a time of seeming obscurity after a wide and public ministry. Philip experienced quite a successful ministry in the city of Samaria, but he was just as faithful and just as useful when called to speak to one man on a desert road. Amy Carmichael had a very busy ministry in India when an accident left her an invalid for the last several years of her life. She might have felt more obscure and less useful, but God used her writings after that time to influence multitudes for years to come. Paul, as well, might have felt pretty obscure in a Roman prison after years of missionary journeys and preaching to crowds, but what we know as the prison epistles were born in that scenario. As Elisabeth Elliot said, our limitations don’t hinder our ministry: they define our ministry.

But probably the great majority of us are like those few disciples in the background. Our name isn’t meant for the spotlight. Maybe we couldn’t handle it. Maybe that’s just not where God wants us to be. People might not ever see or know what we do. But God does. Faithfulness to Him and whatever ministry He has called us to are what matters.

Though this isn’t a post primarily about blogging, some years ago a blogging friend wrote of something that has stayed with me all these years. She was struggling with the desire for more readers. But God helped her with the concept of “feeding those at the table”: being faithful to those who were within her reach and trusting Him with the size of the audience.

In what we call “the parable of the talents,” different people were given different amounts of the master’s money to steward. We’re not told why different ones had different amounts. But the person with only three wasn’t to covet the ten given to another: he was to faithfully invest what was entrusted to him.

It’s not necessarily wrong to seek a wider audience, especially when we’re trying to convey truth and encouragement. And it’s wrong to avoid a larger sphere of ministry if that’s what God is calling us to. But we’re to be faithful whether we’re ministering to few or many, whether our opportunities are wide or seemingly narrow. What matters is doing whatever we do as unto Him, and “thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:4, 6).

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday)

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My Father’s Love

I have this song on a couple of CDs, and a lady in the church we used to attend in another state sang it occasionally. It always ministers to me, especially the last two lines of the refrain.

The world’s wealth and riches can be bought and sold.
But I possess a treasure far greater than gold;
‘Twas a gift passed down to me from heaven above,
‘Twas the gift of my Father’s love.

And my Father’s love is strong and true,
Always believing, always seeing me through.
So no matter what happens in His grand design,
I’ll be fine with my Father’s love.

Safe and secure now in His love alone,
I find here my place of worth as one of His own.
And I don’t need ev’rything this world wants to give,
‘Cause I live with my Father’s love.

And my Father’s love is strong and true,
Always believing, always seeing me through.
So no matter what happens in His grand design,
I’ll be fine with my Father’s love.

So, no matter what happens in His grand design,
I’ll be fine with my Father’s love,
with my Father’s love.
I have my Father’s love.

Text and music by Amy Susan Foster, Mike Harland and Niles Borop, recorded by the Soundforth Singers on their CD A Strong Tower and also by Sena Rice on Love Lifted Me. I don’t know who the folks are in this video, but the arrangement and accompaniment are much like the recordings I have.

Trusting God in the Dark

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I’ve been rediscovering a CD that I’ve had for a while that had somehow gotten buried in my little basket I keep on the kitchen counter for CDs: Beyond All Praising by the BJU Singers and Orchestra. One of the songs that stands out to me from this CD is “In Your Silence,” words by Eileen Berry and music by Molly IJames, on the theme of trusting God even when He seems silent and distant.

In Your word I find the echoes of the questions in my mind;
Have I fallen from Your favor, is Your ear to me inclined?
When Your silence is unbroken, though my prayer ascends each day,
Father, keep my faith from failing in the face of long delay.

While You wait in gracious wisdom and my doubts begin to rise,
I recall Your loving kindness, and lift my hopeful eyes.
While Your hand withholds the answer, I will not withhold my heart.
I will love you in Your silence, I will trust You in the dark.

When the troubled thoughts within me hold me wakeful in the night,
And the shadows that surround me seem to hide me from Your sight.
Father, bring to my remembrance mercies shown in days gone by.
Help me rest upon Your promise: You will not neglect my cry!

While You wait in gracious wisdom and my doubts begin to rise,
I recall Your loving kindness, and lift my hopeful eyes.
While Your hand withholds the answer, I will not withhold my heart.
I will love you in Your silence, I will trust You in the dark.

It is performed beautifully here:

I think many Christians go through times like this. Biblically Job and the psalmists share similar thoughts, and this song echoes some of the Psalms: the second stanza brings to mind Psalm 63. The last two lines of the chorus particularly resonate with me: “While Your hand withholds the answer, I will not withhold my heart. I will love you in Your silence, I will trust You in the dark.”

This song also brings to mind a section in Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose (linked to my review). The following occurred while she was in a Japanese prison camp, having been captured while a missionary to the New Guinea during WWII.

I knew that without God, without that consciousness of His Presence in every troubled hour, I could never have made it…Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I felt enveloped in a spiritual vacuum. “Lord, where have You gone? What have I said or done to grieve You? Why have You withdrawn Your Presence from me? Oh Father—” In a panic I jumped to my feet, my heart frantically searching for a hidden sin, for a careless thought, for any reason why my Lord should have withdrawn His Presence from me. My prayers, my expressions of worship, seemed to go no higher than the ceiling; there seemed to be no sounding board. I prayed for forgiveness, for the Holy Spirit to search my heart. To none of my petitions was there any apparent response.

 I sank to the floor and quietly and purposefully began to search the Scriptures hidden in my heart…

 “Lord, I believe all that the Bible says. I do walk by faith and not by sight. I do not need to feel You near, because Your Word says You will never leave me nor forsake me. Lord, I confirm my faith; I believe.” The words of Hebrews 11:1 welled up, unbeckoned, to fill my mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The evidence of things not seen. Evidence not seen — that was what I put my trust in — not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in the unchanging Person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I realized that I was singing:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

 On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy, but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Savior, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning. In a measure I felt I understood what Job meant when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:35). Job knew that he could trust God, because Job knew the character of the One in Whom he had put his trust. It was faith stripped of feelings, faith without trappings. More than ever before, I knew that I could ever and always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord. I encouraged myself in the Lord and His Word.

We don’t always know why God seems distant. Sometimes it is sin: though He is with us always, that fellowship can be broken when we’re sinning against Him. Sometimes, as in Darlene’s case, He is teaching us to trust in Him and His Word and not in our feelings. Sometimes, like for Daniel, answers are delayed due to spiritual opposition. There may be other reasons as well, but the answer is the same: reminding ourselves of and resting on His Word.

Though this is not a “dark” time for me, it is for a few friends, so I hope this encourages them, and I can shore these truths up for myself for when those times might come around in the future.

Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Isaiah 50:10

(Reposted from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Wise Woman, Testimony Tuesday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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Sandpaper Christians

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Some years ago I read a book by a Chinese Christian whose life was severely impacted by the mercurial demands of his mother. In that culture at that time, respect for elders was taken to extremes, and neither this man nor his wife felt that they should ever confront his mother. He wrote of the Lord using the situation to smooth some of his rough edges, like a pebble that has been worn round and smooth by being tossed and bumped around in a stream. I wish I could remember the book title or author’s name, because I would love to revisit this book. (By the way, I am not suggesting that mothers-in-law should act that way or that adult children shouldn’t sometimes have some frank discussions with their parents, but this was how this man felt led in his time and culture.)*

Around that same time, there was a lady at the church I was attending who, I am sad to say, really rubbed me the wrong way. Unfortunately, that says more about me than it does about her. She was not mean or unkind. I won’t go into the details about what I found so irritating, but I had just about decided that the best way to keep positive thoughts about her and to keep peace in my heart towards her was just to avoid her as much as possible. Then one January, our ladies’ group at church drew names for “secret pals” from others in the group: our primary duty to our secret pal was to pray for her, but we were also encouraged to send notes and small gifts through the year. Guess whose name I drew. Yes, that particular lady. I was tempted to put her name back and draw another, but I decided that was petty, and this woman was one for whom I was supposed to especially pray that year. And praying for her did help. I began to understand a little of why she acted the way she did and, though we never became very close friends, I saw her in a different light and my attitude changed.

I don’t remember exactly when those two incidents happened in relation to each other, but in my mind I connected them, and began to think of my “secret pal” as a sandpaper Christian, one designed to smooth off some of my jagged edges.

Though I have moved away and lost touch with that particular lady, it seems like I almost always have one or two sandpaper acquaintances in my life. Again, that is a sad commentary on me more than a reflection on them. I admit sometimes I wonder who is sandpaper to them, but God reminds me that’s His business, and He is working with each of His children to help them grow more Christlike. And, sadly, though I am not aware of being an irritant to anyone else, I am sure I am unwittingly sandpaper to somebody.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote in A Lamp For My Feet (and it encourages me that she felt this way about some people, too, sometimes):

How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God’s messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God’s messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.

We’re all made in God’s image and deserve each other’s respect for being His creation if nothing else. That image is marred in each of us not only because sin in general entered the world, but because each of us has our own particular sinful tendencies. God loved us “while we were yet sinners,” and since He wants us to love as He does, that means loving others who are still sinners, who aren’t yet perfect, who don’t have their act completely together yet. And if the other person is a Christian, he or she is my spiritual sibling. Further, He calls us to “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” I often remind myself that I am no better than the other person; in fact, I am a good deal worse.

I am often discouraged by my lack of love and my abundance of irritation towards people, and it is a frequent matter of prayer. In a quote I saved but can’t find now from a sermon by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones from I John, he makes a distinction between liking and loving and says we are to love people we might not necessarily like, and that helped some. Biblical love, after all, is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. I always appreciated Bible verses about “forbearing one another in love” partly because it’s an admission that there are going to be people in our lives who are going to require forbearance. Sometimes I have felt that tolerating or forbearing was the best I could do, but God calls me to more. They are His dear children for whom He died, and He wants me to love them as much as I love myself, and even more – as He loves me. A tall order that can only be accomplished by meditating on His great love.

A few years ago I read C. S. Lewis’s Weight of Glory, and one section in the first essay of the same title really helped along these lines. After discussing what our future glorification in heaven means, he writes:

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to …remember that the dullest and most  uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

I would disagree with what I think he is saying about the sacrament – I believe it is symbolic and representative and doesn’t contain any glory in itself. It is bread, not Christ’s actual body, meant to put us in mind of His body torn for us. But Christ does indwell a fellow child of God, and he is continually working in His children so that more of Himself can be seen through them.

No mere mortals. No ordinary people. Future glorified saints. Fellow citizens of the household of God. Sons and daughters of the King. These are the ones with whom we have to do. May we treat them accordingly. And may we treat those who are not yet in the family of God as if we are eager for them to be.

Beneath the cross of Jesus
His family is my own—
Once strangers chasing selfish dreams,
Now one through grace alone.
How could I now dishonor
The ones that You have loved?
Beneath the cross of Jesus
See the children called by God.

~ Keith and Kristen Getty

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40

Love each other

(Revised from the archives)

*There are times to confront, and there is some behavior that should not be tolerated. Sometimes the authorities even need to be brought in, for example, in cases of abuse. This post is not dealing with those issues, and I am not saying we should be doormats for people to walk all over us. This post is talking mainly about those everyday irritations we experience as our personalities bump against each other.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Wise WomanWoman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Tell His Story, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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