Saturday, August 25, 2012

Exceeding Abundant Pain

There is a New Testament passage that many Christians like to refer to and even memorize. In Christian churches, it is a good one for strong emotional appeal. It goes like this: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3) A friend shed a little light on this bit of scripture that has changed my thinking a bit and I want to pass it on.

This is one of those Bible passages that usually sits right next to the picture of your kids or grandkids on the refrigerator door, one of those “Wow!” verses. And, it’s usually interpreted something like, Oh, man! What a great promise! God is going really bless me. I’ve been praying for a two-bedroom house, and if I believe him enough, or live rightly enough, he’s going bless me with a four-bedroom house. Or, I’ve been praying for a new Honda and this means that if I live right or trust God enough, he’s going to bless me with a BMW.

In my opinion, there has never been a more thorough slaughtering of biblical understanding. What I’ve come to understand about this God of love is that he isn’t very much interested in my comfort. That isn’t at the top of his list. Yes, I believe God loves to bless us with good things, and he sometimes surprises us with things that bring a level of comfort to our lives. But, his desire for us is our ultimate good. And, isn’t that what love really boils down to? Having and expressing a desire for the ultimate good of another, even to the point of disregard for our own desires? When we love someone, we will do what it takes to see that that person has what they need even if it means we have to sacrifice pleasure and desire for ourselves.

The New Testament writers are pretty plain spoken about God’s love for us. “God so loved” us that he GAVE. He gave everything, sacrificed everything for us. Sacrificed all to bring us wholeness, to heal our brokenness, to bring us back into relationship with him, the ultimate center of life. He is a God of love, so much so that one writer defined his character as Love Itself. “God IS love,” he said. And, that self-sacrificing love was devoted to our best interest. It wasn’t a mushy feeling kind of love that seeks to indulge whim and fancy, that wants to give us everything our hearts desire even if it means it will not be good for us.

What that scripture actually means is that when I’m praying and asking for things, and God isn’t doing what I think he should be doing for me, even if I think I have a clearly “godly” agenda, something deeper is happening. He is doing something exceedingly and abundantly more than I can imagine. I can imagine living in the paradise of my dreams, laying on a hammock under the cool shade of palm trees on a tropical island, drinking iced tea. I can imagine driving my dream car cruising down the highway with the top down and the wind blowing on a warm, sunny day. I can imagine all the comforts of life surrounding me and having all the money I could ever want to satisfy every urge and impulse.

What I can’t imagine is pain ... and that God will use discomfort and suffering to do something deeply inside of me to bring me to wholeness, to bring me back to himself, to save me from foolishness and other antics of life that would destroy me and those around me and make me less than he created me to be. I’m coming to understand that God does use the downsides of life to do his work in me and through me. The exceeding abundance is his power that is at work IN me, a power that is life changing, a power of love that starts a process of healing, and brings me to a place of usefulness in the world.

He loves me that much.

Here is how Eugene Peterson puts it:
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”  ~ The Message

Well spoken, I think. My Father loves me. My Father knows How to love me. My Father knows best. He’s got my back, he’s looking out for me and all those I love.

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