People who don’t attend a church may not understand the benefits of corporate worship. You get to know people who are trying to live out a life in Christ, however imperfectly we are all trying to do that. If you choose to commit to your church, you can really get to know your fellow church members in smaller groups, Bible studies, prayer groups and Sunday school classes. Sometimes people reveal more private things in small groups; people are “loosened up” and become more comfortable in a more intimate setting.
Let me tell you, some of that sharing can be so helpful; it leads to “iron sharpens iron*” moments.
We all seem to need help understanding God’s wisdom. In writing about God’s wisdom, I feel first-hand what Isaiah 55:8-9 expresses: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” What is the prophet Isaiah really saying about God here?
Try as hard as we might, we will never understand God…
Our finite human brains are just not up to the task.
In today’s Sunday school class, I made an attempt to teach on God’s discipline, for me a daunting task. I raised questions like how can one distinguish between God’s discipline and God’s wrath? The point of the class was supposed to be that so many Christians misunderstand the discipline of God; they get confused because they assume (1.) that discipline is a bad thing (2.) that when God disciplines man, it must be because man has done something very wrong. In our class, I have about eighteen people and all of us have seen hard times. As I prepared this lesson, it struck me that our church right now has numerous people who are struggling through hard times. I wondered if I should bring up some of these trials. I wondered if the class would understand that their hard times may just be examples of God’s discipline.
Sometimes I feel bold as I teach class and I did today; I think the class was ready to receive my message. I felt that they could understand that some of their trials may just be God’s discipline.
There is a blind man in my class. He was not blind from birth. He had his sight for many years and like others in his family, he had an inherited trait that left him totally without sight. He suspected this was going to happen to him one day because his family members suffered this loss before he did. I made reference to his blindness. I alluded to his loss of sight in the context of us all having times of suffering due to God’s discipline. It was a bit risky. [Of course, none of us knows why we have to suffer].
His sweet wife quickly interjected: “Do you know that Bob could not see until he became blind.”
I knew immediately what she meant and I repeated this back to her: “You mean that he found our Lord Jesus Christ in his blindness?”
Her answer and his answer was “Yes.”
Iron sharpens iron.
In dealing with His people, God exercises wisdom far beyond what we can comprehend. Yes, God disciplines Christians like parents discipline their children. He loves us and He wants us to grow in righteousness and He either brings or allows trials into our lives to grow us. Those trials change the way we think about life, but we still feel the pain associated with the trial. Discipline hurts. We want God to kiss the boo-boo and make the pain go away and sometimes He refuses to do that.
Packer** writes several pages of “Bible biography” in his book to illustrate this point. He comments on Abraham and the episode of Sarai and Hagar, how Abraham needed to learn to practice living in God’s presence. God put Abraham in this situation so he could begin to learn the lesson of “walking with God, resting in His revealed will, relying on Him, waiting for Him, bowing to His providence, obeying Him even when He commands something odd and unconventional.” Through Abraham’s life experiences and God’s lessons (God’s wisdom), Abraham becomes a man of God. Packer also illustrates God’s wisdom with Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Finally he explains that Joseph is a perfect example of God’s ways being much more comprehensive than man’s ways.*** To put it simply, all of these Biblical characters could not see God’s “big picture.” God had a long term view and being human, they could only understand what was right in front of them.
Packer writes about these three men: “These things are written for our learning, for the same wisdom that ordered the paths which God’s saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian’s life today.” Like my Sunday school lesson, we should not question God when upsetting or discouraging things happen in life. My point was that God’s discipline might be in play, but Packer’s is that God in His wisdom may be making something happen to us to grow our character. Specifically, maybe He wants us to learn patience, compassion, humility, self- denial. Maybe He wants to rid us of pride or conceit. As we often see in times of trouble, God may want to draw us closer to Him, for most of us cry out to God in midst of painful trials. “Perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which we at present have no inkling” [Packer 97].
Packer cites the Apostle Paul as the perfect example of the man of God who accepts his affliction and does not question his Savior. Paul had a “thorn in his flesh” and he could have blamed it on Satan but he sought Christ’s face three times, asking that it may be removed. Finally he accepted it, saying the words “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Finally he writes in Second Corinthians 12: 7-9 “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Paul is a model for all of us as we struggle to accept God’s wisdom, as we struggle to accept God’s discipline. We don’t have to know God’s plan in order to live out our lives in Christ. We just have to accept that He knows what He is doing and we don’t. That is what walking in faith is all about. When we encounter those “baffling and trying situations” we should do two things (1.) take them as from God (2.) seek God’s face specifically about them.
Certainly Paul was being equipped for service and his ability to accept problems enabled him to glorify God.
Maybe that same attitude is being worked out in my Sunday school class, as a blind man says to all of us “In my blindness, I began to see.”
*From Proverbs 27:17
**J.I. Packer, from his book Knowing God
***Abraham, Jacob and Joseph as examples of God’s wisdom being exercised in the life of man.