Wednesday, March 1, 2017

When You Don't Want to Be in Need... (Be Blessed)

The words from the doctor were pretty deflating. “Well, as we get older…” is not a comforting phrase to preface bad news, either. More discouraging thoughts soon followed--feeling guilty for my own poor eating choices, reprimanding myself for not paying more attention to my health, and dreading the possibility of even more results and consequences that could be coming.

But a beautiful day off after an extra-busy stretch provided a nice respite (although my aching knees after a short walk rushed back that dreaded age-thought again). So I sat down on the deck to read a bit and was encouraged by a few blogs, including one on Lent and rest. I was feeling uplifted and validated in knowing I need to take time away from the busyness that always pulls at me and was considering signing up for her Lenten devotional when the last few words of the post stopped me dead, practically appalling. The author encouraged her readers to leave a comment telling where they live and “what you want Jesus to do for you during Lent.”

Excuse me? I know I’ve never been much of a Lenten-participator with my church background, but isn’t Lent more about remembering the suffering of Christ and focusing on what He has done for us? What He has done, as in already completed, surely not selfishly asking Him to do something more?

But after pondering these thoughts for a while, I really became more appalled with my own self-righteousness instead. My mind suddenly turned back to the lesson I taught our junior high Sunday School class the day before. How could Solomon, who was given great wisdom from God, make such foolish decisions? Could it be that when he was first graced with the divine asking for whatever he wished, the new king was acutely aware he needed God to help him lead the nation? He humbly asked God for what he needed most, the wisdom to rule God’s people. But as he gained that wisdom and then multiplied riches and wives, to all outward appearances he had everything he needed. Do you think he kept asking God for help? Or did he rely on what he already had? How close to God can a person stay while feeling completely self-sufficient?

We don’t really know all the reasons for Solomon’s foolish decisions, but we do know he turned from God’s commands clearly stated in Deuteronomy 17:14-17. And as verse 17 warned, Solomon’s heart was led astray by his many wives. So what does all this have to do with Lent, or my relatively minor but hitting-me-hard-at-almost-40 health concerns?

I think in all of it I need to come back to the simple beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Being poor in spirit often is not what we want to choose. The original word for poor conveys an even stronger meaning--destitute, reduced to beggary, helpless, aware of our low estate. It feels better to think we have things under control on our own without having to ask for help or “feel needy.”

But the kingdom of heaven? That’s worth everything. Or as Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). In his joy he sold all he had. He willingly and gladly became destitute in every other way to gain the greatest treasure.

The treasure is worth it. But it’s a blessing that comes only to those desperate enough to seek Him, acknowledging the depths of our poverty of spirit and confessing we have nothing without Him.

This is a lesson I feel like I have to keep learning. Truly I have seen so much of God and His kingdom in times where I’ve felt most desperate, in the middle of the mess, both in situations many of you know and in others I can’t even share publicly. I wouldn’t trade those glimpses of seeing God more closely for anything self-sufficiency could make me feel like I have.

But somehow it doesn’t seem to take long after a difficult season for the temptation to rise up again. The voices can sound like, “I don’t need anything. I can handle this. Why ask anyone for help? Just get it together.” Sound familiar?

But I want to be more like Jesus,
“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made Himself nothing…” (Philippians 2:6-7a)

Other versions say He “emptied Himself” as He made Himself poor and “of no reputation” for us, so we could have the treasure of the kingdom of God. I can barely take it in, this upside-down kingdom. But the grace of it hits me afresh.

So I echo the words of Paul… “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

So what do I want Jesus to “do for me” during Lent? I don’t know yet. But maybe at least I won’t be offended by the question… Maybe I won’t be foolish enough to think I can give anything to Him except this life that’s already His. Maybe I’ll ask Him for a little more humility to take in that the extravagant love He poured out at the cross and all along that road is something He desires to keep pouring out for me every day. Or maybe I’ll even pray for my aching knees so I can more fully enjoy long walks as the weather gets nicer. I think I’m going to need them more and more “as I get older”…

What about you? When is it hard for you to acknowledge you are in need? My prayer is that you’ll be encouraged by the love of our Savior who “longs to be gracious to you” and “rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18).

Blessings to you!