Many believers have faced great trials. They have faced financial uncertainty, failing health, or even fatal loss. This is the unfortunate consequence of living in a world cursed with man’s own rebellion. As severe as those trials are, often the most difficult tests to pass are not when something is taken from us, but when something is given to us.
It may defy reason to say Psalm 68:19 presents the greatest test. “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” Let us use the Israelites as our example. As they were evacuating Egypt, the people spoiled the earthly treasures of the Egyptians. In an attempt to appease the Lord of Israel, the Egyptians gladly parted with ornate gifts. This was something God designed to happen and he even included it in His detailed plan to Moses. The Israelites were going to leave with Egypt’s riches. Why? There are two passages which illuminate the reason.
In Exodus 32, the impatience of the people translated into idolatry and the “benefits” from God were wasted on a golden calf. God’s blessings were inappropriately lavished upon their own idolatrous imaginations instead of waiting for the opportunity to worship God through their offering. They indulged their own fancies. Then in Exodus 25, we learn of God’s intention for His blessing. “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering” (Exodus 25:2). Once the people realized the joy of giving and the reason for God’s blessing, they could not give enough. The people gave so willingly, Moses gave a commandment to restrain the people from giving (Exodus 36:6)!
Hence, the greatest test is not a matter of losing something, but of giving everything. In order to pass this test, we must remind ourselves of the reason God blesses us. Your value of salvation is reflected in your stewardship of God’s daily blessing.
Memorial Day. The official kick-off of summer brings with it for many a 3 day weekend, barbeques and for some a trip to the lake or ocean. Many of us as well will take at least a few minutes to remind ourselves of the purpose of the holiday: a day in which to honor the men and women who died while serving our country. Often if part of my Memorial Day is spent at home I will watch some war documentary on the History Channel to help further stress the importance of this holiday.
Certainly time spent with family and friends is a good thing and we certainly should pause to remember those who have given their lives for our country. Thank God for them! But our reading today causes us to pause and remember the ultimate sacrifice that was made for us. The book of Galatians is written to early believers who were starting to lose their understanding of the gospel based on a faith in Christ but were instead slipping back into legalism, thinking they had to do something to help or add to Christ’s work on the cross for their salvation. Their background in trying to obey the law was muddying their understanding of the gospel. Paul then gives some pointed teaching of the purpose of the law, that it serves as a “schoolmaster” (vs 24) to bring us to Christ. In other words, the law was given to show us God’s standard of right and wrong so that we could see how sinful we really are, which should then result in us coming to Christ for salvation. The word schoolmaster has the idea of someone who would come alongside the children and make sure they got safely to and from school. He was a guide, a helper.
In addition to Paul’s reminder of the purpose of the law, he also reminds these Galatians of the necessity of Christ’s work on the cross, stating in verse 13 that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us”. So while the law served to condemn us and show us the wickedness of our hearts, Christ’s dying on the cross redeems us from the condemnation that breaking the law would bring. So, while we spend some time today in memorial of those who have died for our country, may we also spend some time of reflection thanking the One who also gave His life for us, saving us from the curse of the law. We have much to be thankful for today!
Psalm 61 is a favorite of mine. The first thing that enters my mind is the rock of Gibraltar as a symbol of strength and safety, I get that same feeling when I read about the “Rock” that is higher than me. There is something about a rock. Throughout my travels I have parked myself upon many a rock in many a different spot.
While hunting I look for a nice rock to park on. When I was younger, if I saw a rock, or knew of one, I had to climb that mountain to witness the view it offered. I felt safe (from things that crept in the wooded underlay) and secure as I knew the ground I was resting on would not give way. Is this not a description of our Lord Jesus Christ? “In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Ps. 62:7-8).
We simply must remember there is no rock like “The Rock”. Psalm 61 says He is a rock higher than we. God goes on to describe Himself as a strong tower, a shelter, our defense and our salvation (a veritable Gibraltar).
Man has climbed the highest peaks on Earth; all the while enduring the pain doing so. We attain a sense of satisfaction, but this is merely temporal. Often the rocks we climb lead to false summits. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
One day while living in Jackson, Wyoming, I set off with some provisions and climb I did. As I ascended, God’s glory was present all around. At about 9000 feet elevation I came upon bighorn sheep. Just witnessing that was worth the trek, but I had to go on. I reached the snow line and could go no further because of its depth. With that, I descended some, found a beautiful large rock and settled down. The view was magnificent as I surveyed the Gros Ventre Wilderness. Off in another direction was the majestic Teton Range. I thought I was on top of the world; however, I realized the Tetons at 13800 some feet were at least another 4000 feet above me. As high as I had climbed, I realized I could never attain the loftiness of Heaven through my feeble efforts.
So, what is my point? No matter where we find ourselves in this life, there is always a “Rock” that is higher than we. We may climb physically, but we are limited. However, with Jesus we can obtain that “Rock” in this life and eternally (Rm. 10:9-11,13). Cling to the “Rock” and savor the view. On Christ the solid Rock we stand!
Think with me for a few minutes about your normal prayer time and ask yourself what you usually thank God for. Do you thank Him for your salvation regularly? Certainly we should. How about other things like safety, health, family, friends, etc.? Personally, I will try to take at least a few minutes and thank God for the good things He gives me that are often taken for granted, like those that I just listed. Besides trying to remember to thank God for these things, often times we pray and ask God for these types of requests, things that will make our life easier and more enjoyable. After all, life is hard enough without having major things go wrong, isn’t it?
Not that there is anything per se wrong with asking God for these things, but our reading today points out that Paul had a little different type of attitude. In 2 Corinthians 11, he lists some of the things he has had to endure for the cause of Christ. Things such as whippings, beatings, being shipwrecked, weariness, sleeplessness, hunger, without sufficient clothing and prison time. That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Kind of makes our “suffering” seem pretty minor, doesn’t it?
He also in chapter 12 talks about a thorn in the flesh that he asked God to take away. No doubt this thorn was some physical condition that he had to deal with regularly. The Lord’s response is one that most of us know well, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, God is saying that He would not take the thorn away and make Paul’s life easier, but instead He would give Paul the grace to deal with the issue.
Paul’s response to this shows a level of spiritual maturity that few of us have. He responds by saying, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” Really Paul? You take pleasure in those things? How different of an attitude than most of us have considering we often ask God for a pain-free life. In fact, some would even try to link someone’s spirituality to how trouble-free their life is. Instead, Paul reminds us of the importance of living a life fully dependent on God and His grace and how our walk with the Lord is often the strongest as we go through the hard times in life. So, while I don’t think we need to go as far as to ask God for problems, may we recognize the spiritual benefits as we go through life’s many valleys.