Monday, February 8, 2016

What We Can Learn About the Christian Life from Compost

Part 4:
We have to go through tough stuff, but God Provides Ways for us to Get Through It

The ingredients of compost are not nearly as potent as the finished product. That potency only comes if they are subjected to the composting process. That process is not easy on those ingredients. The best compost comes from a process that usually involves shredding, decomposition, microbial activity,  high temperatures, and periodic shake ups. That is tough and totally transformative, but it results in something with far more value than the ingredients had at the outset.  What can we lean from that?

We usually have to go through tough stuff to become as fruitful as God wants us to be
Scripture makes it clear that we too must go through tough stuff to become as fruitful as God wants us to be. Deuteronomy 8:2-6 explains how the Israelites’ hardships in the desert were necessary to transform them from slaves of men to instruments of God. Joseph and David had to go through extraordinarily hard things to be prepared for their extraordinary fruitfulness. Jesus described that dynamic in in John 15:1-2, explaining that God prunes branches to make them more fruitful. That same truth is reflected in Proverbs 3:11-12, Sirach 2,  Romans 5:3-5, Hebrews 12:4-13, and James 1:2-4. The continuing nature of that principal can be confirmed by talking with extraordinarily fruitful Christians today; almost without exception they will tell you that they had to be “composted” before they could produce what God called them to.  Sirach 2:1 puts it well: “if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal”(New Jerusalem Bible).

God gives us ways to deal with that tough stuff
That’s not fun, but it’s not impossible. “God is faithful and … with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13. See also, John 16:33. Here are three of the most important ways to get through life’s “composting” times.

Talk to God
This is the most important; we are explicitly told to talk to God about the difficulties we must go through.  Scripture instructs us to ask Him for wisdom about how to deal with difficulties and for help in dealing with stress that comes with them. James 1:2-5, Hebrews 4:14-16; Philippians 4:6-7.  See also Psalm 24:4-5 ; Psalm 86:11; Psalm 119:10, 19, 26-27, 34-36, 66, 125, 133, 176.  God really wants us to do this, we are told to keep pestering Him. Luke 18:1-8; Luke 11:5-8. See also Matthew 15:21-28.

We don’t have to sugar coat our prayers. There are multiple examples of godly folks, even Jesus Himself, expressing concerns about what God asked them to go through. Exodus 3:11-15;  4:1-5; 5:19-6:1, 6:28-7:5; 32:11-14; Numbers 11:21-23, Joshua 7:6-9; 1 Kings 19:8-18;  Jeremiah 1:4-19; Matthew 26:39-44; Mark 14:32-40; Luke 22:40-46.

It’s also fine to ask for help completing what God has called you to,  Psalm 86:16, Palm 119:28-29, 37, 42, 125, 173,  and for help/deliverance generally. Exodus 14:10;  Psalm 25:19-20, Psalm 70, Psalm 119:22, 28, 31, 39, 58, 94-95, 116, 122, 134, 147, 153-154; Acts 4:29-30. Scripture shows us that we can also ask for comfort and reassurance. Psalm 25:17-17; Psalm 86:1-4; Psalm 119:38, 76-77, 135.

Finally on this point, it’s even OK to gripe to God. See e g.  Genesis 15:1-6;  Numbers 11:11-15; Numbers 16:15; 1 Samuel 1;  Psalm 22:1-2, 12-18;  Psalm 55:16-17; Psalm 62:8;  Psalm 88; Psalm 119:28; Matthew 27:46.  That is a far better alternative to bitching and moaning to other folks. I can tell you from hard experience that only latter approach only reinforces your negative emotions. That’s probably why scripture tells us to avoid it. Wisdom 1:11; Philippians 2:14-15.                           

Keep things in perspective
         Another way to deal with the stress of tough transformative experiences is to keep them in perspective. God has perfect love for us and perfect knowledge of what we need to be and receive all the good He intends. Wisdom 7:22-26; Proverbs 8:1-21;   He knows that some of the very best things can only come about if we go through rough stuff.  He therefore sometimes let us suffer because it will lead to greater good, either for us or others. Hebrews 12:7-11; James 1:2-4.

It is easier to bear that suffering if we keep that that dynamic in mind. Perhaps that’s why God went to pains to to tell Moses why He was asking him and the Israelites to go through the trials involved in the exodus. Exodus 3:14-16; 6:1-8; 7:1-5 & 13; 10:1-2; 11:9-10; and all of chapter 14. And perhaps that’s why Jesus kept highlighting the bigger picture of His passion as He was going through the very tough details. Matthew 26:20-25,26-29, 45-46, 53-54, 56; Luke 22:15-23, 28-30, 31-34,53, 60-61 67-69; John 18:7-9, 11; 19:9-11  And that’s probably why scripture repeatedly tells us to look for the very great good that is on the other side of our suffering. See e.g.  Psalm 37: 10-11, 29, 34, 37-38 ;  Sirach 2:2-9; Romans 8:18; Hebrews 12:1-2 

Doing Good
Finally, another great help is helping someone else. It gets your mind off of what you are going through, and replaces negative emotions with positive ones. That approach is most explicitly described in Psalm 37, a Psalm David wrote about going through tough times. In it he twice tells to “do good” while we are in the midst of our difficulties,  vv. 3, 27,  something he also told us in Psalm 34:14. David was not alone in this. Jesus did some specific good things while he was going through His passion. Luke 22:49-51; Luke 23:39-43; John 18:3-9.  

Are these things easy? No. Are they silver bullets? No. Are there other things we need to do while we are suffering or do for other folks while they are suffering? Yes. But these things must help or God wouldn’t have told us about them, and I can tell you from my own experience that they do help.

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