When Life is Kicking You, Keep Serving.
By Pastor Pat Badstibner
When you read that…it seems almost impossible, doesn’t it? When we are suffering, depending on the level of suffering, it will seem hard enough to just put one foot in front of the other. Serve others? Are you kidding. That is why our Sub-Title is:
What possible motivation can we find to serve others when life is hitting us in the stomach with a baseball bat?
Truthfully, how does one find the motivation to not be completely focused inward during those times when life just keeps piling it on? When the days feel like a sweltering 150 degrees because of the trials, temptations and suffering one is going through. During such times it will often be hard to find within ourselves the ability do so on our own. It will be almost impossible to keep our eyes looking to the One who started this journey and who has promised to indeed finish it (Philippians 1:6, Hebrews 12:2).
In Matthew 26:38 we see Jesus coming to the garden with His disciples preparing Himself to complete the mission He came for. We see the reality that we do indeed have a Saviour who understands our deepest sorrows.
As Christ expresses His deep anguish, His deep pain, knowing that He is getting ready to face the wrath of His Father, He is wishing it was already over. He is deeply distressed, carrying a deep emotional weight. He not only needs their prayers but also their support as His friends.
In these verses we see Christ applying in His life this truth that we are not meant to live as loners, isolated, nor are we to live in our strength with an“I got it mentality.” So the question is not whether we should be connecting with others, but to whom and how.
Wisdom needs to be used here. Not only in choosing whom we share our burdens, but what we listen to or how we allow others to encourage us.
The reason it is important to keep in mind to only share with a few close friends is that many have answers, ready made solutions and are ready to tell us how God disciplines those He loves. In fact, most of us have more of these kind of friends than we would like to have.
These are the kinds of friends Job had. These are the kinds of friends we wish would blow away with the winds of winter…summer or both.
They either leave us in freezing temperatures of desperation as we try and figure out the meaning of such words in our lives or they leave us feeling as if Mr. Heat Miser just paid us a visit. Definitely leaving us all toasty, but not in a good way.
It is here we see why Hebrews 3:13 is important. It tells us why we need the right kind of friends to encourage us. It also let’s us know their purpose in our lives and how such encouragement should be given.
Handling suffering incorrectly is definitely sin, as we usually make choices to handle our pain based on the memory of how we handled it in the past. It often is based on what brought us the approval of others, the comfort it gave, the pleasure it brought us or faux peace.
When we do this, rather than the suffering accomplishing it’s true purpose, it has the opposite effect. Rather than pushing us towards God, it will usually harden us and push us away.
The encouragement of friends can play a key role in either keeping our hearts from being hardened or can cause a further hardening of our hearts (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ). Which is why it is important to choose friends who are wise in their encouragement. This is the kind of encouragement we see in James chapter one.
Perhaps there is no greater example of contrast of being encouraged by friends who want to do so by the law and those who want to do so by grace as there is between the story of Job and what we see in James chapter one.
Job’s friends questioned him. They asked him what he was doing wrong, reminded him that God severely punished those who disobey Him, instructed him on how God would not give him more than he could handle and assured him that he was failing somewhere; James, on the other hand took an entirely different approach.
Job’s friends are examples of friends who love to encourage by reminding us of God’s law, James encourages his readers by reminding them of God’s grace (favor).
As we begin Chapter 1 we see James telling His Jewish readers that while they are going through various trials not to forget who God is. Indeed, living under Roman oppression they were suffering big time. Just like us, when in the midst of our own trials, we often forget that we serve not a passive God but an active God who is actively involved in our lives.
James reminds His readers of God’s character, His work in their lives, His goodness, mercy and love. We see James saying that the perfect law brings freedom.
What is the perfect law? We need to remember that in John 12:49-50 Christ said, “the Father had given Him a new commandment (law) which is to eternal life.” In Romans 3:27 we see Paul saying that faith is a law.
A law for what? A law that brings us from death (eternal separation from God) to life eternal. In other words, through Christ a new law has been put in effect in God’s economy and by placing our faith in Christ we are now free.
James does not tell his readers that the perfect law is what they had of the Word of God or the law of Moses. As this would not have been freedom to his readers.
They knew what they had of God’s word and Moses law as having often the opposite effect of making them feel free. For the law of God never makes anyone feel free because by itself it only condemns, it tells us all how far we fail. What God wants from us and serves is to point us to God (Romans 7:7-8).
He does not do this by telling them what they need to do more of, but by showing them who God really is, what God did for them and what their story is in relationship to this. In essence James provides his readers a contrast in telling them that the perfect law is different than the law they knew. The perfect law that brings freedom is the law of the gospel of grace.
As he reminds them of the gospel of grace (Which always tells us of God’s favor towards us.) he is not robbing them of their law keeping abilities but encouraging them to use them (2 Timothy 2:1). Reminders like this would not encourage them to go out to start paint graffiti on the walls saying God is dead but it might get them accused of sniffing the paint (Acts 2:15).
James spends almost the entire part of the beginning of His letter reminding his readers of the motivation for why they should serve. He gives them reasons for why they should keep obeying the second law of God through serving others (Mark 12:31).
So what is the motivation upon which we can serve even when it is hard to get our head out from under the covers. Not because God requires it or demands it, but because he loves without wanting nothing (1 John 4:19). The realization of unmerited grace for those who do not even know they need it, US is always motivating.
What is one of the keys for being able to moment by moment remind ourselves of these truths? Asking God to surround us with those who don’t just say to us, “God is trying to tell you something.”
But to surround us with those who tell us, “God is trying to get you to listen to how much He loves you. He wants you to know that you are one of His excellent ones (Psalm 16:3) and the apple of His eye.” (Zechariah 2:8, Psalm 17:8).
The more we understand this, the more it often results in us saying “Thank You”, by allowing His love for us to flow into the lives of others.
Photo credit: Fathzer / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)