Saturday, November 20, 2010

Love Is Sacrificial

For the past six weeks, Kathryn and I have been hosting a small group in our home.  Every Wednesday at 7pm we'd meet with some of our neighbors and some members from our church to get a deeper understanding of what the Bible has to say about love.  There was a DVD lesson from Rick Warren each week in a series called "40 Days of Love."  We also had a daily devotional book to accompany the teaching called "The Relationship Principles of Jesus."  While on this journey something happened to me that has impacted my walk with the Father and my marriage.

Kathryn and I have been married three years, and as much as I hate to admit it, we have not spent much time seeking God together.  In my mind I can go back and pinpoint times where we ripped down every wall around our hearts and leaned intently on the Lord for answers.  But they are few and far between.  Those times where we sought God together in one spirit, in one mind, and in one body are as precious to me as diamonds.  I hold them close to my heart, and I yearn for that to be a daily experience.  A couple of weeks ago on Friday November the twelfth, God showed up in our lives and I experienced a "gemstone" once again.

On the preceding Monday Kat and I did a devotional.  We read this devotion book we got as a present for our wedding an we sang some of our favorite worship songs.  It was truly an amazing night.  The next day I began to feel a pain in my throat when I swallowed.  I had no pain in the throat initially, but when I swallowed it really hurt.  I thought I had something wrong with my tonsils.  Well the next day it got worse.  I began to have aches all over my body.  I was extremely sensitive.  If I would be touched just slightly all my senses would go to that place on my skin where I was touched. I was hypersensitive.  In addition to that my throat started to hurt all the time, not just when I swallowed.  Wednesday rolled around and I wasn't feeling any better.  I took a nap before the 7pm 40 Days of Love meeting and survived it.  Thursday rolled around and I had a huge project due.  I was preaching in the Springs Church for my final project for Dr. Beatty.  It couldn't have been worse timing.  My throat felt horrible and I had to speak.  I was able to deliver my message and then passed out on my bed for the next five hours.  I woke up and prayed.  I wasn't bitter at God, I was disappointed though.  I really wanted to present my message well for the class and the professor.  I wondered why I couldn't have gotten sick a week earlier, or the week after.  So I prayed for God to show me what he wanted to show me during the time of suffering.  Instead of being angry at God for my sickness, I prayed that he would reveal to me what he was doing.  The Holy Spirit would reveal the answer to me the very next night.

I had a routine going for my Relationship Principles of Jesus devotional readings.  For the most part I liked to do them early in the day so I could have the whole day to reflect on them.  It was day 37 in the book, but this day I let other things get my attention and put my devotion on the back burner.  When it was about 6pm I had just cracked my book open and as I was about to begin my time with God, Kat came to me and said, "Are we going to do our devotion?"  Everything in me did not want to do it with her.  I wanted to read my devotion all day long, and now Kat wanted me to spend some time with her.  I felt the unmistakable leading of the Holy Spirit. "Close the book" were the words that echoed in my spirit.  I knew what God was calling me to do, sacrifice my time for my wife.  In my pain I wanted to sit there and read the short devotion, maybe do some homework and get to bed, I was sick!  But God was leading me to give to my wife.  Before I even read the heading of the chapter in the book I closed it and laid in my wife's lap.  I was going to obey, but I wasn't going to over exert myself.  So I told Kat it'd be better for her to read, and I could listen and rest in her lap.  She began to read and I was just enjoying not having to read listening silently.  She got to this part at the end that said, "As you read Hebrews 11 discuss..."  Some how I was convinced the book said "if you want to read Hebrews 11 then discuss..."  As she turned to Hebrews 11 I was telling her, "That's a long chapter, we don't have to read it.  In fact I already read it this semester.  I did a short sermon on Samson and he's in this chapter, we can just skip the reading of this."  She was heartbroken.  As I had waited all day to read my devotion, she had been waiting for me to have some time to do our devotion together.  When I tried to blow her off she was hurt and was about to leave.  I noticed how hurt she was and insisted she read it and that I honestly wanted to hear it.  She sat back down and I assumed my listening position on her lap again.  As she began to read Hebrews 11, ( I began to shudder before God.  When she got to the part about Enoch being taken and not experiencing death because of his faith, I lost it.  I wept.  The Bible says it is impossible to please God without faith.  I was wavering in my faith in him.  But Enoch, a man with such great faith was taken from this life, not even experiencing death, because of his faith.  What an example to live by.  To walk in faith.  It was exactly the word from God I needed, at exactly the right time.  Had I passed up the leading of the Holy Spirit this would have passed me.  And mind you I wasn't going out and getting drunk or smoking.  I was about to read a devotional!  But I do believe that if I would have done what I wanted to do, instead of what God wanted. I would have been out of the Father's will for my life reading a devotional book.
After God answered my prayer, "Show me what you're trying to show me during this suffering."  I shared it with Kat.  I told her that I believed the Holy Spirit had answered my prayer in the reading of the scripture and that God wanted me to walk away with a stronger faith in Him because my faith had been wavering.  She shared with me that the devotion was very helpful for her as well because she was having a similar issue with faith.  We sat there with our hearts bare before God, just being honest with our feelings.  Getting those tears out, letting God handle our problems, letting Him bear the load.  When I finally did sit down to read the devotion I had waited all day to read the chapter was titled, "Love Is Sacrificial."  I was thinking to myself, "I couldn't read a book about loving others for 36 days and not respond when I had an opportunity to love on my wife by sacrificing some time for her, even when it wasn't convenient for me."  It was so appropriate for me to read that chapter after the experience with my wife.  I was happy I passed the test.

1 Pet 5:8 ( warns about the devil seeking to devour us like a lion.  The next morning the enemy came strong to devour what God had done in our lives the night before.  Like a lion eats and leaves nothing but bare bones, the devil wanted to strip the progress we made for Jesus from our bodies and leave us as nothing.  Kat and I fought over something trivial and she used me not wanting to do the devotion as ammunition against me.  I knew right where the attack was coming from.  Of course I didn't want to do the devotion but she and I both knew what had happened as a result of the time we spent together, we drew closer to God.  I knew that this was an attack from the devil because who else would try to get me to doubt what God did?  We made up but this definitely set us back.  Why such a set back after such a victory the night before?  I don't understand how God works but I find comfort in the passages from Philippians in verse 29, "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him."  And also Rom 5:3b, "because we know that suffering produces perseverance."     

I wrote this post as an encouragement to those who are struggling with faith in God.  It's so easy to trust God when he's meeting all of your needs.  But true discipleship is measure by how you respond when your chips are down.  It's measured by when you're not feeling the Holy Spirit.  How do you respond to opposition of the furtherance of the kingdom of God in your life?  Will you become bitter and blame God, or will you gladly accept suffering and seek the lesson God is trying to teach you?  Stand firm on the Word of God that says the suffering produces perseverance.  I want to leave you with something my Dad told me that I've never forgotten. "If you were always on the mountaintop, you wouldn't appreciate it."  Basically he was saying you can't be on cloud nine with God all the time.  Unless you go through some valleys you'll never fully appreciate the summit with God.     

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