Spiritual Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called the “silent killer.” The one-third of adults who suffer from it don’t look or feel different than anyone else. Many don’t even realize they have it until it is too late and the damage has already been done — damage such as strokes, heart attacks, and kidney failure to name a few.

As I was recently reading about the fall of Babylon in 539 BC and thinking about the pride that led to that fall, it struck me that pride is a sort of “spiritual hypertension.” Those who suffer from it look and feel roughly the same as everyone else around them; often, they are not even aware that they have it. Yet, just as high blood pressure silently erodes the body, so too pride quietly erodes our spiritual life. Specifically, it damages our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and eventually our relationship with ourselves.

James 4:6 indicates that “God opposes the proud.” He doesn’t just pity or tolerate the proud; He actively opposes them. Look at what happened to His top angel, Lucifer, when he became prideful. God cast him out of heaven, never to return. Apparently, God takes pride very seriously even when we do not. It is extremely difficult to have a positive relationship with God when He is opposing us!

Pride also limits our human relationships. In marriage, when one spouse views the other with contempt (of a lower station or class than themselves), the marriage is almost always doomed to failure. Friendships likewise depend on a sense of equality, not in wealth, talent, or intelligence, but in essence or kind. We must view each other as peers in our humanity, the details being entirely secondary. Pride wants to group others into categories not worthy of our attention, quickly limiting our pool of potential relationships. Pride is a lonely path.

Eventually, however, life bumps up against our pride. We then come face to face with the fact that we aren’t perfect, we aren’t always right, and we aren’t better than everyone else. Often it is a loss in our life — loss of a job, of our health, or a treasured relationship — that clues us in. This can be a great time of growth and self-awareness.

Unfortunately, pride has a tendency to become angry and fight back. It shouts, “It’s everyone else’s fault, not mine!” When this doesn’t work, it becomes depressed and moody. It whispers, “It really is everyone else’s fault” in the back of our mind. It makes us a miserable wretch, clinging to a falsehood we want so desperately to be true.

But, if somewhere amidst the crests and troughs of our turbulent sea of wretchedness, we can let go of pride and grab the lifeline of humility, we will find that God does indeed “give grace to the humble” just as His word promises. No longer opposing us, He begins to calm the seas around us. We discover we aren’t alone after all; the sea is full of others clinging to similar lifelines. And although each one is unique in many ways, each is still nothing more or less than we are — a simple human being in desperate need of God’s grace.

In Over Our Heads

At least two or three times a week someone says to me, “How do you manage with six children? I can barely handle one!” My answer to this question has evolved over time. My initial and somewhat prideful response was, “With firm but loving discipline.” Then with a shrug of my shoulders, the answer became a sheepish “I don’t know.”  Finally, I’ve had to admit with a spirit of dejection, “I can’t do it at all.”

The fact of the matter is, I never could “handle it” — not back when I had one child, not now that I have six. You see, no matter how many children God gives me, I am utterly dependent upon Him to raise them. Parenting requires a love, patience, discipline, endurance and selflessness that I cannot find within, no matter how deeply I search my own soul. I am forced to constantly look to God for grace and strength to meet the challenge. It has simply taken six children for me to realize this in more than a superficial, intellectual way. Now I feel it with every fiber of my being, every moment of my day.

This is precisely where God wants me: dependent on Him, not just for a little help with problem areas, but for the whole nine yards. God is not interested in making me a better parent, but rather in parenting through me. He wants to love my children through me. He seeks to lead them through me. This extends to every facet of my life. He wants to work through me, play through me, minister through me, live through me. He doesn’t just want me to be a better person. He wants to make me a new person. That is, in fact, his desire for each of us, including all six of my children.

Hold Onto Your Seat!

If you get motion sickness like I do, then you’d better take some Dramamine before reading about Joseph’s roller coaster of a life story (Genesis 37-50).  My hills and valleys look like speed bumps and potholes by comparison.

In the beginning, Joseph is daddy’s favorite son, then his jealous siblings sell him into slavery (and I thought our kids got into fights!).  Next, he works his way up to head-slave (isn’t that an oxymoron?), only to be falsely accused by a scorned, would-be mistress and sent to prison.  Finally, by a miraculous turn of events, he springs to second in command over all Egypt, one of the most powerful nations of his day.  Whew!

Once my stomach settles, the first question I ask is, Why did God do it in that particular way?  Couldn’t an all-knowing, all-powerful God have used some other means of putting Joseph into power to save the ancient world from famine?   The answer, of course, is yes; He could have done it differently.  However, He accomplished several things by doing it the way He did.

First of all, God used Joseph to glorify Himself and demonstrate His divine attributes.  Had Joseph slowly risen to power by climbing the Egyptian corporate ladder, his success might have been attributed to hard work, talent, or intelligence.  But God’s way of doing things left no doubt as to whom should receive the glory.  Furthermore, the famine itself was used by God to demonstrate His omniscience, omnipotence, and mercy.  Think of the man blind from birth, not for his sins or his parents’ sins, but that God might be glorified through his healing (John 9:1-7).  It may be that the obstacles we face in life are merely opportunities for God to demonstrate His power and mercy through us.

Second, God demonstrated that doing what is right does not always reap immediate rewards.  When Joseph resisted Potiphar’s wife, no one congratulated him on his moral resolve.  Instead, he found himself thrown in jail.  God, however, was smiling, and Joseph was developing perseverance.  Joseph knew that God’s rewards take time, sometimes all of eternity, to fully manifest.

Which brings up a final observation: Despite his affluence, Joseph remained a stranger in a strange land to the end of his days.  His family had to stay in Goshen to keep from offending the Egyptians.  Eventually, a pharaoh arose “who knew not Joseph”, and Joseph’s descendants became cruelly treated slaves.  It is a solemn reminder that no matter what we have or what we achieve in this life, we will never be complete this side of heaven.

Augustine declared, “Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” Once we’ve entered that final rest, we will see more clearly how God has used all of life’s circumstances for our growth and His glory.  In the meantime, we’ll just have to hold on to our seats!

What Is Your Lentil Stew?

How could anyone be that stupid?  This is the first thing I think when I read the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew (Genesis 25:29-34).  Being a meat and potatoes man myself, I find this account especially dumbfounding; but even if lentil stew were the most delicious meal imaginable, the point would still be clear: Esau had traded lifelong blessings for a temporary benefit.

Now let’s look at a lesser-known, New Testament character by the name of Demas.  Demas appears in the Bible just three times.  The first is in Philemon 1:24, where he is mentioned as a fellow laborer with Paul for the Lord.  The second is in Colossians 4:14, where he is mentioned by Paul only in passing.  The third and final time that Demas is mentioned is in II Timothy 4:10, where Paul says that “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.”

Now let us consider modern times and ask ourselves two questions: First, what is our lentil stew?  Specifically, what earthly, temporal things are we pursuing to the neglect of serving God’s kingdom?  For some of us, this might be our career; for others, it might be a favorite hobby or pastime.  Imagine if we were to study God’s word with the same diligence that we study sports scores, the stock market or even our schoolbooks.  Imagine if we were to take half a day each week to spend in prayer or to volunteer at a local mission.  Many of us spend an equivalent amount of time watching television, playing golf, or shopping the mall, and think nothing of it.

That brings us to the next question: Have we become like Demas?  Are we so enthralled with the things of this world, that the idea of committing ourselves to serving God and pursuing the things of the next world seems ludicrous?  Perhaps we still attend church out of habit or compulsion, we say grace over our meals and even have a bumper sticker of a fish on our car, but the power of God is essentially nonexistent in our lives.  When people observe us at work or at play, they see no difference between our priorities and those of our non-Christian counterparts.

What then are we to do?  First, we must acknowledge that “no man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).   Then, we must begin to store up for ourselves “treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).  For some of us, this may mean giving up a time-consuming hobby; for others, it may even mean changing jobs; but for most of us, it will simply mean recognizing that our life is our ministry. Our co-workers are our congregation.  God didn’t put us where we are just so we could crunch numbers or change diapers or carve out gall bladders.  He put us where we are to be ambassadors for Him to those around us.  Isn’t it time we start living as such?  “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).