Desires: To Flourish
11/25/2019 3:43:20 AM
Romans 8:35-39; Hebrews 12:4-11
November 24, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Have you ever met a child who was never disciplined by his or her parents? Perhaps you’ve heard of “helicopter parents”? These are parents that “hover” like helicopters over their kids making sure nothing challenging comes their way. For instance, if kids feel bad about losing or not getting trophies, helicopter parents make sure their sports leagues don’t keep score and give every kid a trophy!
Now, there are even more extreme examples- snow plow parents! They plow the way for their kids, removing all obstacles and challenges in their kids’ way. I read an article a few years ago about how now the children of snow plow parents are entering the work force and what this looks like. I read about one young person who double booked himself for a job interview. What happened? His mom showed up in his place for his interview! Other examples include parents coming with their adult children to their first day on the job. They shadow their kids at work!
Let me ask you, do you think these parents are actually doing their kids a favour in the long run? Contrast this with a story I heard from Henry Cloud and John Townsend. In their small group curriculum on boundaries, one of them shares a visit with some family friends. He was chatting with the mom in her teenage son’s room as the mom was folding and putting away her son’s laundry. He asked her why she was doing this for her totally capable son? She said she didn’t mind and liked helping him out. Cloud said, “I feel bad for his future wife.” The mom thought for a second, put the laundry basked down and walked out of the room!
In the moment, many parents who love their children want to be nice to their kids, do nice things for them. And this is a good instinct. Snow plow parents have their eyes set on the future success of their children. They are thinking long term, removing perceived obstacles and challenges from their children’s path to “ensure” their success. But most parents don’t think about the long term effects of consistently doing every nice thing they can do for their children. They don’t think about the long term effects of their children never having to solve a problem on their own, or overcome a challenge on their own, or deal with disappointment and failure on their own!
It’s not always nice to be nice. Think about these “nice” parents and what they’re inadvertently doing. They are robbing their children of skills like overcoming disappointment and failure, being self-sufficient, learning from mistakes instead of being saved from mistakes, etc.
If we are only concerned with being nice, we never call out bad behaviour, or rude behaviour in others. If we are in a position of authority over others, and we are consumed with being “nice” to them all the time, we actually fail in our responsibility to them. We fail to point out mistakes, areas where growth is needed, correction of inappropriate or even destructive behaviour. And yet these are key aspects in human flourishing!
We confuse human flourishing with comfort and success. As a culture, we value comfort and ease, material possessions and the things that go with them. When we have an eye on the future, success usually involves some degree of comfort. Similarly, we tend to avoid discomfort at all costs! And this is at the heart of both helicopter parenting and snow plow parenting, as well as a lot of other circumstances in which we idolize being “nice.” But real human flourishing is not about being comfortable. It’s not about avoiding discomfort, but learning to grow through discomfort. It’s about overcoming obstacles, not avoiding obstacles!
We see this is true for parenting children. Being concerned with the well-being of others doesn’t mean removing obstacles, but preparing them to overcome obstacles!
The same principle is true for our heavenly father! We all have a desire to flourish, but our definition of flourishing is often quite different than God’s! God’s primary desire for us not a life of comfort, wealth and ease, but a character that is more like Jesus!
We often fall into times of difficulty and wonder where God is. We wonder why this could possibly be happening to us if our all-powerful God is good and loves us! We want to know why a loving father hasn’t protected us from discomfort, from hardship, from tragedy even! Where is God when life hurts? Doesn’t he love us?!?
Today we are going to take a slightly different look at this question. This applies to questions of suffering, questions about the problem of evil, and also questions about how to live as a believer in our increasingly secular society, including application to questions about LGBTQ issues!
Context- Jesus said in John 10:10 that he came “that we might have life to the full!” Older translations “life abundantly”- aka that we may flourish! If that’s so, consider these two passages: Romans 8:34-39 and Hebrews 12:4-11
What It Says
John Stott points out that Paul’s words in Romans 8 are actually the culmination of a series of 5 rhetorical questions he asks and answers. They have to do with how Christians are to face the trials of our world. If God is for us, who can be against us? Will God, who gave his Son, not also give us all things? Who can bring a charge against God’s chosen? God justifies! Who can condemn us? Because Christ intercedes for us at God’s right hand. What, then shall separate us from the love of God? His love for us has been revealed in Christ!
Paul lists 16 threats that cannot separate us from the love of God. Physical hardships, persecution, economic disaster, war, poverty; these things cannot separate us from God’s love! And they are not signs that God no longer loves us either! Life and death can’t separate us from God’s love, nor can spiritual powers can separate us from God’s love.
We are more than conquerors! But not through our own skills, perseverance, or abilities. We are conquerors through Jesus Christ who conquered all these things for us!
We are not promised immunity from hardship, but victory over it. This is Paul’s point, which he makes so eloquently. Many Christians, then and now, wonder why they endure affliction, suffering and even intentional persecution from people in power. Why? Paul’s encouragement is that these things, while unpleasant, cannot separate us from God’s love!
Think for a moment- what if God did promise immunity from hardship? How many people would “convert” to Christianity just to avoid hardship? Would their love and devotion be pure? This is the question at the heart of Job! Satan challenges God that Job’s devotion to God is based on blessing!
Difficulty, hardship, sickness, suffering, persecution and even death do not separate us from God’s love for us. So when we experience them, we should not ask, “Does this mean God doesn’t love me?!?” No! That’s not what it means at all!
So what does it mean? In the big picture, it means we still live in a sinful world. We still live in a world broken by humanity’s rebellion against and alienation from God. The salvation from sin that Jesus brings rescues us from the eternal consequences of sin in our lives, but not the immediate or temporal consequences of sin in the world.
Jesus saves us from the eternal consequences of sin, not the consequences of living in a sinful world.
So what does it mean when we experience hardship? Or persecution, or suffering? What should our response be when we experience the consequences of sin in the world? This is what our passage in Hebrews is talking about. The original readers were experiencing persecution. The author says, though, that their persecution has not yet led to bloodshed. Notice, though, how he phrases their experience of persecution…
Our experience of suffering is part of our struggle against sin. This is what I mean by the consequences of living in a world broken by sin. We continue to struggle against it! The win within, the sin that surrounds, we must continue to struggle against it in the Christian life.
The author of Hebrews then quotes Proverbs 3:11, 12 about appreciating discipline that comes from the Lord, not being discouraged when he rebukes or corrects us, because these are actually signs of God’s love for us!
God’s discipline and rebuke are part of his divine, self-giving love for us primarily concerned with our well-being. The author goes on to say we are to “take heart” (vs “lose heart”) when we experience trials, difficulties, affliction and even persecution because God disciplines those he loves, just as good earthly fathers (appropriately) discipline their children too! The opposite of snow plow parents who shield their kids from difficulty, good earthly parents allow their kids to endure difficulty and challenges in order to overcome them and be victorious over them! Similarly, God allows his beloved children to endure hardship so that they grow and mature too.
Discipline is not the same as punishment. It is teaching a person the right way to go. Discipline may include punishment as necessary, but it is so much more than just punishment. Think of basic training in the army. They are teaching recruits the right way to go when it comes to being a soldier. There is punishment when recruits do something wrong, but also physical training, teaching, demonstrating, promoting and much more. Or think of a karate class. There is much teaching, correction when someone’s technique is off, but rarely punishment. Both basic training and karate class are exhausting. You may come out sore and bruised, but you come out better equipped to face certain challenges than when you went in!
Now imagine army basic training was taken over by snow plow parents! It wouldn’t matter if you could complete the obstacle course. If you failed fire arms safety, your parents would yell at the drill sergeant until he passed you. You wouldn’t have to know how your equipment worked, as long as you finished, got your certificate and got a promotion! Is that really being trained in the way to go? Are the parents really investing in the recruits’ well-being? Is this really a loving thing to do?
We are at war against sin. God needs to train us and discipline us in and through our battles with sin. V. 11 says that although unpleasant at the time, such discipline leads to a harvest of righteousness and peace- that is being in a right relationship with God and having a peace that transcends our circumstances! Peace, by the way, is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us!
Many soldiers who’ve been in combat get to a point where they have remarkable peace under fire. They’ve been disciplined through their hard experiences. Similarly, God would bring us peace through our hardship and difficult experiences too, veterans in the battle against sin and its effects.
So how, then, do we apply this? What help is this when we experience suffering and hardship? This question needs to be addressed on two levels- the theoretical level and the personal or experiential level.
In the big picture, we need to remember we still live in a broken world. Not until Christ returns will the world be freed from the consequences of human sinfulness. As long as we are here, we will experience hardship because of sin. And not just our own sin, but the sin of others too.
All God’s people experience hardship and suffering, even Jesus. So when we experience these things, the big picture answer to “Why?” is that everybody experiences it. Coming to Christ doesn’t save us from suffering. Otherwise, people would “convert” for purely selfish reasons!
This is a big picture answer. It may not seem that satisfying in the moment that we are actually experiencing suffering, affliction or persecution! Hardship, suffering and persecution do not separate us from the love of God. It is tempting, in these times, to question God’s love for us. It is not uncommon to “feel” that God is far away. But this is one of those situations in which our feelings are wrong! We are never separated from God’s love, even if we don’t “feel” it at the time. Similarly, as a parent, when we have to discipline our children, they may not “feel” like we love them in the moment. And, frankly, we may not be feeling a lot of “affection” or warmth for them in that moment! But we still love them! And it is because we love them and want the best for them, we want them to flourish that we discipline them, allow them to figure things out on their own and even punish them!
True love does not affirm everything someone does. True love does not let wrong go un-named. If you truly love someone and you see them doing something wrong, harmful, or that ultimately will conflict with their flourishing as a human being, you will find a way to speak up!
But it’s hard to hear “no.” It’s hard to hear “You’re doing it wrong” or “You could do better!” And our culture believes we get to decide whatever is right and wrong for ourselves. So that makes it even harder to speak out against something- people feel like you’re challenging their very identity!
I promised this would apply to LGBTQ questions- here it is! Loving people means wanting the best for them, which means not always affirming them! In the Garden of Eden, the temptation was to be like God by deciding for oneself what is good and what is evil. Today, we have embraced this idea- that we each get to decide what is good and what is evil for ourselves! Thus, when somebody tells us that what we believe is wrong, or what we are doing is wrong, it literally challenges our own sense of godship. We think we are little gods, choosing right and wrong as we see fit. When someone tells us our behaviour is wrong, they challenge our sense of deity! And we get angry and we say they don’t love us! But flourishing requires discipline and correction. If someone truly loves us, then they will find the courage to correct us when we are doing something wrong, harmful or (dare I say) sinful!
To flourish, to live life abundantly, to the full, we need to develop spiritual endurance, resilience, faithfulness and tenacity. This requires discipline- learning to carry on in spite of challenges, to carry on through difficulty, to overcome and not be overcome by the effects of humanity’s rebellion against God!
This is not a comfortable experience! This is not pleasant. It is often painful and scary. But it doesn’t separate us from the love of God. It doesn’t mean we are “outside” God’s love. In fact, because he loves us, it is something God uses to strengthen our grip on him, something he uses to refine our character, to make us more like Jesus who endured the cross! If this is the big picture, what is the personal picture, the personal application?
When we are the ones experiencing the difficulty, when we are experiencing trials, affliction and hardship, what are we to do? Where do we turn when life hurts? First, what are some ways people respond that are not helpful, that do not contribute to them living live to the full? Some people just resign themselves to the hardship, surrendering to the power of fate, but not recognizing the love of God. Some set out to try to get over or through the situation asap. They struggle defiantly, but not with an eye for God’s work and certainly not with gratitude Some are filled with self-pity, as if they were the only people to suffer, or that their suffering is worse than that of others. Others, still, are filled with resentment. They see all hardship as punishment from God, unjust punishment for which they blame God and question his goodness. God is seen as vindictive instead of as loving. They ask, “What did I do?” rather than, “What would God have me learn?” [William Barclay, Hebrews, p. 209]
None of these are healthy responses! Rather, when affliction comes, when trials come, when hardship comes, cling to what you know- that God loves you and no amount of hardship can change that! The Bible tells you so! Remember that many have come before and suffered worse. Hebrews 11, the previous chapter, lists so many who came before and were faithful through suffering! Jesus himself, our great high priest, suffered and was tempted, just as we suffer and are tempted. So he can identify with us in our suffering and intercede for us before the throne of God!
Knowing so many have come before and suffered greatly, turn to the Christian community, to your church, to your small group, to your brothers and sisters in Christ and share with them. Suffering, affliction and persecution are burdens we are to share with one another- they are more than one person can carry!
Remember that those God loves he disciplines to strengthen their relationship with Him. When life gets hard, ask God to help you cling to him tighter! Know that God loves you. Know that this hardship is not punishment, but discipline. Ask God to strengthen you so that you can learn and be changed through it, not just avoid it.
Our culture wants comfort and ease. God wants holiness and Christ-like-ness! We want to cruise through life. God wants us to cling tightly to him. We’ve been taught by our culture that when things get hard we’ve been let down. But God teaches that when things get hard it’s because God wants us close.
When life gets hard, along with other believers, pray to, cling to and trust God. We don’t talk a lot about eschatology- that is the study of what’s going to happen at the end of the world. But that’s so much of what the good news of Jesus is about! When life gets hard now, the good news of Jesus is that our future is secure. When the storms of life rage, when suffering is insurmountable, our hope is for the future, grounded in the past. Jesus suffered horrendously. He was even killed! But he was resurrected into a perfect body that will never suffer again. Based on that fact in the past, our hope is in the future- that at his return we, too, will be resurrected and given eternal bodies that never suffer again!
This is eschatology. This is how we are already conquerors! And this becomes most real in the community of believers who are at different places in their own path to being like Jesus. So many Priory people in the last 6 months have been going through tough times. Crises of healthy, hospitalization, mental health issues, financial issues, housing issues. It’s crazy! And yet at this time we know that God loves us. We must be doing something right! But it’s so hard. It seems like every week there’s more bad news. Turn to one another. Turn to God in prayer. He is reshaping us to be like Jesus. He is refining us and disciplining us precisely because he loves us and wants the best for our well-being. Christ came that we might flourish and none of this can separate us from his love!
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