Uncomfortably Godly

A house church in China was once expelled from the apartment it was renting. The police told their landlord that he would be fined if he didn’t stop renting to the church. Because of this threat, no one else was willing to risk renting to the church.

Rather than disbanding, the church began meeting underneath a highway underpass. The government left the church alone as winter had come, and such open-air meetings would be short-lived. To everyone’s surprise, the services were not shortened, and the church continued to meet throughout the entire winter.

God did not send these brothers and sisters a mild winter. The weather was bitterly cold Sunday after Sunday. Although they were eventually able to find a place to rent, God did not provide them a place to meet until after the winter was over. Rather than sending this church relief, God instead gave them the strength to endure the winter.

Some time later, the same police were preventing a cult group from meeting. The cult leaders complained to the police because they were now leaving the house church alone and “even let them worship in public for a time.” The police reminded the cult leaders of the temperatures that winter and said, “We know their faith is real.”

God does not promise believers a life of comfort. God sometimes allows His people to endure hardship in order to mold them into the image of His Son and to hold them up for the lost world to see. God may bring hard times to show his power in delivering us, but we must always be prepared to be uncomfortably godly.

Only Enough Grace for Today

Sunrise over rocksGod promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” ( 2 Cor 12:9). God will give you all the grace you need for today. However, Jesus also told his disciples, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34).

God will give you all the grace you need to do what must be done today. The weaker you become, the more God will increase your grace. We can have Paul’s confidence that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

When we are weak, however, we still feel weak. Our problems stretch on throughout the foreseeable future with no end in sight. We must remember that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23), but we only have enough for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow; you have enough to do today. Trust God even when you’re falling apart, and your spirit will be renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).

Accepting Criticism

Nobody enjoys criticism, constructive or otherwise. However, we all need it from time to time. I try to keep three biblical principles in mind whenever I receive criticism.

Don’t Defend Yourself

James tells us to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. Genuinely listen when people confront you, thank them, and ask for some time to think about what they said. Resist your natural urges towards argument and anger. Regardless of how the criticism is brought, take as long as you need to hear. You may need days or weeks before you are ready to speak. You should need even longer to get angry.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Peter tells us to be so blameless that criticisms sound absurd. The very fact that someone brings criticism often indicates a sanctification problem somewhere. Even the kindest and most honest criticisms will be wrong in one particular detail or another. Unless the detail is absolutely crucial, don’t worry about setting the record straight. It doesn’t even matter whether the criticism correctly diagnoses your problem. If the criticism bothers you, it probably points to a problem of some sort. Find the true problem, confess it, and fix it.

Don’t Lie to Yourself

John warns us not to lie about our own sinfulness. Whenever criticism arises, your first reaction will be to present yourself in a more positive light. This often requires you to misrepresent minor details, claim nonexistent motives, and even simply make things up. These blatant lies won’t fool others, but you probably will succeed in deceiving yourself. Our hearts are proud and wicked. We desperately long to believe our own lies.

Don’t reject criticism. Embrace it until there is nothing left to criticize.

Faulty Foundations

Abd-Allah was an eighth-century military commander who led an army capable of overthrowing the Abbasid Empire. Fearing his power, the Abbasid ruler made an unsuccessful attempt to kill the commander in battle.

Having failed to destroy Abd-Allah by force, the ruler devised a plan. He offered Abd-Allah a beautiful mansion in return for peace, a deal the battle-weary commander readily accepted.

However, the rainy season soon revealed the ruler’s treachery. He had buried salt blocks beneath the mansion’s foundation. The first substantial rain dissolved the salt and caused the house to collapse, killing Abd-Allah along with his entire household.

Although Abd-Allah couldn’t be destroyed by force, a good thing with a bad foundation ruined him. Satan has used this trick for thousands of years. He cannot force us to sin (1 Cor 10:13), but he can offer us good things that don’t have solid foundations.

Jesus tells us in Mathew 7:24-27 that the foundation of the Christian life is doing God’s will. Work, politics, fashion, collections, gardening, hunting, sports, and traveling are all good things. However, if we pursue these things at the expense of doing God’s will, Christ says we are like a man who builds his house on the sand.

Like salt, just because something is good doesn’t mean that it makes a solid foundation. God has given us many good things to enjoy, but if we build our lives around them, we’ll be ruined just like Abd-Allah.

(Note: see Wilson Bishai’s Islamic History of the Middle East for more about Abd-Allah)