The year 2007 will live in my personal history books as perhaps the most unique year of my life. Without question, that which I have learned over and over again this year is how little I know and how alone I am in what I believe. I have climbed a few mountains this year, but for every mountain climbed, I have fallen into many more ravines. This has been, without a doubt, the most humbling year of my life. The one overwhelming good thing to come out of this year is that I feel I have honestly begun to appreciate and understand the whole concept of humility in service as never before.
I found out the hard way that I have perhaps a couple of "true" friends in this life. It is indeed a huge lesson in humility to learn that those, whom you thought really cared about your life, really don't. Not once, but three different times my entire "life's work" was on the line this past year and I needed my "friends" to provide either prayer support or a little financial aid. It has indeed been reason to bow my head in humility to know I have but only one or two friends willing to help. It has truly broken what is left of any pride in me to know how few are even willing to pray.
Failure has a way of bringing a person back to earth in a hurry. The rocket of unbridled enthusiasm can launch a person into the stratosphere of euphoria but when that rocket runs out of fuel, the fall back to earth can be horribly painful.
Success is not guaranteed in the Bible (contrary to what many prosperity gospel groups teach). By every possible measuring gauge, people such as Jesus, Paul, David and the like were all miserable failures in what they did in this life. Jesus died alone on the cross with most who had followed him having forsaken him. Paul died in prison with all those in Asia turned against him. David's kingdom and household fell into total disarray before his death. Failure is not something to be dreaded but seems to be something to be expected if one is doing things God's way.
In the Old Testament God gave ample promises of physical prosperity and financial success. That is all His people had available to them for the Messiah had not yet come. With the coming of Jesus Christ, the Old Testament physical promises were replaced with the exceeding great and precious promises we have in Christ Jesus. The New Testament is full of SPIRITUAL promises NOT physical ones. God no longer needs His people to be financially rich for they are now blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
In the New Testament, God promises to meet our needs but does not advocate believers selling their souls out to the world to become rich. Spiritual success IS NOT measured in dollars and cents. Spiritual blessings such as eternal life, peace, joy and love are far superior to gold and silver. It is very sad how many believers have been led to believe they are failures simply because they don't have much money to throw in the offering plate. One place in 3 John there is a verse expressing the desire of John that the person receiving the epistle "prosper and be in good health, even as their soul prospers." From this one verse an entire theology has arisen that is wrong.
By the time Paul died in Rome, his back looked like it had been through a meat grinder. He was repeatedly whipped and lashed and beaten many times in many places. He once was so severely beaten that he was given up for dead. The disciples prayed for him and he lived to speak the truth many more years. Paul spent years of his life rotting away in dark dungeons as well as under house arrest. He was hated and despised more than any of his contemporaries. Was Paul a failure because he suffered so much? It is so horribly wrong how believers who sacrifice this world's glory are many times looked down upon because of the trials and tribulations they encounter.
God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh, and that thorn was all the people who hated him and tried to get rid of him daily. God gave Paul this thorn lest he get exalted above measure and start thinking about how great he was. Paul's thorn in the flesh kept him humble. He would beseech the Lord to remove the thorn, for it hurt; but the Lord would not honor Paul's prayer. The thorn was needed to remind Paul of God's grace and that it was by the grace of God he was who he was and did what he was able to do.
I failed at many things this past year. My attempts at uniting independent charities failed. My attempts to solicit supplies for needy minorities after natural disasters failed. My attempts to get various Christian groups to communicate and work together on some important projects failed. My attempts to get a great multitude of "retired" clergymen and women excited again about serving the Lord not only failed but resulted in bitter personal attacks made against me.
In spite of failing at many things, I know in my heart I did what I believe the Lord wanted me to do this past year. I went where He said to go and I spoke with those He led me to speak with. As I sit here reflecting on the year, I am not bitter nor am I discouraged. I have no regrets for the time and money I spent attempting to bless people and unite groups. I look in the New Testament and see promises of tribulation, persecution and suffering. These are all earmarks of "failure" according to the world. Thus, in a way, we were called to fail, according to the world's standards of success and failure.
You see, I look at my failures (and my whole life has been a string of them) as my thorn in the flesh. Every time I start thinking I have this great new idea that I need to promote and I need to finance and I need to go here and there to get done; the Lord's inevitable response has always been to allow me to stumble and fall and even fail. Then, when I get done crying and feeling sorry for myself, He picks me up and gently reminds me that HE is the Director and not ME. He then dusts me off and sends me on some new adventure, knowing I'll be back all battered and bruised again.
It is so very easy to fall into the trap of self sufficiency. Pride and ego are subtle enemies that escape detection many times. They hide themselves as innocent looking things like "self confidence" and "inner strength". In reality, we should have no SELF confidence and our strength should be IN THE LORD. The fine line between boldly carrying out the desire of the Master and stubbornly fighting one's own crusade is hard to locate many times. When those lines are obscured by the distractions of life and personal desires, we cross them without knowing it and suddenly find ourselves "out of bounds".
I do not know what anyone else's thorn in the flesh might be, but if you love God and are striving with all your heart to do His will and put Him first; I guarantee you-YOU HAVE A THORN IN THE FLESH! It is the way our loving God keeps us from getting so far out of bounds that we suffer more than we can endure or handle. It is the personal present our loving God gives us to remind us that it is only by and through His Grace we ever do anything worthwhile in this life. Don't try to pull the thorn out, only rejoice in it being there. It is there for your own good to keep you out of trouble.
Every year I say the same thing about the year that just finished. It was the greatest year of learning about humility in my life. Every year I usually count up the costs of the year and realize I have pretty well failed at most I set out to do. Then I chuckle, for therein is the reason for the renewed lessons in humility. Until I learn to let go and let God to His job. Until I learn that HE is the Supreme Director-not ME-I am doomed to fail at what I think I am so darn good at.
Yes, I freely admit I messed up again this past year by placing too much personal emphasis on my endeavors. I freely admit I allowed my personal desire for name recognition to get in the way of God's recognition. I have most certainly learned the joy and contentment of laboring anonymously. This has really been a great joy for me to finally "get right". It takes getting your head caught in the elevator door sometimes before you realize there is nothing great about yourself and nobody needs to know you did this or gave that.
I can honestly say that I do not need any recognition for giving. It has taken me many years of suffering the pain of wanting credit for a job well done or a gift given before I have finally learned it makes NO difference whether you ever get kudos or not in this life. What matters are the rewards being accumulated in heaven for future use. God wants giving done anonymously. God wants anything done that is good to be done secretly and without fanfare or self-glory.
It is quite amusing to me that I find such great joy in writing these blogs on this site knowing that no one knows who I am. The ability to bless anonymously is a huge leap of growth for me. I don't want anyone to know who I am, especially if I happen to write something that really blesses you. The whole idea of giving anonymously is HUGE. It is actually one of God's checks and balances to see if your ego is being properly subdued. Would you still give a million dollars if NO ONE in the world knew you gave it? Giving without worldly credit is awesome! Let God keep track of the alms given and let Him be responsible for giving credit for them.
God does not demand perfection from us. All He wants is for us to try to the best of our ability to do things right. If we fall short, He is there to carry us to the finish line. If we run out of steam, He is there to give us a shot of Godspeed to get us over the remaining humps. If we get distracted and end up out of bounds, He is there to bring us back onto the playing field so we can finish the game.
God knows our frame and how stubborn we are. He knows how easily we succumb to the temptation to do it all ourselves and give ourselves all the credit. Knowing this, He gives us a thorn in the flesh to keep us humble. For many of us, that thorn is the irritating reality that everything done without God's help and direction is doomed to failure, no matter how great we think we are.
As the world settles in to enjoy their big party night; I pray we all take a moment and reflect on the year that is ending. I pray we allow God to show us what REALLY went on and how through His love and mercy, He spared us from innumerable woes. I pray we trust in the Lord enough to allow Him to lead us, love us and direct us.
It is good to hear a seasoned Christian talk openly of their struggles and of their life. I appreciate you taking the time to share. Running the race is hard. Sometimes I feel like I'm limping the race, and sometimes I'm not even doing that. It's good to know that I'm not alone. It sounds like you've conquered some big mountains. The ravines are just what you have to go through to get to the mountains God has for us. I appreciate your honesty in the name recognition thing - hard to resist for some people, and I've also fallen into that trap. I'm so glad God doesn't hold those things over our heads.
Thanks again for your post.
Again, another quite insightful post from a fellow believer who I am glad is part of our family here.
As I look back in 2007 and see the successes and failures in this year of my life, I am praising God for the failures. Yes, as hard as it is for those "in the world" to understand the celebration of failure, I know that without God, my failures would have been much greater and wreaked much more devastation in my life.
I think about all that God, and ONLY GOD, saved me from -- let me tell you brother, it's a long list!
I finally realized what James meant when he admonished us to "Count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
My thorn, as perhaps you may tell by my selection of verses, is a decided lack of patience. I seem to be a true product of ATM-generation, as I like to refer to those of my age group. Yes, man considers it WONDERFUL to press a button and receive your desire instantly! However, faith doesn't come that way, does it? There is no such thing as a "faith ATM". God works in His time alone.
May God abundantly bless you, my brother, in this coming year and in many more to come!
Thanks for a great post! You illustrate beautifully the principle "To God, suffering is not a bad thing" because He uses suffering, failure, humbling, for His purposes, His teaching tool.