Last week I was challenged by my church family to think of a word that could be a theme for my life in 2016, have someone write it somewhere on my body and take a picture. A special kind of body art. (True story. I even have the picture to prove it!)
It didn’t take more than a split second for me to know the word that was about to be written on me. As 2015 came to a close, I read 2 Corinthians and discovered what I wanted to be the spiritual theme for 2016. I wanted to be poor, yet make many rich. I wanted to have nothing, and yet possess everything. Most of all, I wanted to be content and filled with joy while doing those things.
In 2016 I wanted to be a joyful servant of Christ living in the oxymorons of my faith.
And it seems like there are dozens of those oxymorons. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are righteous. If you lose your life, you will find it. If you keep your life, you will lose it. The first shall be last. The last will be first.
Sometimes it seems to me faith is about believing what is obvious from a temporal standpoint isn’t true at all. I can quite clearly remember when I thought people who lived my current lifestyle were idiots. Actually, it didn’t take following Jesus in even 25% of the ways I currently am for me to think you were a fool. I thought people who fasted were a bit mentally addled. Now I am not sure I can follow without sacrifice. How can I possibly be taking up my cross and following if I am not in some way denying the sinful desires of my human nature?
I remember the days when I tried to learn these truths by memorizing them. I thought if I somehow knew mentally who I was in Christ, then eventually I would learn it in my heart. Eventually I would believe these amazing things about who I was and what I possessed.
I am sure it is really good to know those things and a fabulous thing to know the Scriptures that say them, but I never did have them sink into my heart through knowing them in my head. Least ways I don’t think I have.
I think I have learned them by faith. When I began to take steps in my life that demonstrated I believed God, that is when I learned God was trustworthy.
I am thinking right now it might be a little bit like when the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. The priests could have waited all day on the shore, repeating over and over to themselves and each other how great their God was and how sure they were He could miraculously part the river so they could walk across on dry land. Or, they could just take a step forward, get their feet wet and watch their God do exactly what He said He would.
I am taking a Bible study in Romans right now, which prompted me to ask the question, “If I am righteous now (good and pure and just and right like God), then why don’t I make right choices?”
Because when I make wrong choices I am not believing what God says is true. I am not believing His definition of good and pure and holy. I am not believing what He says about the consequences of good and evil. I am not believing He and all His commands are good. I am not believing He is love.
I used to believe the oxymorons in my head. I explained to myself that they were true, but we just would never really be able to understand them or know how we were experiencing them. They made sense in some super complicated spiritually deep way, but were never going to be actually experienced on this earth.
As I have learned to trust Him and therefore follow Him and do what He says, I have learned He really is a good God. I have learned I really will be happy if I mourn – anyways sure is a whole lot better than stuffing my grief in and pretending it is not there! Also it is amazingly good to draw close to Him in my sorrow. As for the blessing for those who know they are spiritually poor? Well, there has never been a happy day when I was trying to control my life or my eternal destiny with my actions and hard work. Joy comes when I say, “God, it is all You because I can’t. You are the only way I will ever be made right!” Joy comes when I quit trying to find ways I am good enough and instead admit that without Him I am worthless.
I never knew God was good five years ago. I thought His guidelines for life were Him trying to prevent us from having a whole lot of fun. I thought He was holding out on us. Being selfish, controlling and judgmental.
As I began to take baby steps following Him, I began to experience the joy of experiencing His truth in my life. What always sounded like oxymorons that could never actually be experienced became parts of my story. When I read the passage in Corinthians, I smiled because I am poor, yet make many rich. I have never been temporally poorer. I have never been spiritually richer.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven,” so said the Man who has made all my dreams come true.
I am so grateful to be a part of His kingdom. A kingdom where the “oxymorons” are not oxymorons, but pure and right and true. Where righteousness reigns and peace is eternal. A kingdom with a King who tolerates no injustice. Who loves His subjects so much, He was willing to die so they could live in His kingdom and He could fulfill all the desires of their heart. A kingdom where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control are found in eternal abundance; and where selfish, sinful, evil desires die.
And isn’t that sometimes the pain of it? That as those sinful desires die, I focus on the pain of my dying human nature instead of on His eternal goodness and the demonstration of His goodness in my life?
Oh, to be just like Him forever!
In what ways have you experienced the “oxymorons” of Scripture in your life? Are there any steps of faith you could take to deepen your experience of them?