Thursday, March 22, 2012

That we never know what's in store.

The Bible is full of heroes of faith, but although this instance may be overlooked at times, I can't help thinking one of the most stirring speeches is found in Genesis 44: 18-34, from a man we don't necessarily think of as a hero. It is Judah's plea to the governor of Egypt to allow his youngest brother, Benjamin, to return home to their father and take him as a slave in his stead. Little does anyone know, the governor happens to be their own brother, Joseph. I'll recap some of what Judah said in the language of The Message Bible, which is so easy to relate to.

"... Can't you see that if I show up before your servant, my father, without the boy, this son with whom he is so bound up, the moment he realizes the boy is gone he'll die on the spot... So let me stay here as your slave, not this boy. Let the boy go back with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? Oh, don't make me go back and watch my father die in grief!"

What an awesome, sacrificial offer from a man who cared deeply for his elderly father. No wonder it was at this point that Joseph caved in, gave way to tears and revealed his identity. We have no way of knowing for sure how long he intended to keep toying with them but Judah's words penetrated straight to Joseph's heart.

Is Judah the sort of guy we think of when we want to teach our kids some great examples? Well, not really. An earlier incident with his daughter-in-law did not show him up in the best light (Genesis 38), and besides that, he was overshadowed by his half-brother. Joseph was the one with the snazzy, multi-coloured coat and the amazing prophetic dreams. He was the one with such a great story, we make movies about him. Joseph was the son of their father's favourite wife. Jacob never seemed to make any attempt to conceal his favouritism of Rachel's boys from his other sons. "I'll not let you take Benjamin because then, if anything happens to him, I'll have nothing left!" Well, that made it clear to the other ten where they stood. And knowing this, Judah still had the loyalty to make his plea to the governor.

I love it that God valued and appreciated that streak of heroism deep within Judah. He, not Joseph, was destined to be the father of the kingly lineage which included such heroes as Kings David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah. Most wonderful of all, he turned out to be that son of Jacob; the one who was set apart to be the ancestor of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. I guess anyone around at the time who'd got a glimpse of God's plan might've been forgiven for saying, "Well, I'll be! I was certain it would be Joseph." But Jesus was called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, not the Lion of the tribe of Joseph.

I guess the moral of Judah's story is that the spotlight and accolades aren't necessarily a sign of what God plans to do through you. You don't have to be the focal point of attention to make a tremendous difference in the world. I'm thankful for faithful plodders like Judah, the unsung heroes who have such awesome futures.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

That we may be prouder than we think

"God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble"
James 4:6

As the world we see around us rewards those it deems great and brilliant, this is a very challenging verse. Sometimes I think I may have to strive harder and pray more often to break through barriers when it never occurs to me that I may simply be experiencing 'resistance', for pride pops up any time and doesn't necessarily look like what we might expect.

Who appears humble by the world's standards? Those who are soft spoken, hesitate to look you in the eye and don't bignote themselves? I was born socially awkward and may tick all these boxes. In the past, people have called me 'unassuming'. They've said I need to speak up about my accomplishments. But what if all this is based on pride just as much as the arrogant and supercilious who strut around in their lofty positions of self-confidence?

Both extremes may be fraught with pride. Basically, they're both attitudes that comes from relying on yourself and your own inner resources to get by. Instead of regarding pride as a dangerous path to tread, the world actually encourages it by congratulating such people as the 'self-made millionaire.' Bottom line - as long as you are occupied with self, you have a problem with pride.

True humility is knowing that you can't possibly succeed without God's help, but with Him, all things are possible. It's great when God gets full glory which can't happen when we struggle and strive. The problem is, thinking and behaving with pride is so ingrained in our thought patterns, we may feel as if we're floundering when we're actually in a good position as far as God's concerned.

Moses was said to be 'great in might' for the first 40 years of his life when he was strutting about Egyptian palaces, known as the son of Pharoah's daughter. Those Egyptian prince days aren't talked about much. Perhaps they were proud, self-reliant years when he couldn't be used by God because he was too full of himself. God didn't approach Moses with a mighty task until he was a broken man, pushing sheep around in the desert, having given up on that used to fill his lifestyle.

It's interesting when we take the time to examine our motives. King Hezekiah showed a visiting dignitary through his entire palace and armoury, giving him the grand tour. He was surprised and nervous by the rebuke he got from the prophet Isaiah, who was God's mouthpiece at the time. I had the same reaction when I read it. "Hey, I didn't really see that as showing off! He was just trying to be a friendly host." But the impression I got didn't stand up against what God knew was in Hezekiah's heart.

It's easy for us to put the best possible spin on our own motives and even convince ourselves that it is true. We might fool ourselves, we might fool others too, but if there's any pride-based desire to seek the admiration and approval of others, He knows. This is no trifling matter as it may even set us back in the attitude of earning our place in heaven through works instead of grace, a place no Christian wants to find themselves.

How do we operate when we're actually coming from a place of humility? I think the heaviness and care is lifted from our shoulders. Those hang-ups about lack of support and acknowledgment no longer matter. Humility is hard thing to set about acquiring, because as we all know, whenever we get to a place where we feel we can state, "Here I am, humble at last!" we have to go right back to the start!

I'll finish with this great prayer I found by Mother Teresa.

Deliver me, O Jesus,
From the desire of being loved
From the desire of being extolled
From the desire of being honoured
From the desire of being praised
From the desire of being preferred
From the desire of being consulted
From the desire of being approved
From the desire of being popular

From the fear of being humiliated
From the fear of being despised
From the fear of suffering rebukes
From the fear of being calumniated
From the fear of being forgotten
From the fear of being wronged
From the fear of being ridiculed
From the fear of being suspected

Mother Teresa
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