Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rough Waters and Hard Times

He leads me beside still waters. Psalm 23:2

I am writing this blog while hanging out at a whitewater rafting center on the Ocoee River in the mountains of Tennessee. My husband and son are braving the rapids while I am hanging out at base camp. I decided to remain onshore because rafting is hard work. Many years ago, I blithely climbed aboard a whitewater raft and thought I would be able to float down the river.  I was wrong. Rafting equals paddling. It is hard.

While I chose to sit out this particular adventure, there have been times in my life when I made things a lot harder than they had to be. One critical time was when I was a teenager. In my early teens, I realized I pretty much knew everything about God.  I couldn't understand why my mom, who was well over thirty years old, kept reading the Bible and going to church.  By age 14, I had completely hardened my heart and had decided  I knew more than the Creator of this world and my parents, who obviously didn't know as much as I did since they still needed to go to church and ask God for help. I was confident that my way was better and I didn't need God. Since I was determined to carry all the burden, it was a lonely, miserable four years of doing things all by myself. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus promises that if we walk with him our yoke will be easy and our burden will be light.  But since I wanted to do it all on my own without God, everything in my life depended on me and my effort. In my quest for control, I had made my life much harder.   

Carrying a huge load reaches a point that goes beyond making you stronger and begins to completely crush you.  All the things that I couldn't control, didn't know and had messed up overwhelmed me.  I realized I needed God and I didn't know everything but He did. God had used my limitations to softened my heart to His infinite abilities. The softening process wasn't easy.  It makes me think of the process of tenderizing meet.  You pound it till it gets really soft and malleable.   

I have friends and relatives who have also chosen a hard path. Watching my loved ones as they stumble along breaks my heart. In their need for control, they keep insisting that their way is better.  They have made their lives incredibly hard.  Not only are they carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders but they as they continue to harden their hearts, I know they will continue to face the tenderizing process, a process that is designed to break you and bring you to your knees.  Amos 4 shows how God uses this tenderizing process on Israel. It has haunted me since I read it a couple of weeks ago. I can't get it out of my head. I was struck by the list of things that God had inflicted on Israel so that they would turn to him.  
Amos 4:9 says, "I struck you with blight and mildew;
    your many gardens and your vineyards,
    your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”declares the Lord.   
This verse is about God taking away their sources of wealth. Other verses in this chapter talk about God sending conflict, death, destruction, plagues, drought and starvation; all this was so that the people would return to the Lord.   These are hard verses. 

A lot of people struggle with the idea that a loving God would purposely bring this type of suffering on His people.  To better understand this: imagine how a parent might punish a rebellious teenager who had wandered down the wrong path. First, they might lose their phone or be put on restriction; but if the problem continues, some parents have signed their kids up for scared straight programs hoping an  intervention will prevent an actual incarceration. Big problems require tough measures. God's ultimate goal for all of us is for us to know him and bring him glory. just as sometimes the most loving thing that a parent can do is punish their rebellious child so that the kid doesn't continue on the destructive path, God will bring hard times into our lives to get us to the point that we cry out, "God I can't do this anymore. I need your help. Please lift this heavy burden off of me." Just as he helped me, He will pick up the paddle and lead your loved one by calm waters. He will restore their soul and lead them in paths of righteousness for His namesake. 

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