Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Walter Writes Our Church - How to Endure Through Boring Times in the Christian Life (Part One)

For a complete list of Walter's letters on this blog, go here. You can also see the letters in their entirety here.


Dear Paul and all my friends at GFC,

The Lord saw fit to dump a barn-load of snow on us the other day, which had me on the tractor blowing out the driveway for near two hours. Now it wouldn’t normally take so long, if it hadn’t been for the layer of ice under the snow. I had to keep backing up and take a run at the drifts like a horizontal yo-yo on steroids. The whole adventure became rather tiring and there weren’t a few times I thought about turning the engine off and waiting for spring.

Of course, spring never comes as fast as you’d like, and if I had left that snow to lie, Mrs. Walter would soon be out of food and I’d be out of a bed! Fact is, sometimes you have to stay at some jobs that are just plain boring or routine. Nobody jumps for joy at having to weed their garden through the dog days of summer – but it must get done, and the fruit is worth it.

It struck me while I was out throwing sand under the tractor’s wheels, that there comes some dog days in the life of a church as well. Things are just humming along, no particular crises or calamities. Your barn’s not on fire and your cows still milk. There is just week after week of the same stuff.

And a distracted person will feel like there is something wrong. A complaining person will invent something wrong. And an immature person will just abandon ship – which is wrong! So, I determined to do a little study and send down the fruit of my labours in a another missive. If you all feel like reading it, then Bob’s your uncle.

Now, anyone who’s lifted a finger knows the start of a task is easier than the end. But even the end is easier than the middle! When a man starts at plowing his arms are fresh, the day is young and his blade is sharp. When he rounds the corner to make his last turn, the hope of being done fills his step with an extra bounce! But in the middle... when the sun is hot and the blade loses its edge and its row after row after row and you wonder how on earth you will ever get to the end... in the middle, a man might be a tad prone to discouragement. Or any of those other D-words of the D-devil – defeat, disillusionment, despair, depression or “Drat, why’d I decide to be a farmer anyway?”

That leads me to my first point. You don’t endure dessert. What I mean is that endurance assumes trouble. You endure a canker sore, a dead skunk under your porch or your neighbour’s vacation pictures. You enjoy Thanksgiving dinner or a Leafs win. Somehow, many a Christian gets to thinking that their whole life ought to be feast and festivity – like “having Jesus” were some kind of pass from life’s troubles and tribulations. Well, there’s a bunch of hoogly if ever I heard it.

Once, Jesus painted a picture of men’s hearts as dirt, and said the man with rocks in his heart will act all fruitful when he hears the Gospel, but will wilt and wither at the first blast of affliction or persecution. He does not endure and therefore was never truly born again. (Matthew 13:21)

Or when talking about the end of the age, Jesus could tell the Twelve that only the one who endures to the end will be saved. Now, what kinds of things does that man have to endure? Jesus told us. False prophets, fake Messiahs, real wars, hard famines, turbulent earthquakes, false arrest, wrongful imprisonment, miserable beatings and death. You know, just your average trials. (Mark 13)

So, we must forget this nonsense about life being easy. And by “forget this nonsense,” I mean we ought to give up burning all our energies trying to make it easy. A man who spends his life trying to find ease is like a man trying to empty Lake Ontario with a milk bucket. He might spend 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for 50 years scooping away, but in the end all he’ll have is wet sleeves and a soggy lawn. You might spend all your days chasing after pleasure, but in the end you’ll say with Old Solomon “I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

Nope, you might as well admit the curse is real and that for every bushel of grain you’ll dig a barrel of weeds. There is good to be had, but not if you live for it. And most of life will be a case of enduring... or patiently doing what you ought to do through the boring or troublesome times.

Now, the best part of what the Bible has to say on endurance is in this realm, the realm of trouble – persecutions, afflictions, temptation, evil, struggle and suffering. Here is a sampling:

Romans 5:3-5 “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

1 Corinthians 4:12 “...when persecuted, we endure...”

1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Hebrews 10:32-33 “32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.”

1 Peter 2:19-20 “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

Now it is one thing to write all those words down, but quite another to live them.

When Job lost all, he sat down and humbly looked to God:

“Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

But things got harder. A few days of sitting around scraping his sores with clay shards while his friends scraped his character with harsh words... and Job got a tad defensive and a little arrogant. That’s only one example of how hard it can be to endure troubles.

May the Lord give us grace!

(To be continued....)