Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Room 314: All Things for Good?

Whether we are enduring the death of a child, a long-term illness, or some other significant suffering, we long to know that our suffering is significant. In a recent sermon on Romans 8:28 and 29, Pastor Tim Keller helped me understand the significance of our sufferings, and that our sufferings are not allowed by God merely to better our earthly circumstances but to become more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes, "...And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose..." Romans 8:28. This passage does not mean that God is using our sufferings to better our earthly circumstances. As Keller points out, we should not use this verse to think that God necessarily uses the death of a child to improve hospital procedures, the dissolution of a relationship to give us a better spouse in the future or a job loss now to ultimately give a better job in the future. Instead, Keller points to the very next verse to show that God calls us to endure all suffering for the eternal purpose of shaping us into Christ. "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." Romans 8.29. What great assurance we have that our greatest sufferings will not result in just earthly improvements, in changes in our circumstances that may or may not last, and that are dependent on human effort and will. Instead, we can rest in the assurance that our sufferings are allowed to create in us an eternal weight of glory such that Jesus is considered the first of many brothers and sisters. This promise for an eternal consequence to our sufferings makes the endurance of these earthly trials far more worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Room 314: Patience

I gained some insight through my experience in Room 314 not only into how terribly impatient I am, but why it is that I grow impatient. I become impatient when I attempt to achieve certain goals in my own strength, confuse these goals with larger, Spirit-led objectives, and then get frustrated when I cannot achieve those self-imposed goals in my own strength. Ever since beginning my law practice, I have developed a sense for the "return on investment" ("ROI") of every minute of every day. I've internally measured every endeavor, both personally and professionally, by its ROI to my practice (measured in satisfied clients and revenue) and to me and my family (how much we enjoyed a particular endeavor). But when you are flat on your back in a hospital bed for 15 days straight, 8 of which were without solid food, you gain insight into the "productivity" of life. I was expecting a 3-5 day hospital stay with few complications afterwards. My internally-set goal was to leave in no more than 5 days so that I could return to what was truly "productive" in my life. Of course, this did not occur. As it turned out, and as demonstrated by these blog posts, God used the suffering in Room 314 to teach me considerably more about Himself through this extended stay than if I had met my self-imposed deadline for a return home. There are numerous examples every day of how impatient I am: I would grow impatient at work if factors outside my control impacted a self-imposed deadline to completing a project. Ironically, I found that clients would not even review the project for months after its delivery, even after we slaved away to meet my self-imposed deadline! I grow impatient at home when my children fail to eat their meal as quickly as I would like. Ironically, I found that if I wait, they are more than happy to eat over the course of more than an hour! In contrast to exclusively filling our day with (a) tasks that we deem of utmost importance and (b) a self-imposed schedule for meeting that schedule, I have tried to use the barriers that come up throughout the day as a means to turn back to God and remind myself of His great patience for me and my dependence upon him. I can become a more patient person by focusing on the "endgame" of Christ in my life, and the Holy Spirit's developing a Christ-like character through sufferings, large and small, and not on unmet self-imposed deadlines. The Lord is perfectly patient with us. He waits upon us and responds to us when, after focusing our attention on idolatry of various types, we finally respond in urgency to Him. Paul says, "...I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:16. While I am still setting self-imposed goals for achieving a good ROI for my day, I am trying to use impediments to achieving those goals as a means to stop and think about God's great patience with me, and consider the significance of each self-imposed deadline in the scope of eternity. I pray that, as I look to Jesus when I might otherwise grow impatient, he would fill me more and more with the joy in Him and the patience necessary to forebear short-term suffering. As Paul says in Romans 5:5, the gradual development of Godly character through patience will not disappoint us eternally, even if it "costs" us unmet personal self-imposed deadlines.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Room 314: In the Furnace of Affliction

God uses the unique sufferings in our lives to remove those specific impediments in our lives that keep us from more fully treasuring Christ. My recent experience of 22 days in the hospital opened my eyes to my impatience and idolatry. In retrospect, I am trusting that it was only through this type of suffering that God could have taught me how my heart had strayed and the need for my repentance. About suffering, Paul says, "...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." Romans 5:3-5. In a recent sermon, Pastor Tim Keller explains that Christians are not called to enjoy suffering in itself, but to appreciate the fruit that comes from the suffering. We should not, like the Greek Stoics, attempt to "stuff" grief or think that God calls us to become more like him by "toughing it out," pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps through suffering, and attempting to succeed in life despite our suffering. Rather, we can respond in great grief, but trust that God has ordained it for our God. For this point, Keller points to the emotional reaction of Job after learning of the death of his entire family. Job tears his rob off, shaves his head, and falls to the ground, an emotional reaction that Keller points out many in the church today might find irreligious. But Job 1:22 says that, in all this, Job did not sin. We can hate the suffering itself, and respond in emotion to the suffering, but appreciate the fact that God is using that suffering for our good. Keller points out that, while one's home furnace is obviously not powered by the cold temperatures outside, the furnace will only pick up in intensity to the degree that the thermostat shows a decrease in the outside temperature. In this sense, the furnace is "powered" by the outside temperatures, because the house relies more and more on the furnace for its warmth through colder and colder temperatures. Our sufferings do not in themselves power change in our lives, but they produce the environment in our heart by which God works. In scripture we are told repeatedly that God, going back even in His relationship with the nation of Israel, uses sufferings to "refine" us, as with metals in a furnace. Isaiah 48:10 says that God used the furnace of affliction on Israel for His Glory. While I don't need to like the suffering itself, I pray that I would recognize that God is using the unique forms of suffering in my own life to "burn off" all sorts of impurities that currently exist in my life, and make me more like Him, for His Glory.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Room 314: Where Hope is Found

My recent illness has caused me to see the form of self-sufficiency upon which I have been placing my hope, and to instead more fully place my hope and joy in Jesus Christ and His sufficiency for my life. Pastor John Piper has taught that since God is sovereign (in control) over all of life, including suffering, we can be sure that God is allowing the particular form of suffering to produce in us a "particular form of glory." In other words, the suffering we are enduring is not haphazard; it is allowed by God in order to cause us to awaken from the slumber of sin and re-orient the nature of our hope. As Christians, We are not called to enjoy suffering in itself. Grieving parents are not called to rejoice in the death of their child. Christians facing health issues are not called to rejoice in their physical pain. But we can rejoice that, since God engineers our sufferings, we can be sure that if we are active in our centering our hope in Christ, then through the particular forms of suffering God allows us to endure, we will ultimately not be disappointed (be "put to shame" as Paul says in Romans 5). In Colossians 1, we are assured that our salvation is assured "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you have heard..." Colossians 1:23. In my case, the very form of suffering that I have endured has served to strengthen the source of my hope. I have this tendency to mentally check off a "to do" list in order to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day and to have a sense of control in my life. I manage a busy law practice as well as co-parent three living children at our home. Up until my recent illness, I did not realize the pride that I took in thinking that my efforts were maintaining control of my law practice and the upbringing of my children, among other aspects of my life. In Room 314, I was literally flat on my back. I was without strength to manage my children and manage my law practice. My children could not see me for much of my time in the hospital because of my bacterial infection. I could not muster sufficient strength to review and respond to work emails. I could not manage life in my own strength. I had somehow lulled myself into thinking that I was in control of my children's upbringing and the trajectory of my law practice. I don't know if there was any other form of suffering that God could have allowed that would have shown me the sin and fallacy of this self-sufficiency. Now that I have identified it as such, it is crucial that I release my sense of self-sufficiency and renew Jesus Christ as the source of my hope.