THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 18
Thank God in every circumstance. For what?
We Christians have the secret of successful living – although often you would not know it by looking at our lives! We let the problems of the day get us down and we succumb to the worries and problems, until we are going around with a worried frown or the usual mask of the Christian who thinks he has to appear to be successful.
Why is it that there is such a gap between what the bible seems to talk about and the realities of our daily living? Or should we accept that it is normal for Christians to be just like everybody else? After all, we are human like everybody else, and we all have to face the same problems as everyone else – and some more besides, on account of our Christianity. So where is it we are missing out? Are we just in error in expecting life to be different for us?
It has to be said that, as Christians, most of us have experienced, from time to time, periods when we really have felt on top of the problems and troubles thrown at us by life. Whether it is hormones or rude good health, or perhaps a sunny disposition, most of us have felt really good at times about our religion and how we are coping as Christians. But it doesn’t last! After a week, or a month, or a year problems come along and we lapse back into the old routine and feel again that life is really difficult and problematical.
So is this normal for Christians? It probably is the experience of most of us! But is it what God intends for us? No, it certainly is not. Don’t misunderstand me – of course God understands all about our temperaments and moods, all about how we feel up one day and down the next. He made us, Christ entered into our humanity and was fully and completely a man – so yes, of course God understands.
But when you read some of the passages in the New Testament, you really have to say that our lives do not match up to how we should be. Maybe we have missed something? Let’s look at a few:
1 “But thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2.14)
2 “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling…”
3 “…in everything give thanks…” (1 Thessalonians 5.18)
Taken at face value these seem to portray a quality of life that some of us only achieve rarely. Not a settled lasting attitude or experience. Even if you allow for some mistranslation, perhaps, and give some leeway for the fact they lived in a different world view, two thousand years ago, it is still the case that there is a yawning gap between the ideal life of the Christian as portrayed in the New Testament and the life of the Christian as we know it ourselves.
I am not of course talking about the sort of person who goes about saying ‘Praise the Lord’ through gritted teeth, whatever the circumstances. Put them in a funeral situation and still they are affirming the mantra, as if by stating it they have achieved something. In my eyes all they have achieved is to demonstrate their own strong will – a determination to ‘be positive’ in the face of all odds, all reality. I respect them, but it is not the answer.
No, I am talking about the souls who actually seem to go through life with a kind of steady forward movement. People for whom every setback seems to be a fresh spur to greater confidence and trust in the Lord. People like Mother Teresa. She seems to have had a sublime trust that all she did day by day was truly for the Lord. She might be cleaning the toilets, which apparently she did often, but still there was no diminution of her happiness.
People like Nelson Mandela who went through an interminable prison sentence without the slightest rancour or resentment. People like Martin Luther King who gathered his fellow marchers around him after a particularly difficult, rowdy and painful days march, and told them that the secret was that they must never think of their attackers as ‘them’, otherwise they would soon fall into an ‘us and them’ mentality, and all would be lost for them.
So what is the secret of people like this?
It isn’t religion! That is for sure. Religion never helped anybody in that way. Religion might help someone to grit their teeth and say ‘Praise the Lord’ to any and every circumstance – but there would be no joy in it. There would be no peace in their hearts. They would not be relaxed.
I think I have stumbled on the secret and I want to share it with you. I think it is to live fully open to God in the here and now, this moment.
Let me explain what lies behind this statement.
If you believe, as I do, that the world/cosmos was created by ‘God’ (him/her/it – what you will), and if you believe that the world was created for a purpose, then I believe you are already set on a journey that will lead you through Jesus Christ to God.
If you look at the gospels – the life and death of Christ – then you will realize the incredible truth that the nature of God is love. We don’t understand it, we cannot explain it – we can hardly grasp it – but love is at the heart of the universe. It is the core meaning of everything.
If once you see that God reached out in his love through Jesus Christ to draw all people to himself, then immediately you have resolved so many pressing questions. Note: not ‘answered’, but ‘resolved’.
For example, you no longer need to try to answer all those questions about suffering, or pain, or tragedy or natural disaster. You can simply accept that no man can ever understand these – it is beyond our understanding. But we can accept that behind every event, however terrible it may seem, there is a purpose of love.
At this level of trust you cease to bother about contorting your mind to find ‘answers’ and instead you simply trust.
That means that each moment we place ourselves simply in God’s hands. We trust ourselves into God’s purposes, which we don’t and can never understand, and we accept whatever comes as from him.
If God has created this world for his purposes then I for one am prepared to believe that he knows what he is doing and is not going to be thwarted by anybody or anything. What he intends will happen.
So what is this secret? It is simply to place your life fully in the hands of the God revealed to us by Christ, and then to relax. It is not important whether you do this task or that work. Whether, in due course, you are used to change the course of nations, or simply to cut the grass in the garden. The key thing is that you let God hold you quiet and still in the hollow of his hand.
So what does it mean to relax into God?
To relax into God means that we only have three tasks:
1 To hold ourselves quiet and still in the centre of God’s hand, moment by moment.
2 To do whatever our ‘duty’ is in life, day by day (for example, to be a businessman, to be a good husband and father, to help this or that person etc.)
3 To be open to do God’s will whatever it is, whenever he shows it to us.
And I believe that this is the formula (which comes to us from several hundred years ago) that these saints like Mother Teresa followed. She might not have expressed it in the same terms, but she held herself quiet and still before God all the time, held by God. She did the mundane tasks that lay before her each day. And she took initiatives, large and small, as and when it seemed right.
Is this too difficult for us? Or do we think it is only applicable to other people – who are more/less occupied that we are, more/less ‘Christian’ than we are, more/less able than we are, more/less simple than we are?
This formula is for everyone, all the time, everywhere. Thank God in every circumstance. Not for the circumstance, which may have come about through human ignorance, failure or sin. But IN every circumstance. For God is right there with you, holding you, saying to you ‘don’t let this disturb your peace – hold to me and I will lead you through it’.
Treat every rebuff, every setback, every reverse, every unpleasantness, and every rejection as treasure. Something which can deepen your relationship with Christ. You will not always be cheerful – and you certainly will not go around saying ‘Praise the Lord’ all the time! But inside you will be at peace – swathed in God’s love and caring. And whatever happens, you accept as from him, no matter how horrendous it may seem. He may not have intended it to happen (who would ascribe evil to God?) but he has allowed it to happen to you. It has happened to you in his permissive will – therefore be grateful – not for the event, but for the fact that he continues to hold you and give you all the strength you need. He is sufficient.
The strife is o’er, the battle done.
Now is the victor’s triumph won
Now be the song of praise begun