September 1, 1997 Issue
by Billy Orten

In the spring of 1996, I was diagnosed as having cardiomyopathy, a deterioration of the heart muscle. I was told the ejection rate of my heart was down to 15% or less, and it would continue to worsen, and it did. When Dr. Hakim informed me that the only treatment was a heart transplant, I was not ready to receive the news. Objecting I said, "I will need time to think it over." His reply was, "Maybe this program is not for you." It took some rapid changing on my part and resolute persuasion to convince Dr. Hakim to place me on the waiting list. "You must be totally committed to the program and willing to follow our directions completely in order to be admitted," he warned. I did not understand his reasons for that statement at the time, but now I do. Today I follow his directions because of my complete trust in him as a physician and surgeon.

After being placed on the list, there were times I had doubts. "What have I allowed myself to get into?" I questioned, "Is there really no other way? Don’t they have a pill they can give me that will make me all right?" I was not ready to accept the drastic change I knew was going to take place in my life. What I wanted was a "quick fix," something that would make me well again but allow me to go on living my life as I had always done.

The reason I am sharing this experience is that this same attitude is found in the spiritual realm. Most people are looking for a "quick fix" for their spiritual condition, a spiritual pill that will suddenly make them all God expects them to be, yet allow them to go on living as they always have. Not many people are interested in self-denial nor in the study of God’s Word, without which no one can ever be transformed into the image of Christ. Some expect a "religious experience" which suddenly changes them from a carnal to a spiritual person; however, maturity as a Christian comes from perseverance and growth in day to day living.

I have been surprised many times at the way God directs my life. He does not work like I expect Him to. Even in hearing my prayers, His answers are often not what I expect. Has God worked in your life like you thought He would? Has your life unfolded in the way you expected? For most people, it has not.

I would like to share with you some unusual ways God deals with us in this life. I have chosen an incident in the life of the patriarch Jacob to illustrate these surprises. As recorded in Geneses 32:22-32, Jacob is in serious trouble. He is on a mission to meet Esau, his twin brother, and he is afraid. Even though Esau has promised to kill him and is heading his way with four hundred men, Jacob wants to go home so badly he is willing to take a chance. Esau has reason to want to kill Jacob because Jacob had already tricked him twice. He had tricked Esau into selling his birthright and later he had tricked their father into giving him the blessing that was intended for Esau.

It is night, and Jacob has been praying for reconciliation with Esau when suddenly a man leaps onto his back and wrestles him to the ground. Jacob does not know who the man is; he probably thinks it is Esau or maybe a bandit who preys on travelers passing along the road. One thing for sure, he does not think it is a friend. He does not say," 0 joy, a friend of mine has leaped upon me and is mugging me." The Bible says Jacob’s assailant is an angel, a messenger of God sent in answer to Jacob’s prayer. But Jacob does not know that. Jacob’s first surprise is to learn that the man who wrestled him to the ground is not an enemy but a messenger of God who has come to bless him.

When I stop to consider this, one of my greatest surprises is to realize that some of my greatest struggles have been with God. Don’t misunderstand me. God loves me and seeks only my good. Satan is my enemy who wants to destroy me. However, my human will often rebels at what God tells me to do. Maybe I should say that my greatest struggles have been with the Word of God. Even though my mind tells me that all of God’s commands are for my good, my human will often rebels against them. It has been easier for me on many occasions to say "no" to Satan’s temptations than to say "yes" to God’s commandments. I have wrestled with the commands to love my enemy, to do good to those who hate me, and to pray for those who despitefully use me and persecute me (Matt 5:44). My human spirit has wanted to rebel against the teaching of Paul to submit my will to others (Eph 5:22), especially when I felt I was more in the right than they. It has not been easy for me to "give in" to a weaker brother because he says my liberty offends him (Romans 14:15, 20, 21). Sometimes forgiving one who has injured or insulted me is harder for me than abstaining from fleshly lusts (Mark 11:25-26). These are but a few examples.

Are you wrestling with God about some of his commands? Remember what the apostle James says in James 4:7: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you." Notice the wonderful things that happen when you bow your will in submission to God: (1) It becomes easier to resist the Devil; (2) God and you have a closer relationship.

The second surprise in the way God deals with me is that I sometimes try to get rid of my greatest blessing. Jacob does in Genesis 32. He wrestles with the angel who has come to bless him. Somehow in the midst of the struggle, Jacob realizes the angel is a messenger from God. Jacob now clings to the angel. He sees now as a blessing what he had tried to rid himself of. I have been surprised to find out that some things I wanted the Lord to change have turned out to be for my good. I have prayed for the Lord to bless me as He sees my needs. But what I really meant was, "Lord, give me what I think I need." What the Lord knows I need and what I think I need are not always the same. Sometimes our most difficult times have a blessing wrapped up in them. Faith is not the ability to change the circumstances, but the ability to stay calm amid the circumstances.

We need to look closely at what Romans 8:28 says and what it does not say. It says, "All things work together for good to them who love the Lord." It does not say "all things are good," but rather that God takes all things in our life and makes them work for our good. Are you struggling with a burden, a health problem, a domestic problem? Have you suffered a great loss? Faith is the ability to trust God to work all these things for your good. For example, eighteen weeks in the hospital followed by twenty weeks in rehabilitation has taught me a lot about patience, and my sickness has led me to believe even more strongly in the power of prayer. I have felt the love of the church locally and over the entire brotherhood as people expressed their concern through prayers, cards, phone calls, letters, visits, and financial help. People freely gave their labor, some even driving great distances, so that my house might be ready for my return.

The third surprise in God’s dealings is that good and bad run on parallel tracks, and they often arrive at the same time. Look at Jacob again. He gets what he wants. He is able to meet Esau and be reconciled to him, which is what he has prayed for. He also gets a blessing from the angel. However, though the angel eventually blesses Jacob, during their struggle the angel also "touched" the socket of Jacob’s thigh so that the Bible says it is "wrenched" (Gen. 32: 25). This injury causes Jacob to limp the rest of his life. (I imagine his thigh hurt him almost constantly, especially when the weather changed.) Though Jacob does get mostly good from this encounter, he also receives some bad.

This is also true in my life. Most of my life I have been thankful for many blessings; but at the same time, I have always been struggling with adversities. I keep thinking one day I will get "all my ducks in a row" and "all my boards nailed down." Then, nothing but good things will come to me. I will sit back and relax and enjoy the good life. However, right now it is not that way. At times like these I am tempted to think I will just pull back and wait until the bad times are over, and then I will begin to live. However, someone once wisely said, "Life is what happens while we are getting ready to live." There will always be some difficulties in our lives. God wants us to trust in Him, not in our circumstances.

Remember, our weakness is God’s opportunity. Paul also had a difficulty that troubled him sorely. He prayed earnestly for God to remove it, but God said, "No, Paul, my grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). Brothers and Sisters, let us dwell continually on Paul’s resolution in verse ten: "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak then I am strong." Any adversity that results in our receiving an added measure of God’s strength is a blessing in disguise.

Other OPA Article Links:

Christian Living

Billy Orten     1997    OPA Main Page    HOME

Hit Counter