Just a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

But try to cover a necessary dose of suffering with a spoonful of discouragement and cynicism and it makes for a hard way to end one year and begin another one. I readily admit that discouragement and cynicism have rested heavily upon me in the past few weeks and months. My endurance has worn thin, and I have found it increasingly difficult to live out Paul’s exhortation, “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).

God is neither powerless, nor willing to be thwarted in the work he is doing in me. My dad would quote Philippians 1:6 at every church we would attend during our missionary deputation and furloughs, and it rings in my ears now: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” As of late, there have been days when I have prayed more fervently than ever for that promised day to come. That, in itself, was evidence of God’s blessed grace on me. Yet, the darkness still hung over me and in me.

On January 18th, 2014, at 11am, I sat upstairs at the church. Our leadership conference was in its second day and I was leading a session on Evidences of Grace. Starring down at my blank sheet of paper, I confessed to Elaine how awful I was at this. How could I even lead in it? So, I started by asking others to share. Yet as I listened, I began to consider God’s blessings on our church over this last year. Sure, there were hardships, but God was not absent or inactive. He proves himself faithful in spite of us … always in spite of us. Faithfulness, goodness, love, mercy, grace, and justice flowing like a might river over his people, and a pastor—this pastor—so unworthy of his care. I listened as various people gave their praise and thanksgiving to God as my heart melted in confession and repentance to him. As others continued to share, I opened my ESV app and prayed Psalm 25, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame.”

Thankful for God’s grace in repentance, I have set out to live out my repentance through his enabling grace. To kill my discouragement and cynicism with a renewed look at the glorious face of my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. I read Paul Maxwell’s excellent article today which states, “Ultimately, no virtue or action can stand on its own against the black hole of cynicism. Only the immensity of Christ’s joyful and benevolent personhood can stand against the void of scorn sedimented in the human heart (Romans8:38–39).”

Give me Jesus! You can have all this world, but give me Jesus!

For, “Christ offers affirmation, purpose, and hope to the cynic.”

In my quest I have found prayer most helpful, your prayers for me and my prayers for you. Through 2014 I plan to use Erik Raymond’s article to frame my prayers for you: (1) Pray for a hunger for the bible; (2) Pray for thankfulness; (3) Pray for gospel growth; (4) Pray for holiness; (5) Pray for unity. Probably due to my recent struggles, thankfulness stood out to me, especially when Erik writes that a desire for thankfulness is a desire, “to see churches enveloped by a real joy in God because of what He has done for us in Christ.” I want that here.

I would ask that you continue to pray for your pastors, for Ryan, Jason, and me. We need your petitions to God on our behalf. Nicholas Batzig reminds us that, “The shepherd needs the prayers of the sheep as much as they need his prayers. He also is one of Christ’s sheep, and is susceptible to the same weaknesses.” In his article he goes on to list a framework from praying for your pastors. I will be praying for my fellow pastors in this way and would encourage you to join in praying this way for each of us. (1) Pray for their spiritual protection from the world, the flesh, and the devil; (2) Pray for their deliverance from the physical attacks of the world and the devil; (3) Pray for doors to be opened to them for the spread of the gospel; (4) Pray that they might have boldness and power to preach the gospel; (5) Pray that they might have a spirit of wisdom and understanding.

These lists are not exhaustive, so I plan to make them launching pads for growth in my prayer.
“Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so miserable as soon as thou withdrawest thy favour from us,—O grant, that we may deeply feel this conviction, and thus learn to be humble before thee, and to hate our ownselves, and that we may not in the mean time deceive ourselves by such allurements as commonly prevail, to put our hope in creatures or in this world, but raise our minds upwards to thee, and fix on thee our hearts, and never doubt, but that when thou embraces us with thy paternal love, nothing shall be wanting to us. And in the meantime, may we suppliantly flee to thy mercy, and with true and genuine confession, acknowledge this to be our only protection—that thou deign to receive us into favour, and to abolish our sins, into which we not only daily fall, but by which we also deserve eternal death, so that we may daily rise through thy free pardon, till at length our Redeemer Christ thy Son shall appear to us from heaven. Amen.” John Calvin. Prayers of John Calvin from his Commentary on Hosea (Kindle Locations 196-203). Monergism.
 
May we believe that through it all, hoping in God, trusting in God, and waiting on God will not put us to shame,

Bryan Heller