Thursdays With Oswald—Difficult Times Reveal Our Habits

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Difficult Times Reveal Our Habits 

     Practice means continually doing that which no one sees or knows but ourselves. Habit is the result of practice, by continually doing a thing it becomes second nature. The difference between men is not a difference of personal power, but that some men are disciplined and others are not. The difference is not the degree of mental power but the degree of mental discipline. If we have taught ourselves how to think, we will have mental power plus the discipline of having it under control. Beware of impulse. Impulsiveness is the characteristic of a child, but it ought not to be the characteristic of a man, it means he has not disciplined himself. Undeterred impulse is undisciplined power.

     Every habit is purely mechanical, and whenever we form a habit it makes a material difference in the brain. The material of the brain alters very slowly, but it does alter, and by repeatedly doing a thing a groove is formed in the material of the brain so that it becomes easier to do it again, until at last we become unconscious of doing it. When we are regenerated we can reform by the power and presence of God every habit that is not in accordance with His life. … We have to learn to form habits according to the dictates of the Spirit of God. The power and the practice must go together. … If we keep practicing, what we practice becomes our second nature, and in a crisis we will find that not only does God’s grace stand by us, but our own nature also. The practicing is ours not God’s and the crisis reveals whether or not we have been practicing. [See Matthew 5:31-37.]

From Studies In The Sermon On The Mount

All of us have blind spots. These are typically habits that we have left in place, unchallenged and unchanged. That “groove” in our brain is operating on auto-pilot, but those blind-spot habits aren’t serving us well. 

The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian is to help us notice these habits in which we are unconsciously incompetent. But once the Spirit of God points these out, then we must practice, and practice, and practice until the new healthy habit has overwritten the old groove of the unhealthy habit. 

Then we will find, as Chambers points out, that in a time of crisis “not only does God’s grace stand by us, but our own nature also.” 

Times of difficulty will reveal habits—both the unhealthy and the healthy. The question then becomes: what are you going to do about the unhealthy habits? 

First Reaction

“…Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying” (Romans 12:12).

When trouble comes, is our first response “I’ve got to do something” or “I’ve got to pray”?

Let’s make prayer our first reaction, not our last resort.

Amen!

Poetry Saturday—Smiles

Smile a little, smile a little, 
    As you go along, 
Not alone when life is pleasant, 
    But when things go wrong. 
Care delights to see you frowning, 
    Loves to hear you sigh; 
Turn a smiling face upon her, 
    Quick the dame will fly.

Smile a little, smile a little, 
    All along the road; 
Every life must have its burden, 
    Every heart its load. 
Why sit down in gloom and darkness, 
    With your grief to sup? 
As you drink Fate’s bitter tonic 
    Smile across the cup.

Smile upon the troubled pilgrims 
    Whom you pass and meet; 
Frowns are thorns, and smiles are blossoms 
    Oft for weary feet. 
Do not make the way seem harder 
    By a sullen face, 
Smile a little, smile a little, 
    Brighten up the place.

Smile upon your undone labor; 
    Not for one who grieves 
O’er his task, waits wealth or glory; 
    He who smiles achieves. 
Though you meet with loss and sorrow 
    In the passing years, 
Smile a little, smile a little, 
    Even through your tears. —Ella Wheeler Wilcox

11 Quotes On The Gospel Of Mark

Alongside my daily Bible study time in the Gospels of the New Testament, I have been reading J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts On The Gospels. You can check out my review of this book by clicking here. 

These are a few of the quotes I especially appreciated from Ryle’s comments on the Gospel of Mark. 

“We should always read the Old Testament with the desire to find something in it about Jesus Christ.” [cf John 5:39] 

“It will always be found that when prayers are few, grace, strength, peace, and hope are small. We shall do well to watch our habits of prayer with a holy watchfulness. Here is the pulse of our Christianity. Here is the true test of our state before God. Here true religion begins in the soul, when it does begin. Here it decays and goes backward, when a man backslides from God. Let us walk in the steps of our blessed Master in this respect as well as in every other. Like Him, let us be diligent in our private devotion. Let us know what it is to ‘depart into solitary places and pray.’” 

“What extravagant importance is attached to trifles by those who are mere formalists in religion!” 

“Christ’s service does not exempt His servants from storms.” 

“The assaults of persecution from without have never done half so much harm to the church as the rise of false doctrines within. False prophets and false teachers within the camp have done far more mischief in Christendom than all the bloody persecutions of the emperors of Rome. The sword of the foe has never done such damage to the cause of truth as the tongue and the pen.” 

“Incredible is the bondage in which men live to the opinion of the world! Let us all pray daily for faith and courage to confess Christ before men. … In spite of laughter, mockery, and hard words, let us boldly avow that we serve Christ.” 

“It is a dreadful fact, whether we like to allow it or not, that pride is one of the commonest sins which beset human nature. We are all born Pharisees. We all naturally think far better of ourselves than we ought. We all naturally imagine that we deserve something better than we have. It is an old sin. It began in the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve thought they had not got everything that their merits deserved. It is a subtle sin. It rules and rains in many a heart without being detected, and can even wear the garb of humility. It is a most soul-ruining sin. It prevents repentance, keeps men back from Christ, checks brotherly love, and nips in the bud spiritual desires. Let us watch against it, and be on our guard. Of all garments, none is so graceful, none wears so well, and none is so rare as true humility.” 

“It is not so much the having money, as the trusting in it, which ruins the soul. Let us pray for contentment with such things as we have.” 

“Above all, let all who desire to walk in Christ’s steps labor to be useful to others. … Let them never forget that true greatness does not consist in being an admiral, or a general, a statesman, or an artist. It consists in devoting ourselves, body, and soul, and spirit to the blessed work of making our fellow man more holy and more happy. … Let us strive to leave the world better, holier, happier than it was when we were born.” 

“The dark ages of Christendom were times when the Bible was kept back from the people. The Protestant Reformation was mainly effected by translating and circulating the Bible. The churches which are most flourishing at this day are churches which honor the Bible. The nations which enjoy the most moral light are nations in which the Bible is most known. … The godliest families are Bible-reading families. The holiest men and women are Bible-reading people.” 

“Let us remember that for our sakes Jesus voluntarily endured the most painful, horrible, and disgraceful death. Surely the thought of this love should constrain us daily to live not unto ourselves but unto Christ.” 

You can read the quotes I shared from Ryle’s thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew by clicking here. 

Reversing The Distress Cycle

God wants you to live in a place where your heart has unshakable security and tranquility. The Hebrew word is shalom, and the Bible gives us a “Shalom Cycle” that keeps us centered and grounded in God’s peace. 

But the Shalom Cycle begins to break down when…

  • …gratitude is replaced by grumbling 
  • …trust in God’s future grace is replaced by unbelief
  • …taking our worries to God is replaced by self-reliance

Anxiety causes our mind to race through all sorts of “what if” scenarios. My friend Josh Schram points out, “There are no benefits at all to having anxieties!” 

The disciples of Jesus were in an anxiety-producing situation—they were in a boat going through stormy seas. Jesus was in the boat with them, but He was sound asleep. Instead of going to Jesus with their worries, the disciples tried to get themselves out of the situation. As they did, the “what ifs” began to mount. 

What if the boat sinks … What if we get smashed on the rocks … What if not everyone can swim … What if (gasp!) Jesus doesn’t make it out alive … What if … What if… WHAT IF?!?

Until finally they screamed at Jesus, “Don’t You even care?!” 

Sadly, their last thought was to go to Jesus, instead of making Him their first thought. 

But Jesus cared more than they knew. Years later, Peter—who was in this storm-tossed boat—wrote, “Casting all your cares—all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all—on Him, for He cares about you with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully (1 Peter 5:7). 

Not—only your big concerns. 

Not—most of your concerns. 

But—ALL of your concerns; every single thing that robs you of even a moment’s peace. 

“Jesus, do You even care?” And Jesus responds with a loving, resounding, “YES! I care about every single thing that causes you anxiety, and worry, and care. Give them all to Me!” 

Paul wrote, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6). 

If we allow the Shalom Cycle to break down, the inevitable result in the exact opposite: The Distress Cycle

 

The arrows are going the wrong way, and we’re being pulled farther and farther down. We need an about-face, a 180-degree-turn, a new direction. The Bible has a word for this: repentance. Instead of the wrong direction, turn around and go the right direction: 

  • Instead of anxiety—prayer
  • Instead of worry—worship
  • Instead of tests—testimonies 

“Jesus is more concerned about changing our hearts than about changing our circumstances. He uses our circumstances to change our hearts, IF we will trust Him.” —Josh Schram

Life Is Hard! Now What?

Jesus told Peter, and now Peter tells us—Christians are going to be insulted and persecuted for believing in Jesus. So the fact that life is hard shouldn’t come as a surprise. Peter then goes on to elaborate on how Christians should live in spite of the mistreatment. 

“The more Christians are unlike the world, the more it hates us; the more we are like our Lord, the more the world will persecute us.” —Horatius Bonar

How should Christians respond to insults and persecution? Peter outlines the Christian’s response in 1 Peter 4:12-19

dear friends, do not be surprised (v. 12). I like this verse in the Amplified Bible: Do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange (unusual and alien to you and your position) were befalling you. After all, Jesus told us this was coming (see John 15:18-20). 

but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ (v. 13a). Notice that this should be the sufferings OF Christ, not of our own making. 

—let suffering lead to Spirit-led reflection (notice the if’s in vv. 14-18, and the if’s in what Jesus said in John 15:18-20). We need to make sure our suffering is because we’re standing for Jesus, not because we’re being jerks! David asked God to check if his actions were the cause of his persecution (Psalm 7:3-4) and we should too. If we discover that we’re the one to blame, quickly apologize, ask for forgiveness, and make things right.  

keep your focus on when His glory is revealed (v. 13b). Time is short, and the rewards are sure so don’t remain focused on the immediate pain, but look up to the longterm gain.  

do not be ashamed to suffer for Jesus (v. 16). Jesus told us not to be ashamed of Him because He is not ashamed of us (Luke 9:26; Hebrews 2:11). 

stay committed to your faithful Creator (v. 19a). Staying committed means getting even closer to God in the hard times.

continue to do good (v. 19b). What does continue to do good look like? Peter lists things like being self-controlled, helping others that are being persecuted, showing proper respect, having a good work ethic, not trading insult for insult, and many other commands. Bottom line: doing good means living like Jesus lived while He was on Earth (see Acts 10:38). 

So, Christian, I’ve got two questions for you—

How are you handling insults and persecution? Are you continuing to do good despite the mistreatment? 

Remember Jesus is coming soon, and His rewards are with Him for how we have lived. “Behold, I am coming soon, and I shall bring My wages and rewards with Me, to repay and render to each one just what his own actions and his own work merit.” —Jesus (Revelation 22:12) 

Join me this Sunday as we continue to learn how Christians are to live as aliens and strangers while we visit Earth. You can join us either in person or via Facebook Live. 

Thursdays With Oswald—Isaiah 45 and 53

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Isaiah 45 and 53

[These are notes on Oswald Chambers’ lectures on Isaiah 45 and 53.]

     Ever remember that “eternal life” is to know God, therefore you cannot expect to know Him in five minutes or forty years. … There are whole tracks of God’s character unrevealed to us as yet, and we have to bow in patience until God is able to reveal the things which look so dark. … 

     God never reveals anything ahead of moral and spiritual progress. The Christian worker who has never walked in the darkness of God’s hand with no light, has never walked with God at all. The principle of walking with God is that it is a walk by faith, not by sight; a walk in the light of Christ, not in the light of dogmatic conviction. Jesus as our example was under the shadow of the hand of God. “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” He knew He could have called twelve legions of angels to His rescue, but He did not call one; not one fire of His own did He kindle, not one self-generated effort did He ever make. … Our Lord taught over and over again that things will never be explained in this life. We have to get rid of the idea that we are going to be vindicated down here; Jesus was not. The millennium age will be the vindication of the saints; this is the age of their humiliation. The triumphant thing for a saint is to stand true to God in spite of all the odds the world, the flesh and the devil can bring. … 

     Jesus Christ’s suffering was unique: He knew why He suffered. … There was nothing of the morbid fanatic about Our Lord: He looked beyond the travail to the joy set before Him, consequently He “endured the Cross, despising the shame.” … 

     Suffering unjustly will either produce sympathy with satan or similarity to Christ. Sympathy with satan arises from self-pity—“Why should I have to go through this?” 

From Notes On Isaiah 

There’s no doubt about it: suffering is hard. It’s confusing, too, for even many ‘seasoned saints.’ 

Jesus was not exempt from suffering, and neither will His followers be. In fact, Jesus even told us ahead of time that we should expect to suffer for His name’s sake. 

Our suffering never takes God by surprise. Neither is He indifferent to it. Remember that Jesus suffered in all the same ways we will without ever sinning. Now He intercedes before the Father on our behalf when we go through times of suffering. 

God’s suffering IS producing something great. Don’t bail out. Don’t give in to self-pity. Know that God is with you in your suffering, and He is accomplishing something far greater than you can ever imagine in this life. Hang in there—triumphant vindication IS coming! 

%d bloggers like this: