Little things I see or hear often fill me with joy and even wonder…. The intricate care that God has shown in forming all things, yes, even the most insignificant and “useless” things, is something to pause and think on, indeed…especially when great, complicated matters are filling one’s mind…. It reminds me of this verse: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.” ~Psalm 111:1-2
In what do we find our worth?
In other words, how do we define ourselves?
Do we define ourselves by our deeds and accomplishments? Do we define ourselves by our families? Our jobs? Our churches? Our words? Our God? Our character? Our vision? Our successes? Our failures? How do we define ourselves? What is that gives us a feeling of worth and of value?
Emotions are indicators–feelings are symptoms. If we learn to read our emotions and our feelings, we will be led to understand our thoughts. So…with an inquiring mind, follow your feelings with me for a moment and let us discover what it is that we truly think….
Ask why. Why is that you feel as you have done well when you have finished a job? Why is it that you feel discouraged and downcast at the end of the day, even when you have worked hard and actually accomplished something? Why?
Think for a moment, follow the trail of your feelings, tracing them back to the law of God.
Our Lord tells us that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. Thus we learn that those desires which are the most important to us will be that which leads us to feel concern and sorrow when these are threatened, or joy and confidence when these are fulfilled.
Is it our dearest pleasure to delight in the ways of righteousness, rejoicing when truth is done, God is honored, and his law of holiness upheld? Or is there something else, some other desire, which leaves us secretly–or not so secretly–unsatisfied with the place and times given us by the Lord of glory?
If I may give an example, follow this story with me: once upon a time, a young princess worked hard every day at learning the laws of the kingdom and studying how to apply them in various cases relating to everyday life and justice, as well as about the wars that they heard rumors of round and about them. Meantime, she also had other duties upon which to attend–not least of which was her responsibility to oversee the kitchen garden and the supply of food for the palace. Day after day, she would work hard at her tasks, but every evening she went to bed feeling unsatisfied, weary, and empty of joy. She felt as if she was useless and profitless to the kingdom, wanting to do more and better things for her people, but frustrated and apparently unable to do so.
Why did she feel this way, we may ask? We see that she was doing valuable service and would one day make a fine lady, ready and able to govern her family and her people.
Though working hard, she was unsatisfied with the place and with the tasks God had given her. Once, when she dared to complain to a friend, her friend, with a little surprise, pointedly asked her, “What would make you feel as if you were doing enough?” She blushed and had no answer, for she could see that it was from her own discontent that her sorrow came. She was placing her worth in her deeds, instead of asking God to bless the work of her hands and then doing each day’s tasks for his glory alone. She was secretly viewing herself as an utter failure unless she were able to do more than that day’s duties–because she defined herself by what she did.
Thus, we can see that she was practicing a form of works-righteousness, though her tongue denied it. Her constant dissatisfaction was because her heart was bent on trying to prove that she was good enough to be a princess, instead of walking in obedience to God, trusting that each hour brought exactly what God had ordained–and that he put her exactly where she was, day by day, not so that she could prove that she was good enough, but so that she could walk in justice, mercy, and praise towards God.
This is just one example. There are many, many others.
One person defines himself by his family, pitting the reputation of his family’s name against the command of God, suffering justice to be trampled because his brother’s name is dearer to him than the name of God. Blood relationship is more to be esteemed in his eyes than truth. He is secretly unsettled, on edge, wary, uncomfortable, stooping to underhanded dealings to preserve his reputation as a God-fearing man.
Another defines herself by her successes in life–until they are swept from her by the hand of providence. At this time, she begins to define herself by her failures, cutting herself off from hope, counting herself too miserable to ever obey God and content herself in praising him, thus dismissing his almighty power as insufficient for her.
What shall we find when we follow our feelings, in order to see from what source they spring? Surely we shall often be surprised at the darkness and the pride that lurks in the hearts of even the most faithful saint–yes, even of our own selves. To discover your treasure, to find out what it is that you are most unwilling to give up, to uncover the causes of your reactions to life, follow the trail left by your emotions, etched on your heart. With the lamp of Scripture, by the light of the law of God, search your soul.
You will find out what you truly think.
You will see who you truly are.
“And he said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.'” ~Luke 9:23-27
“Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, from men by your hand, O LORD, from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave abundance to their infants. As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” ~Psalm 17:13-15
At times it is difficult for me to understand what “denying myself” means while under an illness that vastly diminishes my abilities–or, at least, that seems to myself to vastly diminish my capacities. I’m actually not crazy–I just feel that way at moments. I’m actually not incapacitated–I just have more physical weakness. I’m actually not constantly unable to think–just sometimes–after all, I am writing this……..so……what quite does “denying myself” mean?
Perhaps it doesn’t so much involve doing as it does the way I think about things. Perhaps it means not thinking negatively about everything and learning to be thankful. Perhaps it means learning to function at a lesser capacity with cheerfulness. Perhaps it means trusting my Father to see things through according to his own righteous will. Perhaps it means turning my too future-oriented eyes to the present and living there only. Perhaps taking captive every thought captive to Christ–however dim it be–is then what “denying myself” means at this time….
Of course, it is the duty of every believer to take captive their thoughts to the Word of God, forming his thoughts in submission to the Scripture. In the wearying course of life, there are many times when every day the hours grow long as one diligently pushes on toward the completion of the day’s work. Yet there are also times when a more restful pace of life is called for. And such are not times to inspire guilt. Such are times to even more cast our eyes and fasten our hopes, lives, and thoughts on the only Redeemer among mankind, the Lord Christ Jesus.
Cigarette smoke and used motor oil. Yes, that is what it smells like at Tex’s. I always try to enunciate my words carefully when I am talking about taking one of the vehicles to Tex’s–because it is a long way to Texas from here….
Anyways, as I was sitting in the sleepily warm little mechanic’s shop on that well-used little black chair, the sound of a smooth-running engine drifted through the open door. I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering and my eyes kept shutting on me without warning. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help noticing the haphazard, almost waist high stack of old vehicle cassette tape players directly across from me. There were other once-neat stacks of this, that, and the other, no doubt their contents well-known to the men who work there. The cup of half-used pens in the window sill was dusty–as were the new batteries over on a small rack beside the water cooler and under the large, faded sign saying the charge is based on a labor rate of $60.00 an hour. Fair enough. The ceiling tiles looked like a few were replaced after Charley, but they’ve been there long enough to turn yellow themselves, though not as yellow as the rest. The half-smoked cigarette Tex had left in the tray was creating a soft, twisting thread of smoke just across the weathered desk from me and permeating the air with its’ peculiar odor.
About then, the phone rings loudly right by my ear and I jump–literally. Tex takes the call from the outside–I hear him answer the cordless phone that is always in his shirt pocket, “This is Tex.” And I drift back off into my half-dreaming state….
I couldn’t seem to be able to think about anything in particular, so my thoughts drifted here and there, in and out of prayer. And that was one of the things I thought about–about how it is difficult to pray when one is terribly sleepy. About how things tumble around in one’s mind like the ever-shifting, slowly rotating clouds of a hurricane when one is overcome by the heat of a muggy afternoon. About how I’ve been neglecting my blog. About how I set up this blog with a purpose to talk about lots of things–but haven’t written with as much variety as I had planned on. About how lots of different sort of things–some of them expendable–take up my time. About how I use my time. About how I ought to use my spare time like this time sitting in the office praying. About how to pray following the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. About how our new pastor prays–always and often calling on the name of Christ. About how one of our other pastors preaches on the prayer at least once a year. About the two natures of Christ, yet one person. About my sewing projects–how many? four? five? ten (or more) if I count everything separately?–that need doing in the next couple of months.
And then the phone rings briskly in my ear once again and Tex limps in, taking care of business…. As I startle back into the present once more, I remember this passage: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” ~Matthew 12:36-37 I think of that applying to what I think as well as what I say, reminding myself that my Father sees all that I think, as well as every silly word that comes falling from my lips. That is honestly a comforting thought on the one hand, since it means that God really does know everything and I don’t have to spell out every tiny detail in my prayers; though, on the other hand, it is sobering that, even in our thoughts, we still bear the responsibility to love him entirely, to be charitable to our brothers and sisters, and to seek their edification. After all, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” ~Matthew 12:34c-35
But by then Tex was done with his phone call and was asking me how things were going….