Monday, February 11, 2013

Stickers, Thorns and other Blessings

I’m not sure what you call them in your neck of the woods, but where I grew up they were called sticker burs – little globes of pricklies that can cause large amounts of pain to the barefooted and the four footed. I’ve heard them called sand burs. They’re not like the polite but troublesome burs that are like Velcro, sticker burs are just mean.

I’m a barefoot person. My shoes come off at the earliest possible second after I’ve walked through the door and don’t go back on again until the last moment before I leave the house – summer or whatever passes for winter in Texas. I learned painfully that venturing outside without shoes is not a pleasant experience because of sticker burs. What I never expected was to have to learn that same lesson inside of my house. This year, however, I have found walking through my house almost as painful as walking in my yard. Why? Well, apparently sticker burs attach themselves in the fur of long haired dogs until they walk onto carpet and then somehow the stickers come out of the dogs’ hair and stick in the carpet. That is, until my foot finds one and then it sticks in me. I know, if I were wearing shoes, I wouldn’t have a problem … I've been ignoring that advice for fifty-some years.

Anyway, this problem led me to ask the question, “Why do we have sticker burs … or thorns, … or mosquitos, … or any other inconvenient, painful or bothersome thing you can think of?

The answer that all Christians know is, “Because Adam and Eve sinned.” OK, but why does their sin mean that I have to step on sticker burs stuck in my carpet? For a long time my answer would have been that at the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, entropy and genetic anomalies entered all life forms. I still believe that, but that doesn’t answer the why part of the question. “Why?”

But then, I noticed something I had never noticed before.
"To the woman He said: 'I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;  In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.’ Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”: Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.'" Genesis 3:16-19
Did you catch it? “Cursed is the ground for your sake; …” Think for a minute. What are do you usually mean when you make a statement that includes the words “for your sake?” Are you going to help or hurt that person? Well, if you’re doing something for another person’s sake, you’re trying to help that person in some way, right?

So, how does making Adam work harder benefit him and by extension, us?

Consider this: 
“Only one professional football team that plays its home games in a domed stadium with artificial turf has ever won the Super Bowl: The St. Louis Rams in 2000.
“While a climate-controlled stadium protects players (and fans) from the misery of sleet, snow, mud, heat, and wind, players who brave the elements on a regular basis are disciplined to handle hardship wherever it's found. The Green Bay Packers were the 1996 Super Bowl champions, in part, because of the discipline gained from regularly playing in some of the worst weather in the country.
“Endure hardship as discipline. ... No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’ (Hebrews 12:7),(Hebrews 12:11).”[1]
Challenges make us stronger, but that’s not all. If we allow them to, they can help us focus on what’s really important. Many of us know that Beethoven, the great composer was deaf for a large part of his adult life. He was, in fact, completely deaf by the time he turned 47. The process of going deaf had taken 16 years. Can you imagine being aware that the sense most needed for your chosen occupation was leaving you and you couldn’t do anything to stop it?

Beethoven was severely depressed and actually admitted to thinking of suicide. But he never quit composing music that he could only hear in his imagination.

The best know piece that Beethoven wrote during the time he was completely deaf, is his Ninth Symphony. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Anyway, several years ago, my sons and I had an opportunity to hear the whole symphony performed in person. It was spectacular. As we discussed it on the way home, my oldest son made an observation that has changed my way of thinking about limitations.

I made some comment like, “Imagine if Beethoven could do that when he was deaf, what he could have done if he could still hear.” My son, a senior in high school at the time, and a musician, quickly disagreed with me. He pointed out his belief that Beethoven’s deafness had focused him more completely – so much so that my son felt that the Ninth Symphony was based on the one thing Beethoven could still “hear” – his heartbeat. See if you can’t hear it the next time you’re listening to the Ninth Symphony.

Why did God introduce struggles and challenges after the Fall? Well, for one thing, have you ever met a child who has no limits? Challenges teach us discipline. Like for Beethoven, they can help us block out the trivia and noise around us and help us focus on what’s important.

And, as Paul reminds us, learning to live within our limitations teaches us humility and our need for a Savior.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
And finally, there’s this:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
Why do I have sticker burs in my carpet? Probably because I need to vacuum more. But God gave us thorns  for our sakes, because He wants us to stay close to Him

[1] Greg Asimakoupoulos, Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 3

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