This week we continued our study of the Integrated Life with Sean talking about gratitude and how God is the "Great Recycler." Nothing surrendered to God is of waste in our lives. Even the most difficult and shameful things we have done or have been done to us can be redeemed/recycled. There is a slogan/promise in Twelve Step programs that says, "We do not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it." That is a hefty challenge and promise. I can attest, however, that it's coming true for me and for others who are turning their lives and will over to the care of God. The apostle Paul, who at one time literally tortured and participated in killing "Jesus followers," I think understood this slogan and God's recycling nature when he wrote, "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28). Through the biblical story, we also know that Paul suffered some sort of physical ailment from which he was never healed. He tells us that he came to terms with it when he recognized God's redeeming nature in the midst of the difficulty. He says, "At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he (God) told me, 'My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.' Once I heard that I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become"(2 Cor. 12:9-11 Message Translation).
Often when we hear the above story, we start feeling bad or shameful that we aren't like Paul. We struggle to accept our circumstances and feel like we don't measure up. We don't "take our limitations in stride" and definitely are not accepting them with "good cheer." Don't fret if you are in that boat. You are not alone! Even Paul tells us that he "begged" God to change his circumstances. We have no idea how much time elapsed between each of his "beggings" and his eventual "awakening." We do, however, know it was a process. Likewise, it also is a process for us; a process in which God is patient and ever-loving toward us. Psalm 103 reminds us that God is aware of our human state and yet is madly in love with us. He knows we are in process, "here today and gone tomorrow" and yet he promises that his love for us is from "everlasting to everlasting." Perhaps Paul's experience is more a "description" (or invitation) of what life could look like rather than a "prescription" of what we must do/be. As we slowly trust that God is truly "for us" and not against us (Rom. 8:31) we more readily turn over our will and lives (the past, present, and future) to his care. As we do this, we find that He does indeed "recycle"/redeem our pasts and we no longer regret or want to shut the door on it.
Consider this week:
What can I allow God to recycle this week?