Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight.
We seem to live in cycles; life is filled with ups and downs. I’m pretty sure that it’s not just me –it’s all of us –we have our good moments and our not so good moments. Sometimes we’re up and everything is good and we are consistently walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh –and sometimes not so much. And because the way of the Kingdom is so contrary to how our culture programs us to think, we can’t even always discern when we’re up and when we’re down.
Scripture reminds us of this when Jesus says things like,”The first will be last and the last will be first” or “If you cling to life, you lose it, but if you surrender your life to Jesus you gain eternal life.” And that our righteousness –our attempts to please God are like filthy rags to God; and when we are weak, we are strong; blessed are those who are spiritually bankrupt and happy are those who mourn and the meek will inherit the earth. According to Kingdom thinking, everything we think we understand, we don’t understand at all.
There is an old Chinese story that I heard somewhere –I don’t even remember where –that kind of illustrates what I’m trying to say:
A very poor Chinese farmer had an old horse on which he relied for everything. This old horse pulled the plow, drew the wagon, and was the farmer’s means of transportation to market and back. One day, while the horse was out in the field grazing, a big, nasty bumblebee stung him on his rear flank, and that horse bolted –he ran off into the mountains. The poor farmer went off searching for the horse, but was unable to find him. The neighbors from the village came by and said, “We heard about your horse running off –we’re sorry for your bad luck.” But the poor farmer just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bad luck or good luck –who is to say?”
A week later. The old horse came home –and he was accompanied by three beautiful, healthy wild horses, which the poor farmer was able to corral. Again the neighbors came by and said, “We heard about your windfall –now you have four horses. Congratulations on your good luck.” But the farmer just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good luck or bad luck –who is to say?”
The farmer’s only son decided to make the most of the opportunity and set out to break the new horses so they could be put to work in the field or maybe sold for a profit. But as he was trying to break the horses, he got thrown off and his leg was badly broken in several places. Now he wouldn’t even be able to help in the field himself. And the neighbors came by and said, “We are so sorry to hear of your son’s broken leg –such bad luck.” But again the poor farmer shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bad luck or good luck -who is to say?”
Just a week later, war broke out between the provinces in China and the army came through conscripting able bodied males. Because of the broken leg, the farmer’s son stayed home –and news soon came that all of the young men from the village had been killed in a single battle.
The point of the story is that things are not always what they seem. It’s human nature to misunderstand and misinterpret the circumstances around us. Sometimes, when we think we are doing good, we’re really not doing so good –and sometimes when we think things are bad, God is actually at work doing something wonderful.
This principle is clearly shown in how our American culture thinks of strength and weakness. We value the rugged individualist –the “I did it my way” mindset –the “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” idea. We think we are strong if we don’t ever have to rely on anybody for anything. We feel weak if we ever are need of someone else’s mercy.
But this is clearly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. We are strongest when we know know our weakness. We are strongest when we understand our absolute need for Father’s mercy. We are strongest when we completely rely on God’s grace. We are weakest when we rely on ourselves and trust our own understanding.