I wrote yesterday about our open house at the English Department at West Point every fall during the Plebe-Parent Weekend. During the open house, the plebes (freshmen) would bring their parents by to meet their instructors in each of the academic departments. As I noted yesterday, most of the visits were pleasant, but every once in a while, there would be the indignant parent who would want to argue with an instructor over why the cadet was receiving such low or mediocre grades. The answer to that question in any department would have been easy to provide by simply asking the cadet to produce their error-ridden papers or tests, and going point-by-point over the problems with the student’s work. In the English Department, especially, most or all of us would make copious amounts of very specific comments based on our four areas of writing evaluation: substance, organization, style, and correctness. Most of us would even list the specific page numbers in one of our course textbooks, the Little-Brown Handbook, where that particular error was discussed in detail along with exercises to teach the student how to identify and correct those errors.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), however, we were not permitted to respond to the misguided parent in kind. As per department policy, we would merely take the brief abuse patiently, listening respectfully, then immediately and politely direct that parent to discuss the subject with our department head. Our department head was very capable in dealing with such encounters. He was a full colonel with over 30 years in the Army, a Ph.D. from a top university, at least a couple of decades teaching English to thousands of cadets, and he was well-versed in dealing with difficult, misguided, or even delusional people. Of course, after we had directed the parent to our boss, that was always the last we would hear about the subject. We would not hear from the parent again, and we would not hear from the department head who did not take the situation seriously, recognizing that this was merely the sign of an overprotective, perhaps excessively prideful, parent who was not willing to relinquish control of a child and let him or her grow up.
Such occasionally delusional parents or cadets mentioned previously, just like the delusional American Idol contestants, were victims of their own excessive pride. The Greeks had a word for it: hubris. Hubris is extreme pride or arrogance and “often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments, or capabilities…” (from Wikipedia). In the Greek tragedies, a person with hubris is always in for a big, dramatic, and tragic fall. That was Achilles’ main flaw in the Iliad, if you’ve read Homer’s Iliad, written in 800 B.C., or seen the 2004 movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt as the legendary warrior Achilles. While Achilles would be permitted in ancient Greek culture to take revenge on Hector for the killing of his beloved cousin Patroclus, he went way beyond revenge by afterwards dragging Hector’s dead body behind his chariot across the Trojan plain in front of the city walls. He committed this despicable crime, the repeated desecration of Hector’s dead body, apparently, for the impact that it would have on the horrified Trojan people as they viewed this gruesome display from the walls of Troy.
We continue with this topic tomorrow. I pray that God would bless your day with His Truth, Love, Joy, Power, and Wisdom.
In my classes last week, I discussed the importance of accepting constructive criticism. I showed all three classes a segment of a video which we have in our collection, The Worst of American Idol: Seasons 1 through 4. In this video are various scenes of the very worst singers and performers that showed up for the tryouts that the American Idol judges conducted in various cities around the United States. Many of these people, rather than using their natural singing voice, are obviously trying to mimic some style of singing they have heard but have either misheard or have misinterpreted what they heard. In any case, the end result is hilarious most times but sometimes sadly pathetic. What stands out in most of the bad performer’s situations, however, is not so much their bad singing, but rather their self delusion from their misplaced over-confidence or their claims that many (always a vague number) people (usually family and friends) have told them that they were very talented.
All of these performances end with very brutal reviews from the American Idol judges, even Paula Abdul, who is normally such a sweetheart with flawed performers as she tries to see something good in everyone. Inevitably, upon receiving these harsh reviews, the delusional bad performers respond with defensive comments, with shock, or with argumentative and personal attacks against the judges. After showing the videos to my students, I discussed the importance of being humble enough to accept constructive criticism, especially from someone who is experienced and knows what they are talking about. This was my way of softening the blow from the markings and comments that will be on their first paper. I am trying to head off any situations where a student’s pride might get in the way, keeping him or her from really seeing, accepting, and responding to the comments and error markings from my grading.
While I do not expect any argumentative or indignant responses from my students when they see their graded papers, it never hurts to broach the subject early. The reason I do so is because I did have an occasional student in the past at West Point who was a victim of self-delusion or group-insanity (when people who should have known better had told the person he or she was much better than the evidence would suggest). I have even been confronted by a parent of a student at an English Department open house, something all academic departments would have every fall at West Point during the parent visitation weekend. The parent visitation weekend was, for most parents, their first opportunity to see their sons and daughters since dropping them off for “beast barracks” (cadet basic training) during the summer. This weekend also afforded parents the opportunity to meet the instructors and professors that were teaching their children. Most of the visits by parents, with the young cadet leading the way, would be pleasant, jovial, and encouraging encounters.
More on this tomorrow. I pray that you will walk today and every day in joyful fellowship with our Infinitely Loving God.
Many civil rights leaders and activists have cited Henry David Thoreau and his essay “Civil Disobedience” as a key influence. Mahatma Ghandi spoke praise of Thoreau, saying: “Thoreau was a great writer, philosopher, poet, and withal a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practise (sic) in himself. ... He went to gaol [jail] for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering. Moreover, it is written for all time. Its incisive logic is unanswerable.” Dr. King also cited Thoreau’s influence in his Autobiography: “I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.”
Civil rights leaders in the south would use a number of tools besides civil disobedience. One tool that they occasionally used was the boycott, in which they leveraged the buying power of thousands of black citizens who would simply stop spending their money on targeted businesses or services. This was the tactic that they tried first in the Birmingham Campaign. Birmingham had become notorious for its racially unjust policies, services, businesses, etc. It was for this reason that civil rights leaders targeted Birmingham, thinking that if they could make this bastion of racism fall, then other southern communities that were not as committed to racial policy would accede as well. Although their first tactic in the Birmingham Campaign, the boycott, was ineffective, they would succeed with other tactics such as “sit-ins,” a form of civil disobedience in which they would shut down a business or service that would not serve blacks by simply coming in mass numbers, sitting down, and refusing to budge until served or until forcefully removed by police. It was this tactic along with the marches and mass arrests that broke the political will of racist politicians, officials, and businessmen in the city.
From Wikipedia: “The Birmingham campaign was a model of direct action protest, as it effectively shut down the city and, through the media, drew the world's attention to racial segregation in the South. It burnished King's reputation, ousted Connor [the Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety who directed the brutal police tactics against marchers and protesters] from his job, forced desegregation in Birmingham, and paved the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in hiring practices and public services in the United States.”
To be fair, not all white southerners were racist, and there were some that stood for right and good during this time. For instance, you might have read about the horrific Rosewood Massacre in Florida in 1923, perhaps the largest single incident of senseless, evil racist violence against blacks. Or you might have seen the movie about the incident, Rosewood, which diverges a little bit from the historical account but is otherwise fairly accurate. Even in that horrific incident, there were white southerners that stood up against the violence, injustice, and hatred. Undoubtedly, however, there were not enough white southerners of good conscience during the Jim Crow era that stood up against these unjust systems, laws, and businesses. Dr. King wrote in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," "If [we] fail to act . . . history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only for the acts and words of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light."There will always be evil men and women who are too willing to do the bidding of the enemy and willing to give in to racism, prejudice, stereotypes, or injustice. And there will always be people who have little moral fortitude and will not display courage in the face of wrong or injustice. That is why it is so important for the children of God, the "children of light," those saved by Jesus and living by God's Law of Love, to be willing to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30), to stand for right and good, to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, regardless of whether people stand with us or whether we stand alone. Even if we stand alone, we will never be completely alone. God promises to stand with us: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
I pray that you will be filled with His Courage and the Power of His Spirit to stand for right and good wherever God places you in life.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther’s King, Jr., in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. One of the most memorable quotes from that speech was his reference to a system of earned merit: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Dr. King, of course, was referring to meritocracy, a system and culture in which all people are respected and earn their way by their achievements and the quality of their character which produces those achievements. Unfortunately, for much of our country’s history, there was no chance for the black man or woman to prove the quality of their character by their achievements. Although our Declaration of Independence declared that all men were created equal, American slavery, the politicians that upheld it, and even the court justices that delivered morally flawed rulings in support of slavery, created a system where a man or woman was declared to be only partially human based on race, i.e. the color of his or her skin. Our nation required a very bloody civil war to resolve that issue of slavery, but even after that war, it was another 100 years before the issue of equality would be completely settled.
Reconstruction followed the Civil War, but as soon as northern troops were pulled out of the south for other wars and military operations, southern politicians and businessmen soon put their feudal system back into place, a system which ensured that, no matter what blacks did to improve their education and status in life, they were still viewed as less human than whites. The so-called “Jim Crow” laws and other policies used widely across the south established a system of “separate but equal” establishments and services for whites and blacks. The truth of the matter was, however, that the separate systems for blacks were not equal to the quality of systems for whites. In most places in the south, blacks could not vote, were not guaranteed a fair trial if accused of crimes, often did not even receive “due process of law” in which they were afforded certain rights after arrest, were not treated equally by the law and courts, and were not given equal access to public services and commercial establishments.
It is hard to fathom in our modern day and age that such a system would ever exist, but such racist policy was not peculiar to America. Indians, inspired and led by Mahatma Ghandi and others, also fought and won the right to self-rule from the sometimes brutal colonial authority of Great Britain, under which Indians in their very own native country, no less, were often treated as less than equal, as inferior to the white rulers of their country. Moreover, the Hindu caste system, the disenfranchisement and subordinate status of women, and other such systemic problems in India created a stratified society in which only certain privileged people were treated as equal and deserving of dignity, full human rights, due process of law, and the right to vote for political leaders. Furthermore, many of us can remember, in our lifetime, the struggle of native South Africans against the colonial system of Apartheid. It was against just such an unfair and unequal system in America that civil rights leaders were fighting against, and one of the tools they used most effectively was civil disobedience, an act of defiance against unjust laws that Henry David Thoreau made famous in his 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience.”
More on this tomorrow. I pray that you will all thank God that we live in a free country today where all people are free, created equal by our Loving God, and treated equal under the law.
Although God takes no pleasure in allowing or sending troubles upon people, there are times when it is necessary. We know from Scripture that He sometimes sends trials upon people when they are in willful disobedience. From Hebrews 12:5-6, we are told, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” So, God may send trouble upon those whom He is trying to correct, just as a loving father or mother might correct their children, not because they desire to bring pain upon their children, but rather because they understand that failure to correct their children will result in worse trouble down the road. I do not need to tell you that an undisciplined child will grow up into an unruly adult, who will constantly be in trouble. So the early lessons on a child will spare so much greater trouble later in life.
God also sends trouble upon nations when they defy Him and willfully go down a path of wickedness. For instance, He had to correct the Israelites numerous times when they turned from Him. In Leviticus 26:14-16, God warns the nation of Israel exactly what He will do if they turn from Him, “But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.” Moreover, in Isaiah 60:12, we are warned that any nation which does not serve God can expect His judgment: “For the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, and those nations shall be utterly ruined.” Also, in Zephaniah 3:6, we see that, when God punishes some nations, His punishment is so complete that such a nation will become desolate: “I have cut off nations, their fortresses are devastated; I have made their streets desolate, with none passing by. Their cities are destroyed; there is no one, no inhabitant.”
Just as God must punish nations to correct them, so must he also punish individual people to try to put them back on the right path. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that some people simply don’t listen when God is trying to correct them; they simply harden their hearts. In Revelation, as God sends great plagues upon the earth to turn people from their wicked path, many, instead, refuse to turn, being so committed to their willful path of wickedness: “And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great” (Revelation 16:21). Of course, I don’t need to tell you that such willful sin is not peculiar to this period of human history. We probably all know someone who is in willful sin. Their lives can be a total mess. Yet, instead of recognizing that they are on the wrong path and that they are bringing hardship upon themselves, they never seem to “see the light.” For those of us who may know or be related to such people, it may bring grief to our hearts to see them in such a state, knowing that their lives can be so much better if they will turn back to God. But such people many times are not in a receptive state to our reasoning and pleading. All we can do in such times is to pray continuously for their deliverance and trust God for the result. In such times, we need to always remember that certain things are impossible for men, “but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
If you have a friend or loved one in willful disobedience or rebellion against God, I pray that you will be strengthened and comforted by His Spirit so that you can fight the spiritual battle of prayer on their behalf.
Sunday in our Bible study class, we touched on the subject of suffering. Suffering is a common experience to all people. Job 5:7 tells us, “Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” So, suffering is a natural part of life, just as sure as we know that sparks will always fly upward. Some suffering is simply part of the human experience because we live in a sin-fallen world. After Adam and Eve brought sin to the human race, one result was a curse upon all of creation. Genesis 3:17-18 tells us, “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…” I believe that that the scientific principle of entropy, in which all of nature tends toward disorder or its lowest state of energy, is a manifestation of this curse upon nature from Genesis. Because of this curse upon nature, the natural order of things, or the natural state of man, is trouble and suffering.
Some hardships simply come with life and from challenging experiences such as raising children, earning a living, military service, etc. But we also know from Scripture that Satan is the cause of many of our troubles. We are taught in 1 Pet 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Thankfully, God is merciful, and He actively intervenes in this world not only on behalf of His spiritual children, but also for all of mankind since He loves every single person that He has lovingly created. If he did not intervene actively, we would all be consumed by the sin curse on this world, the normal challenges that come with life, and the active mischief of the Devil and his demon followers. Lamentations 3:22 tells us, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.”
Even though God is watching out for us, we still have to be on our guard as the passage from 1 Peter 5:8 suggests. God expects some degree of effort and responsibility on our part when He has given us the training, wisdom, and tools to do certain things for ourselves. And we can certainly avoid some trouble from Satan if we are on our guard spiritually by spending daily time in prayer, Bible study, and meditation on Him and His Word, as well as guarding our heart against sin, which often begins when we first give in to the thought of sin or when we submit to sinful thoughts that feed our pride or sinful desires. Even if we are on our guard, though, there are certain times in which God will allow us to go through trials, just as He did with Job, allowing Satan to have his way with us in certain areas, but only with limitations that God establishes. God sets the limits of our trial, and He remains in control of our trial at all times. He determines the duration of the trial (Genesis 15:13-14, Numbers 14:33, Isaiah 10:25, Jeremiah 29:10). He also determines the time of the trial (2 Kings 6:33, Micah 6:9). And he regulates the magnitude of them (Isaiah 9:1, Jeremiah 46:28). Lastly, even though trials are sometimes necessary, God has no pleasure in the suffering of His children (Lamentations 3:33).
More on this tomorrow.
In Ezekiel 28:12-19 and Isaiah 14:12-21 we learn that Satan was once God’s most beautiful, most powerful, and most honored angel but that he fell from power and from God’s grace when he had the audacity to try to climb up to God’s throne, apparently thinking, in the blindness and self-deception of his pride, that he could be God. Of course, there is no way that he could compare with God, with God’s power, majesty, greatness, etc. As a created being, all things being created by God, Satan is and will always be subordinate to God. His desire to be like God, to be as great as God, and to sit on God’s throne, claiming the glory, honor, majesty, and worship that is due God alone, were just foolish delusions, the same delusions that any creature, including humans, can have when their minds are not illuminated by God’s truth and, instead, are darkened by pride, sin, lust, etc. As a consequence for his foolish attempt to usurp God, Satan was cast down from his position of glory and honor. And ever since his humiliating fall from grace, Satan has been resentful, full of hatred for God and God’s plans for humanity. So he spends all his time trying to tarnish, thwart, upend, divert, destroy, etc., all of God’s plans and God’s work in the lives of people. Moreover, he wants to steal away our joy, plunge us into misery, inflict us with suffering, and hinder or stop our works of loving service to others, on God’s behalf. There is absolutely no good in Satan. He is tireless in his works of sin and evil. He is a liar and murderer, he is corrupt to the core, and all who follow him in sin and wickedness are his children: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). We also know from 1 John 3:8 that Satan has been sinning almost from the beginning of His existence; pride and the resultant sin was in him very soon after he was created.
Fortunately, Jesus has come to destroy Satan’s works of darkness: “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus does this work at least two ways: (1) by reconciling us to God, and (2) by working through us once we are saved to project God’s will upon the earth, thereby undermining Satan’s work and reclaiming people and ground from Satan (works of evil that Satan tirelessly produces). Satan is tireless, but as a created being, he has limitations, unlike our God, so the defeat of Satan is unavoidable. God’s love, power, wisdom, and reach are just way too much for Satan to battle. For now, as we live in the age of grace, God in His Infinite Wisdom allows Satan and those people who follow Satan to weave mischief and even produce great works of evil (such as war and genocide), but they all operate within the boundaries that God sets. God is, always has been, and always will be in complete control of creation and all within it. I pray that you will discover God's purpose, plan, and control in your life.
I have written previously about our struggle against spiritual forces led by Satan and about how we are daily fighting “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). God shields us from awareness or sight of these forces and the battles. He allows us only perception to see the “flesh and blood” people in front of us who are sometimes being manipulated by the evil forces. God shields these things from our sight out of love because He does not want to unnecessarily frighten, demoralize, or confuse us. There is really no point anyway in dwelling on what the enemy is doing since he has been defeated by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross, by God’s daily projection of His Infinite Power into His spiritual children for countless spiritual victories, and by the totality of God's work on humankind throughout the world over the span of human history. Moreover, Satan’s ultimate defeat has already been predicted and foretold to us by God in the Bible.
The important thing for us, and the proper focus of our attention and energy, is to be doing God’s work of loving service (Matthew 25:31-46, Isaiah 58, James 1:27, and Matthew 22:37-40). We should always keep our eyes on the Lord and not on the waves (Matthew 14:22-33) or the storm around us or even the obstacles in front of us. God only asks obedience, humility, submission to His Will and Way, and daily fellowship with Him as well as time spent in His Word. And, above all, God expects us to lovingly serve all those around us, in our lives, or those we encounter by God’s design as they cross our path (such people whom God brings into our lives or across our paths in variably-timed, sometimes very short, encounters). Thankfully, we need not do any of this on our own, nor does He expect us to do anything in our own power. In fact, He tells us that we have no capability to do His work on our own (John 15:4-6). He is faithful, loving, good, and true, and He wants the best for each of us, so He will help us, guide us, mentor us, and empower us for every step of the way, if we submit to Him, trust Him, and yield our control, doing things His way.
We need to be aware of Satan’s work and his involvement in various situations which we may encounter so that we can be on guard. We need to be able to recognize his work in certain situations so that we may circumvent his schemes – not through our power, of course, but through the spiritual power that God gives us. But our main focus is not to be on the things of Satan. We should not be dwelling in negativity, feeling sorry for ourselves, giving in to negative emotions, nor accepting the enemy’s presentation of reality. He often works to deceive us by making us think of the most negative possible outcomes to our problems, making us worry about the most negative possible scenarios for whatever situations we may be facing, and making us to interpret the actions of others in the most negative light. By deceiving us in this way, he tries to keep us unhappy and unproductive. But we have a choice. We can choose to accept the lies of the enemy, in effect looking at the waves like Peter, taking our eyes off of the Lord. Or we can choose to reject his lies and, instead, fill our hearts and minds with things that are worthy, good, honorable, true, etc. When we reject Satan's lies and negativity and choose the positive, transcendent thoughts of God, we, thereby, keep our hearts, spirits, thoughts, and emotions uplifted, giving us the will, moral fortitude, and emotional energy to do the daily work of God and to stand strong and confident in His service.
Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
God has been very good to me this week; however, it has been a difficult week, a trial of my strength and courage as I have abruptly jumped back into the classroom teaching college English and composition without any inkling that this was about to happen to me until the “11th hour.” I found out about the possibility of this teaching opportunity less than two weeks ago, and although I was very excited to find out that I would have this chance to do what I dearly love, I was somewhat skeptical that the opportunity would come to fruition. But it was obviously all in God’s plan, because I had a wonderful interview session with my new boss and her “right-hand woman,” and by the end of the session, it became abundantly clear that they were not trying to decide whether to hire me into this opening, but rather, they were simply validating their already-made decision to hire me and validating what they already believed about the quality of my character and my experience. It was just a “final check” of the systems which soldiers and pilots are familiar with – that one last look over the equipment, plan, or people immediately before you execute just to be sure you haven’t missed something.
The physical demands were a lot harder than they would have been 10 or 15 years ago. I have been learning in the past couple of years about my increasing limitations as get further into what is termed “middle-age.” But I know that God’s Spirit must have been with me in extra measure, helping me to bear the heavy load of this week, and I feel that I am beginning to acclimate to the physical demands of teaching. Just the big change of getting back into the classroom, teaching three classes would have been hard enough, but I had the additional stress of doing in less than two weeks what would take others in a normal process a couple of months to accomplish. Moreover, it seemed that the enemy was blocking my way at several steps, causing mischief in bureaucratic snafus and utterly bizarre problems that have no normal explanation. And what’s more, these bureaucratic problems kept me from accessing various teaching resources for class planning and execution, so I had to do twice the work that my colleagues in other classes were doing. But, being a life-long soldier, I fell back on my soldiering skills of improvising, adapting to conditions, making do with a bad situation, and turning chaos into mission accomplishment.
Although it was a trying week, I am most grateful to be back in the classroom. And I have seen already why God wanted me here in this situation. Many of my students need a little extra help, a little more patience, and a lot more wisdom in helping them to overcome some serious obstacles. But I feel confident that God has been preparing me for “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), just as He prepared Esther for her special mission. I can already tell that I am getting through to my students, not just in reaching them with my unique classroom techniques and my personal touch, but also in touching their hearts and making personal connections with many of them already, preparing the way, I’m sure, for witnessing opportunities and opportunities just to provide loving Christian service, being an ambassador of His love, and helping them to see Jesus through me.
In spite of the tremendous faith that God has built up in my life over many decades, there are still times when my faith still feels weak to face the challenges that He has put in front of me. This week has been one of those times. Even though I feel tremendously blessed to be back in the classroom teaching, I am facing rather large challenges in adjusting to the physical demands and meeting the needs of my students, many of whom seem to be up against great challenges in their own lives, which detracts from the effort that they put into preparing for or doing the work for the class. But I have faced so many challenges over the years in leading, motivating, and teaching people. I know, in time, that God will help me get through to my students and help them develop the skills and motivation they need to be successful, not only in my class, but also in other future college classes. At the present moment, though, the challenges seem to be monumental and are testing my faith. Like all of us, I have faced many such challenges to my faith over the years. In such times, I often turn to a particular passage in the Bible for reassurance and encouragement. The passage I’m referring to is the story of a father who brings his son to Jesus for healing (Mark 9:14-27).
The son had been possessed by an evil spirit for many years which made the boy deaf and dumb and which would often make the boy throw himself into fire and water, trying to make the boy “destroy himself.” As you can imagine, the father was distraught, being unable to do anything to help the boy. Before Jesus drove the evil spirit out of the boy and healed him, He spoke to the father and the people gathered around: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him [the boy who was possessed] to Me.” Then, after the boy was brought to Jesus, He asked a few questions of the father, and told the man, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” While the father seemed to understand what Jesus was saying to Him, he recognized that his faith was weak, so he said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus then commanded the evil spirit to leave the boy. The evil spirit, recognizing Jesus’ authority as God and the Son of God, responded immediately, crying out, convulsing the boy, and then coming out of him. The boy laid completely still afterwards and many thought he was dead, but Jesus then took the boy’s hand and helped him to his feet, and the boy was completely healed.
This was just one of the many tremendous miracles that Jesus performed in the Bible, showing that He possessed great power over all things as God and as the Son of God. But the story has always appealed to me because it reminds me that God can still work in my life even when my faith and my ability seem weak. There are many times over the years when the obstacles in front of me seemed insurmountable and my courage waned. In those times, I have often remembered this story in the Bible and have prayed the same prayer that the father in that story prayed: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Moreover, God has so often answered those prayers by giving me the faith, the strength, the power, the wisdom, and the courage to conquer those challenges, not in my power but in His power. Just as with Paul in the Bible, with his “thorn in the flesh,” God’s “strength is made perfect” in our weakness. And this is as it should be. The glory should all go to Him as we have nothing within ourselves that God did not give us (1 Corinthians 4:7). Moreover, when we are weak, we are the perfect instruments in God’s hands since our will and pride do not get in the way of the working of God’s Spirit. In such times, the “sufficiency” is entirely of God and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:7) as it should be.
I pray that you will find God’s perfect strength in your times of weakness and will be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) in your lives.