Chapter 8

                        EIGHT – High Maintenance Children

     It is my delight to know and love four very sweet, precious, and spirited little sisters.  Each is unique and quite special.  We enjoy seeing one another and doing things together.  Their mom is a loving, energetic woman who is unremittingly dedicated to her children’s welfare and needs.  On several occasions I have watched her administer discipline, and in each setting, there was consistency, fairness, and individual approach.  There can be little doubt this mother deeply loves each one of her daughters and works devotedly to understand them.  With reference to one daughter, this mom recognizes her as a “high maintenance” child.  Due to this youngster’s spirit and strong will she, at times, requires a bit more attention, explanation, and care.  It is not that her parents value and love her any more or less than her sisters; rather, like a valuable and costly jewel, she just requires some extra polish and buffing to bring out her shine and brilliance.
 
     Likewise, our Heavenly Father faithfully and consistently works with His born-again children desiring each shine with His character and likeness.  Because of His love and patience, He never gives up on His children.  Unlike some earthly parents He is never too harsh, overbearing, or inconsistent.  Always motivated by His love, the discipline of His children is just and perfectly fitted to each individual.  He never misjudges nor disciplines out of anger or disgust.  Our Heavenly Father never ignores disobedience, nor does He break His child’s spirit. 
 
     Due to our willfulness and the enemy, some of God’s children, if not all, at one time or another may be considered high maintenance, requiring more attention and care.  Not desiring to disparage or dishearten His own, He works in our lives to break our wills but never our spirits.  Jesus is illustrative of this.  In a great struggle which revealed He was not only fully God but also fully man, in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 16:19 NIV).  The Son willingly and compliantly submitted to the Father’s will concerning the cross—“Being found in appearance of a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  According to Hebrews 12:2, His obedience brought Him joy:  “. . . for the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross. . .”
 
 

    Obedience produces joy and purpose while disobedience fosters sorrow and confusion.  Our Heavenly Father has purposed that His children know an abundant, or full, life (John 10:10).  Therefore, as our loving Father He will gently and lovingly work to achieve this in our lives.

 

     Most believers would be considered high maintenance children, requiring extra attention from our Heavenly Father.  Several examples are found in Scripture, such as David, Balaam, Saul, Peter, and Jonah.  For sake of illustration, let us focus on the ancient messenger, Jonah.  His story is found in the Old Testament book, which bears his name. 

 

     The opening verse explains that the Word of the Lord came to Jonah and told him to go to the great city of Nineveh and “’cry against it for their wickedness [had] come up before [God]’” {Jonah 1:1, 2}.  Rather than be submissive and obedient, Jonah exhibited a spirit of rebellion and independence, actually running in the opposite direction to the city of Tarshish, trying all the while to escape the presence of the Lord (1:3).

 

     With patience God faithfully responded to His disobedient and unhappy son.  Jonah 1:17 says, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.”  The wise and loving Heavenly Father decided His son needed a “time out.”  Rather than requiring Jonah sit alone in a corner, God prepared a special place of quiet—the belly of a great fish.  Sure enough, God the Father captured Jonah’s attention.  The next thing we read informs us, “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God . . .” (2:1).  The entire prayer is recorded in verses two through nine.

 

     In his prayer Jonah assesses the situation and displays a degree of submission.  It is interesting he never confessed his willfulness or his rebellious spirit.  That lack of contriteness explains the need for the second half of the story.  Nevertheless, the Father arranged for Jonah to be released from the creature.  An insightful earthly parent will often release some of the disciplinary pressure, even though a child has not evidenced a complete lesson learned.

 

     Again, the Heavenly Father spoke to His son, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh . . . and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you’” (Jonah 3:1, 2).  The next verse records Jonah went to Nineveh, but with a strong sense of reluctance.  It is like the child who was told to sit.  After several suggestions, he finally sat down and defiantly told his caregiver, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I am standing on the inside.”  This seems to summarize Jonah’s attitude about his mission to Nineveh.

 

     Jonah 3:5 explains how the people of this ancient city wonderfully believed God and responded to His message given through His servant, and even their king believed.  God forgave them and “Relented . . . the calamity which He declared He would bring” (Jonah 3:10).  “But it greatly disappointed Jonah, and he became angry” (4:1).

 

     Jonah, the strong-willed child, was still in need of some high maintenance discipline.  Jonah 4:2 and 3 reads like the statement of an ill-mannered child.  In so many words, Jonah said, “I knew this was going to happen!  These evil and ungodly Gentiles came around to Your thinking.  And of course, You are gracious and forgiving, full of compassion.  I just want to die.”

 

     The Lord’s patience is amazing.  “And the Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?’”  Our patient and kind Heavenly Father continues to help Jonah.  “Son, is this the reaction you want to have?  Do you not understand I love these people, just as I love you?”  Jonah goes away to pout (4:5).  Even in this situation we find the kind provision of his Father who gave him special attention and care (4:6).

     The book ends there.  On the written page of Scripture, Jonah never evidences a submissive, obedient spirit. He never realized the joy of the Lord, but chose instead to wallow in self-righteousness and self-centeredness.  Jonah’s life was sad and tragic.

 

     The entire account of Jonah is a message of God’s grace.  It is not hard to understand God’s gestures of grace to the heathen citizens of Nineveh; they were an evil, ungodly bunch, deserving God’s judgment, yet God forgave them.  However, to the nature of our subject, it becomes important to see the Heavenly Father’s gracious hand in His dealings with one of His own (Figure 7).

 

     Scattered throughout the book we read the phrase, “the Lord God appointed . . .” First, He appointed or arranged for a great fish (1:17); second, a plant (4:6); third, a worm (4:7); and fourth, a scorching east wind (4:8).  In each case, God used elements of His creation for the benefit of Jonah, to aid in the process of discipline.  Please understand this important lesson:  our sovereign God will do whatever He deems necessary in order to reach and teach His children.  He perfectly understands us and He knows precisely how to get our attention.  Responding to our disobedience and rebellion, the Heavenly Father faithfully and lovingly works with us in order our walk with Him may be restored and we might know His blessing and joy.

 

     Recapitulating lessons of Hebrews 12:3 – 11, we can understand that divine discipline assures us our Heavenly Father loves and cherishes us—“For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines . . . “ *12:6).  In this passage we are also taught any disciplinary action He chooses to use is intended to mold us and make us more like Him—“. . . He disciplines for our good that we may share His holiness” (12:10).

 

     The Father’s loving discipline also affirms we belong to Him—“. . . God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (12:7, 8).  He does not discipline His children in order to make them distraught and broken, nor does He intend His disciplinary measure be regarded as something insignificant or trivial.  “. . . My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint (or grown weary) when you are reproved by Him” (12:5).

 

     The Heavenly Father’s discipline is always meant for our good and to aid in our spiritual maturity and growth.  Life for the believer works better and satisfies more completely as he obediently follows His Word.

 

     When our oldest son was just a toddler, we bought him a riding toy called “Bucky the Wonder Horse.”  The store display model was adorable.  It was designed with wheels so a child could sit and ride.  When Bucky’s rein was pulled, the toy horse whinnied.  The saddle seat opened so the little owner could store valuable items inside.  We picked up a boxed Bucky, paid for it, and happily brought it home.

Opening the box, there seemed to be ten thousand little parts.  However, with the memory of the display model firmly fixed in my mind, I thought, Oh, this will be a snap.  The wheels go here, and the little whinny noisemaker must fit in here somehow, and the saddle seat lid attaches over there.  In a few minutes Bucky will be up and running, offering hours and hours of enjoyment.  In my haste to assemble the toy, the instructions were buried under the small mountain of Bucky parts and pieces.  After a couple hours of frustration and impatience, dissatisfaction and discouragement set in.

 

     My dear wife finally asked, “What do the instructions say?”  Instructions, I thought, who needs instructions for this simple toy?  Just shove the wheel axles here snap on the saddle seat lid there and it should work nicely!

 

     Setting aside my pride, some time later I finally read the manufacturer’s instructions.  To my delight, Bucky began to fit together.  In just a few minutes, the toy was running like a well-oiled machine.  I must confess, due to my willfulness, Bucky really never worked properly.  You see, on account of my stubborn spirit, I had forced several pieces together and broke some small plastic parts.  Yes, Bucky the Wonder Horse brought hours of fun to our son; however, I often wondered why I foolishly ignored the instructions, insisting on my own way.

 

     Many believers relate to life in the same manner.  They lay aside the Creator’s instructions and design found in the Word, and apply their own fleshly desires and ideas to life.  After years of frustratingly unhappy, living they become discontent and unsatisfied.

 

     Israel’s King Solomon, too, tried his own way for much of his life, only to conclude life, apart from God, just does not work.  There will be no joy or satisfaction, as God intended, when born-again believers disobey and ignore the principles found in the Bible.

 

     Throughout the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon gave testimony of this:  “I hated life . . . because everything is futile and striving after wind” (2:17).  Solomon was the wisest and richest of men; there was nothing he could not afford, nothing he could not attain.  Despite this, apart from God, his life was confused and offered him no lasting joy or satisfaction.  In this Old Testament record, he mentioned several things he used trying to bring some measure of meaning to his life—to make his “Bucky” work.  The old king filled his life with wisdom.  His assessment is found in Ecclesiastes 2:15, “Then I said to myself, ‘As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me.  Why then have I been extremely wise?’  So I said to myself, ‘This too is vanity.’”

 

     The king lost himself in work and achievement in order to make his life fit together and satisfy.  His response is recorded in 2:19 – 21:  “This is vanity and a great evil.”  Today thousands seek fulfillment through their work.  Sociologists call these people “workaholics.”  To them the day is never long enough and to take a moment of rest is maddening; a bit of silence and quiet is deafening.

 

     Possessions; people work their lives away in order to own things.  Abraham Lincoln and two of his sons, Tad and Willie, were walking along a street in Springfield, Illinois.  The two young brothers were crying and scrapping with one another.  A passerby asked, “Mr. Lincoln, what is wrong with the boys today?”  The future president answered, “The same thing that is wrong with the rest of the world.  I have three apples, and each boy wants two.”  Like Solomon, we surround ourselves with things and possessions.  If I can just earn another ten thousand dollars, then I will be happy.  If I can buy a bigger house, or car, or . . .  Solomon discovered possessions did not make his fife work (2:26).  The king sought status for satisfaction (4:4).  He tried companionship, hoping to make some meaning to life (4:7 – 12). The monarch of old concluded neither of these efforts worked; he said, “This too is vanity and it is a grievous task” (4:12).

 

   Long life, feasting, and attaining the desires of one’s life were other avenues Solomon traveled to find joy, peace, and contentment, only in the end to find they, “too were vanity and a striving after wind” (6:9).  When God was ignored and disobeyed, the king’s life, amid all the comforts and splendor just did not work nor did it offer him any measure of joy or satisfaction.

 

     What was this ancient king’s final reasoning?  “The conclusion, when all has been heard is, fear God and keep His commandments . . .” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  The king wrote, “For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without [God]?” (2:25). He declared in Ecclesiastes 2:1 all man-centered achievement was of no profit—completely worthless.  Jesus taught the same thing when He said, “’For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’” (Mark 8:36).

 

     Even born-again Christians can waste this life.  They may try everything under the sun to give them joy, but the bottom line will be loss.  Loving God and obeying His Word is the only way to know and understand God’s joy.

 

     However, when disobedience takes place in a believer’s life, he must immediately deal with the issue of sin.  The only effective way to deal with it is by confession (1 John 1:9). We must be in agreement with God affirming any disobedience as sin, seeking His forgiveness and restoration to a godly, Christ-like walk.

 

     The pledge of God’s forgiveness, found in 1 John 1:9, is a precious promise.  As discussed earlier, we have a crafty and intense enemy who relentlessly works to dilute, delude, and destroy God’s people.  However, when the adversary is compared to our awesome and almighty God, Scripture informs us the devil is a second-rate power.  First John 4:4 instructs that “. . . Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”  We must never forget our enemy is at work and takes every opportunity to tempt and cause us to take our eyes and attention away from the Savior.  When Satan is successful, in His grace, God has thankfully made provision for our forgiveness and restoration.

 

     Nevertheless, we must be careful we do not adopt a callused attitude regarding the truth found in 1 John 1:9 as some sort of spiritual lucky rabbit’s foot—just rub it and everything will be fine.  This notion’s origin is the devil and is a flagrant abuse of God’s grace.  God’s design for forgiveness and restoration is not intended to operate in this fashion.  We must not reason, I may go ahead and sin—later on I will confess my sin and all will be forgiven.  In Romans 6, Paul asked an important question, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?  May it never be!  How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (6:1, 2).  Taken in its context (that is, reaching back to Romans 5:19), the apostle argued his case for the glorious message of grace however, he taught God’s marvelous grace is not made more effective if we sin more.  “May it never be!”

 

     The payment for our sin cost God everything.  How could we dare choose to treat His benevolence with a cavalier attitude?  The enemy is at work and temptation to sin is all around; there will even be occasions when we trust the flesh and take our eyes off the Master, resulting in sin.  It is just at these times, the Father waits for His child to confess the disobedience in order that He may gloriously restore His child to a godly, spiritual walk.  This is another gesture of grace.

 

     Yes, the only way to restoration is through confession.  In Figure Four we learned that the bottom circle, the Christian walk circle, is really like a mirror which reflects the truths of the top circle, or the position circle.  How important it is that we keep our walk clean so the reflection is clear.  In the upper room, Jesus taught His disciple an important lesson.

[Christ] rose from supper, and laid aside His garments, and taking a towel, girded Himself about.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  And so He came to Simon Peter.  He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?”  Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize, but you shall understand hereafter." Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!”  Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”   Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.”  Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed need only to wash his feet, but is completely clean and you are clean. . .”  (John 13:4 – 10).

 

     The dialogue in these verses contains two different Greek words for cleaning the body.  The word most often used is “niptó” which means to wash only part of the body.  That is what Jesus was doing among His disciples.  Culturally He was performing the task of a house servant.  He wished only to wash their feet.

 

     The second word translated and found in verse ten as “bathed” is “louó” and means to bathe all over.  At first, Peter objected to the Lord’s humble desire to wash his feet.  After Jesus’ reply to him Peter, desiring to demonstrate his total devotion to Christ, inferred Jesus should bathe him completely.  Jesus told Peter that would not be necessary—He offered only to wash Peter’s feet in order to refresh him and rinse away the dust.

 

     The principle found in 1 John 1:9 is “niptó”—a simple cleansing of a body part.  Since we are born-again believers, we have been thoroughly bathed (“louó”), that is, forgiven, redeemed, and made a part of Christ.  By God’s grace we have been eternally established and given a position in Christ (top circle).  When we fall to the enemy’s temptation and sin we are soiled and need only to be washed (niptó) so our walk (the bottom circle) may be restored.

 

     Writing to the Corinthian Christians, Paul addressed a difficulty he was facing with some who were challenging his authority as an apostle.  There is a spiritual practice, or discipline, every believer can draw from this section of 2 Corinthians 10—“. . . we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (verse 5).  In order to guard against the on going need for cleansing of sin, we need to learn how to continuously exercise our heart and mind to the submission of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to follow the advice of Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”  There is also this instruction in another of the prison epistles, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).  This is all part of the Hebrews 12:1 and 2 principle of focusing on the Lord Jesus—we must learn to discipline our mind and thinking as we concentrate on the spiritual.  This is taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and this gives contentment for this life and the joy of the Lord.

 

 

Copyright J 2010 by J. Michael Fox

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