Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, by Charles Swindoll

This past month I jumped back on the bandwagon to continue reading through Charles Swindoll's Great Lives series this year. Paul is the sixth book in the series of nine books. I should be able to finish up right on time! I've had these books sitting on my shelf for a long time and just haven't managed to get to them yet, but I figured I could give myself the year and make it through.

Here are the others in the series that I have read so far, and what I've learned (primarily) from each:

1. I am created for a purpose (David);
2. God will work that purpose in His time frame (Esther);
3. God will work in ways that may be painful, but He will teach me to live in the pain, through the pain and beyond it and can work in me a tender heart as a result of it (Joseph);
4. God honors faithful obedience (Moses);
5. God moves us into periods of quiet solitude where we can be alone with Him, in order to mature us (Elijah); and
6. It is not for me to compare my journey to the journey of others. (Paul)

Many of these same lesson from the "Great Lives series" overlap in Swindoll's book on the life of Paul. But then that is kind of the way that scripture is. It is filled with staid and steady truths which God repeats for our benefit. He shows us His consistency in the lives of Biblical characters. Paul learned many of the same things David learned - although Paul experienced a different life and lived through different circumstances. Paul suffered pain and disgrace, just like Joseph, but Paul was not a slave. Yet God worked in each individual to produce holiness and faithfulness by use of the same tools: trials and tribulations. (Oh joy!)

I think the same is true for us today. God hasn't changed, nor have the truths which are presented in His word. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Our individual life experiences may differ, but each set of circumstances are used ultimately for the glory of God. Our particular circumstances are designed to cause us to come to Him and know more of Him and who He is. So instead of coming together to play comparison games, it would be of greater benefit to come together and declare the goodness of God and truths in His word in order to encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

I rather sincerely doubt that Paul is up in Heaven telling the other saints that he had it worse here on earth than any of them. (Peter: "Well, I was crucified upside down!" Paul: "Oh yeah. Well, they chopped off my head!" Although imagining the things they suffered can frequently put our own life in perspective, can it not?) My guess is that they boast only in the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 1:29-30; Romans 15:17-21)

Certainly we find it easier to identify with certain individuals over others. You might, for instance, sympathize more with Job than Paul. Or perhaps you are drawn to the heart of Esther over Mary. Maybe you think Noah was more inspiring than Timothy, etc. Who you connect with does not determine who God ultimately is though. I think we make the mistake of saying things in response to challenges and situations such as, "Well, my god wouldn't do something like that" as if He were different to one person over another. If we're going to be factual and accurate, the God of the Bible would show consistency of character and truth no matter what set of circumstances or who the person is that is being dealt with (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). He is truth always and at all times. He is unchanging and eternal. He cannot change but we do, in response to who He is.

Per usual, as I read through Paul I marked particular remarks that Swindoll was making about the life of Paul that were particularly meaningful to me or were insightful in a way that allowed me to more easily apply some Biblical truths to my own life. But the bottom line of what I realized was that God is about His glory. All the time.

These three verses stand out, as applying to all of the "Great Lives" I have read, as well as to my own life and each of your own personal stories that you've been kind enough to share with me through e-mails, comments, on your own blogs, and, when I'm lucky - in real life!:

He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. Job 2:10

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Philippians 4:12

No matter what pain it is that we might suffer in life, God is gracious and merciful, full of compassion, slow to anger and rich in love. (Ps. 145:8) This verse is not saying that He is easy going and allows His people to do their own thing and follow after their own way. Rather the reverse is true. His refining fire works in us to produce holiness, for our own good, and for His glory. Again, this does not mean life will be easy. But in the end - and hopefully even in the middle of it - we will learn to say with Paul that we have learned to be content in every circumstance. Even in our darkest, most miserable hours we can experienced joy and know that God is very, very good. What a wonderful thing that would be.

In summary - I think the sooner we get over ourselves, the better.

Turn up the volume (way up) for this one:


Shonya said...

Thank you for this great review and your inspiring reflections. God is, indeed, Truth and unchanging.

bekahcubed said...

"No matter what pain it is that we might suffer in life, God is gracious and merciful, full of compassion, slow to anger and rich in love."


Circumstances go up and down, around and about--God never changes. What a blessing to have a God who is unchanging--and whose unchanging nature is GOOD.

ibeeeg said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. There is much to ponder upon.

I am just about finished reading my Bible in 90 Days...need to read Isaiah. I am coming off reading the New Testament. I was very much struck by Paul's faith; his ministry. I am in awe, and have a strong desire to know more of this man, and how he was able to stay true to his strong convictions and belief in Christ.

I have not read any of the books in this series. I am thinking that they do not need to be read in order, true? Also, dose this book dig into Paul's life, so once done, you have a better understanding of the man?

I am not much of a non-fiction reader, but I am very tempted to take the plunge with this one.

Carrie said...

ibeeeg - No, you do not have to read the books in any kind of order. They just numbered them in the order that Swindoll wrote them.

Yes, you do walk away understanding so much more about the life of Paul the man. Swindoll gives a good background story, explains who Paul was, where he lived, the people who would have influenced him, etc.

Take the plunge!

Unknown said...

Love that song. Love it.

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