Category Archives: Hope

The Purpose of Suffering in the Eternal Revolution

There are times when we go through deserts of life – the times when we feel that we have been cast adrift with no divine wind in our sails. There are other times when we suffer acute pain: mental, physical, or emotional anguish of a particular kind or from a particular source. Both of these periods in our lives are suffering, and I firmly believe there is a purpose to suffering.

There is meaning in suffering, but that is not what I am concerned with in this post. The meaning of suffering is more metaphysical, which in many cases, and for most people, is not the type of thing you have the mental energy to do while enduring suffering. Purpose speaks to a practical reason or explanation of why this, why now. Recognizing a purpose to your suffering can get you through each day, and then in looking back on a period of suffering you may find the meaning.

We endure suffering in this life to bring us closer to God. Pain curbs the dangers of pride. Feeling alone and powerless turns us back to the Powerful One who said He would not leave us. Pain and suffering remind us that we are not at home in this world. They make us focus on the promise of a life free from the ordeals we experience here and now. Suffering should bring us to hope.

We are not always hopeful when we are called to endure. Long periods of crisis, or painful chronic disorders can bring us to despair and envy instead of leading us away from pride. This happens especially when we thing that someone or something has the answer to “solve” our problem. Worst of all, we might think that there is something we can do to fix our situation, our aliment, our pain. What vice is it that makes us think we can solve our own problems? Pride. The very thing that suffering can help us conquer can be used by the enemy to make our spiritual condition worse.

Pain and suffering are weapons, but they are not just weapons of the enemy. They can be used against us, crushing us into despair, or they can be powerful weapons in our hands, guided by God, to shape us into better practitioners of His will, not ours.

The purpose of suffering is to test and to purify us. It is not a punishment, though it can be a correction. We all suffer, each to a degree that God knows we can endure if we rely on Him. Certainly, some suffer so that they might be miraculously healed for His glory and as a witness of His power. But the majority, most of us, are being called to endure the trials and hurt so that we might be refined, formed, and directed to give glory to God.

Will you be beaten by the hardships in your life, or will you, with the strength of God,  wield them as one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal of faith?

 

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Why Chesterton and Revolution?

Someone asked me a question yesterday via the GKChestertonQuote.com site: If “revolution” is so often used as a leftist and communist idea, why would a Christian author like G.K. Chesterton issue a call to revolution like “Pray for Revolution?

To paraphrase Chesterton in Manalive, a revolution is always a  return. A revolution is a radical change, a re-turning to some ideal that was lost. As Christians, the idea is that what we have lost was Eden, what we hope for is the Kingdom of God. In our fallen world, to realize these ideals in the now, we must radically change ourselves in order for that to happen.

“To the orthodox there must always be a case for revolution; for in the hearts of men God has been put under the feet of Satan. In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration. At any instant you may strike a blow for the perfection which no man has seen since Adam.” Orthodoxy

Revolution is not the sole property of any particular political ideal. Perhaps it is ultimately alien even for political ideals.

Near the end of Manalive, Innocent Smith has a conversation with a Russian revolutionist:

[Smith:] “I am a revolutionist. But don’t you see that all these real leaps and destructions and escapes are only attempts to get back to Eden– to something we have had, to something we at least have heard of? Don’t you see one only breaks the fence or shoots the moon in order to get HOME?”

“No,” I answered after due reflection, “I don’t think I should accept that.”

“Ah,” he said with a sort of a sigh, “then you have explained a second thing to me.”

“What do you mean?’ I asked; “what thing?”

“Why your revolution has failed.”

The more I read of Chesterton the more I see a revolutionary philosophy running through it; not a philosophy that is new and revolutionary, like independence in the American colonies or communism in the formerly imperial Russia, but a philosophy that is based on revolution itself as a fundamental truth of human history and philosophy. We cannot create an ideal heaven on Earth, so we must always be seeking to improve what we have.

To get started reading the revolutionary works of Chesterton I would suggest the essay “The Wind in the Trees” (From Tremendous Trifles), Orthodoxy (of which the seventh chapter is called “The Eternal Revolution,”) and Manalive.

There are hundreds more insights into Chesterton’s idea of revolution, but they are scattered throughout his works. Perhaps someday I’ll have a book actually on Chesterton on revolution, not just a book inspired by Chesterton’s idea of revolution.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Learning to Hope Like a Bartledan

In Mostly Harmless, the final book in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, an alien race known as the Bartledans. They are described as being almost exactly like humans, except that they do not hope, wish, or dream.

Wishing a Bartledan a good evening is cause for confusion. They play games and sports, but never with a desire to win – the team or player that wins, has in fact won. Their literature is completely non-fiction, and always exactly 100,000 words. If the plot is too short, self help text is added. If the story is too long, it simply drops off completely, mid-sentence.

The Bartledanians’ brief place in the story, which is a whirlwind satire of our world conducted by dealing almost not at all with Earth itself, seems to highlight how we take for granted the fact that we spend so much time wishing and hoping for things.

Hope is a deeply ingrained part of human life. It is also one of the greatest three virtues, specifically when it is oriented to our hope in God’s promises of love, salvation, and eternal life. It’s not a virtue to hope for evil, of course.

However, we hope, and wish, and dream about a lot of things that are not God’s love, our salvation, or eternal happiness. We hope for worldly things, even good things, like financial security or better jobs, or great things for our children, friends, and family. These things are in the future, and largely, if not completely, beyond our control. We even dare to wish things were different in the past, or that certain decisions were made differently. This can be wistful or bitter, or somewhere in between.

As Christians, our hope should be oriented to God and his promises. One definition of the virtue is “the desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it.” When we are hoping for something that is not guaranteed, and that is not in our control, and not promised us by our Creator, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. 

In worldly matters, perhaps we have something to learn from the Bartledanians. Will I get that promotion? Will the harvest be good next year? Will my son be a doctor? Those things will be what they will be, and no worrying or hoping (or vibrating or tapping or rain dancing) will change it. You cannot even will control over your hair, much less your life or those of others (Matthew 5:36). Hoping for worldly things and goals leads to worry, fear, and despair. Seek the Kingdom first!

Live with true hope in the promises that have been made by God, that you believe will be true. In everything else, take it one day at a time, living more and more each day as Christ taught.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Pigs, America, and Property in Revolution

This past weekend, we marked the anniversary of American independence, with much fanfare and perhaps some somber remembrance.  One of the items that tends to circulate is a list of the sacrifices faced by the signatories of the Declaration.

While some of the extreme losses are exaggerated, as Snopes.com points out, some of the more trivial sacrifices were left out. Serving on the Continental Congress was not a profitable measure by any means; the business and family life of the Founding Fathers suffered in their absence, while they directed their energy and attention to something they thought was more precious.

In our family, it is a tradition to watch the musical 1776 around this time, which attempts to portray the mental anguish of John Adams, among others, during the few fateful months in the summer of ’76.

In the remarkable timing that is God’s, I heard a challenging sermon on the driving out of the demons and casting of them into swine in Matthew 8. In the biblical account, Jesus cast out demons from two men that were terrorizing a region. So fierce were they, that passage on that road was impossible. Jesus allowed the demons to take possession of a heard of swine, which were destroyed. At this, the people of the area pleaded with Jesus to leave them.

The core of the sermon on this story was that the people feared the loss of their possessions more than what Jesus had to offer them. He delivered two of their neighbors from demons, liberated the area from the violent actions of the men which restricted travel, and who knows what else He could have brought them in the way of salvation. Instead, the people were afraid of what else they might lose, besides their herds of swine.

Are we afraid of the loss of our possessions, our welfare, and our material security as we try to follow Jesus? If we are, we risk pushing Him away. Like the American Founding Fathers, we must be willing to risk everything that we might give our all to following the greatest of causes – the pursuit of the Kingdom of God. The revolution to seek the Kingdom will cost us dearly, are we really ready to make those sacrifices?

 

Photo Courtesy Timothy J on Flickr

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Just Gathering Sticks

The fight of being a Christian is not always a violent opposition to evil. Most of the time, the fight is just doing the mundane thing you are supposed to be doing in the face of an otherwise hopeless situation.

For example, consider the widow of Zarephath, in 1 Kings 7. Elijah was sent to her, and when he found her she was gathering sticks. When the prophet asked her for a morsel to eat and something to drink, she replied that she had only a little meal and oil. Her plan was to gather some sticks so that she and her son might eat, then die.

My family has been experiencing a particularly dry spell these past few months. The idea of gathering sticks today, for tomorrow we will be destitute was a recurring thought in my mind. What I had forgotten was Elijah’s response – “Fear not, go and do as you have said.”

It seems like such a simple response. In reality, it is profound. The command to not be afraid (which, by the way, appears at least 365 times in the Bible) and to continue with the plan for today. In the face of desperate times, that can take all of your strength. That is still part of the fight of being a Christian. It is an act of faith, and a witness of hope.

Knowing  the Gospel, we can likewise remember that we pray for our daily bread, not a steady paycheck. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow.

So carry on, keep gathering sticks. The more hopeless the situation, the more amazing His intervention when it comes.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

The Urge To Purge

As a Christian you profess a faith in a God who provides for you, but from whom you are distracted by things of this world…

If you know you could be happy with half the things you own…

If you want less stuff in your life, and feel the need to simplify…

If you recognize that the things you own have begun to own you, and you want to end that relationship…

What’s stopping you?

Act on your faith. Live your hope.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Interrupting the Impossible

 

While reading a book on business strategies, I came across an expression credited as “an ancient Chinese proverb.”

The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.
In the context I found it, the expression was an answer to naysayers who criticize a project or goal while the yet-impossible task is being accomplished. As mankind’s creativity, communication, and knowledge grows, things that were impossible are becoming reality every day.
The proverb has meaning in the Christian experience too. God does the impossible, has done the impossible, and will do the impossible. The scriptures are full of stories of impossible things happening, such as Moses striking a rock and water coming forth. Jesus worked miracles. His disciples worked miracles in His name after his ascension.
What impossible things have you undertaken? What impossible things does God ask of us that we cannot see working out or happening?
If we believe the Gospel, if we accept the Bible’s teachings as true (hence using the title of Christian) then we should expect the impossible to happen – even big miracles. But it seems we have even lost the faith and the hope for small miracles and wonders. We fear tithing because we may not have enough money to pay our bills, when it is God, not our own labor, that provides for our families (Psalm 127). We fear to speak out against wrongdoings and evil, because we fear reprisals. But we have been given power even over evil spirits in the name of Christ (Luke 10:17).
What are we missing out on – what are we denying the world because we think something God asks is too much, too impossible to be real?
We should not interrupt He who is doing the impossible.
Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

The Career Father

My adventures as a freelancer have brought me back to the place ‘between clients.’ The point where we trust God’s providence for our daily bread fully – as we ought to always – because efforts at the moment feel particularly in vain. Apparently this was something I was to consider this Lenten season. 

I can’t say I have much of a career that can be defined as a pattern of work. I’ve worked in IT, management, retail management, government jobs, and so forth. Even ‘award-winning board game designer’ is in there now. There is no particular pattern that I can use to define myself by my work. Except maybe writing, which as a communication medium just seems necessary in every job, and sometimes it is part of the title.

I did not set out to define myself this way, but I guess my career is my family. I’m a career husband and father. The job is always second, which might irk some employers, but my loyalty lies at home.

There’s a passage from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series – from the book Xenocide to be exact, that explains it much more poetically than I could. It is a piece of an interview between Ender’s  sister, Valentine, and his stepson Olhando.

“I saw what Andrew (Ender) did in our family. I saw that he came in and listened and watched and understood who we were, each individual one of us. He tried to discover our need and then supply it. He took responsibility for other people and it didn’t seem to matter to him how much it cost him. And in the end, while he could never make the Ribeira family normal, he gave us peace and pride and identity. Stability. He married Mother and was kind to her. He loved us all. He was always there when we wanted him, and seemed unhurt by it when we didn’t. He was firm with us about expecting civilized behavior, but never indulged his whims at our expense. And I thought: This is so much more important than science. Or politics, either. Or any particular profession or accomplishment or thing you can make. I thought: If I could just make a good family, if I could just learn to be to other children, their whole lives, what Andrew was, coming so late into ours, then that would mean more in the long run, it would be a finer accomplishment than anything I could ever do with my mind or hands.”

“So you’re a career father,” said Valentine.

“Who works at a brick factory to feed and clothe the family. Not a brick-maker who also has kids. Lini also feels the same way… She followed her own road to the same place. We do what we must to earn our place in the community, but we live for the hours at home. For each other, for the children.”

I’m not the provider for my family. That is ultimately God’s job for all of us. I do the work I must, and one way or another we have what we need. If I did define myself by my ability to provide, that would be depressing. Not only in the dry spells but even in the glory of accomplishment; for no matter what I may write, or do with my life it will be nothing compared to what I can be for my children.

I’ve sort of stumbled into this path, but if more of us chose it from the outset, it would change the world.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Sacrifice of Lent – More than Giving Up Good Stuff

 

The season of Lent is almost upon us – 40 days prior to Easter (excluding Sundays) that are a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ passion and resurrection.

The early Christian church marked the 40 days of preparation for Easter as far back as 325, and it was established formally in the 600’s. While today it is most often observed by Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican and Lutheran denominations, there has been a revival of late in other Christian denominations.

In modern times, the practice of a Lenten sacrifice of something you liked for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday (again, excepting Sundays) has been the most common form. “So what did you give up for Lent?” becomes a conversation starter in some congregations this week, and for the next six as well.

Sometimes these sacrifices are meant to be times to break bad habits – giving up smoking for 6 weeks put you pretty solidly on the path to breaking an unhealthy and expensive habit. Other recent sacrifices include Facebook, Netflix, video games, and even caffeine. Growing up, sweets and desserts were an automatic family-wide sacrifice, to which each person added their own sacrifice.

These neo-traditional sacrifices of goods in order to be better are great, but they are not the only option for a 40 day preparation for Easter. There is even a danger that such a practice gives the wrong idea of the sacrifice; it is not to make you a better person, but to offer up something of this world in expectation of the glorious promise of eternal life we believe, and will celebrate especially at Easter.

I have heard some people who practiced a Lenten sacrifice for most of their life say that they had nothing left to give up, for they (in their own words) saw nothing in themselves they could improve. This is not a New Year’s resolution. You cannot make yourself more worth for God’s gifts. This is a sacrifice of something you like or love.

Here are some ideas for Lenten preparations you can make for this coming season of Lent.

Sacrifice of Time 

Prayer is one of the three traditional activities associated with Lent. Set aside 40 minutes a day for prayer or Scripture reading. We are all given the same 24 hours a day, so this is a sacrifice of the most precious and limited commodity you have.

Sacrifice of Treasure

Almsgiving is the second traditional Lenten activity. Tithe extra, or pledge to give more than you usually do to charitable causes. Donate your time to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other services in need of volunteers. Make and pack lunches to hand out to people on the street.

I heard of a family that changed their food budget to what their family would receive if they were on food stamps, and donated the rest of the grocery budget to the local food bank. This was an act of empathy, charity, and sacrifice.

Fasting

Fasting is the third traditional activity for Lent. While it does not mean going completely without food, you can drastically alter your diet for the next six weeks.

Note that this should NOT be done only with the intention of losing weight. The sacrifice should be a sacrifice, not a new resolution.

Facing Your Fears

My Lenten preparation falls into this category. I have set an aggressive goal to tackle something mundane, but that has terrified me for as long as I can remember.  We are called to fear nothing in this life, and yet I have been afraid of this thing. 

Accepting God’s Will

Over the past several years my family has face several personal tragedies that fell just before or during Lent. Sometimes the best sacrifice you can make during Lent is the one God chooses for you. PRay for the strength to accept, bear, and even choose it.

Final Note on Attitude

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in  heaven. “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received  their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward  you.

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread;  And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;  And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.  For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you;  but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I  say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:1-18

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

The Purpose of War is Peace

“The true object of war is peace.”

This expression is often attributed to Sun Tzu, author of the ancient “Art of War.” In fact, it seems to have originated in the forward to the 1983 edition of that book, written by James Clavell – someone who is just as qualified to remark on the subject of war and peace.

Even if Sun Tzu did not say that war’s purpose was peace in so many words, he did express similar expressions. Many good military leaders did, and do, understand that war is not an undertaking that should be entered into without a goal of peace.

Certainly there are unjust wars. However violence itself is not the opposite of peace. Several times throughout human history war was fought in order to restore a peace that was lost. Oppression, denial of human rights, or outright aggression against a people or nation is not peaceful, even if it is nonviolent. And when all else has failed, violence has sometimes been necessary to restore peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers; but maintaining the status quo when there is not peace is not “keeping the peace,” it is staying silent in the face of evil.

Thankfully, most of us will not be in a position to decide whether or not to wage war against another country, and for that we should be grateful that we are spared that terrible responsibility.

Yet each of us fights a war every day in a different way. The world as we know it is not the Kingdom of Heaven for which we hope. Conflict surrounds us, and we cannot avoid it. We must, at times, speak out, take action, and be forceful at times to correct the wrongs around us. The eternal revolution is an ongoing fight we as Christians can never escape.

This does not mean we should go out swinging fists at every person with whom we disagree. Our words may sting or have bite. Our anger may justly rise up, our thoughts may turn to non-violent vengeance. Or we may be thrust into a conflict in which moral right must be defended.

In these cases the principle that “the true object of war is peace” still applies. Righteous or just anger must still seek peace. If it feeds itself into a festering rage, or inspires shaming or harm to a person, their reputation, or their livelihood beyond the measure necessary to right the wrong at hand, then it has overstepped the boundaries of justice.

We must maintain hope at all times. When it comes to personal conflict with other people, in our homes, in our workplace, and in the world around us, we must always keep our eyes on the goal of peace. Every word of correction, every thought in anger, every expression of justice must take form in a way that will preserve the dignity of all human persons. Especially the person with whom you are arguing.

In a way, overstepping the bounds of a righteous anger is to lose hope that other people want what is good. Unjust anger casts them as an enemy, when we are called to accept all people as neighbors and fellow children of God.

You may not wage war on a global scale, but make sure every little act of war you make in your daily life is a hopeful gesture towards peace.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.