Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What Does God's Favor Look Like?

At first glance, God’s favor looks glorious!

Abraham, Gideon, Nehemiah, Samuel, Daniel, Jesus, and Mary—these are just some heroes of the faith the Bible calls “favored.” What adventures these favored ones lived! What stories they could tell!  Who wouldn’t want to be listed among these names?!

Rick and Kay Warren are highly favored.  Rick pastors the eighth largest church in America, Saddleback.  His book Purpose Driven Life has sold over 30 million copies and he’s given all the proceeds to charity.  Time called him one of "15 World Leaders Who Mattered Most in 2004." U.S. News and World Report named him one of "America's Top 25 Leaders" in 2005.1 In Dec. 2008, Warren gave the invocation at President-elect Obama’s inauguration ceremony.  Now that’s influence! Kay has written several best sellers and is a highly sought-after speaker.  She is a tireless advocate for those living with HIV-AIDS. Talk about living with purpose! Who doesn’t want a life like the Warrens?

A few things to know about favor . . .

Favor is special treatment.

Joseph found favor in the most unlikely of places—prison. “The LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.”  (Gen. 39:21)

For the righteous, favor is safety. 

David knew firsthand the protection of God’s favor. “For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:12)

If you’re faithful to God, favor is for life.

 “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime . . .” In spite of David’s failures, his repentant nature and heart for God kept him in God’s favor. (Psalm 30:5)

If you disobey God and fail to repent, favor is removed.

Jeremiah spent his lifetime warning Israel, but they failed to listen. Jerusalem was destroyed and the people became slaves to Babylon. “The LORD himself has scattered them; he no longer watches over them. The priests are shown no honor, the elders no favor.” (Lam. 4:16)“So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.” (Jer. 16:13)

Using wisdom, favor is obtainable. 
“Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” (Prov. 3:4)

Favor is available to all ages. 

“And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.” (1Sam. 2:26)  “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)

But if you take a closer look, God’s favor is costly.

Abel, Noah, Moses, Job, Jesus & Mary—just consider what these “favored” ones endured.  Abel was murdered, Noah spent a century (give or take) building the ark, Moses spent 40 years of his life living in the desert with a few million whining Israelites, Job lost everything, and Jesus was betrayed, tortured, and suffered a humiliating death on a cross while carrying the sins of the world.  If you’re looking for a comfortable life, somehow favor is starting to lose its appeal.  Right?

Most of us have no clue what God’s favor will cost us.  Take Mary for instance . . .

The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you . . . Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:28, 30)

How would these words “highly favored” play out for Mary?  Judge for yourself.  Unmarried and pregnant, Mary endured the scorn and ridicule of a religious community. Things got worse--traveling on a donkey at 9 months pregnant (ouch!), giving birth in a barn (unsanitary!), fleeing Israel with a new baby and husband (scary!), and living in a foreign country (lonely!). Finally, “highly favored” involved watching her son beaten, mocked, and crucified. 

Highly favored does NOT mean immune to suffering.
Rick and Kay Warren are mourning the loss of their 27 yr. old son Matthew to suicide. We’ve all been surprised to learn the Warrens have been battling for years to help their son overcome his mental illness.  I came across the following article that revealed even more struggles this “highly favored” couple has endured.
The Warren family's recent struggles did not often receive extensive public comment from the couple. But in February 2011, Kay Warren spoke at the Winter Conference of a group of conservative Anglicans. David Virtue of VirtueOnline reported:
Speaking to some 1200 participants at the annual winter conference of the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) in Greensboro this week, Kay Warren told her own story of suffering....
"In the last two and a half years, our fourth grandchild nearly died at birth during an emergency C section. Seven weeks later, our daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to undergo 26 hours of brain surgery with a long recovery. Our daughter had severe auto immune disease, my mother slid mentally into dementia which made me the primary caretaker. On top of all this, our youngest child struggles with bipolar disease and has found it difficult to keep going. We have hung on by a thread of a finger nail," she told a stunned audience.
Warren said there have been struggles in her marriage to Rick, and stress in her walk with God. Through it all she says her walk with God has become stronger, deeper, richer and more intimate. "I have great family and friends. I am embarrassed to be in need. There is no big girl pill nor can I simply chill out."
She added, "When I realize because of God's extravagant lavish love for me, and that I am his beloved, I can survive the painful circumstances that come into our lives. "We need to tell people that they are the beloved of God. In doing so we remove the shame, it removes the guilt over sins I can't conquer. We are called to be messy with people and be with people in tremendous need. When you know you are His beloved and not God's bother you risk it all for Him. People may persecute you and hate you but you know also how much God loves you."
Also, in a 2012 interview with Her.meneutics, Kay Warren commented:
"In every moment of our lives, there is beauty, truth, honor, love. And at the same moment, there is an ache in our hearts for something else. People are dying. Relationships are ending." On the day of President Obama's inauguration, Warren was present as Rick gave the invocation: a real "high" for the Warrens. "But at the same time," Warren says, "a loved one was struggling with a mental illness. On the same day!"2

Why did I write this article?  Two reasons.
First, I love the Warrens.  I don’t know them, but they’ve had a profound impact on my life.  Let’s continue to pray for the Warrens and all of our spiritual leaders.  Most of us just see the glamorous side of ministry.  Matthew’s death reminded me that at any moment our spiritual leaders might be going through something so painful, it could take them out of the race.   We can’t let that happen.

Second, Christians need to realize there is a high cost to pay as a disciple of Christ.  Thankfully, there will be the mountaintop experiences. The successes. The miracles. And they will be glorious! But, there will also be hardships along the way.  Sometimes there are no answers.  Trials so painful there are no words. We wonder, where is God?  We know God can change our circumstances, but He doesn’t.  When we’re going through a time of suffering, does that mean we’re no longer highly favored?  No.*  Sometimes highly favored is just hard.

*I’m talking to believers who are living a life of obedience to God.  I’m not talking to people who are walking in disobedience and may be suffering due to wrong choices they’ve made.



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