Unbalanced Blessings

Why do some people get all the blessings? The balancing act of life is always tempered by the one gift that cost God everything.
Unbalanced Blessings

As we toured my friend's beautiful home, I was struck with the details of design and construction. Walnut woodwork accented each room with coordinating built-ins. Archways led into the kitchen and family room area while granite countertops polished off each bathroom. Expansive views from the windows highlighted the country life I so admired.

"Deer and wild turkeys come often to drink out of the pond or strut across the driveway," the homeowner said.

In the family room's bookcase, I scanned the titles. The walnut grain of the bookcase accented the hard covers of various Bible versions, Christian fiction, and bestsellers in the inspirational market. How to have a strong marriage, how to raise wonderful kids, and how to be a witness in the community seemed to be favorite topics. The books echoed a lifetime of discipleship and service for this wonderful family.

We gathered around the thick dining room table and blessed the food. The wife spoke about God's many blessings, how she had designed the house online, and how God had provided so many of the wonderful things they enjoyed. The husband looked adoringly at his wife while pictures of their grown children and grandchildren smiled from the entryway. Light from the golden chandelier accented the healthy features of a family blessed by the Almighty.

Later that evening, I looked at the bookshelves in my small duplex. They, too, contained some of the same books, but the results of my life deeply contrasted with the results of my friend's life. Divorce, illness, financial insecurities, and long-term unemployment described my journey. No archways accented my kitchen. My furniture was repurposed from Goodwill or rescued from dumpsters. The country life I envied seemed as impossible as deadening the traffic noise from beyond my cul-de-sac.

My friend and I are both Christians. We love the Lord and attempt to live for him every day, but my friend's cushy life is completely different from mine. She seems to have somehow tagged God's blessings: a loving husband, wonderful children, financial security, and a beautiful house. She also looks forward to more blessings in heaven—a double portion of joy. On the other hand, I struggle as a single mom and can look forward to such blessings only after the doctors turn off the machines and record my time of death.

I learned from Asaph

That night, I cried into my pillow as I lay on my decade old mattress. "Why the disparity, Lord? I'm genuinely happy for my friend, really I am. But why are the blessings so unbalanced? Why has everything turned out so beautifully for her, and why is everything so hard for me? Have I done something wrong?"

He let me whine that night, but sent me to Psalm 73 the next morning. Asaph, one of King David's Levitical choir directors, must have had the same struggle. In this song, Asaph describes his trial of faith. He wonders why the wicked are so prosperous.

"They have no struggles," Asaph writes, "their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills …. This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth" (Ps. 73:4-5, 12).

In other words, "What's the deal, God? These people are wicked, yet their lives seem to be pretty sweet. I, on the other hand, live as an oppressed Jew and have to struggle every day to make a lousy buck. Why is life so unfair?"

Asaph complained for 16 verses, then fell on his face in the sanctuary and saw the truth. The wicked were proud, with evil conceits. They would eventually be swept away by terror. Asaph, on the other hand, could depend on God to always be with him, to hold his right hand and guide him with divine counsel. With his crisis of faith resolved, Asaph sang his Amen: "It is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge" (Ps. 73:28).

But Asaph compared wicked folks with faithful ones. We expect the wicked to thrive in a wicked world, because this is their comfort zone and compatible with their worldview. We also know that without Christ, they will eventually face God's judgment. As believers, we may face persecution and trials, but we live in hope for that moment when we'll see the face of Jesus and live eternally in paradise.

My struggle represented a different viewpoint from Asaph's psalm, because I wondered about the inequities between Christians. My friend was not wicked in any way that I could see. She and her family had prayed the prayer of salvation, attended church faithfully, served the community, and lived exemplary lives. Yet even though our faith walks were similar, our realities differed.

However, Asaph gave me a formula to work through as I struggled with the subject of unbalanced blessings. This insightful choir director admitted that he "nearly lost [his] foothold" during his faith crisis. The reason: when he saw their prosperity, he envied the arrogant.

Although my friend didn't appear to be arrogant as we toured her beautiful house, I still envied her prosperity. I didn't necessarily want the same house, because our tastes are different. I just wanted more of her type of life. When I nearly lost my foothold and studied Asaph's similar journey, I saw the envy in my own soul—basic covetousness that we need to always guard against. After a lifetime of faith and discipleship, I squared off with the tenth commandment and saw my sin: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house" (Exod. 20:17).

I had justified my emotions as not exactly coveting that particular house, but the truth was that I envied my friend's life in the country, her ability to build a beautiful new house, and all the financial security that made her life possible. When I pared back the Christianese, I saw my attitude for what it was: coveting what someone else had, not being content with my own blessings, and despising my own life. According to God's list of commandments, I violated number ten and possibly number one: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exod. 20:3). If I so envied my friend's life, then I was making a plastic god out of her good fortune. The idol of worldly blessings had become another object of worship, shoving the one true God off the throne of my soul.

My crisis of faith was based on plain old sin

So I spent a few moments confessing my covetousness. I recognized my desire to seek comfort from the things of this world rather than the Holy Spirit's power. Although it didn't seem unbiblical to want a beautiful house in a country setting, if I dwelt on that desire without giving it over to God, then my hopes were based on things of this world. If I coveted what someone else had, then I crossed over the line from a basic desire of the flesh to nearly losing my foothold.

The ugliness in my soul disgusted me. Asaph, I'm sure, would agree.

The second point Asaph showed me was hidden in verse 28: "it is good to be near God." Although my life did include several challenges, at least I knew without a doubt that God was with me, as near as a whispered prayer. Perhaps the Almighty had not allowed me to have the same sort of blessings as my friend, but he had blessed me with the ability to hear his voice and sense his intimacy. During the early morning hours when the divine whisper came, I felt so loved and so blessed. Nothing else mattered. I needed to focus on the supreme joy of that intimacy rather than the walnut-lined bookshelves of my friend. I needed to thank God every day that he chose to be near me.

I was comparing myself to the wrong people

To force my thoughts away from that beautiful country home, I thanked God for the material blessings of my life. The fact that I lived in a duplex in a cul-de-sac in the free land of America was an intense blessing. Any number of women in Africa would have coveted my house over their grass huts in an oppressive political state.

Every night when I rotated under the spigot of my hot shower, I thanked God for that intense heat and its massaging effect on my tired muscles. Some women in Afghanistan had never felt the luxury of hot water on their tired bodies, never bathed their babies in anything other than muddy river water, never had the ease of just turning a faucet instead of walking miles and miles with a sloshing pot on their heads.

Thoroughly ashamed of myself, I made a list of some of the blessings God had allowed me to have: screens on my windows to keep the Kansas bugs out of the house; a working refrigerator with cheese, eggs, and milk waiting to become an omelet on my working electric stove; enough blankets to keep me warm during February blizzards. These represented only a few examples of how God was near and how good it was to be his child. I determined to be more grateful and focus on the not-so-obvious blessings rather than covet the ones I did not have.

Asaph's epilogue concluded his crisis with the statement that the Sovereign Lord was his refuge. The idea of sovereignty underscored the fact that God and God alone decides which of his children receive blessings and which face challenges. God had given my friend a beautiful home, a loving husband, and a prosperous life. That was God's will for her, and I was confident she was using those blessings to glorify God and further his kingdom.

God's choices for me were different, but just as blessed because they had come from his sovereign plan. He had gifted me with the ability to do several types of work so that we could survive. He had allowed me to pray every day for my car and depend on him to keep it running even though the mechanic said it had a cracked block. God allowed my washer and dryer to continue to function long past the warranty dates. I needed to turn my challenges into blessings and use them to glorify him, to practice gratitude, and to further Christ's kingdom with my prayers.

The fact that he is sovereign means that God gets to choose

I can pray and ask for certain blessings, but in the end, the final memo belongs to God. Jesus taught this lesson to Peter during one of their last confrontations. After a fish and chips dinner, Peter asked Jesus about the future of the beloved disciple, John. Would John also face persecution and martyrdom, or would he remain alive to see the return of Christ? In essence, Peter was asking the same question I had asked, "Why him and not me?"

Jesus answered, "[W]hat is that to you? You must follow me" (John 21:22).

It was none of Peter's business what happened to John. If the Sovereign God decided to let John live a long and prosperous life and die of natural causes, then God's plan for John was good. If Peter had to die upside down, stretched out like a rubber band on a lethal beam, then God's plan for Peter was also good. Peter had no business questioning God's ultimate plan for another person. His role as a disciple was to faithfully follow his Lord and accept God's plan for him.

It was none of my business if God chose to bless others both on this earth and in heaven. That was God's decision and his choice. He had chosen to bless me in different ways. Just the fact that he allowed me to be one of his children was an incredible blessing straight from the loving heart of the Almighty. My role was to be his disciple, to serve him in whatever venue he placed me, and not to covet the blessings of others.

On God's scales, everything is balanced by the ultimate gift of his Son. No matter how we live our lives on this earth, whether we have it fairly easy or face one challenge after another, the balancing act of life is always tempered by the one gift that cost God everything. The ultimate blessing that is available to all is the blessing of grace. Nothing else really matters.

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