March 7, 2005

Encouragement for Today

Sandpaper People

Mary Southerland, Author and Speaker

Key verse:

"We are God's workmanship." Ephesians 2:10 NIV

Devotion:

Sandpaper people, the people who rub us the wrong way, are both a reality of life and God's workmanship. God has used these difficult relationships as catalysts in my life through which He has lovingly upset my comfortable plans and purposefully redirected my safe and sound steps. The results have often been chaotic and unsettling, but have always been life changing. A changed life is the bottom line for God and the very reason He sent His Son to earth.

Our son, Jered, has played football since elementary school. Over the years, he has endured several injuries, but as a junior in high school, experienced his first surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot, the fifth metatarsal to be exact. The orthopedic doctor explained exactly what he would do during surgery. "First of all, I will remove the scar tissue that has formed around the break. I will then insert a metal screw to connect the broken bones." As he spoke, I was comforted by my mind's depiction of a shiny thin and smooth metal screw resting gently in my son's foot. There are times when ignorance is a blessing.

The surgery went well and after two weeks, I took Jered in for a follow-up visit during which the doctor once again x-rayed his foot to make sure it was healing properly. The doctor walked in, smiling and waving an x-ray in his hand. "Your foot is healing beautifully," he announced with great pride. Curious, I asked the doctor if we could see the x-ray. As he slapped it up against the light board, I was horrified to see a thick, long screw. In fact, on closer examination, I was certain the beginnings of rust could be seen on that barbaric screw jammed up into my son's precious bone.

Seeing the look on my face, the doctor assured me that everything was fine. I was far from convinced and had a few questions that needed answering - immediately. "Is that screw supposed to look like that or did you put the wrong screw in my son's foot? Will he be able to play football on that foot? Will that screw make his foot hurt when it rains? Will we now have to leave an hour earlier in order to catch a flight because that enormous screw sets off airport security detectors? Will Jered's foot ever be as strong as it was before the surgery?" I asked. The doctor listened patiently, smiled and said, "Well, now that you mention it, I need to be honest and tell you that it will not be as strong as it was before." The evil doctor then grinned and said, "It will actually be stronger."

I find it interesting that all through life, the greatest strength is forged in the broken places. The same is true in dealing with difficult people. God is not committed to our comfort. God is committed to creating His character within us. One way He accomplishes that goal is through the abrasive and coarse work of sandpaper people as they grind off and sand away our rough edges, even to the point of breaking. Suffering comes in many ways, but always with the purpose of making us strong enough to endure pain and weak enough to rely upon God.

Many times, it is through the difficult relationships in life that we experience the most pain. Peter writes that God will "make everything right" which indicates the promise that He will take our circumstances and relationships, adjust them and make the broken pieces fit together in order to equip us for service. "Making everything right" can also be translated in the original language as "mending nets". A fisherman's net was a vital part of his livelihood. A broken net meant no fish. One broken net affected the fisherman's ability to make a living and provide for his family. Therefore, it was imperative for the fisherman to keep his nets in working condition, constantly mending the broken places.

Every time we are broken but allow God to do the mending, we become stronger and new life is provided. Paul was certainly no stranger to trials, pain and broken nets. "We know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope." (Romans 5:3-4 NCV) I must admit that I have been known to insert the name of my current sandpaper person into that verse so that it reads, "I know that my sandpaper person produces patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope." What an amazing progression, from a difficult relationship to Godly character and then on to hope. Hope follows pain because it is in pain that we are forced to trust God and His power to mend a broken life. It is in that abandonment to God that we find hope.

The difficult relationships in life and the brokenness they bring can make us either bitter or better. It is our choice. We can insist on comfort and forfeit character or we can embrace the brokenness, knowing that God will use it to make us strong. Sandpaper people are grindstones. Whether they grind us down or polish us up depends on what we are made of. Harry Truman said: "Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow and only one thing endures - character."

I believe sandpaper people voice the silent prayer that someone will be strong enough to stop their vicious cycle of offensive behavior that usually leads to the destruction of something or someone. God calls us to be that strong someone. I also believe God allows difficult relationships to form within the realm of our daily walk in order to strengthen us for the very task of life.

My prayer for today:

Lord, I ask that You would fill my heart with Your love for the sandpaper person in my life. Please let me see them as You see them. Use them, Father; to refine me to the place that I am the woman You created me to be. I choose to thank You for the difficult relationships in my life, knowing that through these abrasive people, Your work is accomplished in my life. Amen.

(Today's devotion is an excerpt from Mary's new book, Sandpaper People, due to be released July 1, 2005 by Harvest House Publishers.)

 

Application steps:

Write down the name of a sandpaper person in your life.

Record five reasons you consider that person difficult.

Pray for that sandpaper person.

Pray that God will allow you to see His hand at work through your sandpaper person.

Thank God for bringing that difficult person into your life.

Reflection points:

Think back over the last month of your life with your sandpaper person. How has God changed you? How has He changed that person? Has is made a difference in other relationships? How? What do you believe God wants to accomplish through this sandpaper person? Are you willing to trust Him enough to praise Him for that person?

Power verses:

"The Lord's servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone. They must be patient with difficult people." 2 Timothy 2: 24 (NLT)

"Love is patient, love is kind." 1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV)

"Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love." Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

"Those who do not control themselves are like a city whose walls are broken down." Proverbs 25:28 (NCV)

Additional resources:

Message of the Month Club by Proverbs 31 Speaker Team

http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/messageclub.html

P31 Woman Magazine

http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/p31woman.html

How to Have Healthy Relationships (tape set) by Mary Southerland

http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/healthyset.html