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I followed the others into the large room and took a seat with them. I sighed as I sat down, my body aching from another week of skirmishes; my emotions ragged from the continuing attacks. I wondered how much longer our small platoon could hold on.

For the moment we took refuge here, assembled together as one. I glanced around at the group. So many like me who had been fighting this battle for years. So many who bore the scars of relentless attacks from the enemy. I could see the fatigue in their eyes, yet I also saw their determination to press on. Together we were still a formidable force for the enemy to contend with despite our weaknesses.

In this moment together we sang praises; we shared our struggles; we prayed together; we joined together to find strength and renewal. We meditated on our mission and why we were placed here for this battle. We were told victory is ours. Each Sunday there is hope in the assembled faithful.

I left the church still feeling the fatigue and emotional trauma, but ready to take on the enemy for another week. This group of seasoned faithful, believers who deeply care, helped give me hope to carry on. Once again the enemy would try to break us this week because he feared us the most, God’s faithful warriors banded together as the church.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

“He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” Psalm 55:18 (NIV)

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 26, 2010

The morning news told it all. Tornadoes suddenly ripped through the south tearing apart several communities. The pictures show the aftermath with homes and businesses ripped open or leveled, their contents spread all over the landscape for everyone to see. The tearful survivors move through the rubble, picking up the pieces.

Adversity has the same effect on us. It rips through our life with little warning, tearing apart everything that held us together. The contents of our life is strewn everywhere for all to see. Our faith in Christ is laid bare. Our emotions are raw. We move through the rubble of our lives full of tears while those around us ask, “Where is your God now?” (Psalm 42:3)

As we pick up the pieces after the storms of life hit, we know that one thing never changes – Jesus Christ. Amidst the rubble, he is there lifting us up, strengthening us, helping us to rely on His Spirit instead of our selfish desires. Christ is what enables us to see trials as pure joy, to “know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (James 1:2-4)

When we rebuild with Christ after the storms of life, we rebuild with more of Him and less of ourselves. Jesus gives us the ability to rejoice in the midst of grief and all kinds of trials “so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though it is refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

In the aftermath of the storms of life, when others ask where God is, you can respond as the Psalmist did in Psalm 42:11: “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God— soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.” (The Message)

In the moment

I thank God for each breath I take

In the moment

I thank God for the cooling breeze

In the moment

I thank God for his hand upon my life

In the past

I feel the pain of struggles and trauma

In the past

I grieve for those who are gone now

In the past

I recall God’s hand upon my life

In the future

I worry about tragedies yet to come

In the future

I feel anxiety about the unknown

In the future

I know God’s hand will be upon my life

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matt. 6:33-34 (NIV)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. – Luke 12:22-23 (NIV)

Each time I read the book of Exodus I wonder how the Israelites could be so short-sighted and constantly desire to return to their old ways. Why would they willfully chose to worship idols instead of the God who created the heavens and the earth? Why would they desire to return to the enslavement of Egypt instead of the land God promised them? I believe the answer lies in Exodus 2:23-24.

In the beginning of Exodus we find the Israelites enslaved in Egypt by a Pharaoh who had forgotten how Jospeh saved Egypt from ruin by famine (Exodus 1:8-10). The Israelites were now so numerous that they were viewed as a threat. So Pharaoh “made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields (14, NIV).” How the Israelites dealt with this ordeal says a lot about them and their view of God.

Exodus 2:23 tells us, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out.” It’s interesting that it doesn’t say they cried out to God, but rather it says they just “cried out.” It’s a subtle but important distinction that God hears their cry and chooses to act even if the Israelites did not cry out to Him. It explains a lot about why the Israelites throughout the book of Exodus were so quick to turn to idols and desires to return to Egypt. Like us, they were often immersed in the immediate struggle and lacked faith in God’s promise.

As readers of the Old Testament, we have the advantage of seeing the whole picture of God’s future plan; the ability to see God’s ultimate purpose for Israel. We don’t always have that vision for our own lives. Sometimes we can become like Israel where we are so immersed in the immediate that we only see our current pain and struggles. At those times we must remember to not just cry out, but to cry out to God. Pray he will help us to focus on His plans instead of just our current trials.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26 (NIV)

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” – Psalm 40:1 (NIV)

Throughout my life I have grumbled about a lot of things, often related to the actions of other people. I have also heard my fair share grumbling from other people. So when I read Exodus 16, verse 8 jumped out at me — particularly the last sentence: “Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord (NIV).”

It made me wonder if we look at our grumbling as complaining to God instead of complaining to people? In Exodus 16 the Israelites are complaining because they lack the food they had in Egypt. Verse 2 tells us, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” In the next verse they accuse Moses of bringing them into the desert to starve to death.

The Israelites had forgotten that God appointed Moses as the person to bring them out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10). The irony is that they grumbled about being freed from the slavery they grumbled about before they left Egypt. They could only focus on their current discomfort, not God’s plan to lead them into “a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:17).” Instead they choose to grumble and blame Moses for their current struggles.

God offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ; life with him in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21). He has appointed people in our life to guide us to this new land, to help us grow in our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we struggle in life let us remember that when we grumble at people for directing us to do hard things, we are actually grumbling at God; a God full of love and grace who wants what is best for us.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! – James 5:9

Bruised and injured I lay on the ground

My adversaries advance, closing in for the kill

I pull my belt tight around my waist, secure my breastplate

I see their angry faces as they move closer

They taunt me with their screams, “Where is your God now?!”

I try to pull myself up, my feet ready with the gospel of peace

My bones and muscles ache from countless skirmishes

I can barely stand, as I try to get a glimpse of my enemy

In the advancing darkness I see a line of archers form

Flaming arrows pierce the sky as bowstrings snap

I stumble and fall, as I raise my shield in faith

My muscles strain to steady the shield as arrows impact

Yet no harm comes to me, the evil one’s intent is smothered

I adjust my helmet and pull out my sword from its sheath

“Give up!” The enemy shouts as they continue to pursue me

Again I pull myself up, this tired old warrior presses on

Armed with the word of God, I place my hope in the Lord

I take refuge in my God, my strength and my shield

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Ephesians 6:12-13 (NIV)

The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

A dear friend shared this in an email during a particularly trying week. With her permission, I now share it with you.

These verses encourage us to T.R.U.S.T. Him: His unfailing love and His mighty power…

T—TELL HIM EVERYTHING!

Psalm 86:5-7…You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to You. Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to You, because You answer me.

Ps. 34:17-18…The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Matt. 20:29-34…As Jesus and His disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him. (Lord, we cry out for insight in the current need for decision-making!)

R—REMEMBER HIS PAST FAITHFULNESS!

Ps. 77:5-14…I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show His favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld His compassion?” Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out His right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will consider all Your works and meditate on all Your mighty deeds.” Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples.

U—(Be) UNAFRAID!

Deut. 20:1-4…When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

S—STAND FIRM!

Ps. 20, especially vs. 6-9…Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to His anointed. He answers him from His heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of His right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the Name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!

T—TAKE HIM AT HIS WORD!

Ps. 86:11-12…Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your Name. I will praise You, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify Your Name forever.

Isaiah 30:19-21…People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. (Praying for vision to determine “who” or “what” those righteous teachers are this week.) Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Praying and trusting with you.

There was seemingly no end in sight as the trials continued to pummel us. I lost count of the times that I cried out to God to spare us; to rescue us and others experiencing the excruciating emotional pain each week. But it just continued, the trials were relentless with seemingly no end in sight. Yet there were times when the eye of the hurricane would pass; times when God would remind me of his grace and his love. There were frequent times when dear friends would lift us up in prayer and the peace of God would suddenly be evident In the storm.

There is no doubt the suffering of the last few years has changed me. I cannot go back to the person I was before the storm blew through my life. Certain passages in scripture now resonate with me like they never did before my trials. When Paul writes about the thorn in his side in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, I can feel the piercing of the thorn and the torment that shook his confidence. I understand more fully Paul pleading for God to remove it. And I understand better that the Lord’s grace is sufficient, that God is made perfect when we are weak.

I have found that when I come to the end of myself and my arrogance, God can begin a new work in me for his kingdom. I am better able to rely on God for my strength to see me through the trials in life. Where once I did not understand James 1:2-4, I now know that the trials I face help me to persevere in my faith. The more I draw closer to Christ Jesus, the more I mature in my faith.

I feel I am only beginning to understand perseverance and how it is shaping me in my faith In Jesus. I am only beginning to appreciate how Christ can meet all my needs. Perhaps I am getting closer to the point where I can thank God for blessing me with trials.

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