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It’s hard to believe it’s December. As another year draws to a close, I reflect on another year of joy and sorrows. The older I get, the more the sorrows seem to accumulate to the point where they can overpower the memories of all the joy I have in my life. The older I get the more I feel my body showing it’s age.

Yet Paul’s words in 2 Corinthian 4:16-18 remind me, “do not lose heart (NIV).” He reminds us that as Christians there is much more than the sorrows of this world and our failing body — “inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” With Christ Jesus in our life we are actually growing and maturing our eternal body inside of us.

Some days it is difficult to remember that everything in this world is temporary. The only eternal value it has is how we use what God has given us here to help others learn about Christ Jesus. Paul encourages us to keep a proper perspective: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (verse 17).”

The next time your body’s aches and pains remind you of your age; the next time the struggles of this world get you down, remember the eternal hope we have in Christ Jesus. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (verse 18).”

“Is their hope? Is healing possible?” I asked my friend. “Yes,” she replied. “It is possible.” I looked into her eyes and I sensed her response was not just empty words. “You know from experience, don’t you,” I remarked. “Yes,” she nodded, “I do.”

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Knowing that she had gone through trauma; knowing she had suffered gave her answer credibility. And now, because of the suffering in her past, she was able to bring me comfort; bring me hope that healing is possible. She knew first hand how God can help us through traumatic events in our life. In 2 Corinthians 1:4, Paul wrote about our compassionate God, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (NIV).”

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Our suffering teaches us to reach beyond ourselves and rely on God. It helps us to learn perseverance that deepens our faith in Christ Jesus. It shows others the authenticity of our belief in God and where we put our trust. The suffering we endure also provides hope to those currently suffering. We can tell them because we share the sufferings of Christ, we also share in the comfort that abounds through Christ.

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The struggles we go through in life can deepen our faith and reliance on Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:9 that struggles cause us to “not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” But it is the aspect of bringing comfort to those who are struggling that helps to deepen the bond between us and other Christians. In verse 7, Paul told the Corinthians, “just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

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As a community of believers we should be united in our suffering and our joy, giving praise to God for both. Paul reminded us in verses 10-11, “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

I have often found comfort in Psalm 91 during traumatic times in my life, particularly verses 1-2: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust (NIV).” Finding refuge and rest under his wing (verse 4) is a comforting image of God’s care and concern for us. But when I read Psalm 91 yesterday, the word “fortress” in verse 2 resonated with me.

As a fortress, God also defends us against the forces of evil. We need not be afraid because the arrows of the evil one bounce off the fortress of God that surrounds us (verse 5). We do not need to fear the evil that stalks us (verse 6). “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (verse 11).”

Verse 14 tells us God offers protection to those who acknowledge Him; he answers those who call his name. Declaring that God is your refuge is more than just a place of rest; it is also a declaration that you put your trust in God as your fortress against those who pursue you with evil intent. By declaring, “The Lord is my refuge, my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,” we verbalize that we put our faith in God and his eternal purposes, not the temporal ways of the world.

I have journeyed through the deep, dark valley

Felt the pain, sorrow and trauma

Struggled to take each step forward

As I traveled that beaten down, rutted path

Occasionally I glanced up from far below

And noted a slim slit of light high above the canyon walls

Wandering in this deep pit of despair

I encountered many others trudging with heads down

Focused on the darkness and the worn path below

I tried to direct them to look up at the light

But they refused to listen, called me names

Attacked me with hateful words and foul language

Discouraged, I soon found myself with my head down

Feeling beaten, weak and tired I slumped on the path

I cried out to God for help, cried for what seemed like days

Then I heard someone walking by me

I couldn’t even lift my head to see who passed

I could hear their feet stop and step next to me

I felt a hand upon my slumped and weary shoulder

I tried to look up but could not muster the energy

“I will walk with you, help hold you up,” the person said

I felt two strong arms pull me to my feet

I looked forward at the deep, dark valley ahead

Too weak to take a step, this person nudged me forward

We journeyed for months along a winding path

Often barely able to see the light above

Eventually we emerged out of that deep, dark valley

Surrounded by daylight, we sat a moment on the edge

I could feel the light warm my chilled body

I peered over the edge and looked down at the valley

So dark and deep I could not see anyone in it

Then I looked up at my partner through this journey

I saw not one, but many faithful followers of Christ

Those obedient to His call, to answer my cries for help

Still weakened from my journey, I asked them, “Why?”

One of the faithful answered, “I once walked that valley;

I know the pain you felt, I know you needed help.”

I nodded and looked back down at the valley

I too now know the pain of that lonely journey

Perhaps with renewed strength I will return to the valley

To help others emerge from the realm of darkness

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” — Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV)

Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” — Psalm 31:21-22 (NIV)

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)

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