2016 seems to have gone on record as one of the weirdest years in history! It just seems like everything went wrong and everybody died!
OK maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Maybe we’ve just allowed ourselves to become more aware of the madness going on in our world. I’m still pretty young to be saying this with any real authority but personally I’ve been through more challenges in the last couple of years than I have before and in the midst of it all, just like me, I’ve had a lot of friends dealing with similar issues and really questioning what they think about a lot of things. Some of these questions have risen from the fiery trials of life and faith, some have risen from the pressures of everyday life and societal change. We’ve come to very different conclusions but I feel like I’m learning in practice what I believed in theory: Life is hard and God is good.
Now be warned, if you’re going through a super hard time right now this post probably won’t make you feel good immediately but I do think if you keep reading, you’ll be encouraged.
Our comfortable Christian culture in the West often doesn’t produce much of a theology for suffering so we tend to go one of two ways. We either say 1) God is supposed to bring an end to all the suffering I could ever experience so I better remember to claim my blessing or 2) God is very intent on inflicting suffering on me to teach me various lessons through life and I better be grateful for it. As usual I think there’s truth hidden in both of these thoughts but we have a tendency to group ourselves into one and shun the other because it’s just easier.
It’s becoming cliché to say it now but it is very true that Jesus never promised this life would be easy, He only promised He would be with us all the way to the end. He put His own Spirit on the inside of us permanently and that means something. It means that whatever we encounter in life He will be involved. Whether He jumps in with miracles to save the day after our first prayer for deliverance or He stands at our side whispering encouragement in an uphill struggle, we can know He is not going anywhere. Whether we run forward feeling the surges of power He has placed in our inner being or we limp along leaning on the promises He’s written in the Word, we can know He’s here to stay.
I think that God often doesn’t want to change our situations when we think that they’re bad because He doesn’t want us to miss out on the opportunity of going through some adversity with Him at our side and emerging with more wisdom, understanding and faith in Him. I’ve definitely been guilty of thinking “This situation is difficult therefore God can’t be involved because Jesus died to make my life easy. This is hard so it must be the devil!” or on other occasions “I am experiencing suffering therefore God has abandoned me and doesn’t care or He is inflicting this on me.” Maybe you can relate?
It can be so confusing and discouraging when God feels far away and our enemy seems to be at the door. When life is just piling on top of us and we’re struggling to see a way out. When Sunday school songs seem to be exposed as fairytales and doubt is overwhelming. Is it God? Is it the devil?
A quick look at the Bible will probably help us out a little.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Pure joy? Are you kidding me Jim?! Glorying in suffering Paul? What is the matter with you?! I just want God to sort everything out for me! We get like this when we read these verses without the Holy Spirit in mind. The Spirit of Jesus in us is taking every situation we face, the good, the bad and the ugly and He is using it to shape us and craft us into the image of Christ. As we spend time in His presence and digest His Word, like a skillful sculptor He takes the sharp edges of life and even the fiery darts of the enemy and uses them as tools to chip away at everything in us that doesn’t resemble Christ.
As enjoyable and as socially acceptable as complaining against God can be, I’m finding that instead, I need to be the who chooses to submit to the chisel, confident in the One who is holding it. He is God and He is good. And His every intention towards me is good and His plans for me are better than anything I could plan for myself. Now good might not feel good all the time, but it’s still good. I mean who likes going to the dentist? Answer: People who have a big problem and a really good dentist! Do they like sitting in the chair? Probably not.
I’m starting to understand that in any situation I encounter, God is prepared to build me up and form more of the image of Christ in me to enable me to better reflect His glory on the Earth. Now I couldn’t say I 100% believe that every morning when I wake up, but by the grace of God I believe that understanding this truth drops a big anchor in the harbour of faith so that even though we may bob and drift a little (or a lot), the waves and tides of emotion and the strong winds of change won’t be able to carry us far from it.
This should give us confidence right? If God is for us…
I think seeing the bigger picture of God’s plans definitely helps in these situations. I’ve seen a pattern over the years as I’ve gone through bad stuff or others have. God is a genius (understatement of the year award goes to…) and remembering that definitely makes me think twice. One person can spend a year working through an awful situation and emerge stronger having been equipped with wisdom and character so that they can see 10 people come through the same situation in half the time with twice the blessing! What?!
I sometimes imagine how hard it would be to be God hearing your children crying out to you, feeling abandoned and accusing you of all sorts but still withholding deliverance because you know that their faith and perseverance will mean that so many more will be impacted by what they learn, including them!
Before crying out to God to change the situation, how about we ask Him, “Dad, is there a reason you brought me here?” Sometimes I think we’ll get an answer and sometimes we might not but knowing He is good and won’t leave, we have to ask ourselves some other questions: “Are we willing to trust His skill as a sculptor as the pains of life come at us full force? Are we willing to trust His goodness in the absence of positive emotions? Are we willing to take hits to that we can learn hard lessons for the benefit of others?”
He is the absolute Master when it comes to shaping our lives so come rain or shine, let’s encourage one another to trust Him and His goodness.
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