Archive | November, 2014

Through Trials, Part 1: Be Quiet

12 Nov

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“… and no faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs in adversity. Tried faith brings experience. You could not have believed your own weakness had you not been compelled to pass through the rivers; you would never have known God’s strength had you not been supported amid the water-floods. Faith increases in solidity, assurance, and intensity, the more it is exercised with tribulation. Faith is precious, and its trial is precious too.” Morning & Evening, by C.H. Spurgeon for November 12

I think that this can pretty much summarize one basic struggle I have:

“It is good, that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence, when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust- there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.

For the LORD will not cast off forever, but, though he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men…”- Lamentations 3:26-33

I have trouble being quiet. Can you identify with this? I find when I have a problem, whether with myself or someone else, I tend to talk, a lot. I have had times where my husband has had to stop me and remind me that I’ve explained the same issue to him, in multiple variations, numerous times. He is patient with me, and I’m thankful for that. If it’s not him I talk to, I can easily find a listening ear to unload upon. I do have wise friends, but I wonder at the same time if, my talking is not a sign of my real desire to hear the advice from others, but rather my desire just to be heard, to know that someone is going to listen and that maybe the more I talk about it, the more I can figure out a solution to my problem.

Being quiet seems to be one of the hardest things to do, at least that’s what James says when he refers to the tongue as a restless evil, full of deadly poison, an unbridled member of the body that can’t be tamed. With that in mind, I have been considering the very serious way that talking, rather than listening and waiting, hinders us in our obedience and in our ability to see what the Lord really is doing in the midst of trials and temptations.

The verse I quoted above says “it is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” I’m going to ask you to follow with me as I try my best to weave a few passages of Scripture together. Quietness implies submission. Rather than talking or taking matters into our own hands, quietness is a resolve to wait and STOP talking. Quietness involves putting the tongue to rest, and in turn, waiting to see what the Lord will do. Why do we need to wait and see? Because we don’t know the future. We don’t know what an hour, let alone a day can bring. If there is ever an opportunity to display belief in God’s sovereignty over all things, it’s in our call to quiet obedience while we wait for God to deliver us.

Another passage that calls for us to be quiet is in 1 Peter. Peter is calling women, wives in specific, to be like this: “… but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” 1 Peter  3:4-6

Here is the passage I want to zero in on. Earlier this year, I was with a some friends and we were chatting about the whole concept of hope and submission to God’s will through trials and one point that was brought up that has not left me was this: Those holy women who were called precious, were called that because of their gentle and quiet spirit, which resulted from their hope in God. Did you catch that? Sarah, hoped in God, submitting to Abraham, and did good, not fearing anything that was frightening. Man did she have a lot to be afraid of.

I was sitting down this morning to read my Bible, and I began as usual with a short devotional from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (the excerpt I referenced above) and was considering the trials and testing of our faith. That lead me to think about how we struggle with trials and are tempted to despair about God’s desire, even, to save us and rescue us out of trouble. As I was thinking about these things, I was brought back to 1 Peter and when I glanced over the example of Sarah and Abraham, my first thought was “I don’t need to read that story again, I’m familiar with it”. If you’re not, and even if you are, I strongly suggest you go and read it. I wasn’t going to- and there was my first problem. Aren’t we often tempted to say to ourselves that we “know” the Bible and its stories, and therefore have no need to re-read? This is where I think, we are loosing the most because rather than go back, reading with new eyes, and asking for God to continue to reveal himself through his word, we become presumptuous and miss out on the richness of truth.

Here’s what I found, and I’d love to hear from anyone if they see even more than what I gathered. God called Abraham out of Ur, to follow him. This is the beginning of Abraham’s journey of faith. He leaves the land he grew up in, to follow God into an unknown land, and God makes him a great promise or covenant, to bless him and make him a blessing to others. So Abraham responds in faith, and follows God as he leads him into Canaan. When they arrive, Abraham sets up an altar and worships the Lord. But then a a famine hits and as the one responsible for his wife Sarah (Sarai at the time), and all his servants and herds, he begins to make a plan to do what seems most needful to him, setting out on a journey that will ultimately lead to Egypt in order to find food and water to keep those that he loves alive. But Abraham’s one hesitation when he is about to arrive in Egypt is that the Egyptians will see Sarah as beautiful, and harm him in order to get to her, so he asks her to lie for him and say that she’s just his sister. This is incredible. God has just brought them into the land he promised, and he’s promised him a great inheritance, yet we don’t see a mention here of Abraham at any point calling on the Lord to provide or deliver him and his family from the famine. Aren’t we all like this at times when a trial comes? Do we take matters into our own hands, looking to the world for our deliverance, for our needs to be met? Just consider your own temptations and the way this looks in your life, because I’m sure that this is something we can all relate to. There was a real need- yet rather than call on the Lord and trust in his provision, Abraham goes down, into Egypt. We descend much in the same way. Rather than looking up, we look down and around and try to find our way out of trouble using what seems to us to be the most pragmatic of solutions.

I’ll continue my thoughts about the rest of the story in another post, but for now, how do you think Sarah dealt with all of this? She’d been sold out by her husband, was living in a foreign land in the home of the most powerful man in all of the Ancient Near East, and was on the verge of being made another man’s wife- all because of a lie and a plan that were not her own. I can just imagine the fear, the sense of betrayal, the anxiety for her own life and her husband’s life. Yet Peter gives us special insight about Sarah’s attitude and we know that she had that gentle, quiet spirit. She submitted to her husband, and hoped in God. If there is any trial where we can be sure our faith in God’s provision and salvation will be tested, I can pretty safely say that it will be in the context of those relationships we are most tempted to try to find hope and security in. Those people, spouses, friends, pastors, children, whomever we hold close to us and are most likely to want to place our trust in are the ones that are most dangerous for our souls. We can easily transfer our hope in God to hope in a person, and that is a dangerous transaction. To look for salvation from fallen men, a fallen husband, or a fallen wife is suicide. Can we trust in people who are also easily led astray, who don’t always trust in the Lord as they ought, and who just like ourselves are going to make bad decisions, even decisions that will hurt us? No. That is why Peter warns us, wives in particular, to hope in God. He even says that our obedience, our reverent behaviour is the means by which we win a disobedient spouse. Peter along with the Apostle Paul has much to say about suffering at the hands of sinful men, and they prepare us well for these trials so that we are not taken off guard, but rather, we are called to be faithful, patient in suffering, waiting for “the salvation of the Lord”.  Here is where he gets the glory- not just in the act of salvation (whether we experience present relief from a trial, or are given the grace to endure through it even if it’s never removed), but in our overcoming our temptation to doubt him and take matters into our own hands. God does not promise relief from trials, but He does promise strength to endure and provision to find our hope in him, not our circumstances and not in people.

I’ll let you stew over that for now. How are you tempted to hope in man, or a job, or a change of living situation, or relief from physical pain, or whatever very real suffering you are living with? This is a false hope, and rather than trying to destroy our joy, we know that as we read the truth in God’s word, it is there for us so our minds can be renewed and we can be freed from deception. False idols, those people or things or situations we are so easily led to bow down to are no hope at all, and in fact rob us from the one true joy. Once again, the Lord is rescuing us, not simply from these things, but from ourselves. I think what we stand to learn from Sarah’s response to the trial of her faith in particular is great, so I’ll save some more thoughts for later but I hope that for now, these reflections on our trials and God’s clear word on how we can be delivered through them would give you peace today as you think upon the fact that even if nothing changes in your situation, you can hope in him and that hope will not fail, for he is faithful and he will deliver you and give you grace, even if it means you will suffer as result of your obedience.

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Press On

4 Nov

1622780_10153039132652262_6582303956987842076_nMy husband and I always have a good laugh when we think about this one time a friend of ours asked us to edit his resume. I’m pretty sure we were all finished university so when we read his bullet point that said “Grade 8 Athlete of the Year” under Accomplishments, we couldn’t hold it together. Needless to say, we told him that it needed to be scrapped. It’s funny because at one point that accomplishment did mean something significant. To the thirteen-year-old boy and his parents, it would have likely been a highlight of the year. But by twenty-three, one sure hopes that there’s been more “accomplished” since then.

When the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”, he’s talking about the idea of pressing on. He’s just unloaded his list of accomplishments, and to the reader, they are actually something someone would want to write home about. If you’ve ever been to a conference or awards ceremony, you’re familiar with the way the introduction of the speaker or award winner goes. “So-and-so is a graduate of Harvard, a writer with the New York Times, founder of the charity Such-and-Such, and he just ran his third marathon- of the year!” There’s something in our worship-oriented hearts that loves to hear ascriptions of praise given to us, and at times lavished on others. We feel that someone is respectable or praiseworthy because of their accomplishments and therefore, we ascribe worth to them as a result. When others praise us, if we’re honest, it comes with a sense of pride in how awesome we are, how great it is that no one can do the things we do, and “I bet other people wish they were as amazing as I am at ________”. 

But here’s the thing. Actually two things. Thing one. There is only One worthy of praise. If we’ve ever been able to accomplish anything of any value or any eternal good, it’s because of God’s grace at work in us. That’s the first thing. My second and main thing is this. Aren’t we being a little like my friend with his 8th Grade Athlete of the Year award when we want others, or even want ourselves to feel like we’ve accomplished things of value? It is true- there was a point when he played well, worked hard, committed to various sports teams, and maybe modelled some leadership and as a result was deserving of recognition, but the point is that that event has passed. Now, wherever we are, whatever works we’ve done are finished. There’s more work to do, and therefore we need to forget what lies behind and keep straining forward to what lies ahead. Press on.

One mark of our knowing God is the continual desire to know him more. It’s not enough for the Christian to have known him last year, or during that time in college, or on the missions trip you served on, or in the camp ministry you participated in. We want more of him, through his word, and through experience. I love the athletic metaphors Paul uses so often because they’re easy for me to picture. The idea of straining your body is exactly what has to happen when you’re doing anything worthwhile in sports. If you’re running, you are pushing yourself forward, straining your muscles to drive you one step forward at a time, and it’s work. It’s not fun, it may bring you favourable results, but the process is not always pleasant. I’ve had the chance to run in two races and both times I’ve come to appreciate the mental game involved in getting yourself to the finishing line. Before you race, you’re supposed to train so that come race day, you’re not unprepared. The base you build with shorter, less intense runs serves to carry you through till the end on the day of the actual race. From what I understand, most race training programs won’t even have you run the full length of the race more than once before actual race day. The reason being that come the day of the event, your body has spent so much time building up overall stamina, you will be able to get to the end even if you haven’t practiced running that full distance. You’ll have exerted yourself through training enough so that when it comes time to race, you’ll be able to give it your best and push yourself further because you have extra energy stored up. Now here is the dumb thing that can potentially happen to your mind if you’ve run one race. You could approach your next one and say to yourself “Well, I ran last year in a race and that’s enough to get me through this one”. That would be foolish. That would be like remembering your past accomplishment and using it as a justification for not training and preparing for, or participating in future races. Why would you stop at what you’ve done last year? Why would that be a good reason to justify your lack of enthusiasm for the new challenges that lie in front of you today? You’re setting yourself up for failure by focusing on what you’ve already done and using that as justification for not having to do anything now.

Here’s my encouragement for us in relationship to the whole notion of pressing on. How are we to face the challenges we are encountering right now? Do you have a ton of work to get done and are you feeling unable, incompetent, or discouraged at the enormity of the task? I feel like that often. Do you have a relational issue that is causing you pain? What about your walk with the Lord? Is it not what you wish it were, or what it ought to be? Is there some area of sin that you keep struggling with and can’t seem to get past? Forget what lies behind- successes and failures, and press on. If we are stuck, remembering that awesome season where we were doing so well, loving people whole-heartedly, getting so much accomplished, being just all-around great, then we’re going to be tempted to pride and a false belief that the good we were doing was of our own strength, and if we just mustered up enough will-power, we’d be able to repeat the past. That’s a lie. If we wallow in our failures, we’re also believing another lie. We’re forgetting that our walk is one of grace and faith.

Just before Paul says that we’re to press on, he says this. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” If we are to be able to move forward now in the good works God has laid out for us, we’re going to have to start by counting all the things that were gain to us (accomplishments, titles, experiences) as nothing. We need to do this so that now, today, we can continue to find our righteousness through our faith (not in our accomplishments!) in God in order that we might know him and the power of his resurrection, by sharing in his suffering, dying to ourselves, so that we can attain the resurrection from the dead. Wow. That’s a jam-packed thought right there. I’m going to encourage you to meditate on that. The way we are called to walk is a hard way, one that will inevitably cause us pain. It’s hard to be faithful, to keep pressing on in spite of the trials and temptations we face. It’s easy to want to throw in the towel and say “Isn’t it enough that I was the Athlete of the Year 15 years ago?”. Here is the motivation- when we are willing to suffer or die to ourselves, we are going to get to KNOW CHRIST. We are going to, experientially SHARE IN HIS SUFFERINGS. We are going to, in our mortal bodies, experience a RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. That is just amazing. That’s the point of all this. Press on, because in pressing on, we are going to be rewarded with the greatest gift which is the knowledge of God, intimately and personally, through the person of Jesus. I want more of that and I hope you do to.