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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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Overcoming Trials

17 Sep

I have gotten to know the book of James in a special way over the past two years. In my grade 11 English class, we studied it in depth and just as an aside before I get in to the main focus of this post, we can never exhaust our study of God’s word! There are gems to be mined and I was so encouraged that in teaching it for the second time this past year, there were still new things to learn.

One simple point I want to share from lessons in James is his teaching on trials. Trials are defined as troubles, or something that breaks the pattern of peace, comfort, joy, and happiness in someone’s life. James tells his readers that we are to be joyful when we face trials. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”.

Joyful? Does James really expect us to rejoice when we suffer or go through some painful experience? That is not the natural human response. We would rather anything than be downcast or go through a difficult time. When I am suffering, my response is often not the one James calls for believers to have. In fact, I am usually depressed, disheartened, and anxious. So, how is it and why is it that he calls believers to be joyful? How can we obey this command to “count it all joy” (note the word all) and in doing so bring God the glory he deserves?

For one, as a Christian we need to use our minds and think, rather than be subject to our feelings and emotions. Our tendency is to look to our situation rather than at God and his character and mighty deeds. We can quickly forget who he is in light of our difficulties, and just like Peter who initially kept his eyes fixed on Jesus while walking on the water in the midst of a terrible storm, begin to look at the waves and sink under the pressure. God’s word is full of examples of his faithfulness to his people and his sovereign control over all things. We need to read his word and recall to mind WHO God is so that rather than believing that our situation is outside of his control, we can put ourselves in the right place and trust in him who sees all things and works them together for our good.

Why should we be joyful? Is it not easier to resign ourselves to anger or resent God for allowing us to go through pain? The interesting and thing James says about trials is that they are for the “testing of our faith”. Why does God allow our faith to be tested? A test determines what someone or something is really made of. Is it not easy to make a claim to something, yet without it being tested, have no proof of the truth? Someone might claim to be an excellent basketball player, NBA quality even, and until you place them in a game situation and see what they’re made of, there’s no way of proving the truth behind their assertions. The same goes for those who claim to be Christians. The book of James addresses the characteristics of genuine saving faith, and one of the tests he puts forth to determine whether or not someone is truly a believer is the test of trials and a person’s response to them. A trial has a unique way of weaning the true from the false. For a believer, the right response when faced with a difficulty will be to turn to God and seek his wisdom and guidance. A believer will rely on God’s strength and his promises through times of difficulty. A believer is someone who will not be put off or turn away from God and blame him or become resentful because of their trial. In the believer’s response to trials, God receives much glory because we are able to exhibit the truth that knowing God and having him is more to be treasured than peace and security in our circumstances. King David said in Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you”. Only those who truly know the joy of knowing God as “better than life” will be able to rejoice in their trials because he is more precious than all the false assurances of comfort and ease.

So ask yourself when you go through a trial, “What is my response to the difficulty God brings in my life? Do I turn to him or turn away?” A trial can reveal much about who you are. If you are a believer that is struggling to have a joyful response, read his word, remember who God is, and ask for wisdom because he will give it generously as James goes on to say in chapter 1. And for those who aren’t, King David’s words are still true regardless of what you believe. Knowing God is better than life itself, and I pray that you will come to see that true peace and joy that is lasting comes only from him.