Posts Tagged ‘faith’
Hold on to your hats, friends, because I’m about to do something I don’t do very often:Â I’m going to ask for help.
Seriously, “the funk” has descended on the Speer home in full force during this time of joy and cheer.Â The depression and discouragement hangs like the thick, wet blanket it is, so heavy it’s almost tangible.Â Though we’ve decked the halls and trimmed the tree, strung up the lights and hung the holly, I’m still searching the depths of my soul for that elusive “Christmas spirit.”Â And though I’m trying VERY hard to be excited for my friends, who in their excitement are sharing pictures and posts of their new cars, ipads, giant tv’s, jewelry, trips, and new houses through the wonder that is Facebook, I can’t help but feel a great sadness when I look under our tree and see…NOTHING.
For so many reasons, and in so many ways, this is foreign territory to me.Â I’m usually an optimist.Â I can typically find the silver lining to any bad situation.Â I’m pretty self-reliant and will find a way to plow through whatever hardship, or difficulty, or pain I’m experiencing.Â I’m not used to depression.Â I don’t like feeling down.Â I try hard not to be a regular attender at pity parties, whether they be mine or not.Â But reality has hit us full force, and we’re in *that* place:
We’re out of money.
We’re out of options.
We’re out of hope.
And through it all, God seems to be silent.
As this unemployment drags on to unprecedented levels in our experience, we see no answers.Â We have cried out to God constantly.Â We have brought our requests, we have approached boldly in faith, we have asked…and asked…and asked, persistently.Â We have humbled ourselves, opened our hands, and sought His leading.Â We have committed ourselves to His purpose.Â We have searched our hearts and opened our minds to allow Him to remove whatever may be in the way between us and Him.Â We have thanked Him for the provision He has given thus far, and been grateful for the way He has sustained us.Â We have entrusted this whole process to Him, believing that He knows what’s best for us.
If I’m being totally honest, this whole “faith” thing is hard.Â This “trusting” is difficult.Â And there are moments – like yesterday – when we are tempted to give up.Â To quit the struggle.Â To give in to the doubts, fears, and depression that nag away at our soul and weary our spirit.Â To allow the stress and pressure to divide us from one another and tear us apart, internally and externally.
It’s at times like these that I desperately need to know that God’s word is true.Â That He is who He says He is.Â That those promises He made throughout scripture are real.Â That He will stand by and honor His commitment.Â That nothing – and I mean *nothing* – about Him is in any way flawed, or misunderstood, or corrupt, or wrong.Â That He is as solid and unmoveable as a Rock, that He is absolutely, completely, and utterly secure.Â That He is totally faithful.Â That I can count on Him, no matter what.
As I look into the stories of the great men and women of faith, I long to be like them.Â I desire to leave a legacy of godliness and faith in the midst of desperate circumstances.Â I want to be characterized by an obedience and commitment to following Him in the face of great challenges and difficulties.Â I crave the kind of intimacy and fellowship they had with Yahweh…Jehovah…Adonai…Abba.Â Despite their shortcomings and failures, they were chosen as His examples to us: examples of faith, of trusting, of obedience, of commitment.
So how appropriate is it, then, that this funk descends during the time of year when we celebrate Immanuel…God With Us.Â The fulfillment of hundreds – even thousands – of years of promises, of waiting, of searching and hoping and dreaming.Â God with us physically, as His Son shed his kingly robe of God-ness for an earthly suit of humanity.Â God with us existentially, as the One not bound by time stepped out of eternity for a lifespan of 33 years.Â God with us philosophically, as His teachings became living epistles, a spoken word, a healing touch.Â God with us spiritually, as He conquered death to live again.
It is that nearness that we so desperately cling to.Â It is that closeness that will assure us of an end to our troubles.Â It is that intimacy that will be our strength through whatever may lie ahead.Â It is that promise – Immanuel, God is with us – that will be our joy, our hope, and our strength.
It is that promise – Immanuel, God is with us – that will be our help.
And it is on that promise - Immanuel, God is with us – that we will have peace.
A friend of mine, who is very techno-savvy and is becoming quite the online missionary, started a Facebook discussion this week in preparation for our Sunday sermon.Â Her question was:
Have you ever been “judged” by someone? When or how is it wrong to judge?
Over the past few days, there have been a few responses.Â Most have been from a negative perspective, that judging others is wrong, that we need to take care of our own sin before we dare to point out another person’s errors, that only God can judge.
And while there is truth in those responses, and we certainly should take care not to be prideful or hypocritical like the Pharisees,Â we may have taken this perspective a bit too far.Â We may have become complacent and indifferent to sin, far too tolerant of those who use this verse as ammunition against us.Â God prompted me to respond…so here goes…
Oh, boy. This is long. But I’m running on very few hours of sleep, so bear with me….
We are so afraid to use the word “judge” because of the negative connotations. We are so afraid of being labeled a “hypocrite” by Christians and pre-Christians alike. We are scared that we will ruin our witness and be perceived as holier-than-thou.
I’ve got one word for that line of thinking, which Trace will appreciate: Oy.
God has used people – sinners just like us – throughout history to “judge” others. Prophets – both men AND women – were used by God to speak truth to a sinful people, to a nation misguided by wrong choices.
Were those heroes of the faith any less sinful than we are? I’m taking a wild guess here, but probably not. In fact, we all know there is no “grading curve” as far as sin is concerned. If there was an ounce of pride, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, or anger, or bitterness in any one of them…well then they were just as guilty and deserving of God’s wrath than we are.
So how could God use people – like them, like us – to “judge?” Isn’t that contradictory? I mean, we *all* have planks, and if I gotta wait until my plank is gone, well then there’s a whole lotta people who will go to hell or continue to live in separation from God because of that.
But we do need to discern what we’re doing when we judge. God has not given us the power to absolve or punish sin. That is HIS right alone as the true Judge. But He *has* given us the gift of discernment. He *has* given us the presence of the Holy Spirit. He *has* given us the ultimate guide book in His word – His authoritative, definitive, “because-I-AM-and-I-said-so” final say on the matter. He *has* given us a spirit of boldness. Why has He given all this to us? Yeah, so He can use us. To do what? To speak truth. To share God’s truth. To bring spiritual healing where it is desperately needed. To restore relationships between people and God, broken by our own heedlessness and carelessness.
I *have* been judged. I have had my motives handed to me by others. I have had my unspoken intentions spoken back to my face. I have had my well-meaning actions questioned and unappreciated. All by Christ-followers who – in love, humility, and with a spirit of grace – allowed God to use them to judge my spiritual condition and be His megaphone to my prideful soul.
I *have* judged others. I have opened my mouth and uttered words I never expected to hear myself say: words of truth, words of power, words of tough love. God has – in His divine orchestration of time and circumstance – placed me in situations where I was the only voice of truth…and He needed me there to speak on His behalf.
So, yes. God expects us to judge: to call sin, sin. To be that light in the darkness. To stand up for Truth and righteousness. By His spirit, in His power, and with the words He gives us in His word, we have all we need to accomplish this.
I learned last evening that a high school friend of mine lost his father to cancer.Â Just a few weeks ago, another high school friend also lost her dad to the very same disease.Â And while it’s easy to *say* that death is truly part of life, the reality of saying good-bye, of living life day-to-day without those who have been present from your very earliest days is incredibly difficult.
Nearly a year ago, this friend posted a status update requesting prayer for his dad, who at the time was in ICU.Â He had suffered a heart attack and things were not looking good.Â As a Christian, knowing his dad was saved, my friend struggled with how to pray.Â Do I pray for physical healing, knowing that the quality of my dad’s life may suffer?Â Â Or do I just pray for God to take him home, and endure the heartache of losing him?
I’ve been in that place.Â And while I can’t know *exactly* what my friend was feeling, I can certainly sympathize with those questions, because I’ve asked the very same ones.Â Knowing that God allows us to suffer in part so that we can reach out and encourage others, I sent him a message of what I hoped would be interpreted as encouragement.Â And for those of you facing difficult circumstances, when you just don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, I hope it will encourage you as well.
I read your status update and although I don’t know what’s going on with your dad, I can sympathize with the hurt and anguish you’re feeling. I felt much the same way following my dad’s heart attack. I remember sitting there in the waiting room outside ICU, with close friends and people from my parents’ church and my mom’s school, and we all were praying for my dad to be healed. I felt oddly disconnected…because I was praying fervently for God to work a miracle, and WANTING to believe with all my heart that my dad would be healed and restored fully, KNOWING that God could absolutely choose to do that…but in my heart, I knew my dad was already gone. And so I struggled with why do I even pray? HOW do I pray? What do I ask for? And how do I pray for “God’s will” to be done and yet believe that He can do a miracle?
So what I prayed for was peace. Peace for my dad, first of all. I didn’t want to see him suffer. I didn’t want him to struggle and fight. Peace for my mom, secondly. Knowing she was facing the hardest moments of her life, she needed to KNOW – and I mean absolutely KNOW – that God was there for her and that THIS was HIS plan all along. Peace for my brothers, as they were dropping everything in their lives to rush to Dallas to be with him and with us. Peace for our friends and loved ones, who were just as much in shock as we were, and whose hearts were hurting too. And peace for me, just to know that no matter what, God was still in control and He would make things good in the end.
My dad officially died two days later. We waited, in hopes that God would perform a miracle, but when the results showed no hope, we knew that it was over. He was already HOME. He was at peace. And oddly enough, so were we. It was almost a sense of relief. As hard as it was to lose him – so young and so suddenly – it was so evident that God’s hand was there every step along the way…and that He would continue to carry us through our days of grief and sadness.
This is what I pray for you and your family. I’m so sorry you’re facing such a difficult time. Just know that there are many across the country who are lifting you up in different ways in prayer, and that God hears each and every one of those prayers. And I’ll also be praying for a miracle, too…but mostly for peace no matter what happens.
Lately it seems like there’s an epidemic of blessing going around.Â In the past month I’ve heard story after story of one friend after another who’s been promoted, or moved into their dream home, or been healed from serious illness or injury, or gotten that fancy new car, or seen God move and provide in ways they never imagined possible.Â And that’s great.Â Honestly, I’m happy for them.Â I rejoice with them.
But a little piece of my heart still asks, “What about us, God?Â What about me?”
I’m not jealous.Â Really, I’m not.Â I’m happy with my car, I love my house – though if God decided to bless us with an extra $100K to finish the patio, upgrade and complete the landscaping and install a pool, He’d get no complaints from me – I love my family and I love my amazing friends, both those I see in person on a regular basis and those I connect with virtually.Â When I look at what is really important in life, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I, too, am blessed.
But a little piece of my heart still wonders, “How long, God?Â How much longer must I wait?”
It’s not a lack of faith, or at least I don’t think it is.Â I can fully see God’s hand moving the pieces of our circumstances around like a cosmic chess board, playing out His omniscient strategy for the ultimate win.Â And in that, I’m hopeful.Â I’m optimistic.Â I believe that God is ultimately in control, that He knows what He is doing, and that He – and He alone – knows what is best.Â He has promised to complete the good thing He has begun, and I am confident that no matter how difficult the process, that is exactly what He is doing.
But a little piece of my heart still cries out, “This is hard, God.Â This hurts!”
It’s not that I’m not willing to wait.Â I’m not being impatient.Â In the deepest places within me, I truly want what is best.Â I desperately desire God to accomplish what He set out.Â I crave His perfect timing, His perfect plan to be executed, no matter how long that takes.Â I’m willing to surrender – to His leading, His direction…even His correction when necessary.Â I’ve gone down that road where I’ve impulsively or impatiently taken control, where I’ve refused to listen to His direct instruction, where I’ve deliberately disobeyed and rebelled against what He’s asked me to do…and missed out on untold blessings because of it.Â So this time, I’m settling in – gladly, willingly, expectantly – for the long haul.
But still a little piece of my heart still fears, “How far will You take this?Â How deep are You asking us to go?”
And God reminds me: this isn’t just for me.Â This trial, this period of testing, this time of waiting and searching and praying and trusting isn’t just to grow *my* faith.Â God has also begun a good work in Matt and our children, and He has a plan to complete that good work as well.Â God desires to grow their faith, to deepen their walks with Him, to bring them to new places of faith and understanding and trust.Â And beyond that, God can use their testimonies to reach their circles of influence.Â Their lives can become lights and impact others.Â Their experiences can be used to encourage others and teach them about God’s amazing provision and love.Â It’s not just about me.
And so, a little piece of my heart now says, “Yes, Lord.Â I will yield.”
As I lift my hands in surrender, I discover that they are in a perfect position for God to reach down, take hold, and – as the loving Father He is – lead me forward.Â As I open my hands to yield to Him all that I cling to so tightly, I see that those hands are now open to receiving His blessing…the blessing I know is waiting for me if I endure, if I am faithful, if I trust, if I obey.
And so a little piece of my heart waits.Â Because I know the blessing is coming.
I’m not all that much into chicken soup.Â Don’t get me wrong, chicken soup definitely has its place in the grand scheme of life.Â But for me, comfort foods are more about sweets you can sink your teeth into than watered-down broth with slurpy noodles.
And frankly, Little Debbie snack cakes make me happy.Â They always have.
Something about peeling apart the double layers of the zebra cakes and licking the creamy frosting filling off the top of the bottom layer makes me smile.Â I take great joy in unrolling the Swiss Cake Rolls and scooping out the filling with my finger and licking it clean before devouring the chocolate-coated cake part.Â And don’t even get me started on the gooey, melty goodness that is an oatmeal cream pie.
And so that’s why I get so excited about my Little Debbi Sermonettes.Â Those little nuggets of biblical goodness that make me feel all bubbly and giddy inside.Â Those moments when God whispers a truth in my ear that makes my heart nearly burst with excitement.Â Those “aha!” revelations when my heavenly Father wraps me up in a great big bear hug with a special message of love just for me..but one that I absolutely can’t keep to myself.
This weekend, God did that.Â He sent me another snack cake for my soul.Â The best part?Â It was a TWIN PACK!!Â Two delicious treats of yummy God-created goodness wrapped up together in one package.Â Sweet surprises like that deserve to be shared, so hold out your hand and prepare to be blessed!
You have kept a record of my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle. They are already in your book.Â Psalm 56:8, God’s Word translation
This week, an exciting event occurred in the Speer household.Â For several months, Trey has insisted that two of his upper molars were wiggly.Â Try as we might, Matt and I had a hard time getting those so-called loose teeth to move.Â For one thing, braces kind of got in the way.Â And then there was the retainer, a hard plastic mouth-guard which had to be worn All. The. Time. except when eating.Â And to be perfectly honest, I’d rather not engage in a tooth-wiggling struggle when there is food in the mouth.
But then came the day when the retainer-wearing ordinance was relaxed and we could finally have access to those teeth.Â It wasn’t long after that we discovered – much to our horror – that the permanent teeth were descending ON TOP of the baby teeth.Â With dollar bill signs and thoughts of extra orthodontic treatment looming large in our brains, we set Trey a-wiggling.Â Wiggle in the morning.Â Wiggle in the evening.Â Wiggle in the in-between times.Â Just wiggle, wiggle, wiggle…and get that tooth out!Â On Wednesday, it happened.Â Just after he walked in from school, I saw that tooth dangling, took a firm grasp and with one mighty twist – POP! – out it came.
Though Trey is now officially “in the know” regarding the secret identity of the Tooth Fairy, we still did the whole routine and in the morning there was a crisp new $1 bill waiting for him.Â As Trey collected his dues, he asked me, “What do you do with my teeth?”Â I informed him that Matt has saved every single one of them in a special box in our bedroom.Â “WOW!!Â Can I see them??”Â was the next, all-too-10-year-old-boy question I was asked.Â “Sure.”Â I responded…and we did.Â And he marveled over every single one.
When I read the verse above this weekend, I was reminded of this scene.Â Why, exactly, do we as parents save our kids’ teeth?Â What good reason do we have for holding on to something that is so useless, so worthless, and frankly, so GROSS as old teeth?Â Â Why don’t we just throw them out and move on?Â Because they are REMINDERS.Â They remind us as parents where our children have come from.Â They represent milestones of our children’s journeys from infancy to maturity.
And that is exactly why God collects our tears in His bottle.Â To remind us of what we’ve come from.Â To show us that when we shed those tears of sorrow or grief or loneliness or anger or hurt or disappointment or joy or gratitude that He was journeying through those times with us.Â To show us how far we’ve come in our own personal journeys with him.Â To demonstrate how much He – our heavenly Father – loves us and cares for us as His children.
The next time you feel those tears welling up within you, know that your Father stands close by, ready to catch them with His bottle, so that He can remind you of all that He is…and all you are becoming as you journey to His heart.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.Â Isaiah 49:16
I may be old, but I do remember being in high school.Â And believe it or not, in those days, kids didn’t have cell phones.Â We barely had CORDLESS phones…and I’m still convinced my family was the *last* family on earth to discontinue use of a rotary phone.Â When something important came up during class – like needing a friends’ phone number, or when that cute guy I had a crush on told me to meet him at a certain time in a certain location, or when a bunch of people were getting together for a party or event and I desperately wanted to be there – and I needed to write it down FAST, where did I put it?Â Yep – on the palm of my hand.
I did go to college, too, in those long-ago days.Â I well remember those busy days of classes, labs, student teaching assignments, projects, and crazy adventures with friends.Â When a friend wanted to meet for a late-night snack-shack run, or when a bunch of us made a study date, or when I needed to know that cute guy’s room number or phone extension, where did I write it down?Â Â Sometimes, little post-it notes got lost or misplaced or the sticky just plain wore off.Â Sometimes, I didn’t have any paper with me other than a gum wrapper or the project I’d stayed up all night working to complete.Â You guessed it…I hastily scribbled it on the palm of my hand.
I did manage to graduate from college and get a “real” job in the “real” world.Â My days as a teacher were busy and full.Â Juggling responsibilities in ministry and vocation, all while maintaining some sort of social life kept me going all day every day.Â If I needed to remember to pick up milk and bread on the way home from work, or if I suddenly was able to get a doctor’s appointment changed, or if my singles’ group decided on the spur of the moment to go out for a late-night movie, where did I record that information so I would be SURE to remember it?Â Yep…once again, on that trusty old palm of the hand.
Now I live life as a wife and mother, busy with responsibilities of caring for a family, maintaining a job, and being involved in ministry.Â Some days, keeping my ducks in a row is a harder task than it sounds.Â I shun to-do lists because they overwhelm me.Â I don’t carry a calendar with me because it distracts me.Â So where do I write those important little to-do’s that I can’t forget to-do?Â Yeah…on the palm of the hand once again.
So why would God tell us that He has engraved us on the palm of His hand?Â For the very same reason we write those important notes on our own palms.Â So we remember.Â So we don’t forget.Â Because those people, those things, those numbers or dates or times or grocery items are important to us.Â And in the same way, we’re important to God.Â He remembers us.Â He won’t forget us.
Because you see, there’s one important difference between our hands and His.Â When I write my new friends’ name and phone number on the palm of my hand, I can be assured that at some point it will wash away.Â My hands get dirty, filled with germs, and unclean.Â I’ll need to use soap and water and scrub for 30 seconds under warm water…and that name will be erased.Â No longer visible.Â Forgotten.
Not so with God.Â His hands are pure.Â His hands are clean.Â And you can know for a fact that once your name is written – better yet, ENGRAVED – there, it will NEVER wash away.Â You name is written on His hand for eternity.Â Indelible.Â Inscribed.Â Permanent.Â He will NEVER forget you.Â He will ALWAYS remember you.Â And I imagine that when He looks at His hand and sees your name…He smiles.Â Because He loves you.
I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating now:Â It’s time.
Sure, it’s time for the Rangers to finish what they’ve started in this amazing post-season run.Â But there’s a personal side to this, too.Â And for me, it’s time.
Time to deepen friendships.Â To renew bonds with those I don’t have the opportunity to see except maybe once a week on Sundays, or say a quick hello to as we pass by in the church hallways.Â To connect with the women who will be in my discussion group.Â To find new reasons to love and enjoy the women I will be sharing a cabin with.
Time to have fun.Â To laugh so hard my sides ache and I can barely breathe.Â To talk late into the night and giggle over life’s misadventures and create memories and inside jokes that will make me smile long beyond the next 48 hours.Â To play games and make crafts and relax by the lake and dance with reckless abandon and play beach volleyball.Â To go for long walks or sit on the dock.Â To watch the brave and fearless thrill-seekers whiz by on the zip line.
Time to be still and know.Â To shed tears borne out of a passion and intensity of worship in community that can be experienced no other way, and in no other place.Â To sit at the foot of the cross – literally and metaphorically – in humble gratitude for the penalty paid in my place.Â To spend true quiet time…uninterrupted, undistracted, unhurried…with my God in a place of peace and solitude.Â To be inspired by testimonies of faithful women.Â To dig deep into God’s word with a hunger and thirst to know Him more.Â To come to Him as I am – no pretenses, no facades, with raw emotion and real questions – and hear His voice as He patiently deals with the mess that I am.
Time to be transformed.Â By His word and His teachings.Â By the community of our shared experiences.Â By the encouragement of fellow Christ-followers.Â By the moments He draws near and opens my heart and mind to His truth.
Time to be renewed.Â Strengthened.Â Re-focused.Â Re-energized.Â Oh, yes, it is most definitely time.Â And while I will be rooting for a Rangers win in the ALCS, I know in my heart that this weekend is about more than baseball.Â It’s about having a life-changing encounter with the life-changing God of the universe.Â It’s time…and I’m ready.
Many people shy away from the number 13.Â It’s unlucky.Â Some people are even afraid of it.
But there are times when the number 13 just shines.Â Take a baker’s dozen, for instance.Â Getting an extra donut in your box isn’t such a bad thing, is it?
And on this day, the number 13 sparkled for another reason.Â Today we celebrated the 13th recipient of the “David L. Edwards Servant-Leader Award for Faculty Excellence in Spirit and Service.”Â This year’s honoree was Dr. Kenneth Hanna, president of the Houston Extension campus.
Most of the time, we know the honoree.Â But with Dr. Hanna being in Houston, we had never had the opportunity to meet him or his wife, so it was a special privilege to be able to spend time with them after chapel and at the celebratory lunch at Maggiano’s.Â Because of Matt’s unemployment he was also able to join us, which made this day extra-special for me.
The chapel speaker was Dr. Don Campbell, former DTS president and professor.Â Though he is quite elderly and struggles with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease, his mind and wit are as sharp as ever.Â He brought a powerful message from 1 Corinthians about keeping the correct perspective as we endure this challenge called “life.”Â It is such an honor to sit in these chapel services, hearing God speak through these faithful men who have devoted their lives to training future pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders.
Following chapel, we took our requisite pictures with the plaque.
Dr. Hanna with his lovely wife, Mary
Dr. Grassmick, who presents the award each year, tries very hard to keep the recipient a surprise until the moment the name is announced in chapel.Â It’s always a challenge to get the recipient’s wife and/or family members into the chapel and keep them somewhat “hidden” until that moment.Â We saw Dr. Hanna enter with his wife and proceed to sit onstage.Â Come to find out, all it took was Dr. Grassmick saying, “We’d like to have you and your wife at chapel next Wednesday.”Â and Dr. Hanna said, “Okay.”Â And that was that.
Dr. & Mrs. Hanna in front of the plaque that hangs in the Academic Dean’s office,
just across from where Dad’s office used to be.
Last year, we used the last available space on the plaque.Â So this year, we were treated to a surprise ourselves…a new plaque, with 12 new spaces!Â We look forward to honoring more good and faithful servants in the years to come.
Sometimes, I’m such a twit.Â I can’t tell you how glad I am that God, in His infinite patience and endless love and mercy, never actually says that to me.Â But I’m sure there are times He must feel like it.
This epiphany came to me this weekend after spending several days trying to climb out of the deep dark emotional funk I’ve been in.Â The circumstances of the past couple of weeks, coupled with a never-ending list of stuff I gotta do, have worn me down.Â Physically, I’m tired.Â Mentally, I’m frazzled.Â And spiritually, I’m empty.Â The sum of all these parts is depression.Â Darkness.Â Despair.Â And as much as I hate being in that place, I’ve been unable to find my way out.
Until this morning.
As the sun pierced through the windows in my studio, it was like God opened a ray of light into my soul and spoke directly to my heart.Â I was re-reading our passage of study for our Uganda trip meeting when suddenly He had me park here for awhile:
I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.Â John 17:15
As I meditated on this, He gently moved my eyes back a few verses to read this:
I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.Â John 16:33
And then He sent me here:
Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.Â James 1:2-3
You’re probably more of a quick study than me.Â By now, you’ve probably noticed a theme, a trend, an obvious connection.Â Eventually, I did too.Â But what struck me is that these verses contain a promise, too.Â Maybe not a happy, all-warm-and-fuzzy, let’s-get-together-and-sing-Kum-ba-Yah kind of promise, but a promise nonetheless.Â These verses promise us that as believers – heck, as human beings – we will experience trials.Â There’s no escaping them.Â We might as well accept that fact and be prepared, because it’s gonna happen.Â Cancer.Â Job loss.Â Accidents.Â Political strife.Â Some trials are more difficult than others, but there is no escaping that promise.Â Trials will happen.Â Life is hard.
Oddly enough, as God reminded me of this promise, I began to feel energized.Â Renewed.Â Fearless.Â And – ironically – hopeful.Â Crazy as it seems, this reminder that hardship is inescapable, that trials are promised, that life is difficult brought me a sense of calm and restored optimism.Â Because there is more to the story.Â Like all optimists, I search for the silver lining.Â And there’s a big one.
Our trials have a happy ending.Â It’s guaranteed.Â I don’t know exactly what that happy ending is, because it’s different for everyone and unique to each situation.Â We are protected from the evil one.Â Christ has overcome the world.Â We have the strength to endure – which means an end is in sight.Â We will get through it.Â We will succeed.Â We will have joy once again.Â Just read those verses again and I’m sure you’ll see it.
Is it any wonder, then, that this song spoke so deeply to me this morning as I had the privilege of singing it at church with my favorite trio?
You know, there are some verses in the Bible that frighten me.
It’s not the ones about the wrath of God, or His mighty arm of justice, or the consequences of sin.Â I can live with all those.
No, it’s ones like this:
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”Â 2 Corinthians 12:9
Or this one:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.Â James 1:2-3
And especially this one:
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.Â John 15:2
Frankly, verses like that make my stomach a little fluttery.Â If I really allow those words to penetrate my heart and sink into my mind, I find myself getting a little weak in the knees.Â Honestly – dare I say it? – these passages scare the hell out of me. (pun intended)
I know it sounds crazy.Â I know you must think I’m playing a few cards short of a full deck here…I’m a few ants short of a picnic…the lights are on but no one’s home.Â Whatever. Throw out any cliche’ you want.Â “Why?” you ask.Â Why would passages like that strike fear in my heart?
Because those verses represent the moment I surrender all control and open myself to whatever – and I mean WHAT.EV.ER – God wants to do with me.Â Suddenly my life becomes not so much about me and what I want and what I think is best for me and the choices I want to make, but rather what God wants to do with me, what He thinks is best for me, and the choices He wants me to make.Â And sometimes, that process is painful.Â It means I allow God to do what is necessary to shape me and mold me into His image.Â It means that the road may get bumpy.Â It means He may choose to test my faith.Â It means He may allow me to undergo some fiery trials to refine and purify my heart, my thoughts, my actions.
And that’s not often a pleasant process.
So, today was one of those days.Â I admit, I was a little fearful when Matt went to his oncologist appointment.Â Certainly, I’m always a little nervous.Â That’s natural.Â Though the risk of relapse is small, there’s always that chance that his cancer could come back.Â It could come back and not be as treatable, as easily cured as it was the first time.Â It could metastasize and show up differently and be a different kind of cancer…the list goes on and on.Â Most of the time I can keep it in check just knowing how God healed Matt.Â But this time things were a little different.Â With Matt being laid off, I know we’re in a time of testing.Â We’re in the refiner’s fire.Â And I was afraid that at this appointment something just might “show up”…to further our testing, to put not just our feet to the fire, but our whole bodies.
That’s what made the good news of Matt’s appointment today so extra-special.Â No worries.Â No concerns about how to handle a major illness without health insurance or benefits.Â No fear over how we’re going to pay for testing and treatment without a steady paycheck.Â No stress about doctor’s appointments and hospital stays while in the midst of job interviews.
Maybe I need to focus a little more on some other verses.Â You know, like this one:
And my God will supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.Â Philippians 4:19
That one doesn’t seem frightening at all.
Deep conversations can happen when you least expect them.Â Oh sure, you’re prepared for them around the dinner table, or before bedtime, when things are quiet and the mind has a chance to unwind and relax a bit.Â For my kids, however, it’s always those short bits of time when we’re in the car, hustling from one location to another that they choose to explore the mysteries of life, the intricacies of faith, and test the limits of my understanding on all matters scientific and mathematical – like multiplication or 3-digit addition.
Today’s topic revolved around Matt’s job.Â Listening to their musings, fielding their questions, I was struck with how deeply this layoff is affecting them.Â As they shared with me their fears – fears of losing our house, of having to move, of not being able to pay for clothes or food, and yes, even of living on the street – I realized that this “life storm” is not just being felt by Matt and me.Â It’s affecting our whole family.Â And God will use this experience to deepen not only Matt’s and my faith, but also our children’s.
They are learning to pray persistently and specifically.
They are learning to ask boldly for God’s blessing as we obey through tough times.
They are learning to trust for God’s provision in the face of dwindling resources.
They are learning to be grateful for what we have, and not take “things” for granted.
They are learning the hard lessons of patience and perseverance and humility.
They are learning to be totally dependent on God alone when we are helpless to solve the problem.
As a parent, it’s incredibly difficult to watch your children suffer.Â It’s natural to want to protect them against the hardships of life and the cruelty of the world.Â It’s our desire to only give them good things, and to try our best to keep them from failing or falling.Â But it’s through those experiences that we learn the most: about ourselves, about the strength and bonds of family and friends, about God.
May I, like them, open my eyes to the wonder of child-like faith.Â May God teach me through their obedience, and may I come to see my Abba Father in fresh new ways as we weather this storm together.