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Beauty Born Out of Adversity

One of the most widely photographed trees in the world was the Jeffrey Pine on the crest of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park.  Its beauty was made famous by the legendary Ansel Adams in 1940, and was photographed & enjoyed by thousands until it died of drought in 1977.

Many say that its rugged beauty was the result of centuries of harsh winds, frigid winters, and dry summers, that its was a beauty born out of adversity. But I would argue differently.   It was not adversity that produced the beauty of the tree— it was the response of the tree to adversity.  Over the centuries, there may have been hundreds of seedlings sprout on that rocky crag, but only one survived, yes, not only survived but thrived and became a source of inspiration.

What was the difference?  How did that tree respond to its adversity?  And how can we respond to the adversities in our lives?

First, the tree found a secure footing and stayed rooted.   This tree dug itself into the great stone mountain, so much larger & stronger than itself.  As long as it stayed rooted in the rock, it was immovable, no matter how fiercely the wind blew.

Jesus said that we could be the same way.  In the parable of the two builders in Matthew 7:24-27 He said that only the house built on the rock was able to withstand the storm. Just like the tree & just like the house,  we can withstand the storms of life as long as our roots are firmly planted in the solid rock of Christ’s teachings.

Second, the tree kept growing despite the hardship.  In the book Mindset psychologist Carol Dweck concludes that successful people share a “growth mindset,” a basic life outlook that says that life is about growth, no matter the challenges.  As the old saying goes, life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those you hold well.  That tiny seedling on Sentinel Dome hundreds of years ago did not hold “a good hand,” but it played its hand well. So can you, if you refuse to stagnate, if you continue to learn & change & fight & grow no matter what.

Third, the tree drew its life & strength from daily exposure to the sun.  That tree could have decided, “This wind and snow is too much, I’ll build a wall all around me and a roof to keep out the cold.”  If it had, it would have died, for trees need sunlight to survive.  In the same way, we are sometimes tempted to wall ourselves off in our hardship, from others, even from God.  But only by daily looking to Christ & abiding in His light can we draw the strength to live & grow & flourish in this all-too-often harsh world.

Do you want to have beauty born from the adversity in your life?  Then remember to stay anchored and rooted in Christ, keep growing, & draw life & strength daily from Him.

How to Deal With Pain in Your Life

Pain is an unavoidable part of life. We all experience it, in different ways and in different degrees every day. All of us are confronted with the question, “How do I deal with the pain in my life? How do I get past it?”

Meaning is Key

One key in effectively dealing with pain lies not in what pain we experience, but how we experience it. The “how” that makes the difference is the meaning that we assign to the pain.

You see, part of what it means to be human, to be conscious, is that we assign meaning to our lives, to our life as a whole and to every individual part. The meaning we assign to something, even something very painful & hurtful, determines how we experience it. Even more to the point, the meaning you attach to something is your life, is your whole experience, and not the event itself.

A Simple Example

Here’s a very simple example: let’s say I wake up this morning and I am aching all over, I’m stiff, and I have pain even getting out of bed. I can experience this pain by thinking to myself, “I’m hurting all over. This day is going to be hard. I’m not going to be able to do everything I wanted to do. I know other people who aren’t hurting. This isn’t fair or right. I don’t know how long this is going to go on.”

That interpretation is probably my automatic, or natural, or subconscious way of experiencing the pain that starts in my mind without me even thinking about it.  As I assign that meaning to what I am experiencing I am living out that experience as a function of that meaning.

However, I can step back from that automatic pattern, survey the situation, and choose differently. I can say, “The rose bed I planted yesterday looks stunning. My whole family and the whole neighborhood is going to enjoy it for years. It is beautiful. My muscles are going to heal in a few days and be stronger. I am so thankful that they served me well.”

Choose Your Meaning, Change Your Life

You see, I can choose either way to experience that physical reality of pain in my body. One way would only lead to more pain, while the other way leads to peace and strength and joy and gratitude.  One physical experience of pain, two very different lives lived.  Choose your meaning, change your life.

Now, I know that we all experience pain that can’t be dealt with so easily. There is physical pain that is unrelenting and seemingly purposeless, that the best medicine cannot help and that isn’t directly connected to anything good like a rose garden. There is emotional pain like the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship, there are shattered dreams of things that will never be, and there are the pains of financial, work, & commitment pressures. How do we deal with these, when there is no simple “happy face” to put on them?

What Meaning Are You Choosing Now?

To make this article real & beneficial, go ahead and think of something in your life that is painful right now. No, I don’t want a stubbed toe from last week, make it something that is causing you real & serious pain, something that is coming again and again to your thoughts and that you’re struggling with. Write it down on paper and take a hard look at it.

Got it? Good. Here’s your first step: remind yourself that it’s not a “Can I deal with this?” question, but a “How am I already dealing with this?” question. As a human, it’s not a question of if you are assigning a meaning to something painful:  you are assigning a meaning, even if you don’t realize it. As humans assigning meaning is a function of being conscious and alive. So the question really does become asking ourselves, “How am I dealing with this pain? What meaning am I assigning to this hurt?”

The answer to that all-important question may not be obvious, especially if you’re not in the habit of asking it, or if the pain is strong enough to be clouding your thoughts. So let’s go over some common ways to deal with pain, to see if you can recognize which one you may be using:

It’s not that painful:  this is the “making a mountain of a molehill” perspective.  You hurt, and you tell yourself that it’s not that big a deal, that it’s a small thing.  This works fine if the pain really is small, but if the pain is a mountain in your soul no amount of creative accounting is going to make a molehill out of it.

It will go away: this is the “time heals all wounds” strategy.  Just give it time, ignore it, and it will go away.  Tell that to people wracked with pain decades after the betrayal that collapsed their world.  Yes, some pain does go away with time, but if the pain is serious it is not time itself that makes it spontaneously fade away, but that the person has actually actively done something to move beyond the pain.

I shouldn’t feel it:  this is the guilt trip remedy— “I really shouldn’t feel this way.”  Well, that may be true, but is simply saying that helping any?  Know anytime that taking a guilt trip has resulted in substantive personal growth?  I thought so.  Bad plan.

There is no pain:  This is a variation of common Eastern religious thought, to say that evil is not real (“there is no spoon” for you Matrix fans), that it is just to be accepted as part of reality with no real difference between it & good.  You come to accept that evil & good, darkness & light, yin & yang are actually part of one reality. 

If you can get your mind to buy into this version of reality, it’s probably more helpful than “it will go away” or “I shouldn’t feel it. ”  However, there’s one little problem:  it’s not true.  There is evil, and it’s not a mirror image or inevitable companion of good, and this world was originally designed without it, and one day will be remade to be without it again. 

The bottom line on all these choices is that any interpretation of reality that is inconsistent with reality is a fancy convoluted way of saying that you’re living a lie, & living a lie will one day fail you.

The God-Focused Alternative

What’s the alternative to all these different meanings?  Just this one:  God loves me, and is still in control of my life. This choice, to look to God & trust Him, can be a hard one to grab on to when our heart is battered by a raging storm.  If we believe in a God who loves us, then it is genuinely hard to understand why He allows evil in this world, why he allows our dreams to be dashed & our hearts to be hurt. But the bottom line is that this is the only choice that works, because it’s the only choice that’s real, & it’s the only choice that gives us true hope that there is a path out of our pain.

Acknowledging that God is God, even when we’re hurting, opens our heart to have Him comfort us, and opens our eyes to see beyond our present hurt.  As the writer of Hebrews said, God indeed rewards, but only to those who believe in Him and seek Him.  Like Job, we must throw ourselves on God’s mercy, & rest in His arms.

A Path Beyond the Pain

Often the path of opening our heart to God in our pain is a gradual one.  Step by step we are able to realize more, accept more, & be healed.  Here are some steps we can take with God in our pain:

Pray:  Cry out to God, and ask for His comfort and wisdom.

Meditate: Focus on passages in the Bible (like Job or the Psalms) where people are suffering and relating to God.  Memorize Scripture, or repeat an affirmation like:  My Poppa, out of His great love for me, allowed this pain in my life, for my good and His glory.

Read: Several good books on the problem of pain include The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants by Philip Yancey & Paul Brand, & Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.

Write: Journal your thoughts, your prayers, your insights, & God’s comfort.

Share: Open up to a few trusted friends & allow them the privilege of ministering to you in your pain.

Release:  Eventually, you will be able to release the pain and hurt.  It can’t be put into words how to do it, but you will know when it happens, for the pain will no longer have any power to hurt or imprison you.  You will be free.

Pain is a problem for all of us.  Let’s all help each other, to comfort, to heal, & to grow as we deal with the pain we face in this life.

Walking with God Through Adversity: Seven Lessons from the Heart of Hannah


The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of a remarkable woman of God named Hannah.  As I meditated on her life I marveled at her heart towards God.  This woman’s simple faith allowed her to walk with God through her deepest valley.  God placed her story in  Scripture as an example of how a follower of God walks with Him through adversity.  Here are seven lessons we can all learn from the heart of Hannah:

Lesson One: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

“the LORD had closed her womb.” (v.5)
The very first thing we learn about Hannah is that she knew ”the Lord had closed her womb.” It’s clear that she and her husband saw her infertility as being under God’s sovereign hand. Without any help from sophisticated theology textbooks or philosophy courses, they were able to see the obvious truth that the being who created the universe must also be the being who orders its every event. Acknowledging God’s control over all our life’s circumstances is the essential first step to a life of walking with Him.

Lesson Two: Affirm God’s Righteousness

Next, we can see that Hannah saw God as righteous.  Even in her deepest distress, she never accused God of being unloving or unjust. There is nothing in her prayers to suggest she cried out, “Why did you do this to me?” Her attitude parallels Job 1:22, where the Bible says that Job never “charged God with wrong.” If the first step of walking with God is to accept that He is in control, the second step must be to affirm Psalm 145:17 that, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.”

Lesson Three: Keep Following in God’s Ways

“So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord”  (v.7)
When confronted with deep soul pain, many people make the choice to walk away from God. Not Hannah. Year after year, she remained faithful to worship Him, even if it meant traveling to Shiloh with another woman who delighted in making her miserable. She could have feigned illness, or could have outright refused to go. Instead, she continued to obey God’s commands year after year after year, fully knowing how hard the road of obedience sometimes was. 

Lesson Four: Go to God With Your Pain

“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (v.10)
Acknowledging God’s sovereignty and righteousness and remaining faithful to Him does not mean we have to stuff away our pain or pretend it doesn’t hurt. God is a loving Father and He both understands our pain and desires that we pour out our heart to Him. Hannah, David, even Jesus in the Garden freely poured out their pain to God.  He always received them, and He will always receive us.  We can freely pour out our heart to God.

Lesson Five: Ask God to Intervene

O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant…” (v. 11)
Trusting that God knows best does not mean we do not ask for our desires. God does not answer to Hannah, “Why are you asking me for a child?” For that matter, can you remember anytime God reprimanded anyone for asking Him for a good thing? No, that is not the way of a loving Father with His children. Part of walking with God is putting our requests before Him every day.

Lesson Six: Trust God With All Your Heart

I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life (v. 11)
Hannah’s vow here is not an example of mere crass bargaining with a deity. No, it is a mighty expression of her faith. Hannah declares to God that she knows that He can open her womb, and that she is more than happy to respond to His grace with her faith in dedicating this still future child to Him.

Lesson Seven:  Let Your Joy in God Transcend Your Own Desires

Lastly, Hannah’s song of joy in 1 Samuel 2 shows us that her joy in God transcended her own desire to keep her son by her side. There is no hint of regret or misgiving in dedicating her beloved son for the sake of the Kingdom.  She rejoices in God and sings:

My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.

There is none holy like the Lord;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.

May we all strive to have a heart like Hannah that exults in the Lord everyday as we walk with Him.

Embracing God’s Purposes in Our Trials

Trials.

What trials are you facing right now in your life?

It could be just a ”small” trial like an irritating coworker.  Or you could be running a  ”marathon” trial such as a chronic illness that saps your health and your joy.  Or you may be facing a “crushing” trial of a failed marriage or financial collapse where you feel there is no escape from the unrelenting pressure.

Why is this happening?  When will it end?  How can I make it through? How can good ever come from this?  Will I ever come out of this?

Do those questions sound familiar?

The Bible does not leave us without answers to our heart’s questions about trials. In fact, our answers are found in embracing God’s purposes in our trials. In James chapter 1 we read God’s perspective about trials:

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 in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

On first read, those are hardly comforting words to a soul under siege.  They’re confusing words, a schizophrenic perspective that makes no sense at all. We read those verses and the question immediately forms in our mind:

What is he talking about? Joy? Joy? Joy in the midst of this pain I am facing?

Yes, the word is “joy.” And not just any “joy” either— this is the same Greek word as in the familiar response of the wise men “when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:10)  And just for good measure, I love that James uses the Greek word for “meet” trials that means “to fall so as to be swallowed up”— it’s the same word used in the story of the Good Samaritan where the man “met” his trial with the thieves who stole him blind and left him a half-dead bloody pulp on the ground.

So you’re telling me I’m supposed to have joy about this misery in my life? I’m supposed to be happy about it?  Are you crazy?

To which James replies, “Yes, have joy, embrace the trial, because God is at work to make you perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  Have joy as you look toward the end in sight, that this awful trial will result in you lacking nothing in what God has designed you to be.”

How is that possible?  How can I embrace God’s purpose in the midst of this pain?

Here’s the bottom line: embracing God’s purposes in our trials isn’t easy.  It requires several radical shifts in perspective that can only come through the study of the Bible, prayer, and the action of the Holy Spirit.  Only then will we be able to see through God’s eyes and genuinely have joy in the midst of a painful trial.

Where do we start?  According to James, the first profound paradigm shift that we must embrace in the midst of every trial is: what really matters in this trial is the testing of my faith. 

What does it mean to “test my faith?” First, we must be clear about what kind of “test” this is. It’s not like some “qualifying test” set up to see if we can “make the cut” with God. No, this test is like putting gold through fire, a test to make it clear that our faith is genuine and precious. 1 Peter 1:6-9 states:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Second, we need to know what kind of “faith” God wants to see in us.  It’s not what we often want to have “faith” in: that my marriage will survive, that I will get the job transfer, that my cancer will be healed, that the trial will somehow “turn out all right.”  Those “good” outcomes in our hopes & prayers God may or may not grant to us, but they are not what the Bible defines as faith.  In fact, Hebrews 11 clearly tells us that people of faith sometimes experience God’s miraculous deliverance from a trial but sometimes die in great suffering in a trial.

If a “good outcome” is not what we are to have faith in, then what is the faith that is being tested in a trial?  The passage in 1 Peter 1 tells us it is our faith in the revelation of Jesus: faith that He loves us, that He is in control, and that we can love Him and glorify Him and rejoice in Him even in the midst of our trial.  Peter calls this faith “more precious than gold.”

If we are to do well in this testing of our faith in Jesus, we must ask ourselves, “What is the enemy of my faith in a trial? What am I battling against?”  The answer lies in looking at what James tells us that faith produces: steadfastness, endurance, patience.  In the midst of a trial faith tells us, “God is good! God loves you! Wait! Endure! Have patience!Continue to do what is right!”

The lie that comes against us in the trial says, “God has abandoned you! God doesn’t care! God may not even exist! Do whatever it takes to get out of this pain, this problem, this predicament!”  The Bible is full of examples of men who listened to this lie.  Peter, afraid of being arrested, folded under pressure and lied in Mark 14:66-72.  King Saul in 1 Samuel 15 decided to do what was politically expedient instead of obeying God.  Esau let his stomach rule over his head and gave up his birthright in Genesis 25.  Whatever the trial or temptation, our daily choice is always whether we will continue to endure the trial looking in faith to God, or try to fix or escape the trial on our own terms.

That is how we must frame every trial: that this trial is not a test of how wise I am, or how I can solve this problem or escape this burden or engineer what works out best for me; this trial is a test of my faith that God loves me and that I will joyfully follow Him.

And what is the end result of our endurance, of our holding fast to God day after day, maybe year after year through the trial? James encourages us to keep enduring, keep being steadfast, so that this steadfastness can have its “full effect” (more literally “perfect work”) on our souls.  What is this perfect work? That our souls will develop the complete, perfect maturity of character that God intends for us (Romans 5:4).

Here is the final paradigm shift to truly see what the trial is accomplishing in our eternal souls.  Stop focusing on the pain and perplexity that the trial brings, but rejoice to see that this trial is testing your faith to set your gaze on the God who loves you (Psalm 141:8). Rejoice to see that through it God is teaching you endurance as a lesson to a beloved child (Hebrews 12:3-11). And finally, rejoice to see that endurance is forming your character into Christlikeness as you daily embrace Christ & reject that which is wrong (Romans 8:18-30).

Study these great truths from the Scriptures and pray for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes so you can truly embrace this trial before you in faith and endurance, becoming perfect and complete in Christ.

Difficulty

This week I attended an excellent one day conference that CMDA sponsored for pastors and doctors.  The first talk was delivered by Bert Jones, who is on staff with CMDA.  He spoke on difficulty —you know, a topic that none of us has any personal experience with.  His talk is available for free mp3 download here.  I’ll think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

To whet your appetite a little bit, here is his outline:

God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.   Peter Marshall

difficulty by gopal1035 via flickrDifficulty is not something that should surprise you. (Matthew 7:13-14; 2 Timothy 3:1, John 16:31, Mark 4:16)

Difficulty is an opportunity to display leadership. (Exodus 18:22,26; Daniel 4:9; Daniel 5:12,16; Acts 27:7-8)

Difficulty is not something you have to dread (2 Corinthians 12:10; Philipians 4:14; 1 Thes. 3:4,7)

Difficulty does not have to be dealt with alone (Gen 18:14; Jer 32:17-27; Zech 8:6; Isaiah 41:10; 1 Kings 1:29; 1 Samuel 30:6)

When you go through deep waters,
      I will be with you.
   When you go through rivers of difficulty,
      you will not drown.
   When you walk through the fire of oppression,
      you will not be burned up;
      the flames will not consume you. (Isai 43:2 NLT)

Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner…So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it.  (from 1Pet 4 The Message paraphrase)

The Storm Is Coming

storm wind rain waves by Duvina on Flickr“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ( Matthew 7:24-27)

The conclusion to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is one of those passages that you’ve read dozens of times, but if you’re willing to listen, really listen, to what He is saying and meditate and turn it over in your mind, the Spirit can still illuminate you further.

Why is the foolish man foolish?

That’s the question I asked myself tonight.  That’s somewhat obvious, I know, but think about it.  Jesus expected the crowd to immediately recognize the difference: why was the foolish man foolish?  where did he go so obviously and tragically wrong?  He did not realize the storm that could destroy all that he had built was coming.  He either did not think the storm would come, or he felt he could beat the odds, or he felt that his house was strong enough.  No one would build a house knowing it would fall; this man foolishly thought his house would stand against the storm, but he was tragically wrong.

The wise man knew the storm would come, he saw how destructive it would be, he realized that it would destroy everything that he had labored so long to build.  He made sure that his labors were not in vain, that what he built would stand the storm.

And what was the spiritual application that Jesus drew? He said, “Look, now, I’ve told you how to live— how to love, how to trust, how to pray, how to give, how to live in the Kingdom. Every day of your life you are building your spiritual house.  If you follow my words and do them you will build on me, on solid rock.  If you live as the world lives, in your own way, the storm of living in a fallen world will one day destroy everything.  The storm is coming!  Will you live your life and build your house like you know the storm is coming?”

That’s what Jesus is still speaking, to you and to me.  “You know my commandments, you know my ways.  Don’t you see why I spoke them to you?  I do not want to see your house destroyed.  Heed my words, heed my warning.  Build your life, today, on my words and my words alone.”

Am I? Do I really live like the storm will come?  Or do I think I can beat the odds living a lukewarm Christian life?  Or do I think half-hearted attempts at following Christ will really withstand the wind and the waves?  Hard questions.  What will my life answer, today?

The Choice in Suffering

Suffering. No one needs to explain what it is.  No one is a stranger to it. It’s never a question of if we will suffer, but how and when.  And in every moment of suffering, where the pressure and pain weigh so heavy against us, we face a choice: What will we do with the pressure, with the pain, with the burden?

We can choose to be conformed to the world, to respond to suffering with the answers that the world provides us.  Just as Job’s wife told him to curse God, the world tells us that suffering proves that God is not strong or good or even alive.  The world tells us to lash out in anger or stew in bitterness or give up in despair.  If we, through friends or books or culture let the pressure of suffering press us into the world’s mold, then we will become the very thing that Paul warns us about in Romans 12:2, a soul that acts no differently than one not saved.

We can choose to try and escape the suffering, escape the pressure and burden.  We sometimes do it literally, by leaving the spouse who has hurt us so much or moving away from the parents who constantly harass. Sometimes we do it with substances or activities, a little football, a little beer, a little sex.  Sometimes we just “check out” only in our minds and pretend the suffering really isn’t there.

For the Christian, there is another choice.  We can enter into the sufferings with Christ. Instead of the burden pressing us into the world, instead of vainly trying to escape, we let the burden press us into the heart and mind of Christ.  Just as gold being stamped under pressure into a mold, suffering can mold us, change us, create something beautiful within us, if we are in Christ.  It’s not easy, and it’s not pain-free. But it is the only way.  Please choose wisely.

Ten Steps for Walking Through the Tough Times with God

So, have you ever been through a tough time?

I thought so.

As the saying goes, you have either been through a tough time, going through a tough time, or preparing to go through a tough time. So wherever you are now, here are ten steps to help you walk through any tough time with God.

One caution before we start: these steps are only for those who have been adopted by God as His children through acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Lord of the universe and the Lord of their lives. God does not care if you are a “good person” or “believe in the right thing” or “been baptized” or “pray & go to church” or “wouldn’t have made it this far without Him” or even “deacon for forty years”—none of those things matter one bit to God unless He has already adopted you into His family.

1. Yes, You Can Ask God “Why?”

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3 NKJV)

Joseph said to his brothers, “…You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good”. (Genesis 50:19-20 NKJV)

This passage from John clearly states that it is ok to ask God why you are going through a trial. God wants us to tell Him all that is within our heart. Sometimes, like the disciples questioning Jesus, we will get an immediate answer. Sometimes, like Joseph, we will get an answer, but only years later when we look back with hindsight. Sometimes, like Job, our only answer is that God is God, and we are not. Regardless, we can ask any question of our loving heavenly Father.

Ultimately, we must keep our heart focused on what the Westminster catechism teaches: What is the chief purpose of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. And so, we must realize that everything in our lives, including our trials, is “for God’s glory and our good.”

2. Go Ahead and Grieve

Now as Jesus drew near, He saw the city Jerusalem and wept over it, (knowing it would be sacked by Rome in 35 years for its unbelief) (Luke 19:41).

So often we feel it is more spiritual to put on our “happy face,” to say that since God is good that the bad things that happen don’t matter. Well, baloney, life still sucks sometimes! I have people almost every day breaking down in my exam rooms and crying and almost always apologizing for crying. They have the mistaken notion that weeping over a dead parent or a failed marriage or a wayward child is some lack of moral strength. I remind them that Jesus was a “man of sorrows, and well acquainted with grief.” Grief is not sinful. Go ahead and grieve.

3. Acknowledge God as Sovereign Lord

Jesus prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42).

God is the ruler of this universe and we must submit to His rule over our lives. It’s not wrong to pray that God restore a marriage or heal a loved one or mend a broken heart, but we must pray for something deeper as well: that God be God, and that He be glorified and that His will be done whatever the outcome. Acknowledging that God’s glory is more important than our comfort is the only path to peace in our lives.

4. Trust God’s Love for His Children

For You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth. (Psalm 71:5)

Once we cry out to God, grieve, and acknowledge His rule over all, only then can we be in a position to trust His love. Trust is sometimes so hard when the storm winds are furiosly blowing around you, but, then, that’s why they call it TRUST.

Sometime my little heart can’t understand
What’s in Your will, what’s in Your plan
So many times I’m tempted to ask You “Why?”
But I can never forget it for long
Lord what You do could not be wrong
So I believe You even when I must cry
Do I trust You, Lord, does the river flow?
Do I trust You, Lord, does the north wind blow?
You can read my heart, You can know my mind
And You’ve got to know I would rather die
Then to lose my faith in the One I love.
Do I trust You?

I will trust You, Lord, when I don’t know why
I will trust You, Lord, till the day I die
I will trust You, Lord, when I’m blind with pain
You were God before, and You’ll never change
I will trust You, Lord.
—Twila Paris

5. Ask God for Wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5).

God earnestly desires to help us in our trial; He promises to give us the wisdom we need. Often we need to take some type of action in the midst of a trial, but we don’t know what to do. God is not some mean-spirited deity who is watching to see if we take the wrong step; He is our loving Father who wants to guide us. Ask Him for wisdom.

6. Be Patient with God’s Timetable

knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:3).

God specifically chooses not to solve all our problems immediately. He wants us to learn trust & patience through that magical thing called WAITING. If we try to get ahead of God’s timetable, we will pay the penalty.

Moses wanted justice for His people, but he did not wait for God. He ended up taking matters into his own hands & killed an Egyptian, and had to wait on the sidelines for forty years. Jesus had to wait until he was thirty years old before he started His ministry. The Bible is filled with people who tried to hurry up God’s timetable with disastrous results, and of people who waited patiently for God to move and were blessed.

7. Praise God

And Job said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (job 1:21).

Here is Job, a man who had lost everything, and what does He do? He praises God, after everything is lost, after He is confused, in pain, and totally abandoned. To bless the name of the LORD, to praise Him, even when we don’t feel like it, is both a commandment and a comfort.

8. Give thanks even for the trial

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1thessalonians 5:18)

How can we give thanks? By knowing & trusting our loving Father, by ackowledging His rule, by living in all of the previous seven steps.

9. Rejoice in All Things

In this(knowing you have an inheritance in heaven) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:6).

We can rejoice in adversity, looking to our certain future with God. There are many stories in the early church of Christians laughing, singing, rejoicing while being burned alive and tortured, knowing that although their body could be killed, that nothing could separate them from the love of God. Hidden in Christ, we too can rejoice in all things.

10. Remember God’s wonderful works in your life

Praise the LORD!
I will praise the LORD with my whole heart,
In the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.
The works of the LORD are great,
Studied by all who have pleasure in them.
His work is honorable and glorious,
And His righteousness endures forever.
He has made His wonderful works to be remembered;
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion.
He has given food to those who fear Him;
He will ever be mindful of His covenant. (psalms 111:1-5).

Look for God to work, and when He does, remember it. Write it down, talk about it, share it, pray it back to God, make it part of your life. As we remember how God has been mighty to save us in the past, it strengthens and enables us to do all the other steps, to trust, to pray, to rejoice, to acknowledge, to live a life well-pleasing to God as we walk with Him though the trials of this life.

Victory or Defeat?

That’s the question posed by a commentator at Entertainment Weekly concerning the frenzied finale to season 5 of the TV show 24 last week.  And a mixed bag it certainly was, with Jack and his buds finally bringing down the corrupt president, but not before a lot of innocent (and not so innocent) lives had been lost, and not before a lot of scars had been etched on the souls of all the major characters involved.  Of course, Jack himself for all his work and sacrifice has to look forward to a lifetime of Chinese water torture. No wonder the commentator summed up his impressions thusly:

(The finale) validated the central theme of the season, which was, at bottom, the contradiction at the heart of this series: Can one man make a difference? Unlike any other series on TV, 24 suggests that the answer is probably no. It’s been great to see Kiefer Sutherland run, shoot, and outwit so many foes, but the layers of evil, corruption, and rot, fanned out last night to include the entire globe, seem for now at least to have defeated him. It takes guts to go out in a blaze of…defeat.

Whoa…enough with the nihlism already.  He’s almost right: the layers of evil, corruption, and rot do permeate this planet, and it does take guts to buck it, and reality demonstrates that life is messy, that often a man does go out in a blaze of defeat, that life sometimes is more like the final scene of Saving Private Ryan than the final scene of Return of the Jedi.

So what’s wrong with this final conclusion, that one man can’t make a difference?  Because this isn’t a universe on autopilot.  This isn’t a universe whose fate is still undecided, or whose fate is being manipulated by some impersonal force. This universe was created by and for an omnipotent, omniscent being who is still running the show and calling all the shots.  He came down into the story and became the main character, the one Man who truly did make a difference, and by his life and death and resurrection proved that He truly was the author of the story, and had already written a really great ending for the final season.  

And what’s the bottom line for us? That if we have truly received the new birth through faith in Christ, we can be just as confident in defeat now as in victory, for there will one day come a “season” where all the Hendersons, Bierkos, and Logans will meet perfect and final and inescapable justice, and we will no longer count the minutes or hours or centuries, but see that some hard “24 hours” in our lives now will mean nothing in the scope of eternity.
 

Whose Story Is It?

This week a patient was in my office, struggling with her ongoing rejection by her family. “I’ve tried and tried to get past it, to understand why they treat me like this, but I can’t.” We talked briefly about how universal her feelings were, about how everyone has things they have trouble “getting past,” and how answers often don’t come. We talked about Job and his questions, and even after he encountered God directly he still didn’t have the answers he had originally asked.

After she left, I thought: Whose story is it? Who is the main character of the “story” we are “reading” as we live our lives? I think we all have a tendency to see our lives as a story, THE story, with us as the main character. We interpret the events of our lives as if the world indeed revolves around us.

The problem is that often the “script” doesn’t make much sense if we really are the main character. “Wait a second, that isn’t supposed to happen to the main character!” “That’s not how it is on TV!” We all have things in our lives, in our “story”, whether petty nuisances or heart-rending tragedy or just boring tedium, that we would not have written in, that makes no sense at all to happen to the main character. After all, nothing boring ever happens to Jack Bauer on 24. And lots of bad things happen, but they’re all exciting, dramatic bad things that he is able to heroically overcome in the space of 24 hours. If I’m the main character of the story, why isn’t my life like that?

The answer is one we would all acknowledge, but we need to be reminded of: It’s not my story. I’m not the main character. This universe is the story of God, of His joy, His battles, His creation, His sacrifice, and His victory. God didn’t tell Job the answer to why his story was written the way it was. God in effect told Job that he was reading the wrong story in the first place; that the story he was supposed to be reading and focusing on and cherishing was the “greatest story ever told,” the story of God.

When Christianity becomes something other than entering into and living out the story of God, it becomes something other than Christianity.

—Steven James in Story: Recapture The Mystery