When we look back, what do we see,
The trial or the triumph, he
Who wounds or he who heals, the sea
And storm or the safe passage through?
We need to see them both as true
Components of our lives with you.
I’ve caught myself wishing that a season of testing would end so I could go back to normal.
Normal. What exactly is normal?
In this case, it’s a time before I felt pushed, before I encountered the current set of trials, before my faith was put to the test. Normal feels safe and comfortable, or at least it does relative to now.
But I can’t go back there. None of us can. Once we encounter a test of faith, we don’t remain the same. Trials change us. Discipline grows us. And we don’t endure just to go back to how we were; God means us to keep going forward into further maturity (James 1:2-4). The Lord uses tests of faith to form our hearts and minds, sanctifying us that we might know him and love him and trust him more than we now do. And yes, the testing is difficult; that’s to be expected. In times of testing, the Lord often reveals what in us is not of him and removes it, and the removal is often painful. But the removal is necessary if we would follow him.
True, we may fight back against the refinement. We can try to prolong our time in immaturity or obey only halfheartedly. Such hesitancy may make us feel like we’re staying safe, like we’re avoiding the fearful and costly change. But doesn’t such a response change us too? The more I run, the more restless I feel. Once the Lord reveals his direction for me and calls me to move, my refusal doesn’t keep me safe, it simply makes me disobedient. And as he presses upon me to obey, I come to see that whatever I’m holding onto doesn’t ultimately satisfy me, that satisfaction is truly only found in him. His call may terrify me, but his ways are life and peace and truth. All else fades.
So maybe the goal shouldn’t be to go back to normal. Rather, maybe the goal should be to simply be faithful, no matter what comes. This seemed to be the approach of Job, who’s commended by God. Paul also seems to approach life with such a view, choosing faith and contentment in spite of difficulties. Both men found the Lord to be faithful and good, full of love and compassion. If the Lord keeps us put in one place, let us be faithful in the staying. If he calls us to move, let us be faithful in the going. In seasons of peace and seasons of pain, in times of tranquility and times of testing, let faithfulness be our constant response. And may the Lord use whatever we face to grow us in maturity, that he may be honored and that others may be better served.
I’m not certain, but I think the title and some of the ideas I explore in this post may stem from something C. S. Lewis wrote. I don’t mean to steal anything from him, so I want to state clearly that, while I can’t trace the thoughts directly right now, I seem to recall him dealing with this topic or with something similar to it.
Some things are lost never to be recovered.
Some absences are gifts shrouded in grief.
Apart from pain, some truths stay undiscovered.
Some losses point the way to true relief.
But future glory does not make less real
The sufferings we meet from day to day.
Christ does not minimize the pain we feel;
Christ knows it best and shows there is a way
For loss to pave the road to greater gain,
For suffering to serve a holy end.
We mourn in hope, for nothing is in vain
In service to the ever-faithful friend.
Count it all joy no matter what you face.
Feel deep the loss, then rest in perfect grace.
I cannot understand.
that is part of
Embrace the unknown.
How has it come to this?
When I started, things seemed
nothing seems sure.
I cannot escape.
I cannot escape.
I cannot escape.
I cannot escape.
I cannot escape.
This is beyond my control.
I have two choices:
cling more tightly
or release my grip.
Both threaten to break me.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, . . .”James 1:2
On multiple occasions over the last year or so, I’ve caught myself wondering what God was doing in my life. In part, I’ve wondered this because his recent methods don’t fit my expectations. It’s as if his focus has shifted from particular actions to internal motivations and desires.
In the past, spiritual growth seemed closely tied to my external behavior. Don’t do this, avoid that, make a habit of practicing these things. Such a focus makes tracking progress somewhat simple, because you can clearly see your successes and failures. Trials, in such seasons, seem to affect those external behaviors. As I seek to build a spiritual discipline, I’m tempted by busyness or distraction or circumstance, and I have to respond either by surrendering to the Lord or to my desires. While the pursuit of holiness in outward actions isn’t easy, you can get used to it a bit. Distractions may become more complicated and temptations may increase in strength or in frequency of appearance, but you still appear to have a clear choice between two paths. You grow accustomed to the type of trials you face.
Now, however, the Lord’s focus seems to be on the internal side of life. As healthy habits have formed and external behaviors aren’t as difficult to manage as they once were, it’s as if God has moved below the surface, showing me that my motivations, desires, trusts, and hopes aren’t as grounded in the Lord as I may have once assumed. I may do the right action, but I may do it for the wrong reasons, acting out of selfishness, fear of others, pride, or any number of motivations rather than acting in faith and obedience to God. My desire may be for my own glory rather than for God’s. Trials, then, are not so clear cut. When the focus shifts to my desires and motivations, the situation is a lot more confusing and complicated.
At first, a shift in trials discourages you. You move from a place of confidence to a place of uncertainty. What once felt like known territory suddenly becomes foreign and unfamiliar. But the change is good, as is the work God is doing. When you meet a new variety of trial, an unexpected and unknown test, you’re reminded that you can’t weather such tests in your own strength or wisdom. Rather, you need the Lord, as you always have. Growth and progress only come as a result of submission to him.
In this way, no matter how trials may change throughout your life, they remain constant in their function: to drive you to the Lord. Trials reveal our weaknesses, uncover our insufficiencies, and highlight our need for further sanctification, further surrender, and further help from above. And thankfully, the Lord is faithful in every trial. Indeed, though the variety of trials seems far more vast than we ever anticipated, the grace of God remains sufficient for them all.
How do you respond
(w)hen t(h)e w(i)nd (s)hakes your tem(p)orary dwelling?
when the thund(e)r b(r)eaks your sense of calm?
(w)hen t(h)e l(i)ghtning (s)trikes your storehouses?
when all around you is (p)urifying floodwat(e)r and fi(r)e
What do you do
when the Father answers your prayers with a storm
and a whisper?
Do you run away?
Where else would you go?
There is a response
when the w(i)nd sh(a)kes your te(m)porary dwelling.
when the thunder (b)reaks your sens(e) of calm.
when the lightning (s)trikes your storehouses.
when all around you is purifying floodwa(t)er and f(i)re,
This poem would not be what it is today without the contributions of Andrew Wilson. He helped with both the structure and the content, improving the rough draft immeasurably and guiding the poem to its final form. I’m incredibly grateful for his feedback.
Is the LORD enough for me?
I don’t mean to suggest that God might fail to provide for his people, that he may somehow lack the power of sufficiency to be for us all we need. He possesses all power and glory, lacking nothing. Objectively, he is enough for us. I’m asking instead whether I recognize his sufficiency and rest in that truth. And the answer, sadly, is that I often don’t.
I’m reading Deuteronomy, and I found myself challenged by a thought I had when reading through chapter ten. After some description of Israel’s journey, Moses writes,
At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The LORD is his inheritance, as the LORD your God said to him.Deuteronomy 10:8-9
The tribe of Levi was given a special role, a particular ministry. God provided for them too, but he did so in a different way than he provided for the other tribes. He was Levi’s inheritance.
I realized as I read that I would have likely felt a bit discontent with my lot if I was a Levite. Instead of considering what might be meant by “The LORD is his inheritance,” my mind fixated on “Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers.” I focused more on what would be withheld than on what would be given, more on the difference in provision than in the provision itself. I read the words “The LORD is his inheritance” and thought, “Would that be enough for me?”
One great benefit of this year has been the shaking of every shakeable foundation. For so many of us, our sources of comfort have been exposed and lost, some for a time and some forever. What once kept us content and happy can do so no longer. And as we panic at the loss of security, we face afresh the question I returned to in my devotional time: Is the LORD enough for me?
I confess that I don’t trust him like I should. I don’t rest in him like I could. I look more to what he’s withheld or taken than to what he’s given. I cling to fleeting things in the face of the eternal. But he gives more grace, allowing further setbacks, further confusions, further losses. And with each new challenge, I’m given the opportunity to love him, trust him, wait for him, hope in him, rest in him, and live for him. He tests my faith that I might grow, shattering all insufficient idols out of love. I’m tired and I’m torn, but I’m thankful, and I pray that I’ll pass the test, that faithfulness will be my response no matter the trial. He is enough. Let me learn to trust him.
Some days, jogging is almost easy.
You wake up feeling refreshed, motivated to get outside in the cool morning air and run. As you work up a sweat, you feel the chill of the breeze on your brow, cooling you as you make progress down the road. The stillness of the morning, dimly lit but ever brightening, holds a kind of peace. Exercise is a joy, a blessing, on days like this.
Some days, however, jogging is more difficult.
You know you need to exercise, but you already feel tired, sluggish at the thought of the heat and humidity. You lower your goals as you run because you know you don’t have the energy to do all you’d intended to do. You struggle to catch your breath, struggle to keep the pace, struggle to find the motivation to keep running. Exercise doesn’t feel like a joy on days like this.
As much as I’d like every run to resemble the first one, the reality is that the second type of run seems to occur more frequently. But both types of runs must be completed for the exercise to produce results. If I only ran when running was easy, I’d rarely run, and I’d see very little benefit from it.
I think the same is true of faithfulness in the Christian life. Sometimes faithfulness seems almost easy. Everyone around you agrees, all obstacles seem manageable (if any obstacles appear at all), and your walk with the Lord fills you with motivation and excitement for the work before you. Other times, however, faithfulness feels much more difficult. Disagreement and division seem to persist around you, obstacles seem unassailable, and your spiritual life feels dry and cold.
As with jogging, so with faithfulness. Faithfulness isn’t only for good days or for easy roads. Faithfulness is for the hard days as well, for the difficult seasons of life, for the “trials of various kinds” James talks about (James 1:2-4). Though we can, and should, count the testing of our faith as joy, the path of faithfulness will not always be pleasant or painless. But the Lord produces fruit in the steadfastness and faithfulness of his people.
So go for that run, even if it’s more difficult today, even if you don’t feel motivated, even if you don’t beat your personal record. And pursue faithfulness, even if it’s more difficult, even if you don’t feel motivated, even if you don’t accomplish all you hoped you would. Let us be found faithful, and let us trust the Lord to produce fruit through our faithfulness.
Photo by Gemilang Sinuyudhan on Unsplash
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.
I love the book of James. I’ve spent more time in this little book than I’ve spent in many other places in Scripture, and I’ve found that further study and meditation often leads to fresh discoveries within the text. Even after years of reading these same words, I keep finding new things. The discoveries aren’t always comforting, though.