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Finding PEACE in the trials of life

Papa Bear is a trainee pastor. This means that every now and then he gets to preach. I love it when that happens. He has a keen insight and a philosophical outlook that really speak to me, and I enjoy hearing what he has to say. Last week Sunday our pastor was away on a conference, and Papa Bear got to preach. Here’s what he spoke about:

Finding PEACE amidst the trials of life

As Christians, we seem to have this world view that life should be easy for us. Somewhere along the way we picked up the idea that the meaning of the term “God’s Blessing” was the way would smooth, plain sailing. We imagine that people will like us and see the good in us as we strive to be more like Jesus. We imagine that, by sheer dint of hard work, (and a bit of judicious planning) our financial woes will be a thing of the past. We expect to be safe from all external harm – crime, accidents, political chaos and so forth. And we expect that we will have good health until we drop dead from the simple accumulation of minutes on the face of the planet.

Why do we believe these things? There’s certainly no Biblical support for this world view whatsoever, and there’s also no anecdotal evidence available from a cursory glance around the planet. Everywhere we look – whether we’re looking around us at the people who share our space on this planet, or behind us, at the people who’ve gone before us in time, the evidence suggests strongly that a life of peace and comfort is not likely to be a reality for ANYONE – and much less likely for a Christian than for anyone else.

Jesus explained this very truth to use when He said, “18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did , they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law , They hated me without a cause.” John 15:18-25

Charles Spurgeon explained the attitude we should adopt like this: “If we cannot believe God when circumstances seem to be against us, we do not believe Him at all.”

Let’s take a look at five facts about trials that will help us to gain peace as we face them each day.

  1. The predictability of trials – they’re a fact of life

    Another famous line from Charles Spurgeon explains it like this: “The safest part of a Christian’s life is the time of his trial…Smooth water on the way to Heaven is always a sign that the soul should keep wide awake, for danger is near!”
    Romans 12:12 – Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;
    The implication is that tribulation is a part of life. Note what it says in the book of James:
    James 1:2 – My brethren, count it all joy WHEN ye fall into divers temptations;
    When – not IF … we ALL face trials and temptations.
    Acts 14:22 – Confirming the souls of the disciples, [and] exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
    Psalms 34:19 – Many [are] the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.

  2. The endurance (permanence) of trials

    Trials will always be a part of everyone’s life – whether you can see it or not. Your trials are as bad for you as Joe Soap’s mine are for him.
    1 Corinthians 10:13 – There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [it].
    We keep getting tried until we acquire the lesson.
    James 1:3-4 – Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
    Note: “let patience have her perfect work …” – in other words, let the trial finish making you patient, so that your heart can be perfected in the lesson you’re learning. Resistance is futile (and painful J)

  3. The assumption of trials

    We assume they’re to be endured, but in fact we should see them as opportunities for growth.
    Romans 5:3-5 – And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
    We assume we should be exempt from them but in fact trials have been promised to us.
    1 Peter 4:12-15 – 12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.
    We assume we’re alone in trials, but in fact this is when God is most near us.
    “As sure as God puts His children in the furnace he will be in the furnace with them” Charles Spurgeon
    Psalms 23:4 – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
    Hebrews 13:5 – Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
    We assume we can’t handle it
    Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

  4. The comfort of trials

    God is with us, and He strengthens us:
    John 16:33 – These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
    Even the worst of times works with God’s plan for our ultimate good:
    Romans 8:28 – And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose.

  5. The end (purpose) of trials – our maturity

    To establish us:
    1 Peter 5:10 – But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle [you].
    To work together for our own good
    Romans 8:28 – And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose.
    To perfect us (make us mature, complete)
    James 1:2-4 – My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
    We are promised rewards for faithful endurance
    James 1:12 – Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
    Romans 8:18 – For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
    Revelation 3:21 – To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

What should our response to trials be?

Positivity (JOY), patience and prayer.

Romans 12:12 – Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

James 1:2-4 – My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

1 Peter 4:12-15 – 12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

John 14:16 – And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

James 4:7 – Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

And finally, another quote from Spurgeon to round it all off:

“Hope itself is like a star- not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity. ”

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Israelitis: surviving trials with grace

English: King Solomon in Old Age (1Kings 4:29-...

English: King Solomon in Old Age (1Kings 4:29-34) Русский: Царь Соломон в преклонных летах (3Цар. 4:29-34) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Growing up, I used to marvel at the fickle nature of the Israelites in the Old Testament. They witnessed the power of God. In a very real way, the Almighty dwelt among them,  guided and directed them, loved them and led them. He showed them the way. They went astray. For hundreds of years He gave them warnings and grace, and finally, he had the grace to lead them into captivity: the ultimate payment for their waywardness.

 

King Solomon puzzled me most of all. After all, he met the Holy One personally – not once but THREE times! He spoke to God. More than that: God spoke to him! God asked Solomon what he wanted – and then gave him that! And so much more. It’s astonishing. But it’s not nearly as breathtakingly astonishing as the fact that Solomon went astray. He was one of the worst, worshipping idols, and leading all of Israel into the same trap.

 

Solomon’s folly was so great, it ripped the kingdom in two. The devastating effects of his mistake have been felt through the centuries, and still have an effect today.

 

What I could never wrap my head around was the fact that these people, who had not only a national legacy of walking with God, but who had also had personal encounters – often one-on-one – with the Living God, could ever turn their backs on Him. I couldn’t even begin to conceive of it. How could it happen.

 

Well, now I know.

 

All it takes is one bad harvest.

 

Think about it. You work hard all year. You observe the Sabbaths and the New Moons. You’re faithful in tithes and offerings, and you never miss either a feast or a fast. You’re kind to your neighbours (even when they don’t deserve it), and you raise your children right. You follow the law. You’re good. And you’re blessed. You have enough to eat and drink, a lovely home, healthy kids. What more could you hope for?

 

But then, for some reason, the crops fail one year.  You can’t figure it out. Didn’t the prophet Malachi promise that if you were faithful in your tithes, you’d be blessed? Was he wrong? Was he lying? What’s the story? And even though you know it probably won’t do any good, you take a peak over the mountains to see how the Syrians are doing. To your surprise, they’re doing well. It doesn’t take long for that surprise to boil into anger. You’re disappointed; you’re frustrated; you’re confused.

 

You’re betrayed.

 

Why has this happened? Who did what wrong? Who has led me astray? Have I been worshipping the wrong god all this time?

 

Those deceitful words are the beginning of a steep and slippery slope into despair and apostacy, my friends. The first seeds of doubt quickly take root in the fertile ground of your indignant rage. You wonder where the fault lies. You don’t want to doubt God, of course, but you know you’ve done nothing wrong. The only alternative left to you is the belief that perhaps those self-righteous, power-hungry priests have led you astray for their own selfish ends. Perhaps the Philistines have been right all this time. Or the Babylonians. Or those accursed Syrians. Perhaps the fault was never yours, nor God’s. Because He wasn’t there. And all your well-meant devotion has achieved is to make it impossible to feed your family. For a whole year. A year of effort wasted. A year of poverty and desperation ahead.

 

You determine to do better. And so you worship the gods of the harvest, the gods of the seasons, the gods of family and health – anyone, anywhere, who promises any hope of a better year next year. You’re desperate, alone and betrayed. What choice do you really have?

 

And all it took was one harvest.

 

I know what that’s like. Unlike the faithful Israelite in this story, all it takes for me is a week or two. A late payment from a client; a few panic-stricken days wondering what in the world I’ll conjure for supper – these are all it takes for my weak, faltering faith to be shaken to its core. I’d love to be strong and faithful like Job, but almost invariably I turn out to resemble more closely Job’s wife, with her shameful, infamous, “Curse God and die!”

 

Despicable.

 

Human.

 

So, in light of this human condition, I was very encouraged today to receive a study, via email, of the tests we face as God’s ambassadors here on earth, and why it matters so much that we pass them.

 

Thoughts on the tests we face in life:

 

  1. Tests will always happen

    Regardless of your faith, you will face trials. A life spent questioning this fact is a wasted life. Far more noble to pursue a life of meaning: uncover how you can grow and help others as a result of your personal tests.

  2. Tests keep happening until you learn the lesson

    So get on and learn it. Unlke school, where failure to grasp a test the first time around was complete failure with no hope of redemption, the tests we face in life give us second chances. And third. And more, until we’ve grasped what we should be learning from these trials.

  3. At the end of a test – there’s another test!

    You may have a break between tests, but it’s little more than a temporary reprieve. Don’t get to comfortable, and don’t expect the calm periods to be your due. They’re not, and that expectation will set you up for disappointment and bitterness, time and time again.

  4. Test can deliver delightful results

    Tests give us the opportunity to clarify what we’ve mastered, get rid of “junk” we don’t need in our lives, change our perspective, change us for the better, and equip us to help others. Tests also grants us the unparalleled opportunity to become humble, as we realise we all truly are equal.

  5. There are five kinds of tests we face:

    1. The Wilderness Test – this is a test of time, in which nothing seems to change for long periods. It’s easy to get discouraged, like Abraham did, and eventually take things into our own hands. The results are pretty much always disastrous.
    2. The Failure Test – this is a test in which everything we do seems to fail. The trap here is frustration and hopelessness. We need to keep the faith that God keeps His promises, and hang in there.
    3. The Betrayal Test – this is the test where someone you trust betrays you. It can be the result of misunderstanding, or the malicioousness of others. During this test, bitterness and hardness of heart can destroy us. Guard your heart with all dilligence and don’t let the bitterness take root.
    4. The Authority Test – we do not understand the power of being under authority. The key to passing this test is submission, and we need to behave with grace and dignity as we accept the authority God has placed in our lives. Remember: there is always something to be learned.
    5. The Obedience Test – here we battle between God’s will and our own. It’s not wrong to put your request to God – even Jesus did so in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He asked God to take His “cup of suffering” from Him. But when Jesus passed this test, the entire world was given the opportunity to be saved. We too have the opportunity to be part of something phenomenal if we can just pass the test of being obedient to God.

 

Sometimes, it seems like all five tests strike at once, or a few of them sneak up in combination. Even so, passing the tests will result in a new level of growth, closeness to God, and depth of peace you’ve never experienced before.

 

Have you faced any of these tests? Or are there some I may have missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

Love,

 

Vanessa

 

Running over

“Great peace have they that love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them.”

On Friday night our Church held it’s monthly Family Fun Night: snacks, board games and a short devotion. As always, it was a lot of fun, and I think everyone got something out of it. We made friends, shared food, and generally enjoyed ourselves enormously.

Psalm 119:165 (above) was the text of the devotion, and boy did that hit home. Lately, I’ve been more and more aware of just how negative I can be. I think of myself as a generally optimistic, upbeat person. Certainly, I have an eternal hope that lends and air of peace to every trial. But even so, I find myself afraid, stressed, short-tempered, angry and even festeringly bitter. It’s true that a few hours of sleep usually sorts me out, but it doesn’t change the fact that my reactions can be very selfish and sinful when the heat is turned up.

Our visiting pastor explained that if we’re immersed in God’s word each day, we too can have great peace, and nothing will offend us. In other words, the little things won’t matter so much. We won’t get annoyed by the shortcomings of others or ourselves. We won’t blame people for simply being what they are: fallen human beings. Just like us.

What's running over? Coffee or honey?

What’s running over? Coffee or honey?

He used an illustration that really spoke to me. I’ll paraphrase it a little: if you fill a cup with hot, bitter black coffee, and you trip over a bump carrying that coffee, disaster ensues. The coffee falls out of the cup very easily. You’re likely to burn yourself and others. There are bound to be stains all over the place – some of which you may not find for years. Some of which you may never find at all. Even though coffee is delicious and sometimes just what you need to get you through the day, we all know it’s not exactly a health drink. It’s not good for you. And the hot, bitter liquid can do serious damage when  it gets spread around.

On the other hand, what if you filled a cup with honey, instead? Honey’s pretty stable. It’s hard to spill (especially if it’s the super-good-for-you raw kind). But even if life gets frantic and you hit a bump and spill the honey, what’s going to come out of your cup? Sweet, delicious honey! It’s good for your skin. It’s good for furniture surfaces. If you leave it and don’t clean it up, you may have ants for a short while, but they just clean up the mess and get on their way. Very few people mind having a little life-giving honey spilt on them. No one likes having scaliding hot, bitter coffee all over them.

When your life gets bumpy and your cup runs over (with blessings or challenges), does what’s inside you easily spill over the edge? And what comes spilling out of your cup? Dark, bitter, scalding vitriol? Or gentle, healing sweetness?

I pray God’s gace changes what’s dark and bitter inside me to cups of honey.

Gospel Parables from Red Riding Hood.

Truthbrush

Truthbrush

I’ve mentioned before that my girls are great at parables, and I know I promised to share some of them here. The most recent one came from our youngest, who explained life to me in this way:

All the humans on earth are teeth, and we’re all covered with plaque. The person whose mouth we’re in is God, and he hates having dirty teeth. (Who doesn’t?) So He brushes His teeth with the Truthbrush, which is Jesus. The Truthbrush cleans us and removes all of our plaque, making us clean and shiny.

Unfortunately, not all the teeth want to be clean. Some of them stay plaque-y, get cavities and fall out. When they fall out, that’s when they die and go to (what she calls) “the Other Place”.

Isn’t it great? A little shaky around the teeth-making-their-own-decisions bit, but she is, after all, only six. I loved it.

It does rather give one pause for thought as far as Wisdom Teeth are concerned … are they the pastors?

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