Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment— he can absorb them all.
As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God.
They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out.
In this respect, the Bible prefigures a tenet of modern psychology: you can’t really deny your feelings or make them disappear, so you might as well express them. God can deal with every human response save one. He cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively: an attempt to ignore him or treat him as though he does not exist.
That response never once occurred to Job.”
“A friend of mine is a singer. From time to time she goes to record vocal tracks at a studio here in town. One evening she went and she was in a different room than she had ever been in before. In a studio, there is always some form of sound absorbing material, so that the recording is clean and clear, but in this case the sound materials were unique. The guys in the studio called them “trees” because instead of being attached to the walls, the whole room was full of these sound absorbing columns. My friend would stand on her mark, and they would move the columns around her, surrounding her with the trees. Well at one point, the lights went out and if she hadn’t already been on her mark, she would not have known where she was, and would have been bumping into the “trees,” and unable to find her mark. Because her feet were planted before it got dark, she felt secure and confident, she just had to wait until the lights came back on. Do you see where I’m going with this? There will be struggles in this life. You will have suffering, and loss, and confusion. But the question is not “where are the trees,” but “where are your feet?” If you understand that Christ has made a way for you to be in the presence of God both now (through the Holy Spirit), and in the end (in the New Heavens and New Earth); if you cultivate a relationship with his Holy Spirit–becoming ever-more aware of his daily, constant presence with you; if you worship in light of these truths–knowing that God is here in Christ’s name, and if all of this seeps down into your heart, then when the lights go out you’ll be on your mark, you’ll be secure and confident, and you just have to wait until the lights come back on–in this life, or in glory.”
by Curtis Froisland
[to read my version of this story, CLICK HERE]
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Father, thank you for turning the lights out. again. Thank you for stripping away all the tangible, visible things that had become a stumbling block in my pursuit of an intimate relationship with You. Only You know the extent to which the extraction of those things rocked my faith and shattered my confidence. Even though these last 5 months have been the darkest of my life and I may never fully understand them, I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned. Thank you for striking me full in the face with the reminder that if I sincerely want the intimacy with You that I say I do, I have to be willing to be vulnerable. Transparent. I need to wholly surrender to Your sovereign plan. Thank you for helping me to find peace in the process and result of letting go of my own dreams and plans. Please help me find sustaining and true joy in trusting You and following You NO MATTER WHAT. Please, please help me find that fine line between dying to self and being a good steward of the gifts You bless me with. Please help me to relentlessly pursue my passions without allowing them to become idols. Please help me to overcome my fear and determination to NEVER put my love for them above my love for You ever again and to boldly “go and make disciples” in every single area of my life. Help me to step forward even though I know one of those steps could result in disobedience and discipline. again. Please help me to remember that pruning is necessary in order that I “bear much fruit. Thank you for helping me to understand Your silence doesn’t mean You’ve left me alone in in the dark.”
“You move in the unseen. You set the captives free. As I stand and sing, you’re breaking the chains off me. Breathe in me Your life, I can feel You are close now. I can never hide You are here and You know me. All I need is You
And I love You…Breathe in me Your life ’til Your love overtakes me. Open up my eyes, let me see You more clearly.”
by Bones (Live) by Hillsong
specifically, providence and coincidence.
coincidence: the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection
I can’t ever remember believing in coincidences. My husband on the other hand, is a big believer in them. He believes some things – LOTS of things – just…happen. I believe some things happen randomly too. But I also believe that God takes each and every one of those random events and circumstances and, in His sovereign will, wrapped in undeserved and unearned grace and mercy, purposefully works them for His good.
Every. single. one of them. Because He is that good. He’s all powerful, all knowing and ever present.
When we find ourselves smack in the middle a seemingly random happening, both my husband and I agree that God has given us the freedom to choose. We are to be guided by wisdom (Bible, learned knowledge, prayer, experience, wise counsel, reason, etc.), but we get to choose how we respond. We both find loads of scriptural support for this belief.
The big difference between Hubs and I on this is that I tend to assume God’s hand in nearly everything – big or teeny, obvious or not, whether I ever get to know how or not. I’m not saying I believe God MAKES everything happen in this fallen world, although I believe He could. Again – He is that good. I’m saying I don’t find scriptural support for the extreme, exclusive idea that He makes EVERYthing happen. Sure, some things He makes happen. But some things He allows to happen. His sovereign will is unknown to us. In all cases, I believe the promise of Romans 8:28.
Who am I to determine what is meaningful or insignificant? The Bible tells me nothing is insignificant to God. The Bible tells me the hairs on my head are actually numbered.
Even being “in the dark,” as it were, I intuitively look for deeper meaning. What is God doing? Why did He allow something to happen? I immediately start thinking and praying about how to respond, whether it be taking action or figuring out what God wants me to learn or take away from the situation.
Last week, I had a friend remark to me “You see God in EVERYTHING.”
Not sure I ever consciously thought about it before, but she’s right. I do. I can’t imagine living any other way. To me, it’s completely normal. The fact that I see God in everything is probably one of the reasons I don’t believe in coincidences.
This might be a chicken or the egg kind of thing.
Either way, over the last few months, I’ve seen more of my own fingerprints than God’s. My life was one of the smudgiest sliding glass doors you’ve ever seen. And all the fingerprints were down low. Where I could reach.
To drastically summarize 16 “hard look in the mirror” blog posts: God has been silent in my life for a few months. I don’t like it. At. All. I feel like God the Father has taken His hand off the bicycle seat of my life to teach me…what? To be confident He is there even when I don’t feel the security of His hand? I researched the theology of “the dark night” and came out of all the reading grounded in one of the metaphors. I was going to stop swimming and float. Not drift – with no intention. FLOAT – in the current of God’s will. I wasn’t going to fight the current. I was going to stop swimming in the direction I thought God wanted me to go. I was going to FLOAT.
In the silence.
Seemed like a reasonable plan.
Until the silence became unbearable. I wrote last week, that I came to a breaking point. If you didn’t read that, “CLICK HERE” to check it out.
okay. so that Monday night, I went to sleep having intentionally chosen this season of silence and whatever God is teaching me over tried and true past remedies for finding Joy in God. I called it my darkest night.
Tuesday morning, I woke up to an email in my inbox. The local school where I’ve recorded for more than 3 years had two cancellations for that upcoming weekend. Could I cover two vocal labs (recording sessions)? (If you didn’t do it a minute ago, you’re gonna have to read “two steps forward. one step back.” to get the full impact of that “coincidence.”)
and remember. I see God’s hand in EVERYthing.
So, in the spirit of floating, I said yes.
I spent the entire morning looking for two songs to sing. Given that I had less than four days to prepare a lead and at least two harmonies for each song, I focused specifically on songs I already knew. Song after song – one obstacle after another. No track. Background vocals already on the track. Wrong key. just…wrong after wrong after wrong.
I left the house for the afternoon and when I came back, someone had posted on my facebook wall:
“Hey, so you know the song ‘He is with You” by Mandisa? I think you should sing it at church. Take a look….'”
I immediately thought: “Mandisa? I can’t sing Mandisa.” But again, in the spirit of floating, I responded:
“I’m gonna call that a God thing. LocalRecordingSchool called me today asking me to fill in two cancellations this weekend. I struggled to select tracks all day. One down. one to go. Thanks, friend. If the rough cut is any good, I’ll give you a copy.”
And then another facebook friend commented:
“‘There is a God’ by Lee Ann Womack?”
Monday night I had broken down, wimped out and asked God to let me/help me sing again, then almost immediately took back my request, choosing the lesson of the dark night over the temporal blessing that would have come with the singing.
Then all that happened on Tuesday. The fingerprints on my sliding glass door were MUCH bigger than my own.
and they weren’t anywhere near my reach.
and no. I’m not talking about Holy DARK KNIGHT, Batman.
I had never even heard about the dark night until I started reading about finding joy and delight in God, spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness and the silence of God. I first stumbled upon the term while reading “Prayer” by Philip Yancey. He said:
“I take some comfort in the fact that virtually all the masters of spirituality recount a dark night of the soul. Sometimes it passes quickly and sometimes it persists for months, even years. I have yet to find a single witness, though, who does not tell of going through a dry period.”
Is a “dry period” necessarily this “dark night”? Are these terms interchangeable? Both have been so eclectically described, I can’t lock down a globally accepted definition. People who have attempted to describe their experience have trouble articulating it. I’ve read John of the Cross, who is the originator of the term “dark night.” I’ve read Teresa of Avila and an unknown monk. Those three were not easy or complete reads. Thankfully, Thomas Green wrote extensively about the dark night and interpreted for me. C.S. Lewis, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Henri Nouwen and a number of others have written about dryness and/or the dark night.
It would appear that one dark night does not fit all.
Here’s the Cliff Notes version, courtesy of Eric Sammons
“Unfortunately, “Dark Night” has become a term used very loosely to designate any difficult or depressing time in life. But this is not the meaning St. John of the Cross gives to “Dark Night.”
…not brought about by external events, such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Instead, they are brought about by God alone, who uses the Dark Nights to purge the soul of attachments to the things of this world….”
“…God becomes the primary initiator of prayer, not man…the soul experiences dryness in prayer. It is a painful state that tests the soul to see if it desires prayer for the consolations or because it desires God Himself. At this stage, the ability to meditate becomes difficult, even painful, as no fruit comes from it and the Holy Spirit wants to move the soul from meditation to contemplation.
I have to ask. Is there scriptural basis for this?
Make no mistake. I’m a strong believer in the “dry spell” of it all. I’m a witness to it. I KNOW it happens. and I know first-hand how devastating it is. How it can rock faith. I’m smack in the thick of it.
and it. SUCKS.
My skepticism is with the surety and scriptural foundation of the dark night as the reason.
I’ve seen a commenter on another blog ask about the scriptural foundation of the explanation of the dark night and he was effectively dismissed. The general assumption expressed by those who responded to him was that he didn’t understand and obviously hadn’t experienced it. It didn’t occur to anyone that the reason he didn’t understand was that their explanations were vague and weak.
and I find myself thinking of an emperor in his underwear.
offended? If the invisible shoe fits, wear it.
It would be so much simpler if I was just smack in the middle of disobedience and I could repent, claim the promise of Romans 8:1 and move forward. Instead, I’m compelled to keep reading….
“Why is this painful stage necessary?…It is necessary so that the soul can be purged of defects that still exist within it, defects which prevent the soul from being passively receptive to God’s grace.”
purged of defects?
I have defects. I reek of defects.
“…a person might flee from the Dark Night and regress into lower levels of prayer. The proper response to this temptation to regress, however, is renewing your trust in God, continuing to utilize acquired recollection in prayer, abstaining from seeking consolation, and seeking counsel from a good spiritual director.”
lower levels of prayer?
lower levels of prayer. like with consolations and meditations?
and the “proper” response is to
(1) renew my trust in God
(2) continue to utilize “acquired” recollection in prayer
(3) don’t seek consolation and
(4) seek counsel from a good spiritual advisor.
(2) I think that means remember what God has done in my life in the past.
(3) Don’t try to pray the way I used to pray. Because those prayers are “lower.”
(4) God, if you want me to have a spiritual mentor who’s experienced this before, you’re gonna have to send me one. Break the silence.
SEND. me. one. PLEASE.
I admit. I’m torn. Between
(1) wanting there to be such a thing as this dark night and
(2) thinking it’s just a scape goat for people who need to rationalize whatever spiritual obstacle they are facing.
Faaaarrrr more likely, I’m grasping at straws to rationalize failing.
I started this journey because I wanted to find joy and delight in the nature of who God is without the crutches of circumstance or experiences. This is the scripture that comes to mind right now:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
count it all joy.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”]
If you read my last post, “growing pains” you know I’ve been having trouble seeing God’s hand in my life over the last few months.
God has been silent.
When I first became aware of the silence, I immediately assumed sin was separating me from God. I confessed all the sin I could identify. I raked through my life and identified the sin I had been rationalizing or been numb and oblivious to. I asked God to reveal to me anything I hadn’t found.
Be careful what you pray for.
I let go of some things in my life. Good things. One thing in particular that was responsible for actually helping me to discover how to worship God – to praise Him – for who He was instead just thank Him for what He did for me; for the blessings He afforded. This was something I had never understood or been able to do before. That’s what made leading worship a good thing. a very good thing.
I let it go because it had morphed into a crutch I had become dependent on to facilitate that worship.
I let go of other “good” things too. They had become obstacles in my relationship with Him.
But if you are one of the handful of people who actually read this blog regularly, you know all that.
Since then, God has been silent.
I’ve been seeking God every day. Relentlessly.
that’s an understatement.
Still. God has been silent.
After more than 6 years of sensing God’s presence and movement in my daily life, it took less than two months for me to become resigned to the silence.
Not seeing or sensing God’s hand in my life, I stopped looking for it.
I expected the silence. It became my new normal.
I began reading everything I could about finding delight and joy in God. About spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness, the absence of God and the silence of God. C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Philip Yancey and authors new to me, like Thomas Green, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. People who experienced and wrote about the “dark night.” Some of them talked about the dark night lasting the rest of their life.
I stopped writing in my prayer journal.
I had nothing to say.
I began abiding.
I threw myself into the mindless work of purging my environment and my life of superfluous things.
I began learning how to “pray without words” as C.S. Lewis would say. I stopped filling up the space between me and God with my voice. my incessant talking. I shut up. and I listened.
And God was silent.
In the beginning, I hated it. It was unsettling.
I was brokenhearted. I don’t say that kind stuff about myself. But there’s really no better way to describe it.
C.S. Lewis described it this way:
“We can bear to be refused but not to be ignored. In other words, our faith can survive many refusals if they really are refusals and not mere disregards. The apparent stone will be bread to us if we believe that a Father’s hand put it into ours, in mercy or in justice or even in rebuke.”
from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
After a few weeks, there was peace in the quiet. Like sitting with a close friend. The kind of friend you can ride in a car with, not talking, and feel no need to fill the void with spoken words. completely grounded. no need for a stealth “#awkward” tweet from the passenger seat.
so, there was peace.
but not joy.
In my last post, I said that I hadn’t been able to pray any specific petitionary prayers because I didn’t trust my motives. I said that last Monday I had hit bottom. The silence had become unbearable.
I asked God to let me sing again. In my weakness, I instinctively reached out for the one thing that had allowed me to experience true JOY in God – regardless of my circumstances.
Singing to Him. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do it since June 30th.
I went to bed that Monday night, the silence ringing in my mind. Disappointed in myself for caving. For chickening out and turning my back on whatever God is trying to teach me in this time of silence. Instead of trusting in the process of this journey, I reached out for old, tried and true, comfortable habits.
I wimped out.
I was convinced God was teaching me something. Something important. Although I had no idea what and I had no idea how long the lesson would last. It seemed that, at what appeared to be the hardest part of the lesson, I was asking God to give back what I had given up. I was going backward. I was turning my back on what He has for me now.
As I fell asleep, I took back my request. I told God that I didn’t want to settle for temporal blessings of comfort and happiness in exchange for this new relationship. Even if the new relationship meant years of silence.
Last Monday night was my darkest night.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”]
“God can do anything.”
Luke 1:37 (NIV)
Lord, I pray for revival, filled with doubt that You will stir it. Not because You can’t, but because You won’t. I believe You can do anything. But I also know You don’t force yourself on anyone. And the people I’m praying for are very comfortable right where they are. They see no need to change. They see nothing wrong except for this Jesus Freak who’s rocking the boat.
So I ask you Lord, not for anything specific, because I have no flippin idea what to ask for. You know. You know exactly what is needed and exactly when. Your plan is perfect. Your timing is perfect. I know You don’t need me, but pray that You can and will use me. I’m asking You – I’m begging You – to move. Move in the hearts and minds of individuals. I pray that they will be DISsatisfied with an assumption of Christ. I pray that they will, from their soul, cry out for Jesus. I pray they won’t be able to stomach any substitute.
Almighty God, I’m begging you for a miracle, no matter what it looks like. No matter how much it hurts. Because You are my comfort, my peace, my strength and my hope. I trust You, even when I don’t understand what You are doing.
“He [God] specializes in solutions that have no explanation other than Him.
Don’t get discouraged by the long, unyielding situations in your life. God has solutions for them. He may not have revealed those solutions yet – He let many people in Scripture endure long periods that required faith and patience – but He is never late with His answers. Wait, believe and hope. Nothing is impossible with Him.”
The One Year Experiencing God’s Presence Devotional: 365 Daily Encounters to Bring You Closer to Him
by Chris Tiegreen
Think back over your life.
What was something you prayed about that you believed at the time turned out very badly but now, in retrospect, you see was the best thing that could have happened?
Can you see situations in your life where God saved you from a negative consequence or used a bad situation as a foundation for something great? Did someone else share their God story with you?
I want to hear about your blessing in disguise!!!
Comment! Email! If you know me in “real” life, tell me face to face!
Eleven year old PinkGirl auditioned for Beauty and the Beast this month. Of course she wanted the part of Belle. At the four hour cast call backs the week after her first audition, she sang and read for Belle. The only other character she was asked to try was Babbette, the feather duster.
She couldn’t do the walk.
In the end, she got the part of Madam. The Wardrobe.
She hadn’t been asked to sing or read for any other character, and the role of the Wardrobe wasn’t announced until just before the role of Belle, so as she heard the other parts being assigned to her fellow cast members, the process of elimination gave her false hope. When her name was called, she was completely blindsided.
The moment they were dismissed, she bolted out the door, still in her jazz shoes. She held herself together until she was about three feet from the van. Since she had run out so fast, none of her friends heard her break down crying.
I got in the van and quickly drove to an empty spot in the parking lot.
Immediately – and I mean IMMEDIATELY – she leapt to the conclusion that she wasn’t good at the one thing she thought she was really good at. The decision made by this stranger somehow represented the real truth and everyone else who had ever told her she was good was just being nice. This was a sign that she should quit. This was proof that she wasn’t as good at singing and acting as she thought she was. This was God saying no, not only to Belle, but to theater. She was just fooling herself, wasting everyone’s time and her parent’s money.
She said all these things to herself and to me through broken tears. Then she SCREAMED them again at God. At the top of her lungs, she DEMANDED to know why He was breaking her heart. She told Him that He was making her feel WORTHLESS. When she wrapped her arms around my neck sobbing and screamed “I thought you LOVED me!” at God, it wrenched me. Exhausted from the screaming, she broke down again, sobbing, telling God she was sorry. That she loved him. That she would always love him. No matter what.
This had nothing to do with being disappointed about not getting the part of Belle.
Sure, she was sad and disappointed she didn’t get the role she was going for, but that’s happened before. She played an eel in Little Mermaid – and you know she didn’t go into the audition wanting that part. She was heartbroken when she didn’t get the part of Ti Moune in Once Upon this Island – she wanted that part so bad she became the secret, silent understudy because she wanted to be ready in case the lead couldn’t perform for any reason at all. And less than a year ago, she auditioned for Annie – the role every little actress dreams about – and the part went to her best friend.
She wasn’t just sad and disappointed about not getting a part. If only it were that simple. This was a full blown identity crisis. I looked it up:
identity crisis (noun) A period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.
Here it was, two months after her 11th birthday, and she was convinced her dream of a career in theater was being taken from her. And of course, GOD was doing the taking. If she wasn’t an actress or a singer, who was she?
Sitting in the parking lot, I knew she wouldn’t be able to hear me until she had had it out with God. I didn’t stop her from screaming at Him. I didn’t reprimand her for talking to Him like that.
God can take it.
I waited. I held her. I stroked her hair. Kissed her forehead. I prayed that God would give me the words to say and that I would know the right time to say them. Suddenly, she seemed to literally run out of tears and – no surprise – she had a terrible headache. Her eyes were red and puffy and her face was pale. Her blood sugar was bottomed out and she needed to eat something. There was a Chick-Fil-A in the parking lot so I went through the drive-thru and parked again.
As we sat in the van and ate, she was quiet. Still crying, but quiet. I took a chance that she could hear me, and I decided to approach the smaller issue of Belle first, before I even tried to talk to her about her belief that it meant she wasn’t as good as she thought she was. I was hoping that if I could lessen the significance of the trigger event, the resulting blow to her self-confidence would be softened at the same time.
I told her I didn’t understand why God allowed this to happen. I said that when we face a trial, sometimes God shows us why right away, sometimes he shows us why much later and sometimes, we never get to know why.
Me: “Do you know what just happened with Aunt Wendy’s (my sister) teaching job??
Me: “You know she works at a bank 3 days a week, but about a year ago, she got hired as a college instructor to teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But the kind of teaching job she got wasn’t the kind where you just get hired and you keep the job until you leave or get fired. For this job, she got a contract to teach for one semester and then when that was finished, she got another contract to teach for another semester. You know what happened this semester?”
(negative head shake.)
Me: “She didn’t get a contract. They didn’t even call her to tell her they weren’t going to give her another contract. She was confused and hurt and upset and very worried about how they could pay their bills when she found out. Now she only has work 3 days a week. She couldn’t understand why God would allow this to happen. Then you know what happened?
(another negative head shake.)
Me: “CutiePie (my 1 year old nephew) got very, very sick. And Aunt Wendy didn’t have to leave him and go to work. She got to stay with him and take care of him most of the time he was sick. She posted a picture of him on facebook, sleeping after he was feeling better and you know what my comment was?
(another negative head shake.) “So thankful you didn’t have to teach today. God works in mysterious ways.”
(smile and tiny laugh)
I asked her if she was ready to talk about why God might have allowed this to happen in her life. Even though we can’t see the world from God’s point of view, what reasons could we think of from our limited perspective as humans?
PinkGirl: I think it’s a test.
Me: “What kind of test?”
PinkGirl, welling up again: “To see if I would love God no matter what.”
(From the moment she found out she was auditioning for Beauty and the Beast she had been praying and telling God she would love Him no matter what part she got and that whatever part that was, she would do her very best. Her dad and I prayed that prayer again with her the night before call backs and I prayed it again with her in the car on the way to call backs.)
Me: You may be right. Could it be another kind of test?
PinkGirl: “Like what?”
Me: “Could it be that God is helping you figure out if you really love theater as much as you say you do? Because, this will definitely happen again. More than once. You will want some other part and you won’t get it. And in some cases, you won’t even get a smaller role in the show you audition for. In some cases, you won’t get any role. You will probably NOT get the parts you want more often than you WILL get the parts you want.
(silent tears on her waffle fries)
Me: “PinkGirl, I don’t lie. You know I tell you the truth. You are good at this. And as good as you already are, you have the potential to get even better. I’ve told you before that I believe you can make a very good living in theater your entire life if you just don’t quit. I mean it. But you have to figure out if you can handle the disappointments that come with the joy. Do you love doing theater – no matter what?
(silent tears again)
Me: “What about your witness? GreatTheaterCompany isn’t a Christian organization. Some of the people there know you are a Christian. You invite your castmates to pray with you before shows. How can you be part of God’s story? Because HIS story is so much bigger and better than Beauty and the Beast. We need to start praying and asking God how He can use you to work all things for good.
(the tears stopped. I had her attention.)
Me: “Do you remember the story I told you about the Princess Tapestry?
PinkGirl, crying again: “Is this a dark thread?”
Me: “I think it’s pretty safe to say it is. Do you trust that God knows what he’s doing and that this dark thread will help make the tapestry beautiful? Even if you don’t get to see it until you see Him face to face?
(positive head shake with the tears again. I got another hug.)
(to be continued)
(this was written with PinkGirl’s permission)
In my post entitled “an unextraordinary life” I wrote:
“When I’ve experienced trials in my life, sure God might have sent them, but it’s just as likely He allowed them. Either way, He’s promised that He will work it all for good. Even when, from my own perspective, it didn’t seem like it was for my good.”
A reader commented:
“I agree with you that God allows trials to happen and then brings something good out of them, but I don’t believe that he sends them. Matthew 7:11 gives the picture of God as a Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. I can’t picture a loving father purposely bringing trials into His children’s lives.”
I spent some time in 2009 reading and learning about the seeming paradox of evil and suffering vs. a loving and all powerful God. I don’t like to think of a loving Father “sending” his child trials, but I can’t ignore some evidence.
I should probably begin with my definition of the word “trials.”
I view a trial as anything in my life that causes me pain – physical or emotional. It’s something in my life that I don’t want in my life. Something I fear or dread or suffer through.
I should clarify what I mean by my use of the words “send” and “allow” as well.
When I say I believe God “sends” some trials, I’m referring to trials God intends for us – plans for us – to experience.
When I talk about God “allowing” trials, I’m referring to the things God does NOT intend for us, but doesn’t intervene to prevent or to protect us from. Maybe these trials are consequences of our own sin, maybe they are consequences of our sinful nature and freedom of choice or maybe they are just the result of random circumstances in this life.
Make no mistake, I believe Matthew 7:11:
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
When I think about my own children, I can identify with Matthew 7:11. I want to give them “good gifts” all the time. But if I never disciplined them, I would play a starring role in turning them into Veruca Salt. Leading me to Hebrews 12:6-11:
“because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
And again, thinking about my children, my mind automatically goes to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Here’s a question for you: When God told Abraham to take his son up a mountain and sacrifice and kill him, would Abraham have used the word “trial” to describe his experience? He had waited 100 years to have a son. The feelings that overwhelmed him as he left home . . . NOT telling Sarah what God had instructed him to do . . . as the minutes dragged during the agonizing climb up that mountain . . . would “trial” not be a descriptive word for that experience?
I’m thinkin it would.
And if we can agree that was a trial for Abraham, the real question is: Did God intend for Abraham to have that experience? God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son, not as punishment for sin or to hurt him, but to test and strengthen Abraham’s faith. Abraham’s obedience – letting go of his own will for the sake of God’s will, even when it didn’t make any sense to him and wrenched his heart – was a test of faith I’m not sure I could pass.
And then there’s John 9:1-3:
“As he went along, he [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
I agree with what Matthew Henry has to say about the trial of this man:
That they [trials] are sometimes intended purely for the glory of God, and the manifesting of his works. God has a sovereignty over all his creatures and an exclusive right in them, and may make them serviceable to his glory in such a way as he thinks fit, in doing or suffering; and if God be glorified, either by us or in us, we were not made in vain. This man was born blind, and it was worth while for him to be so, and to continue thus long dark, that the works of God might be manifest in him.
I wrote this blog post in bits and pieces over the last 36 hours, after hearing a message emphasizing that God blesses us with strength through anointed weakness. All the while I couldn’t help thinking of Nick Vujicic. Last night, I watched a number of Nick’s youtube videos, looking for the “right” one to include in this post. I had already seen a number of Nick’s videos over the last few months but I had never heard him talk about his decision to serve Christ in any of them. I bought his biography last week, but haven’t begun reading it yet. I knew I had found the video to include when I got the 3 minute 45 second mark. Go ahead, it’s worth the 8 minutes.
“Because I have no arms and no legs He’s using me all around the world and we’ve seen so far, approximately – and this is conservative – 200,000 souls come to Jesus Christ for the very first time in the last 6 or 7 years . . . I would rather have no arms and no legs temporarily here on earth and be be able to reach someone else for Jesus Christ – and then spend eternity with them there.”
So yes. I believe that sometimes God sends us trials.
And then, there’s Rachel Barkey. I stumbled upon Rachel’s story in 2009 when I was researching the paradox of evil and suffering vs. a loving and all powerful God. Rachel died of cancer at the age of 37, leaving behind a husband and 2 small children. But before she died, she had an opportunity to give her testimony in which she describes the trials of her last years. It’s a compelling 55 minute testimony that I’ve found myself thinking about often over the last two years. You can watch it HERE (start at the 2:10 minute mark to skip to the beginning), but here’s the quote I transcribed for inclusion in a blog post after I watched it back in June of 2009:
“I am dying.
But so are you.
Neither of us knows if we will even see tomorrow. And perhaps the reason that I am suffering now, the reason that God is waiting to bring judgment against all the evil in this world is because he is waiting for you. For you to acknowledge your sin and to turn to him for forgiveness.
Maybe you are the one we are waiting for.
Jesus suffered. God did not spare him. Why would he spare me? If my suffering would result in good for you? If my suffering is the means that God would use to bring even one person to himself, it is an honor for me to suffer.
Does that seem strange?
I suppose it does.
But really, it is the only way that all of this makes any sense at all.
A God who sees my suffering but is is unable, or worse, unwilling to spare me? A God who sees my suffering but allows it? With no greater purpose or hope? My God is able to save me and he will. But save me from what?
From a life without him.”
So yes, I believe that sometimes, God sends trials.
(thank you Jessi, for inspiring this post)