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Adversity and Anguish

May 16, 2012

Job 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.”

Hebrews 3:12-13 take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you, an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

Exhort one another daily.” This post is written for the saints who currently find themselves “besieged.” Those who, despite having a heart that’s pure before the Lord and consistantly doing “the right thing;” (not to gain approval, but out of a sincere love for Jesus) find that their lives are filled with turmoil. The upheaval seems to have no finale as new complexities are continuously entering the arena without warning. This is an inadequate attempt to offer encouragement to the faithful witnesses who are, at their wits end. To focus on the eternal and look steadfastly to Jesus; even while the enemy is hurling every dark asset in our direction and then whispering lies into our ear in an effort to foster doubt. It seems a daunting task; especially when I am struggling with adversity on so many fronts. We know from scripture that, prior to the return of Jesus, the enemy will “wear out the saints of the most high.” Subsequently, this topic is most critical. 

It cannot be stresed enough. When the kingdom of antichrist is fully manifest, the deception will be complete. It will appear to be the answer to all that has troubled this world ever since the beginning of time. We will have to stand completely upon what we know to be true when all of the physical manifestation, coupled with the entirety of world opinion, endorses a lie. The promise of Jesus is most comforting; even more so concerning this season: “and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

In the arena of firey trials, there seems to be two semi-distinguishable groups of professing saints. At the one extreme, I have encountered saints who seem to never have a single problem. Everything they touch is “blessed.” They are relatively successful in this world, they are devoted to a local assembly, their kids seem to be perfect, they have never missed a mortgage payment, and…….they always have a smile on their face. And while I know that this perception isn’t necessarily accurate, they do,  nonetheless seem relatively immune to the random curveballs of life. They aren’t haughty; in fact, they re usually quite approachable and “down to earth.” They maintain their testimony of Jesus without wavering and are quite generous with their abundance.

This isn’t to say that any of this is necessarily wrong. It’s always encouraging to see folks maintain a solid testimony of Jesus. Nor is this a post written from a platform of covetousness. My heart truly is not in this world. I wouldn’t trade this freedom for any of the worlds offerings.

The other loosely identifiable group includes those who seem to be in over their head in trials. While everyones embodiment of disruptions  and uncertainty is unique, the effect is the same. Their physical situation offers not a shread of stability, every possible exit from the venue seems locked, family members and friends may be quick to make accusation (you made your bed, now lay in it) and they do not possess the necessary resources to remedy the situation on their own. This is oftentimes compounded even further when the saints in their venue have little to offer in the way of exhortation; save some cookie-cutter advice that they once picked up from an obscure ten-step seminar. Even if their heart is in the right place, they can offer little to the one currently standing in the furnace.

In times of incredible upheaval and uncertainty, we cannot necessarily expect the brethren to have an answer to what we are going through. While godly counsel from another is always of benefit, there are times when the only solution is from on high. During some of my most astonishing complexities, I only found resolution by shutting out the chatter, finding a quiet place, and bringing the issue before the throne of grace. There are, at this moment, many issues on my heart; the answers to which cannot possibly come from the contemporaries. While the Lord often places people in our lives at critical moments, some things can only be resolved by a steadfast “praying through.” Even through as my life seems to be in continuous hyper-drive, I’m (“slowly”) learning to take advantage of every spare moment and spending it with the Lord Jesus with whom we shall dwell forever. It’s a place of perfect rest while the storm rages all around. The truth found in Isaiah 26:3 supercedes every complexity.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” because he trusteth in thee.”

Before proceeding into the benefits of the season of trying, it’s necessary to quickly address some of the other reasons that we may be facing upheaval. While we prefer to believe the romantically noble “my faith is being tried and that’s why this is happening” senario, it’s not always the case.

1. Bad Planning. It hurts to acknowledge it, however, a significant portion of our current complexity is the result of hasty decision making in previous years. I’ve reached a point where an increasingly common prayer requst has been “Lord…..please don’t let me do anything stupid.” While this lack of wisdom in the past hasn’t shaken my faith, I do wish that I had done a number of things differently.

2. Chastisement. We don’t like this one either, however, in recent weeks, I’ve been finding comfort in this aspect. When we are corrected of the Lord, he’s working in our lives. I wasted about 13 years in a profoundly backslidden state. The Lord could have turned me over to my devices, but in either march or April of 2004, he called me back. That backslidden season was very rough, but the Lord, in his mercy, never let go and I am eternally grateful. I have learned much because of that dark season, but I wish that I had never drifted so far off course.

I Corinthians 11:32 “But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”

3. Random Chaos. Sometimes contrary things just happen. Equipment breaks, the electricity goes out, the alternator on the truck fails, the employer moves off-shore, the sewer backs up…the list is endless. To add even more confusion to the mix, the reasonings behind a particular discomforting may not be easily definable. In my situation, for example, there are aspects of all three and it’s oftentimes unclear as to which catagory a particular aspect of the chaos belongs. 

 This brings us to the final element of chaos; that being the legitimate trying of our faith. While the preventable and the random will also try our faith, the default season of trying has a unique function. In these dark valleys, all that’s superficial is stripped away and the content of our heart is exposed. Here, we may be in free-fall while the onlookers are astonished. Some may inquire “Where is your God?” Days can turn into weeks; and then into years, without reprieve. Here, we are at the end of ourselves and reduced to a complete dependance on the God of all comfort, who sees the end from the beginning. In this place, words and exhortations offer no comfort, familiar scriptures feel cliche, (even though we know them to be true) and prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. It’s a time where questions go unanswered, all sense of purpose is removed, the true nature of all that we have filled our lives with is exposed……….

And our roots grow deeper. It’s in these seasons that we learn to stand on the truth of Gods word alone and not rely on the accompanying fuzzy feelings or place confidence in our contemporaries who may later embrace the lie. (Matthew 24:24) Of all the benefits that result from the season of trying, this particular one is pivotal because it becomes a deciding factor in whether a person stands or falls. It’s a truth that is best summed up in the following passage

Mark 4:16-17 “And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
And have no root in themselves, and so endure for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.

Most of us recognize this as being the second senario that Jesus explained in the parable of the sower. It tells of those who believe on Jesus (receive the word) and endure so long as everything goes smoothly. These may be quick to make lofty proclamations while nestled within the cozy confines of westernized churchianity. They may be able to rattle off scripture and run circles around anyone who presents an unbiblical worldview. But when the storms suddenly arise and they are staring at the end of themselves, these may be the first to fall. I remember Richard Wurmbrand once stating that the composer of one of Romanias most beloved hymns, later wrote songs that glorified communism.

The truth presented by the initial passage in this posting revolutionized my outlook a few years ago. It was an earlier season of upheaval and I wanted to just “go somewhere and disappear.” A question was dropped in my spirit. “what would it take to cause you to no longer follow Jesus?” I had to pause for a moment and really think about this. I mean, the short answer is an obvious “nothing could cause me to turn away from the Lord Jesus.” I was as certain of this as Peter was when he told Jesus “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” And yet we know how deceitful ones own heart can be. This question continues to cause me to examine if I’m harboring unbelief, while the passage from Job has become a formula for enduring. Even if everything goes awry and God seems far removed from our situation, our confidence in the Lord Jesus must remain steadfast.

The word of God must be more real to us than what we see, feel, or hear in this present world. The age to come must be more real than this temporal realm. Our love for Jesus must surpass our affections for anyone (or anything) else. We must “love not” our lives in this present world. Here are the additional benefits to tribulation. Firey trials are never pleasant, but Gods grace is always sufficient and the finished work is worth every moment of anguish.

 1. They enable us to stand in the face of adversity. This one is already covered, but it bears repeating. Those who never venture beyond the cozy confines of their earthly routine will be ill-equipped to stand in the hour of trying. A continual prayer request is that the Lord will prepare us spiritually for anything that we may have to face in the days ahead.  There will be a faithful remnant, standing on the earth, when Jesus appears.

2 Increases our faith. We learn to let go of what we cannot keep and trust in God who raises the dead. Earlier this year, it became obvious that our physical situation can not be maintained much longer and I do not know where we will be living by the end of this year. (I think it’s the result of one part random chaos, two parts chastisement, and three parts bad planning.) I reached a point where the fight ended and I placed it completely in the Lords hands. I still work, pay bills, and tend to the mundane tasks of life, however, I no longer lose sleep over things that are beyond our control. 

3. Strengthens our testimony. A good example of this would be Matthew. He creates such a bizarre set of circumstances that onlookers routinely ask “how do you do it? To be honest, it’s the grace of God because sometimes it becomes so stresseful that I want to just run away. It keeps me in prayer, keeps me from getting lazy, and keeps me looking toward the day when we are forever in the presence of the Lord Jesus. A hundred years from now, everyone that we know will be in their eternal place……and Matthew will no longer be autistic.

4. Enhances our eternal reward. I have to leave for work soon, so I’ll be quick. II Corinthians 4:17-18 reads “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Once the thrust of our affections are in heavenly places, the threatenings of this world lose their influence over us. The peace of God will be present; regardless of circumstance, and our reward will be great.

Well, I have to go for now. I don’t know if this offers any comfort to those who are facing the extremes of upheaval, but perhaps it offers some thoughts concerning the bigger picture, and placing the current adveristy in a proper perspective. Blessings always in Jesus name. 

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