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Embrace the Trial – Part 3

Understanding the “WHO” Question – “Embracing ‘Who’ God is”

We are talking about the process of embracing our trials. In part one we discussed the “poem challenge”. In part 2 we sought to understand the “Why” question and why it is the unproductive question. We concluded that this question is often asked with a wrong perspective and theology. With this question, the focus is on the painful process instead of the praiseworthy purpose. The focus is on “what I don’t like” instead of “what God is like” and “what God knows is best.” The focus is on my self instead of on my God.

In considering this why question—“why is this happening to me?”—my prayer is that we would learn to embrace God’s answer to this question as we seek to understand the Biblical purpose for our suffering. My prayer, also, is to help us see that this natural question proves to be unproductive once we understand God’s purpose and His character. In part 2 we looked at the Biblical purpose for suffering, while here in part 3, we will consider God’s character. My hope is to encourage us to understand our need to move beyond the “why” question and learn to start with the right first question—“Who are You, Lord?”

“The best is not the question ‘Why?’ but better yet, just ‘Who?’
For when you see Me, Who I am, you will surrender too.”

The first question you and I need to ask is, “Who are You, Lord?” This question invites us to get to KNOW Him through this difficult time. This is what God “delights in.

“But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:24).

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture and been so struck by the faithful response of one of your Biblical heroes that you simply take it for granted? You think, “Well, that is just what Biblical heroes do, otherwise God wouldn’t have chosen them?” as if they have some quality about them that sets them apart on a higher level than we could ever achieve. 2 Corinthians 12 was one of those passages for me and Paul is one of those heroes. Paul writes about his prayer for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” because he saw it as a “messenger of Satan” which would hinder his ministry of exalting Christ. In verse 9 we see how Christ responds as He eloquently says “No!”

“And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness’. …”

The sufficiency of God’s grace is an amazing reality. This is a stabilizing truth that when, in humility, we surrender to God’s way, His grace truly is all we need for it is more than enough. Consider 2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to make ALL grace abound toward you; that ye, ALWAYS having ALL sufficiency in ALL things, may abound to EVERY good work” (emphasis added).

But also notice how Paul responds to this answer: he says, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10)

Do you see how Paul responds to this negative answer to his prayer? Instead of reacting in anger because he doesn’t get his way, he rejoices. Let that sink in—He rejoices! He responds, Most gladly will I therefore glory in my infirmities, … I take pleasure in infirmities, …. How can anyone in their right mind respond this way? The simple answer is that he understood God’s providence and sovereignty in light of His goodness, love, righteousness, wisdom, power, etc.

In the old hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way,” William Cowper (pronounced Cooper) writes,

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flow’r
.”

Often we judge the situation based upon our “feeble sense” instead of judging based upon the truth of God’s character—Who He is. We often operate on faulty theology resulting in the wrong responses to our trials. God desires that we see His love for us in the trial and respond in worship by embracing the trial. He orchestrates the very details of the trial not to destroy us but in order to draw us closer to Him. This is a truth we often need to be reminded of as we journey through these “bitter” times. Yes, the process usually is often a “bitter taste” but God purposes to bring about a “sweet” and beautiful flower to His glory. In the aforementioned hymn, the writer states, “behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” The truth behind this statement is that the lovingkindness of God is often cloaked in painful grace. But it’s not until we know Him that we begin to understand this powerful truth.

I believe that it is paramount for us to learn to rest in God’s providence and sovereignty. In His providence, He orchestrates all things while, at times, God also allows things to happen to us. In His sovereignty, He controls all things. The amazing reality that I am learning to embrace, is that God is always both planning and directing the very details of my trial. The very minute details are not overlooked by Him. This gives me great confidence and peace, only when I know other truths about Him.

The truth is that we often have two very different responses to our trials, even knowing these attributes of God. On the one hand, we can become angry with Him when we realize that He controls the very details of our trial yet He still allows us to go through the pain and suffering. Our focus is, “why me?” On the other hand, God’s providence and sovereignty bring great peace when we keep in mind that He is good in all He does. He is also loving and gracious as well as righteous in all things. He is all-wise, knowing all things as well as all-powerful, in that there is nothing that is too hard for Him. Because of a well-round Biblical understanding of God my soul can rest in Him. It is when I cherry-pick, slant in one way or another, or even forget key truths about God that I find my soul troubled.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed [fixed] on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.” (Isaiah 26:3)

Most importantly, when I fail to intentionally fix my mind upon these stabilizing truths, and focus upon the storm that I am engulfed in, I begin to sink and feel like I am drowning. This is similar to Peter in Matthew 14:28-31 when he walked on water and focused on the crisis instead of Christ.

Keep in mind that any god that I put my trust in, short of the Biblically defined God, will be lacking in his ability to righteously and providentially rule over the very details of my trial. Therefore, he would be incapable of being the source of rest and peace through the trial.

“Be still [relax in perfect trust], and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10a)

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image [of Christ] from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

The more I am still before Him, the more I will be changed to be like Him, because I am taking time to behold Him.

This was the apostle Paul’s mindset. His consuming passion was “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;” (Philippians 3:10).  He counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [his] Lord (v. 8). This is how he could take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions for Christ’s sake: (2 Corinthians 12:10a). He understood that in these trials, Christ would be displayed through his weakness, for when I am weak, then I am strong (v. 10b).

He had learned, in whatsoever state, therewith to be content (Philippians 4:11), because He knew his God—he was intimately acquainted with Who God is which allowed him to rest, with contentment, in any situation he found himself in. That is a powerful and stabilizing truth.

As you consider the trial you are in, the difficulty you are facing, or the reality of future trials, can you rest because you know Who God is? Do you have God’s kind of peace that “surpasses all understanding?” I urge you to drink deeply from the fountain of God’s Word. Get to know Him. Embrace Who He is and embrace the trial He has custom designed for you.

“So, embrace the trial, My dear child, My best is what you’ll see,
Beyond the suffering you feel, My Son they soon shall see.”

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Embrace the Trial – Part 2

We are talking about the process of embracing our trials. In part one we discussed the “poem challenge”.

Here in part two we consider the “why” question.

Understanding the “WHY” Question – “Embracing ‘Why’ I Am Going Through This”

God never wastes the sufferings of His saints.”—Warren Wiersbe

Is this statement true? Or could there be times when we go through unnecessary suffering? Is it possible that God could overdue my pain and suffering? Are there times when God steps back and just allows our times of suffering to go too far or for too long? How would you answer these questions? As read each question, do you feel a growing sense of uneasiness asking, “Could God actual fail at something or do something wrong?” Maybe these questions echo those you have already heard yourself asking.

The battlefield of the mind is filled with pathways of thought upon which we have repeatedly walked. These are often debilitating thoughts, tempting us to doubt God’s love and goodness promoting defeat instead of leading us to victory. Far too often, in trials, we find ourselves asking the unproductive question “Why?” instead of the questions that lead us upward to victory.

“Why me?” The question often asked, when confronted with a trial.
But is this the right one to be asked, facing the upward mile?

When we face a trial, the biggest question we struggle with is “why?” more specifically, “Why is this happening to me?” As I sought to come to grips with embracing this trial, I am seeing the necessity to look beyond this question of “why me?”. My desire is to encourage us to learn how to get beyond this question by considering its Biblical answer and in turn asking the better question of “Who is God?”.

I genuinely believe that when we learn to look at our trials in the light of Who God is and what His purpose for our trials is, we will then embrace our trials, understanding that they are for our best and for His glory. When we see our trial from God’s perspective we will see the value of the trial and in turn gain from it God’s best for us.

I am confident that “God never wastes the sufferings of His saints,” but what I am also sure of is that we can often waste our times of suffering, in spite of God’s best intentions. Often when confronted with a time of difficulty, whether financial, relational, physical or any other kind of trial, we can become angry and in turn bitter. Often, we rebel against the trial, fighting it at every turn. Instead of allowing God to draw us closer to Himself, we become distant to God and others.

Considering the trial before me, I know I need to be led by God in order to not “waste this suffering.” But how? What is necessary to be a faithful steward of this trial? What is necessary to gain from this trial the truths that God desires to show me and the lessons He desires to teach me?

The first step is understanding what’s wrong with asking the question, “why”? What’s wrong with genuinely desiring to understand the reason why something difficult is happening to me? I believe that in and of itself this question can be innocent, yet it really depends upon the heart and mind behind the question.

The reason that this question is unproductive is because it’s often asked with the wrong perspective. Unfortunately, all too often when this question is asked, it is with a heart that is really asking, “Why me”? When asked this way, we are implying that we don’t deserve this trial based upon any number of reasons that all make sense to us at the time. We may be tempted to say, “I haven’t done anything to deserve this!” The question, “why me” truly is the natural first question but asked with the wrong perspective and attitude. With this statement, the focus is on the painful process instead of the praiseworthy purpose. The focus is on “what I don’t like” instead of “what God is like” and “what God knows is best.” The focus in on my self instead of on my God.

Another reason that this question is unproductive is because it’s asked with the wrong theology. When our trials are due to punishment or chastisement, in our heart of hearts the answer seems more understandable. It is easier to see that God is dealing with a specific sin. But when the trial seems beyond our understanding, or when it continues on with no end in sight, in weariness we are tempted to doubt the wisdom of God in allowing this to take place. If we are not careful, we can allow the pain of the Refiner’s fire to redefine our theology about the Refiner Himself. We therefore question who God is by questioning His love for us because it doesn’t feel like He loves me. There are other things that we question, but usually we start with His love. This is where we begin to waste the suffering. It is important to listen to what God is saying to us.

Embrace the trial,” God says to me, “and fight not My design.
My way seems hard, the road unsure, when questioning the line.”

God responds by encouraging us to surrender. He wants us to stop focusing on the painful process and instead look to His praiseworthy purpose.

The next step is understanding the Biblical answer to the “why” question? Biblically, the why question has a simple answer which gives our times of suffering great purpose. Consider what Paul says in Romans 8:28-29, 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 be conformed to the image of His Son. God’s purpose for our suffering is the development of Christlikeness.

Why would He desire this purpose, one might ask? The answer comes from Revelation 4:11, which reads, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were created for God’s pleasure—that we should be to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12). The way that we can accomplish this purpose is by submitting to God’s process—His process of developing the likeness of Christ in us, through the trials we face, in order to faithfully display the likeness of Christ, to others we face.

Sometimes this answer isn’t enough for us. Sometimes we still want to know “why me?” As the struggles of the trial continues, we plead with God for answers. We often plead with God, “I can’t do this! This is too much for me! Why does this have to be so hard?” Our conversation, with Him, may go something like this…

“My fight is not with You, my God, but why my path so hard?
My Lord, is this the best for me, Your frail and weary child?”

Embrace the trial,” my Lord responds, “Surrender to My way.
Truly it’s for your best, you’ll see, My blessings’ on its way.”

“But Lord, this path is quite unclear and only if I knew,
The length of time to see it through I’d surrender all to You!”

Embrace the trial, my dear child, I want what’s best for you.
I love you more than you can know just trust Me, this is true!”

“But why, O Lord, is this so hard for me to yield to You?
If only but a glimpse of view to bear this burden through.”

And then with loving, gentle voice, the pain He cuts right through,
“My Son will come alive in you, when yieldings’ what you do.”

It is in these times that we must yield our will to the will of God and trust Him. I find that a right perspective, based on right theology, is vital to overcoming this ongoing struggle against embracing the trial.

So, what’s the right perspective?

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:”—1 Peter 1:7

The right perspective comes from a proper understanding of Who God is—He is the Divine Refiner skillfully purifying His children like gold. As I study through God’s Word I am amazed at the word pictures that are used to help us learn important truths. Peter speaks of a refiner to illustrate the process of the “trial of our faith.” The refiner heats the gold with fire to reveal the impurities, speaking of the areas of our lives that need to be changed. He then removes those impurities, purifying the gold. The purer the gold, the more reflective it becomes. God, as the Master Refiner, desires to see His own reflection as He looks into the lives of His children being purified in the furnace of suffering. His praiseworthy purpose is to see the likeness of His Son clearly displayed as His children respond in obedience to this painful process.

“The best is not the question ‘Why?’ but better yet, just ‘Who?’
For when you see Me, Who I am, you will surrender too.”

“So, embrace the trial, My dear child, My best is what you’ll see,
Beyond the suffering you feel, My Son they soon shall see.”

Next time we will seek to begin to look at the “Who” question, embracing “Who” God is to help us as we embrace this “why” question.