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Embrace the Trial – Part 6

We are talking about the process of embracing our trials. In part one we discussed the “poem challenge”. In part two we sought to understand the “Why” question and why it is the unproductive question. In part three and part four, we considered God’s character—“what God is like” and “what God knows is best.” In part five we sought to understand the struggle of the ongoing trial. Here in part 6 we come to the topic of contentment in the trial.

Understanding Contentment – “Embracing God’s Sufficiency

Recently, I was in the process of preparing a Sunday morning message when I found myself struggling with being content.

In the midst of my current trial, as I battle with a number of health concerns, my three-year old accidently poked me in the eye and scratched my cornea. I found this painful and discouraging, but I also found myself on the wrong end of discontentment. This incident coincided with a busy week with a tight schedule and no room for distractions, let alone poor eyesight and additional visits to doctors and waiting rooms.

Looking back on the timing of things I see the wisdom of God. In my eyes this was absolutely the worst timing possible, but in God’s infinite and perfect wisdom He knew I would gain the most from having this personal object lesson to pave the way for change. I also see God’s humor as it made me the object lesson for the message I was preparing. A few weeks prior to this, the Lord had laid on my heart His will for our church to study Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. In the fourth chapter of he writes,

“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”—Philippians 4:11b

I contemplated on the setting where these words were written and my heart was struck with rebuke. I know that the trial the Apostle Paul endured was far greater than my own, yet saw how he surrendered to God’s way and submitted to God’s wisdom and understanding. How did he do this? How could he write these words with such honesty without even a hint of underlying sarcasm or bitterness? Instead there is obvious peace and joy.

As I meditated upon this passage, a simple outline rose to the surface which explains the Paul’s contentment. It begins with the premise that I can be content in any circumstance no matter what (v. 11). It is then followed by two simple yet profound promises which speak of God’s sufficiency regarding His strength (v. 13) and His supply (v. 19). The reality of profoundly obvious truths in Scripture is that unfortunately they are often practically obscure in our lives. Often what appears so simple and clear on the pages of God’s Word and even in our minds remains hidden in our lives.

This was clearly the case, as I meditated upon this passage and was struck by how practically obscure these truths were, right at that moment in my life. With this realization I bowed my head in repentance. Then knowing God’s forgiveness, I smiled seeing God’s perfect timing, bringing me into a head-on collision with the details of my life and these truths that were so absolutely necessary to confront them and bring my heart to rest. The encouragement came as these truths began the twelve-inch journey from my head to my heart where they found a resting place and where my heart found the much-needed contentment even though the circumstances had yet to change.

Paul begins with a premise that on the outset is bold and daring. He says, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” It is a statement that, at first, comes across as “too good to be true” or may be only something that is for the “elite Christians” like Paul. But after further consideration and drawing in the promises that follow I see that this premise statement is meant for me—it is meant to be one of the statements of my life. It is meant for each of us “ordinary Christians.” God desires that my heart would rest content “in whatsoever state I am.”

Before we consider the promise, keep in mind that Paul’s statement isn’t a lesson that just came naturally to him but was one that he “learned” by experience. It was through trial after trial as he “learned” to rest in the stabilizing truths of God that he was able to, with a clear conscience and genuineness of heart, speak these words that, most often, seem to defy reality.

Now consider the promises, as pillars of truth, upon which the house of contentment is built. The foundation of these pillars is the sufficiency of God. Paul writes, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). The key to contentment begins first with a proper understanding of our inadequacy. Until we find ourselves to be lacking in our own ability to sufficiently deal with every detail of life we will never look outside ourselves and look to God. It is through the trials of life that God brings us to the end of ourselves—to the end of the façade of our own sufficiency and sovereignty as we turn to Him in dependent trust finding Him to be sovereign over all things and sufficient for our every need.

The first promise of God’s sufficiency from Paul deals with God’s powerlearning to rest in the strength of God.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”—v. 13

This verse gives us both the strength and the source of contentment, which is the Power that comes from within—the indwelling Holy Spirit Who enables the believer to do all that the Lord calls upon him to do and go through. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). It is God working in us giving us the desire to do His “good pleasure” but also empowering us as well. “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” (2 Corinthians 9:8). This is the grace of God at work in our lives as we humble ourselves before Him, for “God giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

Learning to rest in this truth of the sufficiency of God’s strength for every situation of life is vital to our contentment in life. When the temptation to give in to sin is seemingly greater than your strength to fight, run to Christ and remember that He has promised that His strength will be sufficient. Remember the promise that “I can do ALL things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Whatever state you find yourself in, trust Him to be sufficient to carry you through. “Faithful is He that calleth you who will also do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

The truth is that I can be content in every circumstance because God’s strength is more than enough. His strength is sufficient for me to stand fast against the temptation of discontentment and trust His providence to be right and best.

The second promise of God’s sufficiency from Paul deals with God’s provisionlearning to rest in the supply of God.

“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”—v. 19

In this verse we see the supply of contentment. I find it interesting to consider our American definition of the word, “need” as defined by how we use it. Quite often we use the word “need” where we should be using the word “want” instead. God has not promised to supply our wants but our genuine needs or those things that He defines as necessary. Once He stops providing it, it is no longer necessary.

It is important to keep in mind that our needs come in positive and negative qualities. The positive side of our needs are those things that God provides that we are lacking such as financial or health needs. On the negative side we see those things that are painful which God uses to teach us wonderful truths and help us deal with specific sin.

The truth is that I can be content in every circumstance because God’s supply is more than enough. His supply is sufficient to help me rest in His providence and stand fast against the temptation to doubt that I have what I need or that God will fail to provide it in His perfect time.

In summary: Biblical contentment becomes a reality in the believer’s life when we become humbly dependent upon the Lord for both His strength, to endure our trials, and His supply for our every need. Biblical contentment is learning to thank God for our troubles while we are still in them.

 “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 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.”

Knowing God—Forget none of HIS Benefits

How well do you know HIM?  How well do you want to know HIM?

“And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,” (2 Peter 1:2)

Knowing God is one of our greatest privileges.  As we gain a greater understanding of Him it will transform our lives.  Only then will we be able to worship and serve Him Biblically.  Let us “know the TRUTH” and let the TRUTH set us free to live for Christ, like Christ.

In Psalm 103 David shares with us some precious truths about our great God which gives us many reasons to “bless the LORD.”

“Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” (Psalm 103:1)

How can a Christian bless God? It starts in knowing who God is and in turn responding to that knowledge.  Our response must be yielding our will to His will.  As we yield, we are submitting to His authority.  We are saying He is right and we will obey Him wholeheartedly or with “all that is within [us].”  In obedience, we are living out our worship to Him.  We are giving value to His way and therefore making Him THE priority.  This is “blessing the LORD.”

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:” (Psalm 103:2)

We are a blessing to God as we make a concerted effort to keep Him and His works in the forefront of our minds. When the Word of God is on the forefront of our minds it will produce right living.

Right thinking produces right living.

Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” (Psalm 119:11)

The word “forget” carries the idea of the memory softening over a period of time.  This happens when we stop making an effort to keep in our mind the truth of God.  It takes no effort to “forget” God’s truth but it takes much diligence in being in God’s Word and meditating upon it to remember these truths.  David challenges us to forget NONE of the ways of God—we are to remember ALL the “benefits” of God.

Notice also that they are “benefits.”  Everything about God is beneficial.  To those who walk in the ways of wickedness, God acts mercifully in bringing into their lives difficulties designed to help them by getting their attention in order turn from their wicked ways and turn to God.  This is a loving and merciful act of God.  Unfortunately these acts of God are often refused and God in turn responds by giving them what they want—a life without Him.

To those who walk in righteousness God mercifully brings difficulties into our lives in order to get our attention and draw us closer to Him. The “benefits” of God are of such infinite proportions that our finite minds cannot  fully comprehend.  The Word of God is filled with His “benefits.” Let us diligently seek to always be reminded of God’s “benefits” so as to not forget them and in turn live lives that “bless the LORD.”

Take a moment and read the remainder of the Psalm and consider the unparalleled greatness of God.

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth  all thy diseases;” (Psalm 103:3)

God “forgives & heals”—God forgives our “iniquities” or our sins which alleviates the guilt brought on by sin. The forgiveness of sin opens the door to fellowship with God.  Without forgiveness of sin there is no reconciliation, there can be no spiritual healing, there can be no peace.

Who redeemeth [delivers] thy life from destruction; Who crowneth [blesses] thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies [compassions]: (Psalm 103:4)

God “redeems & blesses”—Spiritual death is the consequence of sin and through Christ’s blood we have been “redeemed” or delivered from spiritual death as well as eternal death.  Christ as our great Substitute paid our penalty of death in our place.  This alone is a tremendous blessing. We are incapable of comprehending the magnitude of the spiritual blessings that we have been blessed with.  The Lord, by His grace and mercy, has blessed His children with such compassion in withholding from us deserved punishment.

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:5)

God “satisfies”—Dr. Jim Berg speaks of God being “more than enough.”  He is “more than enough” for every situation in life—He is all that we need. Consider why we are often dissatisfied. The reality is that when we have God we have everything that we need. We must learn to rest in Him and let Him be ALL that we need.

“ The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.” (Psalm 103:6)

God is “righteous”—His righteousness is clearly seen in how He deals with all of mankind.  He always does what is right—ALWAYS!

He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel.” (Psalm 103:7)

 God “makes Himself known”—The Bible tells us, “The heavens declare the glories of God” (Psalm 19:1).  God, through Creation and through His precious Word has made Himself known to us.  He has told us everything we need to know about Him—this is the transforming knowledge of God.  When we know God, personally, we are then transformed as we are changed into the image of His Son.

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” (Psalm 103:8)

God is “merciful”—Consider the punishment that God withholds from those whom He forgives.

God is “gracious”—Consider the undeserved, unearned, unmerited favor of God as He pours out His abounding grace upon us.

“And God is able to make ALL grace [divine help] abound [in excess] toward you; that ye, ALWAYS having ALL sufficiency [being satisfied] in ALL things, may abound to EVERY good work:” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

How great is the God that you and I get to worship?  Let us be diligent in “recalling to mind” His greatness and His gracious actions toward us and in turn “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope [confidence]. It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25)

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)