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Embrace the Trial – Part 5

Understanding the Struggle – “Embracing the Tragedy or Triumph

I give up! This is too hard! What’s the use in trying anymore!

I don’t recall having actually stated these words, but the truth is my attitude, at times, has spoken these words loud and clear. Although my prayer and desire is to “embrace this trial,” the reality is that it is a continual, and grueling struggle. Embracing the trial is not a one-time-event-kind-of-lesson-learned where you “get it” and never have to go back to it. This is a process—a continuous, repeated action, repeated commitment, repeated surrender. My desire is to be faithful in this process, but often my attitude and actions betray my intentions.

We have considered the why and Who questions which help us to embrace the trial, yet I am reminded of the need to understand the almost ever-present struggle of this process. With this understanding comes the reality of the choice of whether to embrace the triumph or the tragedy, dependent upon my embracing the truth.

As the trial continues, there are days of frustration and defeat. Often, at the end of the day, as I pillow my head, my thoughts are arrested by the battle between my flesh and my mind. The emotional, physical, and spiritual struggles of any trial often bring noise into the soul. Through this process, God in His mercy, seeks to rescue us from these noisy areas of defeat that emerge, seemingly at every corner. For me, He is using this trial to open my eyes to areas of sin that I need to address. Like curtains, He is pulling down to reveal something in the dark corners of my heart that I have yet to realize or have been refusing to address. This “ripping down of curtains” is part of the painful, purging process by which God uses to refine us, purifying us like gold.

At times I feel overwhelmed by this process, as if it will never end and it’s just no use in trying. I feel like Paul in Romans 7 where he bares his heart’s struggle in his battle against his flesh. It is a tiring battle—one that is strong and unrelenting—one that seems to gain the upper hand when I am the most vulnerable, one that has no mercy. Paul writes,

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will [the desire] is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would [I want to do] I do not: but the evil which I would not [I don’t want to do], that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. O wretched man that I am!”—Romans 7:18-20, 24a

Maybe go back and read those verses again. It has taken me some time, repeatedly reading, meditating, and asking the Lord for understanding about them to be convinced that I finally have a handle on them.

With these words, Paul express what my heart seems to say, all too often in this trial. Frankly, even when I am not in a trial like what I am going through now. It is the tug-of-war of my flesh and mind. I know what I am supposed to do, the attitudes I’m supposed to have, the example I’m supposed to set, but all too often I find myself doing what I know I shouldn’t, having the attitude that is opposite of what I should, being the example that is against what I should set. This battle is real and it rages with such strength that often victory seems hopeless and beyond the horizon, so far out of sight and beyond my reach, while defeat seems all too real, breathing down my neck, with its death grip embracing me.

What can I do? The truth is that I’m often simply tired and worn out with no fight left—or so it seems. Paul concluded, “O wretched man that I am!” The idea is that Paul cries out in exhaustion, as if he has been exerting his fullest effort in hard labor in this battle. Does this sound familiar? It is at these times that we fall prey to half-truths that can lead to whole-untruths. These are the times where we are often tempted to wonder, “Does God really care or even know what is going on?” Or maybe, “Is there really a purpose to all of this pain?” We might even ask, “Is the praiseworthy purpose of Christ-likeness even worth it?” These are the times that we need to fight these lies with truth.

Consider Paul’s word as he cries out for help, desiring victory for a problem that only presents defeat. He says,

O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”—Romans 7:24-25

In these verses I find great hope and encouragement. Paul sees victory in Christ. I picture in my mind as the great apostle lifts his eyes heavenward and asks the question, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Then with a sigh of relief he smiles giving thanks for this transforming truth with which he triumphs, saying, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is through Christ my Lord, as I surrender to His way that I triumph.

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

What is the way of Christ that Paul is thankful for? Notice the triumphant path that Paul speaks of here at the end of Romans 7. He says, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Paul draws attention to the question of masters. The key to triumph or tragedy is determined by whom I choose to serve. With a renewed mind I serve my Savior but with the natural mind I will give into my flesh and serve self.

The truth is that I can either embrace the tragedy or the triumph. I can either serve self as I give in to my flesh or serve my Savior as I embrace the truth of Who He is.

The realization that I am reminded of is that in order to faithfully embrace the trial, I must faithfully embrace the truth. This exercise at times, is moment by moment. This is the deliberate exercise of my mind being renewed with truth, as Paul writes in Romans 12:2 that we are “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind.” In Colossians 3:10, he uses the illustration of changing clothes as he writes, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after [or based upon] the image of Him that created him.” This renewal process is a replacement process.  The old mind needs to be exchanged with a new mind—just as dirty garments needs to be replaced with clean ones, thoughts of sin and deception must be replaced with thoughts of truth and righteousness.

There is a positive and negative side of this truth. The negative side is that I must embrace the truth that this struggle is real and relentless, raging stronger at times more than other times. There is one who seeks to defeat, destroy, and devour us, using our flesh as the battering ram to bring us to our knees in surrender. Jesus warns us of the devil’s intentions saying, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy[1] while Peter calls for vigilance “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”[2] We must never forget, “that we are [not] sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.[3]

The positive side of embracing the truth answers the painful reality of the trial. Yes, the truth is that our struggle is real and relentless, exacerbated by the enemy who roars and rages, yet our loving Savior stands ready and answers saying, “I AM come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly: I AM the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.”[4] Our great “I AM” further infuses words of truth saying, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.”[5] He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear.”[6] He says, “Be still, and KNOW that I AM God.”[7]

With these words, my tired soul is strengthened, my hopeless heart is revived, my depressed mind is renewed to once again take on the fight.

I must deliberatelyCast down,” destroying these “imaginations” or deceptive thoughts, “and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.[8] I must daily, “set [my] affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”[9] I must be diligentlylooking unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith[10]holding fast the profession of faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised).”[11]

In obedience, I can triumph instead of becoming the tragedy of wasted suffering. With my mind renewed and stabilized upon Christ, the Rock of Truth, I can once again lay hold upon the trial, embracing the struggle, choosing triumph over tragedy.

“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.”


[1] John 10:10a
[2] 1 Peter 5:8
[3] 2 Corinthians 3:5
[4] John 10:10b-11
[5] Isaiah 41:10
[6] Psalm 46:1-2a
[7] Psalm 46:10a
[8] 2 Corinthians 10:5
[9] Colossians 3:2
[10] Hebrews 12:2a
[11] Hebrews 10:23

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Embrace the Trial – Part 4

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

It is in our acceptance of what is given [whatever that may be], that God gives Himself.

This quote comes from her book, “These Strange Ashes,” where Elisabeth Elliot writes,

Faith’s most severe tests come not when we see nothing, but when we see a stunning array of evidence that seems to prove our faith vain. If God were God, if He were omnipotent, if He had cared, would this have happened? Is this that I face now … the reward of my obedience? One turns in disbelief again from the circumstances and looks into the abyss. But in the abyss there is only blackness, no glimmer of light, no answering echo …. It was a long time before I came to the realization that it is in our acceptance of what is given [whatever that may be], that God gives Himself. This grief, this sorrow, this total loss that empties my hands and breaks my heart, I may, if I will, accept, and by accepting it, I find in my hands something to offer. And so I give it back to Him, who in mysterious exchange gives Himself to me.”

As I read these words, I am struck by her raw transparency as she struggles to reconcile Who God is with the reality of the pain of her suffering. God giving Himself to us in the trial speaks of His attitude toward His children, as He reveals more of Who He is. The truths of God bring great comfort in the trial, when we learn to embrace Who He is.

How will my attitude toward my trial change when I embrace the truth that God gives Himself? What changes in my mind when I embrace this truth? How will my response to my trial change when my focus shifts from off my pain to the Person in control of the process?

The shifting of our perspective from off the painful process to the Person Who is providentially seeking to bring about His loving purpose results in worship. In part 3, we considered God’s character—“what God is like” and “what God knows is best.” We considered Paul and his response to God’s negative answer to his prayer. His response is one of surrender as he embraces the trial in worship. The reason? He knew and trusted his loving, heavenly Father.

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 night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, He tenderly taught His disciples, seeking to prepare them for His departure, which was their greatest trial up to this point in their lives. Over and over He teaches them life-changing, stabilizing truths about His Father.

In John 15 we see a comforting word picture of the purging process. It illustrates for us both the purpose and the process of trials, but it also shows us the Person orchestrating the process for His good purpose. Take a few moments and read through these verses noting the Father and Son, as I have highlighted them to draw our attention.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.”—John 15:1-5

Amongst the many stabilizing truths in the passage, two great truths stand out, bringing great encouragement. In this passage Christ speaks of the loving relationships between the Husbandman and the Vine and branches.

The first, in illustration form, is that God is a vinedresser lovingly pruning His vine branches. What I find so encouraging about this word picture is the attitude of God the Father, the husbandman, going about pruning His branches. Picture in your mind a vinedresser coming alongside each vine with his pruning shears as he gets in close to the vine. He is very deliberate and methodical about where he cuts. He desires to maximize the fruit-bearing potential and quality of each branch so he cuts off only what is necessary—he applies only necessary pain to the branch. In this we see the careful attention the Husbandman gives as He wraps His loving arms around the Vine and prunes each branch—like a loving father embracing his child.

The second great truth is Christ’s desire for union and communion with His branches. Through this purging process Christ, the vine, is ever present and calls for us to “abide in Him,” ever seeking to draw us into closer, more intimate fellowship of dependency. From these words we see God’s attitude of love pouring forth like an unending fountain.

Consider what the Bible says about God’s love: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9). “But God commendeth [proved] His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is the heart of our God in every action He takes—He is the unchanging, loving God.

In the book of Jeremiah, God speaks of the 70 years of judgment, in Babylon, that the nation of Israel will suffer through. He then reassures and reminds them of Who He is. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” saith the LORD, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected [desired] end” (Jeremiah 29:11). He is saying, “Remember Who I am! I Love you, and desire peace for you and not evil. I desire a good and purposeful end to this process. Trust Me, I love You!”

A few chapters later Jeremiah writes, “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, ‘Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee [He lovingly encourages His people into a closer relationship with Him]’” (Jeremiah 31:3). God reminds His servant that His painful actions toward His people are rooted in a love that will never end. It is with this love that He draws His people closer to Himself through the trials of life.

A second word picture has been helpful for me as I consider God’s praiseworthy purpose. Paul writes, “For we are His workmanship [masterpiece], created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

I find it helpful to keep in mind that God is a master sculptor skillfully sculpting His masterpiece. A.W. Tozer wrote,

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply. If God sets out to make you an unusual Christian He is not likely to be as gentle as He is usually pictured by the popular teachers. A marble sculptor does not use a manicure set to reduce the rude, unshapely marble to a thing of beauty. The saw, the hammer and the chisel are cruel tools, but without them the rough stone must remain forever formless and unbeautiful.”

This illustration pictures for us the process that is necessary to fulfill God’s praiseworthy purpose. It is a painful process but never forget that it is always with purpose from the hand of a loving God. Remember, “God never wastes the sufferings of His saints” (Warren Wiersbe). It is always for a good purpose.

Just as a master sculptor takes the necessary time to complete his masterpiece, so too, God the greatest, all-wise Master Sculptor takes only the necessary time, and necessary cuts to bring His masterpiece to completion. Remember the end goal for this painful process, “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” (Romans 8:28-29).

Let’s keep in mind that God’s masterpiece will only be fully completed once we see our Savior face to face, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2), “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6). Until that time, God is seeking to sculpt us into the image of His Son, day by day, trial by trial.

“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.”