John Eldredge is one of my favorite writers whose writings have significantly challenged my faith and moved my toward greater intimacy with my God. Over time you will find my reviews of his most influential books (so far) in my experience. In one of his books he writes about his former ministry partner, Brent. John and Brent were starting a ministry to men that utilized wilderness experiences as a setting for challenging men to press forward with faith and courage. Eldredge also writes about the loss of Brent in a tragic and seemingly senseless circumstance – the failure of a rock ledge that led to Brent falling to his death. This happened at the very start of the ministry that had been the dream of both men, in the presence of some of their first participants. Eldredge tells of the bewilderment, pain, and discouragement of that loss, and of questioning God as to why this would happen.
Most of us have experienced great losses and can resonate with Eldredge’s sense of discouragement and bewilderment. Stuff happens, Really difficult, painful or frightening stuff happens. How does one accept great difficulties and disasters like this from our God?
I believe the answer to this question is found in what we truly believe about our God. For instance, do we believe our God is truly all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful? Do we believe He is truly and only good in every way toward us? Does our God initiate and respond only out of love? If things are painfully difficult for us, answering “yes” to these questions may be a stretch for us, or at least a point of uncertainty.
Our responses to trials and difficulties are the barometer of our faith and trust in our God. When our difficulties try us to the uttermost, we find out how much our theology of the grace, love, mercy, and goodness of our God informs our mind, will, and emotions. If we truly believe in the goodness, justice, love, and wisdom of our God, responding with gratitude to what we see as extreme difficulty becomes possible. We can honestly turn to Him in gratitude, worship and in submission.
One important truth that has helped me to begin to respond with greater faith to my difficulties is understanding that we are spiritual beings living in a spiritual world. The most important issues in our lives are the spiritual issues. The most important realm in which we live every day is the spiritual realm. The enemy of our souls seeks to keep our focus on our earthly situations and circumstances. He is hell-bent on getting us to wallow in discouragement because circumstances are not going as we had hoped. Most of all, he wants to blind us to the spiritual realities of what our God is doing in every situation. His purpose is to get us to live in fear, despair, defeat, and miss the spiritual preparation our God does in us through difficulty and pain.
A.W. Tozer, in his book, “This World: Playground or Battle-ground?,” said this: “Surely Bible-reading Christians should be the last persons on earth to give way to hysteria. They are redeemed from their past offenses, kept in their present circumstances by an all-powerful God, and their future is safe in His hands. God has promised to support them in the flood, protect them in the fire, feed them in famine, shield them against their enemies, hide them in His safe chambers until the indignation is past and receive them at last into eternal tabernacles. If we are called upon to suffer, we may be perfectly sure that we shall be rewarded for every pain and blessed for every tear. Underneath will be the Everlasting Arms and within will be the deep assurance that all is well with our souls. Nothing can separate us from the love of God-not death, nor life, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature.”
What do we really believe about our God and His love and care for us? Do we really believe the doctrines about His wisdom, justice, and power to control our circumstances? Do we really believe love is His only motivation? These convictions cannot be simply doctrines to which we nod in intellectual assent. They must settle into our hearts and change our perspectives on the circumstances of our lives.
I fought my God in this growth-by-trials process for too many years. I worried, fretted, stewed, and missed the work my God was doing. I chose anger and cultivated bitterness, wounding myself along the way. Yet He persisted in meeting me in trials and losses, patiently waiting for me to begin to catch on to His work.
Last month I received another skin cancer confirmation, my fourth so far. My first one years ago led to fear, worry, and perseverating on all the “what if” questions. This time, it was “Lord, what are you doing, and how can I cooperate?” That change in me is the result of God’s work throughout all the cancer visits, all the other set-backs, abandonment, losses, and trials in my life. In every circumstance my God has been at work to shape me into the person He intends me to be for eternity.
Knowing His purpose makes the trials, set-backs, and pains a source of anticipation and even joy now. I know He is at work, that He knows what is best, and is only working in me from His love and eternal purposes. I need not worry or be afraid. I need only to trust that He is always up to good things.
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