Last night, my daughter wanted to make a Greek meal. Like most ideas, I don’t know where the thought originated, but if it comes to her mind, it tries to find a way to materialize tangibly. My husband and I love gyros, hummus, olives, and all things bread and olive oil, so of course, I was enthusiastic. Make a meal for the family…and something besides spaghetti? You betcha. I even helped her find stuff at the store and blended garbanzo beans. The wafted scents of baked pita with basil and garlic and the earthy quality of feta and onions filled the kitchen. My mouth watered and my stomach did a little leap, until my brain reminded it that it wouldn’t be getting food tonight.
Due to some health complications and necessary fasting, I wasn’t ingesting much of anything but juice. Now, sometimes our hardships come on because we have chosen poorly (sin), sometimes because we live in a fallen and wicked world, and sometimes because we’ve bought into a belief system that doesn’t align with the truth. My current predicament wasn’t God’s fault, but he was using it to teach me some things about surrender and true nourishment and peace. Before I started to feel sorry for myself (well, let’s just say that I didn’t put a hat on at the pity party), I reminded myself of a recent passage I’d read in Acts 20 where Paul commends the Church:
“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
Did you catch that? The Holy Spirit prompted Paul to go to Jerusalem, but Paul had no idea what he was to expect, except for persecution and hardship. No Prosperity Gospel there, huh? In case you think Paul might have misunderstood the Spirit’s leading, check out this passage:
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2, NIV).
Jesus had just been baptized, and the Father had commended Him in front of all those witnesses, and then the mountain top plummets to the valley. Not only does Jesus go about as long as a human body can without food, but He is being assaulted by the one who hates him the most–Satan. And the Spirit led Him to it.
When I think about trials and the seemingly silent treatment of God, I ponder the life of Joseph in the Old Testament. Obviously, the Lord was with him every step of the way, orchestrating his life and bringing about physical and spiritual redemption for his family and those beyond, but how long did Joseph go before God granted him a ‘yes’? Over a decade. He faced a literal pit, slavery, false accusations, imprisonment, and isolation. And yet, at the end of it all, he told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). I wonder how long it took for his faith to develop to that point. Were there moments in prison, surrounded by darkness and vermin, that Joseph stared at the stone walls and cried, “Are you there, Lord?”
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
CLARITY in UNCLEAR CIRCUMSTANCES
We may never see the purposes of our pain this side of Heaven, but be assured that God is always working–sometimes quite visibly and sometimes behind the scenes. When we assess our trials in light of eternity, we can say with confidence that “this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (2 Cor. 4:17).
“All shall work together for good; everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds…Yield to his prescriptions and fight against every thought that would represent it as desirable to be permitted to choose for yourself” (John Newton).
Sheep sometimes need to be submerged in a vat of pest solution to kill all the mites and parasites and such. Doing so requires that it get over their heads, and as you can imagine, this experience frightens the sheep, but if they try to come up too soon or get out of the tub, the sheepdog will bark and nip at them. Seems cruel and unusual punishment at the time, but the shepherd knows that it’s vital for the health and stability of the sheep. Our Good Shepherd knows what is draining us of life and health–whether we do or not.
“Suffering takes away the loves, joys, and comforts that we rely on to give life meaning. How can we maintain our poise, or even our peace and joy, when that happens? The answer is that we can do that only if we locate our meaning in things that can’t be touched by death. Christians […] face adversity by increasing our love and joy in God. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace.”
Our Creator and Savior is our bread of life, focus on Him, lean into Him and find our peace in His arms.