Archive for the ‘Trials’ Category

Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes

This poem by the African-American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) powerfully expresses the grit and endurance I desire for myself, for my family, and for the sheep I pastor. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “Forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:13).
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

God seems to have abandoned me – now what?

It is not at all uncommon for God’s people to go through periods of time in which it appears that God Himself has forsaken them. Perhaps it’s a prolonged period of illness or injury that doesn’t improve. Perhaps it’s a loved one killed by police, as we’ve seen again in the last few days. Perhaps it’s a child straying from the faith, wandering heedlessly down a path of destruction. Perhaps it’s a period of spiritual dryness, in which nothing tastes. Whatever you may be walking through, you are not the first to experience God’s absence. Just look at Psalm 77 – it is one of the most helpful expressions of “Where are you, God???” in the whole Bible, for it not only gives voice to the deep cries of our heart, but it also shows us where to go for relief.

Asaph was where we so often find ourselves: in a day of trouble (2). He sought the Lord, crying out to Him, believing that He would hear him (1), yet he did not find comfort (2). In fact, he found just the opposite: “When I remember God, then I am disturbed” (3). Going to God made his troubles even worse, for as we see from his list of questions in verses 7-9, it appeared to Asaph that God had rejected him, that He would never be favorable again, that His lovingkindness had ceased forever, that His promise had come to an end, that He had forgotten to be gracious, that He had withdrawn His compassion. In a nutshell, it seemed that “the right hand of God had changed” (10). We’ve all been here. God feels distant, unconcerned with my affliction. He only purposes to harm me. The only proper interpretation of our circumstances seems to be that He is no longer the faithful and caring and loving God He promised to be. We are afflicted, and then afflicted again as we contemplate our situation.

When we find ourselves where Asaph was, then we must go where Asaph went. And where did he go? To the past. “I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds” (11-12). Asaph went back in his mind to God’s mighty acts of deliverance and redemption, and what he found there was the holiness of God (13), the greatness of God (13), the strength of God (14), the redeeming grace of God (15). He found a God whose ways are ultimately beyond figuring out; indeed, “Your way was in the sea and Your path in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known” (19). But even in the darkness of God’s ways, he found a God who carefully and lovingly led His people like a flock by His appointed servants (20).

Asaph found resolution in his trouble by remembering – remembering who God had revealed Himself to be in the past brought the comfort He could not find as he cried out to God in the present. Seeing God’s character and concern in days gone by assured him of God’s nearness in the days to come. Yes, it can indeed appear that God has changed, that He has rejected us and has forgotten to be gracious, that His promises have failed. But appearances can be deceiving, and the past brings the present into clearer focus.

If Asaph could gain comfort today by meditating on God’s faithful power yesterday, how much more can the disciple of Jesus Christ? “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Jesus Christ was truly forsaken and abandoned by His Father in heaven, enduring the whole measure of judicial wrath in our place, in order that we might never be orphans again, but forever sons and daughters of the King on high. May the Lord give us grace to cry out to Him in our pain, to remember the days of old, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the forsaken one, that we might find what Asaph found and even more – He will never, ever let us go.

 

God comforts us to make us comforters – by Thomas Smyth (part 1)

II Corinthians 1:4 – “…[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

The qualifications of Paul for his high office as a minister of Christ, were not more remarkable than the ways by which he was prepared for eminent usefulness in the church of God. He was, unquestionably, a man of great natural endowments, of strong intellect, of great mental power, and, at the same time, endured with firm, noble, and generous feeling. He was a man also whose character obtained for him high influence among his countrymen; and was delegated to exercise powers which would have been committed to few, perhaps, besides himself. When he became converted, he was called henceforth to devote his life, and all his powers, to Him who had dealt by him with such wondrous mercy. All his natural endowments, and all the qualifications which he had gotten by careful mental, and moral discipline, were now to be devoted to that Lord, whom lately he had persecuted. But there was one way in particular by which God was preparing to make him useful in his church, and that was, by suffering.

We are told of all the apostles, and of Paul in common with them, that they were “delivered unto death;” that they were “made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men;” but he who was to stand forth preeminent among them for his labors and his services, his usefulness and his success, was appointed to go deeper than any of them into suffering and the bitterness of human life. “Strifes and imprisonment” were familiar to him; he was “often in shipwrecks,” and other perils; he was well acquainted with “weariness, and painfulness, and watchings, with reproaches and persecutions.” At Philippi, he was “shamefully entreated;” at Ephesus, he “fought with beasts;” at Iconium, at Antioch, at Lystra, he suffered “affliction and persecution.”

But there were heavier trials than these, which he was called to endure. There were divisions among the people, over whom God had set him in charge, so that he almost doubted whether he had not labored among them in vain. And when there were men, like the members of the church at Ephesus, who were growing in faith, and adorning it by a holy practice, and Paul with gladness stayed among them; then the parting was a new source of sorrow – another portion of the burden which he was bound to bear. And how weight was this burden, and how sore was this trial, we may learn from his own expressions when, at Miletus, he sent for the elders of the Ephesian church to bid them farewell. So sorrowful was that parting, it well nigh broke his heart. There are other parts of his condition, especially that which regards his mysterious trial – the “thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him,” whereon we might dwell. But enough has been said to prove that St. Paul was a man of great suffering; and his suffering is so prominently mentioned in his history, that we cannot but connect it with the preparation for his eminent usefulness in the church of God.

But we must specially mark that Paul is our pattern in the use which he made of his afflictions. He used them rightly; that is to say, he took them at God’s hand for the purpose intended, as explained by the very record of our text. Herein Paul may well stand as a pattern for all Christians. Sorrow is no strange thing to them. It is God’s school for spiritual discipline. It is God’s way of bringing his people to heaven, and preparing them for “the glory that is to be revealed.” The condition of the godly is oftentimes a condition of special outward trial. In the Old Testament, indeed, we read of those who served God, and enjoyed great temporal prosperity. And this was, in a great degree, the promise of the Old Testament. But under the new dispensation, God promises us that which experience proves to be a better thing, He promises sanctified affliction. He promises trial and trouble, adversity and sorrow of heart, all working for good and gracious ends, in bringing us into a greater preparedness for His heavenly kingdom. And it is marvelous to see how in this manner, the work of divine grace is sometimes first begun in the heart. There may have been seasons of utter disregard, of carelessness and neglect, when the world was adding link after link to the claims of its bondage; when, though messages were sent in abundance, none seemed to reach the heart, but it seemed as if it were always hard, as if there were to be no tokens of spiritual life. In vain were the faithful words of God’s ministers; the counsels of Christian friends; the prayers and tears of pious parents; in vain seemed all the means of grace; until, in a season of special mercy, God, as it were, used yet one more effort, sent yet one more message, and strove yet once more by His Spirit, with the obdurate sinner. Conscience was at last awakened; the hard soil of the heart, which had been lying fallow from year to year, was broken up; the seed was sown, and there might be perceived, “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”

(to be continued…)

If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee

This beautiful poem by by Georg Neumark (1621-1681), translated by Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878) so clearly expresses the confidence the believer has in trial. It’s #670 in the red Trinity hymnal if you want to sing it! A powerful song of God’s providence and grace.

1. If thou but suffer God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the Rock that naught can move.

2. What can these anxious cares avail thee,
These never-ceasing moans and sighs?
What can it help if thou bewail thee
O’er each dark moment as it flies?
Our cross and trials do but press
The heavier for our bitterness.

3. Only be still and wait His leisure
In cheerful hope, with heart content
To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure
And His discerning love hath sent,
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
To Him who chose us for His own.

4. God knows full well when times of gladness
Shall be the needful thing for thee.
When He has tried thy soul with sadness
And from all guile has found thee free,
He comes to thee all unaware
And makes thee own His loving care.

5. Nor think amid the fiery trial
That God hath cast thee off unheard,
That he whose hopes meet no denial
Must surely be of God preferred.
Time passes and much change doth bring
And sets a bound to everything.

6. All are alike before the Highest;
‘Tis easy to our God, we know,
To raise thee up, though low thou liest,
To make the rich man poor and low.
True wonders still by Him are wrought
Who setteth up and brings to naught.

7. Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
Perform thy duties faithfully,
And trust His Word, though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook in need
The soul that trusted Him indeed.

 

A Little Bird I Am, Madame Guyon

Madame Guyon was a 17th century French mystic and Quietist, nevertheless the following poem (written in one of her imprisonments?) is a beautiful declaration of submission to the sovereign providence of God (HT-Carl Kalberkamp):
A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air,
And in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleaseth Thee.
Nought have I else to do,
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please
Doth listen to my song;
He caught and bound my wandering wing;
But still He bends to hear me sing.
Thou hast an ear to hear
A heart to love and bless;
And though my notes were e’er so rude,
Thou wouldst not hear the less;
Because Thou knowest as they fall,
That love, sweet love, inspires them all.
My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart’s at liberty;
For prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.
O it is good to soar
These bolts and bars above!
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose providence I love;
And in Thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind.

Francis Schaeffer on facing cancer

Wayne Sparkman, the Director of the PCA Historical Center, has posted this wonderful letter from Francis Schaeffer to Robert Rayburn (the then-president of Covenant Seminary). Both men faced cancer, and to listen in to Dr. Schaeffer’s reflections about his mortality is powerful.

Thank God for trials…

Do you thank God for the testing He sends into your life? He is the God who doesn’t allow our feet to slip (Ps 66:9), but He is also the God who refines us as silver is refined (Ps 66:10-12). And through the refining process He keeps us in life, and will bring us out into a place of abundance. Praise Him today for your trials and their fruit.