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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Suffering? Consider it Joy? (Part 2)

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?” I read in Isaiah 40:28-31. “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in (wait upon) the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” If I hope and wait upon the Lord, I will become stronger. In this passage, God is exemplified as one who is incapable of failure. His wisdom surpasses mine in every way. God becomes not only the God of power revealed through His creation (you and me), but also the God of power given to His creation. Through faith He becomes my Savior.

How do I wait upon Him? By actually exchanging His strength for my strength. I am to soar on wings like eagles. I am to run and not get tired. It is evident that my natural resources will not work. Only through hope and steady growth in Christ can His will for my life be realized. I must always come full circle-from suffering to hope to faith.

In 1976 we moved from Georgia to Nebraska. It was cold and miserable. Wind whistled endlessly across prairie hills, and I longed to go back to Georgia. What I discovered in Nebraska, like my friend realized years later, that my own road was hard. In 1979 we attempted to move back South. We explored every option, and the problems that sprang up that year appeared insurmountable. Cancer, bleeding ulcers, surgeries, selling our home, moving everything into storage, living in a motel, looking for work in the South, and the family separated. The list grinds on. The door that was forced open was finally shut in our face, and I sadly readied myself for another Nebraska winter.

This was a hard time. I couldn’t see the reason for that shut door, until six months after it had closed, a new door swung open. A job for my husband in Mississippi! But not just any job! It was one for which he had previously been passed over! Within two months, we had moved! I discovered that God’s ways are not mine, His timing is His own, but His faithfulness is eternal! I also learned that God sometimes just requires our willingness to trust in His provision. 

In Hebrews there are examples of people who hoped, waited, and had faith in the Lord. They persevered, and they had promises. These people of faith died without receiving all God had promised them. Their eyes were fixed upon His real promise–life forever with Him. They did not become frustrated because their needs and expectations were not immediately realized. They did not become impatient and just give up because the final promise was so distant. Each lived and each died without seeing the full profit of their faith while on earth. Yet, through it all, they believed.

Look at Abraham. He was willing to give up his own son, just as God was willing to give up His son. In Isaac, the promise that Abraham’s descendants would be as “numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore”, would be realized. The command to sacrifice Isaac was the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith. If I’m afraid to trust God with my most cherished dream, then I should consider this example. Because Abraham was willing to let God have everything, he received more than he ever thought possible.

And then there is Moses. Moses was not born in wealth and prestige, but found himself raised by the Pharaoh’s own daughter. When he was grown, he had to have faith to give up his place in a royal family. He recognized the passing importance of material wealth, and he chose his own people. I might be deceived by the lure of earthly prosperity. Moses’ faith encourages me to look beyond what the world has to offer, and recognize the eternal benefit that God has extended to His children.

God has given me His promises to have strength to stand against sin, to be part of His nature, and to mature spiritually. To escape the grasp of sin, and to be more like Him, I must grow spiritually. II Peter 1: 3-7 explains that I must add to my faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and brotherly kindness. I can’t add these by myself. Only the Lord supplies the strength for this accomplishment, but I make the decision to step out in faith.

Do you remember the friend I mentioned yesterday, the one who had the stroke? She could have allowed her stroke to spiritually deplete her, but she made her decision to find her strength in Him “When things are going well,” she said, “we feel we are on top of the world. No mountains to climb. No rivers to forge. We can go forward with little or no effort. But what happens when our world begins to crumble away? One day I had everything, a good job, and a nice place to live. The next day I was laying in a hospital unable to move the right side of my body. I needed strength to face the days ahead. God flooded my mind with His promises. His might began to fill my heart with strength to face the unknown and the darkness of tomorrow. In a few days I started the long process of recovery. God is so good. My strength comes from Him.”

Paul writes in Ephesians 6:10 (Amplified Bible), “In conclusion, be strong in the Lord (be empowered through your union with Him); draw your strength from Him (that strength which His boundless might provides).” Do I want to be effective for God? Do I want to be productive and an available tool in His hands? Then I must be willing to grow, to positively face life’s struggles, and to be available for His purposes.

My faith in Jesus Christ is more precious than this world’s most precious metal, so it should be my most valued possession! When Jesus calls me home to test the value of its worth what will He discover? I shall either have failed and remained a child, or endured and matured. What I have within must be tested to see if it is any good. If untried, it becomes stagnant. Tried, it is refined by the fire of the Holy Spirit. “Consider it pure joy,” James writes. To face trials with joy? Do I really believe that the testing of my faith produces the ability to persevere? God wishes me to understand that it is the joy of the purest kind.

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