Tag Archive: trials

Better Off Broken

In one of the most puzzling encounters in the Bible, the patriarch Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man all night. Near the end of the struggle, the stranger touches his hip and puts it out of joint.

He has been wrestling with God. And after God hurts and calls and blesses him, He changes Jacob’s name to Israel. And Israel now walks with a limp.

We often think that getting more religious means we will turn over a new leaf, and that we can, by sheer will power, change our hearts. We’re told that We Have The Power, that we just need to drum up enough faith, enough of the greatness within. And that we can do it all by ourselves.

But it’s just window dressing. All that does is turn us into proud, self-righteous fools. We can modify externals, but what of the very core of who we are? Lasting, inside-out change only comes from God’s direct work on us, and that often comes only as our trials break our hearts and humble us. It’s then, when we give our train-wrecked lives to Him in trust and surrender that we are remade in practical fact.

These trials may leave scars and even permanent damage. But they also become the marks of His ownership of our hearts. We now need to lean on Him to make our way – we always did, but now we know it. We will walk with a limp, just like Jacob. But it’s hardly a bad thing when we finally lay down our own attempts to justify ourselves and our proud self-sufficiency.

This is what humility looks like. Not that we hate ourselves, but that we’ve learned to look for our supply from Someone outside ourselves.


When Life Hurts

Jesus said to him, “if you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)

When trouble hits the fan, I have two choices: submit to God’s hand in my life, or despair. 

The Bible says God afflicts us for our good.

In our trials we realize our own inabilities, our lack of faith, our fears. “I believe; help my unbelief”. Perhaps all our difficulties serve to bring us to that point, to make us realize that depending on our own effort (even when we may agree with and pay lip service to grace), we still come up short. It’s not until we really understand our own inability to even trust that we make any real progress. God’s grace dawns, on my heart at least, gradually. It is learned as He disciplines me, and I suspect there is no other way. The first step in trusting is to realize we can’t do it on our own.

But I think the discipline doesn’t so much harden me to the task – to make me more moral and determined to obey – as it teaches me to let go and let His Spirit do the thing. Weakness here equals strength. I have to learn to let go, not just in theory, but in practice, and then He can get to work.

Romans 8 now makes a little more sense: if we don’t have His Spirit in us, we are not His; we can’t be His. It’s not so much a rule as it is a structural necessity: if it’s His Spirit inside that draws me, helps me to pray aright, that loves through me as I learn to step aside and let Him work through me, then it just can’t happen unless actually He resides within. And we can’t receive except by trust, by faith. It’s a slippery concept, because it’s so easy to say we are trusting, and to think we are trusting when we really aren’t. And even when we start to get it, there’s a sort of natural gravity that draws us back into the shadows. We need reminders, and life’s troubles push us back into His arms again and again.

I am by nature religious and dutiful. But that’s no credit to me; perhaps even a hindrance. It’s easy to trust in my own moral performance. 

But trusting in what’s already done… That’s the gospel! And if it’s already done, then we can get excited, rest, and rejoice.

Is there a connection between the power and purity of the early Church and the degree of trial they endured? I don’t doubt it. These extreme trials would surely force them to not trust in themselves: but we live in an affluent, secure age; such radical trust runs against the grain of our time and culture. 

I understand a bit better, I think, those who talk about our utter depravity and how God must do it all. It’s not just that we are culpable; it’s that our nature renders us incapable of obedience – unless He does it in us. It’s ALL him; God is completely everything. He initiates and works through us for His glory and our good.

The upshot of it all is I take credit for nothing at all. It’s God who calls, saves, heals, and helps me to trust. Yet… my free will is somehow still part of the picture: I must yield, get out of the way, rest, trust, and submit to the death of my old nature.

And nothing He does is ultimately frustrated if He is truly sovereign. He uses everything for His glory, which is connected wonderfully to our good.

I was installing a new dishwasher and nothing was going right. It’s a cramped, awkward space for my middle-aged frame and every time I misplaced a tool or dropped a little screw I had to extricate myself from my hole to look for it and then crawl right back in. It might take an experienced installer an hour or so to put in this devil machine, but I spent the better part of a day in there.
Finally I stepped back to admire my handiwork, the brushed steel gleaming under the kitchen lights. I felt like we had a Porsche parked in our kitchen, and I felt like a hero. I had triumphed.
Then I saw the code. There were some numbers flashing on the display, starting with an “E”. Not a good thing. What words begin with “E”? Let’s see. Excellent? Well, it was an excellent machine, but I’m sure it already knew that. What else could it be telling me?
Error. A quick check on the smartphone declared the code to indicate a defective pump. It was over 5 weeks – after numerous phone calls to the dealer and finally a visit from the manufacturer’s tech guy – before dishwashing harmony was again heard in our kitchen.
Sometimes so much goes off the rails it seems planned to test us.
Then it occurred to me that much of the disappointment, even despair that comes into our lives comes from being too heavily invested in the here and now. And if this life and dishwashers is all there is, it might be understandable. That malevolent contraption stole a day from me, and I’m not getting any younger.
But if this life is just a preparation for what is to come, then I can view my frustrations in a different light.
First, the problem itself becomes less significant. If I am going to live forever, how big a deal is it? We need the right perspective. Maybe the lessons in patience and trusting in God are more important that 8 hours of my weekend.
It also reveals my priorities, and demonstrates who’s running my life.  Who’s in charge? Who’s agenda is of ultimate importance? Do I trust that God can and is using this for my good?
Finally, it’s a chance to practice growing in grace. All of life is a training ground, and as we consciously lean on Him (choosing love and service and not swearing bitterly at malfunctioning appliances) we are increasingly remade, changed in fact and made like Him.
It’s hard. We have to unlearn all of our self-absorbed, grasping ways and learn to trust His leading. It feels like a kind of death, the end of cherished notions and dreams as we step into a world of trust. Doubts arise: what if this IS all there is and I miss out? We want to hedge our bets: we want the comfort of heaven, but we want security and an easy life. We want things to go the way they’re supposed to.
The decision of faith, then, is first that God really is there, and then that we believe He acts on our behalf both in this life and for eternity in the face of apparent chaos and hassle. The attitude we take when the you-know-what hits the fan has a lot to say about where our hearts are really invested.
Oh yeah. The dishwasher’s running great now.

… is one of conscious dependence on God. It’s not a state of spirit or mind you achieve, but learning (often in trial and perplexity) to cry out to God for help. Read the book of Psalms. A significant portion of it has these godly people crying out “God, what now?!? ” – confused, wondering where God went, but still determined to trust.

How can we know if God’s really there until we’ve hit the wall? Unless you’ve come to the end of yourself, you’ll never know if it’s God or your own talents and skills that brought you through. But once you’ve done all and still come up short, then God can work.

Think of how you came to Christ. When you realized you were, in spite of your best efforts, a sinner still, and deserving nothing but judgement. God’s moral law really is our “schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (check out the book of Galatians for more). It shows us His righteous standard, and in trying to keep it we discover our own inability to do so. And so -if we have any sense – we throw ourselves on God’s grace. And He meets us.

But this isn’t a one time thing. Our lives are to be a constant coming to God for supply and grace to live a life pleasing to Him. We should hardly be surprised when the you-know-what hits the fan. You really get to know someone when you’re in the trenches with them. It’s in the valleys that we know Him better.

Fasten your seat belts.