It may seem a bit odd to you that I'm writing a letter about swimming in Grammy's lake in the middle of January, but I want to share a bit with you about enduring trials, so bear with me.
|Grammy caught this beautiful shot of a double rainbow from her dock.|
God places "sunfish" trials into our lives continually. They irritate us rather than harm us. Muddy footprints on a newly washed floor, a neighbor with a dog that barks 23 hours a day, or an inept driver in front of us can all send frustration soaring. Generally the volume of "sunfish" trials comes from those who live and work closely with us. They're particularly effective at teaching us to die to self and live for others. When you're still a young Christian, these trials will help you develop the servant mind of Christ. As you mature, you'll consciously choose to hold back your reaction. When you are mature in the Lord, there won't even be a reaction at all most of the time.
Your Aunt Debi and I used to call each other and just sob out: "I'm being eaten to death by goldfish today!" when we were parenting toddlers. That was code for the other person to comfort and encourage us in the mind of Christ. Occasionally one of us would call to "vent", and the other one would have to remind them to work on having the mind of Christ. I sincerely hope you have an "Aunt Debi" to sharpen and strengthen you throughout your life.
God will eventually ask you to cross a river in life that is full of piranhas. Piranha trials hurt a lot, and we know deep down enough of them could do lasting damage. God often allows entire schools of piranhas into our lives, one right after the other, or even simultaneously. A friend who betrays us, a child diagnosed with a long term medical condition, or personal financial trouble all leave us bloodied and hurting.
There is a remarkable difference between the way a believer and an unbeliever handle this level of trials. An unbeliever, immature, or carnal Christian will panic and go to the ends of the earth to "rescue" themselves. The believer quietly waits and confidently trusts (Lam.3:26).
Trials of this magnitude also threaten to unravel our faith. "Why would God allow this? Is He trying to punish me for something? Does He really love me still? -- I would never treat my child this way!" will come into your mind during these times of testing. These thoughts need to be "taken captive" and executed! God has promised He will never give us above what we can bear. (1 Cor. 10:13)
These trials are particularly effective for growing both our faith and our character. We are forced to say "I cannot see, but I trust His hand." We also have dross that comes to the surface when God holds our feet to the fire, and we are given the opportunity to deal with sin that we didn't even know was there. Lastly, as we patiently endure, we mature.
I cannot begin to tell you how important it is to read biographies of great heroes of the faith while you're enduring "piranha" trials. Seeing how others have remained faithful during times of intense testing will strengthen your own faith beyond measure. I particularly like Jeremiah, Joseph, Daniel, Philippians, and missionary biographies.
Occasionally God allows a shark into our lives. Shark trials dramatically change our lives, and some even have the potential to end it. Loss of a job, a car wreck, the death of our spouse, or a terminal illness can all send our lives into somersaults. These trials pose the greatest threat to a Christian. You would think that a diagnosis of cancer, or the death of a child would cause a person to lose faith, but that is rarely the case. There is a greater danger: I have seen dozens of unbelievers and Christians alike soar above a life-changing trial in the strength of their flesh. There is a natural human tendency to thrive in a time of great adversity. I have also been privileged to see Christians for whom these trials unlocked a relationship with the Lord that I covet. You will nearly always see a "fighting", "coping," or "overcoming" mentality in someone who's operating in the flesh rather than a "resting" or "trusting" mentality. Those who choose to fight the shark instead of heading for the safety of the boat are in great danger.
These trials are particularly effective at teaching us His presence and power in our lives. Never in your life will God be nearer and dearer than when you are facing a trial that has changed "normal" as you knew it. Throw yourself on Him in prayer, bathe in the Word, and consciously hand over the part of yourself that is rising up to overcome. His strength is made perfect in weakness. While none of us would choose a "shark", they are inevitable. Sometimes we can see them circling, and sometimes we're just surfin' along without a care in the world when they blindside us. As soon as you've been mauled, head straight to the Great Physician. You will have many godly friends who step in during these times to strengthen and encourage you, but only God can be with you 24/7.
This letter ended up being far longer than I intended, but please know that even now I pray that God will strengthen you and uphold you as He charts your life. Wherever God leads, your life will be bathed in prayer until the day I head home to Heaven.