I wrote a couple of days ago giving you a little practical help for the drowning times when the storm sweeps over and threatens to wash away your sanity. My copy of Isobel Kuhn's In the Arena is almost as dog-eared as my favorite cookbook, and so much of what I've learned is knit with that book, I'd be remiss to publish these thoughts as my own. I'd also encourage you to re-read Sunfish, Piranhas, and Sharks, the letter I wrote about the different types of trials God sends into our lives.
The lessons God teaches us over the course of months and years often are cumulative, building one upon another. He sends these difficult lessons to each of His children in different orders, though. The type of trial we face isn't indicative of our growth in Christ or spiritual maturity, since every life is custom designed by One who loves our soul. We grow rich in God through trials, not strong.
Following are a few of the more important things I have learned during extended trials. I've included extensive biographical snapshots here in hopes that it will allow you to learn better than simply telling you.
God doesn't do triage.
If I ever write an autobiography, the chapter covering my early thirties will be entitled, "My Left Foot". A year of severe plantar fascitis followed by the same tarsal bone being broken twice in six months time left me gimpy and limpy. It was the hikes and long walks I missed most. I often comforted myself by comparing my situation to that of a lady in my church who was wheelchair bound. "It could be worse," I thought.
I tease that "I don't speak Whinese," but the truth is, I'm often cold-hearted when people have "trials" that are definitely first world problems. I receive weekly updates and a monthly magazine from Voice of the Martyrs, and as Americans, we simply don't have any idea of the trials facing many/most of our brothers and sisters in the 10/40 window. We are commanded to be soldiers and athletes, and instead we're acting like 5th grade girls at a sleepover.
One of the hidden joys of working with elementary kids is getting to hear their prayer requests.
Kid 1: "I fell off my bike, and took ALL THE SKIN OFF MY KNEE." He lifts his pant leg to show us an impressive scab the size of a dime.
Kid 2: "I was helping my dad, and a tree branch SLICED MY ARM." She lifts her shirt sleeve to reveal a 4" scratch.
I smile, and dutifully pray for these mini-wounds, wondering if I just allowed prayer request time to morph into show-and-tell.
Do you see the problem with all of the scenarios I shared? I'm thinking like a human. I'm ranking the trial a gracious Heavenly Father has chosen for me, or a friend, or that precious soul in my Junior Church. He, Who knows every hair on our head, uses every trial to grow us into His own likeness. I may not be wheelchair bound, but having every step bring excruciating pain for almost three years is still a trial! It forces me to grow in grace or wallow in the flesh. I choose grace! I found it interesting in Isobel Kuhn's book that God chose to give her the Platform of Taut Nerves much later in life. Making an ocean crossing with a rambunctious toddler was every bit as much of a trial for her as crossing the high mountain peaks into Burma on foot two skips ahead of the Communist army.
At some point, we'll all face trials that we say: "This trial is way harder than anything anyone else around me is facing" If -- when -- that happens, I am tempted to resent my brothers and sisters who are facing smaller trials if I have a triage mindset. It isolates me if I feel that no one could possibly understand my trial. 2 Corinthians 1 makes it abundantly clear that any suffering allows us learn God so that we have the ability to comfort and counsel any other Christian who is suffering. Our comfort and counsel comes from the Word, not from experience.
God's love comes near, and earthly loves take their proper place.
Our commitment to the work is often challenged during seasons of adversity. We soldier on, determined not to let our trials undermine our service for the Lord. God pours out his grace and strength to meet the ever-increasing demand. Then, either with a quick jerk, or so slowly we scarcely recognize it at the time, the Lord asks for that commitment to become surrender. Our love, determination, and willpower fueled with His grace is entirely replaced by His boundless love. We become the channel through which He works rather than The Little Engine that Could. Outwardly little changes, but inwardly a revolution is taking place. Like Paul, the love of Christ is constraining us. If you haven't been asked for surrender yet, this part of my letter will seem confusing. Once God makes the exchange, you'll say, "Ahhhh! That's what momma was talking about." Most missionary biographies include this transition if you're interested in reading more about it. Has God asked this of you? Read Philippians over and over until it becomes part of your soul.
The Word takes on new life and light in the Wilderness. Far from home as a newlywed, I was placed into position as a college food service frontline manager. My boss suggested I read in Proverbs for my devotions during the beginning of my life as manager, and verses glowed with meaning as I spent time with the Lord. Problems I faced were directly addressed by the Word of God on a daily basis. It was like having a whole new book of the Bible. The illumination didn't stop with Proverbs, but continued throughout the 2-1/2 years I held that job. Every day since, in every storm, no matter what Christ was teaching me, the Bible spoke His love in new and fresh ways.
God gives us special tokens of His love only He could give. Most missionary biographies give numerous examples of Christ working miraculously and providentially on their behalf. I've seen many of the same such "love tokens" in my own life, but I'm not prepared to speak of most of them yet. I will share one instance, though, that you may remember. I had been suffering from a massive sinus infection that stripped me of all my energy for almost 12 weeks. Nothing I tried could overcome that infection, and I was exhausted. Two days before Easter Sunday, Daddy excitedly informed me that the Gleason family from Scotland was scheduled to be at a church more than an hour's drive from our home. Could we possibly head up after our Easter Sunday morning "marathon" (Sunrise service, church breakfast, Church service with special music -- and now a picnic lunch instead of lunch at my Mom's!) and spend the day with them? Of course I said yes, but I'm sure I had to deal with hurt feelings that he would ask it of me. The Saturday before Easter, Daddy and the three of you helped me shop for the annual church Easter Breakfast and decorate and set up the church basement. After three hours I was d.o.n.e. I didn't have the energy to make dinner, let alone get up at 4:45 a.m. and spend an entire day away from home the next day. Daddy took us out to dinner, a rare treat for our family. Over the course of the evening I managed to get together clothes, special music, and my Junior church materials. I fell into bed around 11, wondering how on earth I was going to survive Easter. "Lord," I begged, "could you give me just enough of that resurrection power to make tomorrow a blessing instead of a burden?" I awoke healed. Not healing -- healed. My energy was restored, my sinuses were as clear as if that infection had never occurred. We enjoyed a wonderful Easter Sunday with our church family, ate a picnic lunch, and spent one of the best days of our lives so far with the Gleasons. That complete healing in just a few hours was a once-in-a-lifetime gift from my King.
Our support system of family and friends is removed so that we can learn to trust only Him. One of the defining components of a wilderness experience is that God removes our earthly support, or renders them ineffectual for the trial we are facing. Hannah Whitehall Smith refers to it in Hinds Feet in High Places as "pulling out the plant called Natural Affection, root and branch." We don't love people any less, but after a season of drowning, a wilderness, we learn to depend on God instead. Our church, family, and friends will still be used of God to support, pray, and love us, but we'll see His hand guiding their help and not grow frustrated when it doesn't come in the time or way we think it should. Daddy and I have a far better marriage now that I've learned to depend on God instead of heaping God-sized expectations on his shoulders.
Our prayer life flourishes.
He teaches us to commune with Him, friend to friend I am not a very good or faithful pray-er. The vast majority of my prayer during the quiet seasons of life is intercessory. I have a difficult time talking to God about the everyday even though I spend an hour (minimum) on the phone with my sister or mom. It's something He and I are working on but I'm not ready to write about it yet. When the seasons of trial come, I am an A+ pray-er. I'll wake in the wee hours of the morning and talk through my upcoming day until I drift back to sleep again. I'll enjoy his company while I fold laundry or prepare and clean up meals. I love to meet Him in the garden, too. When in His Word, we share such sweet, sweet times of conversation.
He teaches us the power of prayer -- and patience. Seeing God work providentially is exciting and easy to share. Seeing him change a heart or life is beyond the power of speech. Both are a regular part of seasons of distress.
George Mueller was in the habit of recording the number of days between prayer and its answer. Very often years would roll by before his request was fully answered. Praying develops a spirit of quiet patience in us during trials. We don't just endure, we are schooled by prayer to learn to wait quietly and confidently upon God.
Peace and joy are from God as a result of continued obedience.
It doesn't matter what the season of trial holds -- illness, interpersonal woes, money troubles -- peace and joy are in abundance as long as we continue to obey. God, and God alone, multiplies those two precious commodities in our lives. Philippians and 2 Corinthians both cover these concepts so well and in such detail, I'll leave this section of my letter short.
Do you see what all of these lessons have in common? I have learned Christ. I can count every future season of trial as joy, because I know He is there waiting for me.
I'm going to end this long, long letter with a quote from In the Arena that I alluded to in the beginning. It is one of my favorite paragraphs ever written outside the Bible. It is found at the tail end of Chapter 10, Between The Scissor's Knives.
These platforms, or struggles in life, do not necessarily make us stronger Christians. I want to be sure this is understood. Many victories do not make a stronger Christian. It does give us an experience of Christ's ability to help us, so the next time it is easier to trust Him. But it is fatal to think we have become strong. . .Platforms do not make us stronger Christians or better Christians but they do make us richer Christians. Rich in our inner fellowship with Him. Rich in our confidence that He will be our Rock and our Deliverer in the future. Rich in the relaxation of the little child who leans back on his father's breast, confident, secure, and satisfied.Rich in His Love,