Friday, December 23, 2016
The Sovereign Hand of Trial
I first read this poem when I was newly married. I understood its meaning but could not relate to the author's experience. I hoped I never would.
It has been four years since my last blog entry. At that time I had just finished my first semester of seminary and celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary. I was fully recovered from a significant personal trial that occurred a year earlier and made me take a year off between my undergrad and seminary. I had done extremely well that semester and would also the next. In my hubris, I did not expect to experience the truth of this poem again. . . and again.
I could relate the experience of my personal trials that brought me to this place but they really doesn't matter. What matters is that God's purposes for me and for you are unchangeable. I have no doubt that my personal sin afflicted me much to my chagrin. But I also have no doubt, now, that God will not relent from His plan to fashion you (and me) into what He wants despite our failures.
We can learn much from the Old Testament about how God effects His purposes despite His people's sin. Sinfully asking for a king other than God, like the surrounding nations as Israel did in 1 Samuel 8, you and I get it to your shame. But blessing will come despite you and you'll get so much more than what you asked for since God decreed your good and His glory before time began. Instead of a reign of terror. . . you'll get the righteous reign of the King of Kings.
But His blessing does not come in a void of obedience. You must respond to the disciplinary hand of God with repentance and trust. Over, and over again. He will unleash the fury of hell on His elect as John Newton reminds us in his hymn, I Asked the Lord. This is how He answers prayers for grace and faith. These are His methods. These are His ways.
Don't misunderstand me. You don't have to sin and repent to become more godly but you must obey by relying on God's grace in Christ expressed in the gospel. However, fiery trials are promised to the people of God, especially to the obedient, so suffer obediently like the Savior and not because of disobedience (1 Pt 4:12-19). But God will use trials of both kinds to perfect us because that is who He is, the Faithful One.
So I pray that my suffering has had the intended effect God allowed it for so that I might be a useful instrument in the hand of the Redeemer. I am not a masochist. I do not wish for more suffering. But I trust God that whatever suffering He has ordained for me in the future He will give me the grace to trust and obey Him.
On a final note, if you are reading this, please run to and not away from your fellow believers and pastors in your church. I could not have made it through any of the self-inflicted trials in my life without the leadership God has graciously provided in His Church. Find a church that teaches the Bible faithfully, shepherds the members well and where the leadership is godly. Their counsel and insight will be water to your weary soul and life to your bones. You cannot live the Christian life alone. You need your brothers and sisters to encourage you to stay on the narrow path that leads to life and joy until you reach your destination, Christ's Kingdom.
So be encouraged if you, like Job, are plagued with the nagging question of "why"? "Why me? Why this intense suffering? I don't think I did anything to deserve this." The better response is to endure like he did. Persevere. You may never know why. . .you may never understand why. But the one who is molding you for His service knows why. He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. His wisdom is unsearchable and His ways inscrutable. You and I are His workmanship, His poem. And we must like Job, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Samuel, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Paul and proclaim in our hearts that God is God and we are not. We do not have His wisdom or insight nor are we privy to His secret ways with men.
Jesus perfectly exemplifies this kind of trust in God the Father. He knew he would suffer God's wrath for sin that was not His own. In his human nature, He did not quite understand the plan of God the Father, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39). He did not ask why but trusted completely in the goodness and wisdom of God, succeeding where Adam and you and I failed. . . and still do. In doing so He won salvation for the many, killed death, and opened the way for His Spirit to come into the hearts of Christians so that they too might persevere in faith, trusting the One who hammers men into shape and forms their clay so that He might use them mightily.