“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:13-14
”...the suppliant has no more to go on than the assurance that God is worth waiting for. But that is enough.” Derek Kidner
Ever ask this question about a difficult trial? How often do you assume that it will all end badly? Listen to this little sermonette by James Smith to hear how Scripture says every trial and difficulty will end for the Christian. Thanks to my good friend Lucy for sending this my way. I pray it will encourage your soul as it has mine.
“Our times are in God’s hands; it is well they are so. Believers are not to expect great wealth, long life, or to be free from trials. But all will be ordered for the best. And remark from Job’s history, that steadiness of mind and heart under trial, is one of the highest attainments of faith. There is little exercise for faith when all things go well. But if God raises a storm, permits the enemy to send wave after wave, and seemingly stands aloof from our prayers, then, still to hang on and trust God, when we cannot trace him, this is the patience of the saints. Blessed Saviour! how sweet it is to look unto thee, the Author and Finisher of faith, in such moments!” ~Matthew Henry
In difficulty, my first question is often “Why?” I can be tempted to demand an answer from God. Sometimes He makes his purposes clear; but God is not obligated, nor does He always tell us why.
But there is another question He will always answer, as JI Packer asserts in his book: Praying the Lord’s Prayer:
“If you ask, ‘Why is this or that happening?’ no light may come, for ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God’ (Deuteronomy 29:29); but if you ask, ‘How am I to serve and glorify God here and now, where I am?’ there will always be an answer.”
Our Father in heaven will show us how to glorify Him, if we simply ask, ready to obey. So which question are you asking today?
“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21
~from the archives
I love Scripture’s honesty. I love how the biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, don’t hold back about despair, weakness, doubt, or fear. They don’t step gingerly around topics of pain or temptation or trouble. They are frank about the fact that life is hard.
So when the biblical writers speak to us of hope and joy and peace, we know these are real too. And in our depths of despair, we can take their hand and follow them out of the pit.
Take for example, the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations 3 that we are all so familiar with: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (v. 22-23). These words are spoken from the heights, a spectacular panorama. But how do we get there when we feel crippled by the trials of life?
The same way Jeremiah did.
Only a few verses earlier he writes from the deepest valley: ”...my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (v. 17-18).
Can you relate? Hope, gone. Peace, gone. Happiness, so far gone, you can’t even remember what it feels like. What do we say to someone who confesses this? Do we recoil at their lack of faith? And yet here is Jeremiah, prophet of God, confessing that in his trouble he feels bereft of all of the blessings of the people of God.
Then Jeremiah shows us how he gets from the depths to the heights: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (v. 21).
His soul, which had taken its last breath of hope, was resuscitated by calling to mind who God is and what He does. He is faithful. He shows mercy, He does love. He does not forget. He sent His only Son who endured the agony of the cross, in our place and for our sins, and rose again, victorious. This I call to mind.
Notice that Jeremiah’s trial was unchanged. He didn’t get a phone call that the cancer was gone. He didn’t find his enemies on his front porch asking for forgiveness. He didn’t get hired. His child didn’t become a Christian. But he had something better.
He had hope. Hope that one day, even if it wasn’t until heaven, he would know happiness again.
”[H]e himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death….” (Hebrews 2:14 ESV)
“O children of God! death hath lost its sting, because the devil’s power over it is destroyed…It is sweet to die; to lie upon the breast of Christ… And you that have lost friends, or that may be bereaved, sorrow not as those who are without hope. What a sweet thought the death of Christ brings us concerning those who are departed! They are gone, my brethren; but do you know how far they have gone? The distance between the glorified spirits in heaven and the militant saints on earth seems great; but it is not so. We are not far from home.” C.H.S.
What burdens are you carrying around your home this January day? Whether nagging or crushing, may this gospel truth compel you to cast them on the Lord, who daily bears us up (Ps. 68:19):
Perhaps, your home-duties, trials, and needs, form your burden. Every home is an embryo kingdom, an epitomized world, of which the parent constitutes the sovereign. There are laws to be obeyed, rules to be observed, subjects to be governed, cares to be sustained, demands to be met, and “who is sufficient for all this?” is often your anxious inquiry. Who can tell what crushing burdens, what bitter sorrows, what corroding cares, what pressing demands, may exist within a single family circle, deeply veiled from every eye but God’s? You are perhaps a widower—bereaved and desolate. Or you are a widow—lonely and helpless. Your children are an anxiety. Your domestic duties a trial. Your necessities are pressing. Your whole position one of embarrassment and depression.
What shall you do? Do even as the Lord who loves you enjoins—“Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you.” Your Heavenly Father knows all your home-trials, for He has sent them! Jesus, though he had no home on earth, yet sympathized with the home-cares and sorrows of others, and is not a stranger, nor indifferent to yours. Bring all to Him, tell Him all, confide to Him all, trust Him in all. You have no family trial too great, and no domestic need too little, and no home-sorrow too delicate, to take to Christ. Obey the precept, “Cast your burden upon the Lord;” and He will make good the promise, “and He shall sustain you.” O costly and blessed home-burden that brings Jesus beneath our roof! . . .
Jesus is the great Burden-Bearer of His people. No other arm, and no other heart, in heaven or upon earth, were strong enough, or loving enough, to bear these burdens but His! He who bore the weight of our sin and curse and shame in His obedience and death—bore it along all the avenues of His weary pilgrimage, from Bethlehem to Calvary—is He who now stretches forth His Divine arm, and makes bare a Brother’s heart to take your burden of care and of grief, dear saint of God, upon Himself.
Octavius Winslow, The Ministry of Home (London: 1847), page 351–352 (emphasis mine)
HT: Tony Reinke
“What if, sometimes, there are mists and fogs so thick that I cannot see the path? ‘Tis enough that You hold my hand, and guide me in the darkness; for walking with You in the gloom–is far sweeter and safer than walking alone in the sunlight!
Dear Lord, give me grace to trust You wholly, whatever may befall; yielding myself up to Your leading, and leaning hard on You when “dangers are in the path.” Your way for me has been marked out from all eternity, and it leads directly to Yourself and home!”
“3 Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!.” (Psalm 37:3-7)
One thing above all has enabled me to dwell at peace in the midst of this trial: looking to the Lord alone, focusing “the eyes of my heart” deliberately and entirely upon God and His sovereignty, wisdom, and love.
“Look up!” exhorts Derek Kidner in his commentary on Psalm 37:
“An obsession with enemies and rivals cannot be simply switched off, but it can be ousted by a new focus of attention; note the preoccupation with the Lord Himself, expressed in the four phrases that contain His name here. It includes a deliberate redirection of one’s emotions (4a, take delight), and an entrusting of one’s career (your way, 5) and reputation (your vindication, 6) to Him. This is a liberation.”
True liberation from our troubles is achieved when we follow the steps laid out for us in Psalm 37, when we deliberately redirect our emotions to delight in the Lord and entrust our reputation and our future entirely to Him. Our preoccupation with our enemies can only be ousted by a new preoccupation: the glory and the goodness of God.
As I have sought to fill my mind—through Scripture, sermons, and songs—with thoughts of the Lord and who He is and what He has done and what He promises to do, I have been able to experience freedom, peace, and even joy in the midst of this most difficult trial. It doesn’t mean the pain or difficulty is removed, but that is not the focus of my attention. It is the Lord. To Him will I look.
After this trial broke, I spent the first six or eight weeks getting a foothold. Standing. Resolving not to retaliate, not to sin with my mouth. But as time went on, I realized that obedience to God meant more (but not less!) than outward kindness. God was also concerned with my heart.
I remember a conversation where CJ exhorted me: “Carolyn, we must not only respond with loving words and actions, but we must also honor God with the thoughts and attitude of our heart.”
This was a defining moment. I knew I must move beyond simply standing; I must cultivate a heart of love. This meant, above all, that I had to “Let all bitterness…be put away…forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). I must not harbor or cultivate angry, bitter, or vengeful thoughts and attitudes. I must not allow my soul to harden toward people or toward God.
To begin with, this meant I needed to spend less time reading, following, and focusing on the constant stream of slander against us. The more I read or listened to, and the more I thought about what I had read and heard, the more difficult it was to guard my heart, the more difficult it was to cultivate a heart of compassion and love. So I had to make a conscious choice to stop reading, stop paying attention to the words and actions against us.
This very practical advice came to me from one of the John Piper biographies about the life of Charles Simeon. “Simeon was no rumor-tracker” explains Piper:
”[He] was deeply wronged in 1821. We are not given the details. But when he was asked about his response (which had, evidently been non-retaliatory) he said, “My rule is – never to hear, or see, or know, what if heard, or seen, or known, would call for animadversion [criticism or censure] from me. Hence it is that I dwell in peace in the midst of lions” (Moule, 191).”
This is a very good, godly rule. Charles Simeon made a deliberate, conscious choice to ignore those things that would tempt him to an ungodly response in his heart or actions. And look at the fruit this simple decision produced in his life: he dwelled “in peace in the midst of lions.”
For those of us who feel that we are in the midst of lions today—-maybe your family is hostile toward you, or your co-workers or classmates are critical of your Christian witness, or you are a pastor’s wife whose husband is being slandered—we can dwell in peace. We can choose to stop tracking, following, focusing on the opposition of others. This is the first step toward guarding our heart against bitterness and glorifying God in the thoughts and motives of our heart.