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.
When this trial dropped like a bomb on our lives this past summer, it was shocking, painful, and disorienting. Slander and false accusations flew at us from all sides, shrapnel raining down on our entire family. I struggled to get my bearings in a haze of questions and grief. I rushed for cover in the Psalms. I guarded my soul with sermons and hymns. And I sought God for a path forward through this trial that would bring glory to my Savior.
Even though there was so much I didn’t understand at first, I knew from Scripture that there was one thing I must not do. I must not retaliate. I must not return evil for evil, but entrust my soul and our reputation to my faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19). Here was a place to simply stand.
Martyn-Lloyd Jones calls this “getting a foothold.” It is what Asaph resolved in Psalm 73 when he was downcast and perplexed and his “feet had almost stumbled” (v. 2). He simply resolved not to sin with his mouth: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children” (v. 15)
“He held on to what he was certain of, and he held on at all costs,” explains Lloyd-Jones:
“About his main problem he was very uncertain; he could not understand that at all. Even after he had pulled himself up, it still puzzled him…But having looked at the thing again, he realized that if he were to speak as he was tempted to speak, the immediate consequences would be that he would be the cause of offense to God’s people, and he held on to that fact” (Faith on Trial, p. 38)
When trial or temptation suddenly invades our lives, we may be knocked off our feet by the blast. The first thing we must do is simply stand—stand on God’s Word and determine what we must do, or not do, in obedience to Him. We must not despise the day of small beginnings, urges Dr. Lloyd Jones. For this is “the way in which the Psalmist managed to steady himself and arrive back eventually at such a great and firm position of faith” (p. 31).
God had much more to teach me in the weeks to follow in this trial. But it began by simply “getting a foothold.” May God help us all to stand, and eventually arrive again at a mountaintop of faith.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3
To “count it all joy” doesn’t mean we will always feel happy in the midst of trials; but regardless of how we feel, it is a command we can and should obey. Martyn Lloyd Jones explains:
“There is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and feeling happy. The Scripture tells us that we should always rejoice [Phil. 4:4]....To rejoice is a command, yes, but there is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and being happy. You cannot make yourself happy, but you can make yourself rejoice, in the sense that you will always rejoice in the Lord. Happiness is something within ourselves, rejoicing is ‘in the Lord.’ Take the fourth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. There you will find that the great Apostle puts it all very plainly and clearly in that series of extraordinary contrasts which he makes: ‘We are troubled on every side (I don’t think he felt very happy at the moment) yet not distressed’, ‘we are perplexed (he wasn’t feeling happy at all at that point) but not in despair’, ‘persecuted but not forsaken’, ‘cast down, but not destroyed’—and so on. In other words the Apostle does not suggest a kind of happy person in a carnal sense, but he was still rejoicing.”
One of the many helpful books I have read and re-read these past few months is Suffering and the Sovereignty of God edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. This book includes contributions by experts in the field of suffering: men and women who have experienced—and in some cases are still in the midst of—extreme and unrelenting suffering, but who have learned to count it all joy when facing trials of many kinds (James 1:2). A few years ago, when this book was first published, we were allowed to offer a sneak preview of several chapters:
”All the Good that is Ours in Christ”: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us by Mark Talbot
God’s Grace and Your Sufferings by David Powlison
Hope…the Best of Things by Joni Eareckson Tada
“How does God’s grace meet you in your sufferings?” David Powlison asks in his chapter:
“We can make the right answer sound old hat, but I guarantee this: God will surprise you. He will make you stop. You will struggle. He will bring you up short. You will hurt. He will take his time. You will grow in faith and in love. He will deeply delight you. You will find the process harder than you ever imagined – and better. Goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, no matter how long you’ve known it, no matter how well you can say it, God’s answer will come to mean something better than you could ever imagine.”
Let me encourage you to listen to the conference messages that these chapters were based on and to buy and study this book. Let these godly men and women hold your hand through your suffering and point you to our gracious, sovereign God.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3
Nancy Wilson has some helpful thoughts on trials and testing:
So, how do we react when tough things happen? We should view it the way the Bible tells us to view it. This is a test. God sends His children pop quizzes and tests from time to time to see if we are learning our lessons, if we are paying attention, if we are reading our assignments.
Read her entire post here.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Ps. 103:2
The Psalmist tells us to “forget not” because it is so easy to forget—especially in a trial! When enemies surround us and troubles rain down like arrows thick and fast, it is hard to remember the benefits we have received from the Lord.
That’s why my mom started a “mercies list” She wanted to help our family remember all the Lord’s benefits, and not forget a single one. So she asked for our help to think of all the mercies we had received from God’s hand in the midst of this difficult time and she wrote them down. She continues to add to the list regularly whenever one of us remembers or receives a specific mercy.
Not only is this (long!) list a reminder to all of us of God’s many benefits, it encourages us to keep on the lookout for new mercies every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). This regular recalling of God’s mercies gives us renewed hope for the future, for as the hymn writer put it so well, His streams of mercy are never-ceasing.
The amazing thing is that even when we do forget His benefits, God does not forget to lavish us with grace. “God has not forgotten to be gracious, nor shut up His tender mercies,” Spurgeon reminds us, “it may be night in the soul, but there need be no terror, for the God of love changes not.”
What mercies can you remember today? The rest of Psalm 103 can get you started.
“Why yield to gloomy anticipations? Who told you that the night would never end in day?.... Who told you that the winter of your discontent would proceed from frost to frost, from snow and ice and hail to deeper snow and yet more heavy tempest of despair? Don’t you know that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed winter? Be full of hope! Hope forever! For God does not fail you. Do you know that God loves you in the midst of all this?.... You will yet, midst the splendors of eternity, forget the trials of time, or only remember them to bless the God who led you through them and works your lasting good by them. Come, sing in the midst of tribulation. Rejoice even while passing through the furnace. Cause the desert to ring with your exulting joys, for these light afflictions will soon be over, and then forever with the Lord, your bliss shall never wane.”
~Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening revised and edited by Alistair Begg, July 21, evening.