My grandma likes to tell about the time my dad, a little boy of five at the time, wandered away from the house and out onto a busy street. He most certainly would have been hit by a speeding motorist, had it not been for his dog. True to his herding instincts, this noble collie walked between the cars and my dad and kept my dad from straying into traffic until the police found him. My dad’s dog saved his life.
We might not think about it like this at first, but trouble and hardship are like Dad’s dog. They keep us from straying into the busy street of sin. We don’t always appreciate their life-saving presence in the moment. Trials feel to us like that collie might have felt to Dad: annoying at best, painful at worst. Trouble sticks so close, it shoves so hard. It keeps us from going where we want to go. At times, trials knock us to the ground. We long to be free from their troublesome presence.
But the Psalmist views his trials as a life-saver: “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” he confessed, “but now I keep your word” (Ps. 119:67). To hear the Psalmist tell it, he’s actually glad that he experienced affliction! Now no one—least of all the Psalmist—is saying that affliction is pleasant or we should enjoy pain or hardship. But in the mystery of God’s ways, we should see each and every trial as a blessing. Afflictions are divine herd-dogs, sent by our gracious heavenly Father to protect us and keep us from sin.
For one, trials protect us from pride. They keep us humble; they keep us needy and dependent on God. It’s hard to think too highly of yourself when you are brought low—and that’s a blessing. Affliction can also keep us from straying out into the shiny streets of worldliness. We realize something of our frailty and our mortality when we suffer. We get a glimpse of the emptiness of all this world has to offer, and so we don’t rush headlong into sinful pleasures. And trials, when we respond to them as gifts from God, can keep us from being callous others. We are more compassionate, more caring, more understanding because we know a little of what pain feels like. Each trial in our lives—big or small—protects us from sin and leads us back to God. And to joy.
Wait, did you say joy? We think of our trials as joy-takers, not joy-bringers. “Before I was afflicted I was happy, but now I am sad all the time” is how we put it. But there is a difference between trials being unpleasant—which they are—and trials robbing us of our joy. Our afflictions are sent by God to lead us joy. Listen to Joni Eareckson Tada, quadriplegic and in chronic pain since she was in a diving accident at age 17. “I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Savior. And that’s where the joy is.”
Trials not only keep us from sin, they push us back to the arms of our Savior. And that’s where the joy is. The Psalmist doesn’t just get back to the duty of God’s Word, now he delights to keep God’s Word. Now he has joy! One of the things we lose in our Stoic-slanted view of the Christian life is how to find joy. We think all the delight and happiness is out there, on the busy byways of sin. So we go wandering from home, we stray from Christ. And affliction, by the grace of God, brings us back. It keeps us safe. It leads us back to where the joy is.
So if you feel followed by that “shadowy companion” Affliction, if Trial is always nipping at your heels, if Trouble keeps shoving you to one side, give thanks for your “bruising of a blessing.” May your trouble, major or minor, push you into the arms of the Savior. May your affliction lead you back home—to joy.
I was reading along with my “Read the Bible in a Year” plan the other day and found myself in Genesis 16. (Please don’t do the math on this, cuz you will see how behind I already am.) It’s the Sarai and Hagar saga. And toward the end of the chapter, I came across these words by Hagar: “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). The ESV footnote on this verse says, “Or ‘You are a God who sees me.’” In my quiet house, on that early morning, the Lord impressed these words on my heart, bringing fresh wonder and encouragement.
God sees me. Little me, sitting on my couch, already behind on my Bible reading plan, desperately in need of His grace to tackle another day.
And God sees you. Whether you are in a season of plenty or of want, He sees you. He sees your exhaustion as you face another day training your strong-willed two-year-old. He sees your longing for the husband that seems unlikely to ever appear. He sees your tears for the teenager that is wandering far from home. He sees your overwhelmed heart as homework and exams seem like they will never end. He sees your discouragement as you wrestle with the sin that so easily entangles.
God saw Hagar. She wasn’t the great Abraham or Sarah (although He saw them too). But God gave this encouragement specifically to Hagar, the lowly and despised servant. He saw her in her desperate plight and He “looked after her.”
Here are the words Charles Spurgeon spoke to his congregation about this passage:
“Mark, God sees you—selecting any one out of this congregation—he sees you, he sees you as much as if there were nobody else in the world for him to look at. If I have as many people as there are here to look at, of course my attention must be divided; but the infinite mind of God is able to grasp a million objects at once, and yet to set itself, as much upon one, as if there were nothing else but that one; so that you, to-night, are looked at by God as much as if throughout space there were not another creature but yourself. Can you conceive that?”
God sees you today, right now, as if there were not one else but you. Inconceivable!
So cast your cares on this great “God of seeing” and rest in the knowledge that the God who “looked after” Hagar is “looking after” you.
I had just set the speed (not very fast) and the incline (not very high) on the treadmill at the Y and put my earbuds in to watch TV for the next twenty-four minutes (not very long), when the first segment of the news program I turned on to watch was introduced this way: “Sixty-nine percent of all divorces are initiated by women; that’s because women want to be in charge.”
This particular segment introduced the author of a new book that apparently was garnering some attention. I don’t recall the title of the book (my comprehension is severely impaired when I’m trying to keep pace with a moving treadmill!), and I only got a vague sense that the author seemed to be suggesting that it is destructive to a marriage when the wife tries to be in charge of her husband. However, the woman conducting the interview seemed so incensed by the author’s position that she barely let the author answer a question before she would interrupt with her own argumentative opinions. In fact, by the end of the interview, I was more aware of the position of the interviewer than that of the author.
While I never got to hear what the author actually meant by “women want to be in charge” and I don’t know if her divorce statistics are accurate, I do know that women wanting to control their husbands is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the origin of this desire goes all the way back to the beginning of time. One of the consequences of the Fall for women, it says in Genesis 3:16, is that their “desire shall be for [their] husband[s].” The form and context of the word desire actually have a negative connotation—an urge to manipulate, control, or have mastery over. So you see, every wife struggles with the desire to control her husband. I know I certainly do! Only by the transforming grace of God can we battle this sinful desire in our hearts.
All this got me thinking about how little our culture understands about the nobility and dignity of God’s commands to men and women in marriage. While it’s true that he calls wives to submit to their own husbands (not all men!) as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22), he also calls husbands to love their wives sacrificially as Christ loves the church. Tall orders, both! Notice that God never commands a husband to make his wife submit, nor the wife to make her husband love her sacrificially. These are commands each is to obey, as to the Lord.
What God commands, he enables; and what he commands he also blesses. The Bible doesn’t just say submit to your husband, period. Respect your husband, period. Love your husband and children, period.
Submitting to our husband makes us beautiful (1 Pet. 3:5).
Our submission displays the beauty of how the church submits to Christ (Eph. 5:22-24).
Respectful and pure conduct of a wife can win unbelieving husbands to the Lord (1 Pet. 3:1-2).
Loving our husband and children adorns the gospel (Tit. 2:4, 10).
Practicing the virtues of Proverbs 31 wins us praise (Pr. 31:28-31).
And given that marriage and motherhood entail a whole lot of serving, we will become great (Matt. 20:26).
When we strive and strain to control our husband, we will never get what we want. But Scripture promises that by God’s grace we can actually achieve greatness, win praise, and become beautiful through submission and sacrifice. Blessings, indeed!
To all of you who sent encouraging messages about us restarting girltalk, thank you! We have been so blessed to hear from you, and we’re excited to get started again. This blog really is a conversation; we enjoy receiving and responding to your questions and comments. Needless to say, book writing doesn’t provide the same kind of interaction, and we’ve missed you.
But we’ve also watched with dismay, along with all of you, at many of the cultural changes taking place in our world today. Hostility to the gospel has increased and intensified. The definition of marriage as a sacred union between a man and a woman has been upended. The fabric of the family has been ripped to shreds. The most basic understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman created in the image of God has been chucked out the window. Most disturbing of all, we see some of these grievous trends making inroads into the church.
Teaching biblical womanhood in this day and age can sometimes feel like talking to the wind. So what’s the use? The four of us have talked about this together. And then this is the conversation we’ve been having around my house lately.
Me: “I might as well give up encouraging women in biblical womanhood. It’s a losing battle.”
My husband: “You can’t give up. You’ve got to do your ‘measly bit.’” (Something I once said, that he now likes to quote back to me.)
It’s not that I’m tired of talking about biblical womanhood. It’s not that I no longer think it’s important. But honestly, I have wondered at times: is it worth it? All around us the situation seems to be getting worse, not better.
Then it hit me. Rather than bemoan the awful that is happening all around, I must remember the glorious that has already happened: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Tit. 2:11). The grace of God has already appeared in the person of Jesus Christ! He has already died on the cross and risen from the dead for our sins. The glorious has already happened! And it is still happening. The grace of God that has appeared is still at work today: he is drawing men and women to himself, and he is “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Tit. 2:12).
He has given us a mandate: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
He has given us his presence: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
And he has given us a solemn charge: “Older women…are to teach what is good, and so train the young women” (Tit. 2:3-4).
So why is it worth it to keep teaching biblical womanhood?
...that the word of God may not be reviled (v. 5),
...that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us (v. 8),
...that in everything we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (v. 10).
It’s not like our mandate comes with a conditional clause. Give it a go, but if things get really bad, then you can stand down. Retreat is not an option. Too much is at stake. After all, it’s for the sake of the gospel that we must live and teach “what is good.” Things may be getting worse, it’s true. But we must be faithful to obey and leave the results to God.
I recently read this passage from Eve in Exileby Rebekah Merkle and found myself saying out loud: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“We have an awful lot of us Christian women in this country, and the road of feminine obedience is wide open. Not only that, we’ve stayed off of it for so long it is now completely unguarded. I believe that if we women decided, as a group, to take that road, we would knock a serious dent in the side of our culture’s rebellion. But the truth is, a movement of women doing this wouldn’t be terribly exciting or sexy. It wouldn’t involve marches or protests or petitions or lobbying or t-shirts or fun runs. It would involve a lot of women manning their own separate battle stations in their own lives, in their own families, in the day-to-day grind. It would involve disciplining ourselves in the small, seemingly inconsequential areas of our lives—what we admire, what we try to get good at, what we strive for, what we prioritize, what we love. It would involve faithfulness, obedience, and sacrifice. It wouldn’t seem like much. But one thing we know is that God loves to use the seemingly trivial things to accomplish staggering results. We may each feel like an insignificant little drop of water, and it may seem like the direction we take in our day-to-day lives doesn’t make any difference to anyone. But when all the drops of water move the same way, what is more powerful and unstoppable than a wave?”
This is why we decided to keep writing here at girltalk. To challenge ourselves and encourage you to “faithfulness, obedience, and sacrifice” so that we may adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ. It may not seem like much, but we are going to do our measly bit.
coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8, ESV)
“To be kept from all evil does not imply a cushioned life, but a well-armed one. The psalm ends with a pledge which could hardly be stronger or more sweeping.
going out and your coming in is not only a way of saying ‘everything’; it draws attention to one’s ventures and enterprises and the home which remains one’s base; to pilgrimage and return; to the dawn and sunset of one’s days. But the last line takes good care of this journey. It would be hard to decide which half of it is the more encouraging: the fact that it starts from now, or that it runs on, not to the end of time but to time without end; like God Himself who is my portion for ever.” ~Derek Kidner
Our dear friend, Lauren, recently shared this testimony at Grace Church and we thought it would be a great encouragement to many of you who are experiencing “trials of various kinds” (Ja. 1:2).
After over 2 years of trying to conceive, I was still motherless and crying out to God in the midst of the heartache of wanting a family but not knowing if He would ever make it happen. I felt like Hannah in the Bible, who desperately wanted a child but could not conceive. The Scriptures say that Hannah “was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.”
Although I was happy for my friends who got pregnant easily, I struggled with hopelessness and loneliness each time I saw another pregnancy announcement. When I saw happy moms with their babies, it felt like a small stab in my heart. I wrestled with God over prayers that seemed to go unanswered. I was tempted to feel like God had forgotten me. I was humbled at my inability to make everything right. I struggled to believe that God was still good when my circumstances said otherwise. I had nowhere else to turn except to his Word where He reminded me of who He is.
Up until this point in my life, I hadn’t experienced much hardship or suffering. God used my inability to become pregnant to really humble me and show me his perfect sovereignty and wisdom. I thank God that he blesses us when we hide his Word in our hearts so that when trials come, we are not left to buoy out at sea alone. We have his Word as a strong and sure anchor for our soul. Charles Spurgeon says, “When you can’t trace God’s hand, you must trust in God’s heart.” I found that God’s heart for me, in his Word, was one of tender, compassionate love. He deals gently with those who are suffering and like Isaiah 42:3 says, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”
Scripture like Psalm 145 nourished my soul:
“The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made…. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.”
When we began the process of adoption, I actually became pregnant a few months later! We were shocked and over the moon excited. But only a few weeks later, God called that baby home. I was faced with yet another opportunity to reaffirm that my foundation was on the one and only solid Rock, and that in His precious sovereignty, He knew what was best and good.
Lamentations 3 was a lifeline:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth…. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart.”
Charles Spurgeon also says, “Delayed answers to prayer are not only trials of faith; they also give us opportunities to honor God through our steadfast confidence in Him even when facing the apparent denial of our request.” When facing the apparent denial of my request, God gave me the opportunity to honor him by trusting His Word. There were many times when friends and family would send me Scripture or excerpts from books that were exactly what I needed to hear to remind me of God’s sweet promises. God utilized the body of Christ, his church, to remind me he was there for me and knew me intimately and would never forsake me.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change that season for anything because He taught me so much and I love Him and trust Him more now. And, because God is so kind, He not only satisfied me with Himself, He gave me the desire of my heart to be a mother. It wasn’t the way we planned it when we got married almost 9 years ago, but it is more perfect than we could have planned! As I look into the faces of my three beautiful children, and at the sonogram picture of our glory baby, I can’t help but thank God for being so much wiser than me and answering my prayers in His perfect timing in blessing me with all four of their precious lives. I echo Mary’s song of praise: “He who is mighty has done great things for me!” (Luke 1:49) And for those of you who might be in the place I was 4 years ago in wanting a child, or maybe you are in the middle of another perplexing and painful trial, may my story and the trustworthy words of Psalm 68:2 encourage you: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”
I’ll end with yet one more quote from my hero, Charles Spurgeon:
“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.”
When my mom graduated from high school, she had a plan. She was going to Bible college. She resigned her job as a secretary for a Christian ministry, enrolled in school, and packed her bags. Then a few days before she was set to move, she met my dad. It was love at first sight.
Mom never made it to Bible college. She got her old job back and a few months later married my dad. On May 17 of this year, they celebrated forty years of marriage and they are more in love than ever. Needless to say, her life didn’t go as planned.
What are your plans after graduation? Whether you have a five and ten year plan or are a fog about the next step, there’s something about life you need to understand:
Life is unpredictable, and that’s on its best days.
If there’s one thing you can be certain of, it is that this is an uncertain world. Your life won’t go as planned. Sometimes the unexpected is exciting—like when my mom met my dad—but it can also be discouraging and bewildering at times.
We find a mini-commencement speech of sorts on this topic in Ecclesiastes chapter eleven. It contains valuable wisdom for graduates and everyone considering their future plans. Four times in six verses we find some variation on the phrase “you do not know.” Basically, there is a whole lot you don’t know about your life.
“You know not what disaster may happen on earth…” (v. 2) Only a few weeks ago we marked the anniversary of the Boston Marathon and witnessed the devastating earthquake in Nepal. You do not know what disaster, near or far, may change the course of your future.
“You do not know the work of God who makes everything…” (v. 5) You cannot explain God’s providence in your life so far, or predict what he may call you to do in the future.
“You do not know which [effort] will prosper…” (v. 6)The economy is unpredictable. People and trends are unpredictable. You cannot know for sure what path will lead to the most success.
Life will surprise you, and not always in a good way. It’s uncertain and unpredictable.
Not only that, the only thing we can predict in this uncertain world is that it will be hard: “So if a person lives many years…let him remember that the days of darkness will be many” (v. 8).
In other words graduating class of 2015, you don’t know what will happen with your life, but there’s one thing you can know one thing for sure: you will have many bad days.
Hardly the inspiring message you were hoping for, I know. But Ecclesiastes doesn’t just give us the bad news, it tells us how to live in an uncertain world. When we face up to the unsettling reality that life doesn’t go as planned, we learn from Ecclesiastes how to make new and better plans.
How do we make good decisions in uncertain times? Ecclesiastes gives us three ways.
1. Be an Entrepreneur
“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (v. 6).
Young people often spend a lot of time worrying about their life. They hesitate to commit to one direction or another. They worry about finding the will of God. They flounder.
But Ecclesiastes would tell you that the surest way to succeed in an uncertain world is to get to work. Work as hard as you can at whatever work God has put right in front of you. And you never know, it just might work.
Instead of “thinking of may-be’s and might-have-beens…our business is to grapple with what actually is, and what lies within reach,” advises Derek Kidner: “Few great enterprises waited for ideal conditions; no more should we.”
Coming to grips with uncertainty frees us to take risks for Christ. These words from Phil Ryken make an outstanding mission statement:
“It may be true that, to paraphrase this passage, ‘you never know,’ but it is equally true that ‘you will never reap if you never sow.’ So work hard for the kingdom of God. Live boldly and creatively. Try something new! Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Even if you are not completely sure what will work, try everything you can to serve Christ in a world that desperately needs the gospel. Work hard from morning till night, making the most of your time by offering God a full day’s work. Then leave the results to him, knowing that he will use your work in whatever way he sees fit.”
Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Work hard from morning until night. Try everything to serve Christ in a world that desperately needs the gospel. In an uncertain world, this is the certain path to a useful life.
2. Give Your Life Away
“Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth” (v. 2).
Trying to control our lives or predict the future makes us stingy. We won’t spend time on a “hopeless case.” We won’t serve the ungrateful. We won’t stay in that small church. We won’t volunteer for children’s ministry or the cleaning crew. We won’t give our all to a boring job.
But the woman who understands life’s volatility gives generously, almost recklessly, of her time, her love, and her service to others. She seeks out the lowly and the outcast. She listens patiently to the troubled. She serves in secret, and has what Zach Eswine calls “the stamina to go unnoticed.” Because who knows what may happen tomorrow?
[T]ime and chance can overturn our finest plans. If that can be a paralyzing thought, it can also be a spur to action: for if there are risks in everything, it is better to fail in launching out than in hugging one’s resources to oneself. We already catch a breath of the New Testament blowing through the first two verses, a hint of our Lord’s favourite paradox that ‘he who loves his life loses it’, and that ‘the measure you give will be the measure you get’. ~Derek Kidner
Give of yourself to others and don’t count the cost. Lose your life. Lose it now and you won’t worry so much about losing it later. You won’t have a mid life crisis or what I heard about the other day, a quarter life crisis (for real?). Don’t react to the uncertainty of life by hoarding your time and talents. You do not know what will happen tomorrow, so give your life away today.
3. Enjoy Today
“So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all” (v. 8).
If it’s true that you will have many dark days—and it is true—then Ecclesiastes tells you to rejoice today.
Sure, you may have troubles today. You may have fears about the future, trepidation about your new job, despair about difficult circumstances, frustration that you are not yet where you had hoped to be yet. But don’t let the specter of the dark days of the future rob you of the joy of today.
Enjoy this moment, the grace of graduation, for it is an astounding grace! Be grateful for the privilege of learning, revel in the godly relationships you have forged, laugh over the memories. Relish every moment of the graduation experience with gratitude in your heart to God.
We lose so many of the good moments of our lives trying to prevent the bad ones. When we know that they will come, no matter how hard we try to avoid them, we are free to give God thanks for the evidences of his grace today.
When we enjoy each day, one day at a time, we will look back and realize that we had a happy life. There may be many sorrows, and many dark days, but when we deliberately rejoice in God every day, we will find we are a happy person in the end.
A Stimulating Call
Life is unpredictable. My mom could not have guessed how her life would radically change one summer day in 1974. And neither can you know what tomorrow holds. So how do we respond to life’s unpredictability?
Derek Kidner drives the lesson home:
“The true response to uncertainty is redoubling of effort…It is a stimulating call, with no thought of faltering, yet no trace of bravado or irresponsibility. The very smallness of our knowledge and control, the very likelihood of hard times so frequently impressed on us throughout the book, become the reasons to bestir ourselves and show some spirit.”
Class of 2015: May you not falter or boast, but armed with the knowledge of how little you know, may you rise up, show some spirit, and make the most of your life for the glory of our risen Savior.
In sum, death has pointed its headlights at us and started its engine. Therefore, we must learn from God how to enjoy what he has given to us, knowing that none of it can save or satisfy us. Trying to turn a grapefruit into a baseball doesn’t dismiss the value of the grapefruit, but it makes for a disappointing baseball game. If we want to enjoy the fruit’s value, we have to treat it according to the use God gave it and resist tying to use it for things it was not made for. A grapefruit cannot give us the thrill of a home run, but it can make a breakfast pleasant.
So it is with our spouses, our food, our work, and our place in the world. Neither of these can satisfy our souls or provide the gain that only God can give. Trying to use them as such will only disappoint us. Yet, these creations are God-given and possess divine purpose. A joy resides within them for our notice and this by his design. We are meant to taste these joys for which God’s gifts were made. ~Zach Eswine
“Every day is important for us because it is a day ordained by God. If we are bored with life there is something wrong with our concept of God and His involvement in our daily lives. Even the most dull and tedious days of our lives are ordained by God and ought to be used by us to glorify Him.” ~Jerry Bridges
Real satisfaction comes not in understanding God’s motives, but in understanding His character, in trusting in His promises, and in leaning on Him and resting in Him as the Sovereign who knows what He is doing and does all things well. ~Joni Eareckson Tada