Thursday, August 28, 2014

Singing in the Rain: How to Experience Genuine Joy in Pain

I get to spend every Thursday night with some of the most amazing young women on the planet. They are high school girls who serve as ministry leaders for children at our church, who asked me several months ago to meet with them on a weekly basis, to mentor and teach them how to walk out God's word in daily life. It's definitely one of my favorite parts of the week!

Not long ago, over a discussion of Romans 8 and steaming bowls of Panera's broccoli cheddar soup, one of the girls confessed, "I just don't understand how I am I supposed to be happy about suffering." The conversation stayed with me long after that night. She had a great point. In Scripture we read passages like James 1:2, calling us to "consider it joy when we fall into temptation and suffering," or Romans 5:3 which tells us to "glory in our sufferings," but I can hardly think of a time when being happy and thankful about turmoil or stress came naturally to me.

I think for most of us, living out these verses looks something like twisting our faces into some distorted version of a smile and, through gritted teeth, uttering the words, "I'm fine," keeping it all inside, when what we really want to do is curl up in the fetal position, eat an entire carton of Blue Bell, tell everyone we know how unfair life is, and cry ourselves to sleep. But...I firmly believe that God calls us to live genuine lives, and He doesn't want or expect us to fake this posture. So how can we obey this command to exhibit joy in hardship?

A few related passages I found recently really helped me to understand the bigger picture here. Over and over what I see in the accounts of the great heroes of the faith is that God promises redemption, salvation, peace and blessing - but that I doesn't mean an absence of experiences that are beyond our ability, frightening, difficult or hurtful. So here are a few passages on which to meditate, so that in the midst of the storm, you will not lose heart or faith, and you might even find yourself singing along the way...

It's All Part of the Plan

Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us.
2 Corinthians 5:20

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

Why does it matter how we feel about our obstacles, anyway? These verses tells us the answer. For one thing, God has a plan. And a huge part of that plan is that we experience life to the fullest. He knows exactly how to orchestrate the events of our lives so that we come to that end - abundant life. And, as much as I hate to admit it, it is in overwhelming circumstances that I learn best how to prioritize my life and how to release things that really don't matter.

We also have to remember that part of that plan involves us - in each new day, every encounter, we have one mission as followers of Christ - to be His megaphone. To tell the world about who He is and how great His plan is. If the world sees us feeling satisfaction and living out joy and trust in the middle of chaos, what better advertisement could that be to a lost and dying world? The question is, do you really believe in your heart that His intentions are for your best interest? To put it another way, is the way your are living and responding to life's challenges showing the world that He is worthy of your steadfast trust? 

Come and see the works of God,
Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men.
He turned the sea into dry land;
They passed through the river on foot;
There let us rejoice in Him!
Psalm 66:5-6

I find it really interesting here that this word for "awesome," which in our common vernacular means great, wonderful, or positive - in Hebrew actually means "to cause astonishment, fear, honor, reverence." In other words you might say this verse this way: "Come see how God astonishes and surprises us as He works through us, provoking us to honor Him." Has God ever surprised you, in a way that you did not fully appreciate until later?

This is one of His preferred methods, actually - and it's one that the Israelites encountered in the great book of Exodus, chapter 14. Since Psalm 66 mentions this, I think it's worth taking a closer look at what happened, so we can get the full impact of the reference:

Here's the scoop on this story's setting: God had promised release from Egyptian bondage, and He had made good on that promise; they were now making their grand exit, carrying the spoils of the great riches of the Egyptians. Finally, things would be different, they would feel safe, a new life could begin. But then God does something surprising, calling them to turn back and camp by the sea. Then, in another strange move, God actually causes Pharaoh to decide to chase after Israel. And just like that, Israel finds itself between a sea and an army - two enemies that seem completely beyond escape.

Like any rational person just getting to know the Lord would, they panicked. But notice Moses' declaration to them in this moment:

“Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent. 

In other words, here is an opportunity to witness a miracle, God wants to divinely intervene here. All you have to do is stand here, trust Him, and watch Him work. The words "keep silent" literally mean "hold, hold," with the implication of engraving something, like drawing a line in the sand and standing firm.

It is important to remember the outcome of that divine surprise:

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

God did not allow them to fail. And Beloved, no matter how impossible things might seem, He will not allow you to fail either. His provision is without limit, and beautifully orchestrated, causing awe and wonder like walking through walls of water. When we encounter something that is beyond our resources, the psalmist encourages us, "There," in that overwhelming and surprising place, remember who He is, and "let us rejoice in Him." God has decided to let you witness a miracle. Will you stand with Him, draw your line in the sand, and wait with expectation? Or will you retreat into yourself and your need for control, as I often do, forfeiting the miracle God would show you?

A Place of Abundance

Bless our God, O peoples 
And sound His praise abroad,
Who keeps us in life
And does not allow our feet to slip

For you have tried us, O God;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
You have brought us into the net;
You have laid an oppressive burden upon our loins
You made men ride over our heads;

We went through fire and through water,
Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.
Psalm 66: 8-12

These verses have revolutionized the way I see all manner of challenges in daily life. This is the testimony of a person who has been through some tough times, but declares that we should trust in Him in tough times, for on the other side of them are a treasure. He tells us not to resist God, because, from the common annoyance to the big life or death challenges, they are all like little tributaries that pour out into an ocean of blessing.

Being "tried" is receiving an opportunity to apply the things we commit to doing for the Lord. "Refining" comes when the heat gets turned up in our lives and we feel the pressure of deadlines, decisions and conflicts. "Nets" are situations where we feel trapped or aren't sure what to do, or maybe circumstances where we feel discontent with where God has us. "Oppressive burdens" might come in the form of illnesses, losses, heartbreaks, disappointments, or seasons of waiting. And men riding over our heads are just dealing with other people, especially those who attack or oppress us, put us down, betray and disrespect us. I think this pretty much captures every kind of problem we might face. And yet, through all that, the writer tells us that on the other side of those things are abundance.

That word, abundance, is a great word. In Hebrew it's revayah. It means to not only drink your fill but to be completely saturated, having more than you could ever drink. It's also, if you remember, the purpose that Christ said Himself that he came to achieve in you. So in other words, trials, conflicts and struggles are often the very vehicle that get us to the abundance God has for us.

How you ask? This has come in four main ways in my life - maybe you can relate:

Increased Self awareness. Often when things don't go my way, certain character traits that are not very godly bubble to the surface. Sometimes, God simply throws us a curve ball to let us know that a change in our heart is needed.

Increased Faith: When I get to the other side of my mountain, the view is so gorgeous. I can see all the ways God provided along the way. And going forward, I can rest a little easier in my God's ability to see me through the dark times.

Increased Dependence on God: In the moments of being overwhelmed, I am reminded that I am a person of limited means and resources. I simply can't do it all. So, I reach out for my Abba and my prayer and intimacy in my relationship with Him dramatically improve. Here is His gentle reminder that this is the way it should be every day.

Increased Sense of Purpose & Passion: There's a prophetic passage in Ezekiel 39 that I adore about a war with a formidable enemy that God will defeat on Israel's behalf in the future. When the battle is over, the weapons that were meant to harm Israel will be used as an energy source, a fire that will burn for seven years. It works the same way for you and me now. When God fights a battle for me, all that it seems was meant to hurt me actually ends up fueling me. You can use the mistakes of your past for ministry, you can share your testimony to show other's God's power. Trials can be a valuable tool to help you find your gifting and calling.

So, next time you find yourself in the midst of a sticky situation, try to resist the gut reaction to retreat into what you can do, or to rebel against what God wants to do. Remember that these situations are God's vehicle, driving us toward something amazing and supernatural. We can rejoice because God brings us to our obstacles deliberately, so that He can bring us out triumphantly. We can wait expectantly to see big things. I wonder what it is that God wants to show you today...Don't forfeit your miracle, Beloved...embrace it with courage and joy. Let's go dance in the rainstorm...



No comments:

Post a Comment

Tweets by @AmandaTadlock