May 10, 2014

Grace goes beyond making me comfortable

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1) does not exempt the sheep from life’s trials, but it does promise that the Shepherd will always be with His people giving us what we need in those trials.

Elijah fled threats to his life. God sent birds with food and provided water. This frightened prophet finally found a cave to hide in but the Lord asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He explaining his isolation and danger, but God sent him out on a mountain. Then God passed by and a strong wind tore the mountain into pieces, “but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.”

Then there came “the sound of a low whisper” and God spoke to His prophet. Elijah heard the whisper, covered his face, and went to the entrance of the cave. God asked him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He explained again how his zeal for God brought opposition from those who had “forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword” and that he was the only one left. The Lord told him what to do and that He still had seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed to Baal. (1 Kings 19:9–18)

When I read this story, it helps me remember those days that I felt alone and without support. God asks me the same question: what am I doing in that frame of mind? He reminds me my thinking is not true. He says it in this story, in this psalm, and in His promises to never leave or forsake me. He will help me and He has Christians to do the footwork. (Yesterday, one of them blessed me by doing just that.)

Paul is another example. When in Asia, he was “utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” However, he knew the reason. It was “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

God delivered them from their “deadly peril” and Paul was confident that He would deliver them again for “on Him we have set our hope.” He asked other believers to pray so that “many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8–11)

Paul had a perspective on trials that eludes many Christians today. We want comfort and all good things, but he was more concerned that God would be glorified by the trials. He realized we are only jars of clay but the Lord Jesus Christ lives in us, a treasure whose power we are to trust and declare to others . . .

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh . . . . so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

This is how to glorify God in trials, but trials have an ultimate purpose for us also . . . “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–18)

The trials of life are to help me rely on God so His power can be seen in me and so others will praise God and be thankful. This is an eternal blessing, unselfish and far beyond the blessing of being merely short-term comfortable.

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