Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When it costs to believe

One of the hidden snares of waiting on God is the temptation to be resentful when he delivers other people quickly.

Like a rabbit pulled up by a well-laid trap and dangling by one foot, I have wriggled around in futility, pulling this way and that, demanding to know why, grumbling and complaining, comparing and envying.

Why does another person experience resolve, healing, instant understanding, freedom, and restoration, all while I continue to go through circumstances that are isolating, confusing, unpleasant, and unresolved?  Where is God in all this?

I think from a human perspective, it's natural to measure our success by tangible outcomes. How good is she at baking? Well, her cake sure tasted good! Is he a good musician? His concert was excellent! Conditioned to measure success based our our senses, we are left at a disadvantage when it comes to spiritual matters.

If someone were to ask how much faith a person has, we can't simply look at whether they suffer or prosper. The famous passage about faith in Hebrews 11 says that people of faith both "escaped the edge of the sword" (v. 34) and "were killed with the sword." (v. 37)

If there is no guaranteed earthly outcome for people of faith, how can we remain steady?  How do we cope when God allows us to hurt for a long time rather than instantly deliver?

We can gain insight by looking at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the Jewish exiles living in Nebuchadnezzar's court in Babylon. Trying hard to hold on to their Jewish identity and committed to worshiping the true God, they refused to bow down to worship a giant golden statue. When their behavior was brought to Nebuchadnezzar's attention, they were about to face certain death. Before being bound and tossed into the fire, they acknowledged two potential outcomes of their faith:

"If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we shall not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." Daniel 3:17-18

It's this attitude that we can adopt as our own when we face what appear to be certain consequences for choosing the path of faith.  When others mistreat us or when we suffer difficulty and setbacks for obeying God, He is deserving of our complete devotion, no matter the cost. Yet regardless of the repercussions, we have this assurance: he is present with us in the trial.

Once the men were thrown into the fire at the order of the enraged king, something extraordinary happened. The king asked:

"Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" (v. 24)

His men affirmed that this was true. And the astonished king responded:

"But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods." (v. 25)

It was God's presence in the furnace with them that brought tears of joy to my eyes this morning. Likewise, Jesus is in the furnace with me and with you through faith. We "consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that [we] will not grow weary and lose heart" when we suffer quietly yet see others quickly rescued.

So where is God when he allows the outcomes we sometimes see as failures? He is the fourth man in the furnace with us, sent to rescue us sinners who are thrown into the fires of this world. Through faith like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we will arrive one day in heaven, not even smelling of smoke.

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
(Isaiah 43:2-3)


Anonymous said...

Been living with the roller coaster of dysautonomia and feeling and thinking depressive thoughts...

Then I wondered...if I needed to stop taking Dysautonomia personally.. detatch my negative feelings away from myself because of I can't control my autonomic system anymore...

Is that the key stop personalizing the disorder and face facts... bad things happen to good people..


Care to comment

Qavah said...

Corrine- This is part of a devotion from "Jesus Calling" (written from the perspective of Jesus). It's a great reminder during long-term affliction that God's power is made perfect in weakness when we choose to walk by faith.

"In this age of independence, people find it hard to acknowledge their neediness. However, I have taken you along a path that has highlighted your need for me: placing you in situations where your strengths were irrelevant and your weaknesses were glaringly evident. Through the aridity of those desert marches, I have drawn you closer and closer to myself. You have discovered flowers of peace blossoming in the most desolate places. You have learned to thank me for hard times and difficult journeys, trusting that through them I accomplish my best work. You have realized that needing me is the key to knowing me intimately, which is the gift above all gifts."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for passing on your wisdom