There’s A Good Chance God Will Almost Kill You

When someone is going through a tough time we like to say, “Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It sounds nice and is semi-inspirational, kind of like saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!” Kind of a Christian bootcamp, I’m in the Lord’s army, suck it up fella you’re gonna make it, saying. God won’t give you more than you can handle! You’re going to get through this! Bite the bullet, buckle down, suck it up, push through, dig deep, unleash your animal, huzzah, hip hip hooray.

One slight problem with this line of thinking: God will often give us more than we can handle. In fact, there will be times when God practically kills us.?

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul said:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,?of?the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.?Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us?rely not on ourselves?but on God?who raises the dead.

God nearly crushed Paul and his apostolic companions. He allowed them to be so afflicted, so burdened, so overrun, so overwhelmed, so beaten down that death seemed like a real possibility. He brought them to the end of their resources and then kept pushing and crushing and grinding until Paul and his friends felt they were under a sentence of death. Did God give Paul more than he could handle? Yeah, I guess you could say that. God nearly killed Paul, and there will be times when he does the same thing to us.

Why does God do this? Is he some sort of sick sadist who enjoys tormenting helpless men and women? No, not at all. God burdens us beyond our strength so that we will be forced to utterly and completely depend on him. God gives us way more than we can handle so that we’ll stop trying to live a self-sufficient life apart from God. He brings us to the brink of death so that we’ll rely on the One who can raise the dead.

When we’re overwhelmed, beaten down, and worn out, we’re in a good place. We’re finally seeing ourselves as we truly are: weak, helpless creatures who desperately need God. When we acknowledge our pervasive weakness we can then receive the overwhelming, sustaining, empowering, conquering grace of God. When we put our face in the dirt before God we’ll discover the spring of His grace running just under the surface.

If you feel overwhelmed don’t take comfort in your ability to handle it all. Don’t try to figure out how you’re going to make it through the darkness. On your own you won’t make it. You can’t handle life. It’s too hard and too heavy and too oppressive. But we serve a God who causes old women to give birth and gives life to dry bones and raises the dead. Run to God in your weakness and bone-tiredness and despair. Rely wholly on him. Throw aside any foolish confidence you have in yourself. Drink deeply of his overwhelming, overflowing grace.

Will God give you more than you can handle? You better believe it. In fact, he might almost kill you. But he brings us to the brink of death so that we’ll trust in his ability to raise the dead.

When God Puts You Up A Tree And Sets It On Fire

Gary Kurtz, the producer of?Star Wars?and?The Empire Strikes Back?said in an interview with the LA Times:

I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down.

There are times in life when it feels like God has put us up in a tree and then set the tree ablaze. We wonder what the heck God is doing. We wonder why he has allowed our bank account to be stripped, or our health to be decimated, or our marriage to go to pieces, or our boss to be such a tyrant, or our children to wander from the faith, or our singleness to continue well past the time our biological clock has gone silent. We question. We struggle. We wrestle and grapple with the truth we know in our heads and the ache we feel in our hearts.

And we feel alone. Really, really alone.

But we’re not alone. God has been putting his people up in flaming trees for thousands of years. God promised Abraham a son. Then God put Abraham up into a tree by letting Abraham get older, and older, and older. Finally, when Abraham was 100 years old he finally had a son. Then God set Abraham’s tree on fire by telling him to sacrifice his son.

God promised to rescue the people of Israel from the clutches of Egypt. Then he put them up into a tree by leading them right up to edge of the Red Sea. Then he set their tree on fire by causing the Egyptians to chase after them.

God promised Gideon that he would deliver the Israelites from the hand of the Mideanites. Then he put Gideon in a tree and set the tree aflame when he told Gideon that his army would consist of only 300 men.

Why does God do this? Is he some sort of sick, sadistic storyteller who enjoys inflicting pain on the characters in his stories? No.

God puts us in flaming trees in order to increase our faith in him. He allows our circumstances to become so desperate that when the deliverance comes we can only attribute it to him. He allows us to come to the end of ourselves in order that we’ll trust wholly in him. This is why God said to Gideon:

The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand,?lest Israel boast over me, saying, ?My own hand has saved me.?

God won’t let us do any of the boasting. In his kindness, he knocks out our support systems so that we’ll find our support in him. He breaks down our walls of defense to force us to take shelter in him. He puts us into impossible circumstances to prove that he is a God who does the impossible. Remember, the third act is coming. Deliverance is coming. It may not look like we expected but it will come. And when the deliverance does come God will receive all the glory.

And when we’re tempted to doubt God’s goodness let’s remember that he put his own Son on a tree and then set that tree ablaze with his wrath. If God would do such an incredible thing for us then he will surely deliver us from our troubles.

+original photo by lovstromp

God Often Does His Best Work In The Darkness

Being in the valley of trials stinks. It’s painful, disorienting, and confusing. As we stagger and stumble along we often wonder,?Where is God??Why is he allowing me to go through this???We feel stuck and broken, like we can’t move forward. We are perplexed, crushed, weighed down, and in the dark. We move ahead slowly, groping and grasping, hoping to find a handhold.

The reality is, however, that God often does his best work in the darkness. As senior demon Screwtape says to junior demon Wormwood in?The Screwtape Letters:

Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession ofa soul, he relies on the troughs [low points, valleys, etc.] even more than the peaks; some of his special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.

God does not throw trials at us haphazardly, like an angry fan throwing a beer bottle at a baseball player. He does not accidentally let trials slip into our lives, like an absent-minded babysitter. No, God deliberately leads us into the furnace of trials for very specific reasons. He does not waste suffering. He is not a sadist who derives sick pleasure from inflicting pain on his helpless creatures. Every trial we experience has been hand crafted by God for our good. Trials are God’s kiln. We are the clay, he is the master potter.

What good does God accomplish in the darkness? Here are just a few of the thousands of things God accomplishes.

He Forces Us To Rely On Him

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us?rely not on ourselves?but on God?who raises the dead.?(2 Corinthians 1:9)

Trials remind us of what is already true: we are desperately dependent on God. We cannot function apart from God. We cannot make it to heaven apart from the sustaining grace of the God who raises dead men. God takes us through trials to decrease our self-confidence and increase our confidence in him.

He Produces Steadfastness In Us

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)

Without steadfastness we will never make it to heaven. We will be like seed that springs up quickly but has no root. We will have the life choked out of us by the cares of this world. God wants us to have a steadfast, steady faith, which is not easily rocked by trial and hardship. Trials cause our faith to mature and become steadfast.

He Prepares Us To Comfort Others

Blessed be the?God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and?God of all comfort,?who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.?(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

When we experience trials we also experience God’s comfort in a unique way. As God’s comfort flows into our lives, we are then divinely prepared to comfort others who are enduring trials. We could not adequately comfort others if we didn’t first receive God’s comfort. Trials ready us to comfort others.

Charles Spurgeon, who was well acquainted with trials, said:

None of us can come to the highest maturity without enduring the summer heat of trials. As the sycamore fig never ripens if it be not bruised, as the corn does not leave the husk without threshing, and as wheat makes no fine flour till it be ground, so are we of little use till we are afflicted. Why should we be so eager to escape such benefits? We shall have to wait with patience, saying, ?The will of the Lord be done.? He waited to give grace to us; let us wait to give glory to him.

Take heart – God is using the summer heat of trials to bring you to the highest maturity.

The Incredible Lightness of Terrible Trials

[The following interview took place in an undisclosed location.]

ME: Okay, let’s see here. I called the records department and had them send your file down. It says here that you were nearly stoned to death, left for dead, flogged, unjustly thrown in prison, shipwrecked, bitten by venomous snakes, reviled, and generally persecuted wherever you went. Paul, how would you classify these many trials you experienced.

PAUL:?I consider them to be light and momentary.

ME:?I’m sorry? It sounded like you said they are light and momentary.

PAUL:?I did. I consider all the brutal trials I ?experienced, including the intense physical persecution, as nothing more than a light and momentary affliction.

ME:?How can you possibly say that? When I experience trials they do NOT seem light and momentary. They seem intense. They seem heavy, powerful, and oppressive. It feels as though my trials are in my face, screaming at me, spitting at me, harassing me, cussing me out. The trials haunt me, hanging over my shoulder like a demonic spectre.

PAUL:?Yeah that sounds about right. My trials felt like that at times. Do you think I was all smiles and cupcakes when I was laying in the dirt, my head split open by rocks, fading in and out of consciousness? Hardly.

ME:?So how can you call your trials “light and momentary”? You endured intense trials for most of your Christian life. The file here says you were even given a thorn in the flesh. How can you possibly say your trials were light and momentary? If anything, they were intense and brutal. Come on Paul, be real here. Quit trying to put a good face on everything.

PAUL:?I am being real! The key is being able to see past the trials to what is actually taking place in eternity. Eternity is the most real thing that exists! If you can look above the fog of trials and catch a glimpse of the mountains of eternity, everything falls into place.

ME:?Well that sounds very spiritual and poetic, but what exactly do you mean?

PAUL:?There is a direct connection and correlation between the trials you experience here on earth and the glory you will experience in heaven. Each trial you endure in this life prepares you to experience more glory in heaven. The deep sorrows you taste here prepare you to taste deeper joys in heaven. The pain that plagues you here prepares you to experience the deeper strength of your resurrection body. The death of a fellow believer prepares you for the overwhelming joy of everlasting life.

ME:?So are you saying that it is necessary for us to experience trials in this life? Because many “preachers” today say that the Christian life should always be health, wealth, and prosperity.

PAUL:?Those preachers are wrong. Don’t forget, there is a direct connection between our earthly trials and our heavenly glory. One leads to the other. If we don’t experience the trials on earth, we won’t experience the glory in heaven. It’s as simple as that. Our trials go on ahead of us. A life free from earthly pain produces an eternity free from heavenly glory.

ME:?As you look back over your life, is there anything you would change?

PAUL:?No. Absolutely not. When I put my earthly suffering on one side of the scales and my heavenly glory on the other side, there simply is no comparison. The glory that I am enjoying and experiencing now truly does make my earthly trials seem light and momentary.

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 4:17-18, ESV)

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You Don’t Have To Like What Is Happening To You

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

Nobody likes pain.

Nobody likes seeing their children suffer. Nobody likes financial hardship. We don’t have to like what’s happening to us.

But we are to rejoice in all things.

We don’t have to like affliction, but we can rejoice in midst of it because of what we know. We know that God causes all things to work together for our good, and that good is to be transformed into the likeness of his Son.

Our hearts constantly interpret what is happening to us. When something bad happens we can interpret it as God has forgotten about us or doesn’t care about us. ?Or we can interpret it as something God is doing to make us like Christ. We can interpret our trials as meaningless hardships or as God’s loving hand working something in us that will bring us joy for all eternity.

What matters most is not whether we like what is happening to us but what we believe about God in our situation. Do we believe God is in control of all things, all-wise, infinitely good and loving? If we believe these things we can rejoice in our pain even though we don’t like it.

Last December a stress test revealed I had some blockage in my heart and I had to get a catheterization and a stent.

I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like having to get up at 5a.m. and drive?an hour to the hospital in Pittsburgh. I didn’t like getting poked and jabbed and having blood drawn several times. And I really didn’t like having to adorn myself with a hospital gown. I didn’t like lying on the gurney. Didn’t like being cut open. ?And the worst part of it all was having to lie on my back with a screaming headache without moving or lifting my head for four hours after my surgery. ?But I was glad for the doctors, nurses, medical technology, surgery and discomfort because I knew it in the long run it would hopefully prevent a heart attack and give me a longer life.

You don’t have to like what’s happening to you. You don’t have to like being single or lonely. You don’t have to like not having a job. You don’t have to like not knowing what you’re going to do in life. ?You don’t have to like your sickness. But you can still rejoice and be glad that God is using it for his glory in your life.

We don’t have to like pain but we can praise God in the midst of it.

Thanks to Kay McCoy for the idea for this post.

The Unexpected Perks of Being Thrown Into the Fire

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV)

Trials stink. Running out money stinks. Suffering from chronic migraines stink. Being slandered by coworkers stinks. All trials stink, right?

Well, yes and no. From a human perspective, trials are painful and sad. But from God’s perspective, trials are sad, but also wonderfully productive. In James 1:2-4 it says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Humanly speaking, this is crazy talk. Count it all joy whenever I meet a trial? James sounds like some sort of sadistic masochist who loves pain. Like those guys who lay on beds of nails, or swallow glass, or watch made for TV movies on the Hallmark Channel. Insane. Perhaps a bit unstable. In need of psychiatric help.

But James sees things from God’s perspective. He knows that God uses trials to produce steadfast faith in us. Steadfast faith is faith that isn’t easily shaken. Steadfast faith is faith that holds fast to God even when it is buffeted and beaten. Steadfast faith says, “Blessed be your name,” on the road marked with blessing and the road marked with suffering. If we’re going to make it to the end, we need steadfast faith.

But steadfast faith doesn’t just happen. It’s not like you can take a blue steadfast pill and suddenly be a faith ninja. Steadfast, unshakeable faith only comes through the pressure of trials. Trials press us in to God. They force us to lean on God, and trust him when we can’t see the outcome. They knock our legs out from underneath us so that we’ll cling to God.

God never wastes our suffering. He doesn’t play games with our suffering. Every trial has a divine purpose behind it. We can rejoice in our trials, and even count them all joy because we know that God is producing steadfast faith in us.

Rejoice in your trials. Count them all joy. Wait patiently in the midst of them. God is at work, even if you can’t see it.

+photo by David Stanley

When Life Beats The Snot Out of You

Sometimes life has a way of just beating the living snot out of you.

You wake up, sit in two hours of stifling traffic, get to work, get chewed out by the boss, get home, find out your basement flooded, go to bed, and do it all over again. Or, you spend your day taking care of hordes of children who go from one room to the next, razing each room to the ground, like some sort of toddler vikings. By lunch time you’re exhausted. By bed time you’re hoping that Jesus comes back before morning. Or maybe you’re taking care of a sick parent or spouse. Or maybe you’re battling chronic back problems. There are a thousand different circumstances that can beat us up and suck our strength.

So what to do? What to do when we feel like poo and we look like it too? I’ve got to admit, most of the time I just want a break. A break from the kids. A break from the insanity of work. A break from life. I want to sit down in front of the TV, eat a jumbo size bag of chips (kettle-cooked please), and think about nothing. I want some me time. Some veg time. Some “don’t bother me or I might blow a blood vessel” time.

But is that really the solution? I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, we need the right amount of sleep and rest, but ultimately our strength comes from somewhere else.

Psalm 103:5 says that God is the one:

…who satisfies you with good?so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Eagle youth. Sounds like some sort of Occupy Wall Street punk band that wears tight jeans and smokes unfiltered cigarettes. But it also sounds like what I need. I need God to renew my youth – my strength, my endurance, my perseverance – so that I can keep going. When I’m worn out, physically and spiritually, I desperately need to be renewed. I need something that can’t happen simply by a good night’s sleep. I need true, inward, God-given renewal, so that my love for Christ burns hot again.

And notice how God renews us: by satisfying us with good. God wants to renew us by satisfying us. Sometimes that good thing will be having our circumstances changed. But I don’t think that’s usually the way God does it. The way that God satisfies us is by giving us himself. His power. His strength. His joy.

If you’re feeling weary and worn and stretched thin, go to God. If you’re feeling like butter that’s been scraped over too much bread, run to God. If you feel like the youth and vigor you once had is gone, run to God! God to him in prayer and his word. He wants to satisfy you. He wants to renew your youth.

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Bring God Into The Equation

How should we talk about our trials?

First, it?s totally appropriate to acknowledge our pain and suffering.

For example, ?I?m really hurting. ?This is the hardest thing I?ve ever gone through.?? Or, ?I feel like God has abandoned me,? or ?It?s hard to see any good in this.? The Psalmists expressed their pain, like David did in Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (1,2)

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. (14, 15)

David felt forsaken. ?Like God was ?far from saving? him and distant from his prayers. ?He wondered why God didn’t answer his prayers. ?He even said God was the source of his suffering – ?you lay me in the dust of death.?

Yet almost without exception, after David mourns his afflictions, he goes on to express confidence in God:

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.? In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.? To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (3-5)

In other words, though I’m suffering you are holy.? And you’re on your throne.? No one’s ever been disappointed by trusting you.

David finishes the Psalm with praise:

You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!? I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: (21-22)

For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. (24)

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! (26)

For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. (28)

In other words, David says, ?Lord, I’m suffering here.? I don?t understand why you don?t answer my prayers. ?Yet I know you’re trustworthy and you hear my cries and in the end I?ll praise you.?

So what can we learn from the Psalmists about how to talk about our trials?

We can express our true feelings. We can tell God and others how much it hurts.? Many Christians don?t share with others for fear they?ll be told they must be in sin or lacking faith.

We should express trust. If we do nothing but continually tell of our misery with no reference to God, it can easily turn into complaining.? So it’s good to express faith if we’re able.

How does this look in practice? These are all very simplistic, but we might say things like the following:

?This is the hardest thing I?ve ever gone through. Yet I know that somehow God is faithful and that he?s working it for my good.?

Or, ?I feel really lonely but Jesus promised never to leave nor forsake me.?

Or, ?I?ve lost everything I worked for all these years.? We’re living hand to mouth.? But you know, Jesus is our portion and he’s doing a lot of good things in our lives.? He’s teaching me to trust him and be patient.”

In other words, bring God into the equation.

We need God?s grace to do this.? Express your pain honestly.? But frame your pain with the with biblical truth of God?s character.? That’s how we glorify God.

photo by adam coster

Praise God, The Tree Fell Down

It had been a long day of Christmas shopping with our young children in Monroeville, PA, an hour away from our home.

When we finally pulled into our driveway, it was dark, and I was fried and looking forward to hustling the kids off to bed and relaxing. ?After we unloaded kids, diaper bags, strollers, coffee cups, MacDonald?s bags and approximately 246 bags of gifts, I unlocked the front door, and saw the sight I least wanted to see at the end of an exhausting day.

A few days earlier, we?d had our family tree trimming party. ?The cassette player blasted Christmas carols sung by Bing Crosby, the Muppets, John Denver, and Dolly Parton as we drank egg nog and ate coconut macaroons and the kids frantically pulled ornaments from boxes. ?But before we could hang any on the tree, it was my job to hang the lights.

That was when I had the epiphany. ?Since the tree was in the corner of our living room, I figured why bother wrapping the lights all the way around the back when no one would see them any way? ?I could save time by stringing them on the front of the tree. ?Genius! ?Back and forth, I hung the lights, like some kind of mad Christmas weaver, on my Christmas tree loom. ?Plugged em in, and voila! ?Ready for ornaments.

All was well until that night after shopping when I opened the front door. ?There was our tree, lying prostrate on the living room floor. ?Ornaments scattered everywhere. ?And worst of all, the lights had all fallen off the tree because of my genius idea not to wrap them around it.

As I stood there in shock, I noticed little Stephen (around age 4) staring up at me wide-eyed, waiting for my reaction. ?Fortunately God gave me grace not to shout ?This is just great!? ?like I wanted to. ?After a few seconds, I recovered enough to say, ?Praise God, the tree fell down. ?Gotta put the lights back on.?

As I stood the tree up, and (this time) secured it to the wall with twine, and (this time) wrapped the lights around back, little Stephen kept chanting gleefully, ?Praise God, the tree fell down! ?Praise God, gotta put the lights back on!? ?Arrgghh! ?Help me Lord!

He did. ?He helped me cheerfully rehang the lights. ?And he helped me to show my kids, in a small imperfect way, how to rejoice always.


Singing Pots

pots

As an art major in college, I was required to take two semesters of ceramics. So the biblical illustration about the Potter and clay is very real to me.? But another illustration I heard speaks powerfully to me about the need to rejoice in all things.

A potter was giving a man a tour of his studio.? He explained that most of the time after clay has been formed into bottles, cups, or dishes he sets them aside to dry, then puts them into a kiln and “fires” them at very high heat, to harden the clay.? After a set period of time, the kiln is turned off.? At some point the visitor noticed the artist placed some particular pots into a kiln but did not set the timer.? Curious, he asked, “How will you know when they’re done?”? To which the potter replied, “When they sing.”? When this particular clay reached a certain temperature, it would emit a whistling sound – it would “sing.”? When the potter heard the pots “singing” he’d know the fire had finished it’s work and he’d turn off the kiln.

How often does God have to take us around the mountain one more time because we’ve failed to learn the lesson of rejoicing in all things?

I can imagine angels watching as Jesus takes me through some trial.?? “How will you know when he’s done?” they ask.? And I can hear the Lord answer like the potter,? “When he sings.”

We can know God has done an incredible work in our lives when we can worship him in the midst of trials,? when our mouth is filled praise though our eyes are filled with tears.? How that brings glory to God.? It’s easy to praise him when everything’s going great.? But when we offer a costly sacrifice of praise while suffering,? it shows our confidence in his sovereignty, goodness and wisdom.? It brings our Father great pleasure when we sing of his goodness when everything about our situation would call his goodness into question.? It brings him deep joy when we sing that he’s? in control when our circumstances scream there is no one at the wheel.

Without faith it is impossible to please God.? Conversely, faith greatly pleases God.? And what could please God more than our faith expressed by singing?

I’m not saying that God will end our trials if we start to sing.? But worship will lift our eyes from our affliction onto our Savior.? Anybody want to be a singing pot?

Photo by Senor Lebowski