Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Trial is designed to destroy the appetite for sin."

Our Lady of the Kitchen Table: Women and Trials

Just like all of you, from time to time I have undergone various trials, some bad ones and some not as bad.

No matter it's particular nature, all suffering is suffering, and to the sufferer it is profoundly acute. A wicked case of the stomach flu can feel like the onslaught of death sometimes, as if the Grim Reaper is leaning over your bed and gleefully poking at your innards with his sickle (perhaps while your toddlers are in the kitchen needing lunch and coloring on the walls with Sharpie markers). It will be over, yes, but only after 24 hours of acute misery and 2 days of clean-up and recovery. As a pastor friend says, to the 17 year old just rejected by his girlfriend, the pain is just as acute as it is for what we might see as greater hurts.

This is a world of pain and sin and death. For some it is their own child's anguish or death. For some it is the blow of an accusation, like punch in the belly that doesn't dissipate. For some the withering erosion of an ongoing, seemingly never-ending hardship or or sickness like cancer or chronic pain or mental illness. For some it is a besetting sin. For some it is the lifelong backdrop of a hurtful relationship that goes winding on through the years.

All of these things and more can get right at the source of where we are most vulnerable...sin or fear or just plain old human weakness and deep physical and mental fatigue.

So, in this context, here are some notes I have taken on trials. Some are quotes, some are my thoughts:

1. From John Piper: "Trial is designed to destroy the appetite for sin."

2. Trial trains my eyes on my own sin and repentance and on God's grace. Trial puts my heart and God's Nature in the cross-hairs.

Like the sight on a microscope, trial makes us look inward on our spiritual and moral fibers with humility and contrition and need. Like the sight on a telescope, trial makes us look outward at God's abundant, starry and bright, matchless grace and goodness eternal Sovereignty, and at His personal, intimate warmth and most personal living Son's sacrifice. There is safety from sin in this place.

3. Trial is Character Time: This very moment of trial is the test of my character, the summing up of where I have been and what I have learned.

What do I trust? What do I love? What do I fear? Whose opinion matters? Can I bear this without reproaching others? Do I believe that God has prepared me for this?

In the mighty power of the Holy Spirit (how else?) there is a time to stand up and be like those who have gone before, like Esther and Ruth, brave and strong and true, and dignified like the woman in Proverbs 31, with the teaching of kindness on my tongue.

4. Trial challenges me to live in The Now and The Not Yet, not The In-Between.

The Now: What practical steps do I need to take right now to handle this situation in a sensible, practical, and God-honoring way.

And as a mother and wife, I have found that trial is the time to focus keenly on managing my children and home in the best way I am able, so that the home is peaceful and the children and my husband know stability, as much as is possible. There is great release in being busy about one's work. I do not mean that we are to avoid the issue at hand, of course, but good, honest work gives the brain a space to rejuvenate and get perspective. It is also important to simplify things and remove from your list all that is not fundamental to the running of the home, or helpful to your state of mind, and to get help from others where we need.

The Not Yet: I can and must cling to and look forward to heaven and the blessed release of being with Jesus and free from sin and pain. That day will come. And as Hebrews says, "For they looked for the City which has foundations, whose Architect and Builder is the Lord."

The In-Between is verboten: every worry, concern, fear, projection, vain-imagining does not belong in the heart of the Christian woman and will undermine the peace and stability of her home for her husband and children. In this, again, the Holy Spirit must be pleaded to step in, for surely we are not able to do this alone.

5. Satan would like for a trial, however deserved or undeserved, to keep us from doing good.
But God plans for our trials to be the rich, composting fertilizer in the soil of our hearts from which springs a good crop of compassion, kindness, generosity of spirit, contrition... and the clear, strong voice of one who cannot resist singing God's praises and giving testimony to His good graces.

In this lies safety and peace: God's goodness and my repentance. And in all of this and in our failings even in this trial and flailings and wretchedness in our sorrow...forgiveness.

Corrie ten Boom wrote authoritatively of God as a great, fatherly ticket holder. He gives you the train ticket with the strength you need to get on the train of trial when it is time: He gives you the power you need to handle your adversity when the time comes that you need it. He does not give it early, and He is never late.

Christians in China who are persecuted give voice to how God gives them power and comfort to handle torture and repeated imprisonment and loss of finances and family when they need the strength to press on. A group of missionaries and their children were rounded up many years ago in China to be shot. The killers later reported in wonderment that the men and women exhorted their weeping children not to be afraid, but to look forward to being with Jesus, and they went down to their graves singing a hymn.

The Holy Spirit can minister to your children. At the place where you end, where you find your strength and wisdom gone, the Holy Spirit steps in and can minister even to your little ones in His quiet and private way, and we can lean on Him to do this.

Several Christians I know who have suffered from serious family problems and grave illnesses have given testimony to this truth, as well. This is a great hope. We can trust those who have been through the fire, and we can trust the One who made us and knows us, that we will be found faithful.

God himself, through that long-suffering prophet Isaiah, speaks the word to His people: "In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength." Isaiah 30:15

The eagles wings beat in the distance, coming to sweep you up into the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.


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