Right now, many friends I love and admire greatly in life have had their world turned upside down.  Through no fault of their own, they are suffering the loss of a ministry to which many of them have given decades.  These are godly people, and they are doing their best to handle this catastrophic loss in a godly way.  Yet no matter how many times they kneel in prayer and genuinely release their hurt and their future, waves of devastation, pain, and aching disappointment still pound against their hearts in rhythmic succession.  So they go back to their knees to surrender it all once again . . . and once again move forward for a few hours before their very natural, understandable agony crashes back against their souls–loaded with the “silt” of questioning, uncertainty, and a wordless sorrow that can only be moaned in prayer to the God they trust, but Who has allowed them to experience this racking pain.

I pray for you, my friends, wishing I could carry some of the burden you bear, and begging God to soon turn your night of weeping into the joy of morning.  But the only other help I can give is to commend to you Job, Joseph, and Jesus, all of whom experienced unimaginable loss and extended pain–One of Whom surrendered to infinite pain on our behalf.  I have been going back to these Exemplars many times for the past few years, and here is what I read today.  I pray before I type that God will use His Word and the devotional thoughts of R. Kent Hughes to minister to you right now, and perhaps in the days immediately ahead.  And let me point out one thing Hughes doesn’t say in this excerpt that God has used to encourage me: The latter half for Job, Joseph, and Jesus was superior to the first!

In Genesis 50, Joseph’s brothers fear that the death of Joseph’s father means Joseph will now turn on them in revenge.  In verse 20, Joseph utters that beautiful Old Testament crescendo of Truth that is, no doubt, one of the hard-learned lessons of his 13 years of captivity: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Looking back, we know that Joseph’s presence in Egypt had saved the 70+ members of his family who came from Canaan, and that the 400-year sojourn in Egypt–though it would entail slavery–would become the incubator of a nation of perhaps 2.5 million who would march victoriously from the decimated land of their enslavement!

R. Kent Hughes notes, “The prophet Jeremiah voiced this same truth to encourage his people when they were about to go into captivity in evil Babylon: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the L ORD , plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” ( Jer. 29:11 ). “Welfare” here is the Hebrew word shalom. It means peace, or “wholeness”; it means God’s good plans for us. God can have no evil thoughts toward his children—no thoughts of calamity. He has never had an evil thought toward a child of his, and he never will. This doesn’t mean that his people are shielded from hardship or misery (consider Joseph’s life!). What it does mean is that God’s plans are never for evil in the believer’s life, but with an eye to their well-being and wholeness—always. The apparent evil that we suffer is for our good” [Taken from notes in the ESV Study Bible].

Clearly, God has not shielded you from hardship.  Life hurts right now, and only God knows when the hurt will be replaced with provision and joy.  But as Romans 8:28-32 join the chorus of these Old Testament promises, hundreds of your friends are praying for you.  We ache for your pain and weep for God to comfort and uplift you.  But the best thing we can pray is that you will experience in the midst of pain a work of God that He wasn’t doing when life was normal, because you didn’t need it then.  As you question, hurt, and cry out, may you know God binding you up.  May you remember from Psalm 23 that He is at your side in the “valley experiences” of life.  May you clearly witness Him working for your welfare.  And very soon, may you see Him making the way plain before your face!

With love, prayers, and deepest admiration,

Stephen

At some point in one’s growth–particularly for those who have been saved for a while–one comes to a massive decision point: Do I (Can I) trust God with my life?

At this point, you may look around you at Christian parents in ministry, a faithful pastor and his family who barely seem to make it by, or other Christians you know who are either suffering or are perhaps serving in near obscurity.  Pride and our natural instinct for self protection (and self-promotion) rise up and scream, “I want more than that!  I want better than that!”

We may cloak our resistance in spiritual terms–such as wanting to earn as much as possible to be able to support Christian works around the globe, or some such defense, and I’m not minimizing the need for Christians who actually DO that, rather than getting sucked into the materialism that seems to intensify with success.  There are people God has entrusted with material wealth and who are faithfully living on a little while distributing a lot.  But the point is, it was God‘s choice to give such a person success–not their own grasping or self-advancement.  Undoubtedly it took initiative and hard work on their part, but what I’m getting at is that at some point they also had to decide, “Will I trust God with the outcome?”

And no matter our upbringing or position, when we reach that point of decision–“Will I hold on to my rights to orchestrate my own life, or can I trust God?”–it comes down what we believe about God.  Does He know best and want what’s best, or do I?  Or you might better phrase it, “Does He love me sufficiently to trust Him, or am I better off loving and pleasing myself?”

When I came to that point as a college student (and it’s a point you may have to re-visit at difficult times throughout life), a friend shared two verses with me.  The first is Psalm 84:11, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly” [emphasis mine].

The second verse is from a familiar passage in Romans 8, where we usually stop with the wonderful truth of verse 28.  But I’d urge you to continue in that passage (which goes on to explain that the ultimate “good” to which God is working everything that touches our lives is our Christ-likeness), to verse 32.  That verse asks a question that has only one answer.  The verse reads: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He [the Father] not with Him [Jesus] also freely give us all things?”  The answer is, “he won’t.”  God has proven He loves us better than we could ever love ourselves by doing for us what we could never do for ourselves–saving us at the cost of His Son!

God’s value system isn’t material or perishable–it’s eternal and ultimate.  Though trusting God may not lead to a life with three houses and two BMW’s, it will lead to a life where EVERYTHING that touches us is truly best for us.  It may lead through pain or times when the bank account runs low–or it may not.  But the point is, we can trust His love in every circumstance.  We can trust His leading.  We can trust His work in our lives.  He alone will always do what is only for our ultimate best.  And trusting Him with every aspect of our lives will never lead to regret…in this life, or the next!