The Gift no one wants—really!
I write about grief often; it is what seems to be in the ink of my pen as it touches paper. I begin to write with some other theme in mind…and before too long I am writing about grief, and heartache, and loss. But in writing about the trials of life, I must also write about the faithfulness of God who always keeps His promises to care for His children.
Just as I believe that this life may be full of heartache, I believe that God is the “God of all comfort.” I believe He is a “man of sorrows and acquainted with our grief.” I believe that the psalmist was honest and correct as he penned the words the Spirit guided his heart and his hand to write when he said, “it is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes.”
I say that because I hope you will believe those truths as well. God’s promises carry little significance for us if we do not believe them or if we wonder if He keeps them. The promise that He will walk with me through the valley of the shadow of death means nothing to me if I go through the valley kicking and screaming or with a heart full of fear. Rather, David shows in Psalm 23 a quiet confidence in the Shepherd who will walk with him through the valley of the shadow with rod and staff to guide and protect. No kicking. No screaming. No fear. Just a quiet trust in the promises of the Shepherd.
The same Shepherd promised to work “all things” together for good for his children. Not most things, not some things, but ALL things. And this is the problem for us when we are facing a grievous trial—do we believe His promise? Is the promise true for some others but not for us? Do we try to let God off the hook for making a seemingly unkeepable promise by making exceptions to it? Or are His promises always true for all of God’s people?
If we were in a courtroom right now, I would offer up the following witnesses:
David, the writer of Psalm 23 and the compiler of the Psalms would speak of Psalms 119:71 “It is good for me to have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”
Joseph, after spending years in prison because of the hatred of his brothers would speak of what he said to those same brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
Esther, would remind us of Mordecai’s words at a time when Hemen’s evil plan was to kill all of the Jews, “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” And she was there, in that earthly kingdom “for such a time as this.” And Hemen’s plan was thwarted, and he was put to death rather than God’s people. Esther’s trial, difficult as it was, saved the Nation of Israel from death.
Job, after the loss of everything dear to him repents to His God and says, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye seeth thee.” The trials, the loss of everything, helped him to come to know the Father in a much deeper fellowship.
Paul, after spending an entire chapter of scripture delineating the hardships of beatings, stonings, whippings, and other persecution he had suffered, says, “I will glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong.” The “good” that Paul wanted was to know and to serve God, the trials helped him do that.
James, who would be martyred for his faith, would remind us to “count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James reminds us that the testing of our faith works good in our life.
Joni Eareckson Tada, who has spent the last 50+ years in a wheelchair, has written these words, “He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer His embrace.” And “Heartache forces us to embrace God out of desperate, urgent need. God is never closer than when your heart is aching.” And she adds “Deny your weakness, and you will never realize God’s strength in you.”
Fanny Crosby, blind from infancy, said these words, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.” Or she might quote the first verse of one of her hymns, “All the way my Savior leads me, What have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my Guide? Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell! For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well;”. God doeth all things well, even if it means being blind from infancy.
I have friends who have suffered unbelievable tragedy, who are continuing to live in the heartache of their trial. I have spoken with them enough to know that they would say, “I hate this trial. I hate the losses I have suffered. But I trust my heavenly Father will work good as only He can.” Some of them have seen that good already.
God’s promise to work good is absolutely, irrevocably true and He will keep that promise whether we believe or not. We can, however, choose to go through life’s trials with resentment and with a refusal to see the good. Our refusal to see it, does not mean the good is not there. The good that God promises is His good. It does not mean the lame will always be healed, or that the blind will always gain back their sight. It does not mean that Alzheimer’s will not touch the child of God. It does not mean the prodigal will come home. It means what the Word promises, that God will work good out of all things.
My wife and I differ on foods that we like. She can fuss around with a food that I really do not care for by adding a few condiments and ingredients and pronounce it is now “good”. Sometimes, in my estimation, it is still unfit for human consumption. We have a differing opinion of what “good” tastes like. It seems silly to compare my illustration to that with God and His children, but maybe not. God, the one who holds all of creation together by the word of His power knows my frame and works good for my life. His ways are not my ways. His thoughts are not my thoughts. The foolishness of God is greater than my best wisdom on my best day. And if He says something is good, it is good whether I think so or not. His promise remains true, and I should have an inner thankfulness that I am part of God’s greater plan. I should be thankful that the eternal purpose God is accomplishing in my life is greater than my mundane wants and wishes. My wife and I arguing about whether pineapple on pizza is fit for humans to eat is silly. For me to argue with God about what “good” should look like is even more silly.
After God had spoken to Job and Job had repented of his inability to understand who God really was, he began to praise God. He praised Him, even though his children were still dead, his fortune was still lost, the young men still laughed at him, and his friends still thought his trials were because of his sin. But now Job saw the “good” that had been taking seed since the moment God asked Satan if he had considered tempting Job. In his repentance, Job does not say he saw good—he said he now saw God—and that was good. Job became the man who wanted to know God—even if it meant the loss of everything dear to him.
When Paul praised God, he still had the thorn in his flesh. He kept the thorn until his death as far as we know. He continued to spend time in prison rather than be free to preach the gospel. He continued to be persecuted for preaching and teaching. He died a martyr’s death. If we were to interview Paul today, would he say that God worked good? I think we know the answer to that.
Imagine you are one of the disciples. You have walked with Jesus for three years. You have watched as Jesus raised dead people to life, caused blinded eyes to see, and touched lepers with His healing power. You have even participated in His miracles when Jesus fed thousands of people with two loaves of bread and five small fish—and then you helped pick up baskets of leftovers. You have walked with the one who claimed to be the Son of God, you have fished with Him, ate meals with Him, asked questions and listened to divine answers. Then, in a matter of hours, Jesus is arrested, tried, convicted, and is struggling to carry His cross towards Golgotha. You know that this Jesus has committed many miracles in these past years, and you are sure that He has a plan to escape death even now. You watch as He is nailed to the cross and the wood and nails do their evil work—Jesus dies. You would not have Paul’s words to give you strength, but you knew Joseph’s words to his brothers, “you meant this for evil, but God meant it for good.” And where is the good in this? Did you just waste three years of your life? Was this all a farce? How can God die, or allow His Son to die? He raised others from the dead, why not Jesus? You ask yourself if this can possibly be good…and every molecule of your being screams “NO!!!!” as you run from the wretched scene and from an unimaginable nightmare, knowing that you could be next on that cross.
But God was not done, death did not thwart His plan to work the best good mankind will ever know. He raised Jesus to life. Sin’s power had been broken. Satan was defeated. A way for sinful man to become joint-heirs with the Lamb of God was established. Jesus began working on a new eternal home for those who would become His child. He sent the Holy Spirit, not to walk with us as Jesus had done but to live in us. He intercedes with the Father on our behalf. You ask yourself again if this is good…and you fall on your face in humble adoration for the God who works good, even when it seems that evil and tragedy have triumphed.
The same is true for those today who must wonder if God keeps His promise to work good. Our finite minds that are clouded by anguish and pain caused by the trials we face may not, can not, see as clearly as does God, and we are left to believe and to trust Him, even when we are living in the tangled underside of the tapestry.
And the life that has been crushed by God is healed—almost. Jagged holes in the clay pot that is who we are now remain to show forth the God inside us. The God who shines out of those ragged cracks to proclaim that HE works ALL things together for good for His children.
Trials have changed our life. Brokenness has brought weakness. Confidence has been replaced by worry. Sadness fights with joy. The once proud vessel that was our life now shows ragged cracks. It is our choice whether to let darkness invade those imperfections or to allow the radiance of the Comforter to shine out. We can try to plaster over the cracks to maintain what we want people to think of us—or we can be thankful for the opportunities to tell others about the God who ALWAYS works good in the life of His child. Choose you this day…