Growing In Godliness Blog
Trust and Faith in Hard Times
By Mark McCrary
Hardships and problems come our way in life, and sometimes they are very severe hardships and problems—the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or health, financial problems. They are most confusing to us as Christians when we are trying to do everything we are supposed to do like serving God and others. Then we begin to ask that oft asked question, “Why?”
The Psalmist struggled with the same question in Psalm 44. In the first eight verses, he speaks of how he had been taught about God and His mighty power, how he saw God as his King and ruler, and how he trusted in Yahweh to deliver him in battle.
But, beginning in verse 9, the psalm takes a very dark turn. The psalmist startles us with these words, “But You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people for next to nothing, and are not enriched by selling them. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those all around us. You make us a byword among the nation, a shaking of the head among the peoples. My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me, because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, because of the enemy and the avenger” (44:9-16). “Why” is not stated, but it is certainly implied. And, he states very matter-of-factly that he and his people had been faithful to God. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way… If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign got, would not God search this out?” (44:17-18, 20-21).
Have you ever felt that way in hard times? Have you ever thought, “If I wasn’t obeying God, these problems would be understandable.” What is the answer? What is remarkable about this psalm is that there is no answer given as to why God was not there… because in the end no answer would satisfy. What answer could be given to the person eaten up with cancer as to why they are suffering that would cause them to say, “Oh, I get it! Now I understand! Everything is alright now”? There is no answer that immediately removes the pain of a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a broken or troubled marriage.
There is no answer. There is only trust and faith.
Though overcome with questions and doubts, the psalmist persevered with these words of power, “Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies sake” (44:26). Our comfort in hard times does not come from an “answer,” but from continued confidence in our God we have believed in and submitted to. It comes from having faith that “farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by and by.” Then we will know that, though we didn’t understand our problems at the moment, God got us through—and that will be enough.
Ready To Listen
By David Norfleet
For anyone that has been in a relationship for very long, you know it is easier to stick your foot in your mouth than to take it out. We often or frequently need help with how to communicate with others effectively. James does so by providing inspired instruction that will help in those situations. He wrote in James 1:19, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” If we would heed this instruction it would help in all our inter-personal relationships, but especially our relationship with God. And that seems to be James’ primary application as he points to the word of God in James 1:21, “…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
So, what does it means to be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” with respect to God’s word?
To be quick to hear points to an eagerness to learn and a willingness to accept the things God has to say to us. We want instruction. We want counsel. We want wisdom from heaven. We need help. This idea is more of a disposition than an action, and it begins with humility – a recognition that we don’t have all the answers, but God does. Peter wrote in I Peter 2:2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Jesus knew of the importance of this quality in His followers so He wrote in Mark 4:24, “Take heed what you hear.”
How does being slow to speak relate to a reception of God’s word? It is generally true when you're talking or even thinking about what to say you are not listening. There is proven value in speaking less and listening more (Proverbs 10:19; 17:28), but it is critical when attending to God. In this text being slow to speak may actually mean “slowness to start speaking,” and have specific reference to ill-considered reactions to what God has said. How will we ever receive God’s instruction if we do all the talking or if we thoughtlessly react to justify ourselves, negate Scripture’s demands, or explain the Bible away? Our attitude needs to reflect the words of Samuel, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:9-10)
What do you do when God’s word steps on your toes? Maybe you’re reading it, or hearing it preached. It says something that you don’t like, because it confronts the way you think or live. Do you get angry and defensive, thinking, “What right does that preacher have to say that? How dare he tell me how to live!” Do you have these “flash-reactions” when your conscience is pricked? That is why it is so important to be slow to anger, as an angry spirit is not a teachable spirit. As James would write, “…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Popular author Francis Chan stated, “Whenever I read the Bible and come across something that I disagree with, I have to assume I am wrong.” He understands that the word of God and our reception of it is vital as it reveals, reproves, corrects, trains, revives us, directs us, keeps us from sin, and reveals God to us (Ephesians 3:1-4; II Timothy 3:16; Psalm 119:50, 105; Psalm 19). It is no wonder the psalmist would write, “I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for your commandments.” (Psalm 119:131) If we could only get out of our own way God wants to transform us through His word, James tries to help us with that by reminding us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
Learning Life’s Obvious Lessons
By Paul Earnhart
Some years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a best-seller entitled Everything I Ever Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten. It has become increasingly evident to me that some of life's most important lessons are exceedingly clear on the face of things. They don't have to be wrung from the depth of mystery and enigma. Yet many seem to wrestle endlessly with them. As someone has observed, the difficult people seem to work out very quickly, the obvious takes them a long time.
It ought to be obvious to the most casual observer that people are far more important than things. Why should we imagine that thinking, feeling, yearning individuals could find as great satisfaction in dead, unfeeling, unthinking, unspeaking objects as in those with whom we share the greatest and fullest association? Whoever imagined that a house makes a home: that all the material comforts in the world, even possessed forever, could fill the emptiness when those we love and who love us are gone? There is no profound philosophy in the fact that things possess no more than momentary utility while people can fill us with delight and joy. Why then do we continue to neglect people in favor of jobs, money, houses, furniture, clothes and cars?
It ought also to be apparent that the spirit of a person is more vital than their body and that what comes from within the heart is more important than the physical. We know that "the body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). We have had many painful demonstrations of that. And we know that outward beauty quickly loses its charm in the face of inward ugliness. As Solomon observed, "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a lovely woman who lacks discretion" (Proverbs 11:22). Why then are we so slow to recognize that a person's life comes out of what he feels and thinks and values, and not from physical superficialities (Proverbs 4:23)?
Finally, perhaps the most evident truth that we are slow to recognize is the fact that God is more important than everything else. If there is a God who created us for His own purposes and ends, it does not require a flash from heaven to tell us that we have no more important duty and necessity in our lives than to know Him and to serve Him (John 17:3; Acts 17:26-28). If there is such a God, we only live, breathe and move by His power, and He alone can tell us why we are here and how we ought to live the life He has given us. So that when Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" (Mark 12:29), it ought not to come as a shock to our senses. Common sense should have told us long ago that if Jesus is God's Son, we owe Him everything. So, before we can know the mysteries of heaven we must first learn the obvious lessons of earth.
Take up Your Cross
By Austin Shearer
Jesus foretold his death three times in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), and every time he did, Jesus taught a lesson about discipleship. Not only did Jesus teach about discipleship, but he also made clear the cost that comes from following Jesus. In Luke 9:21-23 Jesus said, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Those are hard words to hear. If you want to be Jesus’ disciple, if you want to follow him, Jesus offers a grim reality, it will involve the cross. That’s what discipleship is really all about, imitating Jesus. Jesus came to do the will of the Father, no matter the cost to himself, and that is exactly the self-sacrificing journey that he is calling his followers to embark on. And yes, it is often painful.
After all, Jesus says that his disciple will take up a cross. The cross was a horrifying instrument of execution. It’s method, and cruelty was widely known; and death, while sure, was usually long and excruciating.
It would be tough to read Jesus’ words there in Luke 9:21-23, if we couldn’t also read the words that follow in verse 24, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” The final destination on the way of Christ is not the cross – it is an empty tomb and a glorious new life. And so, when we take up that painful cross and follow Jesus, we are also grabbing hold of the resurrection of our Lord, and glorious end to our journey.