Trials and Tribulations

I still feel terrible for my childhood friends who would invite me to sleep over, because I routinely would wake up in the middle of the night requesting to go home. Time after time, my mother would arrive to pick me up, apologize for the disruption, and take me home. I never intended to leave their homes in the middle of the night as I truly delighted in their company and friendship. I would have a good time with my friends and enjoyed the games played, time spent exploring the neighborhood, and the like… but I was uncomfortable. I was not home.

Since I joined the world of adulthood, I’ve only grown more aware of the fact that I am not truly home. In those quiet times of exhaustion and disillusionment, I’ve cried out to God for being handed over to seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations. If I’m being honest with you, I have felt as though every blessing that has come from God has been met with a curse. I have felt that every bit of effort to take care of the endless parade of fires has gotten me nowhere, like a dog chasing its tail. This nagging feeling has plagued me for the better part of a decade and has only been exasperated in the last year by the passing of someone that I loved deeply. In the following year, as we find ourselves in the middle of the most unsettling, divisive year in my lifetime, I see how God has done a work in my life to address the brokenness within me and to open my eyes to that which is not so easily seen.

This past weekend I was given some important news that was an answered prayer. A blessing that ends nearly two years of uncertainty that has weighed heavily upon myself and my family, but this blessing reveals that there are going to be difficult days ahead. There are going to be serious struggles ahead in life that will continue to weigh heavily upon me. God has given an answer to a prolonged need, and has given insight into what is to come. A year ago, I would not be so thrilled by this news. I would be dreading the misfortunate that lay around the preverbal corner that would most certainly follow such a blessing. God, at times (in my brutal honesty of my thoughts and perspectives), was a bully. Toying with me. Teasing me by getting my hopes up, and then yanking away whatever it was that He was seemingly providing. God is not how my emotions perceive. God is not my feelings. He is so much bigger and more perfect than that.

I had one of those moments that things just clicked in my mind. I know that God is good and that He is just. I also know that things are not going to be fair in this life. I know that God is not toying, bullying me, or teasing me with false hopes. That’s not His nature or character. When God blesses us, He’s answering a prayer that we’ve been praying or providing for something that we did not know we needed in the moment. Those blessings are also necessary tools to equip us for the hardships of life. The trials and tribulations that shake at the foundations of our lives. When I received the news of God’s provision over the weekend, I immediate recognized the dual nature of what it meant. To put it into a phrase, God said, ‘I’ve got you in this moment, and I’m showing you where to prepare.’ This is not a message that’s unheard of to any follower of Christ. The Old Testament is filled with passages of God speaking directly to His people of what He is doing and what is about to unfold. At times, Israel failed to understand just what that entailed. Which brings us to one of the most popular verses of scripture. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

This verse is often taken out of context, but that is primarily because we only focus on the immediacy of the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. This foretelling comes at a pivotal time in the life of Israel. God is about to do something completely unprecedented. He’s condemning Israel for their failure to live up to the purpose God had called them to. Their idolatrous, lustful, unfaithfulness hindered their capability to be a light unto the surrounding nations of who God is, and so God changed the game, so to speak. God used the prophets to condemn Israel and to speak encouragement to them for what was going to come later. God blessed them time and time again while also allowing for greater and greater trail and tribulation upon Israel. When Jeremiah proclaims the word of the Lord to Israel, God is telling Israel that something drastic is about to occur, but that this plan is for their welfare and not harm. For their future and for their hope.

For the first time since He created all things, God separated Himself from Israel. After sending the prophets to condemn Israel’s sinful nature and prophesying of the hope to come, God was silent for 400 years. When you turn the page between the last page of the Old Testament and begin reading the Gospel of Matthew, 400 years have passed in which God was silent. The world was not outside of His sovereign reign, but He did not speak to His people. He was at work preparing something far more grand than any of us could have ever imagined. He was preparing the way for Jesus. The hope and future that God is speaking of in Jeremiah 29:11 is the Messiah. The one who would make a way where there was no other way. The one to bring both a hope for and a future in life! God’s greatest blessing was in response to a need and was given with an encouragement for those receiving that blessing to prepare themselves for what was to come.

God is at work, friends! For every follower of Christ, we know and can trust that God’s blessings are good things that have the purpose of both meeting our needs and to prepare us for what is to come. These trials and tribulations can be the heaviest, most difficult things we’ve ever faced, but they all pale when compared to the eternal weight of glory that is to come. These trials and tribulations can bring about some of our greatest suffering. Still, in the presence of such difficult realities, God is at work to bring about something greater!

“every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing
a peculiar glory you will get because of that suffering.”

When I would stay at someone else’s home as a child, I was never in harms way. I was never in danger. Everything was pretty normal as things go, and yet I was not comfortable. I wasn’t in my bed that I knew so well surrounded by the walls of my home that were so familiar. I was outside of the known and that in and of itself was terrifying. I, eventually, got to the point where I would stay over all night, but I often times did not sleep at all. I would get lay on the sofa or wherever I was placed and would lay there throughout the night with nothing but my imagination. This was a time before smart phones and ubiquitous internet connections. Even though I would remain at my friend’s house overnight, I was not any more comfortable. Such is the nature of trials and tribulations. They stretch us and draw us out beyond our comfort zones for the purpose of growth and exemplification of the hope that is found within us. We are not handed over to tribulation without purpose. That purpose is always so that we may be made more perfect in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, James 1:2-4).

We can trust God through our affliction. At times we may feel as though God is against us… I know I have certainly felt this way toward God. In the midst of the greatest suffering and affliction I’ve ever experiences (see Deep Calls to Deep), something in the depths of my soul clung to the truth of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I was on the bring of hopelessness and despair, but all I had was God. There, in my brokenness, God began to restore me in ways I could not have predicted a year ago. This moment, the here and now, where I have seen God bless beyond measure, is speaking to the challenges that are yet to come. I may choose to hope for that which He is going to continue to do in my life to prepare me for the trials yet to come. I may choose to know that He will see me through. As uncomfortable and difficult as they may be. Whatever it cost me is nothing to that which it cost Him to see me sanctified in His death and resurrection.

In Him, I am made new. Day after day, He is my everything. My one desire. I have a home in who God is.

Terren