I grew up hearing a lot of biblical teachings about an abundant life filled with power. I appreciate this teaching, however, verses about persecution, tribulation, trials and especially suffering were glossed over, and never much addressed. I always believed God wanted the believer victorious. Wonderful verses like Romans 8:37 assured me I was more than a conqueror!
Romans 8:37 NKJV
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
It’s beautiful. It’s true. But I now realize I lived most of my life with this verse out of context.
What are the all things that we more than conqueror over? Well, let’s back up a couple verses.
Romans 8:35 Amplified Version
Who shall ever separate us from Christ’s love? Shall suffering and affliction and tribulation? Or calamity and distress? Or persecution or hunger or destitution or peril or sword?
The verses do not say that we won’t have suffering. The verses do not say we won’t have affliction or tribulation. These verses don’t say we will avoid facing calamity or distress or persecution or hunger or destitution or peril or sword. It says even in those things we are conquerors through Him who loved us.
In the difficulty we can prevail over the difficulty not by not experiencing the trouble, but through the power of Christ we are able to not succumb to the hard thing we are going through. Having Christ doesn’t exempt us from experiencing the hardships of life. Quite the contrary, we are promised to have trouble and difficulty because of our love for Christ!
Barne’s commentary says of verse 35, “As all these things happened to them in consequence of their professed attachment to Christ, it might be supposed that they would tend to alienate their minds from him. But the apostle was assured that they had not this power, but that their love to the Saviour was so strong as to overcome all, and to bind them unalterably to his cause in the midst of the deepest trials. The fact is, that the more painful the trials to which they are exposed on his account, the more strong and unwavering is their love to him, and their confidence in his ability to save.”
The word “in” isn’t some special Greek word that means something other than IN the suffering, IN the affliction, IN the tribulation, IN the calamity, IN the distress, IN the persecution, IN the hunger, IN the destitution, IN the peril, IN facing the sword.
I make such a big deal of this because I was taught that as a Christian I had authority over difficulty, that my authority and my believing should actually keep me from experiencing trouble – notice the emphasis on my authority, my believing – that was also part of the understanding I was given – I was responsible to claim my authority, I was responsible to believe appropriately. I believe part of that is accurate, but the authority I am able to exercise comes out of a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And while I am responsible to feed my mind good thoughts and to diligently and intentionally work on casting down erroneous thoughts, I am so imperfect, so frail, so inadequate as a human being to have the ability to accomplish much in “my” believing. I have found that I need to rest in the surpassing power of Christ Jesus. It is in my very weakness that the strength of Christ is made perfect!! So, I had this perception that any and all trouble I faced was from the adversary, the devil, and I simply had to claim my “rightful authority in Christ Jesus,” and the trouble would have to flee.
That’s such a lovely thought. I wish that were the truth. Ha! But the truth is that we don’t get to send trouble away with the whisk of a hand and a commanding rebuke in the name of Jesus Christ! The truth is that it is the grace and power of Christ that allows us to endure trials and to remain joyous even in hurt and distress because we know the difficulty we are enduring will not last forever, and we are fully persuaded that God WILL work good out of the tribulation and trial! I believe it means that the calamity and the distress doesn’t have mastery over us, but we arise over the things that should conquer us, not because we are so marvelous, but because Christ is!
Hebrews 12:1 talks about how we set aside the sin “which doth so easily beset us.” And later in the same chapter it talks about how God trains and disciplines the children he loves. I believe God will use the difficult circumstances of life as an opportunity to teach and train us. God doesn’t tempt us, but I don’t think he necessarily always wants to remove every difficult circumstance we encounter.
James 1:13 CEB
No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone.
Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them.
Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and sin grows up it gives birth to death.
Don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sister.
Every good gift, every perfect gift comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.
I think there are times God wants us to take authority in situations and say, Not today, Satan! But there is so much scripture about how we will have difficulty, but we look to Christ to overcome it. I think that is a process, to count it all joy, to say God you are good when we are going through different types of turmoil. I absolutely don’t believe most Christians start off counting it all joy. I think it is an intentional, ongoing pursuit while we are in relationship with the Lord to discover how to count it all joy. At this stage of my walk, I don’t think that “counting it all joy” means that I find the painful moments joyful, but rather that I can find joy in the process because I expect God to turn it to good whether in this life or the next.
The realization I have had and that I’ve heard many experienced Christians share is that sometimes God removes the trial, and other times he gives us the strength to get through the trial. Life isn’t one victory after the other, a string of endless triumph with no trouble or defeat or difficulty in understanding occurring. There is learning and time in between things. God will absolutely at times invoke miraculous solutions to our situations, but there is also a lot of life that is about the processes that God has set up. A lot of life is faithfully obeying and enduring and doing right. Like a faithful diet of healthful food and movement provides balance to our weight and our ability to move without pain, so I believe a lot of the Christian walk is about the day in and day out faithfulness to do what is right and righteous in our behavior and attitudes.
I now also believe that there are experiences that God actually brings us to that he wants us in to learn important things. The truth is it’s immature and arrogant to think that we always know best what should happen in our lives.
James 4:13-16 CEB
v13. Pay attention, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit.” v14. You don’t really know about tomorrow. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. V15. Here’s what you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” v16. But now you boast and brag, and all such boasting is evil.
I used to snort in derision of Christians who said, if the Lord wills it. Now, I can see that I was filled with pride and haughtiness. One day I want to write a blog about some of the crazy prayers I prayed, chief among my seemingly crazy prayers was the repeated and passionate prayer for God to take me low. I prayed it because I was deeply aware of the ego and conceit that exalted itself against God and against those who truly spoke for God. I had been delivered from a spirit of pride, but still felt conceit and haughtiness that swelled up often and inappropriately within me. I was boastful and a braggart and those attitudes were indeed evil and I am grateful to have come so far in my journey to be delivered from much of that pretension.
I think there are times in life when God will remove our power to handle things, or bring us to things so big so as to demonstrate our powerlessness to handle it without God’s sustaining power.
I have known many Christians who have refused to learn these lessons, who declare it is not so, that God is not so, and I sincerely question if they have genuinely allowed themselves to be humbled under the mighty hand of God. Personally, God has brought me to seasons where he has said to me that he wanted me to be utterly dependent upon him. Honestly, these were very, very hard seasons for me, because when God sustained me, it was obviously of God’s power and not my own and that was very crushing to my human pride. Which I know is a good thing in the long run, but in the crushing period, it is crushing and painful!
But as I wrote above, I also implored God to bring me low. I know that not everyone seeks that, and I know now had I understood the cost involved, I would not have necessarily prayed those prayers! But, I also don’t believe that I yet know fully all that I gained and learned in that season.
I once heard a pastor say God will either do something through you or for you and most of the time the majority of the effort and work is figuring out which way God wants to work in the situation – for you or through you. So, in the seasons where God works through us, it can look, I think, pretty spectacular! In the seasons where he works for us, um, it’s still spectacular, but, well, I don’t know, as I think about it, all of it has felt rather painful! Like when I walked out of my apartment, it WAS incredible to see the Father lead me into a situation I could not at all have put together, not in my power or in my strength! Yet, trusting him to follow through on that, had a lot of pain. There was also an incredible glory to me and to some who saw it, though many around me still doubted and didn’t believe God actually PLANNED that, but rather thought I fell into the situation.
I remember a conversation with another pastor where he honestly shared how sometimes Jesus showed him how to do something, and then the man would promptly forget that it was the Lord who revealed the insight and the understanding on how to do that thing, and the man would begin to think, in a bit of pride, that he had discovered that understanding. I really appreciate that he shared that with me, because I catch myself in this same type of thinking all the time, thinking I am somehow strong or wise or powerful in an area that the Lord has taught me and led me and helped me and I, quick as can be, have forgotten the goodness he shared with me did not originate FROM me!
I am currently in a period of life where it seems God is repeatedly reminding me of my complete powerlessness without him. Perhaps it is a continuation of the learning to be utterly dependent upon him. Maybe it is a continuing answer to my prayer to be made low. Perhaps he is simply continuing to deepen the understanding as he likes to do. I have had a break from the intensity and deep painfulness of this lesson, but still, I am not yet rejoicing for the return of these challenges where the Lord lets me experience such necessary dependency. I know that ultimately it is a kindness of God to let us see that, but right now, I’m still rigid with indignity.
I think about Joseph who had a mighty calling on his life but he went into slavery and then prison – as a sex offender no less! Yes, he was wrongfully accused, and yet, you never see him say a word in his defense, you never even see anything that indicates he complained or whined or groaned. I don’t know that he didn’t, but there is no record of it. Honestly, I really appreciate the abundant records of Job and David pouring out their complaint to the Lord, because I am somebody who feels – well I FEEL – EVERYTHING!!! So, I am just about always pouring out my complaint and frustration – as well as my thanks and my gratitude and my praise to the Lord.
But Joseph, Joseph didn’t stand up, snap his fingers, and say, “Not today, Satan!”
Personally, I lean toward thinking God showed Joseph not to say a word. I don’t know how much God revealed to Joseph in the process of things, I don’t know if Joseph got that this was part of his training for reigning. I don’t know. By the time he faces his brothers years later, he has not a single word of reproach for them, but rather weeps to be reunited. He says, you meant it for evil, but God worked it for good. I don’t know how early on Joseph got the message that God was working all these ill deeds toward his benefit, but any season of doubt or questioning, is not recorded for us.
So, there was this season that Joseph had to go through, and I do fully believe he did have to go through that. It wasn’t sinfulness that brought Joseph to those places. Yes, he was youthful and required maturing and developing and gosh, I certainly would never select those circumstances to be trained in – slavery and prison. But Joseph continued to serve God in all those terrible difficult circumstances. He didn’t say, “Oh no, you don’t devil! You back on down and get on out!” No, that was not the word of the Lord for Joseph. Or David. Or Job. Or Jesus.
There are lots of records of folks who didn’t just whisk away the problem with their Godly authority. There are lots and lots of records of people going through the difficulty clinging to God in trust and hope. Sometimes, yes, God does move into our circumstances and brilliantly and beautifully alters all the ugliness into beauty in an instant, and I have experienced that, and that is a God-specialty that he loves to do! But it doesn’t mean we get to never deal with trouble or challenge. Honestly, it is in the trial that I have truly, truly discovered so much about the beauty and firmness of the nature of God. I really sorta hate to write that, because I am right now in the middle of difficulty and trouble, and I don’t like it! I don’t! Right now it just hurts! Right now I’m in the place where mostly I feel mad that this is happening and I haven’t yet discovered anything beautiful or lovely here in this place. But I know that is coming. I do. I know it. I know it. I know it. I know it.
I know it because I have experienced the faithful delivering hand of God time and time again the last many years. I have leaned into Jesus so hard, and clung to him and wept into his side, and howled inside the tower of refuge that is my God as the Holy Spirit has wrapped himself around me. However, the comforter doesn’t erase the pain, doesn’t dismiss the difficulty, but it allows me to no longer be swallowed up in it as I once was. The hardship and the difficulty of life used to overwhelm me, used to have the mastery of me.
And I tell you, I do still fall, all the time. I am still so weak so much of the time. Sometimes I think, how can I write a blog, like I have some sort of understanding or like I have life figured out. Sometimes I think, how can I share my story when I’m still so fragile and broken? But no longer does my weakness defeat me, no longer do I fall so as to not rise again. Now, I stumble and I fall and I trip and I weep, oh Lord, do I weep, I am certain I have cried rivers of tears, Olympic size pools of tears. I think God, how can you not be tired of collecting my tears? I am so tired of crying them! But, still I reach up for my Daddy God, I cling onto my Lord Jesus and I demand of the Holy Spirit his promise of comfort. I seek it. I howl for it, I cry for it. I demand it. I am the widow who howls for justice. I beat upon the door demanding answers. And sometimes, yes, it seems as if all my prayers come up against the tower wall of God to come sliding back down without answer. Sometimes it feels very much like I am not being heard. Sometimes I just cannot make sense of the circumstances. And maybe I need to learn more to sit quietly before the Lord. I do eventually quiet down some, get resigned to moving on and beginning to make sense and find peace in the tribulation.
The answer often doesn’t come immediately, but I am assured it WILL come eventually. The comfort doesn’t swallow up all the pain in five minutes, but it allows me to breath and to get up and keep going, where I used to be shut down. It’s not a perfect life yet, but I have a perfect Lord and a promise that he will finish the good work he has begun in me.
Even in writing, which I do most of all because I am so deeply convicted that it is what God wants me to do – I know first and foremost it’s for me and my healing, and my hope is that he will use that to help others along the way, but when it comes to me writing, when I sought insight from God several years ago, I heard the Lord clearly indicate to me that there would be pain and difficulty even in the thing I feel he is calling me to do in writing. And as I write so many of these blogs in weeping and in tears and many times in late hours or difficult days, I remember what he spoke to my heart and hope that it will not necessarily always be so.
My first Thanksgiving in Albuquerque I met a lovely family and I expect sometime to share a blog about that. At the end of the evening as I was bidding farewell to the patriarch of the family, he said to me that life is filled with struggle and triumph. Struggle and triumph. “Some struggles,” he said, “last longer than others. But there is always triumph.” The experience with his large family had been overwhelming for me in its goodness, and I wanted so much to believe him, but was also overcome by the immensity of good, and a cynical thought began to rise up in me to think, he probably has hidden sin, I began to seek a crack in the facade. I did this because I was challenged, not by a perfect family without the very struggle the great-grandfather was speaking of, but by a good and large family. As though he sensed my internal turning, he turned and seemed to pin me with his gaze, looking me straight in the eye, he asked me intently, “You do believe that don’t you, Jenne?” I released the fear and the cynicism and gave into the goodness of the moment, responding firmly, “Yes, I do.”
Struggle and triumph. Not mutually exclusive. But often hand in hand. A life of victory AND suffering. A life of power AND weakness. A life of abundance and want. This life doesn’t hold all the fullness, we do get lots of tastes of glory, I fully believe, but we continue to experience a life-long dependence on the faithful, good nature of our Father God.