Trials: God’s Teaching Tool

Trials: God’s Teaching Tool

We’ve all been through trials, though they look different to everyone. A trial could be a bad day at work, parent’s divorce, battling depression, or a a midlife crisis. One person’s trial is no different than another’s and all can be pretty tough to deal with. I’ve had a pretty rough time these past few months and through the pain, confusion, and despair, God has amazingly shown me the benefits of going through tough times:

  1. Compassion for Others
    I have always considered myself an empathetic person, but no matter how empathetic you are, it is still hard to relate to something someone is going through if you’ve never been there. For example, I have never lost someone super close to me so the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one is foreign to me. Suffering through a trial creates relatable experiences and opens our minds and hearts to others’ loss.
    “…That there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:25-26“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15
  2. The Realization that we need Christ
    Even if your trials are not brought about by a sin you committed or something you have personal done, they have a way of humbling us. I have never felt so unredeemingly broken as I do when going through a trial. I have felt lost, confused, a sinner, not enough and too much all at the same time. And Jesus lovingly reminds me that it’s ok. He doesn’t need me to be anything else than what I am. I don’t need to do anything. Just wait on Him as He moves.
    “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39
  3. Patience is a virtue
    I always think I am the most patient person ever until I have to wait on a trial or ‘season’ in my life to pass. WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG?  I always wants to be ‘fixed’ now. Learn whatever God is teaching me NOW. But alas, God has his own timing. And me being impatient often makes the trials even more agonizing. I’m still learning to trust God and his way of doing things. Because if I’ve learned one thing in my life, its that I have the worse timing.“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! “- Psalm 27:14

    “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”Habakkuk 2:3

    “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

     

  4. The Need for Others
    Growing up I always kept things to myself. I kept all my emotions, worries, and fears locked inside a tiny box deep inside and wouldn’t share them. I have come to find that my reasons for that were two things: The fear of being “too-much” for people and the desire to be completely self-sufficient. And unfortunately, I didn’t have the community I have now back when I was little (or at least I didn’t reach out to one). Over the past year, God has shown me the power that comes from biblical community. There is love, compassion, accountability  and strength in that power. And we need that. God did not create man to be alone. And through community I have learned that I am never “too much” and that God gave me community to share my burdens with me. And most importantly, I can’t depend on myself. I will undoubtedly lead myself down the wrong path if unchecked by loving and faithful community. I need to depend on Christ and on the people he put in my life.“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”Hebrews 10:24-25

    “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

  5. Hope
    Hope. It sounds easy but it’s actually quite hard. It requires faith. And though Faith is my middle name (true story.) , in the midst of a trial its pretty shaky. It’s hard to believe in something good when everything around you is anything but. But God promises good to us. To those who know and love him. And though we may not feel hopeful or cheery and the idea of considering the trial “as pure joy” is infuriating, it doesn’t matter. God’s truth remains true. Everything will work out for our best.“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28

    “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

    Hebrews 12

So my ‘trial’ isn’t over and some days I feel like giving up, curling into the fetal position, and crying. But I am confident that God’s goodness will prevail over my circumstances. And that gives me the strength and stubbornness to reject Satan’s lies. And though James 2:3-4 can make me so mad sometimes, I am starting to see how you can truly consider your trials as pure joy. And I am excited to see the end result.

Call Me Eustace

Call Me Eustace

“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I was smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been in Re:Generation, Watermark’s recovery ministry, since September. Re:Gen is a ministry for anyone with hurts, habits, and hang-ups. When I introduce myself at group, I say the following: “Hi, my name is Ali and I have a new life in Christ and I am recovering from control which manifests as stress, anxiety, and people pleasing”.  I never really realized how bad my anxiety was until I started the inventory process, where we basically make an excel spreadsheet of our lives, things that have left scars, poor choices, and sinful patterns and behaviors. And ironically, my inventory has sent me into a massive anxiety attack. The worse I have ever known. It is scary to see your patterns of destruction. Through this attack (that I’m currently still in), I have realized (1) I have a serious issue trusting God with my life and (2) I try to fix myself, taking the safe, easy, and familiar road that has always led to pain and suffering (I have an excel spreadsheet to prove it!).  This realization has truly been a breakthrough. I now know that I cannot trust my sinful self and, as we say in Re:Gen, my life has become unmanageable. I need to let go and depend solely on Christ. I’ve admitted I’m powerless over my compulsive behaviors. (“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” – Romans 7:18 ). I have chosen to allow God to move in my life and to trust him, taking the path I’ve never traveled. And I had no idea how truly exhausting and scary that would be. Today, I feel like Eustace. God is cleansing me of my sinful behaviors and patterns and it hurts more than I could have imagined. It’s painful! He is tearing off my dragon scales and I feel so vulnerable and hopeless. BUT God is faithful. I find myself reminded daily by the tiniest moments of peace and smallest reminders of hope to trust in Him.

Hebrews 12:3-17

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no“root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

So today, I feel horrible. Tapes keep playing in my head that I’m not strong enough, I’m broken beyond repair, and redemption is impossible. And the temptation to quit and go back to my old ways are tempting. But these are lies. God never said that change would be easy or fun, but he did promise that we WILL be redeemed. Christ died in spite of ourselves and nothing I do in the past, present, or future can separate me from the love of Christ. I just have to let him cleanse me.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

True Love: A Manual

True Love: A Manual

God must have thought he was pretty funny when he chose to not include a single Bible verse on the subject of dating. If you’re like me, you are frantically looking for a biblical how-to manual on how to date well. As a woman who grew up in the church, I have listened to my fair share of dating sermons, read numerous Christian books on being content in your singleness, and had the Proverbs 31 woman as a role model since forever (That chick is cray! Am I right?). And now that I’m in a relationship, I feel like need more directions than ever. And then it hit me. There are a TON of verses in the Bible about dating! And they all say the same thing: be patient and wait on the Lord. He’s got a plan and it’s awesome (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 32:8, Psalm 118:8, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 2:6-9,Proverbs 16:9, Isaiah 48:17, Philippians 2:13, Psalm 37:23, Psalm 119:105, Matthew 6:33, Psalm 37:7, Proverbs 15:22, 1 Chronicles 16:11, Proverbs 3:7-8, Isaiah 30:21, Psalm 48:14, Jeremiah 10:23…).

God’s not going to shine a beam of light upon the head of your future spouse and He’s not going to give you someone who is perfect for you in every way. He will, however, teach you what love is. It is not a feeling, it’s a choice. And, ultimately, dating and marriage are just mediums through which God shows how unfailing and vast His love truly is.

“The world takes a silver screen on which flickering images of passion and romance play, and as we watch, the world says, “This is love.” God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloody man hangs and says, “This is love”. – Joshua Harris

Not butterflies, not romance, not flowers or chocolates but the willingness to sacrifice yourself for another person when they have wronged you in every way and with every fiber of their being. That is true love.

Dating and marriage are really just journeys. And, if you’re doing it right, a journey that brings you closer to God. So in the end, if you’re dating, you should have one goal in mind: develop a relationship with someone that glorifies God and one that God can use for his Kingdom. With His glory in mind, no matter what the outcome, you can’t go wrong.

Working For The Weekend

Working For The Weekend

workWe’ve all had those seasons in life where we really could care less about our work or school. For my friends about to graduate, senioritis has kicked in and all you can see is the open road to freedom. For all us post-grads, we are working for the weekend or 5:00 pm. I know too well how easy it is to check out, to coast through responsibilities and projects. Eye on the prize. But we really do miss a lot by not giving our all to the moment at hand. God has given us each life stage, each season, for a reason. These times are opportunities for personal growth and God promises that they are for our ultimate good (Jeremiah 29:11; James 1:2-4). Whatever we do, we are called to work diligently with all our heart, as if working for the Lord and not for man so that our actions can be a testimony for Christ (Colossians 3:23). The world is desperate for Christian accountants, Christian copywriters, Christian grocery store clerks, and Christian college students. Be present where God have placed you.

But work and school aren’t everything.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)

It is when work and school start to consume our thoughts and define our worth that we’ve lost sight of their true purpose. God calls us to live in the world but to not be of the world.  So yes, the purpose of work and school in ‘the world’ is to provide income and stability. But in the eternal world, these are just mediums for spiritual growth, whether it is our own or the growth of others through our interaction with them:

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

When our work is hard, we are called to endure:

“We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it.” (1 Corinthians 4:12)

We are even called to work in general!:

“He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues vain things lacks sense.” (Proverbs 12:11)

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. ” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9)

And everything we do, be it filing, that research project, or your business trip, should be done for Christ:

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

so whether you are in a job you love, a job you hate, or your still waiting for graduation, think of your work as an opportunity. Who knows what God will make of it?

All The Single Ladies!

All The Single Ladies!

I think the worst part about being single is the pity looks you get from the committed or married population of the world. Like there is something wrong with you. Because, obviously, that is the only reason why you don’t have a date this weekend or a boyfriend or a husband. And that, my dear single friends, is just SILLY. But as silly as it sounds, I’ve been hearing this a lot from my single friends. Things like “Is there something wrong with me?”, “Why don’t guys like me?”, or “What am I doing wrong?”. As I watch my single friends struggle in singleness with me, my heart goes out to them. The self-deprecating tapes they play in their heads are vicious and cut deep to the soul. Who said you aren’t good enough? Who said you had to earn love? Who said you are anything less than spectacular? Whoever did, they’re wrong and I will punch them in the face. You’ve been lied to and I’m here to set the record straight. You have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. You are a diamond in the rough (or maybe a diamond in plain sight). And I’m telling you something right now: he will be worth your wait. Because let’s be honest, the best things in life are the ones you wait for. Just because no one is asking you out doesn’t mean that you’ll never be asked. It also doesn’t mean that people don’t think you are awesome, beautiful, and valuable. All it means is that God has a better plan for you than you could ever imagine and He is saving you from unnecessary heartache and wasted time. So hang in there. I’ll keep you company in the Singles Club until God calls you or me out of it. In the meantine, set yours eyes on the other relationships in your life. Community is so important for your spiritual and emotional growth. When the dates finally come, your friends will be the ones helping you process them in a godly way. And most importantly, cling to God. He is the only thing that will bring you fulfillment and eternal happiness. With a husband, it’s “’til death do you part” but Christ has beaten death and will never leave you.  Find delight in HIM (Psalm 37:4) and don’t define your worth by the world’s idea of dating. Set your eyes on Christ for He is directing your path (Proverbs 3:5-6).  So yes, it sucks being reminded everyday of yet another engagement via Facebook and seeing a plethora of your friends’ wedding dress preferences and cake recipes on Pinterest. But your time will come. God has perfect timing.

A Hurting and Hopeful Heart

A Hurting and Hopeful Heart

My heart hurts for this country. Not because of the attacks on U.S. embassies around the world in the name of Islam, not for the crippled economy, and not for the disgraceful attempts at political campaigns (on both sides). No. My heart hurts for this country because we still think WE can fix it. We think that the solution to our problems is a new President or 4 more years of the current one. We think that more jobs will create more happiness and that bringing troops home will bring peace. We think that same-sex marriage will spread ‘love’ to all. We think that universal healthcare will eliminate sickness and give hope to the poor and needy. We think there is an easy fix to all our problems. These things we want, these ‘ideas’, are not intrinsically bad. Each side of the political spectrum is trying to make our country better, whether you agree with the issue or not. Noone is trying to bring our country to its knees. And as much as it pains me to watch us tear eachother apart, I feel that’s exactly what we need: to be brought to our knees. Our country doesn’t have an economic problem or a policy problem. We have a heart problem. We’ve believed for far too long that we deserve everything. We think that we deserve freedom, we deserve happiness, and we deserve comfort. But in our effort to secure these things for ourselves, we’ve become dependant on man instead of relying on God. We’ve become entitled, believing this country owes us something, that God owes us something. We believe that because we’ve been ‘good people’ that good things should and will happen to us. But God does not promise that life will be easy. In fact, for the life of a Christian, we’re told the exact opposite. We’re told life will be harder on us. (John 16:33, Matthew 5:11-12, 44; 10:23, 13:21; Mark 10:30; John 15:20,John 15:18-19). But with the knowledge of a harder life, we cannot lose our joy and our hope, which rests soundly in the power and love of Christ. Yes, our country has a heart issue, but if you are a Christian and you’re reading this, WE have the answer: Christ. This world is merely temporary but we know the key to eternal life. This mess engulfing our world today has already been foretold:

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” – Matthew 24:6-8

These rumors of wars, economic turmoil, moral decay, and natural disasters are all part of a grander plan. The ‘end of the world’ may be tomorrow or 100 years from now but our instructions remain the same: Share His gospel, love others, and obey His law. Do these things and rest easy in the knowledge that He is coming. This world is not your home.

So don’t be discouraged by the mess you see on your television or hear on the radio. Vote faithfully, love unconditionally, and pray without ceasing. God knows what he is doing. No politician, earthquake, or war can change His mind or alter His plan.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” – Proverbs 19:21

“The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” – Proverbs 16:4

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” – Daniel 4:35

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:19