Wednesday, January 18, 2012

God Is Faithful, So You Can Endure It

Each year we are blessed with new neighbors. Michelle took this picture a couple years ago. Michelle features some of her photo artwork on her new blog, Through A Different Lens.

One of the few pairs of nesting Canada Geese gave birth to some cute little fuzz balls. One of the nesting pairs of ducks are likewise proud parents.

As a man whose home is filled with the high-pitched squeals of a lovely wife and three beautiful daughters, I've grown accustomed to such verbal reactions to the sight of something adorable--something like goslings and ducklings. "They're sooooooo cuuuuuuute!" And, as a man relatively secure in his manhood (my man card has not yet been revoked), I must admit the little critters are cute.

You'll notice in the picture that the goslings are nestled close to their mother. There are times when the mother goose will draw her goslings completely under her wings, shielding them from view of predators and from the dangers of the world around them.

The picture reminds me of Psalm 36:7. "How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings."

The other day, when Marissa first discovered the goslings and chicks, we took a walk around the lake to enjoy the little, beautiful evidences of God's creative power. And as the waddling balls of fuzz put smiles on our faces, we realized that the likelihood was they would not all survive to adulthood. Cats, coyotes, and other dangers would surely make life difficult, even perilous for them. Life for the little ones would require endurance. But, for now, we knew they would be safe under the shadow of their mother's wings.

Life does require endurance, doesn't it? And there are times in the life of the Christian when he or she feels as though they have no strength left. "Endurance" becomes not a word or concept that invokes encouragement, but rather it is a word that merely adds to the weight of one's physical, emotional, and spiritual burdens.

Friends and family encourage, admonish, even command you to hang in there. They say, "Don't quit! Don't give up. God will see you through the trial." And often times those same loved ones will point you to 1 Corinthians 10:13--a verse well known to most Christians. They tell you, "God will never give you more than you can handle."

You hear the words of encouragement. You crack a smile to acknowledge the love with which the words are spoken. But inside you might be saying, "You don't understand. How could you understand? You have no idea how heavy my burden is. I'm dying inside. The physical pain is too great. The despair is too deep. And I feel farther from God than I've ever felt." You teeter on the brink of blasphemy as you think to yourself, "For whatever reason, God has chosen this time to not keep His promise and instead has given me way more than I can handle."

When a person reaches such levels of despair they tend to see and hear things differently. The lens of life through which they see the world is clouded by pain, depression, and sin. For example, if a friend or family member were to quote 1 Corinthians 10:13, they might hear it this way.

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. And God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape."

Now, if you are familiar with the verse maybe you've already identified the problem. Yet this is how many Christians recite the verse from memory. What I've written above is not the entirety of 1 Corinthians 10:13. Two key phrases are missing. Here's the verse again. The changes will likely jump off your computer screen, but I will emphasize them so that no one misses them.

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

The two phrases most often left out of recitations of this well-known verse are the two phrases that provide the greatest hope in the midst of troubled times. "God is faithful . . . that you may be able to endure it."

I used to lead a Discussion Group at the church we previously attended. I patterned the group after the discussion groups led by the great preacher and teacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, more than 60 years ago. People came to the group with questions that stemmed from their personal study of God's Word, conversations they had with others, and then-current events that challenged their Christian worldview. Together, we opened the Word of God and searched for the answers to our biblical and life questions. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and study.

One night I started our time together by leading a devotional study of 1 Corinthians 10:13. Allow me to share some of that study with you now.

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man..."

"My situation is unique. No one has struggled as I have struggled these last several months. Sure, lots of people experience pain and suffering, but nothing like this. I know I'm loved and I've got lots of support, but I am utterly alone in this trial."

Have you ever thought this way? Have you ever thought that your situation is unique--that the biblical adage "there is nothing new under the sun" somehow doesn't apply to you? You're not alone. Many people have thought this way; are thinking this way right now.

The fact that many people have and are thinking this way doesn't change the fact that to think this way is to believe a lie. That's right. It's a lie.

The Word of God makes it clear that your situation is not unique. It may be unique to you. It may be unique to those around you and those who are helping you through the trial (the same Greek word translated here as "temptation" can also be translated as "trial"). But according to the first phrase in 1 Corinthians 10:13, whatever you are experiencing right now, whether its origin is physical, emotional, spiritual, or a combination of the three, is not unique."No temptation (or trial) has overtaken you that is not common to man."

There is great encouragement in this truth, if you are willing to receive it. You are not alone. People, saved and unsaved, have experienced every aspect of your particular trial to one degree or another. Some have experienced similar circumstances, but to a lesser degree. Others make your present situation look like the proverbial walk in the park. Still others may experience circumstances that seem to mirror your own. In any case, you are not alone. Whatever your present trial may be, others have walked where you walk. Others will walk where you walk.

But there is far greater encouragement to draw from this verse than the reality that others have experienced and will experience trials as great or greater than your own. While misery loves company, majesty is an even greater companion than shared experiences with other people.

I'm about to share with you a sizeable portion of Scripture for a blog post. Please, I beg of you, even if you are familiar with the passages, take the time to read every Word. There is nothing I will say to you in this post that will carry more weight or bring more encouragement and correction that the very Word of God.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was opressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, se he opened not his mouth. By opression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made His grace with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. Out of anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His sould to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors. ~ Isaiah 53:3-12

Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted. ~ Hebrews 2:17-18

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16

"And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." ~ Luke 22:44

Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you many not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ~ Hebrews 12:3-4
Not only have other people, like yourself, endured times of great hardship and trial; but Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords suffered in every way you have suffered, yet without sin. He is intimately familiar with your trials--not only as the omniscient God of Creation, but as One who has experienced and endured your trials.

If you are in Christ, you are not alone. No temptation or trial has come your way that is not common to man. And no temptation or trial has come your way that Christ Himself has not endured. Your situation has not taken Him by surprise.

And "God is faithful."

Yes, God is faithful. Even if we, in the midst of a trial, "are faithless, He remains faithful--for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2:13). Yes, God is faithful. He is faithful to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9). He is faithful in all His words and in all the works of His hands (Psalm 145: 13). He is faithful to guard His beloved children from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3). He is faithful to keep every one of His promises (Hebrews 10:23). And, in the context of 1 Corinthians 10:13, God is faithful to not allow you to be tempted or tried beyond your ability.

What great encouragement! What great encouragement, if you will receive it. When you find yourself in the midst of a trial, it is so very easy to lie in bed, during an anxious and sleepless night and shout to the ceiling, "I can't take it! I can't do it any more! This is just too much, Lord! The physical pain hurts too much. The cloud of sorrow and despair is just too thick--so thick I cannot see or hear You, Lord. The guilt and shame for sinning against You, Lord, by having so little faith is unbearable. Lift this burden or take me home!"

Take heart. Be encouraged. You have the ability to see the trial to the end. Why? God has promised in His Word not to give you anything that, in Him and through Him, is beyond your ability to endure. Therefore you will make it. As a follower of Christ, God has not given you a spirit of fear. Rather, He has given you a spirit of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). And it is through that God-given spirit, through that very precious gift of power--power to fight, love--love for God and love for others, and self-control--self-control over your thoughts, words, and deeds; that you can endure whatever trial the Lord allows to come your way.

If what we have seen in 1 Corinthians 10:13 thus far is not enough to bring encouragement in the midst of a trial, our great and gracious God has yet more to offer. Not only does God promise not to allow any temptation of trial in our life that we cannot endure; but He also promises a way out.

"But with the temptation (or trial) He will also provide the way of escape."

While these words are indeed an encouragement, they come with a sobering and challenging reality. Yes, God provides a way of escape from every temptation and trial. God says it in His Word, therefore you can believe it. But the way of escape is not always the way we might expect or even want. The letter to the Hebrews makes this clear.

"And what shall we say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets--who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escapted the edge of the swortd, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight" (Hebrews 11:32-34).

Yes, God has proven Himself, time and time again, to be faithful in sustaining, healing, protecting, and prospering His beloved children. All of the saints mentioned in Hebrews 11 experienced trials--everything from barren wombs to lion dens. And God was faithful to provide each of them with relief--with a way of escape from their God-ordained circumstances. But physical, emotional, financial, and relational relief is not the way of escape for everyone.

"Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Hebrews 11:35-38).

Now, that second passage may seem discouraging at first; especially if you find yourself in the midst of a significant trial. I understand. No one wants to hear that trials sometimes end unpleasantly. But that's the reality of the life we live in a fallen, sin-stained world. That is, sometimes, the reality of the life we live in sinful flesh. Everything doesn't always work out as we planned. Health doesn't always improve. Finances don't always recover. Relationships dont' always mend.

Sometimes the way of escape the Lord provides isn't instantaneous relief from pain, suffering, or sorrow. Sometimes the way of escape He provides requires you to simply, tenaciously, patiently, and faithfully endure whatever trial He has allowed in your life.

"...that you may be able to endure it."

But take heart! Be encouraged! Have hope--real hope! God is faithful, so you can endure the trials of life! He will see you through to the end. And remember, the Christians hope is ultimately a future hope (1 Peter 1:3-9). The Christian's hope is to one-day be with the Lord forever in heaven. In the meantime, our lives are to be spent doing that which brings God the most glory; and that is to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order thay he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:28-29).

One way we bring ourselves, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, into conformity with the Lord Jesus Christ is to follow in His footsteps, even in (especially in) times of suffering. Again, there is nothing we have endured, are enduring, or will endure that Christ has not already endured. "He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8b).

Oh, thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! Not only has God provided a way of escape through His Son Jesus Christ during times of temptation and trial, but God also lovingly provided the only way of escape from sin and spiritual death through the same Lord and Savior--Jesus Christ.

Do you find yourself in the midst of a trial? Be encouraged. Don't lose heart. God is faithful, and so you can endure it.