Life is full of challenges. I’ve faced many, and I wish I could testify that I stood up to each one with full confidence, free of any doubt, discouragement, or self-pity. There’s always next time, right? As it says in 1 Corinthians 3:18, we are changed “from glory to glory” into the same image of the glory of the Lord. With each new challenge comes new revelation – IF your heart is open to it!
When I first began teaching in the children’s ministry over a decade ago, one of our favorite songs had a verse which paraphrased 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” I sang it with an off-pitch yet triumphant voice, though I didn’t know fully how much that verse would mean to me until a few years of experience. Twelve years as a Christian and I have not been immune to trials: health battles, financial pressures, miscarriage, marital struggles, personal offenses, and the various disappointments we all face. These all have the potential to serve as dark clouds amidst my memories. They are not. As my mind scans through my life, some of these events are my most cherished.
Romans 8:28 tells us that “all things work out to the good of them that love God.” I’m not saying that these struggles were all the will of God; I’m saying that the will of God is to make beauty of the ashes (Isaiah 61:3). I’ve been pressed, not crushed. The real beauty is that each time I find myself pressed, I come through with more of my “self” repealed and more of Him revealed. I need not fear abandoning my own false securities, because He does not abandon me. He never leaves us, nor does He forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). When I admit that my own strength is not enough, then I can join the praises of the psalmists, declaring “the Lord is my strength.”
How could I know Him as Healer if I never had to trust Him for healing? Would my life be any richer had there been no opportunity for Him to provide? If I only faced things I could accomplish myself, would that encourage me to face something greater than myself? Had I never felt alone, would I ever discover that His presence is enough and loose myself from the fear of rejection? I would not know His unconditional love had I always managed to meet others’ conditions. Let me promise you, there is a freedom in coming to the end of yourself – so long as you come to Him.
This last Sunday I heard again the story of Exodus, though one detail came to light which I’d passed over until now. So many times I’ve heard the story set up: a Red Sea on one side and an Egyptian army on the other. Imagine the pressure! Then God parts the Red Sea and leads them safely upon dry land . . . This is true, in part. However, had the Red Sea opening been their only aid, they would likely have been overcome. The army behind may not have only pressed them, it would have crushed them. What kept the Egyptians from attacking from behind? “The angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20).
I’m slowly learning to direct my attention away from the “enemy” and instead to Him who stands between me and the enemy. Countless times, God has called out to us to not be afraid nor discouraged. This is nearly always coupled with one promise: that He is with us. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged . . . the Lord will be with you'” (2 Chronicles 20:17). “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you” (1 Chronicles 28:20). “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 118:6).
This is a truth I thought I’d learned many trials ago. Yet, it was not long ago that I found myself asking Him, “where are You?” I should have known better! Nonetheless, His reply to me was not harsh. Instead, His word to me was even greater: “I am not only with you, I am within you.” Praise God, I will overcome all trials from glory to glory! After all, He is “Christ IN me, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
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