Fire can be one of the worst enemies of trees. But it can also be helpful. Experts say that small, frequent fires called “cool” fires clean the forest floor of dead leaves and branches but don’t destroy the trees. They leave behind ashes, which are perfect for seeds to grow in. Surprisingly, low-intensity fires are necessary for healthy growth of trees.
Similarly, trials—pictured as fire in the Bible—are necessary for our spiritual health and growth (1 Peter 1:7; 4:12). James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
It is in the season of trial that God’s purposes are often realized, for there the conditions are right for us to grow into spiritual maturity. This growth not only equips us for living, but it also enables us to more accurately reflect Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him.
In the hands of our Father, our trials can achieve His purposes for our good and for His honor. They can shape us into the likeness of His Son.
A perfumer who works in New York declares that she can recognize certain combinations of scents and guess the perfumer behind a fragrance. With just a sniff she can say, “This is Jenny’s work.”
When writing to the followers of Christ in the city of Corinth, Paul at one point used an example that would have reminded them of a victorious Roman army in a conquered city burning incense (2 Cor. 2:14). The general would come through first, followed by his troops and then the defeated army. For the Romans, the aroma of the incense meant victory; for the prisoners, it meant death.
Paul said we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ’s victory over sin. God has given us the fragrance of Christ Himself so we can become a sweet-smelling sacrifice of praise. But how can we live so we spread this pleasing fragrance to others? We can show generosity and love, and we can share the gospel with others so they can find the way to salvation. We can allow the Spirit to display through us His gifts of love, joy, and kindness (Gal. 5:22-23).
Do others observe us and say, “This is Jesus’ work”? Are we allowing Him to spread His fragrance through us and then telling others about Him? He is the Ultimate Perfumer—the most exquisite fragrance there will ever be.
“We’re cutting your job.” A decade ago those words sent me reeling when the company I worked for eliminated my position. At the time, I felt shattered, partly because my identity was so intertwined with my role as editor. Recently I felt a similar sadness when I heard that my freelance job was ending. But this time I didn’t feel rocked at my foundation, because over the years I have seen God’s faithfulness and how He can turn my mourning to joy.
Though we live in a fallen world where we experience pain and disappointment, the Lord can move us from despair to rejoicing, as we see in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Jesus (Isa. 61:3). The Lord gives us hope when we feel hopeless; He helps us to forgive when we think we can’t; He teaches us that our identity is in Him and not in what we do. He gives us courage to face an unknown future. When we wear the rags of “ashes,” He gently gives us a coat of praise.
When we face loss, we shouldn’t run from the sadness, but neither do we want to become bitter or hardened. When we think about God’s faithfulness over the years, we know that He’s willing and able to turn our grief to dancing once again—to give us sufficient grace in this life and full joy in heaven.
Mary was widowed and facing serious health challenges when her daughter invited her to move into the new “granny apartment” attached to her home. Although it would involve leaving friends and the rest of her family many miles away, Mary rejoiced in God’s provision.
Six months into her new life, the initial joy and contentment threatened to slip away as she was tempted to grumble inwardly and doubt whether the move was really God’s perfect plan. She missed her Christian friends, and her new church was too far away to get to independently.
Then she read something that the great 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon had written. “Now contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and it must be cultivated,” he pointed out. “Paul says . . . ‘I have learned to be content,’ as if he didn't know how at one time.”
Mary concluded that if an ardent evangelist like Paul, confined to prison, abandoned by friends, and facing execution could learn contentment, then so could she.
“I realized that until I could learn this lesson, I wouldn’t enjoy those things God had planned,” she said. “So I confessed my inward grumbling and asked for His forgiveness. Soon after that a newly retired lady asked if I would be her prayer partner, and others offered me a ride to church. My needs for a ‘soul friend’ and greater mobility were wonderfully met.”
Last year at a retreat I reconnected with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I laughed with them as we enjoyed the reunion, but I also cried because I knew how much I had missed them.
On the last day of our time together we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. More smiles and tears! I rejoiced over the grace of God, who had given me eternal life and these beautiful days with my friends. But again I cried as I was sobered by what it had cost Jesus to deliver me from my sin.
I thought about Ezra and that wonderful day in Jerusalem. The exiles had returned from captivity and had just completed rebuilding the foundation of the Lord’s temple. The people sang for joy, but some of the older priests cried (Ezra 3:10-12). They were likely remembering Solomon’s temple and its former glory. Or were they grieving over their sins that had led to the captivity in the first place?
Sometimes when we see God at work we experience a wide range of emotions, including joy when we see God’s wonders and sorrow as we remember our sins and the need for His sacrifice.
The Israelites were singing and weeping, the noise was heard far away (v. 13). May our emotions be expressions of our love and worship to our Lord, and may they touch those around us.
Bob and Evon Potter were a fun-loving couple with three young sons when their life took a wonderful new direction. In 1956 they attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Oklahoma City and gave their lives to Christ. Before long, they wanted to reach out to others to share their faith and the truth about Christ, so they opened their home every Saturday night to high school and college students who had a desire to study the Bible. A friend invited me and I became a regular at the Potters’ house.
This was a serious Bible study that included lesson preparation and memorizing Scripture. Surrounded by an atmosphere of friendship, joy, and laughter, we challenged each other and the Lord changed our lives during those days.
I stayed in touch with the Potters over the years and received many cards and letters from Bob who always signed them with these words: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). Like John writing to his “dear friend Gaius” (v. 1), Bob encouraged everyone who crossed his path to keep walking with the Lord.
A few years ago I attended Bob’s memorial service. It was a joyful occasion filled with people still walking the road of faith—all because of a young couple who opened their home and their hearts to help others find the Lord.
A little girl wondered what a saint might be. One day her mother took her to a great cathedral to see the gorgeous stained-glass windows with scenes from the Bible. When she saw the beauty of it all she cried out loud, “Now I know what saints are. They are people who let the light shine through!”
Some of us might think that saints are people of the past who lived perfect lives and did Jesus-like miracles. But when a translation of Scripture uses the word saint, it is actually referring to anyone who belongs to God through faith in Christ. In other words, saints are people like us who have the high calling of serving God while reflecting our relationship with Him wherever we are and in whatever we do. That is why the apostle Paul prayed that the eyes and understanding of his readers would be opened to think of themselves as the treasured inheritance of Christ and saints of God (Eph. 1:18).
So what then do we see in the mirror? No halos or stained glass. But if we are fulfilling our calling, we will look like people who, maybe even without realizing it, are letting the rich colors of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control of God shine through.
Psalm 100 is like a work of art that helps us celebrate our unseen God. While the focus of our worship is beyond view, His people make Him known.
Imagine the artist with brush and palette working the colorful words of this psalm onto a canvas. What emerges before our eyes is a world—“all the earth”—shouting for joy to the Lord (v. 1). Joy. Because it is the delight of our God to redeem us from death. “For the joy that was set before Him,” Jesus endured the cross (Heb. 12:2 nkjv).
As our eyes move across the canvas we see an all-world choir of countless members singing “with gladness” and “joyful songs” (Ps. 100:2). Our heavenly Father’s heart is pleased when His people worship Him for who He is and what He has done.
Then we see images of ourselves, fashioned from dust in the hands of our Creator, and led like sheep into green pasture (v. 3). We, His people, have a loving Shepherd.
Finally, we see God’s great and glorious dwelling place—and the gates through which His rescued people enter His unseen presence, while giving Him thanks and praise (v. 4).
What a picture, inspired by our God. Our good, loving, and faithful God. No wonder it will take forever to enjoy His greatness!
A journalist had a quirky habit of not using blue pens. So when his colleague asked him if he needed anything from the store, he asked for some pens. “But not blue pens,” he said. “I don’t want blue pens. I don’t like blue. Blue is too heavy. So please purchase 12 ballpoint pens for me—anything but blue!” The next day his colleague passed him the pens—and they were all blue. When asked to explain, he said, “You kept saying ‘blue, blue.’ That’s the word that left the deepest impression!” The journalist’s use of repetition had an effect, but not the one he desired.
Moses, the lawgiver of Israel, also used repetition in his requests to his people. More than 30 times he urged his people to remain true to the law of their God. Yet the result was the opposite of what he asked for. He told them that obedience would lead them to life and prosperity, but disobedience would lead to destruction (Deut. 30:15-18).
When we love God, we want to walk in His ways not because we fear the consequences but because it is our joy to please the One we love. That’s a good word to remember.