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.
“The body of Christ” is a mysterious phrase used more than 30 times in the New Testament. The apostle Paul especially settled on that phrase as an image of the church. After Jesus ascended to heaven, He turned over His mission to flawed and bumbling men and women. He assumed the role of head of the church, leaving the tasks of arms, legs, ears, eyes, and voice to the erratic disciples—and to you and me.
Jesus’ decision to operate as the invisible head of a large body with many parts means that He often relies on us to help one another cope during times of suffering. The apostle Paul must have had something like that in mind when he wrote these words: “[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Cor. 1:4-5). And all through his ministry Paul put that principle into practice, taking up collections for famine victims, dispatching assistants to go to troubled areas, acknowledging believers’ gifts as gifts from God Himself.
The phrase “the body of Christ” expresses well what we are called to do: to represent in flesh what Christ is like, especially to those in need.
A young boy showered my husband, Carl, and me with bubbles as he came running by us on the Atlantic City boardwalk. It was a light and fun moment on a difficult day. We had come to the city to visit our brother-in-law in the hospital and to help Carl’s sister who was struggling and having trouble getting to her doctors’ appointments. So as we took a break and walked along the seaside boardwalk we were feeling a bit overwhelmed by the needs of our family.
Then came the bubbles. Just bubbles blown at us whimsically by a little boy in the ocean breeze—except for what I knew. I love bubbles and keep a bottle in my office to use whenever I need the smile of a bubble break. Those bubbles and the vast Atlantic Ocean reminded me of what I can count on: God is always close. He is powerful. He always cares. And He can use even the smallest experiences, and briefest moments, to help us remember that His presence is like an ocean of grace in the middle of our heavy moments.
Maybe one day our troubles will seem like bubbles—momentary in light of eternity for “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
A test match in the game of cricket can be grueling. Competitors play from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with lunch and tea breaks, but the games can last up to 5 days. It’s a test of endurance as well as skill.
The tests we face in life are sometimes intensified for a similar reason. They feel unending. The long search for a job, an unbroken season of loneliness, or a lengthy battle with cancer is made even more difficult by the fact that you wonder if it will ever end.
Perhaps that is why the psalmist cried out, “How long,
Yet, in the end, David sang, “The
Life’s path is often difficult. So if we expect that God will always give us an easy road, we may be tempted to turn our back on Him when the terrain gets tough.
If you’ve ever considered doing that, think about the people of Israel. When they were given freedom from the Egyptians after hundreds of years of bondage, they took off for the Promised Land. But God didn’t send them straight home. He “did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter” (Ex. 13:17). Instead He sent them on the hard road through the desert. In the short run, this helped them avoid wars (v. 17), but in the long run, there was something bigger at work.
God used that time in the desert to instruct and mature the people He had called to follow Him. The easy road would have led them to disaster. The long road prepared the nation of Israel for their successful entry into the Promised Land.
Our God is faithful, and we can trust Him to lead us and care for us no matter what we face. We may not understand the reason for the path we are on, but we can trust Him to help us grow in faith and maturity along the way.
During a recent week, I received several invitations in the mail. Those inviting me to attend “free” seminars on retirement, real estate, and life insurance were immediately thrown away. But the invitation to a gathering honoring a longtime friend caused me to reply immediately, “Yes! I accept.” Invitation + Desire = Acceptance
Isaiah 55:1 is one of the great invitations in the Bible. The Lord said to His people who were in difficult circumstances, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” This is God’s remarkable offer of inner nourishment, deep spiritual satisfaction, and everlasting life (vv. 2–3).
Jesus’s invitation is repeated in the last chapter of the Bible: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).
We often think of eternal life as beginning when we die. In reality, it begins when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
God’s invitation to find eternal life in Him is the greatest invitation of all! Invitation + Desire = Acceptance.
A comfortable plane ride was about to get bumpy. The voice of the captain interrupted in-flight beverage service and asked passengers to make sure their seatbelts were fastened. Soon the plane began to roll and pitch like a ship on a wind-whipped ocean. While the rest of the passengers were doing their best to deal with the turbulence, a little girl sat through it all reading her book. After the plane landed, she was asked why she had been able to be so calm. She responded, “My daddy is the pilot and he’s taking me home.”
Though Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fishermen, they were terrified the day a storm threatened to swamp their boat. Why was this happening? They were following Jesus’ instructions (Mark 4:35). He was with them but He was asleep at the stern of the craft. They learned that day that it is not true that when we do as our Lord says there will be no storms in our lives. Yet because He was with them, they also learned that storms don’t stop us from getting to where our Lord wants us to go (5:1).
Whether the storm we encounter today is the result of a tragic accident, a loss of employment, or some other trial, we can be confident that all is not lost. Our Pilot can handle the storm. He will get us home.
As I stood in the back of the room at a senior citizens’ center in Palmer, Alaska, listening to my daughter’s high school choir sing “It Is Well with My Soul,” I wondered why she, the choir director, had chosen that song. It had been played at her sister Melissa’s funeral, and Lisa knew it was always tough for me to hear it without having an emotional response.
My musings were interrupted when a man sidled up next to me and said, “This is just what I need to hear.” I introduced myself and then asked why he needed this song. “I lost my son Cameron last week in a motorcycle accident,” he said.
Wow! I was so focused on myself that I never considered the needs of others, and God was busy using that song exactly where He wanted it to be used. I took my new friend Mac, who worked at the center, aside, and we talked about God’s care in this toughest time in his life.
All around us are people in need, and sometimes we have to set aside our own feelings and agendas to help them. One way we can do that is to remember how God has comforted us in our trials and troubles “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). How easy it is to be engrossed in our own concerns and forget that someone right next to us might need a prayer, a word of comfort, a hug, or gift of mercy in Jesus’ name.
On April 4, 1968, American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated, leaving millions angry and disillusioned. In Indianapolis, a largely African-American crowd had gathered to hear Robert F. Kennedy speak. Many had not yet heard of Dr. King’s death, so Kennedy had to share the tragic news. He appealed for calm by acknowledging not only their pain but his own abiding grief over the murder of his brother, President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy then quoted a variation of an ancient poem by Aeschylus (526–456 bc):
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
“Wisdom through the awful grace of God” is a remarkable statement. It means that God’s grace fills us with awe and gives us the opportunity to grow in wisdom during life’s most difficult moments.
James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). James says that this wisdom is grown in the soil of hardship (vv. 2-4), for there we not only learn from the wisdom of God, we rest in the grace of God (2 Cor. 12:9). In life’s darkest times, we find what we need in Him.