Sweet and Bitter
Some people like bitter chocolate and some prefer sweet. Ancient Mayans in Central America enjoyed chocolate as a beverage and seasoned it with chili peppers. They liked this “bitter water,” as they called it. Many years later it was introduced in Spain, but the Spaniards preferred chocolate sweet, so they added sugar and honey to counteract its natural bitterness.
Like chocolate, days can be bitter or sweet too. A seventeenth-century French monk named Brother Lawrence wrote, “If we knew how much [God] loves us, we would always be ready to receive equally . . . from His hand the sweet and the bitter.” Accept the sweet and the bitter equally? This is difficult! What is Brother Lawrence talking about? The key lies in God’s character. The psalmist said of God, “You are good, and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68).
Mayans also valued bitter chocolate for its healing and medicinal properties. Bitter days have value too. They make us aware of our weaknesses and they help us depend more on God. The psalmist wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (v. 71). Let us embrace life today, with its different flavors—reassured of God’s goodness. Let us say, “You have done many good things for me,
Everywhere and Nowhere
A family friend who, like us, lost a teenager in a car accident wrote a tribute to her daughter, Lindsay, in the local paper. One of the most powerful images in her essay was this: After mentioning the many pictures and remembrances of Lindsay she had put around their house, she wrote, “She is everywhere, but nowhere.”
Although our daughters still smile back at us from their photos, the spirited personalities that lit up those smiles are nowhere to be found. They are everywhere—in our hearts, in our thoughts, in all those photos—but nowhere.
But Scripture tells us that, in Christ, Lindsay and Melissa are not really nowhere. They are in Jesus’ presence, “with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). They are with the One who, in one sense, is “nowhere but everywhere.” After all, we don’t see God in a physical form. We certainly don’t have smiling pictures of Him on our mantel. In fact, if you look around your house, you may think He is nowhere. But just the opposite is true. He is everywhere!
Wherever we go on this earth, God is there. He’s there to guide, strengthen, and comfort us. We cannot go where He is not. We don’t see Him, but He’s everywhere. In each trial we face, that’s incredibly good news.
Before my husband and I surrendered our lives to Christ, we seriously considered divorce. But after committing to love and obey God, we recommitted to each other. We sought wise counsel and invited the Holy Spirit to transform us individually and as a couple. Our heavenly Father continues to help us develop healthy communication skills. He’s teaching us how to love and trust Him—and one another—no matter what happens.
Yet, even as we head toward celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary, I occasionally forget everything God has done in and through our trials. Sometimes, I struggle with a deep-seated fear of the unknown—experiencing unnecessary anxiety instead of relying on God’s track record.
In Deuteronomy 1, Moses affirmed the Lord’s reliability. He encouraged the Israelites to move forward in faith so they could enjoy their inheritance (vv. 1–21). But God’s people demanded details about what they’d be up against and what they’d receive, before committing to trust Him with their future (vv. 22–33).
Followers of Christ are not immune to succumbing to fear or anxiety. Worrying about what difficulties we may or may not encounter can keep us from depending on faith, and may even damage our relationships with God and others. But the Holy Spirit can help us create a trust tally of the Lord’s past faithfulness. He can empower us with courageous confidence in God’s trustworthiness yesterday, today, and forever.
Sweet and Sour
When our toddler first bit into a lemon wedge, he wrinkled his nose, stuck out his tongue, and squeezed his eyes shut. “Sow-wah,” he said (sour).
I chuckled as I reached for the piece of fruit, intending to toss it into the trash.
“No!” Xavier scampered across the kitchen to get away from ne. “Moe-wah!” (more). His lips puckered with every juice-squirting bite. I winced when he finally handed me the rind and walked away.
My taste buds accurately reflect my partiality to the sweet moments in life. My preference for avoiding all things bitter reminds me of Job’s wife, who seems to have shared my aversion to the sourness of suffering.
Job surely didn’t delight in hardship or trouble, yet he honored God through heart-wrenching circumstances (Job 1:1–22). When painful sores afflicted Job’s body, he endured the agony (Job 2:7–8). His wife told him to give up on God (v. 9), but Job responded by trusting the Lord through suffering and afflictions (v. 10).
It’s natural to prefer avoiding the bitter bites in life. We can even be tempted to lash out at God when we’re hurting. But the Lord uses trials, teaching us how to trust Him, depend on Him, and surrender to Him as He enables us to persevere through difficult times. And like Job, we don’t have to enjoy suffering to learn to savor the unexpected sweetness of sour moments−the divine strengthening of our faith.
Sharing a Cup of Comfort
A friend mailed me some of her homemade pottery. Upon opening the box, I discovered the precious items had been damaged during their journey. One of the cups had shattered into a few large pieces, a jumble of shards, and clumps of clay dust.
After my husband glued the broken mess back together, I displayed the beautifully blemished cup on a shelf. Like that pieced-together pottery, I have scars that prove I can still stand strong after the difficult times God’s brought me through. That cup of comfort reminds me that sharing how the Lord has worked in and through my life can help others during their times of suffering.
The apostle Paul praises God because He is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). The Lord uses our trials and sufferings to make us more like Him. His comfort in our troubles equips us to encourage others as we share what He did for us during our time of need (v. 4).
As we reflect on Christ’s suffering, we can be inspired to persevere in the midst of our own pain, trusting that God uses our experiences to strengthen us and others toward patient endurance (vv. 5–7). Like Paul, we can be comforted in knowing that the Lord redeems our trials for His glory. We can share His cups of comfort and bring reassuring hope to the hurting.
Trial by Fire
Last winter while visiting a natural history museum in Colorado, I learned some remarkable facts about the aspen tree. An entire grove of slender, white-trunked aspens can grow from a single seed and share the same root system. These root systems can exist for thousands of years whether or not they produce trees. They sleep underground, waiting for fire, flood, or avalanche to clear a space for them in the shady forest. After a natural disaster has cleared the land, aspen roots can sense the sun at last. The roots send up saplings, which become trees.
For aspens, new growth is made possible by the devastation of a natural disaster. James writes that our growth in faith is also made possible by difficulties. “Consider it pure joy,” he writes, “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’s difficult to be joyful during trials, but we can take hope from the fact that God will use difficult circumstances to help us reach maturity. Like aspen trees, faith can grow in times of trial when difficulty clears space in our hearts for the light of God to touch us.
I Am With You
When I served as an intern for a Christian magazine, I wrote a story about a person who had become a Christian. In a dramatic change, he said goodbye to his former life and embraced his new Master: Jesus. A few days after the magazine hit the street, an anonymous caller threatened, "Be careful, Darmani. We are watching you! Your life is in danger in this country if you write such stories."
That was not the only time I have been threatened for pointing people to Christ. On one occasion a man told me to vanish with the tract I was giving him or else! In both cases, I cowered. But these were only verbal threats. Many Christians have had threats carried out against them. In some cases simply living a godly lifestyle attracts mistreatment from people.
The Lord told Jeremiah, "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you" (Jer. 1:7), and Jesus told His disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves" (Matt. 10:16). Yes, we may encounter threats, hardships, and even pain. But God assures us of His presence. "I am with you," He told Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8), and Jesus assured His followers, "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20).
Whatever struggles we face in our attempt to live for the Lord, we can trust in the Lord's presence.
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.
Helping Each Other
“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.