Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.
Not grace to bar what is not bliss...
We had an altar call at the end of service today. It was for those who were feeling disappointed by the current state of their lives...those who had some thought that they should have gotten to a particular place by this point and had not and were thus feeling disappointed with their portion. Over the past several weeks, the Lord has done much to remind me that He alone is my portion...all I need desire and delight in. It has been wonderful. But these weeks have also been peppered with moments of fear, anxiety, confusion, and a strong desire to get about the business of making things happen for myself. Each time, the Lord has been faithful to remind me of who He is...and that to take matters in my own hands is to say I don't trust Him.
This point was really driven home yesterday when I read the following:
Because you did not believe me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people (Num 20:12)
We make it our aim to be pleasing to Him (2 Cor 5:9)
The first verse was the Lord speaking to Moses after he had struck the rock at Meribah. Moses had been instructed to speak to the rock, but (no doubt) frustrated with the continually grumbling Israelites and thinking they needed a good scolding and lesson, he instead struck it in anger and said "Look, we will give you water from this rock!" The amazing thing to me was that, though Moses disobeyed and sinned, the Lord was still faithful and mercifully gave water to the people. His words to Moses afterwards reproved him for his actions not because he was angry and rash, but because they demonstrated to the people that he did not believe or uphold the Lord as holy.
And so do mine.
But we are to "make it our aim to be pleasing to God." Even at the cost of our own wants, perceived rights, hopes, dreams, rationale, perspective, plans, efforts, time invested...and at the cost of our own feelings.
Nor flight from all distress...
There have been several times in my walk, and many recently, when I just wanted to run...give up...throw up my hands and say "I can't do this! It's too hard!" No one likes struggle or difficulty or distress...not really. I can't even stand to watch difficult situations on TV and movies. Back when I did watch TV, I remember cringing when there was confrontation or conflict or really tense moments. If I had the chance to watch the episode or movie again, I would change the channel or fast-forward past the hard parts. Oh how I wish life had a fast-forward button sometimes! But it doesn't...and it doesn't for a reason.
but this: The grace that orders our trouble and pain...
Read that line again. Does that sound strange to you? Grace that orders our trouble and pain? How can trouble and pain be of grace? All sin and pain and disease is of the enemy right?
Well...to say that that is totally the enemy's domain is to say there are things that are outside of God's control. That He is not sovereign over all. Scripture clearly states otherwise. In Job, Satan has to get permission to test Job. In the New Testament Jesus tells Peter that Satan has desired to sift him. Jesus' response shows us that, though the Lord certainly can prevent pain and suffering, sometimes He chooses not to. Rather than telling Peter "Satan has asked to sift you and I have told him to back off", Jesus says "And, I have prayed for you."
Scripture also says that the Lord "works all things together for the good of them that Love Him and are called according to His purpose." All things include trouble and pain...it has to...not just logically, but because we need it. We need to struggle to learn...for our faith to be built...and, yes, for God's glory to be made manifest. Struggle reminds us of our need of Him, and is the substance of any good testimony. It also humbles us, and it is in this posture that we are the most prone to hear and respond to the Lord...and which prompts the Lord to give more grace.
And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.
Even now, I look ahead and see nothing. I know something is going to be there unless the Lord takes me home soon, but I have no idea what it will be. I'd like to think that the future will find me at the end of my weight loss...married...with children...and maybe a dog. I'd like to think, also, that there would be peace in my family...that they would come to know the Lord. But I don't know. I can't know.
But I can hope.
I believe that is what sustains. The grace gift from God of faith...hope...in Him and His goodness. Through prior struggles He has proved Himself faithful and kind and able to do all that I thought impossible. He has been strength when I wanted only to escape. He has made a way when I saw none. And He has done this though I sin, though I doubt, though I fail to uphold Him as holy in front of the people. Why? Not because I am special, but because He is very good and "kind [even] to the ungrateful (Luke 6:35)."
He is kind to the ungrateful...even in pain and suffering and correction. I haven't liked seeing all that has been dredged up in my heart these past weeks, but it has been a kindness. Today was a kindness as well. Though I'd just had a conversation about how well things were going with me and those words of praise to the Lord were still ringing in my ears, He showed me that what lies behind or beneath moments of fear and anxiety and prompt my strong desire to go and do for myself is dissatisfation with His portion, His plan, His timetable. So I had to respond. I had to go forward and make it right. It was a painful kindness, but kindness just the same...and I can take comfort in knowing that He has been and will be "there to sustain" as I walk the rest of this out.