In every trial or season of suffering there comes a point where we are called upon to make a choice. I think that choice is laid before us right from the get go; and right from the get go we make our choice. It is evident in our countenance, in our words, and our heart (which spills over into words and actions and attitudes). The choice we are called to make is a simple one, really...and it is the same one we are always called to make: Whom will we serve?
If we choose to serve ourself, we will see our trial or suffering as something that is
happening TO us, as a problem to be solved, something to be borne only as much as absolutely necessary, something to wage war against, to change or rid ourselves of as quickly as possible. Because of this choice, we are justified in fussing and fuming and moaning and bewailing our plight. The hardness or ugliness or loss is all we can see and feel. No one can look at someone who is horribly injured or has suffered the loss of a loved one or been abandoned by a spouse or mourning the choices of a wayward child and blame them for feeling or thinking any of the above. In and of themselves, it is right and reasonable to respond negatively to trials and sufferings.
But trials and sufferings do not happen in the vacuum of our self-contained and isolated lives. They happen within the framework of Providence, and through the hands of a Sovereign, Purposeful, Loving God. Which brings us to what is often, for us, Option B: We choose to serve God and trust that His way is Perfect.
In her devotional book "Edges of His Ways", Amy Carmichael writes: ..."the love of God is searching...He is partiently teaching us truly to mean [this]. ...he does not hurry us, but He does wait for us...till we can look in His face and say - not with a sigh, but with a song 'As for God, His way is perfect!' (Psalm 18:30) This is victory; nothing less can be called by that shining name!"
"As for God, His way is perfect" was written for times when what we see is far less than perfect. Look at Psalm 18:
1I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
4The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help.From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
This is the epitome of suffering and yet, after even more verses just like those above, the Psalmist says "As for God, His way is perfect." How could he say that when his flesh, his heart, even his world seems to have been failing him, crumbling around him, being destroyed before his very eyes? How? Because of this:
25With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
26with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
27For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
28For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
29For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30This God--his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
That line bears repeating...the word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him. Herein lies the key: We see his word, his promises, his power when we act on them by faith. When we choose to serve the Lord and believe His word and, by faith stand on them - take refuge in Him - His word is proved true in us. We won't see or show this if we train our eyes on the shaking and crumbling and destruction and choose to serve ourselves or protect ourselves from harm. All we will see then is what is coming at us, or going away from us, and in those moments our God seems very distant and very small. But, if we choose to serve His purposes and train our eyes on Him, God's grace meets us in that moment and "the things of earth grow strangely dim" and He seems very near and very big.
He also seems very kind.
There is nothing so comforting as the comfort of our Rock and Redeemer. No human can offer us the same sweet consolation our Lord can. He comes in and we are changed.
Carolyn McCulley touches on this in a recent blog post, where she quotes David Powlison, who writes:
"How does God's grace engage your sufferings? We may know the right answer. And yet we don't know it. It is a hard answer. But we make it sound like a pat answer. God sets about a long slow answering. But we try to make it a quick fix. His answer insists on being lived out over time and into the particulars. We act as if just saying the right words makes it so. God's answer insists on changing you into a different kind of person. But we act as if some truth, principle, strategy, or perspective might simply be incorporated into who we already are. God personalizes his answer on hearts with uncanny flexibility. But we turn it into a formula: "If you just believe _____. If you just do _____. If you just remember ____." No important truth ever contains the word "just" in the punch line.
How does God's grace meet you in your sufferings? We can make the right answer sound old hat, but I can guarantee this: God will surprise you. He will make you stop. You will struggle. He will bring you up short. You will hurt. He will take his time. You will grow in faith and in love. He will deeply delight you. You will find the process harder than you ever imagined--and better. Goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life (Ps. 23:6). No matter how many times you've heard it, no matter how long you've known it, no matter how well you can say it, God's answer will come to mean something better than you could ever imagine. "
This is His heart for us: that we be changed and conformed more into the image of His Son AND that we receive something far better than we imagined possible. He loves to love us and lavish His affection and kindness on us. At times, it seems His is a painful kindness. But that is only a surface impression of the truth. There is pain, there is suffering, there is loss and sickness and death...but God! But God comes in and proves His word in us through suffering, teaching us to believe and then say and then sing: "As for God, His way is perfect!"
Oh, how I want to sing! I want to look at my singleness and sing "My maker is my husband!" I want to look at my size and sing "I am fearfully and wonderfully made!" I want to look at my family and sing "He is mighty to save!" I want to look at the totality of my life and sing "His banner over me is love!"
In my struggles and sufferings, the battle is not my circumstances or even my emotions, the battle is for my heart, for my hope and faith in God. My singleness, my size, my family, my friendships, work situtions are the battlefield, but the real fight is for the one I will choose to serve and in whom I put my hope and trust. Oh Lord help me, help us, to choose rightly, to choose YOU when self-preservation or self-pity tells us to do otherwise. You alone are our rock, our fortress, our deliver; we never need these so much as when all around us is shaken and falling. Teach us this truth and teach us to sing, through tears, through pain, through sickness and death, to sing though our hearts are breaking and trust in who you are!
"He will provide for Himself, in every work that He has planned, all that is needed. All things, without a single exception, are in the hands of our Jehoval-Jireh. Nothing can hinder His purpose. Sooner or later we shall see what we now by fath believe. We shall see the end intended by the Lord, who is very pitiful and of tender mercy (James 5:11). We shall see and we shall sing. Let us sing now! "(Amy Carmichael in Whispers of His Power)
Yes, Lord...Let us sing now!!