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Posts tagged ‘growing through difficulty’

God’s Appointed Hardships To Us = God’s Love For Us

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

How God Gives Assurance

Am I truly a Christian?

Few questions cause more fearful trembling in believers, and few soul-shepherds are as helpful as John Newton in explaining to trembling saints how God cultivates assurance in the Christian life.

God loves to give his children the gift of “the full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). It is a precious thing, a source of deep peace and consolation, and he wants us to have it.

But like most things in the Christian life, assurance is something that is cultivated and grows deeper and stronger over time. It is a gift that God gives to us, according Newton (1725–1807), gradually through frequent testing.

Assurance grows by repeated conflict, by our repeated experimental proof of the Lord’s power and goodness to save; when we have been brought very low and helped, sorely wounded and healed, cast down and raised again, have given up all hope, and been suddenly snatched from danger, and placed in safety; and when these things have been repeated to us and in us a thousand times over, we begin to learn to trust simply to the word and power of God, beyond and against appearances: and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance; for even assurance has degrees. (Newton on the Christian Life, 220)

In other words, God’s way of growing the sweet gift of assurance in us is by putting us through numerous and varied hardships. The process is designed to be hard. Trials are the way that faith is proven, refined, and strengthened. This is why James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3).

Assurance Grows through Spiritual Conflict

It’s why Paul writes, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance [same word translated as “steadfastness” in James], and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4).

And it’s why the author of Hebrews reminds us,

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7–8)

The discipline of enduring trials and sufferings ends up proving that we are God’s children. And though “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant . . . later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

One of the peaceful, consoling fruits of the “righteousness of God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9) is assurance. And it’s a fruit that is realized “later” and in increasing amounts.

Why God Grows Assurance this Way

Why has God designed the process of giving us a growing assurance of faith through enduring trials? Newton answers this way:

We cannot be safely trusted with assurance till we have that knowledge of the evil and deceitfulness of our hearts, which can be acquired only by painful, repeated experience. (222)

Like Peter who confidently promised Jesus that he would never deny him only hours before he did, we do not realize as younger believers how powerful our sin nature is and how weak our faith is. We don’t know how proud and self-reliant we are. It is the fiery trials that apply heat to our faith and cause the dross of unbelief in the form of doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy, bitterness, selfish ambition, fear of man, and more to rise to the surface. And when we see the dross, we can fear that our faith may not be real.

And that’s what God wants. For when we see the horrible sin in us and feel our helplessness to get rid of it on our own, it pushes us in desperation to trust Christ’s work on the cross alone. When we see our numerous weaknesses and feel our helplessness to be strong on our own, it pushes us to search out and trust Christ’s promises to us alone.

We can have no security from gifts, labors, services, or past experiences; but that from first to last our only safety is in the power, compassion, and faithfulness of our great Redeemer. (234)

It is the various kinds of pressing, painful, exposing trials that teach us to trust in Christ for everything — to really “live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).

And so God grows the full assurance of faith in us, and causes the joyful, peaceful fruit of righteousness to grow in us through trials. He wants our faith to rest fully on the Rock of Christ, so that we “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Because, as Newton said,

“We are never more safe, never have more reason to expect the Lord’s help, than when we are most sensible that we can do nothing without him.” This is the paradox of assurance. (234)

Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares

Newton spoke of assurance from experience. He said,

In mercy [God] has frequently stirred up my nest, shaken me in it, and forced me to fly to him, when I should otherwise have dropped into sleep and [false] security. (221)

For Pastor Newton, the sweet God-given gift of assurance looked much like verse three of his famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”:

     Through many dangers, toils, and snares
          I have already come;
     His grace has brought me safe thus far,
          And grace will lead me home.

 

Our assurance of salvation does not come from a confidence in some subjectively measured inner witness, nor how warm our affections for God are at any given moment. Rather, our assurance comes from a growing confidence in Christ’s saving work that purchased the fulfillment of all his great promises to us (2 Peter 1:4) and his power to keep them.

Greater assurance comes through stronger faith. And faith only grows stronger through the vigorous exercise of testing.

The Same Old Argument

SOURCE:  Jeff Kemp/Family Life

It seemed like the 1948th time we’d had the same exchange. But the solution this time was different.

What happened was silly.

I was downstairs and opened a bill.  Since my wife handles our bills, I ran upstairs to discuss it with her.  I bounded into the room where she was engrossed on the computer.  She was re-watching a 600+ slide show of wedding photos to find a particular photo.  I interrupted her and when she waved me off, I did not take the clue and told her we could handle this quickly.

Unfortunately, I ignored and flustered her, causing her to lose her place and end the slide show.  She was upset and told me so.

I justified myself.

She reiterated her disappointment.

I weakly said, “Sorry.”

She explained how she felt, and the inconvenience I’d caused.

I said, “Don’t freak out.”

Things got worse. Duh!

The conflict was growing and I stood there defending myself in my heart, looking blandly at her, while thinking about how often we have this stupid disagreement.  Finally I zipped my lip and went downstairs.

When I sat in my chair I thought, That is about the 1,948th time we’ve had that exchange.

I began a conversation with God that went something like this.

God, why does that happen so much?  I meant well, but then I offended her, then I hurt her, then I made it worse.

The thought God gave me in return was this:  Jeff, you’re more upset that you had the conflict than you are that you inconvenienced her.  And you’re more upset that you had the conflict than that you hurt her feelings by defending yourself and showing no real empathy. You always want her to adjust and accept you.  You ask for less of these instances of offense and conflict, but you should be asking Me to help you change.  You need to want to not hurt her more than you want to not feel bad that you messed up.

Wow … That led to a very introspective and intense prayer time, and a decision.  I aimed to change so that I could be a better apologizer, be less defensive, and truly be more interested in Stacy’s feelings than my own.

I went upstairs, got down on a knee next to her, and told her I was wrong to not apologize fully at first.  I was wrong not to want to hear from her how I had inconvenienced her.  I was wrong to defend myself.  I did not care for her feelings well, and I want to.

I concluded with four things:  “I was wrong.  I am sorry.  Will you please forgive me?  I want to change.”

Stacy teared up in a good way and swiftly loved me back with her forgiveness, her own apology, and a hug.

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Excerpted from Facing the Blitz, copyright © 2015 by Jeff Kemp.

 

Realizing the Good in the Bad

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 216.

 The Peacemaker’s Harvest

When someone has wronged you, it is also helpful to remember that God is sovereign and loving. Therefore, when you are having a hard time forgiving that person, take time to note how God may be using the offense for good.

  • Is this an unusual opportunity to glorify God?
  • How can you serve others and help them grow in their faith?
  • What sins and weaknesses of yours are being exposed for the sake of your growth?
  • What character qualities are you being challenged to exercise?

When you perceive that the person who has wronged you is being used as an instrument in God’s hand to help you mature, serve others, and glorify him, it may be easier for you to move ahead with forgiveness.

Conflict, along with trials, suffering, loss, and other hardships, can be what God uses to bring the most good in our own lives or in the lives of those around us. It’s often the most painful events of life that bring the biggest harvest.

God brings us through the times of conflict, trial, or suffering that can bring a great harvest. Yes, it’s work; often it involves hours (or months) of tears, heartache, and discipline, but the ultimate reward is one of becoming more like Christ. In these situations, God gives us opportunities to glorify him, to serve others, to be a part of what he is doing, and even to receive personal reward.

Yet in our stubbornness, our refusal to forgive, or our demand to be right or vindicated, we fail to seize those opportunities. We miss the very harvest for which we’ve toiled.

The sowing, the tending, and the harvest all depend on each other–one could not happen without the other. But we are promised that–

“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).

May your harvest be a great one as you sow peace in the midst of the conflicts you face.

When Your Spouse Breaks Your Heart

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry/Vicki Tiede

You have a choice—you can go through the experience or grow through it.

Dealing with one’s own sin issues results in voluntary brokenness or a contrite heart.  But when I dealt with the ramifications of my husband’s addiction to pornography, my heart was broken involuntarily.  And I needed to choose whether I would live as a victim or live in victory.

I’m telling you, I know how to throw a rip-roaring pity party! Put on your favorite gray sweat suit, grab a quart of Ben & Jerry’s, and prepare to do the B.E.D. boogie—blame, excuses, and denial. There was a time when I could have been a party planner for other wives of porn addicts because I had it down to a science. The problem is that pity parties are not well attended by others. In fact, they are usually a party  of one.

My pity parties came to a halt when I joined a secular support group. It’s not that I learned better coping skills, though they tried to teach such things. No, I looked around at the other participants, none of whom seemed to know Jesus, and I realized that many of them had earned lifetime memberships to the Pity Party Club. They had no hope. These women were toxic to one another. Like yeast poured into warm water, salt, and flour, they fed each other’s negativity. That’s where the metaphor breaks down, however, because unlike fresh baked bread, these people produced nothing worth savoring.

I remember coming home from the support group one night, dropping onto the couch, and asking aloud, “Lord, is that really what it looks like to get better? In my opinion, they all seem happy to wear name tags that say ‘Bitter.’ I want something more. I don’t want to go through all of this and end up bitter. I want to end up better than when I started.”

The choice

How about you? Have you ever known anyone who seems content to be a pit-dweller? Who is always blaming, making excuses, or in denial? Who emulates Eeyore with a low, hovering storm cloud that pours down bitterness and gloom? Who lives life as a victim? Does she bear any resemblance to the face that’s reflected in your bathroom mirror? I hope not.

No matter how your spouse broke your heart, you have the same choice that I did. You can either choose to go through this experience or you can grow through it.

In John 5:6 at the healing pool of Bethesda, Jesus asked the invalid who had been there 38 years, “Do you want to be healed?” He had a choice. So do you. Choose your role. Victor or victim? Better or bitter? Grow through it or go through it.

You can demonstrate a healthy, holy response and mature in your faith as a result of circumstances you would never have chosen. To grow through the experience and come out victorious on the other side, you need to make up your mind about a few things:

1. Make up your mind to seek time with God in solitude, because it will not seek you. Especially now, you need to let your knees buckle and give yourself over to God’s Word, His throne, His grace, and His glory. Accept His offer of solitude in the midst of tumult. This is a forging place where He will heat and reform your soul.

Solitude is where you are mindful about meeting Jesus. Just Jesus. Your heart, mind, and soul are fixed on Him alone, not on your present circumstances. Here you expose your fresh, open wounds to the healing balm of the Healer. You don’t deny the difficulties and pain, but you refuse to give in to their power. When you enter into solitude, you allow your thirsty soul to experience deep communion with the Living Water. He satisfies and fills you as only He can. Then He takes your malleable soul and shapes you into His image.

2. Make up your mind that God is the sole source of your identity and you belong to Him. When you have experienced involuntary heartbreak, it’s not uncommon to allow feelings of defeat to overcome you. If you aren’t careful, you can convince yourself that life will always be difficult and painful because God has abandoned you. This lie gives Satan the upper hand.

Our God is good. He offers you a firm place to stand. “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2). Choose to believe that He is protective of you. He is for you. He believes in you. He will not fail you. He will give you strength as well as rest. He loves you and longs for you to walk in victory with Him—not just for a little while, but forever. You are His witness to faith in the midst of your suffering and sacrifice. These are some of the things He wants you to know for certain.

Have you ever met someone who was cordial but clearly not open to a new friendship—leaving you just going through the motions of relating? You can do the same thing to God. You can go through the motions of meeting with Him, but not demonstrate a heart response or an openness to His work in your life.

If you are to grow through this experience, you must persevere through the pain until you find its purpose. There you will also find healing. You are His child, and nothing will ever separate you from His love.

3. Make up your mind to be thankful. Yes, thankful. Don’t worry, thankfulness does not minimize your pain; it magnifies the positive. Gratitude is a humble attitude of genuine faith.

Your pain is very real. You can be honest about that reality without letting it blot out the many blessings God gives you every single day.

4. Make up your mind not to look back with regret or guilt after repentance. Growing through this experience is a forward, upward movement. It is an ascent. Wherever you are right now is not where you will be when this is all over. Cling to the truth that you are just passing through, and commit yourself not to look back at past mistakes.

Remember what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back (Genesis 19:16-26)? If God in His mercy has delivered you from past behaviors, choices, and attitudes, consider it your “Get out of Sodom free” card. Flee from the old life and don’t look back!

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

You have a choice to make. Go through it or grow through it?

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Adapted from When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography ©2012 by Vicki Tiede.

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