What is it about faith that keeps demanding of us greater testings? Why do our afflictions grow more intense, more severe, the closer we get to Christ? Just when we come through one trial that proves us faithful, here comes another test, increased in its intensity. Many godly saints must ask, “Lord, what is this awful trial about? You know my heart and you and I both know that I will trust you no matter what.”
Think about it: the very day you committed your life to trust God, no matter the cost, he knew your present trial would come. He knew then — and you know now — that you would love him through everything that comes at you. By grace, you are determined to be an overcomer.
The reason for such continual testings is well known to most Christians. That is, the life of faith continually demonstrates humankind’s need for the Lord in all things. We never reach a point of not needing God. As Jesus tells us, our purpose is not to seek having our needs met, but to feed on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
An additional reason behind our ever-increasing afflictions — our trials that demand ever greater faith — go far beyond anything having to do with this world. God’s elect are being prepared for eternal service in heaven.
Ever-increasing afflictions, demanding ever more steadfast faith, become a stumbling block to many believers. Paul was accused by fellow Christians of being chastened by God. They said his sufferings were the result of lack of faith, or because of some secret sin he was hiding. And humanly, we can’t comprehend why he had to endure some of the hardships he went through. And by Paul’s own testimony, we know that none of these things moved him — and his life proved it.
“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
Beloved, you are being weaned from everything that is of this world. God is present with you to take you through to your eternal reward.
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Getting what we want isn’t a common topic among many Jesus followers, but in reality, it has everything to do with God’s character and how we perceive him. Many of us approach the Father as if he only hears prayers for “spiritual” things. But Paul says God’s care covers every aspect of our lives: he will supply your every need.
Paul adds this: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20, my emphasis). In short, God is interested in much more than meeting our needs. When Paul uses the words “ask or think,” he’s referring to our wants and desires. Moreover, Paul says God wants more than to grant our desires — he wants to exceed them. So, if we pray to have our cup filled, God wants to make it overflow. You see, praying our desires isn’t just about us and our needs. It’s about knowing a good, loving Father who delights to give generously.
Many of our desires originate with God. Part of his ongoing work of sanctifying us as we walk with him is a desire to want good things that he plants within us. Like any loving parent, God wants our heart to align with his, so we’ll be blessed.
Certain seasons in life are a struggle, yet God uses those times to place a discontent in our hearts, a hunger to see his abundant goodness. Sometimes these seasons last longer than we like, and we learn to trust Jesus through them. Yet, even those seasons are meant for good.
If you’re in a difficult season, I encourage you to do these three things:
(1) Eliminate all selfish wants. Seek the Lord for his will.
(2) Illuminate all good, pure desires. Identify clearly what you desire and then tell it to God.
(3) Activate your desires — don’t just sit on them, take action toward them.
God wants more for you than you want for yourself. It’s time to set aside shame and fear and bring all your desires before the Father. In so doing, watch him demonstrate his extravagant love to you!
Paul says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:15-16).
The Holy Spirit assures us that God is our loving Father and that he feels no anger toward us though we have sinned and failed him so many times. Our well-deserved punishment was completely borne by Jesus on the cross. There is not one blot of transgression against us in his sight. As a loving Father, he will discipline his children, but not in a judicial way. His chastening is done in love for our good that we may become like Christ in every area of our lives.
During quiet times of fellowship, the Holy Spirit makes God’s love real, not just in our heads, but also in our hearts. When God’s Spirit is moving, we have rest and peace. We know we don’t have to strive for a personal righteousness of our own to gain acceptance before God. We are secure in what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, and we can approach God boldly.
There are times, though, when we get out of sync with God — when we don’t have the kind of fellowship that he longs for and we need. During those moments, I am reminded of the church in Laodicea. Jesus told them, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).
When Jesus requested to share a meal with them, he was speaking of his desire for fellowship with the Laodicean church. Imagine sitting down to dinner with our Lord — what an intimate and glorious evening that would be! Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a minister in the Church of Scotland in the first half of the nineteenth century, said, “A calm hour with God is worth a whole lifetime with man.”
We don’t have to imagine what that meal might be like. That kind of fellowship is available to us at any moment of any day through the Spirit. We only need to ask.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
Most people find it hard to accept that a loving God allows human suffering, but King David said his afflictions came from God’s hand: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word … It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:67, 71).
In so many words, David says, “I now know the Lord allowed my pain in order to heal me of all the dross and flesh in me. If he had not put his fear in my heart, I wouldn’t be here today. God knew what was in my heart, and he knew exactly how to get my attention.” What David says here is life-giving truth. He’s telling us, in essence, “If we don’t see the Lord working in our circumstances — if we don’t believe the steps of the righteous are ordered by his hand, including our dire situations — our faith will end up crashing and we’ll be shipwrecked.”
Picture a surgeon and his medical team as they prepare to operate on a patient with cancer. The surgeon knows that if the tumor is not removed, the patient will die. For that reason, he will use every measure to get the cancer out of the patient’s body, no matter the pain it causes. He knows his surgical work will bring deep hurt but it is necessary to preserve life.
The right response for God’s people in many afflictions is an inquiring heart. This is the heart that asks, “Lord, are you saying something to me in this? Have I been blinded to your voice?”
The Holy Spirit never fails to answer us. He may say, “This is a snare of Satan. Beware!” Or, without condemnation, he will reveal an area of compromise, saying, “Obey, and all will become clear.”
When God shows us what is in our hearts — the impatience, the besetting sin, the “small” but deadening compromises — these things become grievous to us in our time of affliction. It is why David prayed, “Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Your word to Your servant. Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight” (Psalm 119:76-77).
No matter what you’re going through, God’s mercy is there for you. He isn’t out to condemn or punish you, but like any devoted father, he tells his children, “Let me help you through this and show you the depths of my love.”
“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Right now, Satan’s powers of darkness throughout the world are rejoicing. These demonic forces have infiltrated high places of human power: the media, political offices, high courts. It’s happening even in religious denominations.
All these demonic principalities have an agenda. They work to erode moral values and pull down the saving power of the gospel. It seems every institution, every agency is now infiltrated and dominated by these ungodly spiritual powers. Yet, we know how this war ends: at the cross, in the victory of Jesus Christ.
There definitely will be times of war — wars that will not involve the vast Body of Christ worldwide but will be private — battles and struggles known only to you. These are wars of the flesh and they bring a burden you can’t share with anyone. They are lonely wars, just about Jesus and you.
Too often as a Christian you may convince yourself that the right thing to do is to grit your teeth through your battles. But God doesn’t want you to put on a false front. He knows what you’re going through and he wants to share it with you.
When King David committed adultery and then fell into a private war of condemnation and regret, he didn’t try to fix things on his own. So what did he do? First, he cried out to the Lord: “Oh, Lord, help me quickly! I’m about to fall, so hurry and deliver me. Your Word promises that you’ll deliver me, so do it now” (see Psalm 70).
Next, David made a decision: “Live or die, I will magnify the Lord in this battle.” “Let God be magnified” (Psalm 70:4). And he threw himself fully on the mercy of the Lord: “If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up … Your comforts delight my soul” (Psalm 94:18-19).
Beloved, you can make this your testimony. Look at all your distresses, adversities, anxieties and temptations, and say in faith, “By God’s grace I will not go down.” And he will say to you, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).