Thursday, January 15, 2009

Beauty For Ashes

Beauty for Ashes

Life has its ups and downs, highs and lows. At one time or another, every man and woman faces severe trials. Even Christians in the most prosperous state cannot escape the testing and tribulations, the pains and pressures that are common to us all.

“Although affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground; yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:6-7)

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing happened to you…” (1 Pet.4:12)

Man’s trials are not simply natural phenomena. Nothing occurs out of God’s knowledge and purpose. The problems themselves often do not hurt us nearly as much as the increasing stress, worry and anxiety that arise in those circumstances. Yet, in the midst of all these trials and trauma, God flashes a brilliant promise for us to look to: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me…to give them beauty for ashes” (Isa.61:1-3). Indeed, we, as heirs of the promises of God are guaranteed of God’s intervention in our lives to turn every situation of ash into a masterpiece of beauty. This is the truth, but how we often forget! The Greek word for truth is “aletheia” which literally means, “not forgetting”. To know the truth means to remember it. Remembering the truth will make you free. We must know and hold fast the promises of God so that we can go through this life victoriously. In darkness there are treasures, and these treasures are only found in darkness. So, instead of being bitter over the experience, gather as many treasure of darkness (Isa.45.3) as possible so that we do not suffer defeat meant only for people who do not know God and therefore have no access to claiming His promises for themselves.

Having said that, we also recognize that we may not have full comprehension of God’s plans and His promises. Therefore we need to ask of God within the context of submission and honor for Him. We should still remind ourselves that there might be a lesson to learn in an adverse situation rather than a solution to seek out.

Sovereignty of God

God is accountable only to Himself, and He is not liable to report to anyone else. God is under no compulsion to submit a reason or explanation of His words or actions to any person, thing or authority. Through all scriptural and ecclesiastical history we see that God is reserving this right. For this reason, do not expect to fully comprehend the whole purpose for our trials until we enter into eternity. Unless God reveals, men will never fathom His thoughts. But there is one thing we can do which is sufficient for us, and that is, we can rest in the assurance that He loves us too much to harm us. If we think we know what is best for us, God knows better. He is more concerned and informed about our welfare than we are. Whatever the trial, we are in God’s sovereign care and control.

Because of His infinite knowledge and everlasting love, God’s choice for us will always be the best. God “works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph.1:11-12). This is such a marvelous thought! God does not just make good moves for us in the big events of life, but in “all things”! In everything, we know we have the best when we trust that God is in control. This may not be easy to do when trials come, but do not let Satan cast doubts in our minds when things like pain, poverty, disease and death, sorrow and suffering force a question on God’s goodness. Follow Abraham’s faith. When God threatened to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their immorality, Abraham exclaimed “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen.18:25). Indeed, shall He not?

All things work together for Good

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28)

Again, we read that “all things” (the good, the not so good, the bad, and the very bad) are good for us! We don’t know how, but God does it right all the time. Like Jesus said “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this”(Jn.13:7). Do you trust what Jesus said? We do, and we believe that in God’s own time He will show us how.

There is a catch in that promise in Rom. 8:28, though. Read it again, carefully. Do you see that this assuring promise was valid only to “those who love God”? Do not think that as long as God loves us, all will be well and ultimate good will come to us. It is never an issue of God’s love for us, but of our love towards Him. That’s why Paul declares, “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed”(1 Cor.16:22). We will not have the benefits of God’s blessings if we do not love Him. And in the absence of blessings, curses abound.

Who are those who love God? They are those who live in daily fellowship with Him, who walk with Him in trust and obedience. If you are doing all these, then you can be sure that in all things God is working for the good of you.

Paul’s case of the thorn in his flesh is a good illustration of this principle (2 Cor.12:7-10). Certainly, Paul loved God, yet equally as certainly, he had his fair share of trials and tribulations. That particular affliction caused by the thorn was something Paul had asked to be removed, and he asked God three times for it. God did not remove the thorn yet Paul did not despair but he made an enlightening assessment of the affliction: “lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure”. Notice that twice Paul said, “Lest I should be exalted above measure”. The trial was there for a purpose – to prevent pride. Of course, Paul could not see the complete good in his tribulation when he was on his knees begging God to take it from him. Even so, it was working for his good. We guess he did see it afterward, for he testified “ Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

Job, too, has confidence in God even in the midst of severe trial. For though he wavered for a moment, he eventually turned to God with even more certainty. Job started off by saying, “Look, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive them; When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him, when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him”(Job 23:8-9). That sounded disillusioning, but Job ended his story by testifying of God, “He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job.23:10). Job did not have the answer to his sufferings and God seemed far off at a time when he needed Him most. However, he realized that it was not so crucial for him to comprehend God’s mind in the work. So long as God knows, that’s enough for him. Job had faith that the goodness of God will turn his ashes into beauty. Do we?

Consider also the case of Joseph. His own brothers had conspired against him and sold him as slave to the Ishmaelite. Joseph was then taken into Egypt and later only after much trial and suffering was he elevated to the official position of governor in Egypt. Many years later, when Joseph was united with his brothers, he made a remarkable statement: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive”(Gen.50:20).

Yes, when God says all things, He means all things. Through the blending of the bitter and sweet elements of life, God brings forth a beautiful destiny, like how a refreshing drink like lemonade is made from combining sharpness and tastiness.

Suffering and sorrow, trials and troubles are not there to hinder our spiritual progress. Instead, God’s purpose is for them to serve His plans for us. They are part of the course in God’s school of Grace, given to us so that we might learn His ways. Lets learn from King David and declare with confidence “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statures”(Ps.119:71), so that we do not simply know about the truth in God’s Word but through experience, we come to be enlightened by it. The reality of the goodness and promises of God is something gained through experience by walking with the Lord and trusting Him along the way. Reading about it like this will not help if you do not live it out. We encourage you to trust God and watch patiently as He turns ashes into beauty for you.

Ultimate redemption Purpose

Finally, trials are there to fulfill God’s ultimate purpose of choosing and saving us, which is to conform us to the image of Christ. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Rom.8:29). We are called to represent Christ on this earth and bring glory to God in heaven, yet no one will ever be like Christ without afflictions similar to those He suffered. To be like Jesus means we must be prepared to follow Him in all things. That is why Paul said in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death”. In the epistle to the Hebrews we read concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, “Through the suffering of Jesus, God made Him a perfect leader, one fit to bring them into their salvation” (Heb.2:10 TLT).

Along the same line we are encouraged to “Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to Him, so that you don’t become weary and give up” (Heb.12:3 TLT). Let us never forget the sufferings of Christ, for they give us strength to persevere.

God speaks and works through Environment

God uses our surroundings to speak to us. Though not all circumstances are initiated by God, they are nonetheless approved by Him.

Let us allow circumstances to awaken us and enlighten us. We should never consider ourselves so spiritual that we rely only on our inner voice or dreams and visions to discern the will of God. Even Paul was no exception. After he received a divine revelation right from the third heaven, God used another environment to convey the same message to him and work in him – the thorn in the flesh (2 Cor.12:1-8). When the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, who would have thought that God would impart an important vision to him while he was there?

In the example of Genesis 34-35:2, Jacob was thinking of settling down peacefully in Shechem (he had even pitched a tent and bought the land – Gen.33:18-20). Soon after, his daughter was being humiliated and his son committed a gross crime. That was an awful thing that happened yet God allowed it and used it to convey a serious message to him.

When the awful event took place in Jacob’s dwelling, the foreign gods in his household were forced out. “And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us go to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God…”(Gen.35:2-3). Jacob was a godly man, who had several encounters with God. In Bethel he dreamt of angels ascending and descending from a ladder which reaches from heaven to earth (Gen.28:12). And also at Penuel, he wrestled with God and God blessed him and changed his name to Israel. However, that was not enough. God needed him to be pure. Without the adverse circumstances that he suffered, Jacob might never have driven out the idols in their midst. He could simply have passed his remaining days in peace, and pay for it when he meets God face to face.

Like Jacob, most of us do not reveal the hidden idols of our lives until hard pressed by circumstances. Therefore, do not despise our surroundings, but let us be humble and teachable, so that God can strike down the idols in our hearts and eliminate all ill desires there.

Like Jacob, we all need to return to the consecrated condition at Bethel. In order to lead us there, God may need to use trials, pain, and suffering. But take heart. Do not cry over the ashes of your life, but look to God and wait as He turns them into beauty. Always remember His unfailing love and glorious power.

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