Adversity Lesson 1: God comes to change us not only console us

“Dear Matt, what I am about to tell you I say with a very heavy heart. I met someone else when I returned home last month, and he recently proposed to me. It was not planned–it took me by surprise. I know it might sound crazy, but I felt peace about it. I am now engaged to be married to him in three months time. Please know everything we shared together was genuine and from the heart. I am so sorry.”

I will probably never forget those words. They became seared into my heart as if they were put there by a branding iron.

It has now been a month and a half since the woman I thought for sure I was going to marry this year turned my world upside down and emptied my heart on the floor. Her news was a total, unexpected shock to my soul. I was left completely undone, devastated and shattered. Depression and nausea enveloped my soul in thick darkness as I saw my hopes and dreams of the future vanish before my eyes. Truly, as the proverb declares, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Pr. 13:12).

I have been through difficult breakups before and buried a best friend not too long ago, but the intensity of loss, the sting of rejection and the inexplicable, sudden reversal of her heart was of such a nature that it sent me into a tailspin of emotions and confusion to a degree never before experienced.

I was too broken, frail and tortured within to be angry or embittered at God. I ran into His arms for my very survival. Even now my day must start with the Lord as a source of strength, perspective, trust and surrender. It is not easy to surrender all, but I believe reaching that level of desperation and surrender incorporates two essential truths:

1) It is the only way through the shadowy valley of death, loss and disappointment.

2) It is the only means by which the valley can become a rich and fruitful experience as we deny ourselves and become more conformed to the image and character of Christ.

The beloved song we often sing in our churches does not say, “I surrender some.” Nor does it say, “I surrender most.” No, it says, “I surrender allall to you I give.” If the analogy can be followed I feel as if the past few weeks have upgraded my hunger for the Lord and my worship of the Lord from the obsolete “spiritual software” of an iPhone 1 to an iPhone 4 (not yet a 6–always room for improvement). As I have laid before the Lord my entire life, hopes, dreams and perceived “rights” to marriage, sex and intimate companionship, I feel as if there is an excavation of sorts occurring in the deepest chambers of my heart. I know I am being changed, I know that sin is being dredged out of me, and I know that Christ is being formed within me as I cling to Him through this crucible of disappointment and discipline.

That being said, there have been some days when all I can give to the Lord is my tears–and I have learned to be ok with that. As the Psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name (Ps. 103:1). Sometimes all we have within ourselves are tears–and so if nothing else we can learn to give God our tears as a sacrifice of praise.

I typically blog about theology, culture and apologetics, but I would like to take a short break from that and over the next 3 posts personally share some of the lessons the Lord has graciously deposited within me over the past one and a half months. I would like to begin with a poem I memorized years ago when I was going through an earlier, dark night of the soul.

I walked a mile with Laughter;
She chatted all the way;
But I was none the wise wiser,
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.” –Robert Hamilton

Lesson #1: God is zealous about changing us not just consoling us.

Since this season of brokenness has begun, one of the most pivotal encounters I have had with God’s word has been the story of how Jesus did not congratulate, console or even comfort Peter after he took 3 or 4 steps and then sank beneath the waves. Though He reached forth and saved Peter from drowning, Jesus also rebuked Peter for not having sufficient trust to walk on the water! This was revolutionary to me. I first became aware of this perspective on day three as I was crying out to God on my knees amidst a puddle of pain and perplexity. I picked up a book written by Francis Frangipane called The Shelter of the Most High and I began to read the following excerpt:

“It is one thing to trust Christ to calm the storm around us; it is another matter to leave our security and venture out with Him on the water! This very setting of raging wind and sea is the classroom that the Son of God seeks to perfect His disciples’ faith.

Let us affirm the Father’s highest purpose for us: Jesus did not come simply to console us but to perfect us! This is exactly where He will take us once we are willing… We should repent of carrying the image of a Savior who fails to confront our sin or challenge our unbelief, for such is a false image of God. If we are to genuinely know Him, we must accept this truth: Jesus is irrevocably committed to our complete transformation!

Of all the disciples, Peter alone responds to the occasion with vision and faith… Peter did not rest his weight on the water; he stood on Christ’s word: “Come!” Peter trusted that if Jesus told him to do the impossible—even to walk on the water— the powers to obey would be inherent within the command.

Moments later Peter’s faith faltered. He began to sink. But there is something extraordinary to be seen in Christ’s response—a view into Christ’s actual nature and His ultimate purpose. Jesus did not commend or congratulate Peter. He rebuked him! We would have expected praise and encouragement, but none came.

Was Jesus angry? No. The truth is, Jesus Christ is relentlessly given to our perfection. He knows that wherever we settle spiritually will be far short of His provision. He also knows that the more we are transformed into His image, the less vulnerable we are to the evils of this world. Thus He compels us toward difficulties, for they compel us toward God, and God compels us toward change. And it is the transformed heart that finds the shelter of the Most High.” [1]

Frangipane’s insight into Christ’s rebuke of Peter helped to snap me to attention early on before self-pity enveloped my soul. It was really a slap in the face and made me realize that self-pity and unbelief would be my greatest enemies to progressing forward as God intended. We often doubt our beliefs but sometimes we need to doubt our unbelief! As I put the book down I immediately felt captured by the conviction that God not only wanted to comfort and console me— but also change me into His image!

I knew God was giving me a desperately needed starting place— a point of reference to help me navigate my way out of the swirling pit of confusing emotions that would visit my soul in the weeks ahead. As I personally absorbed the rebuke the Lord gave to Peter, I sensed God setting me straight in my attitude as to what would be an acceptable form of grief in His eyes and what would not. The following message is what the Holy Spirit dropped into my heart like a weighted stone:

“Matt, this is how this is going to go down. Certain attitudes are unacceptable to Me if we are going to graduate you to a higher place of trust. I don’t want to just comfort you in your distress, or console you in your grief like I did your past heartbreaks. I don’t measure growth in years, height or age—I measure it trust and Christlikeness. I want you to grow in trust. I want you to reflect My image. I want you to fix your eyes on Me. I want change. I don’t want to just come to you as a Comforter, I also want to come to you as One walking on the water who commands you to do the same through keeping your eyes fixed upon Me and not doubting that I am greater than any storm.

I am zealous for you to become more conformed into My image. I am zealous for your faith and trust to graduate to a higher place. Therefore I will rebuke you if you fail this test and do not learn how to keep your eyes fixed upon Me in the midst of the raging sea and the strong wind blowing against you. I want you to walk on the water of distrust, fear, anxiety, rejection, sorrow, disappointment and grief by learning how to let your weight rest upon my command “Do not be afraid. It is I. Come to Me.”

Many years ago I declared to all wanted to follow me, ‘You will go through tribulation in this world, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ Your challenge is to not give in to despair, hopelessness, anger, accusation, or distrust. You must believe I am greater than your current confusion, distress and trouble. You must trust that my way is perfect and my word is pure and I alone know how to exploit every distress and manage every trial to redeem it for good—just walk towards Me and let the strong winds blow by. 

Surrender your hurt and pain. Cast your cares of worry and anxiety over your own life and that of Sarah upon Me. Learn of Me. Be yoked to Me through this and know I am not giving you the burden of protecting, providing, or caring for Sarah at this time, so you must surrender her to my faithful love and not take upon yourself that burden or suffer from that regret. I know what is best. I know how to achieve what is best. Trust Me.”

[1] Francis Frangipane, The Shelter of the Most High, Charisma House, 2008. p 62-63

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About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I am unmarried yet blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an even more broken and apathetic church.
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3 Responses to Adversity Lesson 1: God comes to change us not only console us

  1. cjsorelle says:

    Great post! One thing I’ve learned about God is that he is zealous to be our everything. We cling to tangible, human relationships, but God meets our deepest need in ways that no human can. There is nothing like knowing Christ and being one with Him. Nothing fulfills us or meets our needs like Him. He is the complete fulfillment of everything our heart desires. I came to Christ realizing this, then attempting to add to his work through human relationships, and God continued to bring me back to Him. He is enough and more.
    Thank you for your heartfelt post. It was a blessing to me and a great reminder of the complete sufficiency of Christ to meet my every need.

  2. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | This Week in Arminianism

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