Recently I have been driven into Scripture, into prayer, and the contemplation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a disciple of the living God. In times of joy, peace, and prosperity there is an abundance, an overflowing of the tangible goodness of our heavenly Father. However, in times of difficulties, when trials of every kind and nature abound, it is hard to lay hold of the purposes and plans of God. We are often caught between a physical and spiritual reality; the truth we know and that which we experience. Human nature leads us to believe there is a rift between who God is and what we experience. Yet as people of faith we know nothing changes the truth and nature of God.
The goodness of God is not dictated by current events or momentary trials. We know this, yet when the unexpected happens, when our plans are challenged, and life heads in a new direction we often question in our search for understanding. This is not limited to our lives alone but as we seek to live in community and minister alongside others, their trials have a profound effect on us and ours on them. We learn and see the true nature of God as we observe Him working in the lives of those around us and the trials they face. Often their trials send us in search of a greater understanding of the nature and working of God.
I found myself in one of these places the other day as I opened the Scripture. There have been plenty of events in our lives, the lives of family, and the lives of those around us in recent months to drive us closer to God and cause us to ask hard questions. Current events have sent me to Scripture to see if I could understand why such trials happened in the lives of those who desire nothing more than to serve God and minister to His people. I went in search of words of wisdom and ways in which I could be an encouragement and what I found was a reminder of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. James says, “Consider it all joy, my brothren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jame 1:2-4) Not necessarily words of encouragement, or words those facing trials desire to hear, yet words of truth nonetheless.
As I continued to search Scripture I was reminded of one of the main threads within our relationship with Christ, if not the metanarrative of the relationship. Christ desires to be our sole sustainer. This can be seen in John 6 as Jesus compares Himself to the manna of the Old Testament, telling those around Him “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh…For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him. as the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (v.51;55-58) Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” and Hebrews 1:3 says He “upholds all things by things by the word of His power”.
Sitting within the truth of Jesus our Sustainer and His desire for us to “count all things to be loss” in comparison to Him, my mind was directed to familiar scriptures such as Luke 9:58-62 and Luke 14:26,33. I was struck by the nature of these passages as Christ directed His disciples to place all things below Him. He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me…The foxes have holes an the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:23,58) Here He challenges the notion and security of home. Later in chapter 14 he challenges the idea of relationship that one may put before Him saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple”. He does not say this to inspire malice towards family but to emphasize one’s dependence on Him over all other relationships.
The more I searched Scripture the more I realized God was calling us to give up all hope, comfort, and security in things other than Him. He desires our dependence on Him and nothing else. In Luke 18 he called the rich young ruler to give up all is positions to follow Him. In Matthew 4 He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John away from their occupations, their homes, and their families. Later we see Jesus call Matthew away from wealth and position in chapter 9 and in the first chapter of John we see the calling of Philip and Nathanael. Often in Scripture we see those who desire to follow Christ falter as they first seek to secure other things. Some look to inheritances others to family and friends, but to all Christ says “look to Me first”. Our dependence Christ alone does not mean a lack of care for others or an indifference towards certain situation. But it does mean that our hope, comfort, and security rest in Him alone.
As I look at the trials and testing that we face I see a pattern of dependence. Often the areas we are tested in or the areas the enemy brings before us, are the areas in which our hope and security rest. Sometimes it is in the loss of a job, a marriage, the health and suffering of children, or the care and love of parents and family. It can be the leaving of a home, a city, a country, or allowing those we love to leave. But Christ calls us to rest in Him, to be dependent on Him alone, and to seek our hope, security, and happiness in Him and not other things or people. These are things we know as believers, things we hold to be truth, but often in times of trials they are hard to hold fast too. We cling to the burdens of other, taking upon ourselves the hopes of children and parents. God calls us to let go! To lay our burdens at His feet and cling to our hope in Christ.
I recognize that not all trials and suffering are derived from things of a spiritual nature. Some of our suffering and trails come from the choices we make, their affect being felt by us and by others, as well as some suffering being the choices of others felt by us. While not all suffering comes from a spiritual source it all can lead to an experience of spiritual significance. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all thing to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Not that all things are caused by God, or all things are good, but God can take all things in life, even those caused by human actions and turn them to His glory and the good of His people. So lay it all at His feet, trust in God, and allow Him to work everything around you.
1 Peter 1:6-9 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and through you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”