God’s Faithful Affliction

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God has a faithful, painful, plan to make you into something you are not yet; into who He has created you to fully be, into a reflection of His perfect Son. Like an artist looks at his raw material, in God’s mind he envisions a finished product even if right now you’re not yet there. The areas of your life that will need a bit of pruning to get there He carves away to make you just a bit more like Him. That’s sanctification. His testimony will become your testimony. In the end He will not stop short of presenting you pure and blameless in His glory.

Lately my artistic expression has been carving linoleum blocks; also called block-printing or lino-cutting. When I have an idea for a block-print I start with a “canvas” of clean, malleable, linoleum. I draw out the image I have in mind and begin to carve away at the negative space in my picture. I have a different set of blades for each desired cut. The broad, wide, scoop for large spaces. The narrow, fine, blade for detailed lines. In the end, my block displays for the page what my mind displayed for the block. While cutting away at the material I inflict pain to the linoleum (so to speak). But this cutting away isn’t destructive; it’s actually creative, even constructive, because my desired outcome will be more beautiful. My product will bear the signature of my design as our life and testimony are shaped to reflect that of God.

Psalm 119 says,

“Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.” -v.24

And,

“I will also speak of your testimonies before kings
and shall not be put to shame,” -v.46

And,

“Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies.” -v.79

See how the writer is shaped (counseled) by God’s testimonies and then echoes God’s testimonies as they become the very message of his life. God’s testimonies are greater than our experiences, more real than our revelations, and more true than our perceptions. They shape us and counsel us as we delight in the Creator’s plan. The writer says he delights but also realizes the costly process as God seems to carve away at our very flesh with the blades of affliction.

Psalm 119 also says,

“This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life.” -v.50

And,

“I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” -v.75

And,

“It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” -vv.71–72

God comforts in affliction. God is faithful in affliction. God is good in affliction. His blade is carefully guided by faithful hands and the outcome is more valuable than gold and silver. What is God cutting out, cutting away, carving, or refining in your life right now? The pain is real today but one day I’m convinced we’ll look at the cutting room floor and glory in the final product of His faithful design.

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PS. This is my latest block-print illustrating a poem written beautifully by my friend and colleague Ryan Bussiere. Check out his poem here: A Lantern’s Wish

The struggle is real, part 1

2 chronicles 20:2-3

“Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘a great multitude is coming against you…’” 

“Then Jehoshaphat was afraid…”

Do you ever try to not be afraid because you think it’s wrong? Like, our faith should instinctively and instantly dismiss our fears because, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”…? Sometimes, however, there are real, legitimate, plausible, imminent threats that do cause fear, and it is not wrong. This is when the struggle is REAL. How do we handle trials and challenges which crush us to the end of our rope, when circumstances are beyond our means or control? We learn so much on this from King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:1-23

The chapter starts out with some military intelligence reporting to the king that three nations were teaming up and on their way to attack, kill, and destroy the nation of Judah, their cities, and families. Jehoshaphat (I’ll call him Jo) was matter-of-factly right to be afraid in this REAL moment. However, it’s what Jo does with his fear that is our key to real victory amidst real struggle. 2 Chron. 20:3 says, “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid AND set his face to seek the Lord,” What do you do when you’re afraid? Is it more like, “Jo was afraid and consulted his master plan?” “Jo was afraid and threw his arms up in defeat?” “Jo was afraid and worked really hard to fix the situation?” No! The first thing Jo turned to was God, the God who had always been there for him and who never gave him a reason not to be trusted. Jo (along with the whole nation) specifically turned to God with prayer and fasting. 

Jo prayed. Jo’s prayer is packed with truths about God’s character that I think we can apply even to the struggles we face today. Jo’s prayer begins by praising God’s sovereignty at every level of need:

  1. “Oh Lord…are you not God in heaven?”
  2. “You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.”
  3. “In your hand are power and might,”

What are you struggling with? What is the imminent threat? God is sovereign over every trial, threat, or disease:

  1. Oh Lord, are you not God in heaven?
  2. You rule over all the doctors and hospitals
  3. Even the cells of my body are not outside of your control

Try it yourself by filling in the blanks with your own need; surrendering your burden to God knowing that He is in control at every level.

  1. Oh Lord, are you not God in heaven?
  2. You rule over [A, B and C].
  3. Even [X, Y and Z] are in your hands.

The second part of Jo’s prayer in 20:7-12 gives great hope in the midst of the clouds of fear when you can’t see where you are, where you’re going, or what’s going to happen. First, Jo looks back, “God, you brought us here, you’ve provided our safety before, you’ve never given us a reason to doubt you.” Second, Jo looks forward as he leans on God’s promises. “You told us that if we ever came across war, famine, etc, and we called out to you, you would hear us and save us. Well, now these people are coming for us and we are calling out to you.” Finally, Jo concludes, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” This is the mantra of one who reaches the end of himself and finds his only hope in God! Make that your mantra! 

God answers. The Holy Spirit took a hold of Jahaziel in 20:14 and declared to everyone, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them.” God declares his victory right here and it is AS GOOD AS DONE. But, even as God declares the victory He doesn’t just call the people to sit and wait passively. Instead, He still calls them to go out actively against the threat.

They go. They go worshipping and believing. After God answers, Jo leads the people to respond to their salvation (v. 17, “see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf”). Jo and his people bowed their faces to the ground and worshipped and the next day appointed a choir to go ahead of the troops singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 

God rescues. “…when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men who had come up against Judah…” 
What’s your go-to song when you don’t even have the words to cry out to God?

Whatever threat you are up against, consider these questions.

  • In your fear, have you turned to the Lord? Or are you still trying to muster your own strength and devise your own strategy?
  • In turning to God, have you been in prayer and fasting?
  • In your prayer, can you look back and see God’s provision in the past; thanking Him?
  • Can you look forward and see God’s promises; trusting Him?
  • In hearing from God, do you sit passively or do you believe he goes with you against the threat? (V. 17, “Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”)
  • As you go with God, are you sulking and wringing your hands or are you worshipping and praising?
  • In your praise, have you started singing yet? It’s when they began to sing that the Lord began to work…

Finally, king Jo proclaims a truth for us all as we march on, “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”

There are many challenges and trials we face today but our greatest personal threat is probably not war. The Lord to whom Jo prescribes his people to believe in -the “salvation on your behalf” – would come again one day as God-incarnate, a king named Jesus, from Judah, to destroy our real greatest imminent threat once-and-for-all. Our biggest threat is the coming of God’s wrath toward sin and the war-like uprising residing in our own hearts and bodies. Jesus Himself says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16