Christian living

My Times Are in Thy Hand

It’s been a weird year.

Gosh, I think I say that every year. I’m beginning to realize that life is a series of events meant to challenge and stretch you more than you ever thought possible. If you’re a Christian, we’d call that sanctification.

It’s funny how that word comes up so often for me now, when I once barely understood what it meant. Somewhere, in one of my journals filled with sermon notes, is a message on sanctification. The simple definition was = set apart for God’s service. Throwing away CDs, becoming more faithful to church, reading your Bible more, looking less like the world and more like old time religion.

Check. Check. Check! I’m good!

Truly, sanctification is not a checklist, but an ongoing work in the heart of the believer by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Until I reach glory, the journey of sanctification and holiness continues on through my life. Life is less about what is happening to me and more about what God is doing in my heart through it.

I don’t know about y’all, but that’s a lot more painful and ugly than a checklist.

So, I started this post off bemoaning that this has been a weird year. In the grand scheme of what God has been doing in my life even long before I knew Him, it’s been exactly right. He has me right where he wants me.

In the past, I’ve often lived in a state of discontentment wondering what God has in the future. Many of us do that, right? We wonder what job God has for us, how He wants us to serve, what great and mighty mission He has us on. I remember my eyes filling with tears as I’d hear the testimonies of missionaries on deputation and think, “Oh that God would use me like THAT!”

However, as I said, He has me right where He wants me today. Faithful and obedient in where He has planted me. I’m a wife, a mom, a homeschool teacher, a daughter, and a Christian in my local church and community. No different than if I were a nurse on the front lines or a missionary in Africa; I’m doing His work because He has me here.

We rarely hear about faithfulness in the seemingly “mundane and ordinary.

Sitting right here is hard when sanctification is in progress. I think it’s easy to ignore the work that needs to be done when our heads are in the clouds, looking toward the future with the spiritual excuse that we are pursuing God’s will. We’ve been trained with worldly philosophy that something is around the corner, a breakthrough is coming, and a pot is at the end of the rainbow.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m wrong about a whole lot. There have been many times where I was convinced something was God’s will. Did He forget the plan? Did Satan thwart His plans? Did so and so ruin everything for me? Have I totally messed everything up?

Nope. I’m exactly where He wants me.

Sitting with that is hard. Again, it’s more fun to fantasize about the future. But working faithfully where I am and allowing the Lord to change, purify, and sanctify me through it? That is hard stuff. However, His grace is enough even through the hard seasons. And there is an odd joy and strength that flows beneath the difficulty, a peace that passes all understanding.

I recently watched a documentary on the life of Corrie Ten Boom, a woman who was imprisoned during the Holocaust for hiding Jews in her family home. If you’re a Christian, you’re probably at least slightly familiar with her story. One thing that struck me about her story was her determination to be faithful even in the harshest of prison environments. The conditions were so filthy that the guards wouldn’t even open the doors for fear of catching lice from the inmates. The cruelty was even more harsh. However, she and her sister continued to faithfully share and proclaim the gospel with their fellow inmates; even seeing some converted.

She said she clung to Psalm 31:15, “My times are in thy hand:” as she trusted God to deliver her and bring her through as according to His will. I’m sure she felt immense grief as life as she knew it was over. Did she ever wonder what in the world God was doing as she suffered? Perhaps. But her rest was not found in her circumstances, but in the One who was sovereign over all of it. I cannot begin to fathom such peace, yet the Lord sustained her with His love.

As the pastor at church put it last Sunday, we cannot look to our tangible circumstances to determine whether God loves us. We look to the cross to see that He does love us and He is good. I believe Corrie clung to that very truth, considering her Savior as she suffered her harsh reality.

No, I’m not in a prison. I’m living in a nice home with modern conveniences, in a free country where I haven’t experienced persecution for my faith (yet). However, we can find incredible encouragement from stories like these, especially when we feel like perhaps God has dropped the pen in the writing of our story. Life seems to have so many twists and turns that we might lament like Solomon, “All is vanity!”

What’s. The. Point?

We can realize it’s not our story at all, but His story for His glory. And our times are in His hand. Our sovereign Lord is working all things for our good and His glory.

And if you’re like me, maybe this feels like a slightly trite response to our fear and worry. “God is in control,” doesn’t always feel like much help when I want is solutions and maybe even a little bit of my own control.

This is where we can find ourselves in the second place, perhaps where God knew we would wind up all along. We come to end of our proverbial self righteous and independent rope as we cry the same of that father with the demon possessed son, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

Rest assured, the author and finisher of our faith has a purpose for those glaring questions and our shaky faith too. Each weird year, each trial, each foggy circumstance is part of His plan to sanctify us and glorify Him. Our feeble feet will learn more and more that we can stand on Him.

This began as just a Saturday morning rant, but maybe I just needed to hash these things out to encourage myself. Perhaps these thoughts will encourage you as well.

Bible Study · Writing

Sanctifying Job

I’m finished with Job — and my heart is troubled. This book has is so much more than I had understood in the past. This is something I had not expected: his self righteous cries are all too familiar to me.

We love to talk about the bad theology of his friends and truly, they’re lacking in some areas. But while his refusal to accept their reasoning is correct, he is still prideful in his assertion that he is completely innocent. He is prideful in his reminiscence of the good old days when people rose up to meet him and he was well respected. He is looking to his own righteousness and approval of men, rather than looking to his Redeemer.

He is screaming at God, “I don’t deserve any of this. I am innocent! Look at how I’ve fed the poor, how honest I’ve been, how upright I’ve been. How dare you!”

You can’t tell me you’ve never had the thought when suffering came.

The book of Job is not a prescriptive story of how to handle suffering. Chapter one is often preached that way, but to remain there loses so much. To remain in chapter one is preaching a message of self righteousness. (Sorry to all of you southern gospel song writers.)

Even to simply add his foolish friends to the mix still loses the entire picture.

This story is not about a righteous man defeating all odds and pushing through hard times. This is the story of an all Sovereign God who is in control, who brings us to our knees in fear and trembling to further purify and sanctify us. Job is descriptive – a man who is Godly, who is upright, but still has self righteousness and pride that needs to be pruned away.

I agree with John Piper here, “The pain he causes is like the surgeon’s knife, not like the executioner’s whip.” For the saved, the punishment we deserve was endured on the cross of Christ. But that doesn’t mean God will not use pain and suffering as a means to remove the dross from our lives.

I can’t say I fully understand this. And in my finite mind, I don’t come to a completely restful conclusion with this. There is a bit of tension, because I don’t completely understand why God does what He does. And like Job, I have certainly responded in pride with how I don’t deserve this.

I may begin with the words of his friends, searching myself for some evil in my past. And then I might flip the script to how I simply don’t deserve this.

Job is brought to repentance in Chapter 42. Following the speech of Elihu and God’s correction, he kneels in repentance to a Holy God whose wisdom and knowledge is far higher than our own. He submits in spite of the tension of not having all of the answers.

“Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.””
‭‭Job‬ ‭42:1-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

God is God. And Job is all of us.

As I wrestled through these thoughts this morning, Psalm 73 came to mind. I read it with a bit more clarity, though it has always been one of my favorites. After finally reading through Job in its’ entirety, I suppose I’ll never read this Psalm the same way.

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭73:1-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Bible Study · Writing

Facing Job

I’ve always avoided the book of Job, because it terrified me. After being raised in the hyper dispensational “Left Behind” era, you’d think it was Revelation. However, it’s been Job for me.

The few sermons I heard out of Job was enough for me to shudder in fear over God’s sovereignty even in our suffering. As a mom with four kids and one in Heaven, I’ve never really wanted to visit that.

My Bible reading challenge has me going through Job right now, so I decided to face the beast. I’m only on chapter 14 … and yes, it’s rough.

It’s more fun to read about wars, dysfunctional families, or scandalous kings. But this just feels more personal because of the way my heart crashed into my stomach at the description of Job’s trial.

I’m trying not to skip ahead, although I certainly want to see Job’s resolve after many chapters of wrestling and enduring bad theology from friends. It is really hard, because so much of it is what I’ve heard before.

Sadly, even the bad counsel dished out by Job’s friends has rolled from my lips before.

Either way, my observation of these guys thus far feels like a bad counseling session with a pastor who has really poor theology. Or perhaps they echo a sermon where a lot of half truths are spouted out – they sound good, but they aren’t necessarily true.

It is an emotional rollercoaster to read Job’s prayers and see his friends’ presumptuous responses. Some of what they say isn’t wrong, but their application on Job’s particular situation is poor.

I believe that’s what bothers me about their responses. You can read bits of truth and almost feel manipulated by them.

I’m only on chapter 14. And I’m really only getting the thousand foot view as I’m simply reading, not necessarily digging in yet. (I’ve not avoided any other book – other than maybe Leviticus – like I have Job.) This sermon from John Piper has helped me as I read along.

But this is where my head is at with it right now. Job is suffering immense pain and grief beyond what I could ever imagine. He curses the day he was born. He thinks death might be a valid escape from this misery.

And his friends think God is merely reacting to some hidden sin that must be confessed. His friends see God unveiling the hidden treasures of prosperity and gain if only he would confess and cleanse himself from wickedness. They seem to have a lot of quick, pre-loaded answers, but none seem to truly suffice.

Isn’t that the experience we often have with suffering? Everybody and their mama comes along with some kind of answer for it. It’s how we make sense of nonsensical things. And I don’t think it is always malicious — many times we do want to ease our loved ones’ suffering.

But what gives me hope about ol Job is he just keeps running back to God. He keeps boldly approaching the throne of Grace – begging for relief, begging for mercy, and ultimately pouring his heart out.

His friends crush him with the unbearable weight of judgement and condemnation. It is palpable even from the pages of scripture. Rather than succumbing to this crushing boulder, he continues to pursue his God.

How lonely in the human aspect.

How lovely in the spiritual, knowing we can fall at the feet of our Savior and pour our hearts out even with the ugliest and messiest of prayers.