Refining in the Trials of Life

UnknownI’ve been under a bit of stress lately. It’s true. I hate to admit it. It’s as if The Refiner has put me in a melting pot and turned up the heat. I’m afraid there won’t be anything left of me once all the impurities have been skimmed away. I’m afraid my heart won’t be able to take it. I’m afraid the fire could burn me alive.

I had a dream the other night. I don’t dream often, but when I do it’s usually significant. A man in my dream was actually begging God to give him a trial. He was telling God to “Bring it on. I want a trial! I need a trial!” I woke up thinking, “What kind of fool is this? Who actually begs God for trials?”

Not me. I don’t like them. AT. ALL. And, yet, I know they’re necessary.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-3

Sigh.

Consider it joy? Part of me wants to say…I don’t think so. There’s nothing about what I’m going through or what I’m feeling that makes me want to jump up and down with joy. But the other part of me…the spiritual part of me…the part of me that longs to be a woman of godly character…the part of me that longs to be a woman of great faith….wants to say, Thank You, Jesus.

The truth is, sometimes I really do need a trial. Sometimes I really do need some time in the Refiner’s fire. Because sometimes I get comfortable. Sometimes I get stuck. Sometimes I get full of myself and that’s not always a pretty picture. Sometimes I need a new perspective. Sometimes I need a change of heart. Sometimes I need more Jesus.

Trials come in many shapes and sizes. They’re as different and unique and as individual as you and I. They’re a common experience for all of humanity. I’m almost certain not one person who reads this has  begged God for a trial. Trials are unwelcome. They’re unanticipated and often unexpected. I would no more ask God to send me a trial than I would ask Him to send me to the moon.

BUT….I have asked God to make me more like Jesus. I have asked Him to increase my faith. I have asked Him to remove ugly character traits that aren’t pleasing to Him. I wonder…maybe I’ve asked God for a trial without even knowing it.

The only joy I can find while going through a trial of life is knowing the good that will be produced in me as a result, knowing a purifying quality will take up residence in me. And I can certainly use more perseverance! Who doesn’t want to possess hope in the midst of uncertainty? Peace in the midst of affliction? Power in the midst of temptation? God is the only One who can produce this kind of steadfastness in me. He knows what I need. He knows when I need a trial. Or two.

I want to see trials through the eyes of my Refiner. I want to outlive the pot and survive the heat. I want to know that when the impurities have been skimmed away there I’ll be… a better me. There my heart will be… a purer me. There my life will be…a happier me.

“(This third) I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on My Name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people’, and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’ ” Zechariah 13:9

I don’t think I’ll ever pray for trials to come to me as long as I live, but when they do come–and they will–I’ll trust The Refiner to bring me through the fire because He knows just how much heat I can take. So in the words of Job, the great patriarch of old, I will say, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

       

Thus-Far-God

images-1“I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

Maybe this is why I love the mountains so. My eyes are naturally turned heavenward, where God is seated on His throne, high and lifted up, in all His majesty and splendor, His eyes forever on me…His beloved child. My Helper.

I love that mountains are rock-solid. A reminder that God is unchanging.

“…Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, ‘The Lord has helped us to this point (thus far).’ ” 1 Samuel 7:12

I love how the Patriarchs of the Old Testament set up memorial stones or altars to remember God’s love and faithfulness; protection and provision. I love that the Ebenezer stone was set upright, it’s jagged end pointed to the sky. The eyes were forced to look up. The heart was forced to remember.

Thus far, God has helped me.

I love it (Yes, I love so many things about God!!) that God is a “thus-far-God.” And if God has helped me this far, I can trust Him to help me all the forever days He gives me on this earth. My Mountain of Help. My Maker, the Keeper and Sustainer of my heart…I think I want to raise an Ebenezer stone of my own.

I was created for a life that moves up the mountain…always striving, always persevering, always moving upward…upward…upward.

Sometimes the way is steep and rocky. I have to climb carefully.

Sometimes the way is halted by a chasm. I have to take another route.

Sometimes the way is weary. I have to rest in the cleft of the rock.

Sometimes the way is blinded by clouds. I have to walk by faith.

No journey is too hard for the One who helps me. No rock too jagged. No chasm too wide. No hill too steep. No cloud too thick.

No. Mountain. Too. High.

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise;

Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above;

Praise the Mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.” (Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing by Robert Robinson, 1735-1790)

Raising my eyes to the hills…remembering…thus far God has helped me…my Mount of redeeming love.

When My Downcast Soul Needs Rest

UnknownDo you ever have days when you struggle with the blues? When your soul is downcast and your spirit troubled?

Yeah…..me, too.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:5, 11

OK. I admit it. I talk to myself. I don’t think I’m crazy, but what do I know? Some people may think I am, especially when I’m walking the dog and talking out loud to God. Come to think of it, I do get some funny looks, but sometimes I find it helpful to give myself a good talkin’ to. To express myself out loud. To vent. To give God emotions that are unhealthy and toxic to my spirit.

When I’m troubled, I ask myself questions. My drama-queen-self doesn’t speak so eloquently, though: Nina, what in the world is wrong with you? For cryin’ out loud…snap out of it! Why are you so troubled? What is really bothering you?………God, I don’t like feeling this way, but I know You’re with me and I know you won’t leave me in this miserable place. Speak peace over me.

We’re not alone in this struggle with our weak and imperfect little selves. Even King David–the great psalmist, the man after God’s own heart–had days like this. He struggled with the blues. Sometimes I even think he struggled with the mean reds.

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and breakers have swept over me.” v. 7

If you’ve never seen Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s then you may not know about the mean reds. When they reared their ugly heads, they had the potential to destroy Holly Golightly’s ability to hold herself together, to keep her fragile heart from being ripped apart by the pain of abandonment and betrayal. Holly wasn’t interested in love. So she thought. She was interested in wealth because it offered her the security she’d never known. She was convinced money would solve all her problems and a rich husband would make her life perfect.

Whenever the mean reds attacked, Holly hailed a cab and fled to Tiffany’s, the famous jewelry store on Fifth Avenue in New York, where she found solace in diamonds and precious jewels. Tiffany’s was a symbol of Holly’s dream that money would buy her happiness, so she comforted herself in the lap of luxury. She felt safer in a jewelry store than in the comfort of her tiny, sparsely furnished apartment. Tiffany’s was her substitute for love.

As any good love story, this movie has a happy ending. Holly finally surrendered her heart to a man who gave her the love she’d never known she needed, the comfort that Tiffany’s in all it’s earthly glory couldn’t give her.

“By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.” v. 8

We can search the world over, but we’ll never find satisfaction or contentment in anything or anyone but God alone. We can hail a cab, we can flee, we can lose ourselves in our own personal “Tiffany’s”, but our troubled spirits will never find rest. Not the kind of rest we find in the lap of the one true God whose love guides by day and whose song serenades by night.

When the mean reds threaten to sweep over me and swallow me in angry waves I may talk to myself every now and then, but the real comfort comes when I talk to God. When I pray. He’s my lamp in the darkness, the light on my path, and the beacon of hope in troubled waters. When the clouds of darkness roll in and the waves pound upon the fragile walls of my heart, I go to the Rock, the Anchor for my soul. My only hope of finding rest.

“My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Fortress. I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1

Take heart, my downcast soul, my troubled spirit…the God of love will give you rest.

I. will. not. be. shaken….