A true story was told concerning a bold venture to grow the strongest possible trees, which would then be made available for purchase. The saplings were planted inside a large, domed stadium to protect this young forest from inclement weather. In fact, these trees received every possible nourishment and protection, and after the proper lapse of time, the trees were made available for transplant.
As it turns out, this venture was an abject failure.
The trees proved to be as fragile as thin glass, with limbs breaking under the slightest pressure.
In trying to mitigate all risk, the aborists had noble intentions, but they failed to take into account the benefits of naturally occurring, contrasting winds. Strength and resilience developed only in presence of wind pressure. To remove external pressure removed internal strength.
Are we resisting God’s goodness?
All adversity involves real risk that it will not go well. But in that risk also lies the opportunity for previously unknown growth. Perhaps in seeking to build a dome and resist natural adversity, we also resist God’s goodness for our lives.
Through breeze and storm, we are storytellers in our own lives, narrating our experiences and coloring our tales with various emotional shades. Our inner voice interprets the trials of life to explain events that challenge us.
In this task we must prophecy over ourselves based on the wisdom of both nature and Scripture. We must whisper in our own ear,
The God who loves us is developing our strength. We will not be children made of glass timber, but will be mighty in the tempest. This adversity is my opportunity for unforeseen growth.
Will we take the opportunity to grow in faith?
When presented with the opportunity to grow in faith while traversing the desert, the Israelites failed. They complained of bitter hardships, despised the heavenly manna, and longed for “free” Egyptian food and meat. The people rejected the opportunity in their adversity, aborting their growth and resulting in a severe plague (Numbers 11). Not all challenges go well.
Much like the Israelites, complaining plagues us.
Perhaps you, like me, had never looked at the synonyms for complaining, but the words seem to be reproaches unto themselves:
Conceived in the mind and birthed with the mouth, these verbs are deadly.
The book of James compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship which steers its course; likewise, complaining steers the course of adversity away from its proper destination of God’s goodness and into the peril of plague. Looking in faith towards the goodness of God in the midst of adversity allows his providence to meet us in our desert of need.
What is the poison and the antidote?
In the case of adversity, verbs are both the poison and the antidote. The antidote to poisonous complaining is found in the antonyms of complaining: Appreciating, enjoying, and praising, which sounds remarkably like Psalms 100:4:
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”
Complaining kills, but praise prospers.
Once, when diligently pursuing God, I prayed that he would remove the scales from my eyes so that I could see him, and a still, quiet voice said,
“Thanksgiving removes the scales from your eyes so you can see God.”
Later that weekend at a women’s conference, the main speaker declared these very words from the stage.
Oftentimes in the midst of adversity we are in such turmoil and angst that God seems ever far away, not the God who is near. We can’t see God.
Thanksgiving not only reminds us of his goodness to know his nearness in our pain, but it is also a safeguard to protect our hearts from bitter despair.
Likewise, praise raises our eyes in hope, knowing that his goodness and power are abundantly sufficient for the trials we face.
More than that, praise sets the stage for miracles.
My favorite example of this principle is found in II Chronicles 20 which describes three vast armies that came to wage war against King Jehoshaphat. Alarmed, Jehoshaphat determined to inquire of the Lord, concluding in prayer,
“We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
The next day Jehoshaphat demonstrated his faith that the battle belonged to the Lord by sending out – not the cavalry – but praise teams to lead his army. From what happened next, it appears that their worship activated God’s saving might. Verse 22 states,
“As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.”
What might have happened if Jehoshaphat had met his time of adversity without inquiry, without faith, without song? Would the nation have forfeited God’s goodness that was waiting for them in song at that moment of trial?
Trees are the Answer.
Going back to our planters of domed trees, they would have benefited from the perspective of an eminent Indian scientist, Professor Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose. He had already concluded one hundred years earlier,
“A plant carefully protected under glass from outside shocks looks sleek and flourishing but its higher nervous function is then found to be atrophied… Is it not the shocks of adversity and not cotton wool protection that evolve true manhood?”
Perhaps with the protection of cotton wool removed, we develop full Christian maturity, i.e.
“We will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head” (Ephesians 4:15).
Thanksgiving circumvents adverse outcomes during this risky but necessary process, and praise ushers us into the King’s holy presence, the place where all power lies to overcome adversity.
My husband and I once saw a bumper sticker we never forgot: TREES ARE THE ANSWER. We weren’t sure what the question was, but now as we reflect on adversity, joy, and strength, we are ready to boldly proclaim,
I can’t control my mouth. I’m a cynic. I’m an addict. I’m a victim. I’m fearful. I can’t change.
These statements may echo our experiences, but if we allow our experiences and brokenness to define us, then we shut out the possibility that we can be restored to the glorious image of our Creator.
The First Step of Answering “Who Am I?”
“Who am I?” is the question that haunts us. This question will tease our minds until we first answer the question that Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” Only when we answer with Peter, “You are the Messiah,” meaning our savior and deliverer, will we be able to hear the Lord’s answer to our question, “Who am I?”
Our identity is like clay, molded by experiences, relationships, and our responses to them. This clay is vulnerable, especially in the impressionable young. Sometimes, unguarded clay can be malformed or disfigured when touched by the gnarled hands of traumatic experiences, abusive relationships, and inappropriate responses to them both.
Laura Perry’s Transgender Lifestyle
For example, First Stone Ministries recently published the compelling testimony of Laura Perry, who lived a transgender lifestyle for eight years. Laura grew up in the shadow of her hyper-stressed, “super-Christian” mother. Her mom communicated the message that Laura was a nuisance, while she doted on Laura’s more quiet, compliant brother. The intense jealously this bred, combined with being molested at age eight, and female problems in her teens, was enough that Laura threw her female identity into a deep cistern.
Laura began fantasizing about being a boy due to her intense hatred of her own gender. She began to seek out sexual experiences, became addicted to pornography, and pursued sexual encounters with strangers. A local transgender group then encouraged her to pursue her new identity, so she received heavy doses of hormonal therapy, a double mastectomy, and surgical remove of all female organs to fully become “Jake.” Laura’s name and body were changed, but her deep depression and dissatisfaction stayed the same. She recalled, “The outward cosmetic change had done nothing to ease my identity crisis.”
Transformations & Finding Their Identity
As Laura was transforming, her mother was undergoing a transformation of her own. Laura’s mom surrendered her self-righteousness for an enticing faith in Jesus. The two of them began to talk daily about a Bible study her mom was leading. Then Laura heard a radio broadcast discussing the rising transgender issue. She wished the host would return to more mundane topics, but instead the words spun her identity around like clay on the potter’s wheel. She was reeling.
Two questions came to her in a vision from Jesus:
“If you stood before me tonight, what name would I call?” and “Do you trust me?”
Taking Part in the Death & Resurrection
Laura affirmed her trust in Jesus by letting Jake die, a death that she mourned with deep, anguished sorrow. In the dark night of her soul, she wept with painful grief for three days. One can imagine Jesus with her in the tomb, waiting to guide the resurrection that was soon to come.
Leaving Jake’s clothes in the grave, Laura attended a women’s Bible study and encountered a love beyond anything she had experienced through a sexual partner. Life and freedom were her resurrection inheritance, and in the light of love, her true identity was revealed.
Finding Our True Identity
Instead of gender reassignment surgery, do we let the Word perform identity reassignment surgery? Do we have courage, like Laura, that allows the Lord to transform every aspect of who we think we are at the deepest level?
All too often, we identity with our sin and brokenness more than we identify with the image of God. We must look to YHWH, the great “I AM,” to confidently answer the question, “Who am I?”
Our true assignment is to reflect the image of God in Christ. Love calls us to identity with Him.
When my oldest child was eleven, we noticed she had developed a small cavity in a baby tooth, perhaps the result of a brief but thorough period of sugar banditry from the pantry. As this was a baby tooth and causing no discomfort, the dentist advised that we take no measures other than waiting for the loss of the tooth.
Over a year’s time, this small cavity became a cavernous hole, a shell of bone with a troublesome hollow inside that was prone to collect seeds and bits of every snack or meal. As a result my daughter began eating on only one side of her mouth for months on end, since that little tooth clung to her mouth like an unwelcome barnacle. The wayward tooth was finally lost after more than a year, and afterwards my daughter tentatively began to eat with the neglected side of her mouth.
Now, we do not tend to think of jaw muscles needing development like the focused effort required in the development of six pack abs, but my daughter found that it was difficult to chew, and her jaw muscles hurt because the muscles had atrophied through disuse.
Parenting and life provide ample metaphors for training the soul.
I considered my daughter’s difficulty, need, and pain in the light of how we might respond in other situations. We might petition in prayer, “Lord, please strengthen her jaw and remove her pain according to your goodness and mercy.”
Or perhaps we might apply oil to her jaw and pray for healing in Jesus’s holy name. Could we find scriptures related to strength and healing and say these over her? Yes, we could perform all these worthy actions, and they would not be wrong, but the Lord had already provided all that was needed.
For her jaw to become strong and without pain, she must stop eating on only one side of her mouth, depending on her own limited strength. Instead, she must follow God’s plan for personal responsibility and development by exercising the other side. In this action, the object of her faith would be realized.
Faith without Works
Faith without works is dead. One could say my daughter’s willingness to chew food with a weakened side of her mouth demonstrated her faith that her jaw would be whole again.
Or, she could continue to do what was easy, refuse to develop and strengthen God’s provision, and then blame God for not answering prayer, or perhaps simply decide that a strong jaw was not His will.
In actuality, though, our action is required to release the potential of what God has already generously given.
Miracles still happen, though oftentimes there is a preparation time that makes way for miracles (Prepare the way for the Lord). However, God’s usual way of provision is through natural means that must go through a period of growth and development. It is as if the Lord has given us seeds, and we look at the package in puzzlement, wondering why God did not answer our prayers for vegetables.
Everything develops naturally at its own pace, in its own time, if given the right variables for growth. From muscles and teeth, to character traits and talents, these gifts are realized with use.
We also glory in tribulations,knowing that tribulation producesperseverance;and perseverance,character; and character, hope.Now hope does not disappoint,because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Pain is the high price of wisdom, but even after purchase, we can accidentally leave it on the shelf. Sometimes pain is paid in installments that seem to stretch endlessly at regular intervals over decades, with no maturity date. At some point, though, we may return to the point of sale to redeem what has been bought, but with additional interest, paid in sorrow.
My parents have been married a full fifty-five years, and from the beginning my mom always described her relationship with my dad as fitting together like a hand in glove. Well, that’s not the type of relationship I have. While my husband asked for my hand in marriage—that’s as far as that metaphor goes. A culinary metaphor is more apt—like oil and vinegar, tangy and sharp, coming together temporarily for a splash of interesting and complex flavors, but soon separating into entities that will never mix.
Opposites attract, as the saying goes. Opposites may indeed attract, but it is no sure sign of compatibility, and when two such people come together in marriage, it may be a covenant of pain. Sometimes there is a vain comfort in feeling one’s sorrows are uncommon and unique, such as the tortured artist cutting off his ear, but leaving a legacy of genius. I have been tempted to think the obstacles in our marriage are more formidable than that which is common to man, and I am not ready to give up that idea completely.
Age Old Obstacles
What is in the guise of unique, formidable obstacles, though, is actually an age-old Ephesians 5 problem.
Men want to be respected. Women want to be loved. We are no different here. What makes our marriage one of perpetual, irresolvable conflict is the basis of ourdecision making.
After twenty-three years, we find ourselves at an increasingly pressurized impasse. The path of peace for one is a trampling and violation of the other. In other words, the decisions which make my husband feel respected come at the cost of my feeling unloved. Conversely, the decisions which make me feel loved come at the cost of my husband feeling disrespected.
Can a wife solve her Ephesians 5 problem with 1 Peter 3?
1 Peter 3:1-6
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands,like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord.You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
Be Like Sarah?
Peter holds Sarah up as a holy woman of the past who submitted to her husband, Abraham, and did not give way to fear.
Because of famine, Abram is going down to Egypt to buy grain. He tells Sarai to inform the Egyptians that she is his sister so he will not be killed on account of her beauty. Subsequently, she is taken into Pharaoh’s palace—think harem and concubine! This experience must have been rife with reservations, rationalizations, and resentments.
The Lord has certainly called my husband on this journey, but did Abram check with the God of heaven regarding this partially true yet deceitful strategy to circumvent his fear of Pharaoh? What might happen to me once I leave the comfort and safety of my family? Will I be raped by Pharaoh? Does Abram have plans to rescue me from Pharaoh and be my knight in shining goat’s hair?
If Sarai really loves me, she will do whatever is necessary to protect me. She will respect my authority and say everywhere we go, “He is my brother.” Besides, she really is my half-sister, so it is not selfish or sinful, but reasonable and rational.
That grievous goatherd sold me out to cover his own skin! Abram does not cherish and protect me; I am nothing more than a bartering tool to be exchanged for his freedom. Apparently, my security is a low price for him to pay!
Discussing this Event with My Husband
Certainly this story might be cast in a different light.
In discussing the account with my husband, he mentioned maybe Sarai felt honored to represent their family interests at Pharaoh’s court. Really? Is there some secret Prophetic Men’s Justification Club? Now, to be fair to my husband, his response was tongue-in-cheek, and to be fair to Abram, maybe he thought Sarai’s fate would be the same whether or not she said Abram was her brother. But my point is that Abram’s decision might have been a bitter point of contention between them had Sarai given way to fear.
Darker Times of a Covenant Marriage
Later in this couple’s history, Hagar the slave woman is cast out because she and her son have no share in God’s covenant promises to Abraham. During the darker times in my covenant marriage, I have felt that being in the desert with Hagar seemed more alluring than staying in a covenant relationship that is fulfilled only through death.
We are in good company, though, regarding this angst as it seems even the Divine is not exempt from the painful conflict associated with covenant relationships. Before the covenant vows were even said, God was ready to destroy the Israelites and start again with Moses after their idolatry with a mysteriously appearing golden calf.
In that light it seems strange that God would bind himself in relationship with his wayfaring people who time and again strain that union through adulterous affairs. In fact, the only release from covenant is found in death itself.
The death that was eventually offered to the Israelites is that which is ultimately offered to us today: either accept and participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of his Son, or face the cataclysmic death of the covenant relationship like the Israelites experienced in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
There is Only One Option
The deeper, the longer, the more entangled that I become with my husband, the one that I intimately know and love, but with whom I am so painfully enthralled in irresolvable conflict, it becomes clear that the only option for this covenant is death.
I must either die to myself with the possible hope of resurrection to something both familiar and unknown, or our marriage will experience the obliterating finality of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. One thing is certain. Death is excruciating, and death to self no less so. Is it possible, like Sarah, to do what is right and not give way to fear when your husband leads you on what seems a reckless and potentially dangerous path? Can one’s reservations and resentments be crucified and discomforts tolerated? Can one’s fear of the Lord be greater than the fear of where her man might lead her?
Something is going to have to die, but only one death has hope of resurrection.
Death imagery is actually woven into the fabric of our universe, a divine parable whispered through creation. Every night the sun “dies” and the light is extinguished only to be reborn with dawn, sometimes in glorious splendor. Or take seeds falling to the ground with seasonal, earthy death, returning markedly changed and fruitful. Though we wish to shirk death, we were born to die. Not only that, death is also our hope. Each time we die a godly death within the context of our covenants, in that paradoxical death, we plant the hope of resurrection.
Edited by: John Michener, beloved husband, not grievous goatherd.
Falafel, known as the hamburger of the Middle East, is the most popular fast food in the region, and one fine Saturday in January, it was considered a good option for lunch…or so I thought. I attended a pan of cooking falafel while my family enjoyed some sunshine outside. My eldest daughter soon pressed her presence beside me, making the benign operation of a spatula a more challenging maneuver. She immediately spoke the mantra familiar to most mothers, “Mom, I’m hungry.”
Spatula raised as well as eyebrows, I gave a meaningful glance toward a plate which held five freshly made falafel patties directly in front of my apparently famished child. I bemoaned, “If only there were food directly in front of you.”
“Mom,” my daughter responded matter-of factly, “You know I can’t eat food like that.”
Immediately, I realized, this is how we sound to God. We play in the backyard of His world, feel a need, and then come into His presence. We begin our conversation with need and end with complaint. He has in fact been thinking of us all the while we had no thought of Him. He knew as we were playing we would become hungry, and he has prepared food for us.
How often do we complain of hunger, but refuse to eat the meal set before us? A meal full of nutrients and diversity of flavor? He sets before us self-denial. “I can’t eat that!” He sets before us forgiveness. “I can’t eat that!” He sets before us patience. “I can’t eat that!” We ask for our desires and needs to be fulfilled immediately, but with a palate that would leave us soft and weak.
It is the Lord’s playground; it is the Lord’s kitchen, and we indeed are called to be a part of His beloved, cherished family. He has every thought of us and wants us to come eat with Him. I even think He delights in sometimes serving us cake and ice cream, knowing it doesn’t build strength, but enchants the soul. However, He loves us too much to allow us to live on these.
After my daughter rejected the food I set before her, I asked myself, “What has God provided that I am refusing to eat?” As we eat at His table, grimacing at new and unusual flavors, our tastes will begin to expand in epicurean measure. What we once could not tolerate begins to make us feel deeply nourished, and to our surprise, we even begin to crave it. The Lord has been known to me as my Creator, Redeemer, and my Great Physician, but now I know Him also as my Master Chef.