Here and No Farther

This article was originally posted October 24, 2015.

My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold.
And I know how
I ought to be
Alive to You
And dead to me.

With the audacity of Job, I draw a line in the sand and say, “Here, and no farther.” Stop. hurting. me. ​
I have wept hot tears of sorrow on my pillow. With David, I can say, “I drench my couch with my weeping” (Psalm 6:6). I have longed to be held and protected and comforted by my heavenly Father, my Abba.

But the reality is that though my mouth forms the cries of “Abba, Father”, the sound that I produce seems formulaic to me. In these desert seasons, the lyrics from Keith Green’s “My Eyes Are Dry” more accurately portray my condition, when the waves buffet my soul and trials mount up against me.

Joni Eareckson Tada stated in a podcast that “when your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, an orderly list of the 16 good biblical reasons as to why all this is happening is not what you need. That’s because answers in and of themselves just don’t cut it when you are hurting in the gut and the heart. . . . When a person is suffering, that person is like a hurting child who looks up into the face of his daddy and cries and asks, ‘Why, why?’ . . . We want God to be Daddy; to assure us that everything will be okay . . . so God, just like a good daddy, isn’t quick to give us advice or answers or reasons why He’s allowed thus and such a thing to happen; but He is quick to give us Himself.”

Oh, how tender a picture that is, and how true! Yet I am a stubborn child; my voice is tinged with resentment and my attitude murmurs, “I would have done this differently.” If only “Why?” were the only inquiry on my lips. I question the character and wisdom of God, like Job did. Don Baker writes, “Job didn’t need to know why these things happened as they did—he just needed to know Who was responsible and Who was in control. He just needed to know God.” (Pain’s Hidden Purpose, cited in Jerry Bridges’s Trusting God

Right about now is when I need that orderly list to pound out the petulance and overwhelm me with the reality of Who God is, in all His majesty and character. He is responsible for my situation, and He is in control of my life. 

  • God governs every aspect and every portion of my life. (Hebrews 1:3Colossians 1:17Acts 17:25-28)
  • Stoicism denies the good that sanctification through trials can bring (Genesis 50:19-21). “Trusting God in the midst of our pain and heartache means that we accept it from Him. . . .  [T]o truly accept our pain and heartache has the connotation of willingness. An attitude of acceptance says that we trust God, that He loves us and knows what is best for us.” Jerry Bridges, Trusting God
  • Christ commands me to be a witness in all situations, including times of sorrow and trouble. Peter, John and the disciples trusted God and placed their circumstances in His hands when the authorities threatened them with prison if they continued to preach about Jesus. That declared to the watching world that whatever the outcome, it would be brought about at God’s pleasure, in His timing, and for His purpose. (Acts 4, 17) 
  • Pruning produces fruit-bearing branches. (John 15:1-9) And pruning shears are sharp.
  • There is no neutrality. Either we are being pruned, refined by fire, facing persecution, all for the sake of being made more like Christ, or we are walking in the flesh, a seed scattered along the path or choked by the cares of the world. (Matthew 13:18-23Galatians 5:19-24)
  • Living by faith and not by sight, it does not matter whether I can connect the dots between a trial and how God intends to use it; He always works all things to bring about good for me and all who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28).
  • “What ifs” and “if onlys” are contingencies in my limited time-space continuum. With God’s perfect will at work, there is no other course of action, viable or otherwise. “As for God, His way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30). From The Hiding Place: “There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s Kingdom. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don’t let me go mad by poking about outside it.” Corrie ten Boom
  • “[J]ust as we must learn to obey God one choice at a time, we must also learn to trust God one circumstance at a time. Trusting God is not a matter of my feelings but of my will. I never feel like trusting God when adversity strikes, but I can choose to do so even when I don’t feel like it. That act of the will, though, must be based on belief, and belief must be based on truth.” Bridges, Trusting God and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place: “And here I felt a strange leaping of my heart-God did! My job was to simply follow His leading one step at a time, holding every decision up to him in prayer.” (Hebrews 11)
  • This adversity is not in vain, nor it is in a vacuum. Christ has suffered on my behalf and as an example, setting forth the path to follow into holiness and obedience. (1 Peter 2:20-25) “This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place 
  • Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God, that at one time He has ordered all things from the foundation of the world and is immediate in the working out of all the details. “The Lord is at hand,” says Paul smack in the middle of an exhortation to pray in all situations, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
  • At absolutely no time in Jesus’s earthly ministry did He falter in His in mission, worried that His Father had not thought out all the potential obstacles or considered all the alternatives. His trust in His Father was complete. “It is not yet my time . . . ” (John 7:68)
  • Asking God to reveal to me what He wants me to learn from a trial is a way to focus the attention away from my presumptions and to God’s providence, but I must be wary not to measure God’s works and wisdom according to what I gain. I am not owed any answers; God being on my side is enough. (Job)
  • “To question the goodness of God is, in essence, to imply that man is more concerned about goodness than is God. . . . To suggest that man is kinder than God is to subvert the very nature of God.” Philip Hughes, cited in Trusting God (Lamentations 3:32-33)
  • Adversity is directly related to fruit-bearing in God’s economy. (John 12:23-26)
  • Nothing happens without God’s decree. Lamentations 3:37-38: “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?”
  • Though Satan may be given permission to sift me, the Lord petitions for the sake of my faith, so that in the end, I may strengthen my brothers. (Luke 22:31)
  • God’s timing takes into consideration and even orchestrates our own readiness, as Corrie ten Boom’s wise father notes (from The Hiding Place): “Our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things. . . . Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need-just in time.”  (Psalm 139:16) If He holds the moments of my life and my death in His hands, surely His precision over all other details gives me comfort. (John 10:27ff)
  • If adversity is the method God has chosen for His glory to be revealed, then adversity is preferred over anything less sorrowful, less stressful, less painful. As Christ told the disciples when He heard of Lazarus’s illness, “For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” (John 11:15

“Uncle!” I give, I give. Lord, I give. I accept my Father’s will. I accept His wisdom and goodness. I need to have my arm twisted behind my back. I need to acknowledge that I’m a foolish child. I need to submit. With all due respect to Joni, I need the 16 reasons and 2 more for good measure. I need to be reminded of the truths of Scripture, the character of God, the means He has used in the lives of others, His wisdom, His love. That the very presence of adversity is the evidence that God is dealing directly with my heart. There seems to be a connection between the deafness of my spiritual ears and the pain and discomfort I feel in life. Pain and discomfort—I get it, how it’s a conduit through which the Lord will work patience and longsuffering and faith.

“The issue God is dealing with in our lives is not so much related to what we do, but what we are. All of us tend to understimate the remaining sinfulness in our hearts. We fail to see the extent of pride, fleshly self-confidence, selfish ambitions, stubbornness, self-justification, lack of love, and distrust of God that He does see. But adversity brings these sinful dispositions to the surface just at the refiner’s fire brings impuritites to the surface of the molten gold,” writes Bridges.

The line in the sand is swept away, and I run to You, Father. Hide me in the cleft of the rock as your glory passes before me, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

“Though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” (Lamentations 3:32)

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