If you’re alive, you have breath. If that breath has ever been taken away, even for a moment, you have a testimony. Our lives are filled with moments of pain or decisions that wipe clean everything but the shell of who we think we are. Like many who’ve been breathing a while, I’ve also been crushed under the weight of God’s course correcting presence. Though it continues to steal my breath, it saves my life and reminds me who He is – the only thing of value that truly exists. And the only thing of value that my life can produce is to share this truth with those who are unsure. Faith comes by the word but the hope made available through it is often seen first in the pain of those who are willing to trust God through it. In that respect, here is a brief window into my personal ongoing refinement.
Thrown in the well – (The rest of the story)
In the fall of 2008, after a decade of hard work, I had a successful business, high income, great investments and no bad debt. By January 09, within 100 days, I’d lost it all, was in overwhelming debt, and my entire financial structure had collapsed squarely on top me and my family. It’s a common story these days, but still uniquely and personally devastating. Ten years of effort left me with nothing it seemed but guilt, fear, and shame. As a way of reminding myself to hope, I began to express in writing what has sustained me, kept me from suicide, and still encourages me to press on with confidence. Last year I began my blog with little expectation that anyone else would read it. But people are reading it and sharing it with others who are hurting. And through it, God is revealing His will for me to write, even at the expense of leaving my livelihood dead on the floor. This may sound foolish but from the bottom of a well you see more clearly that everything including your livelihood comes from above. So my journey continues to unfold, but despair is by now blue-in-the-face from loitering about and being ignored. Thrown in the well and grateful I am.
Balancing On The Head of a Pin – (August -April)
When this trial began, I’d been a believer for 24 years. But not until it happened did I learn the value of suffering or understand that even Jesus had to learn obedience through it. It’s the process for all who are being prepared for the work of the Lord. And it differs for everyone depending on that work. For us, there have been days with no groceries and no way to buy them, days of not knowing where we would live, days of marriage struggles and depression, and even days of seeing extended family place material wealth above our need. And some of the longest days were spent watching our prodigal son reject us, and all that we embody. For nine months the son I baptized and the son my wife carried allowed people in his life to believe we were the enemy. But in these days I learned something astonishing, something that will forever keep me passionately defending and praising our God to all who will listen. I learned that He loves me and made me priceless. I learned that His word is the bread of life that most believers never truly feast on, and I learned that He wants to talk to me every day about my life through that word. So I began to study fervently and write from what I learned.
And Now I Know: The most important thing for a believer is to seek intimacy with God so the heart can detect His whispering voice. It is a closeness that only develops through the word by His spirit. And it is the means by which He leads us through our suffering into the work of the Lord. I’ve seen His mighty hand feed us and clothe us when we could not. He stabilized our finances when we had nothing. He brought our son home from nearly year of rejecting us. Over and over I saw His hand moving at precise moments. But it took steadfastly staying in His word to open my eyes and understand what He was doing and why. God never wanted to crush me, but it was the only way to get the wine flowing from me that He intended for others. So my pain has become my passion and my former idols of fear and pride have become a condemned enemy.
Trading Wealth For Faith
I never realized how useless my life was as a man striving in my own effort to sustain a false identity. Now, through His word, I hear His voice just as the sheep who know the sound of it. After months of living in moments, at my lowest place, God clearly revealed to me that I would be free to live for Him and His purpose while resting in our impossible situation. And while standing in worship one Sunday He said “I will lift you up now” and He did – it would take pages and pages to express the depth and detail of His blessing in this way, so I’ll just summarize it for you. He told me to let go of business, to write and minister instead. He told me He would sustain my family and take care of our needs and He has. He told me He would restore my marriage and clean our hearts from the pain of childhood and He has. He told me that He would speak through me to encourage people when their lives are shaken, and He is doing it as we speak!
The Turning Point – (may require a dose of unfairness)
Suffering removes the hooks of the world so the mind can be renewed and the heart transformed. It’s a process that ultimately proves the will of God and reveals who we are in relation to it. And there is a turning point in our suffering when we stop asking God to change our circumstances and trust that He will perfectly provide for us “in” them. It is the moment we realize the true freedom we have in Christ and it is the moment when our identity in Him is free to move forward without distraction. However, we must be soberly aware of the enemy’s intense desire to corrupt that process. By paying close attention we may find that in our own suffering we are nurturing a secret pride, a teardrop of pretentious dignity at having suffered and come closer to God.
With hidden pride, a dose of “unfairness” is always required to course correct it. But it’s when that unfairness seems criminal that our willingness to rest in it becomes a true act of worship. And it’s in a state of constant worship that our newly found identity can finally begin to move. In this case, God makes us wait when it makes no sense. But it’s a necessary time when He stretches our faith past the pride of that identity to keep us from being distracted by it. We see this process throughout scripture as God prepares His people for the work ahead. Because of its subtlety, one of my favorite examples is when Joseph is left in prison by the Egyptian Cupbearer.
Gen 40:14-15 “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” But the cupbearer forgot him and two more years passed before he was remembered.
After all the years being refined in prison Joseph believed the time was right – he was ready in his mind. But if you read those verses carefully you can detect the subtle lingering pride he carried. He already knew his identity (dream interpreter). As far as he was concerned there was nothing else to learn from being in prison, and no need for him to continue suffering – it would be criminally unfair. But God left him there two more years to defeat the tiny seed of pride that remained in his heart. The truth is Joseph only knew his identity in part, and certainly, with even an ounce of pride, leading the nation of Egypt for God would have been impossible.
So, perhaps… if this blog has been fruitful in some way between the months of August and April, it has chronicled the brief testimony, still unfinished, that suffering uncovers our identity and from the heels of that suffering the wings of faith take flight. Faith reveals the finger prints of God – Waiting prepares our character for leaving them on the world.
My last post (3 months ago) focused on our long struggle with an angry man who at the end of our relationship allowed me to share with him the good news of Jesus. Not until those final weeks did I know his body was riddled with cancer. He was very unfair to us for nearly a year. And all we could do is rest in the Lord as to why. For those who read that story and were never sure how it ended, he died on April 24th three days after the post. As a result of that post I received tremendously kind feedback in various forms – something all writers enjoy. But that enjoyment sat squarely on the shoulders of a suffering man – who I looked in the face – whose final year with his family was defined by bitterness. It hollowed my desire to write. Over the last three months I’ve been praying for God to give me direction – listening instead of writing for the wrong reason. He has answered my prayer and filled up that deep well with water… In the meantime I’m still learning how to swim. Next post due shortly…
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