I love this time of year. The crisp, cool nights, the changing colors, and reveling in the busyness of summer winding down. I find it a beautiful time of year to be moving into another season of life as well. The Lord's leadings over the past two months have been amazing to behold, and I am thrilled to share with you a bit of what HE has been doing!
A couple months ago, I wrote a bit about our trip to the Lake Itasca Family Bluegrass Festival. This trip was eventful in more than one way, and our family came back with three big things. I wish to call them all blessings, but I guess in a way, even chicken pox can be! :-) We never have to have them again, eh? Dad also came home with an upright bass, (which has been a dream of his for a few years) and I came home with a lost appetite and a whole pile of hopes that were all wrapped around an amazing Canadian the Lord crossed my paths with.
Our conversation started at a concession stand of his brother-in-law's that he was helping with, and his interest was piqued when I innocently asked what type of coffee it was they were advertising. Having just returned from Guatemala and having enjoyed a tour of a coffee farm there, I was quite curious about the origin and type of what they were advertising. What I didn't know is that he had been to the same language school that I had just returned from, and this piece of information started a conversation that first evening that lasted around an hour. Several more hours of visiting followed over the course of the weekend, and by this time, I was seriously interested in what God seemed to be doing.
Two long weeks of waiting followed, during which time I had no clue what was happening in Manitoba. Though I suspected God was doing something, I had no clue I would have a weekend visitor three weeks after Itasca. After that blessed three days, Joel and I have spent quite a bit of time communicating via phone, getting to know each other, and discerning how God was leading. When he returned this past weekend, I was overjoyed to respond affirmatively to his request for courtship.
We are both incredibly blessed at how the Lord has gone ahead of us, and would covet your prayers and we continue following His leading. The Lord truly makes everything beautiful in His perfect timing, and I think one of the prettiest times of year is a perfect backdrop to this story only He could have written.
What sort of picture does the word 'suffering' bring to your mind? Victims of the Haiti earthquake? Persecuted Christians in China, India, or North Korea? A hard day at work? The death of a loved one? Loss of a job or financial security? Chronic sickness?
Whatever the case, usually our mind does not conjure up a pretty or desirable situation in life. For most people, suffering is something to be avoided at all costs. It's something we shield ourselves from, taking great care that no unnecessary risks are taken that might jeopardize our comfortable situation in life.
This attitude reveals what our perspective is about Christianity. It is a preoccupation for my salvation, my comfort, my well-being, and my eternal security. It is a life that says, "Yes, Lord, I'll follow You, but please just don't ask me to do anything that hurts. Or at least, nothing that hurts a lot. Grant me peace, joy, and fulfillment in all I do, and bless my efforts in these ways I've decided to serve You."
Most of these people are successful in reaching their goals, particularly those who are born into a blessed country, such as America has been. It's fairly easy to glide through our life on this earth with no huge hurdles, obstacles, or sacrifices. Saying the right words at the right times, tolerance for sin, and a friendly demeanor will go a long ways. "Carried to heaven on flowery beds of ease" is their motto, and they are not ashamed to both live it and verbally proclaim it.
Though this sort of life is possible for a few, many are shocked when someday they are thrown into unchosen, and unavoidable suffering. Tragedy may strike at any time, and it's then that many are forced to seek God in a new way. Some describe these experiences as wake-up calls, and can later testify with gratefulness to the refining God did through their experience. Others walk away disillusioned, bitter, and angry that a "loving" God could allow them to go through such unthinkable calamity.
What is God's heart in this? Why does He allow suffering? What exactly is suffering? What should be our attitude toward it? In what ways do sacrifice and suffering tie together?
Recently I finished reading a book called 'The Overcomers' by Richard Wurmbrand that examined many stories of persecuted Christians around the world, and the thing that stood out to me the most was the attitude of these Christians toward suffering. They not only rejoiced in it as we are commanded in James 1:2, but they embraced it, and even welcomed it as a privilege. They had the minds and hearts of soldiers, and were not shaken when hard things came their way.
I believe much of this came from their perspective on eternity. Their goals were set not merely on their own temporal happiness here on earth, but on the Kingdom of God and the souls they were so desirous to bring in. When weighing those things in the balance, those eternal rewards were found much more precious, and gave them the ability to rejoice and thrive in some of the humanly worst situations imaginable. I do believe they counted the cost, but were able to count what we consider terrible suffering and sacrifice as a blessed privilege.
The world is watching during the times of our deepest agony and they are wanting to see if our Christianity works all the time. Are we going to waste these opportunities for God to be glorified, or will be let those heart-wrenching times be the platform to shout forth the goodness and all-sufficiency of Christ? Most importantly, are we willing to be used by God, however He chooses for the advancement of the kingdom, even if it hurts?
The Christian prays for fuller manifestations of Christ's power, and glory, and love to him; but he is often not aware that this is in truth praying to be brought into the furnace; for in the furnace only it is that Christ can walk with His friends, and display, in their preservation and deliverance, His own almighty power.
"Don't become the servant to your suffering but make suffering your servant by allowing it to become the megaphone that magnifies the goodness of God in your life." -Louie Giglio
I was very encouraged by this during our "family church service" this morning. Confined to home due to nearly all of us getting chicken pox at the same time, we enjoyed watching this DVD this morning. Sorry for the lack of blogging around here... At 24, this virus has hit me incredibly hard, and after nearly a week, I'm still not out of it. It's been a good time to reflect on the principle of praising God through the times of suffering and joy in life. May I be found faithful to praise Him in the storms, as well as in the sunshine....
Hoping that blogging can resume normally before too long....