by Virginia Knowles
(Written in April 2007)
“Every happening, great and small
is a parable whereby God speaks to us,
and the art of life is to get the message.”
I’ve always said that God is in control, that he is Sovereign. Now it’s sinking in a little deeper, a little richer, a little more personally, as he is illuminating a fresh way to renew my mind. If you are like me, you have a Life Story with countless chapters, and more than a few of them swirl up your soul with confusion, fear, guilt, or bitterness.
“Why, God, why?”
Compelling questions, to be sure, but what are the answers? I am learning to reinterpret the experiences of my life by searching out evidences of God’s truth and his grace in each situation, whether past or present. In his Awesome Providence, he has a plan for my life, and that includes the bumps and bruises along with way. So: truth and grace! What do I mean?
Truth: What actually happened (or is currently happening), apart from how I have perceived it? This requires a little objectivity because our feelings can be so deceptive! What details would someone else add to the story? This could either be someone who was involved in the situation, or a mature, trustworthy friend or pastoral counselor. Now, what would the Bible say about what has happened? I have to be careful not to pick out an isolated verse, but instead seek out the “whole counsel of Scripture” as various passages round out the picture. Truth requires acknowledging my own contribution to the problem rather than merely blaming someone else. In that, there is hope: since the circumstances are not entirely out of my sphere of influence, then I can become a part of the solution, too. Another question: What truth did I learn from (and about) the Lord in this situation, and what does he still wants me to grasp even now?
Grace: How has God poured out his mercy and forgiveness on me during this time, even though I may not have recognized it or appreciated it yet? How has he used a proverbial “brick wall” (a blocked opportunity) to channel my life in a new direction? How has he brought about spiritual growth? How have I learned to lean harder on him, rather than rely on my own self-effort? How has he provided other people to bring encouragement, comfort and truth to me? How can I experience his grace and liberty freshly, even if much time has passed? How can I find a release from my bitterness through forgiving others? How can I overcome evil with good, and respond to an insult with a hearty blessing? How am I to extend this healing balm of grace to others who might be suffering as I have?
If you have been through a troublesome time that still weighs heavily on you, or if you are still rehashing uncomfortable details and feelings, you may have been encouraged just to forget it all and pretend it didn’t happen. That’s a nice thought, but it isn’t always possible or healthy to suppress painful memories. I believe that we can learn to reinterpret our life stories so we can release the bitterness, confusion, guilt, or fear from our minds without necessarily forgetting what happened. Then we can look back on the very same story with joy and gratitude over what God has done for us. This will enable us to move on in life with confidence that he will still be with us, working his quiet wonders! I think the story of Joseph and his spiteful brothers in Genesis illustrates this principle beautifully. No matter what he had suffered as the consequences of his brothers’ jealous hatred, he could say to them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” He saw the providence of God in bringing him through slavery and prison to a position of power where he could preserve the lives of entire nations throughout a famine.
Try this little exercise. Pick a chapter from your life story that still bothers you – maybe not a big hairy one this first time, but something manageable. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you take time to evaluate it from a fresh perspective of truth and grace. (You can use the Truth and Grace questions above as a launching point.) Write your thoughts down if you can, and don’t rush through it. If you kept a journal during this time (which I highly recommend!) then read through it carefully to glean insight. If you need the perspective of someone else involved, ask for it if you can do so without undue conflict. After you have your thoughts organized in your head or on paper, start summarizing the key points. Now, write out a short “Authorized Version” – the “Grace And Truth Edition” of the story -- that you can quickly recall whenever this memory comes to mind again. I like to use the acronym GATE for “Grace And Truth Edition” because a gate is usually attached to a fence, which is a boundary designed to keep things and people secure. You can go in and out of a fenced area safely by walking through an open gate and staying on the path. Likewise, the Grace And Truth Edition of your story allows you to revisit your past on the Path of Providence, rather than veering off into destructive thorn bush thought patterns again. We must continually discipline our minds toward true and wholesome thinking, even after we know how. This is not a one shot deal, but the spiritual warfare of taking our thoughts captive to Christ Jesus. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5.)
I find these Scriptures helpful when I wonder why God is “dealing” with me in a certain way:
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
"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. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:4-8, 12-13
“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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 us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:26-39
I encourage you to meditate on these Scriptures and let them sink deeply into your heart! I think they are the key to understanding what God is doing in our lives through the hard times. You may also wish to read Christian biographies, such as The Hiding Place by Corrie tenBoom, in which she recounts God’s faithfulness during her years at the horrific Nazi concentration camps. She even thanked God for the tormenting fleas, and later found that this is what kept the guards out of their barracks, giving her free reign to minister the Messiah’s grace to the perishing women there. Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noël Piper shares the stories of Lilias Trotter, Sarah Edwards, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim, and Helen Roseveare. Each of these women faced trials in life that we could barely even imagine surviving, yet they not only endured but conquered with courage and thanksgiving.
Staying in God’s word, coming before His Throne in continual prayer, worshiping with songs full of sound doctrine, and receiving wise counsel and correction from mature Christians (through reading, church services, personal discussions, etc.) are excellent ways to keep yourself strong in truth and grace. Then, as new situations arise in your daily life, you will be prepared to deal with them rightly from the start, and spare yourself much future heartache and heartbreak. I know how easy it is to be plagued with fear and confusion about what will happen in the days and years to come, whether with my health, children, marriage, home schooling, ministry, finances, and whatever else touches so close to my heart. I want to be able to look forward in faith and confidence. And I can, because “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future!” God is great and God is good! I can trust His truth and grace!