I’ve noticed that it is during times of difficulty that Christians tend to get their priorities straight and begin seeking God the way they should have been doing all along. In this present life, while we wait for Christ’s return, we are still very earthbound; we often take more delight in the gifts than we do in the Giver. We still have “the flesh,” which Amy Carmichael so fervently prayed against,
God harden me against myself
The coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease, and rest, and joy.
Myself, arch-traitor to myself,
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.
The answer to this selfish tendency in our hearts is not to forgo seeking joy, but to seek it in the right things. We are to seek joy in God, in Christ, in his Spirit, his Word, his ordinances, and his people. And we must recognize that our bent is to become worldly, to lose touch with God as we sample all of his goodness in the world. Because of our fallenness, “nature tends to eat up grace,” as Francis Schaeffer put it.
But hardship wakes us up to this tendency in ourselves, and in that sense hardship is an immense blessing from the hand of a loving Father. He uses it to lead us back to himself with a new tender heart, with a fresh love for him, and with dismay at ourselves… dismay yet not despair, for he gives more grace (James 4:6)!
In the interest of kindling our joy in God, I recently glanced over one of our Armory for Victory verses which we’ve been studying in our Sunday Evening Services. Psalm 56:3 says “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” David trusts God when many enemies are launching an oppressive attack that just seems to go on and on (56:1-2). Long term hardship inspires fear, but David resolves to trust in his God instead.
David is refreshing his faith in God, and he refreshes his knowledge of God at the same time. He reminds yourself of truth about God and responds with joy and praise and prayer. What does he remind himself of?
You have kept count of my tossings,
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me (56:8-9).
First, David says that God tenderly knows all about his sorrow. God keeps a running tally of his “tossings,” maybe his many sleepless tossings on his bed? Or maybe he’s referring to his “wanderings,” his many moves to avoid his enemies. He also says God stores up his tears in a bottle, almost like children might lovingly store keepsakes that are precious to them! In other words, God is not unconcerned, indifferent, or apathetic. Can you take joy in the fact that God is far more attentive about you than you are of him? Keeping a running tally of your tossings! Imagine that! That is amazing! God is so attentive that it verges into the territory of “fussing over” you. However we think of it, we should think of God as keenly interested in and involved in our lives.
Second, David says that God has kept his trial within limits. Notice David says “then my enemies will turn back when I call.” The word “then” means “after this.” In other words, once the right measure of tossings and tears are accounted for in this current trial, God will answer David’s call and end the hardship. This means that God has a purpose for hardships, and when his purpose is fulfilled, he ends the trial. God is not rubbing his hands together enjoying inflicting suffering. He has a good purpose for trials (James 1:2–4.) and doesn’t extend them any longer than is necessary for our good. So, God is not only keenly involved in our lives, but he has a plan and is carefully and wisely putting it into action.
Third, David says that God is for him. This basically means that God uses his omnipotence and omniscience, his whole passel of attributes that make him the sovereign God that he is, to bless his people. David is undergoing hardship, but he is convinced God is not his enemy. God is not a cosmic sadist who loves to inflict pain. No, God is a perfect Heavenly Father who is using our experiences in this world, even our trials, to strengthen our faith, wean us from the world, purify our motives, and increase our godliness.
May each one of you, as you experience your own period of hardship, come through it like gold, as David did, rejoicing in his God, who is near to us, sovereign over us, and loving toward us.
Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7).