TRUST: When the Path of Obedience Leads to Pain
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Trial. Hardship. Discomfort.
We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, and we’ll likely all be there again. It’s to be expected, right? Jesus even said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)
Sometimes these seasons result from our own choices, and sometimes they simply come as part of life. Sometimes painful seasons are thrust upon us through tragedy, sickness, or trauma.
But there’s something I’ve discovered in this season of my life that I’ve never heard talked about before…
Sometimes trial, hardship, discomfort, and even pain are the direct result of our obedience and exist smack dab in the center of God’s will.
Three years ago God began to slowly shift the hearts of my family toward transition. Day by day, month by month, He led us into what that transition was going to consist of. He shifted my heart out of the ministry I was leading in the fight against human trafficking. He shifted our goals onto searching for land and building a cattle business. Through time, He even shifted my heart from being adverse to moving away from the town in which we had lived for 14 years, to actually desiring to do so. (side note: When we are abiding in Christ, He shifts our desires to accomplish His purposes! (Philippians 2:13, Psalm 37:4) He’s such a good, kind, loving God.)
We felt the Lord lead us to put our house on the market before we knew where He was taking us. We heard Him tell us to stop trying to figure out the details because we’d never be able to figure them out anyway. We experienced Him lead us to the land He had for us, and we followed obediently, believing He would use this move and this place as a catalyst to build His Kingdom - even though we had no idea how.
The months during that process were full of His voice, His promises, and His confirmations. They were full of expectancy, joy, and anticipation.
And then we got here.
Someday I will try to articulate what this season has involved, but it has been beyond our wildest expectations in every way imaginable. It has surpassed our expectations of peace, beauty, purpose, and miracles; and it has surpassed our expectations of sacrifice, stretching, difficulty, and hardship. This is the season in which I have learned a very simple, yet profound truth:
Peace and pain can coexist.
Paul describes this little truth in 2 Corinthians 6:10. After listing some of the hardships he had endured for the cause of Christ (including beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, and hunger), Paul says he is:
“...sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…”
Not only can peace and pain coexist, joy and pain can coexist. Paul is rejoicing because he is “poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10b).
The suffering of the apostles came as a direct result of their obedience to God’s call on their lives. When we’ve heard from God, felt Him stirring our souls, been given a glimpse of vision, and stepped out in obedience, the last thing we expect is for that step of obedience to be met with suffering. When we’ve walked toward a promise, grounded in the Word and confirmed in our spirits, we do not expect to be met with pain.
But maybe we should.
Or, at the very least, maybe we shouldn’t be taken aback if we are.
There are times when our obedience leads us straight into circumstances which seem to distinctly contradict our calling.
When we step out to live the life God calls us to live, or we step out boldly into obedience, as our old pastor says, “the target on our back gets bigger.”
The target on our back may get bigger, but our enemy has no authority outside of what God in His sovereignty allows. So, when God allows, we know there is purpose in it!
When God allows adversity, He has purpose for it.
Scripture does not hide the fact that it is through hardship (not around it) we become who God needs us to become to do what He calls us to do. Once again, the apostles knew this truth from experience.
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Romans 5:3-4)
James tells us:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)
We know adversity and suffering accomplish good things within us, but God doesn’t stop there. He is a MULTI-purpose God. He has multiple purposes, coming from multiple angles, working in a single situation. So when God allows adversities in our lives, they serve MULTI-purposes - internal AND external purposes.
Sometimes our adversities are actually the means through which God is accomplishing His plans!
Joseph’s calling led him into a pit, slavery, and prison. For years, his circumstances seemed to directly contradict the promises God had given him.
Moses’ obedience led him into the wilderness.
David’s calling led him onto the battlefield, into hiding, and running for his life from a mad king. Like Joseph, David’s circumstances seemed like a direct contradiction to the promise God had given him.
Daniel’s obedience got him thrown into the lion’s den.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s obedience got them thrown into the fiery furnace.
And then there’s Jesus.
Jesus’ obedience led Him to the grave.
Our sight is limited to the confines of the temporal. Our vision reaches only to what we know. In our finite understanding, these callings were met with a direct contradiction to God’s promises.
But that’s where we’re wrong.
We’ve probably all heard it said that sometimes things have to fall apart before God can put them back together. But that’s the irony - in OUR view it seems things are all falling apart, but from a Heavenly view, things are all falling into place!
The pit, slavery, and prison were the stepping stones in the path that led Joseph to leadership and built his character. Thousands of Israelite lives were spared in years of extreme famine as a result.
It was in the wilderness where Moses penned the first five books of the Old Testament, the very building blocks of our faith.
The battlefield is where David grew from a boy into a warrior and king. The cave is where he poured out his heart to God in songs and words that speak to our hearts and influence our worship to this day.
The miracles in the lion’s den and the fiery furnace were the means by which God revealed Himself to pagan kings, bringing honor to Himself, and ending the oppression that had come against the Israelites’ freedom of worship.
And the grave.
Oh, the grave.
The grave is where Jesus’ greatest work, His ultimate purpose, was fulfilled. Jesus’ disciples thought His death was a direct contradiction to the promise that He was their Messiah, but Jesus’ death wasn’t a contradiction, it was the conduit!
Sometimes our adversity is not a contradiction to our calling, but a conduit to God’s purpose!
I don’t know about you, but I am in need of the grace that was poured out at Calvary every single day of my life. Seasons like the one we’ve recently walked through remind me of my failings. They remind me of my brokenness and my desperate need for God. They remind me that in my flesh I am frail and weak and that my strength, hope, and identity must rely solely on God alone.
This season has stretched my capacity and grown it. It has brought out things in me which needed fixing that I didn’t even know were in there. It has grounded my identity in Christ. It has taught me to live in peace outside my understanding, to learn how to continually die to self, to realize that faith involves complete trust in what we can’t see, and so, so much more.
This is where our title comes into play - TRUST.
Life-altering trust in God doesn’t form out of nothing. Trust is GROWN.
My whole life I’ve thought I trusted God. And I had. But not to this extent. I’ve never before been in a situation which required multiple miracles simply to make it through.
I don’t deny the pain and hardship. No pretenses. God doesn’t need pretenses. Just as we see modeled repeatedly in the Psalms, there were days consumed by emotion and days consumed by peace and faith - simultaneously.
I have cried out to God to hold my children in His hands. I speak my faith out loud in order for it to sink deep into my soul. I grieve my mistakes and am humbled by the reality of my frailty. I cling to the promises God has spoken directly to us, and I cling to the promises in His Word. I know we are more than conquerors, and I know He is for us. I know He has gone before us to prepare the way. I know we are being strengthened, refined, and pruned. I know His strength is enough. I know His power will be made perfect in my weakness.
And now, I have just enough faith to believe that my situation, too, is not a contradiction to God’s promises, but a conduit to His purposes! I know He will complete the work He has started.
I’m going to end with something I “just happened;)” to read in my Bible reading one morning when I was working on this lesson. In Acts 5 the apostles were imprisoned and beaten for testifying about Christ, and when they were released…
"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus]." (Acts 5:41)
They rejoiced in their sufferings - they practiced what they preached!
If we could just shift our vantage point, not that we try to KNOW what God is doing, but that we can find joy in simply knowing He IS doing.
Oh Lord, help us to walk in obedience every single day. Instill Your truths and Your Spirit in us so deeply that we are able trust (and find joy in!) the fact that our seasons of trial are not contradictions to Your promises, but conduits to Your purposes! Amen.