*This post has a strong Christian base from a biblical worldview and is not for the casual reader
Seasons of life have time and again brought to me the winter of loss.
Perhaps you can relate?
If loss itself were not harsh enough, it often seems that crises come upon us in an unrelenting blizzard, with one following close after the other, and many, all at once. We know that this is the nature of life (vexing as it may be) yet for those who’ve surrendered to God, this phenomena can sometimes, in a way, lead to even more confusion and turmoil than is otherwise common.
And why? Because the wholeheartedly surrendered Christian has a habit of seeking God’s guidance in everything. Praying and continually surrendering their own will, they seek only the will of God: pleading that He guide in every particular, and in all things, turn their choice into the path which His omniscience sees is best. This course at least has been my habit in my current walk with God, and because of this, I have often found myself perplexed at the curious unfolding of the things I have surrendered. Beyond that, as I’ve studied the lives of others, I have found that some are excessively punctuated by losses while for others such pains remain quite foreign. Certainly, I do not claim to be among the world’s greatest sufferers, yet the observance of this phenomena, whether personally or otherwise, has always led to some degree of consternation. For while we are counseled to expect trials as Christians, there is little that can adequately prepare some of us for what seems to be an incessant theme of disappointment and loss.
One day some years ago, I came to discuss my thoughts with God as follows:
“At the outset, when You ask if we are willing to give up all for You, even to our very lives, we promise that we are. Those are Your terms after all—everything for everything. You gave all, we must give all; even to the loss of all things if it should come to that. Yet once (if perhaps it should occur) everything begins to be stripped away, suddenly we draw back in confusion and alarm. ‘Do You intend to take everything?’ Well, those were the terms, weren’t they?
Perhaps we had thought of other things, but what if You must require our cherished hopes, longings, or earthly companions? I do not know. Truly, it is not the lot of many to lose all. Yet for some, yes, for some. And shall we then break our vows? Of course You intend to take everything! The question, futile to even ask, is will You give any of it back? If we knew the answer, perhaps it would be no true surrender…”
Remember it? We stood at the marriage altar with God and declared that we would give our entire life to Him and for Him. Yet perhaps we thought of other things: the giving of our time and energy for His work, the yielding of our self destructive habits, and on and on. But what about the other parts of our lives? What about the material things, the perfectly honorable temporal ambitions, the relationships?
You think it is severe—if God should take everything. Yet this is not some kind of arbitrary power play or test. Whatever God gives or withholds in this life, is for the purpose of our salvation and reunion with Him. Whatever is given is therefore necessary, and likewise, what is withheld.
There are some things that must be removed because although they are not bad of themselves, God sees that our attachment to them would hinder us in our progress heavenward. There are even things that seem good to us that God knows would actually turn out for our harm.
“But I can’t see how this could ever lead to that!” we say. Yet that’s the point of course, that God can see, and we can’t. That’s the difference between finite knowledge and infinite knowledge. But we want to see everything and understand everything now—or at least within a “reasonable” timeframe. Like Thomas, we want to see before we will believe. Like Saul, if we can’t understand, we want to rebel. It is hard when in spite of all efforts, we seem to be punished at every turn.
Yet many things that we take as losses are really God’s mercies. They are not to punish us, but to spare us from greater suffering. But we, like petulant children who cannot see beyond our simple wants, so often grieve and oppose the Father’s wisdom, and fail to appreciate the Father’s sheltering love.
There are also trials that we must pass through in order for certain indispensable traits of character to be developed in us, even though we may be completely unable to see how it could be so. Only God knows the particular fires that will refine our dross. In our suffering, we tend to search for a reason or purpose outside of ourselves, or for some measurable result within us. Sometimes, there is no purpose in our pain, other than to purify and exhibit our faith. And this is a result that is measurable only by God.
“Many who sincerely consecrate their lives to God’s service are surprised and disappointed to find themselves, as never before, confronted by obstacles and beset by trials and perplexities… Like Israel of old they question, “If God is leading us, why do all these things come upon us?”
It is because God is leading them that these things come upon them….
He who reads the hearts of men knows their characters better than they themselves know them…Often He permits the fires of affliction to assail them that they may be purified.
The fact that we are called upon to endure trial shows that the Lord Jesus sees in us something precious which He desires to develop. If He saw in us nothing whereby He might glorify His name, He would not spend time in refining us. He does not cast worthless stones into His furnace. It is valuable ore that He refines.”
-Help In Daily Living p. 9
It is only the all-transcending love of God within us that can free us from the presence and the power of sin by displacing the hidden selfishness within us. If you take something from me, my soul rises up against you. It is natural, and it is not wrong for the soul to cry out against loss. But can I then accept it graciously? Or will I let those losses fester, provoking resentment and destroying peace?
It is love—perfect love that must be made complete in us. Not love that is wimpy and weak. Not love that may change with the seasons. Not love that lies down like a doormat, but love that is so powerful it cannot be overcome. Love that is more powerful than suffering or loss. Love that is more powerful than selfishness or hate. Love that is more powerful than death or than the grave.
Those who joined the early church expected suffering, they expected the loss of all things. We know how to apply the verses on suffering to classic persecution, but most of us in the western world don’t have our government or family members seeking our life. Strangely, we find it easy to forget that being a disciple still means forsaking all, and sometimes, being forsaken by all. Sometimes we, in twenty-first century, western world ways, are still called upon to suffer great loss.
So let us be reminded of those common verses again:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
Matthew 16:24-26 ESV
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37-38 ESV
This is not because of some arbitrary, almighty test, but because it is only that powerful, reciprocal love for Christ that will transform and save us. If we embrace the refining, each and every trial may at last bring us forth with purer, stronger, and more indestructible faith and love.
“In this you rejoice, though 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 Peter 1:6-7 ESV
“Not only that, but 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 ESV
I do feel that I need to insert a disclaimer: I am not in any way suggesting that every negative experience is from God. God allows does not equate to God caused. We are all the subjects of enemy attacks. The Bible says that every good and perfect thing is from God, and that the Enemy is the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But every attack has been weighed out in advance, and a divine strategy is already in place for both our deliverance and our betterment. Beyond this, we need to also realize that painful doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Like the birth of a new baby, there are many good and perfect things in this life, that can only come through pain. We also must be born again—not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit of God.
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1Thessalonians 5:8.
This command is an assurance that even the things which appear to be against us will work for our good. God would not bid us be thankful for that which would do us harm” Ministry of Healing p. 255.
It follows that whatever comes upon us, if surrendered to God, and received with faith’s thanksgiving, will be turned to our eternal benefit. Nothing then, however evil intended, can ultimately harm us. We rest beyond any true harm, for in His hand, the curses hurled at us are turned to blessing. For God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him; to those who are called according to His purpose, whose purposes are always kind. Simple, unconditional acceptance of whatever God allows—through trust in His farseeing goodness—is the ultimate freedom.
So will He give anything back?
“Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30 ESV
Whatever we lose in our journey with Christ, we have the promise that we will receive a hundredfold. We do not know in what form these gifts may come in this life, but we know by faith, it will be worth it.
One day it occurred to me that the word “thing” does not appear in the original language of scripture in Psalm 84:11, and I had this epiphany:
“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11 ESV.
“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good…” Psalm 73:28 NASB
Meaning not that He may not allow things or people to be withheld, but that He will not withhold Himself. And in the gift of Himself, I will lack nothing; but He will be all, and in all.
So there you have it. Everything for everything are the terms. Everything you now have, in exchange for more than you could ever imagine.
“…As it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”” ICorinthians 2:9 NKJV
But are there really people who lost everything and still thought it was worth it? Sure there are. And I assure you there are modern examples, but I think no one can beat the apostle Paul, declaring:
“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11 ESV
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 NASB
“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 ESV
No matter how great the losses suffered here, or the pain endured in this short life, we are assured that it will fade in comparison with the glorious reward that is to come. So although it tarries, wait for it. It will surely come. The “everything” on this side is not even a grain of sand to the endless beaches of the everything we gain through Christ’s inheritance.
So my journal entry ended that day some years ago:
“Here I am. Willing to be made willing. With trembling, yet what is to be desired above Your peace? I do want You more than all. So quiet me with Your love…
I think of the words of Jesus, ‘Behold the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 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 16:32 ESV
I am not alone, for You are with me. I knew that of course… I know You’re always with me. Yet now, at last, for this moment, I am also with You.”
*All italics supplied