trials

Exodus 24, Job 42, Psalm 72

Today’s Bible readings are Exodus 24, Job 42, and Psalm 72.

This devotional is about Job 42.

Job was a godly man before trials took his children, his wealth, and his health. His understanding of God, however, was incomplete. He was thankful for God’s blessings in his life, but when it was all taken away, he demanded an audience with God. His demand to speak with God reveals that he felt God had treated him unjustly and that Job deserved an explanation for it.

When God spoke to Job here in the closing chapters of this book, he did not explain why he allowed Satan to persecuted Job. In fact, God did not mention Satan’s role in Job’s trials at all. Instead of justifying himself to Job, God overwhelmed Job with his greatness and power. His purpose was to remind Job that God was sovereign over everything; therefore, God is accountable to no one.

God’s words were deeply convicting to Job. Despite how painful his persecution was, he now knew God in a more personal and mature way. In verses 5-6 Job prayed, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember that this story began as a challenge between Satan and God. As expected, God won the challenge; Job did not sin or charge God foolishly. But the trial Job experienced did reveal some defects in Job’s view of God. After suffering through it all and receiving God’s revelation, Job was a more holy man, one who had a stronger walk with God than ever.

This is always God’s purpose in every trial he sends into our lives as believers. God wants us to be holy and he uses the rough chisel of trials to remove the unsanctified thoughts and motives we don’t even know are there in our lives. Trials are always painful but, like surgery, the wounds God inflicts on us in trials are designed to heal us of the spreading cancer of selfish depravity in each of us.

If you’re facing a trial right now, how do you feel about it? Does it feel unjust to you that God would do this or allow this to happen to you? Like Job that may be the very thing God wants to root out of you. So welcome the trial (James 1:2: “consider it pure joy”), not because you want the pain but because you trust the Surgeon to remove the sin that’s killing you and stitch you up again and make you whole when he is finished.

Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, Psalm 60

Today’s readings are Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, and Psalm 60.

This devotional is about Psalm 60.

We all experience low moments in life. Things that we expect to go well sometimes go very badly. Sometimes it seems like God’s promises don’t become true in real life. That’s how David was feeling here in Psalm 60. Verses 1-3 especially lay out his complaint against God.

When life does not go as expected, especially if we expect God’s favor and don’t receive it in the way we expected, disappointment can sometimes tempt us to move to unbelief. Problems like these can repel people from God. David, however, did not lose faith in God. He called on God, instead, to help him (vv. 5-12). The reason is that he knew there was no other help available to him (vv. 9-10). Though he may have felt rejected by God, he believed that there was no one but God who could save him. So he increased his prayers and restated his reliance on God.

Do problems and disappointments in your life pull you closer to God or further away from him? One of several problems of pulling away from God is that there really is nowhere else to go. Walking away from God’s love and opening yourself to disobedience will not give you the success or the comfort you seek. It is better to receive the harder moments of life as trials to strengthen your faith than to interpret them as God’s absolute rejection and displeasure. When we see these times as trials God sends to strengthen our faith, it will pull us closer to him by faith.

Genesis 29, Esther 5, Psalm 28

Today, read Genesis 29, Esther 5, and Psalm 28.

This devotional is about Genesis 29.

Laban may have thought himself to be very clever. He managed to get 14 years of work and marry off both of his daughters at the same time.

Everyone else, however, suffered in this situation, but no one suffered more than Leah. Moses, the author of Genesis, recorded the difference in attractiveness between Leah and her little sister Rachel (v. 17). Surely Leah herself must have realized it. Watching her father trick Jacob into marrying her must not have felt good. She must have wondered if Laban felt he wouldn’t be able to find her a husband the usual way because she wasn’t attractive enough. She must have felt anxious about Jacob’s reaction when he found out what Laban had done. No doubt she was crushed by his disappointment with her and his continuing desire to marry Rachel.

The only thing that she seemed to have in her favor was her fertility. This gave her an advantage over Rachel who had difficulty conceiving (v. 31b). Since Jacob loved Rachel so much more than Leah, it seems likely that Rachel had, um, more opportunities to conceive than Leah. Yet Leah was the one producing the boys that Jacob wanted. Each child she bore was interpreted as a gift from the Lord, which it was (v. 31). Although her marriage was unhappy and her family life was stressful, Leah looked to the Lord for help and was grateful for his favor in her life.

So many people suffer from sad, unfixable situations. Thinking about Leah’s life can give us some perspective. We all have problems, heartbreaks, and disappointments in life but most of us have better lives than Leah ever had. Her marriage was sad from the beginning, from her first full day as a married woman. Most of us, probably, had (and have) a life that is better than that. Despite how messed up her situation was, Leah was thankful to the Lord for each son she bore to Jacob. Her motives were not always perfect, but her thanks to God was sincere.

When your life is unhappy, follow Leah’s advice and consider ways in which the Lord has blessed you. Praise him for what he has given you; don’t grieve over the things you have been denied. Leah’s disappointments in life were opportunities for her to learn how to walk with God. Her words after the birth of each son suggests that she made the most of those opportunities. May we do the same when we experience painful situations in our own lives.

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalm 27

Today read Genesis 28, Esther 4, and Psalm 27.

This devotional is based on Genesis 28.

Jacob’s name means “cheater.” He was named this because of the pre-natal prophecy that his older twin brother would serve him and because he came out of the womb grasping at Esau’s heel. Jacob lived up to his name, too, buying Esau’s birthright cheaply and deceiving Isaac to get the firstborn’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 28, Jacob is leaving home for two reasons. The stated reason was for his leaving was to find a wife in his mother’s extended family (vv. 1-5). The real reason he left, however, was to save his life from Esau’s desire for revenge as we saw yesterday in chapter 27. He went with Isaac’s blessing--both the blessing of firstborn that he deceived Isaac into giving him and the specific blessing for success in this mission (vv. 3-4).

Was Jacob feeling good about his life? Was he excited about finding a woman to marry and transitioning more fully into adulthood? Or, did he feel guilt about his deceptive ways, anxiety about whether or not he would find a woman he wanted to marry, and fear about Esau hunting him down? We don’t know. What we do know is that he was about to experience some of the same deceptive treatment he had distributed to others. How would he fare against the deceptions of Laban?

God began preparing the man Jacob to become a man of faith. Although he and Rebekah manipulated and deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob, it was God’s decree that mattered, not the human blessing of Isaac. So God vividly appeared to Jacob and promised that the covenant blessing of Abraham would be his (vv. 10-15). Had Isaac succeeded in blessing Esau, it wouldn’t have mattered because God’s decree was for Isaac to receive that blessing.

Jacob received God’s blessing by faith and personally made a covenant with God himself (vv. 20-22). His father’s God had now revealed himself to Jacob and Jacob believed. If he was feeling guilt, anxiety, or fear before now, he should have gotten great peace and reassurance from the vision we read about today. God would be with him; everything would be well because of His promises.

Jacob had no idea what joys and hard tests awaited him when he arrived at Paddan Aram but God did. So, God revealed himself to Jacob and called him to live by faith in His promises. Although there would be difficult, painful days ahead, Jacob had God’s promises to carry him through.

Sound familiar? Whatever trials you’re experiencing today or may encounter tomorrow, do you believe that God loves you and will keep his promises to you? Then lean on that; hope in God and wait for his deliverance.

Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Psalm 21

Today’s reading: Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Psalm 21.

This devotional is about Genesis 22.

God sure liked to test Abraham, didn’t he? Abraham trusted the Lord for all the things God promised him the covenant. He moved to a new land and traveled around in it like a Bedouin. He received the wealth God promised him quickly and easily but waited for years for the promised heir, Isaac, to be born.

Now that Isaac was alive and growing up, Abraham must have been filled with thanks and happiness each day. That is, until God told him to kill Isaac here in Genesis 22. After testing Abraham and Sarah’s faith by making them wait, he would now test Abraham’s faith by commanding him to do the hardest thing imaginable.

[I wonder if Abraham told Sarah about God’s command in this chapter before he and Isaac left for Mt. Moriah....]

Anyway, the test Abraham received in this chapter was a test of his heart. As much as he loved Isaac, would he fear God more? Although he did not understand what God’s plan was in this chapter, Abraham followed God’s commands quickly (v. 3: “early the next morning”) and completely--right up to the point where God stopped him.

God knew that Abraham would obey before he issued the command to kill Isaac. So why put Abraham and Isaac through this emotional wringer? Why did God test Abraham so often and so painfully? One answer is that God wanted to set an example for Isaac, Jacob, and everyone else in the nation of Israel to follow. God’s people would face many choices to obey God’s command thoroughly and unconditionally. They would have to wait to inherit the promised land just as Abraham had to wait for Isaac to be born. They would have to choose between loving what God gave them and loving God just as Abraham had to do in this chapter.

Have you ever had to risk losing (or actually losing) someone or something you love in order to be obedient to God? That takes faith! As you trust God in those moments by doing what is right rather than what you want to do, you will see God work in your life in ways that you did not expect. Also, the trials and problems you face in life can, if you handle them in faith, give your children and others that you lead the footprints to follow in their own lives.

1 Peter 1

Today we’re reading 1 Peter 1.

In yesterday’s devotional, I wrote about the importance of looking forward with anticipation to Christ’s coming and his kingdom. In today’s reading, we’re in a different book written by a different apostle, but the same theme emerged. In Christ we have been promised “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (v. 4a). This promise isn’t stored somewhere here on earth and it isn’t dependent on Equifax to protect it. Instead, it is “kept in heaven for you” (v. 4b).

Recall that this chapter was written, through the Holy Spirit, by Peter. Jesus told him that “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). What did that mean? Just as sifting (winnowing) separates the wheat from the chaff, Satan wanted to use trials to separate Peter and the other apostles from Jesus. He wanted to remove their eternal life by breaking their bond with the Lord. That did not happen because Jesus prayed “for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32a). Then he told Peter, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32b). In concert with that command, Peter wrote here in 1 Peter 1:5 that we “through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Why is it that no one who trusts in Christ will ever be lost? Why is your eternity secure in Christ even if you feel like your faith is far from perfect? Satan wants to separate you from your salvation; that’s why he brings trials into your life (vv. 6-7). But he can’t separate you from Christ because you are “shielded by God’s power” (v. 5a). Instead of shaking you loose from Jesus, God allows those trials in your life to prove the “genuineness of your faith” (v. 7a) for his glory (v. 7c) but he will shield you as you go through those trials by his power.

Are you facing something hard in your life now? Cling to Christ and his promises, even if you are feeling less than confident. He will shield your faith by God’s power and, after a time of suffering, you will be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

[In case you aren’t aware of what happened with Equifax: https://www.wired.com/story/equifax-breach-no-excuse/]

2 Corinthians 12

Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 12.

Paul continued defending his ministry in today’s reading. Remember that this started back in chapter 10 and continued through chapter 11. His defense was necessary because people within the church attempted to discredit him and his ministry. Paul referred to the things he said about himself as “boasting” because he is talking about himself, explaining why the Corinthians should appreciate him and be champions of his ministry instead criticizing and doubting him. Paul hated doing this (v. 11). But he felt it was necessary so that he could strengthen them in their faith (v. 19) and prune the sin from the body (vv. 20-21).

This chapter recounts the revelations he had seen (v. 1) and the supernatural powers that had God had used him to work (v. 12). But rather than truly “boasting” about these things, Paul mentions them as evidence of his apostleship, but also included how God had humbled him by giving him his infamous “thorn in the flesh.” People have speculated what the “thorn in the flesh” might be but Paul never specified. Maybe he didn’t specify what it was because he did not want people to know; maybe he didn’t specify because the Corinthians already knew what it was. Regardless, Paul used the “divine passive” to describe how he received this “thorn.” The “divine passive” is when someone uses the passive voice to describe something God did. Paul used it in verse 7b when he says, “I was given a thorn in my flesh....” We know that God gave it to him because Paul said he received it “to keep me from becoming conceited.” We also know that it came from God because he “pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (v. 8). Despite the fact that God gave it to him, he called it “a messenger of Satan” which probably means that it limited his ability to do the Lord’s work.

Paul “pleaded” with God to rescue him from this thorn in the flesh three times according to verse 8. Instead of answering his prayer with deliverance, God answered it by promising his grace to Paul to deal with this “thorn,” whatever it was. Although this problem created weakness for Paul physically, it strengthened him spiritually just as God promised when he said, “my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9c).

Do you have any nagging problems in your life? They may not be physical or even visible to others but they discourage you, limit you in some way, and cause you distress. God’s promise to Paul in verse 9 is an opportunity for all of us who know Christ. The hardship(s) you and I face in life may be the thing that keeps us walking with God, keeps us depending on his power, and calls us to look to him in faith daily. Next time you find yourself pleading with God to take the problem away, ask instead for his grace to endure it and for his power to work in your spiritual life in a greater way.

2 Corinthians 1

Today’s reading is chapter 1 of 2 Corinthians.

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to continue addressing problems in the church. One problem, which he addressed in verses 12-24, was criticism he received for changing his travel plans after he had told the Corinthians he was coming to visit them. Before he got to that issue, however, he took time to praise God for how God had comforted him during the troubles he and his ministry partners had experienced in Asia (v. 8).

Why does God allow problems into our lives? Why aren’t his servants exempt from problems as a reward for their ministry of the gospel? There are at least four answers and three of them are discussed in this chapter.

First, God allows problems into our lives because we live in a fallen world. Until the redemption of all things is complete, problems will be part of life for everyone--believers and non-believers alike. This we know from other texts, not this chapter.

Second, God allows problems into our lives so that he can comfort us and teach us to comfort others (v. 4). The best people to help you when you are persecuted are those who have endured persecution themselves. The best people to help you when you face a life-threatening illness are those who have been there. They are the “best people” to help because they can empathize with your struggles more deeply and more personally. They know what encouraged and helped them when they were struggling, so that makes them more equipped to help you.

Third, God allows problems into our lives to test and strengthen our faith. Verse 6 says that problems produce “in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” That “patient endurance” is not just giving up and taking it, like when you’re stuck in stopped traffic on the freeway and there is nothing you can do about it. “Patient endurance” is the ability to trust God throughout the duration of a trial rather than giving up faith in him. Trials reveal whether we are truly trusting in God or whether we are self-deceived about our faith. They also teach us to look to God for comfort, help, and deliverance which strengthens our faith when God delivers us. Verse 9 made the same point when it said, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” For true Christians, trials drive us closer to God while problems in life drive unbelievers further from him. That doesn’t mean you’ll never question God; read the Psalms and you’ll see plenty of verses that question God. Instead, while your faith may waver and feel week, it will ultimately hold and eventually get stronger through trials.

Fourth, God allows problems into our lives to teach others how to pray. Verse 11 says, “...as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” As you go through problems in life and ask others to pray for you, your trial gives them the opportunity to learn intercessory prayer. When the trial ends, it gives other believers who prayed for you the opportunity to give thanks to God.

What problems and struggles are you facing right now? Which of these lessons do you feel God is teaching you most directly? If you’re not facing a trial in your life right now, give thanks for God’s favor but study the list above, too, to fortify yourself for when the problems arrive.

Acts 16

Today we’re reading Acts 16.

Paul’s second missionary journey got off to a great start! On one of his early stops, he met Timothy who became a trusted fellow-servant and a dear friend (vv. 1-3) and God was blessing each visit with spiritual and salvation growth (vv. 4-5).

Then God directed Paul and Silas away from where they intended to go and into Greece (Macedonia) (vv. 6-12). At first, things started off great there in the city of Philippi when Lydia became a believer and gave these missionaries a place to stay (vv. 13-15). Then Paul and Silas liberated a woman from the demons that possessed her (vv. 16-18) and things changed quickly and drastically. The woman who had been demon possessed was a big money maker for others. Now that her powers were gone, these men wanted revenge so they pressed charges against Paul and Silas of inciting a riot (vv. 19-21). As a result of the criminal charges against them, Paul and Silas were “...stripped and beaten with rods” (v. 22b)... “severely flogged [and] thrown into prison” (vv. 22b-23a).

I don’t think my reaction to these circumstances would have been very happy but instead of being dragged down emotionally, Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). God worked miraculously and saved the jailor (vv. 26-34) then worked providentially and had Paul and Silas released (vv. 35-40). So it seems clear that the bad treatment these men received was both to teach them to trust God and to bring salvation to the Philippian jailor. The painful, unpleasant circumstances were part of his plan.

James 1 commands us to consider it pure joy when we encounter many kinds of trials. Paul and Silas practiced that truth and God used them. Are you facing a trial, a difficult time, an unexpected setback after a period of good spiritual growth and blessing? Choose to sing God’s praises and glorify him while waiting to see how he wants to use you in that circumstance.