Challenges Deepen Faith
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,”
Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
(John 4:48 NIV)
In John 4, Jesus makes an indicting statement to the crowd of people gathered about Him. He says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.”
In other words, “You watch Me perform and you become softened through your amazement of My displays of power. Those things may be necessary to get your attention, but you cannot live in this world on spiritual performance alone.”
Signs and wonders are not enough to answer the hard questions in life. They can't be trusted to keep you standing in the fierce winds of life's adversities. Without true faith, you can make a lot of noise and generate excitement about spiritual performance, but you can't release a lot of conviction about who God is and what God means to you.
Without faith, you'll be an impressive shadow boxer in the ring of life, displaying superlative skill because there is no opponent in front of you. But if a strong adversary like Satan stands opposite you, you are going to need a whole lot more than amazement or appreciation for spiritual performance.
Faith has so much more to it. And in order to tap it, the Lord will challenge it. Perhaps the Lord is challenging you today because He knows your faith has more potential. Perhaps His answers to your prayers are not going to look like you imagine them to be. Perhaps He plans to meet your needs—but in surprising and unexpected ways that prove to you that you weren't thinking deep enough, high enough, or wide enough.
Your faith isn’t going to grow only by the splendor of performance. You won't grow and mature if God just gives you signs and wonders.
God essentially says, “My goal is not just to have you experience mouth dropping, eye-opening, applauding kind of demonstrations. I'm pushing you so that we can get your faith to a place where if nothing around you amazing is happening, you can still be satisfied in trusting My word and My promises. I’m going to challenge your faith.”
Are you up for the challenge?
Slow Your Life Down
I will meditate on Your precepts,
And contemplate Your ways.
(Psalm 119:15 NKJV)
You will only survive difficult times and emerge better from them if you heed the psalmist’s warning that your power and purpose, your strength and energy, your vision and passion are only as strong as who you meditate on and what you contemplate.
The strength of your person, the focus of your vision, the understanding of your call, and the proper interpretation of all your experiences are either strengthened or weakened by the degree of internal surrender you offer to God. I’m talking about the inside labor you put into your spiritual development and maturation.
So the question is this: what is the condition of your inner life?
I don't want to know how in shape you are. I don't want to know how your bank account is doing. I don't want to know how secure your job is. I don't want to know how stable your relationships are. What I want to know is, what’s the condition of your inside reality?
The invitation God is extending to you right now is to slow your life down. Learn to value the prayer room as much as you crave the public stage. Turn your focus to the inside, where listening becomes more important than speaking. Slow your life down so you can value precepts more than punchlines, and so God can help you extract the value out of your lived experiences.
The psalmist teaches us that you must focus on the inside so you can stop being defined by what you battle and instead be defined by what you meditate on. You’ll notice in Psalm 119 that the psalmist’s focus doesn’t dwell on his enemies, on threats from foreign adversaries, or on the peril that lingers ever so close. None of that is mentioned. Instead, we only hear about what the psalmist is meditating over: the precepts and the ways of the Lord. Because the Word of God is what the psalmist meditates on, the battles are not even worth talking about.
If you meditate on God’s Word, your battles become nothing more than interim engagements in route to the fulfillment of God's purposes.
Slow your life down, turn your focus inward, and meditate on God’s Word today.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
Mark 15:33-34 NIV
Today, we agonize with Jesus as we read about how He hung on the cross. Certainly we do so because it’s painful to watch Him bear the weight of our sin and to pay the penalty for our disobedience to God.
But maybe we can take another look so that we can see His surrender to the Father’s will in the garden or His emboldened words when He declared, “This temple, if destroyed, will be raised again in three days.” Perhaps we are made to take another look at our Lord upon the cross, but to do so with different lenses on. Let us think of all those seemingly endless hours on the cross, endured by Jesus because of His commitment to the mission of human redemption and His compassion for all.
Let us consider His great desire to redeem human connection with God, which could only be accomplished by His blood and His resurrection.
Jesus teaches us that we are to always find purpose in our pain. Jesus’ purpose is easy to interpret; it was to bring redemption to humanity and to be the bridge to eternal security. His pain and suffering were all for a reason.
In this season we are living through, with all the emotions we are experiencing—fear, anger, angst, worry, concern, confusion, perplexity, etc.—the lesson is very simple: as painful as it is, God makes it purposeful in maturing us for His glory!
What possibly could be the purpose of your pain? Consider that it could be:
- to strengthen your faith
- to forge your character
- to shape your personality
- to purge your unnecessaries
- to filter what’s true in your life from what’s not true
- to shape your identity
Don’t go through a trial and come out with nothing of spiritual significance. If all you do is resume life when it’s over, you will have mismanaged the moment. Use the moment, no matter how painful, to be re-created, revived, refined, and reformed.
Good Friday is good because there is purpose in the pain.
Prisoners of One Season
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
A man had four sons and he wanted them to learn not to judge things too quickly. He set them down and told them, “I'm going to send each of you out in different seasons of the year, and I want you to study the pear tree. Then you’ll report back about what you find. The first son will go out in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in the summer, and the fourth in the fall.”
The sons went out in their respective seasons and made their observations. When they came back, the father sat them down and asked them to describe what they had seen. The first son said, “When I went out there and looked at that pear tree, I saw that it was ugly. It was bent over, gnarled, and twisted. Frankly, I don't know why you sent me out there. It was a waste of time.”
The second son said, “No, no, no. When I went out, that tree was covered with green buds. It was full of promise. I was glad I went.”
The third son chimed in, “When I went out there and looked at that tree, it was laden with blossoms. It smelled so sweet. It looked so beautiful. It was the most graceful thing I'd ever seen in my life.”
The last son chuckled. He said, “Well, I'm glad I went out last, because I didn’t see what you all saw. When I went out there, that tree was ripe and drooping with fruit. It was full of life and fulfillment. And the fruit was good to eat.”
The father laughed when he looked around the table at his four sons because he knew that each of them were prisoners of one season.
And then he taught them: “You cannot judge a tree’s life by one of its seasons. You have to be with it through all of the seasons in order to make a determination about it.” The same is true for our lives.
Some of us have been withholding praise and worship because we are prisoners of one season. You feel like because you are struggling in one season, God can’t be praised until your season changes. Well, the devil is a liar, and that is one of his lies.
You’ve got to stick around long enough to know that weeping endures but for a night, but joy comes in the morning. God is worthy of your praise no matter what season of life you find yourself in. He isn’t finished with you yet. Just wait and see what God is going to do!
“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:17 (NIV)
I have a favorite pair of golf shoes, but they are extremely old. They were great until golf shoe construction changed. Today’s designs for golf shoes give more consideration to the need for waterproofing, they’re able to handle rough terrain, and they can be comfortable to wear both on and off the course. In other words, since the years when my favorite shoes were the standard golf shoes to possess, technology has advanced and construction has matured.
Of course, I’ve purchased golf shoes that are more recently designed, but I haven’t thrown away the old pair. I just have to manage them differently, given that I have more thoroughly constructed shoes now. I can only wear those old shoes sparingly. I can only wear the old shoes on certain golf courses, where there are certain conditions that are favorable to the old shoes.
That means my old shoes are worn less. They're worn very intentionally based upon what I know I’ll face when I leave the house. They are still valuable and useful to me, but I can't wear them anywhere—just on the courses that are best suited to them. The new shoes I bought, on the other hand, can be worn everywhere. No matter the surface, they are appropriate for it.
Here's my point. Everything you've been through is necessary. Everything you've experienced is instructive. Everything you’ve survived is revelatory. It's all preserved for the benefit of memory. It shapes you when you're making decisions, because it forces you to not forget what it cost you, how it hurt you, or the time it took from you.
These things are used only as frequently as your need to be reminded of the grace of God and the power that He has employed in your life to restore you and to turn you around. It’s not that you are giving loyalty to the pain, but you never forget it, because it reminds you that the only reason you survived the pain is because God's grace is amazing. You don't discard those “old shoes,” but you don't live as devoted to them. Why? Because Jesus has introduced you to “new shoes,” and it shows up in your world as a transformed mind, as a renewed heart, and a more mature spiritual discernment.
In other words, don’t despise the past—but don’t live in the past either. Recognize the value of your past as you move forward into the future.