The last year and a half has brought much refining of my faith; there have been struggles I would not have expected. This has been especially true over the last few weeks when trials have come related to the things that are most precious to me, my relationships and my reputation. Relationships bring me deep joy, especially those that point me to Christ. I try to structure my life in such a way so that people come first, so it's particularly tough when there are rifts, misunderstandings and hurt; even more so when I've hurt others. I try to represent Christ well (though I often fail), and that makes my reputation important to me.
I have been crushed by events that have come my way recently and have walked in a lot of condemnation over the past few weeks, even to the point of wondering whether I should continue on in ministry. But then I realized that's the point. Satan would seek to crush and condemn me in order to thwart the work I might do for the Lord. I believe it is no coincidence that all this began when I stepped out in faith to take on the Respect Life ministry of our parish. The good news is that God prevails. What Satan intends for evil, God uses for good (Genesis 50:20). God's plans will not be thwarted if we remain steadfast.
Satan messes with people where it hurts the most. Were any of these situations my fault? Yes. My judgment was bad, even if well intentioned. But Satan takes misunderstandings and blows them out of proportion. He seeks to make us ineffective when we step out in faith to serve the Lord. The important thing for me to remember is that it is not people who are our enemies, it is something else:
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12)
God turns these situations around if we persevere, even if it means pressing forward at great expense. This is how we embrace the cross and walk with our Lord.
I recently posted a picture (on "Compelling Life Thought") that spoke to me deeply, though I didn't quite understand why at the time. Now I know. It encapsulates exactly what I'm talking about here. If we cling to Christ on the cross as we carry ours, it comforts us. More than that, it brings comfort to Him! We share in His sufferings when we bring ours to him.
While I was praying for a friend who I hold in my daily prayers, the center of each palm began to tingle. This immediately made me think of Christ on the cross; I felt God was telling me that the power of Christ's sacrifice is intimately involved in our struggles.
God reigns; He controls events on earth. Even if battles are lost, ultimately the war will be won. And while we are fighting, God never stops doing sweet and wonderful things. Resurrection comes after struggle! A friend was completely healed of cancer by the laying on of hands and prayer, but that wasn't the biggest miracle. God did a tremendous work of healing in his heart. Other friends are rejoicing in a pregnancy after much disappointment and after being told it was unlikely it would happen. God can do anything, and He will, sometimes at the most unexpected of times and in the most unexpected of ways.
Times of trial, whether from Satan or from plain old life, are always for our benefit. God refines our faith through trials; adversity chases us into God's arms. Satan seeks to shame, condemn and scorn; God seeks to give us a royal robe, put His ring on our finger, and throw a feast in our honor (Luke 15)! I especially love Luke 15:20: "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." That's how much God loves us, even in our mistakes, even in our imperfect humanness!
The enemy almost stopped me this time, and that's a scary thought. But, through God's grace, he didn't. I must die to self on the battlefield, over and over again, as I become a member of God's army.