Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Grace in Hard Places

   Somewhere along the course of my growing up years in the church, my parents, Sunday School teachers and pastors taught me to recite for memory The Lord's Prayer, The Apostle's Creed, and the 23rd Psalm.  In fact, in high school French class, I learned the 23rd Psalm in French for memory.  It was a class assignment and I can still repeat it.  However, in recent days, I have found this Psalm more comforting than merely an assignment to memorize.
     As Christians, we tend to think of life as being sequential.  When God allows testing, trials or trouble into our life, we tend to think He will follow it by carrying us away to the green pastures where we will rest by still waters, eat at a lavish banquet, have an overflowing cup and spend eternity with the Lord.  While these things surely do come to pass in the life of a believer, the truth is that it doesn't happen after a difficult time but often occurs while we are going through the pain.
     Never have I found this to be more true than during the time that we lost our grandson.  Receiving the news of his unexpected death was a blow to us all.  Yet, underneath these painful circumstances were the Everlasting Arms of God.  The Good Shepherd of our souls held us up and walked us to the green pasture to rest.  God provided more than a lavish feast by bringing in lots of food to assist when the family most needed it, and when the time came to lay this child to rest and celebrate his life, the Lord walked with us through the valley of the shadow of death.  God's comfort has been amazing as He has used scores of His people to bring comfort, care, and provision all along the way.
     Whether in the loss of a loved one or some other traumatic circumstance, we can count on God's presence with us to guide, guard and lead us.  It has been my experience throughout life that when I am facing a trial I seek out God more in prayer and look to His Word for the answers.  As I do both of these things, His peace helps me find the strength I need.
     In addition to the 23rd Psalm, a pastor introduced me to scripture I cling too during the trials of life.  It is found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5:  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also is our comfort abundant in Christ...."  This is a biblical pay it forward for us.  We are to help and comfort others with the same comfort with which Christ has brought us comfort.  Notice that Paul wrote that we share the sufferings of Christ which are ours in abundance.  There is no denying the difficulties of walking in this world when we are citizens of heaven.  However, Christ supplies the abundant comfort.  He is our "Good Shepherd" who leads us beside the still waters and allows us rest along the way in the green pastures just when we need it.
     During my life, I have come to realize that while we are not spared sorrow or loss, God is, at the same time, filling us with the Holy Spirit, the ultimate comforter promised to us by Jesus before His ascension.  Our greatest time of experiencing Psalm 23 or 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 is not after we get past the trials but during them.  It is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit that fills our cup to overflowing at the time when we are not certain we can go on.  That type of comfort is beyond any understanding to those outside of Christ.
     None of us look for tragedies in life.  However, when they do come along, remember that God will provide for us the sustenance, quiet and protection we need to see us through.  Even more, He will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death.  I have seen this and know it to be true.  I encourage you if you have never memorized the 23rd Psalm or 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 to do so during this time of reflection before Easter.  There is such joy in hiding God's Word in your heart.  Selah!

Photography courtesy of Aaron Thayer at Naples Botanical Gardens

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