This post is for the downcast. The ones feeling oppressed by circumstance, who feel "under" it all. Those overwhelmed by the lingering heat of the fire. And for those that have been praying for change. And praying for change. And still praying for change. It's for times when you feel like instead of sojourning through the desert of affliction, God has instead pitched you a tent and asked you to stay awhile.
It's for beloved ones who are crying out for help...wishing and hoping that someone would notice and care and just throw them a bone.
These places can be lonely. Sometimes others, except maybe a few close friends or family members, are totally unaware of the inward battle day after day. Other areas of life seem to show no regard for the struggle, they just moving along...and the weariness sets in. The fight to just keep showing up, to keep preaching Gospel truth to our minds and hearts, to keep runnning to prayer, it can be exhausting. It take true grit and a lot of grace to stay focused and not get pulled down the slippery slope of self-pity, despair, hopelessness, doubt and apathy. The cries of our hearts sometimes muffle the cries of our Savior on the cross and we need a reminder that He loves. He notices. He sees. And He will deliver.
In my reading this week I came to Exodus. The Israelites, whom God said would only sojourn in the land of Egypt to escape famine had now been dwelling there for 400 years. They had become enslaved to Pharoah and their oppression was great. Taskmasters afflicted them with heavy burdens, day after day, with no sign of change. God had said He would bring them back to the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob...but things were looking dim. Promises were all but forgotten. The people couldn't see past their own circumstances. (No judgment here...we've all been there to one degree or another, haven't we?)
But as I read through the first few chapters, three things deeply encouraged my soul and reminded me that I am noticed and cared for. My prayers are not in vain. He is here. It was like God tossed me that bone.
I will post the first encouragement today. Then over the next week share the second and third with you that we might together have time to reflect, digest and prayerfully allow these truths about God to strengthen, uplift and bring shalom to our longing hearts as we endure longsuffering...whatever that may be for you.
The first thing was this...
1) Despite such tremendous trial (cruel taskmasters, harsh physical labor and having their male children murdered), they multiplied and spread abroad.
"The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad." (Ex 1:12)
Israel was still carrying out (because of God's faithful lovingkindness) the command to be fruitful and multiply. They were still bearing life. The fruit of the womb. They were growing in number despite their dark, present reality of death and despair.
My takeaway is this: God will work in and through my difficult circumstances to continue to empower me by His Spirit to bear fruit for His Kingdom and His cause. I should not ever view my seasons of suffering and/or persecution (big or small) as obstacles or reasons to feel or believe I am ineffective or "benched" in the Kingdom of God. Nor should it inhibit my hope that He will use the suffering in my life to advance His Kingdom in His way in and through me.
Our sufferings never rend us "down and out" in terms of who or what God can use for His cause. Our weariness (although it certainly may remain for a season) doesn't make us a lost cause or ineffective in being able to bear fruit for the world to see. The Egyptians saw God bless the Israelites in spite of their ruthless and bitter, hard labor. It got their attention and laid the groundwork for the them to know and believe the LORD later when He would rock their world with His signs and wonders.
In the same way that God enabled the Israelites to be fruitful and multiply even in the midst of affliction, He will grant us the grace to do the same in Christ as we we walk with Him through trial.
The command to the Israelites was to be fruitful and multiply and dwell in the land of Egypt, trusting that God would bring them up and out as He promised Abraham and Jacob. Our command, on this side of the cross, is to trust in Jesus Christ as the One who has brought us up and out of slavery to sin and death and into the promised land of life in Himself. And through trust and obedience, we are commanded to abide in Him every circumstance (John 15). He will bear the fruit and He will grow and multiply His church through us.
Whether from out of the flames or in the midst of green pastures, God's grace and power is stronger than our weakness. As we look to Him and abide in Him in a posture of wholehearted surrender, He will bring about fruit that will cause the world to notice. He will continue to carry out His purposes in us to bring glory to His name as we trust in Him.
Our desert places will never be able to rob us of the joy and miracle of God bringing forth life, growth and abundant fruit unless we allow them to.
In our longsuffering, we must trust that He can and will. Though the fire is hot or no end in sight, we simply beg for the grace to abide so that He may enable us to bear His fruit. And then be still and watch for Him to part the sea (or maybe just a puddle) in His time, and humbly and gratefully walk through...offering the refreshing fruit of the Spirit to a world waiting to know that He is LORD.