Trial, Not by Fire, but Almost Everything Else

by Carol McCracken

Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.                                                                      James 1: 2 NIV

Her wedding dress, which had begun at thirty pounds, now weighed at least fifty.

A tropical storm was making landfall soon, and the rain bands had toyed with the venue all day. As her wedding planner, I knew chances of the planned outdoor ceremony were slim. But God had just given us a forty-five minute rain-free window. The surface under the decorated arch where the bride and groom stood was wet with residue, which the bride’s gown had absorbed. Unfazed, she grabbed her groom’s hand and recessed victoriously down the aisle.

I’ve seen many weddings with challenges, but this one was an extreme. The ironic thing was the bride and groom met when a tropical storm canceled a concert they had separately planned to attend. They met when pouring out their sorrows about that with mutual friends. Without a tropical storm to start things, they never would have crossed paths. And now here was another.

In the last months of planning, a global pandemic paralyzed the economy. Multiple crises occurred, one after the other. Carefully made plans were repeatedly derailed. She had shed many a tear, but with the quiet support of her groom, she always rallied.

As the world seemed to settle, it was decided to move forward with the wedding. But the bride called me in tears yet again when half the groomsmen’s suits didn’t arrive. The resulting customer service was abysmal, and the bride seemed ready to jump off the proverbial ledge.

Now a tropical storm loomed in the Gulf. The venue staff graciously offered to postpone the wedding. She turned the offer down, saying she was going down the aisle with her fiancé no matter what. Now, with all those trials and troubles behind her, the bride waved her bridal bouquet in triumph. She had just married her love and wanted the world to know it.

We will all none-too fondly will remember 2020, because we faced trials of all kinds, forcing us all to navigate uncharted territory. Not that we should be surprised at hardship: take a look at what James wrote at the top of this page. Notice, he didn’t say if, but when trials come. God tests our faith. This is not for His benefit; He already knows what is in our hearts. I think He does it to help us see where our faith really lies.

Some of us got mean. Some of us gave up. Some of us searched for answers in the wrong places. Our bride felt forces were against her as she tried to plan her special day. But amid the challenges, when the going got tough, she refused to postpone the wedding because she loved her groom and wanted to walk down that aisle in front of God and everyone. She stood before God in faith and thanked Him.

Are we as steadfast when difficulties appear or plans are canceled or postponed? Are we trusting in the circumstances we see around us rather than in a faithful God who holds all matters in His hands? God may be using the difficulties you are experiencing to help you see where you have placed your faith.

God loves us and wants us to face the tests by turning to Him in trust. He will reward the faithful in the end.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 NASB

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Trial, Not by Fire, but Almost Everything Else – encouragement from Carol McCracken on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

About the author: Carol McCracken has been a Bible teacher for over twenty years. She has been on church staff in Leadership Development and Women’s ministry for over 30. Her passion is to make the Bible come alive for women and connect it to a real relationship with Jesus Christ in today’s busy and demanding world. She is an AWSA Protégé and Destin Word Weavers member.

Carol is a contributor to ChristianDevotions.us, Arise Daily, and Mustard Seed Ministries. She is currently working with an editor on another Women’s Bible study.

Join the conversation: What has God revealed to you through the trial of the Covid crisis?

Is God Ever Not Good?

by Ava Pennington @AvaPennington

A friend recently had successful cancer surgery. When she joyfully announced the results on social media, the responses were both positive and predictable:

  • God is good!
  • God truly answers prayer!
  • God really loves you!
  • God is an awesome God!

We rejoiced in her prognosis because we understood the magnitude of what might have been. Still, our collective responses started me wondering. What if God had not extended His hand of mercy to her? What if the surgery had not been successful? What if the cancer had spread? Would we still say:

  • God is good!
  • God truly answers prayer!
  • God really loves you!
  • God is an awesome God!

…or would we doubt His goodness?

The prophet Habakkuk wrote: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV).

Today, we might say: “Though the cancer is not healed and I can’t pay my mortgage, though my marriage has failed and the economy produces no jobs, though there are no book contracts in the offing and no agents who want to represent me,         yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

No matter what happens, God is good.

Whether we understand our circumstances or not, God is good.

Whether we can serve Him the way we want or not, God is good.

Whether our days are difficult or easy, God is good.

Do you believe this—truly believe this in the midst of your present circumstances? Believe it in your heart and speak it aloud, because it’s true: God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.

I hope you’re not experiencing anything today causing you to doubt God’s goodness. But if you are, what will you do with your doubts?

O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!                                                                                                                                          Psalm 34:8 NASB

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© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: What has made you question the goodness of God?

The Bull Rider

by Sheri Schofield

It’s rodeo season here in Montana. Crowds flock to the fairgrounds to watch friends and family compete for prizes. The youngest rodeo riders, usually ages 4 to 7, start the contest by riding bucking sheep. They are the “wool riders”. Welcome to Mutton Busting! They hold onto the thick wool for dear life, cheered on by their families. Sometimes they cry when they are bucked off. They run to their mothers, who fold them in their arms and comfort them for a few minutes. Then the child wipes away his tears and rushes over to watch the next wool rider perform.

The rodeo events will gradually increase in danger from calf roping, to steer roping, horse shows, barrel racing, and bronco riding. Finally, the experienced riders head for the bulls. The huge animals snort and stamp their feet, just waiting for that man to drop on top of them. The gate opens. The bulls rush out, thrashing wildly.

This is the bull rider’s greatest test. Atop a horned bull that weighs between 1,500 and 1,900 pounds, the rider must spur this mountain of powerful muscles to make it an even wilder ride! It seems like an eternity as he holds on with only one hand! But in truth, the ride lasts only eight seconds. At the sound of the buzzer, the rider tries to jump off the bull and a clown rushes in to distract the angry beast while the bull rider picks himself up and heads for safety.

Sometimes, life can feel like a rodeo bull ride. We hold on for all we’re worth for what seems like an eternity before we are able to rest! We pass through stress, grief and loss. But it is not forever. It is only for a relatively short time, in view of eternity.

When we first begin to experience difficulties in life, we may be like the children—the wool riders—on sheep. It looks fairly safe from the standpoint of the bleachers. But to the child, it seems impossible! Then the tests increase in difficulty. We grow stronger. Soon, if we learn to stay in the saddle, we may find ourselves on top of the equivalent of a bull in life. Stay strong! Stay in the saddle! The ride is short! The rest is sure for those who trust God. The reward is tremendous!

We do not ride through these difficulties for our own spiritual maturing alone. Paul writes, “He (God) comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4, NLT).

As we grow spiritually from these difficult experiences, we are able to reach out to others and help them through their own anxiety or grief. Sometimes, we simply stand with them, arm across their shoulders, and let them know we care, that we are there for them. Sometimes we share our own sorrows or stress, and tell how God helped us through them. We help others hang onto life and Christ. We give them the gifts of listening and understanding, prayer and comfort – gifts that God has given us in our times of testing.

Are you riding a bull today? Or are you resting from the testing? If you are in the saddle, hold onto Jesus! He will get you through this.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle, you will still be standing firm.  Ephesians 6:10-13, NLT

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The Bull Rider – insight on spiritual maturity from SheriSchofield on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

sheri schofieldAbout the author: Sheri Schofield is an award-winning children’s author-illustrator and children’s ministry veteran of 40 years. Sheri was named Writer of the Year in 2018 at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference for her work in effectively sharing the gospel of Jesus. Her ministry, Faithwind 4 Kids, can be followed on her blog at her website, http://www.sherischofield.com. Questions welcomed!

Sheri’s new book, The Prince And The Plan, is a beautifully illustrated, interactive picture book, written for children ages 4-8, that helps parents lead their children into a lasting, saving relationship with Jesus. It explains abstract concepts through words and interactive, multi-sensory activities. Useful for children’s ministry as well.

Join the Conversation: Have you been riding a bull lately?

 

Welcome to Desolation

by Lori Roeleveld @LoriSRoeleveld

Jesus often surprises us in times of desolation.

Desolation sometimes comes through external circumstances that others can see and validate. In the weeks leading up to and following my father’s death, I experienced grief, but also distress over ensuing family turmoil. The emptiness I experienced carved a crater of desolation in my heart.

There are times, however, when externally, life appears to be going our way, and others even envy our success. But in reality, the success does nothing to reach the empty pit in our hearts. Desolation of the soul is marked by a profound emptiness that can’t be cured by achievement or accolade. I once read an interview with an actress who won her first Oscar at a time when her marriage was quietly, privately crumbling. She had beauty, riches, and fame, but her heart was desolate.

Jesus knew desolation, but rather than resist it, He sought it out.

He withdrew to desolate places to pray. He preached and ministered in desolate places when the crowds became too overwhelming for Him in the cities. He invited His disciples to follow Him to desolate places at the height of their popularity. And He fed the thousands with loaves and fishes when they came to listen to Him in a place so desolate, the disciples couldn’t imagine where they would find food.

I’ve often rejected desolation in my life as a detour from God’s plan for me: a wrong turn, something to be ashamed of, hidden, or avoided. I don’t imagine the disciples were too excited to follow Jesus to desolation. These were men accustomed to the obscurity of fishing boats at sea and suddenly they were rock stars of the ancient world. Maybe a couple of them breathed relief at pulling back, but I bet more than one chafed at the notion of leaving the crowds at the height of their ministry.

God is unafraid of desolate places. In fact, He seeks it and invites us to join Him there.

It is where He feeds us. It’s where He multiplies what little we bring. It’s in desolation He reminds us that our value with Him doesn’t lie in what we accomplish but simply in being with Him. It’s in desolation that He weans us from the applause and approval of the crowd, teaching us to measure our lives more through our “To Love” list than our “To Do” list.

It’s in desolation that we remember our limitations, our fragility, and our child-like nature. Where we re-establish our complete dependence on Him. And it is there He supplies what we need from nothing. He takes the meager meals we’ve prepared for ourselves and demonstrates how, in His hands, this offering can serve thousands

Desolation is not a place to be endured, but a place of wonder: an opportunity to locate God’s secret workshop. A visit to desolation is where we discover what all the great biblical men and women have found when they entered their desolation – that He is God and there is no other.

God whispered a secret to us about desolation through the prophet Ezekiel and we can heed that whisper now. Is God calling you out to a desolate place, loved ones? Follow Him there and see what He is about.

And they will say, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of oasis Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.”  Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.                                                                                                                           Ezekiel 36:35-36 ESV

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Welcome to Desolation – encouragement from @LoriSRoeleveld on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

lori Roeleveld Headshot 2015About the author: Lori Stanley Roeleveld is an author, speaker, and disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored four encouraging, unsettling books. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.

Lori’s latest release is The Art of Hard Conversations: Biblical Tools for the Tough Talks that Matter. The dialogues everyday Christians delay are often the very channels God wants to use to deepen relationships and transform lives. Through funny, vulnerable personal stories and sound biblical teaching, the principles here are guaranteed to increase the confidence and competence of Christians in discussing sensitive topics of every kind.

Join the conversation: What has God taught you in a place of desolation?