In just a few weeks I will be turning 70 years old, ushering in a decade where, typically, increasing weakness is felt and seen with each passing year. While I don’t relish waking up to new aches and pains, decreasing stability, and whatever else might lie ahead, by God’s grace, I am no stranger to weakness or the ways God can use it for His glory. In fact, God has sovereignly ordained various opportunities over the course of my life which have been designed to reveal the true condition of my heart. Along with His great mercy in saving me; He uses my sin and weakness to display the kindness of His grace and the power of His strength.
We see examples of this throughout the Scriptures. In the book of Judges, God chose Gideon, a weak man from a weak tribe, to display His power and glory. It was a time of national decline in Israel, where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Their idolatry had led them so far from the Lord that they could no longer discern between right and wrong. Yet, whenever the suffering became unbearable, they cried out to God for help and, in His mercy, He raised up a deliverer or judge.
We read in Judges 6 that, when the Lord told Gideon He was going to use him to deliver Israel from their oppressors, Gideon resisted the call due to his natural weakness. However, so that Gideon would recognize his utter dependence on God, He also cut Gideon’s army down to merely 300 men (in contrast to the Midianites and Amalekites who “were like locusts in abundance”). God demonstrated His power and victory through their weakness, “lest Israel boast that ‘My own hand has saved me” (Judges 7:2).
Like Gideon, even when we feel insufficient for the work God has given us, we are prone to lean on our own strength and wisdom, and to rely on whatever other resources are available to us. We simply don’t like weakness. Rather, we like to feel in control, capable of the job, confident, and successful. And so, God, in His kindness, sometimes leads us into deep waters that leave us flailing, or to the furnace of affliction, where our natural strength proves to be useless to us. And then, when the heat and pressure of our trials overwhelm us, we cry out, “Lord, deliver me from this! Take this away!”
When our trials continue or increase, we may even begin to question God’s love, goodness, or power. And yet, for those who are willing to lie still and be taught in the furnace of affliction; God wants to reveal that the very thing we are desperate for Him to take away is actually a gift. For it is through our weakness that God’s grace works to heal us from our brokenness and opens our eyes to see His love for lost sinners.
While God uses various means, His purpose is always to wean us away from whatever is holding us back from knowing and loving Him above all earthly treasures and comforts. He created us so He knows that Jesus Christ is the true desire of our hearts and that nothing this world offers will satisfy us apart from Him. Thus, God will go to great measures to deliver us from anything that will keep us from His eternal love.
In John 15, Jesus taught his disciples what it means to abide in Him, using the metaphor of a vine and branches. It’s fairly easy to understand why our Father would desire to take away every branch that does not bear fruit, but I have always been intrigued by the verse that says “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit” John 15:1-2. As an amateur gardener, I confess that I have never found it easy to cut back branches that are full of fruit or beautiful blossoms; yet, apparently, as our heavenly Father knows, this leads to a more beautiful and fruitful plant. And God’s Word says the same is true for us.
Recently, God cut what I felt were fruit bearing branches in my life almost down to the root. In the midst of COVID God moved all three of our children to the state of Colorado, and then made it clear that we were to sell our home (and newly landscaped yard) of 34 years, leave our beloved church family, and say good-bye to a lifetime of fruitful ministry and dear friends. He called me out of the vocational ministry to women that I loved, to a land where the landscape is predominantly made up of rocks, and where you have to water whatever green thing you might have in in your yard all winter long just to keep it alive. And while, being near our children and grandchildren brings great joy, I have no doubt that He also brought me here to continue His sanctifying work in my life. Moving to a new place at the age of 70, where nobody knows my name and where loneliness sometimes descends like a thick cloud, drives me further into HIs presence where His strength will be on display through my weakness as I face this new season of life.
Where are you feeling weak right now? Is fear gripping your heart? Is God withholding something you long for? Has God given you a burden or an affliction that is tempting you to despair, to doubt His goodness, or make the future seem hopeless? Have you been so severely pruned that you feel lifeless? Briefly, let me offer four things about God that I have learned during seasons of pruning.
God has taught me to look to the cross whenever I question His love or good purposes.
God demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son to die for us on the cross. All seemed hopeless on the day Christ was crucified. God’s enemies were certain they had been victorious. But God was at work in ways no one could see when death seemed to have had the final word. (Romans 5:6-11)
Over the years, our family has had to grapple with some hard things-seemingly hopeless things: Lyme disease and a lifetime of chronic pain in our daughter and several grandchildren (including neurological ramifications which has brought long term devastating, and yet, hidden pain to their family); a genetic mutation that has had devastating consequences in the life of another precious granddaughter; ongoing job losses, financial struggles, and more. Yet our darkest hours have taken us back to that rugged cross and the hope of the gospel- which reminds us that Christ suffered and died for us so that we could be forgiven and live in the joy of His presence forever. Resurrection Day is coming!
God is with us and will never leave or forsake us
While COVID has had many things to teach us, one thing that has become particularly meaningful to me is the reality that God is with us and nothing can keep us from His love. He invites us to take off our masks and to take refuge in Him. He beckons us to seek His help in times of trouble, and to rest in His sovereign providence no matter how hopeless life feels. While I currently feel largely “unseen” in this place we now live; I find strength in knowing that Almighty God knows me intimately and sees each tear that falls. He draws near to comfort me and assure me, once again, that He makes no mistakes. While flourishing in this season might look like different than it did a year ago, my faith continues to grow deeper as I put my trust in Him.
God prunes wisely and purposefully for our eternal joy
Sometimes it’s hard to understand why God cuts away fruit bearing branches. Many of us have known or read about believers who tragically died, leaving thriving gospel work seemingly unfinished. In times of darkness, we find rest in our confidence that Divine wisdom is wiser than we. When we walk by faith, not by sight; we can be sure that our faithful God will fulfill every promise for those who put their hope in Him.
God wants to give us abundantly more than we know to ask Him for
I have sincerely prayed for God to conform me to Christ and to do whatever is needed in my life and in the lives of my children to bring glory to His name. I want that because my eyes have been set on eternity and I know that nothing this world can offer will compare to the eternal weight of glory being stored in heaven for God’s children. And, while I have never prayed for any of the losses, sorrows, or sufferings that we have known, God’s Word assures me that these very things are all part of His good and faithful answers to my prayers. We can trust Him, no matter how things look, because Romans 8:32 tells us that: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”
God gave the greatest gift possible to undeserving sinners who resist His love and grace in countless ways. For those who have received the gift of His Son for salvation; He puts things in our hands to offer back to Him- offerings that He wants to use for our good and His glory. What has He given you that you can place on that altar?
Could it be the unmet desire of a husband or a baby? Is it your grief or Loneliness? Something you treasure? Your pain? Anger? Revenge for a wrong done to you? Unmet expectations for your marriage or a child? Fear of the unknown? Your imperfections? Disappointment with life?
God invites us to offer everything to Him to redeem, both for our eternal joy, and to display His goodness and glory to a watching world. He alone can bring beauty out of our ashes, and give us a song of gladness in place of our cries of lament.
The apostle Paul was given a thorn which he pleaded with God to remove. But as God’s Spirit so often responds to us, He said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul clearly had eternity in view when he said: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
Susan Hunt says, “What we learn from Paul is this; To finish strong is to finish weak.” I echo that with a hearty “Amen”! For as I reflect on the various trials and afflictions that have cast me upon the Lord, I have experienced the sufficiency of God’s grace again and again. Not only that, but even when tears are rolling down my face, by His grace, I am able to thank God for the ways His power has been made perfect through my weakness, revealing with increasing clarity that Christ is my joy and my strength.
Lean into whatever is making you feel your desperate need for Christ. God is faithful and will never let those who put their hope in Him be put to shame.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,
Chosen and Called