Many of us know of Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” But in most cases, the person quoting the verse is unintentionally taking this verse out of context, for the following verse expounds upon verse 28. Verse 29 continues: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” So we must surmise by its context that the phrase “all things working together” is meant “to conform (a person) into the image of His Son (Jesus)”. This is above and beyond creature comforts, this is not a conditional “good”, and this is not a situational “good”. This is part of the sanctification process that changes a person spiritually from a selfish, soulish person to a holy person. Now before you get offended by the holiness condition, let me say that we have HUGE misconceptions about what holiness really is. Suffice it to say, being transformed is necessary and deep; being satiated with temporary happiness or material, conditional wants, needs, and desires is profoundly shallow. Holiness is a process and one ordained by our Lord, so let us take what follows in this article and really understand the implications of process.
I learned an incredible lesson not too long ago and I would like to share it with you.
I’m sure there are many Christians out there that completely understand this statement: “When God is speaking into my life, He always uses a rapid-fire approach”. Something I read or hear sparks my spirit, and then at least two more times, usually in quick succession, the same theme is repeated. It is like the Lord saying, ‘Hello…I’m talking here!’” From my many conversations with other Christians, I have found this to be the case more often than not. It’s funny actually when we think ourselves the only ones that get these “coinkydink” messages! Almost every time I think I’m the only one who experiences the voice of our God in a particular and peculiar way, I am presented with many others who say, “Yeah…that happened to me too.” At first you reel back and think, “Well, I’m not that special after all”, and what quickly follows is, “Thank God I’m not the only one”!
This scenario played out recently. As with all Christians, I had been going through a time of spiritual unrest, a period of confusion, and a stretch of time marked by what we sometimes refer to as the desert trial. I just so happened to be reading a book by Graham Cooke when the following nugget of wisdom jumped out at me:
We cannot operate from a continuous flow of the Spirit. For every flow there has to be an ebb in our experience. What we do in the ebb is just as important as what we do in the flow. We learn Lordship in the valley and the mountain. He is Lord of every life experience. Nothing prevents Him from being God. We must experience Him in the depths as well as the heights. We must learn to be a contribution when everything is against us.—Approaching the Heart of Prophecy, page 125.
This part of the reading hit me square between the eyes. It convicted me. It spoke into me that I personally cannot expect everything in my walk with God to be in the mountains; and that in a practical way, God necessarily must take us through the valley. In other words, the valley is good; it doesn’t matter how I feel about the valley. Someone once said, “You must travel through the valley to get to the mountaintop.” So true, so true, but we do everything in our power sometimes to “pray our way out” of the valley because we feel we need to be on the mountaintop to do God’s work or to progress in our spiritual maturity. Another misconception is that the valley is merely a season in our life that must be overcome once and for all; the idea that we have traveled the hard road as entrance onto the high road and that now the hard road is behind us! How much different would your life and my life be if we embraced the hard road when it inevitably comes? What if we approached the valleys with as much zeal as we do hopping around the mountaintops?
Let us understand of what I speak. I’m talking about the times when God seems far from us, when His presence is not tangible, and when we feel quite lonely. Our spirit is not quickened, our spirit can’t feel the Holy Spirit, and our spirit seems hopelessly buried and unattainable like a distant memory. I’m not talking about the “hard times” we face in the natural, although that surely is part of the equation. But any seasoned Christian knows that life can be handing us lemons and the Lord is making lemonade with us, but I’m talking about when the Lord seems MIA, when we feel He is not near, and when the lemons come they are simply sour and it’s all we have to eat! And when we are eating lemons, we look up and pray, “Oh God, oh God! Where are You? Why am I having to eat lemons?”
A word of wisdom here before we continue: many Christians (me included) unfortunately think that when God seems far away, that they have done something wrong or that they haven’t done something right! The liar loves to whisper in our ears, “God has withdrawn from you because you don’t pray enough”, or “The reason you feel so lonely is that God has turned away from you”, or “You are not holy, you are not righteous, you are a terrible Christian…and a really talented sinner!” Listen to me right now and take this deep into your heart (I’m preaching to myself right now as well!). That type of thinking is bull-crap (if you prefer, you can substitute the word doo-doo, rubbish, horse-*$#@, stinking-thinking, etc…whatever word doesn’t offend you…oops, too late)! I have been guilty of this myself, so I speak from much experience. As you continue to read, you will see just how faulty this mind-game really is…yes, sometimes we are so far off track that the Lord needs to chasten us, but even in this we rejoice, for the Lord chastens those He loves! However, I would say most of the time it is simply a process to increase us. Please read on and be edified.
Shortly after reading the above gem from Cooke’s hand, I was talking with a friend that shed even more light onto the truth of this epiphany. Now, mind you, we all intrinsically know that life is a series of peaks and valleys, but we somehow convince ourselves that if we walk holy, righteous, and pure, that God will keep us from the valleys. So the epiphany that I refer to is not the actual truth of it but rather my finally embracing it and seeing clearly how it applies to my spiritual walk. Most of the profound truths are hidden in plain sight! We read and hear things all the time that seem shallow, but when the Spirit breathes life into these truths, they take on a new life and we finally “get it”. So this Christian friend of mine struck up a conversation with me after a Bible study that honed-in on the fact that life is about balance, that we can’t appreciate the good unless we truly comprehend the bad, that the highs of walking in the spirit are of no value without the perspective of the lows, and that walking through the desert sometimes creates a real thirst within. You don’t appreciate water until you don’t have any, you don’t appreciate your health until you don’t have it, and you don’t appreciate the Holy Spirit’s leading until you are without it. Awesome. Thank God for Christian friends…
O.K. It started with the reading, and then progressed to this conversation. That will suffice for now to bring my attention to the truth the Lord was trying to show me. Ah, but wait…there’s more! Only a day passed when another conversation was sparked by another Christian brother focusing on the same theme! Where have these conversations been? Why haven’t we talked about this before? If it is so darn important, why don’t we speak of this on a regular basis? And why now? Good grief! I love the Lord’s sense of humor and timing. Anyone who thinks God is so somber and matter-of-fact that He doesn’t get a kick out of this type of stuff is sorely mistaken. And don’t get me wrong, we talk a bunch about how the Lord will get us through the hard times, and “I will pray for you” is tossed about like an empty promise that noone really wants. We speak hollow cheers like “wait on the Lord”, “this too shall pass”, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”, and the like; but rarely do we speak of the beauty and pricelessness of the valley (or desert or ebb)!
This brother spoke of how our spiritual walk is a series of ebbs and flows or rather high tides and low tides…really?…did he have to use the same words “ebb” and “flow”?…come on now Lord, surely you could have been a little more subtle than that…sheesh! Anyway, he spoke of the low tide as being the time when the ships were being readied for their purpose: repairs were made, cargo was loaded, crews were assembled, and the destination was charted. On the other hand, the high tide is when the ships leave the port and head to sea to accomplish their mission. Wow! That is what I call a trifecta of truth. Thank you Jesus! You see, what I now know, somewhat begrudgingly, is that God uses the low-tide to prepare us, that God lets us walk through the desert to take the pulse, if you will, of our faith, and that God walks with us through the valley unbeknownst to our selfish, blind eyes. Just because you can’t “feel” Him doesn’t mean He is not there! One famous teacher rightly pointed out that in his opinion, more than 80% of our spiritual growth happens without our even recognizing it, without our “seeing” it or feeling it, and without any harbinger to warn of an approaching time of testing. Beautiful.
So I write this so I won’t forget it. I write this for you and me. We must be prepared for the inevitable times in our lives where the REAL progress happens. Is it painful? Oh yeah! Is it enjoyable? No way! Is it necessary? You betcha…if it weren’t, then much of the New Testament wisdom on trials and tribulations would simply be filler! I want to fully embrace the dry spells, I want to humbly allow God to do some character shaping in me, I want to stop dreading the ebbs. The real beauty of this is how we react to the hard parts in the road. For how we react to these times will shape our future and purify our faith.
Here is how we must approach these times: 1.) Pray even when it is most difficult to do so, 2.) Dive into the Word of God even when we don’t feel like it, 3.) Understand that faith without testing is not real faith, 4.) Meditate constantly on what am I supposed to be learning in this situation and what does God want to be for me in this time. I know, I know, easier said than done; but God has proved to us over and over again that He will always show up and that He is always up to something good in our lives. What the Spirit has taught me recently is that the most precious offerings to God are the ones that have to be wrought, that a prayer when you don’t feel like praying is a magnificent blessing to our Lord, and that pushing past our emotions into our raw faith is where “waiting on the Lord” truly finds a foothold.
I am convinced that it is these times in our walk that prepare us for the next move of His Spirit. It is almost like He is shaping us and enlarging us as clay vessels to contain the next outpouring of His living water! I often repeat the saying, “You can’t pour the ocean into a thimble!” The functions of the valleys in life are to prepare us for the mountaintop; if we resist the valleys, we in essence are refusing passage to the very thing we seek.
The kicker for me is accepting the fact that it is a continuing process, not something to progress past; for if we refuse the continuing process of sanctification then we will never be able to reach the heights that most of us (including God) want to reach. Remember what Jesus said, “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may produce more fruit.” (John 15:2) So if you are being pruned, then you must be pleasing to God, for He doesn’t mess around with the unfruitful branches…He simply removes them. So take the purifying process of the ebbs and build God’s trust in you so that He will continue to use you to flow in His Kingdom.
Just know that you are not alone and that you are highly favored! We all must and should actually welcome the times that refine our faith and enlarge us to contain more of Him. May you be blessed by understanding that just as Christ suffered so must we suffer, but it is for our own good. The ultimate destination is worth the price…Amen?