I’ve been enduring some challenging times lately. Most significantly, despite my rigid adherence to my new diet, my Celiac Disease is causing me almost constant stomach discomfort, sometimes acute. Before people chime in with helpful suggestions (which I think we’re too prone to do when someone is suffering), rest assured that I’m pursuing solutions with my doctor’s help—dietary, medicinal, and otherwise. I hope there are some.
My point in writing isn’t to mope or seek pity, but to point you to a few resources that have been especially helpful to me. Many are enduring trials much worse than mine and might find help here. First, knowing my own pride, meditating on Paul’s experience of an unrelenting thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 has been instructive. Not only did the Lord allow it to persist despite Paul’s pleading for relief, but He used it for Paul’s protection and growth. And even though it was foisted on Paul by Satan himself, God was using even the Devil as a sanctifying instrument in Paul’s life. I love that. Paul’s physical malady was such a spiritual balm that it became a cause of joy to him. That’s good for me to read, though I acknowledge I’m not there yet.
Second, I rather randomly came across Piper’s biography of Charles Simeon on my MP3 player a few weeks ago. It ministered to my soul, as all Piper’s historical sketches do. It reminded me that trials are a necessary part of Christian life and ministry, and it urged me not to give up. I commend it to you. You can listen to it here or read it here (packaged with studies on John Newton and William Wilberforce) as a free, downloadable book. Yes, free.
One portion of the study especially stuck in my memory. It’s a description of a ship’s ballast, which I confess I’d never heard of or at least never noticed. Although we are struck with the lofty masts of weathered ships, it is the ballast—the unseen weight—that keeps them from tipping. It may slow them and make them ride lower in the water, but without the hidden ballast, the ship would capsize. Simeon and Piper use that picture to describe the necessity of humiliation, both in our spiritual estimation of ourselves before a holy God and in our life experiences. Life is not all masts and sails, all branches and leaves. Our Lord graciously allows unseen trials to root us to Himself, lest we fall. They are, then, evidences of His grace to us. They allow us to stretch higher in our knowledge and service of Him because we are plunging deeper in our need of Him.
As often happens, my meditations on these themes have taken the form of poetry. (At the very least, it was distracting from my discomfort over the weekend.) I’m not sure that what follows is complete or even good—I should probably sit on it a while before making it public—but it’s the expression of my heart at present and may be of use to you in whatever challenge you face. I hope so.
Depend on God’s sufficient grace, which may very well be shown in the midst of trials, not by relief from them.
For ev’ry branch that’s high and green
A root dives downward, dark, unseen.
To stand when furious winds have blown
A tree must cling to soil and stone.
So Christians who would upward grow
Are anchored deep by secret woe.
Where tow’ring ships o’er oceans blow
Their heavy ballasts lurk below.
Though lofty masts draw sailors’ eyes,
The sunken burdens save their lives.
So we who race through waves and reefs
Are kept upright by hidden griefs.
The soul that stretches wide and tall
Must root itself to Christ or fall.
So God of pride and peril warns,
Then tethers saints to Him with thorns.
Thus friendly thorns are gifts of grace,
And uneased pains, His strong embrace.
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