by Rayola Kelley
Through the years I have had to confront many different challenges. For example, there was the infamous challenge of finances. There is nothing that can test and expose your point of reliance like finances. In such times I found that my faith was misdirected and what small faith I had was being consumed in the fires of the present testing.
I remember in one situation feeling somewhat abandoned and inept to do anything about my financial situation. I was operating on the fringes of self-pity, because I had tried so hard to apply faith to each challenge. I really wanted to get it right and be a person of faith, but I proved to be a constant failure in all of my attempts. This was when the Lord showed me that faith is a personal choice. He did this by giving me a picture of the plush valleys of Sodom and Gomorrah and one of Daniel’s three companions walking in the fiery ovens of Babylon. He then instructed me to choose one of them. Needless to say, I chose the fiery ovens of Babylon because I knew Jesus was walking in the oven with Daniel’s three companions, while God put the fire of judgment to Sodom and Gomorrah. I also learned that genuine faith expresses itself in obedience to God and His Word.
Another challenge life brings you is when your physical body is being touched in such a way that it turns out to be a long night of testing. In fact, you feel that it will prove to be eternal, never ending and always wearing your resolve down until you feel yourself ready to give up, and let go of the life you have, but for some reason, you don’t have what it takes to even let go. Nothing makes sense, and all you can do is cling to the example of Job as the blanket of depression wraps itself around you and insipid self-pity plagues you. You have no real strength to fight, and what energy you do have goes into trying to survive the ordeal. You do everything to hold on, but then you realize you have no means to hold on, so you conclude that God must be holding onto you because life continues to pulsate through you without rhyme or reason.
I remember one time hitting such a low in my life because of my physical condition. I knew death was working in me. I felt that every day life was ebbing away. I sat there, resigned to accept the inevitable. I was ready to walk through the valley of death. It was then that the Lord showed me the valley of death did not always mean physical death, but death to aspects of the old man. The real purpose of the valley is to prepare His people for that which is greater. In my case it was for the purpose of bringing forth a greater ministry of consolation, and for my life to serve as a testimony of God’s abiding and faithful hand being on His people during such times.
Then there is injustice. You know what I mean! You encounter false accusations, wrong-doings, and slander. Instead of having the freedom to meet your foe and set the record straight you must keep quiet. The reason is because those involved already have their take on it, and due to the emotional aspect of the situation, the Biblical standards of truth, righteousness, and justice are clearly being replaced by some type of fleshly passion that will override reason. Therefore, you must quietly take abuse, while truth is ignored, righteousness is subdued, and justice is reduced to a stifling oppression. As for me, during such times I have to let go of the anger, fear, or injustice I feel and remember that God, who is the righteous Judge, will settle all matters in a just way, and if any revenge is called for, He will be the one who carries it out.
The next type of challenge comes in the form of loss. The Bible tells us that Satan comes in as a thief, to rob, kill, and destroy. In some cases you are trying to hold on to what you think is right, only for it to be destroyed in some wilderness of testing. In other instances, you are trying to establish what is right, and you find yourself robbed from securing the completion or victory of your goal. In fact, it is often left in a heap of ashes, forcing you to start all over again. While fighting total despair you look at the whole matter and wonder if the Christian life and way is worth it. I used to ask the Lord, “Why is it so hard to serve You?” The answer was always the same, “I guaranteed my followers that they would have tribulation in this world, but they were not to fear for I have overcome it” (John 16:33).
When it comes to the matters of zeal and enthusiasm for the matters of God, you find such passion being hindered. It is like a deluge of water being thrown on the fire of your passion from every direction, which brings your devotion to the brink of total extinction. You wrestle with what seems to be the senselessness of it all, only for your strength to be robbed and your resolve practically murdered by the onslaught of challenges. You do everything to hold on to what you have been entrusted with from heaven above without any real results. You realize that what is being tested by the fires are your character and your testimony, and both are either being purified or destroyed in the heat and flames. You sit in confusion and realize that you have nothing to offer God, for it has all been consumed in the fire on some noxious altar of the world.
In the past my ultimate attitude towards such an experience was, I might as well sit in the middle of the road and let the truck of self-pity run over me so that I could excuse my miserable state, justify my insane reasoning, and condone my obnoxious ways. After all, it seems everything I was doing to ensure a right outcome was all a waste of time and energy. I would ask the Lord in my utter despair, “What do you expect from me? I am only your handmaiden!”
On one occasion when I was waiting for the “truck” to run over me to fling me down into the pit of depression, the Lord was gracious enough to give me a well-known Scripture, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
It was then that I realized God may have children, but He does not have favorites. In other words, as His children we are not immune from the happenings of life. Life is life, and whether we are children of God or children of Satan, life is going to bring what it may our way. The difference between the children of God and the children of Satan comes down to the trust issue that in spite of the challenges we are confronted with, we can know and take comfort in the fact that God directs the footsteps of His children through the trials and challenges of life. In fact, He has a glorious purpose in mind when we are being challenged by the matters of life. It is at this point that we need to recognize our real test. It will always come down to how we handle the lessons and challenges of life. We can handle these challenges in submission to the Spirit and in obedience to His Word or we can handle them like the children of the unbelieving world, or the children of the rebellious flesh, or the disobedient children of Satan.
It was from this premise that many of my attitudes about life and my walk with the Lord began to change. Before this simple truth was revelation to my spirit, I found myself going around the same mountain, feeling the same despair, and hopelessness about the matters of life, and experiencing what appeared to be vanity, a waste of time and energy in all my attempts to do right and serve the Lord.
I had to realize that life happens to everyone. Life is our teacher who tests us in the schoolroom of the world. It brings good and bad, it can leave sadness and happiness in its wake, and inspire greatness, while presenting overwhelming obstacles that can easily produce defeat. At times life brings gentle winds that carry us along, but many times we encounter lifeless, dead air that stifles any progress, while other times raging winds will blow across our bow, threatening to shipwreck us. There are times we will be lifted up by life, other times abased, humbled, and broken by it.
Life marches according to an unseen hand. It will not wait for us, but we will often find ourselves caught up with its pulse. Sometimes we feel that the pulse of life moves slowly, but other times we feel as if we are caught up with its tidal waves, and like Jonah flung out on the shoreline, weathered by trials, tested by an unseen hand, and left vulnerable for the vultures. Sadly, like Jonah we foolishly seek a booth to sit under and sulk, while waiting for God to condescend to our way of thinking.
The key about life is that it moves, it interacts, and it reacts. There is nothing that remains the same about it. It carries a bit of mystery because you do not know what it will bring your way, as well as carries anxiety because you do not know how you will handle its various tests. It brings much frustration because you cannot control it. It can produce resentment because you know that it has a way of testing your very person, often revealing the harsh reality that you fall short of the mark that God intends for you.
I must admit I have experienced all the murmuring types of attitudes towards life. I have raged against it, became obnoxious towards it, sulky, resentful, and downright mean-spirited. I have tried to bargain with God to change the circumstances, cleverly reason with Him why He should change the terrain, and when He failed to respond, I would accuse Him silently in my mind for not caring. This is where I played the blame game. It was all His fault that I was handling it the way I was because He did not see fit to change my circumstances. As I look back at my foolish, selfish, spoiled attitudes and attempts, I realize even more how long-suffering God is with His people.
I later discovered that at the end of every great test is an opportunity for God to part the waters for me. It took awhile for me to realize that deliverance was at the end of my strength, reasoning, and personal attempts. It was only when I was at the end of myself that God could intervene on my part and show Himself mighty. It was when there was no other solution but God, no other way but genuine faith, and no other resource but to trust what the Bible said, that I finally witnessed God being God.
We make it hard on ourselves. In our human frailty, we would rather be mad at God than trust Him to show us that His way is better. We want to tell God how to do it according to our small box of understanding, rather than believe He knows what He is doing. We think we know what is best for us, when in reality the best consists of a fairytale reality that may be self-serving, but is unrealistic.
The reality is we do not like to be tested because our flesh will cry foul and our pride will become touchy, unreasonable, and stiff-necked. We do not want to deny self, nor do we want to apply the cross so that we can follow Christ in righteous ways. Rather, we demand our rights to life on our terms. In essence, we do not want to walk the hard, narrow way of Christianity. We would prefer to believe God is unfair than to face the reality that life happens, even to Christians. We want to ride high on self-serving notions as we claim rights as God’s favorites, which in our mind will make us immune from the ups and downs of life.
We hide behind wishful thinking when we convince ourselves that if He loves us, He will spare us of the various disciplines that life brings. And, when we experience those aspects of life that we think God should spare us from, we become disappointed, angry, and bitter towards Him. We harden our heart towards Him, thinking that we will show Him a thing or two. We strike out to make Him pay in some way, but in the end the only one who pays will be us.
The cost of our stiff-necked ways will be broken relationships beginning with God. Usually our foul attitude will affect other relationships as well, which causes separation from them. We avoid facing the fruits of our own attitude by excusing ourselves as to why we had a right to insist on our own way in the first place; and, when we start paying consequences for the bitter cup we have poured, and stirred for ourselves, we begin to justify ourselves in our own eyes, while searing our conscience against any conviction from heaven.
Life happens and it will happen to each of us. Based on the attitude we adopt towards it, it will determine the type of cross it becomes to each of us. Some bear a heavy cross because they bear it alone, while others bear a torturous cross because they have refused the discipline it brings. And for some, the cross proves to be greater liberty to discover what it means to soar in His Spirit.
As we embark on a New Year, perhaps it would serve us well to examine our attitudes towards life. Our attitude towards life will often determine our attitude towards God. Clearly, life will happen to each of us. Life brings its own elements with it that set up circumstances that can serve as vise grips against our person. It can bring tremendous heat and fire along with great winds, as well as stormy waters. However, we need to remember that God will use such times to form in us the life of His Son. He has the means to hammer out hardness, chisel away the excess, cut away the profane, construct the impossible, form the incredible, and bring forth the extraordinary.
The Apostle Paul summarized it in this way, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)