The Bible says God, knit us together in our mother’s womb, (Psalm 139:13) and He created us in His own image. (Genesis 1:27) However, over our lifetime in this fallen world we get a bit misshapen. More and more yuck gets added onto us… we get labels attached to us and baggage we can’t seem to get rid of, or we’re beat up and torn down until we’re no longer the beautiful creation God made. Instead we feel like a frumpy, grumpy, lumpy, blob of hardened, crumbly clay. This obviously isn’t God’s will for us, and so He uses situations in our life to reshape us. Sometimes He uses great things to shape us, for which we’re very grateful, but sometimes He uses some un-great things as well – for which we’re not always so grateful. Job asks, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10)
For years I was in an abusive relationship. It wasn’t physically abusive and it wasn’t even a romantic relationship – it was with friends whom I loved and saw as mentors… and because of some unforeseen circumstances in my life, I ended up living in their home for a time and was therefore under their rules. Most of the time things were fine and I really learned a lot from them… but when things got ugly, they got viciously cruel. I prayed and prayed and prayed for a way out… for a door to open – any door! – so I could escape the pain. Easily.
But, it didn’t.
I was praying for a way out.
God, however, was showing me a way through.
Luckily, this verse doesn’t end here! I mean, how can we possibly consider it PURE JOY when we’re going through hell??
He answers by saying, “…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
It’s just like physical exercise. The push-ups and sit-ups and miles of running and bench presses and pain and sweat and tears and years of physical exertion – just like the years of emotional exertion – are what help make us strong. It’s only when the muscle is torn down through exercise that it rebuilds itself stronger. The years of emotional turmoil (and being torn down!) are what actually teach us to be strong as well. While in the MIDST of the pain, however… I personally just want it to END!!!
In order to get through it we have to keep the goal in mind. To “let perseverance finish its work so that (we) may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…” we must persevere and keep. moving. forward… even when it feels like we’re going 2 steps forward and 1 step back! God does not lead us into the Valley of the Shadow of Death so we can build a home there. (In fact, more often than not, we get ourselves into the valley all on our own!) No, God leads us THROUGH the Valley of the Shadow of Death. (Psalm 23:4) We must go THROUGH it to come out the other side, where we can look back and see what we just went through. This is what oftentimes brings the clarity we need to actually learn from our experiences… but not always. Job never knew of God’s conversation with satan, yet Job never lost his faith that God was good and God’s plan for him was good, (even without reading Jeremiah 29:11!) and at the end of his life Job was blessed more abundantly than prior to the testing – even without the clarity of hindsight! (Job 42:10-17)
Only now, years later, am I grateful for all that I went through. In fact, I’m extremely grateful. I wouldn’t wish it on any other human on the planet, (and I pray for anyone in an abusive relationship to get help and get out – or at least get safe!) and I would never, ever choose it again… but I also wouldn’t trade the things I’ve learned from those un-great things for anything. The grind of the un-great things has strengthened me. They’ve also softened me… kind of smoothed out some of my rough edges and shaped me into who I am today.
Thankfully, God isn’t finished with us yet!! He continues to shape us throughout our existence. The harder we are, the more “grindage” we need, but we can’t just choose to soften our hearts and be all better… we must give our hearts over to Him. He tells us “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26) He does the work there. Like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, all we need to do is turn to Him and ask Him to help us and He will. Maybe not in the way we’d like – the thief still died that day – but Romans 8:28 tells us God uses ALL things for good… even the un-great things, and for this, we can be grateful.
Psalm 139:13 ~ For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Genesis 1:27 ~ So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Job 2:10 ~ But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Matthew 5:44 ~ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
James 1:2-4 ~ Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Psalm 23:4 ~ Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Jeremiah 29:11 ~ For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.
Job 42:10-17 ~ When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! 11 Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job. And their father put them into his will along with their brothers. Job lived 140 years after that, living to see four generations of his children and grandchildren. Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life.
Romans 8:28 ~ And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose
Ezekiel 36:26 ~ And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart