Singing in the Shadow of His Wings: Truths to cling to during trial and tragedy
At 2:15 in the morning on November 3rd, I underwent emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy.
The night started out with a date at one of our favorite restaurants. Mr. Native Texan had returned from a long business trip and we were eager to catch up, as well as to give me a break from my solo duties in his absence.
Before our food ever reached the table, I was in the lobby trying desperately not to black out. We took our food to go and headed for the ER. After many hours, tests and exams, an ectopic pregnancy was diagnosed and I was whisked away to surgery.
I lost one fallopian tube and gained a few more scars on my abdomen.
This was my 4th (and possibly 5th) miscarriage. There were three between the births of Older Brother and Little Brother, and now this one. I’m pretty confident I also had another (very early) miscarriage a few months before the ectopic pregnancy.
My first miscarriage was absolutely heartbreaking. I was past the first trimester when an abnormality was discovered in the baby’s brain. This led to all kinds of tests, sonograms and meetings with specialists. We were informed that the baby most likely would not make it and if she did, she would have severe issues. So we waited and waited, until it was determined she was gone. I underwent a D & C and went home to try to lose the 10 pounds I’d gained.
I won’t ramble on about the additional miscarriages or the terrible pregnancy I experienced with Little Brother or the many medical questions and adventures I’ve weathered over the past five years.
I will however, mention a few other trials and tragedies Mr. Native Texan and I have experienced in our ten years of marriage:
- Enormous financial debt at the start of our marriage. Perhaps someday I will share on this blog the amazing story of how God provided for us and brought us into financial freedom and blessing. Before the freedom part, though, there came much trial and discouragement.
- The sudden and tragic death of my mother-in-law. She had pain in her stomach, which turned out to be end-stage stomach cancer. She was gone just five weeks after the diagnosis. We’d been married for not quite two years.
- The downward spiral of my father-in-law, following the death of his wife. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say the events rivaled a made-for-TV movie. You wouldn’t even believe half of it!
- The drowning death of my father-in-law in a bizarre boating accident. Again, I’ll spare you the details. I can barely wrap my brain around them to this day.
- Scandal and upheaval in the leadership and staff of our beloved church in Texas. What a tumultuous time! As leaders, we were thrust into awkward positions. We lost many friends, mentors and several pastors.
- Family conflict and strained relationships. Is there anyone who is exempt from this?
- A cross-country move. While not a tragedy, it was definitely a trial to leave behind a dear church family, many friends, my husband’s family and “life as we knew it.” Our new locale is quite different, and while we love it, it’s taken some getting used to. On top of all that comes with a move, we found ourselves pregnant just weeks after arriving in Virginia. We had no support system whatsoever, as we faced a difficult high-risk pregnancy while caring for a three-year-old (me) and starting up a huge new business endeavor (Mr. Native Texan). It was an overwhelming time of great trial and discouragement.
- Ups and downs in Mr. Native Texan’s career. God has always provided for us, many times above and beyond our needs. But a career in sales can be quite an adventure and has allowed us many opportunities to cry out to God.
I share all of this not to evoke pity or to prove what a hard life I’ve had, but simply to establish that the following truths come not from a pious, self-righteous mountaintop, but from a down-in-the-trenches valley of the shadow of death.
These truths have been fleshed out in my own life and I share them with the hope that they may encourage you or someone you love. I’ve heard it said that all of us are either just out of a trial, currently experiencing a trial or about to head into a trial.
Also, I’m fully aware that many others have been through trials far greater than my own. The point is not to compare the severity of our respective trials and tragedies, but to encourage each other to cling to Truth, no matter the size or shape of our particular circumstances.
Sometimes God gives us a glimpse of why we had to face a certain adversity. Sometimes we can look back and say “Oh, now I understand.” But some adversities just never make sense. WHY would God allow such devastating events?
The following truths have encouraged me greatly during dark times in the valleys of life.
Because they are based on the solid foundation of God’s Word, they are ALWAYS true, no matter the circumstance, and regardless of whether or not I ever understand all the why’s:
1. Everything that happens to me (big or small, favorable or tragic) has been planned or allowed by a Sovereign God.
He is El Elyon, God Most High. He is all-sovereign and in control of all things. In his excellent book Trusting God, Even When Life Hurts, Jerry Bridges says God is never surprised; never caught off-guard; never frustrated by unexpected developments.
He quotes Augustine, who said “Nothing, therefore, happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen: he either permits it to happen, or he brings it about himself.”
In Psalm 139:16 we see that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Bridges also quotes the writings of Margaret Clarkson:
The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God….All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.
2. Everything that happens to me will be used for my good and for His glory.
Jerry Bridges says,
Every adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is intended to help us grow in some way. If it were not beneficial, God would not allow it or send it. “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” (Lam. 3:33). God does not delight in our sufferings. He brings only that which is necessary, but He does not shrink from that which will make us grow.
There is no question that adversity is difficult. It usually takes us by surprise and seems to strike where we are most vulnerable. To us it often appears completely senseless and irrational, but to God none of it is either senseless or irrational. He has a purpose in every pain He brings or allows in our lives. We can be sure that is some way He intends it for our profit and His glory.
These two objectives are never antithetical; they are always in harmony with each other. God never pursues His glory at the expense of the good of His people, nor does He ever seek our good at the expense of His glory. He has designed His eternal purpose so that His glory and our good are inextricably bound together. What comfort and encouragement this should be to us. If we are going to learn to trust God in adversity, we must believe that just as certainly as God will allow nothing to subvert His glory, so He will allow nothing to spoil the good He is working out in us and for us.
3. Part of the good He wants for me is to be transformed more and more into the likeness of His Son.
God has an over-arching purpose for all believers: to conform us to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:29). He also has a specific purpose for each of us that is His unique, tailor-made plan for our individual life (see Ephesians 2:10). And God will fulfill that purpose (see Psalm 138:8).
The good that God works for in our lives is conformity to the likeness of His Son. It is not necessarily comfort or happiness but conformity to Christ in ever-increasing measure in this life and in its fullness in eternity….God knows exactly what He intends we become and He knows exactly what circumstances, both good and bad, are necessary to produce that result in our lives. (See James 1:2-4).
He knows infallibly with infinite wisdom what combination of good and bad circumstances will bring us more and more into sharing His holiness. He never puts too much of the “salt” of adversity into the recipe of our lives. His blending of adversity and blessing is always exactly right for us….He not only knows what we need but when we need it and how best to bring it to pass in our lives….His discipline is always exactly suited for our needs. He never over trains us by allowing too much adversity in our lives.
We mistakenly look for tokens of God’s love in happiness. We should instead look for them in His faithful and persistent work to conform us to Christ….He does not delight in our adversities, but He will not spare us that which we need to grow more and more into the likeness of His Son.
4. Weathering trials allows me to relate better to others and to encourage them as they experience similar trials.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tell us this: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
If you never go through a hurting time, you’ll never experience the special compassion and comfort of Almighty God. If you’ve never experienced that compassion and comfort, you have little or nothing to give to hurting people around you. If you’ll seek God in your suffering, He’ll pour those caring qualities into you when you’re feeling crushed, overwhelmed, in agony. But they’re not just to get you through. He fills you up with resources you never had before, resources to make you a well of compassion and comfort for a world of people in pain; resources that can only be developed through hard times…through hurting times.
What senses does God want to deepen through your pain? Incredible qualities like radar for the deep needs behind people’s deeds. A sense of compassion, which literally means the ability to “feel with” someone. God can use your pain to cultivate a wonderful tenderness in your heart and your responses. People who have been through the valley with Jesus emerge with an amazing ability to care, to wait, and to trust God. And there’s this sense of quiet confidence and peace in someone who has been kept afloat by the total sufficiency of Christ when there was nothing else to hang onto. They have this “nothing can sink me” poise of a person who’s found out when Jesus was all they had that Jesus is all you need. [source]
Jerry Bridges echoes this same concept, saying the following,
Everyone faces times of adversity, and everyone needs a compassionate and caring friend to come alongside to comfort and encourage during those times. As we experience God’s comfort and encouragement in our adversities, we are equipped to be His instrument of comfort and encouragement to others. We pass on to others what we have received from God ourselves. To the extent we are able to lay hold of the great truths of the sovereignty, wisdom and love of God and find comfort and encouragement from them in our adversities, we will be able to minister to others in their times of distress….Adversity in our own lives, rightly responded to, enables us to be instruments of comfort and encouragement to others.
He also points out that “Trials and afflictions also have a mutual drawing effect among believers. They tend to break down barriers between us and dissolve any appearance of self-sufficiency we may have….God wants to use our times of adversity to deepen our relationship with other members of the body[.]”
5. Trials and tragedies keep me dependent on God and on His mercy, grace, power and wisdom.
Jerry Bridges points out our tendency to rely on ourselves instead of on Him.
In John 15:5 Jesus says “Apart from me you can do nothing.” We tend to rely on our knowledge of Scripture, our own business acumen, our ministry experience, and even our goodness and morality. God has to teach us through adversity to rely on Him instead of ourselves.
He reminds us that Paul had a thorn in the flesh. Moses saw his efforts to do something for God utterly frustrated and turned into disaster. Each of these men of God experienced an adversity that caused him to realize his own weakness and his dependence on God. Each adversity was different, but each had a common goal of bringing these men to a place of greater dependence on God. If God is going to use you and me, He will bring adversity into our lives so that we, too, may learn experientially our dependence on Him.
Perhaps the most valuable way we profit from adversity is in the deepening of our relationship with God. Through adversity we learn to bow before His sovereignty, to trust His wisdom, and to experience the consolations of His love, until we come to the place where we can say with Job, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). We begin to pass from knowing about God to knowing God Himself in a personal, intimate way.
Our afflictions are always accompanied with the compassion and consolation of God (see Lamentations 3:32)…It is often in the very midst of our adversities that we experience the most delightful manifestations of His love. He says in Isaiah 41:10 “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
In Isaiah 43:2, God says, When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
[W]hether the difficulty is major or minor, we must choose to trust God. We must learn to say with the psalmist, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You” (see Psalm 56:3).
6. Giving thanks in all things is God’s will for me.
Thanksgiving is an admission of dependence.
We are to give thanks in everything because we know that in all things God is at work for our good (see Romans 8:28-29)….Giving thanks in all circumstances is part of God’s moral will for us, and thus is not an option to the one seeking to please and honor Him.
Thanksgiving in all circumstances, whether favorable or unfavorable, then, is another response to the trustworthiness of God. If we trust Him to work in all our circumstances for our good, then we should give Him thanks in all those circumstances–not thanksgiving for the evil considered in itself, but for the good that He will bring out of that evil through His sovereign wisdom and love.
7. Trials and tragedies make me yearn more deeply for heaven,
where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain,” (Rev. 21:4).
8. Adversity brings first-hand experience to the names (and character) of God.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. (Psalm 18:10)
Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10)
Studying the names of God has brought powerful encouragement to me when facing challenges of any kind.
- It’s one thing to know that God is Jehovah Jireh, the LORD our Provider; it’s another thing to experience His divine provision.
- It’s one thing to know He is El Roi, the God who Sees; it’s another thing to experience His omnipresence.
- It’s one thing to know He is El Elyon, God Most High, and another thing to experience and submit to His great sovereignty.
- It’s one thing to know He is El Shaddai, our All-Sufficient and Almighty God, but quite another thing to experience His sufficiency and His might in my own circumstances.
9. Adversities bring the Scriptures to life.
Jerry Bridges states,
“Through the Word of God we are nourished (see Psalm 94:12), but through adversity we are pruned….As we seek to relate the Scriptures to our adversities, we’ll find we will not only profit from the circumstances themselves, but we will gain new insight into the Scriptures. Martin Luther reportedly said, “Were it not for tribulation I should not understand the Scriptures.”
[A]dversity enhances the teaching of God’s Word and makes it more profitable to us. In some instances it clarifies our understanding or causes us to see truths we had passed over before. At other times it will transform “head knowledge” into “heart knowledge” as theological theory becomes a reality to us.
The following Scriptures have been particularly meaningful to me during times of trial:
- Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. (Lamentations 3:32)
- Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
- See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him…He tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:10-11)
- “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
- My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. (Psalm 131:1)
- Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)
- When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
- Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:38)
- “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
- As for God, His way is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)
- I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)
- Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)
- He will not let your foot slip–he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:3-4)
- “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father….So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
- God… is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters. (1 Timothy 6:15)
- And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (Psalm 50:15)
- Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
- And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Romans 8:28-29)
- God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, thought the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress…Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:1-3, 7, 10)
- Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
- But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God. (Psalm 59:16-17)
- Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. (Psalm 61:1-4)
- Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:7-8)
Two books I highly recommend:
- Trusting God Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges (a study on the sovereignty of God)
- LORD, I Want to Know You by Kay Arthur (a study on the names of God)
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