Don’t Waste Your…
Over three years ago, I read for the first time an article by Pastor John Piper entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” He wrote it on the eve of his prostate cancer surgery, in 2006. In this insightful, profound article, Piper listed ten ways that one could waste a trial of cancer. Later, David Powlison also was diagnosed with cancer, and this wise counselor of so many others added his insights to Piper’s original article.
I’ve never yet had cancer, but this article has profoundly affected my life. In conjunction with the book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, written by Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs, I’ve thought much about the heart attitudes that make up a contented woman, and sought to embrace them. I’ve gained much in the process, and want to share where this path to peace lies so that others may find the way.
Let’s start with Burroughs’ definition of Christian contentment. He says it is “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” This, of course, is Scriptural. God is all wise, all knowing, all loving (towards those who are in Christ Jesus) and all powerful. Nothing that occurs in the life of a believer is outside of his “wise and fatherly disposal.” (For support from Scripture, see Romans 8:28-29, Ephesians 1:11, and Romans 8:32.) And, in all circumstances, Paul says, we are to give thanks (1 Thess 5:18). Why? Because trials like cancer are gifts from God.How are they gifts? Sometimes, they are sent to purge our sin-sick hearts. In these cases, it’s the pressure of the trials that reveal to us (God already knew) the depths of our sinful hearts, and our need for a Savior. While the world marches on, suffering in sins yet powerless to change, trials can give us the power that we need to repent and truly change.
Sometimes trials are gifts because God sends them to build our faith muscles. As we persevere with faith in a loving God, we see Him answer desperate prayers and glorify Himself in our lives. We remember how truly dependent on the blood of Christ we are, and rekindle our love for Him. Our faith is also built as we respond differently–in more God-glorifying ways–when certain trials recur. We begin to hope that real change is possible in the future, for us and for others.
And sometimes, trials are gifts to those around us: they are sent to change the hearts and minds of those who observe us walking through the trial. Sometimes, others learn to serve because of a loved one’s prolonged illness. Sometimes, others come to Jesus watching our godly responses to the trials we go through. Sometimes the saints of God are encouraged as God’s power is manifested in response to prayers for a suffering member of the Body.
Sometimes, God gives all three of these kinds of gifts–and more–simultaneously through our trials. He’s that good! Ultimately, this is what makes trials gifts, though: it is God who sends them to His children. God loves us. He does not give us what is not good for us. It was because trials are gifts that James, the loving and wise pastor of New Testament times, writing to his scattered and persecuted people, said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) God means for us to do the same, and when we grasp the awesome work that trials do in our lives, we really can begin to count it all joy.
Here’s how the change in our attitudes from trials=burdens to be escaped –> trials=gifts to be embraced happens. Always, in trials, we have a choice. We can embrace the trial, seeking to glorify God actively and purposefully, and thereby gain the most from the trial as well as witness to the greatness of God to those who look on, or we can wallow in self-centered emotions and become a drain on those around us as we seek to escape the trial. It’s up to us to choose, and I’ve experienced this: take one little step in the direction of looking up to God for strength to glorify Him, and you will be carried the rest of the way. As with the bronze serpent in the wilderness (see Numbers 21:409), all God really asks of us is one look of faith. He asks us to believe that He loves us. He asks us to entrust ourselves to a faithful Creator. Then, when we take even one faltering step of trust in that direction, He does the rest!
Now, let me apply this to homeschooling in a general way. We all have trials with homeschooling, and they abound continuously. Maybe, in our views, our husbands aren’t actively supportive enough, or we are not good enough teachers for our kids, or our kids are not responding the way we would wish–either academically or spiritually, or both. We can get downhearted about our finances, or house’s inadequacies, or the fact that we simply have too many tasks to do in a day. These are true for virtually all of us, but some of us have even more pressing us: husbands who lose jobs, serious health issues in ourselves or our kids, or sick relatives that need care and take away time from home teaching.
The circumstances of trials may differ, but most people have similar heart issues with regard to trials. For me, when I’m struggling with doubt, fear, anxiety, or dread, I’ve learned that these signal a lack of contentment. My gaze has lost perspective through becoming only horizontal: I’m looking around at my circumstances, relying on my own understanding, and processing relationships by myself. What I have learned is that, in these moments, my desperate need is not relief from the circumstances, but to recapture the vertical dimension. I begin to ask myself questions. “Where is God in this?” (Ever sovereignly present.) “What have I brought to Him in prayer?” (Nothing faith filled yet; I’ve been worrying before Him, but not looking in dependent faith to Him–yet!) And, most important, what do I believe about God in this moment?
Charles Spurgeon said, “When we cannot trace God’s hand, we must learn to trust His heart.” The question I’ve learned to ask myself when dismayed by trials is this, “Do I trust God’s heart towards me in this situation? Do I know that this trial is sent by a loving Father, and is the only and most benign way that God can do His crucial, sanctifying work in me and in those around me?”
Asking questions like this causes me to regain the vertical dimension. When I can begin to talk to myself, instead of listen to myself (a crucial concept, amazingly well explained by C.J. Mahaney in this sermon) I find that my clutching fingers can let go of my agenda. At this point, I can begin to stop wasting my trial. I can begin to embrace it as a gift and turn my gaze up to my Savior, asking that He be glorified. Glorifying Him becomes more important to me than escaping my trial. My heart is quieted. I feel peace and help. I rise above the circumstances to a much more important plane of existence: living now in the eternal good of knowing and serving God alone. I’ve come to believe that this is the real gift that all trials give to us.
I commend this process to you, dear Sister in Christ. Are you in trial of any kind? Don’t waste it! Embrace the good that God has for you (and others) in it. Talk to yourself, rather than listening to yourself. Seek God for His will in your life, rather than telling Him your will. Look up with faith, see your loving Father, and grow content and secure even as the trial persists! You will then become like our Savior: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)