Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the Wilderness

Have you ever felt like you were completely alone in the world? Have you experienced a period in your life when God seemed to be silent? Often our greatest comfort in times of suffering comes from a strong faith in God. With Him by our side we trust that no matter what our troubles, He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b). But how do we react during those rare times when we cannot sense God's comforting presence? As we experience trials of every shape and size, the most difficult aspect of any trial is when it is accompanied by the absence of visible signs of God's presence.

I have always had a fondness for the "Footprints" plaque that hung on the wall in my parents’ house. That particular plaque showed a picture of a beach at sunset with one lone set of footprints trailing down it. The man in the poem could always see two sets of footprints going throughout his life, one belonging to him, and one belonging to God. He was distressed when he noticed that during his times of greatest suffering, there was only one set of footprints visible in the sand. The man was upset, thinking that God had abandoned him during those difficult times, but God assured him that not only had He not abandoned the man, He had actually carried him through the times of suffering. The footprints poem is a great reminder to us that even though we may not see or feel that God is with us during our trials, His faithfulness never falters.

In the first five books of the Bible, one of the dominating stories is that of the Israelite people, who were set free from bondage and traversed the wilderness for 40 torturous years. The Israelites had the privilege of witnessing some of the greatest miracles of all time in the form of God's provision for them. They were set free from slavery and lovingly provided for by God Himself, but they also experienced many trials during their trek through the wilderness. In spite of their mistakes and failings, God had a special message for the Israelites when they finally reached the promised land. In Deuteronomy 31:6 God promised them: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (their enemies), for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you."

This awesome statement of God's unfailing presence is readily believed by Christians today, but how easy it is to slip down the rugged slope of disbelief when trials crash into us like stormy waves. Our senses override the truth of God’s word, telling us that God is not present in our suffering. The thing that we have to remind ourselves daily, or even hourly, is that God’s word contains undeniable truth. We need to keep a firm hold on the fact that no matter what we are feeling at any moment, God’s Word reigns.

The hope we have in suffering is not in the avoidance of trials; we need only read the first three chapters of Genesis to discover that human lives attract trouble like sidewalks covered in melted popsicles attract ants. The key to survival through trials is to cling desperately to the life ring of God’s words of truth. Even when we feel like God has forsaken us, we must continually remind ourselves that He has promised to never leave us, and eventually we will find ourselves safely on the beach, there to remain until the next wave of suffering sweeps us away.

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