I’m allowed to be transparent, right? Or maybe I tend to be too transparent – I don’t know. But what I do know is that, for me, transparency – real, genuine, authentic humanity in the people around me is what I’m drawn to. So, I attempt to project that transparency out into my sphere on occasion, though I’m still not sure if it draws others in or not. The verdict is still out.
Most mornings over the past couple of months, I have begun my days with a journal that prepares my thoughts and attempts to fortify my heart in gratitude toward God for His faithfulness. During the morning practice, I write a short prayer to God, offering up whatever is on my heart in that moment. One day, I was feeling as if something uncomfortable was on the horizon and I wrote “God, draw me close to You. No matter what’s going on around me – I don’t ask You to take it away – just use it. Even with fear and anxiety, allow it to bring me to You. Help me to see You.”
And then God laughed. Not audibly, but He must have chuckled because He knew that communication had already been sent my way that would prey upon my particular weaknesses. The details of this communication are not relevant, but my mentality afterwards was lost in anxiety and even shock at such an ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ circumstance that one doesn’t wake up each day expecting. It was one of those interactions that sets you off on a very distracted kind of day (or couple of days). In my self-focus, I was hurt and I felt a pain that sent me back to a time in life where I felt very lost and very alone.
In the midst of some emotion and my discomfort, I remembered that prayer I had written down and lifted up to God – that He would allow me to be refined within whatever discomfort might come and allow me to see Him through it all. So I began to pray that prayer over and over like a breath-prayer that reminded me that God is faithful despite my untrustworthy emotions or my circumstances.
I also looked down at my finger because, loving symbolism like I do, I have a ring made of pseudo-Damascus steel (because that stuff’s expensive!). Damascus steel is a multi-layered product where the metal-worker heats, hammers, and folds the steel over and over to create a beautiful and sturdy result. It always reminds me of my desire that God forge me into a stronger and stronger testimony of His grace through every trial that comes my way, no matter the struggle. I hope to be layered with painful experiences where God has hammered out my imperfections and weaknesses that come from who I am naturally and in the flesh (Psalm 66:10-12). I always want Him to allow me to come out on the other side, not more self-assured, head-strong, or proud, but stronger in His Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
This all rang through my head along with James 1:2-4 in which James was calling his readers to “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James’ desire was that his brothers and sisters praise God for difficulties that test their faith. This testing can occur in so many different ways, but it arrived in my lap that day as a desire for an identity and a security that would come from how valuable or worthy others saw me to be. It would be from an earned status that would bring comfort to me through love from others rather than from Christ’s promises (Matthew 16:23-26). I was distracted from faith in His work in my heart and in my life. Have you ever felt that? I certainly have.
I was learning through my panic at this discomfort that I had little endurance. I had little ability for long-suffering in the face of trials. Therefore, I was so short of a perfect result. I was imperfect and incomplete, lacking in so many things. Have you ever felt that? I certainly have.
But eventually, I was at peace, even with that hard-to-stomach truth that God was showing me about myself. God was hammering out of me an idolatry of comfort. That idolatry ferments in a self-focus that was showing it could not handle the weight of “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” But, as God heats, hammers, and folds my imperfection in on itself, pieces of that idolatry falls away. This pattern, like Damascus steel, starts to show – where painful experiences are visible to me through my circumstances, but God-willing, a stronger and more deliberately formed product shows on the other side. Or, as John Walvoord says, “trials, rightly taken, produce the sterling quality of endurance.”
When I think of James’ audience of persecuted Jewish Christians, I see a Damascus steel-like history of an imperfect people, but a people who were formed into an early Church that had a joy in suffering and grief. They had a brother- and sister-hood that sprouted out of Christ’s foundation as the corner-stone of this new community which, upon building one another up in true faith, seeks a gold-like purity in the aftermath of refining fire rather than scattered ashes, and all this in the strength of the Spirit who walks with us through our stumbling (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 1:6-7; Galatians 5:16).
So I wait for God’s work to till up my places of fallow ground. I pray for the faith-filled joy, based in confident hope, which enables perseverance and the resulting maturity and single-minded devotion to God which has me, one day, standing before Him, lacking in nothing, and I ask for that in God’s name and for His glory. I ask for prayers from you all as well for this journey for myself and also for one another.
Join me in praying, not for escape from our troubles and trials, but for opportunities for spiritual growth in the midst of our painful circumstances. As we lift each other up for this desired result, we know that God will testify to His goodness in the lives of those around us as well and that is one more beautiful thing I’m thankful to Him for as I depend on His faithfulness (John 15:26-27).
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff
16 Come and listen, all who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth,
and praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had been aware of malice in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 However, God has listened;
he has paid attention to the sound of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God!
He has not turned away my prayer
or turned his faithful love from me.