In my last post, I talked about how God equips us to follow the missions he gives us; however, I did not discuss at length regarding the manner in which he equips us. There are a few ways that God can prepare us for his kingdom, but there is a particular method through which he tends to act most effectively.
There is a poem titled When God Wants to Drill a Man, that I believe accurately describes this particular method. Throughout the poem, the anonymous author writes about God expertly molding someone to fulfill his calling on their lives. It reads:
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When he yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He's about.
There is a certain effectiveness in God's use of trials in our lives to shape us into the men and women of God we need to be. "How he ruthlessly perfects whom he royally elects!" These growing pains are a shared experience among believers, and we often grow in our relationship with God because of the trials and tribulations we face in our lives.
In a similar way, when looking at the Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel, we read about some of the strange commands God gives his servant throughout his ministry. Some of these commands are undoubtedly, physically uncomfortable and painful. Some of these commands are silly and would seem foolish for those observing Ezekiel's actions. However, after reading through his story, we find God molding and shaping a prophet to deliver a difficult message to a rebellious people. God calls Ezekiel into his role in chapter three.
And he said to me, "Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel - not many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house." Moreover he said to me, "Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God,' whether they hear or refuse to hear." (Ezekiel 3:4-11)
There was no secret in the difficulty of the mission that God was giving to this man. In fact, God himself explains to Ezekiel that the mission will be difficult. He says, "But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me". Can you imagine being called to carry out a mission doomed to fail? Yet Ezekiel willingly accepted God's call on his life, and God began the refining process, making his face "as hard as their faces" and his forehead "like emery harder than flint".
God then has Ezekiel essentially play with military miniatures, lie on his left side for three-hundred and ninety days, lie on his right side for forty days, eat food prepared in a detestable way, shave his head and his beard, and pack up all his belongings, dig a hole in the side of his house, and "escape" through it in broad daylight in order for people to witness the act. Eventually, God would even put Ezekiel through the loss of his wife, perhaps the only person able to understand him through all the apparent nonsense in his life.
When we ask God to equip us, we need to be aware of the reality of the nature of the question we are asking. It is not a light request to ask God to prepare us for the role he wants us to play for his kingdom, and often times, we are asking for the very trials and tribulations we pray against. Pain, suffering, and loss can all be fuel for the fires that refine our personality, character, and faith. James writes to "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".
This joy that James writes about is not the fake smile and false sense of happiness that we tend to think it means. We can be joyful through our pain and our tears. Life is not about learning to dance in the rain. It is about having faith that Jesus remains with you in the storm and will bring you closer to him through the tumultuous winds.
Like Ezekiel and the many women and men God has called to further his word and his kingdom, we may find ourselves stacked up against confusing, painful, and troubling times. We might face sickness, depression, loss, and insecurity; however, if we continue to seek God and his hand in our lives, we will experience a transformation that only the Author of all the universe can create. Make no mistake. I am not saying that you shouldn't feel pain. I am not saying that you shouldn't grieve. I am definitely not saying you should berate someone going through a terrible situation with false encouragement and a denouncement of their sorrow. Even Jesus wept at Lazarus' death.
The point I am trying to make is that we need to lean into God during these hard times and look for him to produce the steadfastness that James talks about. The joy in these trials comes from coming closer to God. Even now, during the COVID-19 crisis, God can be using the struggles we are facing collectively and individually to transform his church into the body it needs to be. I pray that, on the other end of this pandemic, we come out a strong and unified body of believers capable of doing the great things that God has planned for us.