Do you ever find yourself disillusioned with how your life has turned out? Have family members disappointed you? Have your dreams been shattered or circumstances fallen short of your expectations?
Perhaps it seems that everything around you has crumbled, that you’ve been forsaken, abandoned on a pile of rubble. Everything you’ve tried to hold together has escaped your grasp and fallen through your fingers like sand. Or maybe life has been pretty good for you, but the statements above describe the lives of your friends or loved ones, and you wonder, Where is God for them?
I know this is how my mom felt in July of 2008 after I announced to my parents that I was going to transition from female to male. Their hopes that I had turned around and outgrown my rebellion were dashed. My mom was too heartbroken to even attempt to pick up the pieces. In fact, she and my dad did not speak a single word to each other on the hour-long drive home that night. They were in such extraordinary shock and deep grief that words failed them.
Tired of Trying
My mom went into her study room where she spent hours each day studying her Bible in preparation to teach a growing group of women every Wednesday morning. She laid face down on the floor and began to cry out to the Lord, “God, I am so tired of trying so hard. I can’t fix this!” Gently, God impressed upon her heart these words: “Finally, I’ve been waiting for you to admit it.”
My mom surrendered herself and me into the Lord’s hands, and over the next few months she said the Lord did a spiritual “Roto-Rooter” job on her. He began to clean out of her heart all of the junk that had been buried for so long. She had been so focused on fixing me that her own heart was filled with unconfessed sin, bitterness, disappointment, jealousy, and many other spiritual toxins. After my announcement, she began to climb on the potter’s wheel each morning, asking the Lord to mold her into the image of Jesus. She finally understood that it was not her job to make herself, her life, and her family into the image of Jesus; it was His job to do the work in her.
The Fruit of Surrender
What God wanted of her (and what He wants of us) is to surrender to Him in humility and allow Him to mold us and change us. We cannot produce spiritual fruit by trying to imitate fruit. Imitation fruit can appear real and look appetizing, but it is void of any nutrition and could actually be harmful if consumed. In the same way, the fruit we produce is of no value if it is merely an imitation.
The fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Holy Spirit within us as we yield to Him by faith, obedience, and dying to self. It is His fruit that we need produced in us, not fruit of our own making.
Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:4–6).
He is the vine—the source of life and nutrition that we need in order to produce fruit. If you are so busy trying to fix your life that you are not abiding in the vine, you are like a fruit that has fallen to the ground and withered. I myself fall into that trap when I get too busy, even in ministry. If ministry, relationships, jobs, or anything else in this life is more important than time with Jesus, it too can cause spiritual withering.
The previous verse in that passage says that the branches that do produce fruit are pruned so that they will produce more fruit. This is one reason that God allows trials and tribulation in our lives. Our response to God in a trial is generally, “Why God? What have I done to deserve this?”
Romans 5:1–5 gives us insight into God’s purpose for us in our sufferings.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
In other versions, the word afflictions is translated as sufferings, trials, or tribulations. The things we suffer in this life, the trials we face, the hardships we endure that seem unbearable, the circumstances that seem so unfair, the heartache that is too much to bear: all these things are to produce endurance in us so that we will have the strength to endure to the end and we will be conformed into the character and image of Jesus.
Refined by Fire
Just as precious metals like silver and gold are tried in the fire, melted down, purified and reformed, so God purifies us and removes the dross from our lives through fiery trials. If we set our hearts on this life and its pleasures, status, and plans, we will find ourselves in misery and disappointment. Instead, if we remain steadfast and focused on the eternal kingdom that we should be living for, we will view our trials as a blessing because of the character and endurance it will produce in us.
Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2–4)
Do you consider it joy when you are tested? When life throws you a curve and you’re knocked to the ground, do you wallow in "Why me?" There is no condemnation if this is how you have responded. The Lord is not looking for perfect performance. Sanctification is a growing process. He knows we will fail, but He wants to show us where we fall short so that we will ask Him to fix those broken areas. Trials expose our weaknesses and impurities, not to show us how we fail, but to show us where we still need work. Many times I still respond poorly, but Jesus is teaching me to keep an eternal perspective. So now when trials come, I am more quickly reminded of their purpose.
The Unshakeable Kingdom
[God] has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:26–29 NIV, emphasis mine)
Sometimes God will shake everything in our world to remind us that all we truly have is Him and that we are living for an eternal, unshakable kingdom that will never pass away. Whatever in your life has crumbled, thank God that no matter what fails you in this life, no matter what man does to you, everything will be made right in His kingdom. All wrongs will be righted, all injustices will be made just, all lies will be exposed, all those who got away with evil will be punished, all those who suffered will be comforted, and the faithful will be rewarded.
We know that “Heaven rules” and that God is in complete, sovereign control, but does heaven rule you? Is your citizenship in heaven or on this earth? Is your loyalty first to Christ or to your earthly relationships? While we must love those in our lives here on this earth, we must first love Christ above all else. Loving others more than Christ will often lead to compromise, but if we are so committed to Christ that we will choose Him above all else, the things we endure here will begin to be, as Paul described, “light and momentary afflictions.
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16–18)