As I sit and write this, I’m sitting on my front porch in rural southwestern Virginia. It’s a new porch, to me. Thunder is rolling for minutes at a time as it settles down and bellows across endless mountain valleys that surround us here. Showers are gently falling upon our month-old garden and all of the green that invades my entire line of vision is soaking up the much-needed rain. The only sounds to be heard are birds singing and an occasional cow or rooster letting us know they’re in the vicinity. This is a great afternoon.
Roughly six weeks ago, we up and left all that we’ve known in Georgia and relocated to the rolling Appalachian hills and mountains in Virginia. We sold our home of nearly fifteen years in just two weeks’ time. We sold or gave away a lot of our belongings. I walked away from my thriving business of twenty years. Kristin packed up all of our things and we headed north into an unknown land. We had anxieties, dreams, excitement and endless wonderings of what it all would entail. The LORD spoke to us many promises about moving here. Some of them instantly made no sense whatsoever, others are now unfolding and many more will take a lifetime to become revealed. Most all of them are too personal to disclose here, so they will dwell safely preserved in our hearts. How precious it is to have promises for ourselves and our families.
In these few weeks, we’ve quickly adjusted to many changes, many of them in the natural. We have no air conditioning, no dishwasher, Kristin hangs our laundry on an awesome clothesline everyday (that I, with great precision installed myself, I’d like to add) no TV, our neighbors are cows and horses… and yes, we’re still alive and well! I often feel like we’ve landed in a rural, mountain getaway of some sort yet we never have to leave.
Of course, many changes in the spiritual have also been intertwined in the midst of it all. I’ve confronted that being outside working in the barn until 9:30 at night or even getting up at 5:30am with your (nearly) five-year-old son because he’s ready to eat breakfast and get outside can easily busy oneself and distract from one’s spiritual life, if you’re not careful. Add on top of that the demands of restarting my business here from zero, in an entirely new environment and surroundings, and you have a recipe for strain on a spiritual life. Spiritual vitality doesn’t just happen magically because you change environments, you know.
Perhaps I’m just wired strangely or maybe it’s just immaturity, I don’t know. I need to study. I need to pray. I need to have dedicated time of dialogue with my Heavenly Father in order to continually thrive in my inner man. Now can I interact with the Lord easier working my garden as I overlook the beautiful scenery here as opposed to zoning out in front of my television every night? You’d better believe it! But all of the goings on in this natural life and its demands still strive for my attention and gaze.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, 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 1:2-4
So, after several weeks of laboring to no end to get my business running here, quite unsuccessfully I might add, I hit the pause button. I was not enduring well whatsoever. I wasn’t adjusting well to a struggling business venture. After talking with my wife and friends, I began to see that I had allowed the frustration and disappointment of my business struggles to rob me of my joy here. I’d come home after ten hours of rejection with a pretty rotten attitude overall. I wasn’t rejoicing in the opportunity or walking humbly with a thankful heart. I was dejected and grasping for my identity here in this new place. One day while I was out and had actually got a job at a new office, I had my equipment and product out. I saw a bottle of tire dressing in my product container that's called "Endurance" and a light came on. I hadn't used that stuff in months and I thought I had even thrown it out. But, there it sat to send me a simple message that I needed to hear.
Had I so quickly lost my peace, rest and joy of this new and awesome season? Had it only taken several weeks of exasperating, yet inconsequential trials for me to, on any level, surrender my anticipation of what God is orchestrating here? Lord, forgive me. I believe, help my unbelief. I had subtly, yet increasingly, succumbed to the long days of rejection and resulting failure of getting my business on its feet here. It had become interwoven into my every thought. I’d come home to this hidden place of rest angry, bitter and insecure in my position as provider for my family in this new environment. Here I am, nearly forty-three years of age and still acting juvenile in the matters of my heart towards God. Admittedly, even this wants to spin against my favor and frustrate me further, but instead I rest in the elementary fact that God has a greater plan - a plan of a greater death to deeper issues within me that these situations reveal.
There are many things about living here that I thought would be so hard, that have been easy. And then other things, like restarting my business here, that I didn’t even give a thought to, that have been extremely difficult. But in it all, more layers of self, pride, identity and spiritually infantile behavior have been unearthed. So, in this I rejoice. It’s surely no secret that I am surely in need of rescuing and preserving. Thankfully, this is exactly what this ongoing mystery of salvation is all about. Identifying and walking away from the flesh that relentlessly strives for my attention as I embrace the regeneration power of Christ that enables me to come out on the other side. Not just seemingly “better” either ,but more and more conformed into His incredible image.
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,” 1 Peter 1:6
So what of all of this? Allow me to get to somewhat of a point, should there actually be one. I’ve been driving more miles than ever lately looking for work up here and the CD player in my truck isn’t working. So, at times I’ll scour the radio for anything - anything -that’s worth allowing into my ears. I’ll occasionally try Christian radio, usually with repeated remorse. Many songs, almost every radio spot, the live DJ and even many ads are all echoing the same recurring theme, “Get Jesus and be better.” “Trust Jesus and you’ll be happier.” “Give your life to God and all will be OK.” “Just get ‘positive’ things in your life.” If this is the currently prominent Christian message, it’s declaring that we must avoid anything that makes us sad, troubled or tested. What about growing in tough times? What about maturing in the midst of trials? What about embracing seasons of being uncomfortable and allowing God to purify us in the process?
“Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:3
If I never make room for tough times, whether brought on by myself or simply circumstantial, to have their place, how will I ever arrive at the position where my need for a Saviour is revealed? I don’t just need Christ to rescue me once and for all. I need Him daily to save me and liberate me so that I might be conformed into the man He has destined me to be, in Him. In our depravity, pre-regeneration, we saw our need, that is if we were truly changed. It’s this same desperate need for a Saviour that must remain on this side of our adoption by the Father. Although now a son, I am still in this fallen shell of flesh that is reliant upon the power of the Spirit of God to continually move me from death to life as I embrace all that comes my way to perfect me.
Much of what I hear in these mainstream Christian themes seems to define spiritual success as being happy and “blessed.” (One radio ad even had an on-air personality sharing about how getting her leg veins lasered complimented her spiritual life and helped her find joy and confidence in herself.) We tend to go to great ends to dwell in comforts and familiarities and rarely, if ever, venture out into a position of faith because we labor to avoid any sort of trial or thing that makes us seem dependent – on God or others. We must be careful not to fight off adverse conditions and circumstances that come our way. As with several things that are before me at this moment, I must seek the Lord to find what it is that He is desiring to work out of me in the midst of it all. What is His perspective? What is this circumstance revealing about my innermost places? It’s not as much about the trial as it is what the trial is bringing to light.
“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” Matthew 24:13
Lastly, there is truly an excitement in finding others who properly find pleasure in the trials and the perfecting that they bring about in us. Only when we position ourselves to embrace all that comes our way can we mature rightly in spiritual matters. It’s surely no new discovery, we’re instructed all throughout the Scriptures to do so. Are you embracing your current circumstances and all of their embedded tests? Are you looking to escape and just avoid tough times entirely? Are you sure you’ve not mistaken God’s purifying plan for a work of the enemy? These are questions we must address. We must walk in wisdom and awareness of why we’re in the midst of whatever it is that comes our way.
So, to the wondering few, we’re alive and well here in our new home, welcoming the challenges that this new adventure entails. May the Lord continue to show us all compassion and patience as we journey along this life. May we find joy in our trials and delight that we have been given yet another opportunity to surrender our will and plans. In my heart I plan my course, but the Lord determines my steps.