How Does God Use My Problems?
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3).
When she was 16 years of age, Elisabeth Elliot wrote in the back of her Bible the words of a prayer written by Betty Stam, who was martyred in China. The prayer read, “Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to thee to be thine forever. Fill me and seal me with thy Holy Spirit, use me as thou wilt, send me where thou wilt, work out thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever.”
In her first year of service as a missionary, Elisabeth Elliot often read those words, seeking comfort when her plans went awry. After a year’s work as a linguist reducing a language to writing, a suitcase containing all of her research–the file box, the notebooks of careful notations, and charts of the Colorado language spoken by a group of native Ecuadorians–was stolen. It was gone forever. A year’s work of sweat and labor, gone! Just like that. Furthermore, her language assistant, a man she had grown to esteem and value as a brother in Christ, was murdered. Then, a building project which had consumed a year’s work by the man she would eventually marry, Jim Elliot, was destroyed by fire.
Talk about problems. Looking back, Mrs. Elliot believes God was preparing her for what lay ahead–the death of her husband and four others at the hands of an indigenous people group.
In her book A Lamp for My Feet, she wrote, “We like things to go smoothly and as planned. Very often unexpected things intervene and our plans go awry… When ours are interrupted, His are not. His plans are proceeding exactly as scheduled, moving us always (including those minutes or hours or years which seem most useless or wasted or unendurable) toward the goal of true maturity.”
One of my heroes was a Dutch woman, Corrie ten Boom, who along with her aged father and her sister, Betsy, saved the lives of countless Jewish babies and their parents in their little apartment over the watch shop in Harleem during the Holocaust. For this, Corrie was sent to Ravensbruk Concentration Camp and almost died there. Corrie’s life was in the balance so she could speak from experience, as she would say, “God has no problems, only plans.”
God uses problems to help you sense your weakness and His strength–something that never happens apart from being stripped of your ability to make things happen. Read the historical books of the Old Testament and notice how self-confident, self-reliant men and women had their hopes dashed to pieces and in their weakness turned to the Lord, calling on Him for deliverance, and then found that God encounters nothing too hard for Him to handle.
God uses problems to bring discipline into your life. David, who spent seven years as a fugitive, never being certain that Saul and his troops might not appear in the dark, wrote, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). Another psalm says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67).
An athlete who disciplines himself to train grows stronger as does God’s child who perseveres and keeps on pushing ahead. How you react to problems and difficulties shows clearly the kind of stuff that’s within you. As James says “When you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith. ” (James 1:2,3, NCV).
Resource reading: James 1:1-18