Tag Archives: trials

Looking Fear Square in the Eye

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I don’t think I have ever been a particularly cowardly person.  As a matter of fact, I’ve done a whole lot of things that have required more courage than I thought I could muster.  Each time I’ve had to reach down deep and search for the courage to do something major, it has become one of the highlights of my life.  When I’m not sure I can actually do something and then I find the will within me to conquer, I feel elated.

For example, I was barely 16 years old when I started college.  I had been away on a missions trip to Guatemala until the day before classes started, so I missed Welcome Week and the campus tour and Freshman Orientation.  I walked onto the campus with my schedule in my hand and didn’t even know where my first hour classroom was located.  I just started asking people for directions.  I opened the door and saw 300 chairs arranged in theater style.  I chose a row at eye level with the speaker on the stage and took the center seat.  Courage.

At home with my collection of college class syllabi spread out in front of me, I spent the next two hours meticulously writing each assignment into my Day Timer Calendar, then backing up a few days or weeks to write a reminder about starting each project.  When I had the due dates for all 6 classes written neatly in my calendar, I cried.  I felt totally overwhelmed at what I was about to do.  I didn’t know if I had what it would take to do college at age 16.  I would need every ounce of courage I could find.

Fast forward many, many years.  The day finally came where we said all our tearful good-byes and walked through the security check point with carry on baggage and two children.  We were leaving for the mission field.  In the next few weeks we would need courage almost hourly.  We landed in a foreign country without knowing a word of Spanish.  The next day we put our kids on a school bus with 5 other missionary kids and off they went to a school that we had never seen in a city where I couldn’t even locate my own apartment in a country where I didn’t speak the language.  “Dear Jesus give me courage!” I prayed.  As we walked the mile from our apartment to our language school, I felt like I would never be able to learn this route.   I was sure I would get lost here.  I needed courage.

And here I am again, staring into the deep, dark well of fear and wondering if I could dredge up some courage again.  I have been hired as the vice principal at our school here in Costa Rica.  My emotions are swinging wildly between the excitement of all my ideas and the deer-in-the-headlights shock of what I’ve just stepped into.  I prayed for this, and now I’m terrified.  Once again, I am digging deep for courage.  I go to Jesus and ask for courage.

A friend and fellow teacher sent me a very encouraging note the other day.  See that word “encouraging”?  What do you see in the middle of it?  COURAGE.  Encouragement gives courage.  How many times did the Lord tell Joshua and the untrained soldiers of Israel, “Be strong and courageous.  Take heart and do not fear.”  The battle is the Lord’s.  I have nothing to fear.  I take courage in the fact that Jesus is my source, a well that will never run dry.  I can ask him for courage and he is glad that I have come to him with empty hands for he is ready to fill them up.  I am more than a conquerer in Christ Jesus.

Baptism by Fire

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I’ve been thinking about this phrase “Baptism by Fire” these last few months and wondering where it came from.  I asked a few Costa Rican friends if they had anything in Spanish that was similar, but they said No.  (Maybe if there’s someone out there who knows of one, you could add it to the comments here.)  So of course, I Googled it.  Basically it comes from taking some scripture verses out of context and applying them to a really hard situation.  Once upon a time it was used in France to talk about a soldier’s first real combat experience.  And the Mormons have added it to their rituals, again taking the scriptures out of context, to confer a higher authority (“priesthood”) on someone.

But the more I think about this phrase, and about the imagery of fire, the more I feel like it’s a gross exaggeration of a temporary rough spot in life.  It’s an exaggeration along the lines of “you’re killing me” or “we’re flat broke” or “that was the last straw.”  When we use such over the top words to describe a fleeting trial, we start to feel hopeless and victimized by life.  We start to imagine that we are some kind of martyr in  unusual circumstances.

But the Bible tells me that there is no trial or temptation which is new to mankind, nothing new under the sun, nothing that hasn’t been tried and conquered before.  This gives me great hope.  Rather than stripping me of my uniqueness, it bolsters me with good company.  Others have gone this way before me… and survived.  Sure some have fallen into the gorge on the side of the trail, but the survivors have left their torches along the path to illuminate my steps.  Their baptism by fire lights my way.  I can do this!

In the flames of my trial, I find the essence of my being.  I know what I am made of.  The dross, the flaws, the impure is burned away and the gold and silver bubble to the surface.  It’s the way God designed me.  As I pass through the trials, this old world burns away.  The straw and wooden crutches that have supported me go up in a flash and I have to stand on my faith- really owning it, really trusting it.  Is it strong enough to hold me up?  Or am I going down in flames too?

God does not preserve us from the flames.  They serve a purpose.  The martyrs of old met their end in the flames, being burned alive for their confession of faith and seeing this faith materialize into the face of Jesus right in the midst of their trial.  And it was in the very midst of the fiery furnace that the Son of Man met those three Hebrew teenagers Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (in the Bible, Daniel chapter 3).  They were not rescued from the fire- they met God IN the fire.  I bet if you asked any one of them if they would have liked to skip over this episode in their lives, not one of them would choose to miss out on their closest encounter with God.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of epic proportions that has encouraged Jesus Followers for centuries thereafter.  The fire is not our enemy- the fire is our opportunity to meet God face to face.

Embrace your trial by fire and seek for Jesus’s face amidst the flickering flames.  Let everything else go up in flames.

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O kind.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  Daniel 3:17-18