This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Mona Khauli (from Lebanon; instead of leaving her country to seek peace, she chose to stay at great risk. She testifies of God's miracles.), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save. (Psalm 138:7)
Throughout and despite the war in Lebanon, the Lord has been my strength and my salvation. Nevertheless in moments of emotional despair, I have often asked myself; 'Given a choice to relive those years would I perhaps opt for a change of course?'
My answer is no. I would never exchange the intimate fellowship with God for a more peaceful period of earthly existence. It is also true that I have often been near breaking point. During these times of distress Psalm 138:7 has been a great encouragement for me.
'You stretch out your hand against my foes, with you right hand you save me.'
Both aspects are so real. The danger is that we too often only see the stretched out hand of our foe. May God continuously open our spiritual eyes for the other truth: 'with your right hand you save me.'
A moment of introspection: The all-too-common realities of life for Christians around the world include trouble, angry foes, war, despair, being at a breaking point, distress and more, as Satan seeks unwary souls to devour (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:6-11; esp. v.8). Mona Khauli herself described some experiences of these kinds. Honestly, she admitted moments of despair, focusing on "the outstretched hand of our foe". But, after the moment(s) came a recognition of God's active but unseen presence in such fearful times. She described it, saying to her heavenly Father, "with Your right hand You saved me." The apostle Paul, too, faced hardship and loss; yet after the moments of perplexity, persecution, being struck down, and more, he said "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:7-11) The author of a well-known poem, "Footprints in the Sand" talks about looking back upon struggles and seeing the evidences of God's presence. In God's Word, we are reminded that "weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning, for his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime." (Psalm 30:5, parts a & b reversed). We too may have had similar encounters with God, recognized only in hindsight.
Someone once likened our propensity for focusing on problems, to a person holding a sheet of paper. That individual asked a second one, what the second person saw. The responder said he saw a piece of paper. Then the person holding the paper used a pen to make a dot on the paper. The person holding the paper asked the second person, "Now, what do you see?" The responder said, "A dot." Focusing on our problem(s) keeps us from seeing God’s presence. Perhaps, in the style of Brother Lawrence, we need to “Practice the Presence of God”.
But, let's focus on the moments of pain, struggle, and suffering that come in the lives of many of our Christian brothers and sisters, and even in ours. In the midst of suffering, as frail humans, we tend to focus (as in the above analogy) on the dot on the white paper--fixing our attention on the pain of the moment, yet not seeing the presence of God who is the remainder of that paper. He is there in our tribulations and so, amid such tribulations, in the words of Christ himself, we are offered God's peace: "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) We are offered His strength (1 Peter 4:7-11; esp. v.11 "whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.); and we are offered His salvation (in 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul speaks of us who are in the process of being saved). Mona puts forth the certainty of these things, saying that during times of distress, God's Word is an encouragement--providing hope (Jeremiah 29:11) and a future glory that far surpasses "the sufferings of the present time". (see Romans 8:18-30). She had known despair, and had been near the breaking point, yet she could say as the apostle Paul did, that "we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair...". Joy comes in the morning. Neither Paul nor Mona languished in their momentary despair; they conquered such hopelessness through the strength and salvation found in Jesus Christ, in God. Focusing on God during persecution lets us see the presence of His grace and mercy and strength; we needn't focus on the dot on the paper.
Subsequently, Ms. Khauli described an intimate fellowship with God; Proverbs 18:24 describes God's presence as "...a friend who sticks closer than a brother." She looked back on her pain, her sorrow, her struggles and suffering and proclaimed that she would never exchange such intimate fellowship with God as she had had during those times, for any more peaceful earthly existence. Jesus was known to challenge his hearers, saying such things as "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mark 8:34-36), "Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." (Matthew 10:21-22), and "... Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me." (John 16:2b-3) Many Christians, today, are killed by those who think they are offering service to Allah, or other gods. Knowing that Jesus Christ promised tribulation, yet offered His peace and His assurance that He has overcome the world, Mona looked back over such tribulation and recognized God’s hand at work, saving her. Our minds can have perfect peace, in the midst of our tribulations, if we focus on the paper and not the dot. Perhaps Isaiah too would agree, as he wrote "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." (Isaiah 26:3)
Many times in our lives, God may take the opportunity to teach us to trust in Him. Such moments often hinge on our obedience to His will. If we are obedient to God's will in our lives, we will learn to trust in His munificence, in His perfect judgment, and His care for us. May we, in all moments of our lives, whether in peace or in struggle, find and know God's perfect peace.