2013 is almost over and it is once again time to reflect on the year that was. As I’ve been reflecting on this past year, my heart has been filled with gratitude and thanksgiving. The first quarter of 2013 was a difficult time for my wife and I. We lost three family members in a very short span of time so 2013 for me was a year in the fiery furnace of affliction.
The other day my wife and I sat down at a restaurant and I asked her five things she was thankful for this year. When it was my turn I stated that 2013 for me has been a year where God has been humbling me through a variety of events. One of the chief ways He has done that isn’t just through the deaths of family members, but through ministering to my dad. While I’ve gone through a lot of stuff in my almost 33 years of life, I still have a lot to learn about life and in a lot of ways, my education outranks my life experience so this year was a good year for my spiritual growth. Let me tell you why I say that.
Many Christians in my experience think that if they are going through trials or other such difficulty that God may hate them or at worse they fear He is disinterested or far from them. This year has afforded me ample time to think on this issue. My father has frontal temporal dementia. He has been in and out of mental hospitals for a little over the past year and a half now. This has given me the opportunity to think, pray, and reflect on suffering. I can assure you it is not a comfortable thought to think about how my dad will die or even that he will die. Rather it is difficult and sweet for me. Difficult in the sense he will not be able to perform even the most basic functions of life as the disease dominates his body, but sweet in the sense that I know my dad is a born again Christ and death is not the final chapter for my dad, heaven is. Furthermore, this situation with my dad and the deaths in my family this year has given me pause that my mom is also in her 70’s now. While she is also a born again Christian, thinking about both of my parents dying is not a thought I like to reflect on.
While I know that death is not the final answer for the Christian, the issue of mortality is still a difficult issue with which to grapple. Jesus teaches that He knows every hair on our head (Luke 12:7), and I’m comforted that if He knows the hairs on my head then He knows me through and through. Before this year I would say I had a great deal of head knowledge but the fires of affliction have a way of taking what we know in our heads and moving it deep into our hearts. Biblical doctrine is not just for the head it is for the heart and for all of life. Our doctrine will not be as sweet as honey until we have walked through the fires of affliction where we have been tested and can stand in amazement at the grace of God.
I can’t imagine how Daniel and his friends felt after they were delivered from the lion’s mouth by the Lord Jesus. In a similar manner, Jesus saves His people from their sins and grants them new life through His death, burial and resurrection. Death, while a momentary blip on the screen, is not the final say. Death’s sting has been overmatched by the triumph of the resurrection of Christ. When the truth of the resurrection confronts my sorrow about my mom and dad one day dying, I’m comforted and assured that no matter what disease will take them or myself, I know they will be with Jesus before the throne of God’s grace worshiping with the saints. Furthermore, the resurrection of Christ exposes my frailties and limitations and gives me hope. Our hope is not in vain, rather it is a sure foundation because Jesus is not just some Savior and He didn’t maybe die; He did die, He did rise from the dead, and He is now at the right hand of God as our Mediator, Intercessor, and High priest.
As I’ve reflected on all of that has transpired this year, I can honestly say that 2013 was a year I grew greatly in the grace of God through the fires of affliction. While this is likely not the last year I will experience a great deal of affliction, what has changed this year is I’ve learned to be thankful for it. I’m thankful that God has used these many situations to refine and grow me in His grace. I’m thankful that He continues to soften my heart even as He gives me an even greater hatred of sin. I’m thankful that He has poured out His love even more into my heart that I may know and make known His love. I’m thankful this year that Jesus is victorious, that the tomb is empty, that Jesus is exalted, and that He is ruling and reigning as His people’s High Priest and Intercessor.
While this year me hasn’t been easy for me, as I’m sure it hasn’t been for you as well dear reader, Jesus is sanctifying His particular and precious people redeemed by Him for His glory that He might present them blameless before the Father. Of all the precious truths that you or I could talk about, that one right there leads me to worship the God who has saved me, who is sanctifying me, and will one day glorify me. I’m thankful this year for the fires of affliction, for God’s continuing to refine and shape me into the man I need to be and for how He continues to use Servants of Grace in the lives of many people for His glory. As you reflect on the year that was I pray that you will pause to consider how God may have used affliction in your own life to refine, shape you and sanctify you so you can be more like Jesus.