Recently, a friend emailed to check up on Aleta and me as we continue to find our place in Arizona. In his letter, he also let me in on some of his challenges... his old house isn't selling, the mortgage on his new house is getting heavy, money's tight all around, and his new marriage is experiencing some tension. He asked me if I had any encouragement for him. Here's part of my reply:
Hey brother, thanks for the update. I hear the struggle and am praying even now for the Lord to bring clarity and deliverance in the midst of it. It would probably be deeply helpful, on both a heart level and in practical ways, to begin reading and praying through the Psalms. It's the best place in the Bible for the heart to find a common voice going through similar struggles in a way that points right back to the God who loves and delivers. The Lord has met me there in many difficult and confusing times.
I remember reading a small book by Bruce Wilkinson called "Secrets of the Vine" that has forever changed my perspective on difficult circumstances. In it, he explains from John 15 that life has a cyclical rhythm of 3 seasons: 1) Growth, 2) Fruit-bearing, and 3) Pruning. There is also a fourth season that, while unnecessary, is quite common for us... the season of 4) Discipline, which comes as the result of undealt-with sin.
So the two reasons for tough experiences among the branches are, as Jesus explains, 1) discipline and 2) pruning. Discipline is intended to help us see our sin and lead us to repentance. Pruning is intended to expose hidden areas of self-life (ways we're trusting ourselves & not God) and lead us to greater surrender to and intimacy with Christ.
It may sound kind of simple; but after years of examining it, I think it's right on. All difficult experiences in the life of the Christ-follower are the result of either God's loving 1) discipline or His gracious 2) pruning. The goal is abundant, fruit-bearing life for us to God's glory. (BTW - This doesn't explain difficult experiences in the lives of those who are not born-again "branches" in Christ - whose suffering is often the result of living outside the sovereign care of God only available through a personal trust-relationship with Him.)
It's a great little book worth picking up.
I pray the Lord increasingly blesses you and your bride as you increasingly surrender to Him. When we are emptied out of our sense of personal "rights," we have very little to fight over any more. It's not our house. It's not our money. Not our jobs. Not our kids. We are not our own. We belong to Christ. All of our stuff is really His stuff. Our job is obedient stewardship; but only He can make things happen. So we grow and learn and and increasingly surrender in humble love - even as we take courageous obedient risks - letting Him take responsibility for both the victories and the things that look like defeat. It's all His, anyway.
Bless ya, bro! Press on ever deeper into Christ alone. May no other thing distract you from "the purity and simplicity of exclusive devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3).