Thoughts to Ponder

Broken Bones; Pure Joy or Broken Promises?

I have often stated that I feel the church today is peddling an easy gospel, designed to appeal to people. I have stated and still believe that this is a dangerous trend which may actually cause many people to perish. The reason I say that is because, selling the gospel as the solution to all a person's problems, may cause more people to want a part of it, but it does not make committed, earnest disciples.

When a person is not a committed, earnest disciple, they tend to not understand God and when adversity comes they are surprised. Often, not only are they surprised, but they get discouraged and start to doubt God. This can take many different forms, but it almost always comes down to them questioning God's goodness, or His promises. Maybe I should say that they question what they think are God's promises.

Because they have never been taught to read the Bible, nor taught biblical principles in church, they don't understand what is happening. I often hear from people that they think God no longer loves them or that He is mad at them. Their idea is that if God truly loved them He would make sure nothing bad happened to them. Or they view bad things as God being mad at them. God will discipline a believer, but that is not what is happening to these people.

We are told that we should expect trials and persecution, and we are even told why.

(1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV) [6] In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. [7] These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(James 1:2-4 (NIV) [2] Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, [3] because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. [4] Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

We are promised trials and tribulations and we are told that these bring about faith in our lives. The problem is that if a person has been taught, or thinks that they have been taught, that being a Christian will take care of all of life's troubles, then when these promised trials come their way, they tend to lose faith.

I want to quickly address the flip side of this. I read an article on a website written by a young woman who 'found' herself pregnant out of wedlock. She wrote the article to express her great joy at realizing that this pregnancy was due to God's grace and love for her. See, she decided that God caused her to get pregnant so that He could show her how much He loved her. No where in her entire article did she say she confessed the sin of sexual immorality, or that she accepted responsibility for her own actions and therefore for the consequences. No, she decided that God had caused all this to happen to strengthen her faith in Him.

How sad that this person does not truly know or understand God. He never causes us to sin to teach us anything. He hates sin. He demands punishment for sin. He may use our sin, when confessed and repented of, to teach us a lesson, but to think that He causes us to sin as a way to teach us lessons, is to show you don't understand Him at all.

This woman's pregnancy is not a trial or a persecution, nor is it even a form of discipline by God, it is a natural consequence of her sinful actions. It is also not the unforgivable sin, if confessed and repented of, God will show His great love and grace to this person, but without confession and repentance, there is only the consequence of a sinful action.

So you see the two sides of this issue. On the one hand are people like this woman who think that the consequences of their sinful actions are trials caused by God and on the other hand you have people who can't figure out why God no longer loves them because of the problems they encounter in their lives. Neither of these groups of people understand God or their relationship with God.

There is a third group. This group of people understand that being a Christian won't take all of life's troubles away. However, they have been taught the misguided notion that God will never give us more then we can handle.

I think this misguided notion most often comes from a misuse of Scripture. Many people will read this passage and get the wrong impression from it:

(1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

This is a great promise and we can stand on it. But people misuse it to claim that God will never give us more than we can handle as far as trials and problems. That is not what the verse is speaking of, it is speaking of temptations and the fact that we will never be tempted past the point where we are capable of resisting. God will always be faithful and give us a way out of the temptation, so that we do not have to sin.

What does God's word say about this subject? Let's look and find out:

(2 Corinthians 1:8-11 NIV) [8] We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. [9] Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. [10] He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, [11] as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

"Far beyond our ability to endure..." In fact Paul was so depressed and discouraged that he despaired even of life, or in other words, he wanted to die. Paul goes on to tell us why this happened, it happened so that he would learn to lean on the Lord. Now if the Apostle Paul had to be taught this lesson, why would we think we won't?

An article I read the other day stated something that I have not been able to completely verify, although I have seen it repeated in numerous other places. What it said was that a Shepherd would break the leg of a sheep that refused to stay with the flock. To keep the lamb from wandering off and being killed by wild animals the Shepherd would break its leg and then bind it up. While the lamb healed it was totally dependant on the Shepherd for everything. When the flock moved the Shepherd would carry the lamb on his shoulders. Two things happened because of this broken leg. One was that the lamb was not physically able to wander off. The other was that the lamb would grow to trust and love the Shepherd while it healed and when the leg had totally healed the lamb would not want to leave the Shepherd's side any more.

Now we know that David, before he became King was a Shepherd. And we know that he wrote Psalm 51. It is thought that he wrote Psalm 51 after being confronted by Nathan the prophet over his adultery with Bathsheba. I want to look at one verse of Psalm 51:

(Psalm 51:8 NIV) Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Now the article I read stated that the author felt that David was referring to a Shepherd's breaking of a leg bone in a wandering sheep, when he refers to the bones that God has crushed. As I said I can't verify that this is what is being spoken of here, but it makes sense. And I believe it is consistent with God's character.

God loves us and I believe He will do whatever it takes to try to keep us close to Him, including breaking our leg, or giving us some other problem to deal with that makes us more dependant on Him.

Answering letters from people who don't believe this is very difficult. When they ask me why God would allow them to lose their job, or why God would take away their spouse, or why God would allow them to be falsely accused of something, etc..., it is hard to tell them the reason might be because God loves them. It is hard to tell people because they are not often inclined to think this way. Sadly churches seldom teach people that God will use adversity to draw them closer to Him, or to draw them 'back' to Him.

This goes back to the idea of cheap and easy discipleship. That is not what Jesus taught, but it is what is taught today in most churches. Jesus told us that if we want to follow Him, we have to love Him more then our father, mother, son, daughter, or spouse. We have to love Him more then life itself (Matthew 10:37-39, Luke 14:25-27). He also tells us to count the cost before we decide to follow Him so that we will be sure we can follow through (Luke 14:28-33). Yet these things are not taught today. We tell people to 'accept' Jesus. We stress God's love, but we neglect to tell them about the things that God demands of us. We neglect to tell them that God takes our discipleship seriously and we better too. We neglect to tell people that if they start to drift away God will try to convince them to come back to Him and that is not always pleasant. God has a history of this as this passage shows:

(Amos 4:6-10 NIV) [6] "I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD. [7] I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. [8] People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD. [9] Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD. [10] I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD."

Because so many people think we can safely ignore the Old Testament, let me quote a passage that shows otherwise:

(2 Peter 1:19 NIV) And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Peter is speaking to New Testament Christians and he tells them to pay attention to the prophets (Old Testament). We will do well to pay attention to the prophets too!

We should celebrate the fact that God loves us enough to give us adversity so that we will learn to lean on Him and stay close to Him, but we must be careful that we don't think that He causes us to sin or disobey Him so that He can draw us closer. We often bring adversity on ourselves because we, like sheep, wander away from the Good Shepherd. Out of love for us, He is willing to do whatever it takes to keep us close, including breaking legs.

To be honest if you believe that God will never give you more then you can handle on your own, you are in danger of just that because you are not leaning on Him, but rather on yourself.

So even in adversity, let us echo David's words, 'let the bones you have crushed rejoice.'

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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January 2004