"Simon, Simon! Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat." (Luke 22:31)
Have you ever gone through an overwhelming experience in your life that challenged every fiber of your existence? (Or maybe three of those at the same time?) It might almost seem as if God had something to do with it. If He didn't, then why did He "allow" it?
In the verse above, Peter is about to face the greatest challenge of his life. Even though determined and forewarned, he will be confronted by the devil in a way that will overcome and overwhelm him. And Jesus makes it clear that Satan's attack was not done without permission.
Sometimes God does not fit very well into our personal theologies. I'm not altogether comfortable with the concept of God "allowing" bad circumstances to happen to us. I don't think that terminology best fits reality.
God is good! He does not withhold any good thing from us. He is not out to get us. He is for us, and not against us. In fact, if anyone allowed bad things to happen, it was mankind in the very beginning, after Adam and Eve were given authority to take dominion of the earth. They – we - are the ones who gave that authority over to Satan by disobeying God's ways and submitted to Satan instead. Even Satan affirmed to Jesus in the wilderness, "All this authority has been given to me..." The power of temptation, sin, sickness, and death - all that is bad in this world, was given its place by the original submission of mankind to the ways of darkness.
This does not mean that every bad thing that happens in my life is my fault personally. Sometimes that is true. And when it is, it is rather obvious. But bad things can happen just because we live in a fallen world. And God not only does not desire for those things to happen to us, but rather, has called us to fight the good fight of faith and overcome those things with victorious attitude and action.
Certainly God arranges certain challenges. And it is evident that Satan may get permission "to sift as wheat." But God does not initiate or cause bad things to happen to His redeemed children of the New Covenant.
However, he does use every circumstance and challenge in our lives - good, bad, or ugly - to refine us into the image of His Son.
Whether the challenge comes from God, the devil, people, or even something we have done to ourselves, He is faithful to strategically grow and change us into His image with whatever isavailable.
This is true of the disciple Peter. And it is true of you and me.
Last fall (2014), my wife Carol was finishing her fifth book. The publisher's deadline was December 1st. On November 3rd, as she was beginning the final chapter, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer. And, oh yeah, I left out a significant detail… The title of the book is "Refined: Finding Joy in the Midst of the Fire."
Carol McLeod is the founder of Just Joy! Ministries. She has for many years helped women discover the goodness of God and His "unspeakable joy" no matter how bad the circumstances. This ministry was not founded in the fluff of the pursuit of happiness, but rather after she had experienced five miscarriages. This joy is a deeper characteristic than happiness. It is defined in scripture as strength from God. It is of divine origin and is a reservoir of power to those who will access it, no matter the hardship or emotional crisis.
Carol, like Peter, was facing an attack from hell, the timing of which was so obvious. She had to write the last chapter of a book, as she personally faced a new chapter on the very subject of which she was writing.
Everything she believed was now on the line. How would she respond to this challenge? And how would God use it to further refine her life?
Carol had a mastectomy in January. And because her body did not respond well to the follow-up medications, she has just now undergone mastectomy number two, only days before her book is to be released, on September 15th.
I'm her husband. And I'm admittedly biased (good husbands are, you know). But I have seen my wife respond to this challenge from behind-the-scenes. She has had to face the same fears and questions any woman would face in the same scenario. She has done so, however, with a holy grit that can only be defined by that "hard to explain" joy found in the depth of heaven's ocean of grace.
She hasn't gotten bitter. She has gotten better.
Her faith has not subsided, but rather, increased.
She not only refused to give up, but she has become more motivated, more anointed, and deeper in her revelation of who God is and what He is doing than ever before.
The refining process is bearing fruit.
How about you? How will you respond to the insurmountable, overwhelming, deep dark circumstances of your life? Will you let it destroy you, or suck the life out of you?
Or, will you submit to and embrace the goodness and glory of God? Will you allow Him the opportunity to change you from the inside out? He can take what the devil meant for harm and turn it for good. Every curveball from hell can become a home run in the kingdom of God - if we respond with faith, hope, and love. You have the power in Christ to make the devil "wish he hadn't done that" in his mission to steal, kill, and destroy.
Carol, while fighting cancer, knew one thing was true. No matter where this challenge came from, it was now an opportunity for the glory of God.
She refused to be finished. She would rather be refined!
To pre-order Carol's book, “Refined: Finding Joy in the Midst of the Fire,” please click here.