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Is God in the Hard Places?

I love when God takes the opportunity to grow me when I least expect it. This past week I went on an annual "girls trip" with my mom, sister and aunt. I had taken along a book called Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors. Katie is a young woman who had moved to Uganda at the age of 19 to begin serving the Lord there. Her first book, Kisses From Katie, had touched my heart deeply, and I was greatly looking forward to snuggling up in a big comfy chair in the lounge to begin reading her next one, now written at the age of 29.

It wasn't the relaxing experience that I had anticipated however. I kept having to remove my reading glasses to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. Then I'd need to get up to go fetch another handful of kleenexes from the bathroom. By the time I finished reading a couple chapters each day, I was exhausted!

Katie's simple way of LIVING HER FAITH in unimaginable circumstances to our way of thinking flat rocked my world. God opened my eyes through her words (and I'm only half finished with the book) to begin seeing His presence in the places we often think He is absent from.

So it was no wonder then when I opened my Bible to read today that God stopped me only two verses in. I kept trying to keep reading. In fact, I think I probably restarted at verse 3 at least four or five times, but the words blurred and my thoughts kept going back to those first two verses.

They weren't new to me. If you had asked me about them, I could have told you the facts. But today they stopped me in my slippers, and I just couldn't move on.

For His own reasons, God has firmly placed me in the book of Acts right now. I like to read whole books of the Bible at a time, and I had literally just finished the book of Acts on a Friday when Ryan announced that very next Sunday that he would be preaching about the Holy Spirit for the next few weeks and encouraged the entire church to read through Acts during that time.

Okay, I guess I'll read it again. Then, about four weeks into the series, after I had just finished Acts AGAIN, my small group chose to study none other than......the book of Acts.

So here I am again for the third time in a three month period.

If you've never read Acts, or haven't for a long time, it's primarily about the spread of the message of Jesus after His resurrection--how the Church developed and grew. We see the 11 remaining Apostles fulfilling their calling, stepping up in boldness to speak Christ. They are given the power of the Holy Spirit. They confront the masses. They are arrested, but then they are released. They heal the lame. They cast out demons. Peter even raises the dead.

These 11 men are unstoppable. Even when other new believers are persecuted and some killed, these men continue to be spiritual forces of power. They are first century Avengers! But then...

"About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John's brother, with the sword." (Acts 12:1-2 HCSB)

Wait, WHAT???

Not James. Not one of the Sons of Thunder. Not one of the inner three in Jesus' own personal circle. Not one of the original disciples!

I knew it was coming, but it shocked me to read it again anyway. Did it shock the new Church? Did the remaining Apostles stagger in disbelief? Did they slide to a screeching halt in the dirt shouting, "Hold on! This can't happen to us. Maybe to the other believers, but not to US!"? Did they start questioning the mission? Did they question God's goodness? Did they take it as a sign that they were on the wrong path?

That's what we might do. Our American way of thinking often holds that an easy path must equal God's blessing. But this isn't the case, however we like to cling to our own rationality.

Financial woes? God must not care. Unwelcome diagnosis? God must not be there. Unexpected tragedy? God must not see me. Hardship, family turmoil, lost job...God can't be in any of it.

Or can He?

I needed to hear for myself, and for the many who have recently shared their burdens with me, the words of James' own brother, John, when he remembered what Jesus had said to them, remembered even AFTER his brother's horrible death, "I have told you these things so that IN ME you may have PEACE. You WILL have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world." (John 16:33 HCSB, emphasis mine)

We CAN have peace, but only in Jesus, our Hope and our Life. This is NOT our forever home, thank goodness. God's promise to each of us is eternity with Him. Amen! God DOES see and He IS there, right even in the very heart of our suffering. I pray that each of us may find that peace, the peace that is so much greater than our own understanding can fathom, the peace that is only found IN JESUS.

#comfort #encouragement #peace

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