Life lessons can be costly.
I’ve adapted this post from a message given by Jeff Friess,
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly.
Joseph Friess (my dad) made a great impact on my life. Some early decisions he made about me didn’t really seem loving or caring to my young mind. When I turned eighteen and was in my senior year of high school, I got into some trouble. My dad kicked me out.
If you don’t want to listen to me, you can get out of my house!
My mom stood there weeping, and asking him, “How could you do this?” Relatives called me, taking my side, and saying, “What kind of father would kick his son out?”
I lasted about two months until I got kicked out of the house where I had gone to stay. I literally had a dollar left to my name, and spent it on a cup of coffee. I made sure I had a quarter left over, because back then you had to use quarters to make phone calls. I called my dad and asked if I could move back. During the process of returning, I realized that he hadn’t really wanted to kick me out. He hadn’t wanted to care for me in that way, or love me in that way, but it had become evident that if he didn’t do something to get my attention, I was going to be in bigger trouble down the road.
Fast-forward a year from that point, when I was nineteen years old. Right out of school I didn’t go to college or into the military. Instead, my friend Bobby, and I, formulated a plan to go to California, where we would live for a year to achieve legal residency, and go to school for free. My parents tried to call my bluff saying, “Hey, if you want to go to California, then go.” In return, I called their bluff, and said, “Okay, write it in stone. I’m leaving in two weeks.” Yet during those two weeks, they tried to talk me into not going. When the day arrived for me to drive from Cleveland to Huntington Beach, California, my mom cried, but my dad shook my hand. He had a big smile on his face. Apparently he knew I needed to learn some things on my own, the hard way.
Was that caring? Loving? Not if you equate care and love with coddling.
Spiritual short-sightedness can cause us to misunderstand God’s care the way I had a hard time understanding my dad’s care for me at first. I’ve been this committed to you, and now you’re going to let me go through this trial? Is this what you call love?
No matter what, though, God’s good will towards his people cannot fail, even if he allowed the circumstances to begin with.
In Revelation 12, the dragon (Satan) is driven out of heaven to earth. He is in the foulest of moods, and makes the woman (the people of God) the special target of his hatred.
12:13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.
The devil tries relentlessly, yet with all his resources he cannot prevail. God continually frustrates him, and succeeds in protecting us. This protection though, comes through escape to a place outside the Devil’s zone of influence.
15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
Isaiah and Jeremiah both use the imagery of “river” and “flood” as referring to military forces. Satan, through his extensive political influence on this earth, reaches out to destroy with guns and armored vests. It looks as though God is on the cusp of losing. As His people are encircled, no doubt they wonder, Is this any way to care for us? Where are you? Such questions come from weak typical human nature.
God’s response to that satanic river is to take His pinky and push it into the ground, so that the entire river flows right into the indentation. What does this look like? God apparently uses some benevolent earthly authority or means to drink up those dark forces.
The devil’s fury at this latest loss is a little like our frustration with “Murphy’s Law”—whatever can go wrong, will. It is the feeling of having certain victory stolen away—when your team is a few points ahead with seconds left on the clock—but wait!—there’s a last minute interception on the other side, with a scoring touchdown. Never think Satan is impervious to extreme disappointment.
We are grateful, and yet we wonder why God doesn’t show his love by simply stopping all possibility of bad things. Why not eliminate the devil completely?
Sometimes God’s care does come quickly, directly. When my dad was dying from cancer, I heard that the folks back here in Columbus were praying for specific needs of the moment. The very next day, those prayers were answered. It was easy to tell God, “Thank you.” But what about when we pray and God doesn’t answer? When our prayers are really sincere, and we’re wording them all the right way, and have the right attitude, but…nothing?
When my current job began, I was situated in a tiny office seated almost elbow to elbow with a couple of other guys. I was the odd man out, so every time I walked in the room, they would stop talking. They’d hop on their computer chat boxes, and talk about me, cuss me out, cuss our boss out. This went on for a while, until I couldn’t take it anymore. During that time, I prayed. I prayed prostrate on the floor with tears. I was mad at the Lord, because I felt I’d been tricked. I’d had spiritual peace to leave my former job and get this one, had cleared every traditional checkpoint before making that move—wife, church, Bible, Spirit—just to make sure I was covered. And then there I was after a short time, emotionally beat up and already wanting to go somewhere else. It was as though I had walked into a trap with God’s full awareness, but no warning from Him.
Lord, why is this happening after I was so careful to honor you and do things the right way? Why did you let me leave that last job when I was number one there?
Was this love? Was it care? It didn’t feel like it.
In the meantime, during those days of prayer, I got closer to God than I ever had in my life. And as for those guys, eventually, one of them got fired. The other moved on. God dealt with them in His own way and time, but only after I had learned some things that were more important than my immediate comfort and success.
My crisis was a microcosm of what is going on in the Book of Revelation.
Spiritual life has both peacetime and wartime. When there’s no satanic river, no threat, per se, what should we do? Remember verse 14, where the woman escapes into the wilderness to be nourished.
God grants down time for the sake of nourishment, to strengthen his people. Not only is this true at the end of the age, but it is a principle now. A great many believers are in a weakened, worldly state because they think peacetime is a time for the flesh. No. Peacetime is to be taken advantage of–to stock up on spiritual resources, because wartime is demanding, taxing, painful.
I found this little anecdote recently:
“One spring our family was driving from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa, Florida. As far as the eye could see, orange trees were loaded with fruit. When we stopped for breakfast, I ordered orange juice with my eggs. ‘I’m sorry,’ the waitress said. ‘I can’t bring you orange juice. Our machine is broken.’
At first I was dumbfounded. We were surrounded by millions of oranges, and I knew they had oranges in the kitchen–orange slices garnished our plates. What was the problem? No juice? Hardly. We were surrounded by thousands of gallons of juice. The problem was they had become dependent on a machine to get it.
Christians are sometimes like that. They may be surrounded by Bibles in their homes, but if something should happen to the Sunday morning preaching service, they would have no nourishment for their souls. The problem is not a lack of spiritual food—but that many Christians haven’t grown enough to know how to get it for themselves.”¹
Spiritual conflict frequently catches us by surprise because we’ve been living on some sort of “machine” to meet our needs. It doesn’t feel good. Certainly not loving. Yet even the worst struggles are meant for our benefit. In those moments, lazy believers may begin for the first time in a while to ask God the big questions—Why? Where are you?—precisely what He had been asking them during their idle peacetime.
Whether this current time is easy, or difficult, it is all love.
1 Adapted from Leroy Eims in The Lost Art of Disciple Making. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 3.