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Archive | Trials and difficulties

6 Things You May Not Know about Apostle Paul

Apostle PaulI thought I knew him. I’ve followed his ministry. And over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading his writings. But recently, I realized I didn’t know as much about the Apostle Paul as I thought.

While studying Paul’s life for my latest Bible study, I discovered several “new” things about the apostle of grace. Of course they were there all along; I had simply overlooked them. Maybe some will be new to you too.

6 little-known facts about Paul

  1. Paul didn’t jump right into long-term ministry (Galatians 1:13-18) – In my mind, Paul met Jesus on a dusty road, spent three days fasting in Damascus, regained his eyesight, then jumped right into ministry to the Gentiles and never looked back. But a closer examination of Scripture tells a little different story. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote he “went immediately into Arabia (Galatians 1:17).” In fact, he didn’t return to Jerusalem for three years (Galatians 1:18). What did Paul do during all this time in Arabia? Many scholars feel this may have been a spiritual retreat for Paul, a time to reconcile everything he knew from the Old Testament Scriptures with his new reality in Christ. In Arabia, Paul could immerse himself in the reality of his Savior and focus on learning and growing in preparation for ministry.
  2. Paul’s nephew saved his life (Acts 23:12-35) – After Paul’s arrest by a Roman commander in Jerusalem, 40 Jewish men bound themselves in an oath to not eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. The Jewish leaders agreed to help them by petitioning the Roman commander to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin for questioning. The assassins planned to attack Paul during the transfer. But the son of Paul’s sister heard of the plot and reported it to Paul at the Roman barracks. When Paul told a centurion, the Roman commander ordered a detachment of almost 500 guards to move him to Caesarea under the cover of night.
  3. Saul’s name was not changed to Paul (Acts 13:6-9)– During the biblical account of Paul’s first missionary journey, Luke writes: “Then Saul, who was also called Paul…” (Acts 13:9). From this point forward, Luke only refers to the apostle as “Paul.” This shift does not reflect a name change, as has often been said, but rather a conscious decision on Paul’s part to use a name he already had. Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he would have been given three names at birth. The third – Paul’s Latin name – was a better fit for the predominately Roman environment. “Saul the Pharisee” chose to be known as “Paul, citizen of Rome.”
  4. God gave Paul more than he could handle (2 Corinthians 1:8-11) – Paul and his companions suffered such extreme pressure during a particular situation in Asia they “despaired even of life.” Scholars aren’t sure what event Paul referred to in these verses, but it was a situation so dire Paul believed he and his companions might die. He saw no way out of the life-threatening situation. And indeed, without God’s miraculous intervention, they would have perished. When all human hope was lost God delivered them by His grace through the prayers of the believers (2 Corinthians 1:11).
  5. Paul visited heaven before his death (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) – God gave Paul a glimpse of heaven during his early years as a believer, perhaps during his time of spiritual retreat in Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Paul didn’t know if he had been physically transported or was there in spirit. But he saw and heard “inexpressible things.” Pride would be the natural sinful response to an experience like this, but pride and conceit have no place in God’s servant. Therefore, God allowed something into Paul’s life to foster humility – a “thorn of the flesh.”
  6. Paul felt deserted by everyone but God (2 Timothy 4:9-18) – Throughout Paul’s ministry he suffered trials and persecution for the sake of Christ. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and betrayed. He often went without food, sleep, and shelter. During his Roman imprisonment, he also felt alone with no other person to support or defend him. Demas left him because he loved the world. Alexander did him “a great deal of harm.” Yet through it all, the Lord stood with him. Paul was comforted and strengthened by God’s powerful presence.

I would love to sit down with Paul and hear all his stories, find out all those things not recorded in Scripture. Perhaps he would recount all the Gospel victories and tell me more about the suffering he endured for the name of Christ. Pain and struggle may have marked his life, but God’s lavish grace sustained him every moment.

Was one of these facts about Paul new to you? If so, which one? Do you know any other little-known facts about Paul?

This article first appeared on www.Crosswalk.com on July 15, 2016.

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Is Your Past Pointless or Purposeful?

purposefulWhen you look back on your life, do you feel it to be full of things and events that are pointless or purposeful? Is it all just random or is everything in some way relevant?

Our lives are collections of life experiences, education, relationships, griefs, trials, wins, losses, failures and successes. We may see some – or much of it – as a waste. Pointless. But nothing in our lives that we may see as a twist, turn, or detour was a surprise to God.

God doesn’t waste anything. What we may see as “bad,” God wants to use for our good. What we may see as a difficult random road to nowhere, God sees as a purposeful path. A purposeful path He has forged to lead us into the future He has for us.

When God saves us, He doesn’t merely save us from our sins and an eternity separated from Him. He also saves us into a purposeful life serving Him.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

He works in and through everything in our lives to shape us, equip us, and prepare us for His purposes. For instance, God uses all our trials and difficulties of life to refine and grow us spiritually. He works through them to make us the people He can use for His glory. (See 1 Peter 1:6-7.) He uses our background, education, experiences, and passions to shape us into the tool He needs for the works He has prepared for us.

No matter how random your past road may look to you, it’s God’s purposeful path to His future for you. If you aren’t sure what God wants for your life now, look back. Review see where He has taken you and what He’s allowed into your life.

Your past can bring clarity to your future. Do you see it?

 

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My Favorite Bible Story

My favorite Bible story Mark 5I love all of God’s Word. Even the hard parts. But I do like some parts more than others. And like many of you, I have a favorite Bible story. In fact, one particular miracle of Jesus captivates my attention. Every time I read it I get goose bumps. Literally. Although action and edge-of-your-seat suspense pack the story, what it teaches me about Jesus enthralls me.

The event occurs right on the heels of a full day of teaching and what the disciples considered a near-death experience during a furious squall on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41). While the storm terrified them, it was Jesus’ demonstrated authority over nature that left the disciples shaking in their sandals.

Jesus versus Legion

Still reeling from that experience, Jesus and the twelve were greeted on the opposite shore by a character straight out of a horror flick. Possessed by demons, no one was strong enough to subdue or control him. People had tried, but he tore chains and broke apart the iron bonds.

Now he lived among the tombs in the hills, crying out day and night and cutting himself with stones. He was helpless and hopeless. Tortured and tragic. Then he encountered Jesus and everything changed.

The demons within the man immediately acknowledged the power and authority of Jesus. Based on the fact they called themselves “Legion,” there could have been 6,000 plus demons in residence, but they knew they were no match for the Son of God. (See Mark 5:1-20 for the full story.)

Jesus freed the man with a word. In an instant everything changed. This prisoner of evil had been released by the Holy One. This man who had been feared and shunned by his community could now return to his family. Everyone had given this man up for lost. Everyone but Jesus.

This story demonstrates not only the power and authority of Jesus but also His grace and compassion. Jesus doesn’t merely have the ability to work in our lives, He also desires to work in our lives because He cares for us.

What Jesus did in this man’s life, He can do in our lives. Our Savior is loving and kind, but He is not wimpy. He is able to accomplish what He desires to do in your life.

Is there a stronghold or problem in your life you’ve given up on? How can reflecting on Jesus’ compassion and power renew your hope?

 

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5 Reflection Questions for 2016

2016 ReflectionWith a new year just days away, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the year just ending. But why bother to look back? Shouldn’t we forget the past and focus on what lies ahead? After all, we cannot change what has already happened. We can’t go back. We can only move forward. In fact, didn’t the apostle Paul tell us to forget what is behind? Here’s his words from his letter to the believers in Philippi:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Paul did not mean we should never reflect on the past. In fact, earlier in the chapter, he had done just that. (See Philippians 3:4-6 and check this post for more.) His point in verses 12-14 was that he refused to allow anything in his past to foster a false sense of “arrival.” Dwelling on past spiritual “accomplishments” would only lull him into inactivity. Instead, he committed to continue moving towards spiritual maturity with determination.

Reflecting on what God has done in our past can help us see His continued path for us. The clearer picture we have of what He has been doing, the better sense we can have of where He is taking us next.

5 Questions for Purposeful Reflection on 2016

  • What trials and difficulties has God brought me through this year that He may want to use to comfort and encourage someone else who will go through similar circumstances?
  • What learning or training experiences did God bring into my life that could be His preparation for future areas of ministry?
  • What new people have crossed my path in 2016 that God may want me to develop a relationship with?
  • What major life change or event occurred in 2016 that God may want to use as a crossroads for a new direction?
  • What has God taught me about Himself this year – Who He is and how He works – that needs to impact my relationship with Him and others?

My 2016 has been full of significant life events – some joyous and some painful. My husband Wayne and I have already done a lot of reflecting, talking, and praying about how it all impacts what God wants to do with us in 2017. Some major changes seem to be coming in the near future. (Stay tuned!)

I pray God will give you insight and wisdom as you take time to reflect on the past 12 months. May He also grant you clear direction for the year ahead. Happy New Year!

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Broken Christmas

Broken ChristmasEver wonder if this year will be the year of your perfect Christmas? You’ll find that impossible-to-find toy. There won’t be any arguing around the dinner table. And the turkey will not be dry.

But no matter how hard we work, how hard we hope, something always goes wrong. Not everything is the way we want it to be. In fact, some years things are worse than merely imperfect. Sometimes they are truly broken beyond repair.

Our world is full of brokenness. Broken families. Broken bodies. Broken futures.

Sin’s devastating effects are all around us, constantly impacting us. Illness and disease. Evil and violence. Lust and greed. Pain and loss.

Scripture says that all creation groans under sin’s weight (Romans 8:20-21). Even God’s children feel the burden and long for the day that Christ’s redemption will be fully realized:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23

Yes, Jesus came to bring salvation. His death and resurrection brought victory over sin and death. But the last effects will not be wiped away until Jesus comes again.In the meantime, we groan.

Sometimes Christmas only magnifies our groaning. We are expected to be joyful and hopeful. Yet it is easy to allow our circumstances to overshadow joy and hope.

But here’s the Good News. This Christmas may not be perfect. Indeed, it may be shattered. But believers have an unshakeable joy and a sure hope in our Christmas yet-to-come. When Immanuel comes again, He will make everything right. Everything broken will be whole again.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

A broken Christmas does not have to be joyless and hopeless. While we wait for the Christmas yet-to-come, we cling to Christ’s love (Romans 8:38-39), we depend on God’s strength (Philippians 4:13), and we rest in the Father’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

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3 Reasons for Thanksgiving Even When You Don’t Feel Blessed

ThanksgivingThanksgiving is just 3 days away. Are you dreading it? It may not be the cooking and the cleaning and a house full of people. Perhaps you are dreading the thought of trying to be thankful when you don’t feel blessed.

What if you’re in the midst of some trial or difficulty or heartache right now? Can you still join in the Thanksgiving celebration with joy or will you just be going through the motions?

The writer of Psalm 118 knew trouble. His life had not been easy. He had been betrayed and attacked. And he had felt caught in a hopeless and dangerous situation with no way out.

3 Reasons for Thanksgiving in Times of Trouble

But in the middle of those trials, he also experienced God’s personal intervention on his behalf. In Psalm 118:8-14, the psalmist testifies to God’s deliverance and expresses his gratitude. In this passage, we find 3 reasons to thank God when we face times of trouble:

  1. God is our refuge – When storms are raging all around us, we can always find safety in God’s presence. He is our shelter from the storm. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Other people may not be fully trustworthy, but God can always be trusted. Other people may not always be dependable, but we can depend on God in any and every situation. Like the psalmist, when we’re in the midst of trouble, let’s thank God that He is our refuge. When we hide ourselves in Him, He will be our shelter!
  2. God is our protector – When people and circumstances fight against us, we do not have to wonder or worry about victory. God Himself goes with His people and fights for them (Deuteronomy 30:3-4). When the psalmist was surrounded and swarmed by his enemies, victory came through the name of the LORD. Do you ever feel “swarmed by enemies?” Call on the name of the LORD. Thank Him that He is your protector!
  3. God is our strength – “The LORD is my strength, and my song; He has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:14). God saves! He will deliver us through trouble with the strength of His might. He is our reason to sing, so let us lift a song of praise and thanksgiving to the God who is our strength!

God is our refuge, our protector, and our strength! If you can name no other blessings in your life today, you can thank God for these. Let’s thank Him today, especially in the midst of trouble.

How else can you thank God today? Express your gratitude in the comment section.

 

 

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4 Things to Remember No Matter Who Wins the Election

Presidential ElectionTomorrow is the Big Day. THE election. In less than 48 hours the American people will have a new President Elect. Some of us may celebrate, some may mourn, and some may not care very much.

But the outcome will affect all of us.

A new president will bring new policies. New influences on Congress. A new agenda for his or her administration. We may agree with the changes or we may not. But the changes will impact the direction of our country, the economy, our nation’s security, our lifestyle, our bank accounts, and more. Some effects may be positive. Some may be negative.

These potential changes can easily create concern, worry, and maybe even fear in many of us. What’s going to happen? What will the country and the world be like for my children and grandchildren? Maybe I should just move to Canada…

But, oh believer! We don’t have to allow the circumstances of this world to dictate how we feel. We don’t have to be consumed by anxiety even over potentially very real, negative affects caused by a change in the White House. Our God is bigger than all that! We sometimes simply lose sight of this marvelous truth.

4 Things to Always Remember to Never Forget

No matter what happens tomorrow, we can stand firm on God and His glorious truth. Review the 4 truths below and hold them close. When worry threatens to overtake you, remind yourself of what is true.

  1. God is still – and always – in control – The Bible tells us again and again that our sovereign God is the One who raises up leaders and takes them down again. He alone decides who, when, and for how long. No one takes a worldly position of power without God’s approval. No one. (See Daniel 2:21, Daniel 4:17, Acts 17:26, and Romans 13:1.)
  2. God works through all world leaders to accomplish His purposes – Chaos, greed, and even violence may seem to reign supreme across our planet. But our all-powerful God can and does work through and in all that to bring about His will and ultimate plan for the world. (See Isaiah 45:1-5, Romans 13:1-5, and Acts 17:24-28.)
  3. God’s character – Sometimes we forget just who our great God really is. He is good and just and faithful and loving and trustworthy and powerful and kind. We can rely on Him, His character, and His ways no matter what the circumstances of the world look like to us.
  4. God’s Kingdom is not of this world – The kingdoms of the world are nothing compared to the Kingdom of God. His Kingdom reigns supreme and eternal. And if you have been born again through a saving relationship with Jesus, you are citizen of His Kingdom. His Kingdom trumps all other kingdoms (Did you see what I did there? Pun intended). When all other nations and countries have passed away, God’s Kingdom will remain! (See John 18:36.)

Let’s be honest. There’s a lot at stake tomorrow for the United States of America. I’ve caught myself wringing my hands over what lies ahead. I wrote this post as much for me as for you. I am choosing to stake my future on God and His truth. Not on the oval office. What about you?

 

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Clinging to Grace

Clinging to GraceJust about this time last year, I lost my precious sister-friend Janet. In 2008, Janet was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a rare form of leukemia. She participated in a number of clinical trials. She endured regular chemo. She was in and out of the hospital, increasingly so the last couple of years of her life. Although Janet had days of discouragement and days she wanted to give up, those days were the exception. Overall, Janet clung tight to God and shared Jesus with everyone who would listen.

In the last few weeks of her life, the doctors also treated Janet for a fungal infection in her lungs.The aggressive treatment required almost daily trips to the hospital for intravenous medications. Many of Janet’s friends, including me, pitched in to help her husband with the hospital trips, which often took all day. I wanted to help and encourage her, but she blessed me instead.

Thanksgiving 1996

Thanksgiving 1996

On one trip, the lab tech struggled to get the blood she needed for testing from the port in Janet’s arm. Getting it from another vein would have been an ordeal. Janet naturally went straight to prayer. Not silent prayer, but out loud, asking God to intervene. At first, I worried about how the lab tech would respond, but when she began to pray with Janet, I joined in too. Within moments the blood was flowing and the three of us were singing a praise chorus.

On another day, during yet another intravenous treatment, I walked with Janet down the hallway to the bathroom, as she pushed the IV pole ahead of her. I stood outside the bathroom door, just in case she needed anything. Almost immediately I heard her voice. It sounded like conversation, not distress, but I still asked her if she was okay. She quickly replied, “Oh, yes. I’m just talking to Jesus.”

The Howards & The Valentines - Thanksgiving 2014God used the crucible of this terrible illness to refine Janet’s faith and foster total dependency on Him. Her relationship with Jesus was intimate and real and very tangible. Anyone she came into contact with could feel it, even if they didn’t understand it. And she never hesitated to tell others the source of her strength.

Janet’s journey greatly impacted me. I watched her faith grow increasingly stronger even as her body grew weaker. She leaned on God every moment. She gave Him praise for everything, big and small. She never hesitated to talk about Jesus with the medical personnel, hospital employees, and other patients. Her trust in God and her love for Jesus were obvious. Her physical weakness revealed the strength and grace of God.

God’s Grace is Sufficient and Powerful

Janet’s life exemplified the sufficiency and power of God’s grace. Her “weakness” constantly revealed God’s glory and strength. She gave God the glory and praised the name of Jesus every step of the way. In small victories and massive setbacks, she stood firm, unshakeable in her resolve to hold tight to her Savior. Janet’s life – and death – pointed others to the grace and glory of God. And I had a front row seat.

Has there ever been a time in your life when God worked through a trial or difficulty to point others to Jesus? If so, describe it.

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3 Ways God Gives Grace in Trials

Grace in trialsGod does not remove all the struggles and pain in our lives but He does overflow His grace in trials so we can stand  firm and keep going. I know this is true because His Word teaches it. And I have experienced it myself.

I woke in the middle of the night and the rawness of it all washed over me again. Our family faced a heart-breaking situation. I tried to fix it, but it seemed hopeless. I knew sleep would not come easily. I had no words left for prayer. I was prayed out.

Anxiety welled up and I reached for God. The Holy Spirit began to bring Scriptures to mind, so I began to “pray” them. Soon peace started to push out the anxiety until it was gone. Somewhere in the first chapter of 1 Peter I drifted off to sleep.

At the time, I was away from home staying with my oldest daughter. My grandson was just a few days old and I was helping out. The next morning, Kelley reported on how Micah slept the night before. Then almost as an afterthought she added, “The second time I came back to bed, Jeremy asked me to pray with him. He felt strongly we should pray for you right then.”

“What time was that?” I asked.

“It was about 3:15, 3:20,” Kelley replied.

That was the same time I lay awake in bed with anxiety threatening to take over. I know because I had looked at my phone. God did not fix the situation like I’d hoped, but He was not idle. He saw my need and He cared. He poured out His grace through the heart of my son-in-law and gave me the peace and strength to keep going.

Sometimes God intervenes in our trials in physical ways. He heals. He frees. He delivers. But He does not always. Often God works in far more miraculous ways. He pours out His grace to cover our soul needs.

God physically delivered the apostle Paul many times, like the release from prison shackles in Philippi. But it wasn’t those physical rescues Paul marveled over. No, Paul preached passionately about the lavish, unbounded grace of God poured out to sustain him in the midst of his trials.

Sometimes God allows struggles and difficulties to remain in our lives because He is using them to work out His spiritual and eternal purposes. He works in and through our trials to spiritually conform us to the image of Christ and to refine our faith and character.

Yet in the midst of those trials – while His “soul work” is being accomplished – God extends His grace to comfort, encourage, strengthen, and provide.

3 Ways God Extends Grace in Trials

  1. Presence – God may not change our difficult circumstances, but He will be with us. He will draw us close to His side through the presence of His Spirit to encourage, comfort, and console. He will ease our pain and grief through the fellowship of His people. He will even later use that experience to comfort others. Praise be to the God of all comfort! (See 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.)
  2. Power – When we have no strength to go on, God has more than enough. Acknowledge your need to God and accept His strength. Allow Him to push out any pride and self-sufficiency and make room for the abundant flow of God’s power. What we lack in our weakness, God will provide by His grace. (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.)
  3. Provision – Even if God doesn’t change our basic circumstances, He still meets our needs in the midst of them. Sometimes He makes physical provision. Sometimes He protects us from additional difficulty. But all the time, He is our Helper and Provider. (See 2 Corinthians 1:10-11.)

God may not always save the job, heal the illness, or calm the storm. But He will always give you an anchor of grace to hold you securely to the Solid Rock while the storm rages. God may not remove your difficult circumstances, but He will graciously give you everything you need to keep going.

In what ways have you experienced God’s grace in past trials? How can you look for His grace in your current struggle?

This post is part of a month-long emphasis on grace to celebrate the release of Kathy’s newest Bible study “Lavish Grace.” Here are a few ways you can join in the celebration!

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5 Ways God Uses Trials in a Christian’s Life

trialsDoes God care about the trials you endure in this life? Absolutely! God sees every detail of your life. He knows your every need and He cares deeply about each one.

However, as much as He cares about your physical needs and condition, He cares even more about your spiritual condition. His first desire and primary purpose is to transform His children into the image of Christ. (See Romans 8:29.) The spiritual and eternal take priority over the physical and temporary. But how does God do the work?

Let’s consider a physical analogy. If we want to strengthen our muscles we must add “stress.” When we lift a heavier load than our muscles have lifted before, a physical process begins to adapt the needed muscles to the new load. Without stress, our muscles are content with their current size and strength. Add stress, and our muscles begin to change to meet the need.

Our spiritual strength and character are similar. The difficulties of life “stress” our faith. Trials give our faith a work out like heavy loads work our muscles. As we faithfully endure, we grow spiritually stronger. Without difficulty, our faith tends to stagnate. Do you want stronger faith? You need stress.

Trials work our faith. Like using our muscles to carry heavier loads make them stronger, the trials of life give our faith a workout. God will use them to grow and develop our faith so we will be spiritually mature, not lacking anything!

Our gracious God never wastes a trial He permits to enter our lives. If we will cooperate, He will use every difficulty, heartache, and hardship for our good and His glory.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4, NIV

 5 Ways God Uses Trials in Our Lives

  1. God uses them to break our independence and foster our dependence on Him.
  2. God uses them to purify our faith and develop our moral character.
  3. God uses them to test, prove, and strengthen our faith in Him.
  4. God uses them to prepare us for His purposes.
  5. God works through them to prove Himself powerful, faithful, and reliable.

God is not finished with you yet. And He is definitely not finished with me. I know more difficulties lie ahead. Honestly, I wish God had chosen to work another way. But I will choose to trust His infinite wisdom and submit to His refining process. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste any trial or difficulty!

In what ways has God used trials and difficulties in your life to refine your faith and character? To make you more like Jesus!?

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