As our children continue to grow up they will experience trials and difficult times. Trials that we will want to rescue them out of. Difficult times that we wish we could protect them from.
Perhaps they will be social outcasts, even bullied.
Maybe they will struggle in school due to a learning disability. Perhaps illness will strike.
Maybe they won't make the team they've spent hours and hours of time preparing and training for.
Perhaps they will be victims of abuse and/or crime.
Maybe they will just never get something they desperately want.
Perhaps they will be deeply betrayed.
Or maybe they will lose someone or something dear to them.
Whatever trial or difficult time they face, their faith will be tested. And they, like all of us who have undergone trials, will come face to face with the ultimate question when life is hard:
Will I serve and worship God in and through this trial or will I walk away and serve someone or something else?
I can think of a few significant trials and difficult times in my youth when I had to face this question head on. Before me stood a mountain or valley and, regardless of whether I consciously realized it or not, in each case I made a decision to either trust and walk with God in & through the trial OR to turn and serve someone or something else. My faith and all that I understood about God was absolutely tested.
Friends, I don't always understand why trials and difficult times have to happen. But one thing I do understand through personal experience, is that trials and difficult times can strengthen and solidify our faith or they can knock it down until it is wavering and weak.
Remember the fiery furnace story in the book of Daniel, chapter 3. While in Babylonian exile (already a difficult time), three Jews by the names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went through a blazing trial (literally) in which their faith was extraordinarily tested. King Nebuchadnezzar commanded them to serve and worship his gods or else they be thrown into a blazing furnace and burned to death. In a trial of great testing, the three men chose to serve and worship Jehovah God. Furious, King N. had their hands bound up and thrown into the fire. You probably know the rest of the story. God is with them in the fire and they come out with no harm to their bodies. In fact, not even a "hair of their heads was singed." But here's my favorite part...the only thing that was burned in their furnace were the bounds upon their hands. And their faith was publically solidified and inwardly strengthened in a big way.
Metaphorically speaking, those bounds represent all that is robbing us of freely walking with God. I learned many years ago that while engrossed in a trial or difficult time I didn't want to miss what bounds God was trying to burn off in my life (and heart).
In High School I was benched my junior year on the basketball team after having 13 turnovers in a game, and He burnt off bounds of pride.
In my 20's while teaching some of the most exasperating middle school kids I had ever met, He burnt off bounds of entitlement and intolerance.
For the few years that I struggled with conceiving, He burned off bounds of control and anger.
The first year of parenting, He burnt off a deeply rooted bound of self-centeredness.
During my recent cystic acne ordeal, He burnt off bounds of vanity and idolatry to food.
Over and over again through trials and difficult times, I have come out of the fire free from bounds that were stifling my walk with God. And without those bounds, my faith grew stronger and stronger.
So while I don't know why bad things happen to good people, I do know that God longs to use our trials and difficult times to free us from that which inhibits our walk with Him and to give us stronger faith. Sometimes He can do this without a trial, but sometimes we need to struggle for Him to do His greatest work.
So we must choose to look at the trials and difficult times in our kids' lives as opportunities for God to grow their faith and free them from whatever it is that's keeping them from walking freely with Him.
When my kids struggle, I hate it. When I watch other kids struggle, I hate it. But, like the 3 Jews in the fiery furnace, He stands with them in the fire and He burns up their bounds. We must cling to Scripture and trust that our kids will come out of their fires more like Jesus and stronger in faith.
This, my friends, is my only hope when there seems to be none. And so, I will lift up this prayer of faith when my kids are undergoing trials and difficult times:
Just as You walked through the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, would you stand in the fire with my kids as they undergo trials and difficult times. Would you protect them and keep them from harm. May no hair on their head be singed. I pray the only thing burned in their fire would be those bounds that keep them from walking freely with You. Be their source of hope. Be their guide. Be their ever present help. And build up their faith Lord Jesus. May they come out of the fire with new freedoms and greater faith. I pray that each and every trial and difficult time they face that they would resist turning to anything or anyone other than You. May they know You better because of their difficulty. And may they serve you better in light of their new freedom.