Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dress Rehearsal

When I was ten, my parents decided to send me to manner’s school at Dillards’ Department Store. This wasn’t my choice—they made me go. “White Gloves and Party Manners” was a six week Saturday course that taught me skills like how to use “please” and “thank you,” how to properly sit and stand up straight, and how to set silverware on a table. The culmination of the class was a style show where each little girl wore a Sunday dress and promenaded down a stage to demonstrate her newly-learned good posture. As a very shy young girl, I would have preferred digging up a whole row of muddy peanuts by hand instead of being made to walk down that runway where I knew all eyes would be upon me.

The week before, I diligently and daily practiced walking slowly with my head held up straight and “turning” at the end of the runway. My practice was a bit obsessive because I was sure I would stumble, fall, and make a fool of myself in front of everyone. In the end, I was still terrified, I walked faster than I should have in my rush to get off the stage, and my turn was more like a hurried spin, but my practice paid off—I completed the task, I didn’t fall, and my parents were proud of me.

Our lives as Christians are lived in God’s classroom, and just like many parents require their children to learn lessons, God requires His children to learn His lessons. While we may be able to read the Bible and easily learn & automatically apply some of God’s lessons, experience is many times the best way to learn and apply a tough concept, so God sends us trials to hammer home the point as He seeks to conform us to Jesus’ image.

James 1:2-3 tells us, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (my italics). 1 Peter 1:6b-7 also says, “…though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

As my pastor always says, a Christian is in one of three states: about to enter a trial, in the midst of a trial, or coming out of a trial. While we may not have the choice of whether to experience the trial or not, we do have the choice in how we respond to that trial. One reason our response to any trial is so important is that we don’t know how many eyes are upon us, how many people are watching to see if our Christianity is real and worth having. Sometimes we trip over our humanity and fall flat on our faces. Other times, we choose to fall flat on our faces in prayer, sometimes crying out in agony to God because of what He’s requiring us to go through.

Our goal in any trial should be to glorify God in our response, learn the lesson He is trying to teach us, and thereby make our Heavenly Father proud of us. But, if you’ve ever been through a serious trial, you know that’s easier said than done. So, how can we increase our potential for success in a trial if we don’t know exactly what’s coming? Well, when we know a real storm is coming, we may not know exactly the extent of it, but we prepare for the “big one,” so the same should hold true with life’s metaphorical “storms.” The best way I know of to be a success is to prepare before the trial comes by collecting or memorizing specific Scriptures and being secure in what we really believe in our heart of hearts. Just knowing in general that the Bible is full of verses which will help isn’t good enough because when a trial comes, you may need a specific verse N-O-W.

Some people choose to write their verses on notecards and carry them with them. I personally keep a running computer document filled with Bible verses that speak God’s answers to what I should do when I fear, when I have unbelief, when I feel worthless, when I am in despair, and many other spiritual strongholds. They remind me of what I already know God has said and what I have chosen to believe. In the hardest trial of my life where I honestly didn’t know how I could face another day on this earth, I took the Bible literally when it says, “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul… You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 11:18a, 20). Every doorframe and mirror in my house had Bible verses taped to them to remind me that God is soverign and that although I may not have felt like it that day, I would survive and become a conquerer in Christ Jesus.

My challenge for you this week is to start your own collection of Bible verses. Consider this your dress rehearsal for trials you know will come. Be prepared.

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