Category Archives: Rise Up My Love

Commentary on the Song of Solomon

Rise Up, My Love (270): Strong As Death

Song of Solomon 8:6 “…for love is strong as death…” The word for strong is ’az meaning “an irresistible assailant” or “an immovable defender.”* It is used in Judges 14:18 to refer to superlative strength: “What is stronger than a lion?” In Numbers 13:28 ’az is used to describe the giants in the Kadesh Barnea who were so fearsome that the children of Israel refused to enter the Promised Land.

Love has a strength that is as irresistible and unconquerable as death. Notice that in this text, love and death are not being put in contest with each other, as if to test which is greater. It is a comparative rather than a superlative statement. Love is being likened to death. How is love like death? In its universal strength and power. Just as death is a universal experience that cannot be denied, resisted, or subdued, so is love. Death comes to all, and God—who is love—comes to all, showering mankind with new mercies every morning…the warmth of sunshine and the blessings of rain…to begin a list that has no end.The fear of death is a universal experience, and we have inborn instincts to avoid its pain. The desire for love is also universally felt, and we all have inborn drives to acquire its pleasure. Unfortunately, we often fail to understand how to avoid the pain and acquire the pleasure! The answer really has something to do with that “God-sized hole” in the human heart that only God can truly fill, first described by St. Augustine over 1700 years ago.

World around, people stand in awe of the power of love and death. Of course, they mostly seek love and shun death, but thinking people acknowledge the existence of both. People may deny death…for a while, but eventually all men come face to face with death, and often those who have tried to deny it find death before those who acknowledge and avoid it! People may deny love…for a while. But, ultimately, all men will come face to face with Love…if not in this life, then in the next, because we are told that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Oh that men would taste and see that the Lord is good during their tenure here on this earth!

“Love is strong as death.” This is an amazing statement when you stop to think about it, because it doesn’t have any qualifiers. The Scripture doesn’t say “true love,” or “the best love,” or even “sometimes love.” It is simply saying that real love, by definition, is invincible and cannot be conquered or put off, any more than death can be.In our day and age of convenience friendships and throwaway relationships, this definition should be inscribed on our foreheads at birth…and carved deeply into the heart of every bride and groom. When we are tempted to give up on someone we think we love, remember that real love never stops pursuing any more than death gives up pursuit. When our hearts would fail us, we must align our heads with the Scripture and make our actions conform to God’s truth.

Consider the definition of love given in I Corinthians 13. True love behaves in the most wonderful ways! Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or brag. It is not proud or inappropriate. It is not self-seeking or easily angered. It thinks no evil and does not celebrate evil. Rather, it celebrates the truth. It bears all things, believes everything, and is unceasingly hopeful. It endures everything and never gives up or fails.

That is love. And, it is strong as death. I wonder how many of us understand or know how to love. My best attempts at loving others fall dismally short of this definition. No wonder disillusioned unbelievers sometimes think that real love doesn’t exist. Outside of God’s love, there is no such experience of pure love. As C.S. Lewis expressed it: “When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been…within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His.”When we experience real love, we experience God, and when we see the face of love, we are looking into the eyes of God! My love, like unrefined gold, is full of impurities. Oh, I may feel that I have great love for others, but when I examine my ability to love my husband…the one on earth who deserves my purest love…I find that I fail in every area. I am not always patient. I am not always kind. I am not always humble. I do want my way sometimes (many times!) and become very frustrated and angry when I feel that my needs are being ignored. I suspect my husband’s motives sometimes. I certainly don’t bear all things and always believe the best. I can remember a time when I wished one of us would just drop dead, and I didn’t care whom. My husband even had to endure hearing me verbalize such miserable unlove!

Here we are approaching our forty-fifth anniversary, and I still fail at times! Almost fifty years of trying to learn how to love, and I still don’t have it down pat. Will I ever get it right?? Despite our greatest desires and best intentions, it appears that we will continue to struggle to love better until the day we see Jesus face to face and are conformed to his image.

In the meantime, every time we feel the power of true love—however transitory it might be—we know that we have experienced God. This is part of the eternal life that all humans crave with every cell in their bodies, and because of this, we will struggle on, continuing to seek love just as we struggle on continuing to shun death. Love is indeed “strong as death.”

* G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 170.

Rise Up, My Love (269): What’s the Result of Being Sealed?

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm.” As the seal upon the heart speaks of guarding and protecting that which is the source of our affection and love, so the seal upon the arm speaks of guarding that which is the source of our power and strength. Once our affections are secured, they are proven true by our actions.

Have you ever noticed the little verse in John 3:33? The literal Interlinear translation from the Greek into modern English is, “The one receiving his testimony has certified (sealed) that God is true.” What was John saying? He was saying that those who truly believe and receive the words of Jesus are verifying the truth of what he said. We are “setting to our seal” that God is true. It’s as if, by the life we live every day, we are designing our own seal—our own signet ring—with which we give our “stamp of approval” to life.   This imagery is based on the ancient customs of kings, who had a uniquely and personally designed signet ring that they used for giving their official approval to documents. Our “seal” is translated into a living “ring” if you will, and a life lived in obedience to God’s Word carves out into living testimony (in effect) “God is Right.” We certify God’s perfect character and rightness by our actions, thereby building upon the foundation of our new affections, which has been laid by our Lord: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).   What is the result of having Jesus as a seal on our arm? We “depart from iniquity.” We become the Lord’s miraculous “garden enclosed…a fountain sealed” (Song 4:12). On the negative side, we resist doing evil, but on the positive side, we actively do what is right. In Romans 4:11 it speaks of the “seal of the righteousness of the faith.” Our actions will speak of our God whose judgments are “true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9; Revelation 19:2). As we bear upon our arms the seal of Jesus, we will become wise in our actions and begin to experience the fruits of such a walk:

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding…She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her” (Proverbs 3:13; 15-17).

What is the result of having Jesus as a seal on our arm? What we’ve always dreamed of having…happiness! Think about it for a minute. What is it that we cling to as our inalienable right as Americans? “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” How do we attain these goals? Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It is “the truth” that makes us free…that provides for our liberty (John 8:32). And, and we just discovered in Proverbs 3, the pursuit of wisdom will end in the attainment of happiness. So simple, yet so profound!   What is it that the world desires more than anything? Happiness! What creates happiness? The verses above give a pretty apt description of what would make most people happy…a long life of wealth and honor full of pleasant, peaceful days. Who wouldn’t like that? The trick is, Satan deceives people into thinking that such a life can only be carved out by the exertion of self-will, when in fact, it can only be found by submitting to the will of God. It’s not in the pursuit of happiness, but in the pursuit of holiness. Not the pursuit of wealth, but the pursuit of wisdom. Not the pursuit of pleasure, but the pursuit of peace. Not the pursuit of gold, but the pursuit of God.

“Set me…as a seal upon thine arm.” Why? So that we will be strong to resist evil and do good. What will be the result? We will find happiness and peace in the love of God…”that the love wherewith thou [God] hast loved me [Jesus] may be in them [believers] and I [Jesus] in them” (John 17:26). O, beloved, have you set Jesus as a seal upon your heart and arm? Are you allowing him to guard and protect your affections and actions?   Just as the high priest wore an ephod with twelve stones… “seals”…upon his chest and shoulder, pledging his love and strength to care for Israel (Exodus 39:4-14), even so does Jesus, our great high priest, pledge his love to us. May we also set his name, like a glowing jewel, upon our breast, so that every breath and sigh speaks of our love and loyalty to him. May we fasten his name like a jewel upon our arms, bearing his love on our shoulders so that every time we lift our arms it is to engage in loving service for him. As the sacrifice was bound with cords to the altar (Psalm 118:27) so that it could not be moved, even so may we bind the love of Jesus as a seal upon our heart and arm so that our commitment will never be shaken.

Rise Up, My Love (268): Sealed and Safe

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:” What is a seal? It is something that stands as a visible confirmation of a finished transaction. In a way, it is a contract. It bears the impress and often the image of the contractor. Here are some enlightening points gleaned from Tenny’s invaluable Biblical encyclopedias:
* “The earliest method, as far as one knows, to distinguish a person’s property was by use of the seal; this kind of seal has been found in Neolithic settlements in Mesopotamia.”
* “The earliest seal developed from an amulet and therefore maintained some of the amulet’s magical power. The seal would deter anyone from breaking open the sealed object for fear of the evil that might overtake him.”
* “Though the principal use of seals was for signing documents, they were also used to make safe for shipment jars containing valuable papers or goods.”
* “The unbroken seal was evidence that the merchandise was intact upon arrival” (1).

Wow! Let’s consider Tenny’s commentary in spiritual terms. In 2 Corinthians 1:22 we are told that God “hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” In Ephesians 1:14 and 4:30 we are told that the Holy Spirit himself is the seal…that we have been sealed by “the Holy Spirit of promise” until “the day of redemption.” God is the contractor; he has contracted us to himself in love for our redemption, and he has sealed us with his Holy Spirit of Promise…which bears the impress and image of our invisible Creator, revealing his nature to us and guarding us until the day of our complete redemption, payable upon our death!   Notice also that the seals possessed some assumed “magical” powers which would deter tampering lest evil overtake the one who opened the seal. God’s power is not “magical;” it is beyond magic and imagining…God is all-powerful—omnipotent! It is absolutely correct that every man should fear to tamper with one of God’s elect children…to attempt to “open” or defile his bride! Consider the awesomeness of the judgment that will befall you should you become entangled with sin yourself or attempt to ensnare another believer in a web of sexual immorality or any type of sin. Woe to us for even allowing our minds to wander!

Yet, from time to time we are tempted, and then, with the songwriter of “Come Thou Fount,” our hearts cry out: “Prone to wander—Lord, I feel it—prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart—O take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.” “Set me (the Lord Jesus) as a seal upon thine heart.” We are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. All we have to do is open the eyes of our hearts and see the seal that is there. Make the spiritual reality more real than the physical reality.

No wonder the Israelites used to carry Scripture portions on their foreheads and their arms. They were making God’s commands literal realities. Can we do less? We do not typically walk around with Bible verses on us (although I always keep a Bible in my purse), but we can keep our love for Jesus as a seal upon our hearts by memorizing and meditating on his Word. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Perhaps Solomon’s father, the man “after God’s own heart,” modeled a worthy example of how to set the living Word as a seal upon our hearts in Psalm 119:11: “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”   As a last point of spiritual parallelism, note that the seals were used to make jars safe for shipment, and an unbroken seal signified that the contents of the jar had arrived intact. What a beautiful picture of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives! Not only is he our seal, but he is also the one who provides for our safe conduct from this world to the next, serving as guide (John 16:13), teacher (John 14:26), and comforter along the way (John 15:26), bearing us up on eagles’ wings to bring us safely to the Father (Exodus 19:4)!   Are you familiar with the way eagles teach their young to fly? Eagles build their eyries (nests) very high in the tops of tall trees near water or on high cliffs in the mountains. When the parent perceives that the eaglet is prepared to fly, he will push the fledgling out of the nest, immediately diving beneath him as the young bird flaps and struggles to fly. If the eaglet is unable on the first attempt to learn to use its wings to support itself and fly, the parent will literally soar up underneath his fledgling, bearing it up on his own wings so that the young eagle doesn’t dash itself to pieces on the rocks below. In the same way, our faithful, loving Holy Spirit bears us up on the wings of his love as we struggle to learn how to fly spiritually through this world.

Oh, Lord, thank you for the wonderful seal you have given us in the person of your Holy Spirit! Thank you for his ministry in our lives! Thank you that he bears us up on eagle wings to bring us safely home to heaven and you!

(1) Merrill C. Tenny, ed. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corp., 1977), Vol.5, 322.

Rise Up, My Love (267): Faithful Husbands and Faithful Wives

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Set me as a seal upon thine heart…” This seems to be clearly a continuation of the bridegroom’s thoughts, and yet, I’ve read wonderful sermons on this verse as if it is the wife desiring her husband’s constancy. On the human level, probably every woman on earth can identify with and echo such a heart cry for her husband to love only her among all women… with all his heart and strength…until death parts them.

But, in The Song of Solomon, which also teaches the mysteries of Christ and the church, it is not the wife making this heartfelt supplication; it is the husband. Why? Because, from Scripture we know that Christ is perfectly immutable in his love for his bride! His heart and arm are already sealed! In Isaiah 49:16, the Lord declares: “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” We are not only as a seal on his heart, we are carved into his hands!

Those of us who have dived into the depths of Jesus’ love and found we could not begin to find the bottom or edges of it, may cry out for his arm to help us, but we cannot doubt his love. If your circumstances are so painful, or if you have strayed so far away, that you find yourself doubting His love, meditate on Romans 8:35-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (By the way, beloved, we are included in that “any other creature.” No one can pluck us out of our Father’s hand [John 10:29]…nor can we jump out ourselves. We cannot even separate ourselves from the love and power of God!) His love is unfathomable and incomprehensible!

Oh Lord, draw us nearer; hold us closer; hide us deeper; teach us to rest more completely… Here is a tiny poem by an anonymous author that is such a comfort: “The stars may shine for a million years, for a million years and a day, But Christ and I shall live and love when the stars have passed away!”   No, we do not need to cry out to Jesus to set us as a seal upon his heart and arm. Our hearts may cry out for such faithfulness in our husbands…and oh, that husbands could be so like Christ that we would have no cause to doubt their love! I believe that it is only a rare and deeply twisted woman who would ever leave her husband if he loved her with steadfast faithfulness… because I truly believe that a woman’s deepest need is for the security and comfort of an unfailing, godly love as described in I Corinthians 13.

However, let’s go on to consider what the passage is primarily teaching. This verse records the cry of Jesus (and husbands) for their wives to be faithful!! It is a sad commentary on women indeed to have penned into the eternal Scriptures King Solomon’s lament, “One man among a thousand have I found: but a woman among all those have I not found” (Ecclesiastes 7:28). What was he looking for? Uprightness? Faithfulness? I’m not sure.

I’ve been tempted to think that he couldn’t find one woman in a thousand who was truly faithful and upright with him because he had a thousand women instead of only one. If he’d had only one wife (which is what God specifically commanded for kings [and is his intention for all of us from the beginning of creation]), perhaps she would have been loyal to him! …or is that just my feminine prejudice coming out?

Sadly, my King Jesus is totally loyal and upright with me, and I have failed him repeatedly, so doubtless we as a group of women would still struggle to be faithful even if our husbands were perfect. But, let’s consider the plea and be inspired to rally to the greatness of loyalty to our husbands!

Rise Up, My Love (266): Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Today as I write this, it is Christmas Eve, 2017 and the perfect time to consider our verse from the Song of Songs, because there is a beautiful old English carol that speaks of “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree.” Do you know it?

Song of Solomon 8:5 says, “I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth…” The bridegroom carries out the developmental nurturing of his beloved bride in the same protective environment as that which his bride had experienced during her early training. He declares, “I raised thee up under the apple tree.” Where? “Under the apple tree.” What does that mean? Does it mean that the bridegroom lets his wife live in the same community where she grew up so that she never has to move away and can always live close to her mother… “under the same apple tree?”

As pleasant a thought as that might be to some of us, that is obviously not what the bridegroom meant, because we have seen from the preceding chapters that the bride was physically drawn away to many different (and sometimes very challenging) geographical environments. So, symbolically, to what does the “apple tree” refer?

Do you remember our earlier discussion on the imagery of the apple tree from 7:8? “A composite of all the other occurrences used in Scripture depict the apple as symbolic of that which was central to one’s heart, attention, and affection, full of wisdom and discretion, joy and abundance…that which was the greatest of its type, providing delightful protection and sweet sustenance, stabilization and comfort. Could that be anything but a picture of Christ himself?”

Our family has sung in many places at Christmas time the old English carol, “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree.” The bridegroom is declaring that in all his nurturing he used the same influences and standards as his wife had been taught from birth (and spiritually—from “rebirth!”): The gold standard—Christ and his Word. Husbands, are you raising up—lifting up—nurturing your wife under the apple tree of Christ? Are you teaching her to become more like him by living his life in your relationship with her?

Or, are you pushing her to become more like “you,” trying to force her to see things your way and live with “your liberties” and ideas of right and wrong? Don’t be guilty of expecting your wife to live by your standards, which was the condemnation of the apostate Israelites during the days of the judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

There is a king…our Lord Jesus. He is our standard and our “apple tree.” Here it was that your wife was brought to spiritual birth, and here it is that you should continue her nurturing. As you “bring up” your wife, be sure you are using the same standard as that she was taught from her new birth: Jesus. What would Jesus do? Be as gentle as a nursing mother, providing for your wife all the very best of spiritual meat and drink…not forcing her to eat your meat and drink from your cup, but allowing her to take as she will so that together you imbibe Christ and become “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone” (Genesis 2:23).

Rise Up, My Love (265): Like a Lamb

Song of Solomon 8:5 “I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.” Although The Song of Solomon—like all Scripture—is dealing ultimately with pictures of Christ and our relationship with him, still the settings are also based on the reality of our physical universe and played out in the actions and relationships between people. In this passage, it is the bridegroom speaking, and it is he who says, “I raised thee up under the apple tree.”  What does he mean? The verse goes on to elaborate that the “apple tree” was where the bride was brought forth by her mother, and the clarification is repeated twice, so that there can be no doubt about what he is saying. He is declaring that he raised up his bride under the same “apple tree” where his wife was brought forth by her mother. There are two wonderful lessons I have gleaned from this verse. The first is that the husband “brought up” his wife, and the second is that he carried out this development process in the same protective environment where she had experienced her early training.   Stop and let that first thought sink in for a moment!…   In this day and age of women’s “liberation” and “equal rights,” do men really think about “bringing up” their wives? Do women even want such parental nurturing from their husbands? It is not uncommon to hear a woman intimate that her husband is less controlled and mature than her children. Is that true? Is it common? I don’t know…nor do I know what men may say about their wives’ maturity level!  This I do know…that in the Song of Songs, the bridegroom—setting the example for husbands through all the generations to come—exclaims (and I think there must have been a twinge of pride in his voice) that his beloved came up from the wilderness leaning on the man she loved, and that this wonderful man (he, himself!) had “raised her up” under the same sheltering influences as were tenderly provided at the time of her birth. What touching imagery!  What wife would not thrill to be nurtured along in her growth by such a gentle “husbandman?” It reminds me of Uriah’s amazing love and devotion for his wife, Bathsheba, as portrayed by Nathan, the prophet, in his rebuke to King David. Nathan likened Uriah’s relationship with Bathsheba as the love of a man for a lamb that he had made into a pet: “But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had brought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter” (2 Samuel 12:3).   Imagine treating your wife with such tenderness: “bringing her up” and “nourishing her” so that as a couple you “grow up together” with each other and your children…loving her so much that you allow her to “eat your meat” (enjoy whatever you are taking in to feed yourself—physically, spiritually, or emotionally) and “drink from your cup”(have what she wants of all that you would use to nourish yourself…in the spiritual realm, meditate on the fact that Jesus offers us to take freely of the bread of his life and the cup of his body for our nourishment!). Do you allow your wife to “lie in your bosom”…not only in the physical sense for sexual gratification, but in the emotional sense that means so much to a woman…welcoming her into the most intimate areas of your life so that she can truly know you—heart and soul? Do you allow your wife to lie in your bosom…not simply for sexual gratification, but so that she can feel as safe and secure as a daughter resting in the protective arms of her father?   Wow! Wouldn’t you love to have a husband like that? The bridegroom continued to nurture his wife in her development with the tenderness of a mother, similar to the testimony of Paul towards his spiritual children in I Thessalonians 2:7, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.” What an inspiring example for husbands! (And, of course, the best example of all is Jesus, the Lamb of God, who is also our Good Shepherd!)

 

 

(Photo notes if anyone is curious: The lovely photos of sheep are from a spring stroll my husband and I took with our two youngest sons called the “Cotswold Ramble” in England a few years ago. The apple blossoms are from our lane here at Tanglewood Cottage last spring. My youngest son made the beautiful loaf of braided bread last weekend.)

 

Rise Up, My Love (264): Overcoming Trials

Song of Solomon 8:5 “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?”Are you feeling all clear and cheery today? No clouds in the sky of your heart? Or, are the clouds gone but you’re burning under the heat of the sun? You’ve laid your burden at the foot of the cross, but you’re still wandering through the wilderness?

Healing is always miraculous, and sometimes God heals us completely in a moment, but often giving our struggles to Jesus is like getting a cast on a broken leg. It begins the healing process, but it may take months before we can walk without a limp. Or, as in the case of Jacob who became a “prince” with God, we may limp for the rest of our lives (Genesis 32:31-32).

Whatever the consequences of our sins and trials may be… Jacob came through his wilderness experience as a prince, and so can we. In case you’re still struggling, let’s consider this verse again. We all have wilderness experiences in our lives. We all have times in our lives when we feel very alone, very lost, very betrayed…very hurt. We feel pain. Often we feel great loss…loss of love, loss of trust, loss of the presence of those we love.

Most of us have experienced the anguish of, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). Our whole world turns grey. Our minds race like rats running a maze, but all we can find are dead ends. There is no way out. There is no way of escape. We can run, but will that help? Which way is the right way?

I used to always want to run away from pain, but I’ve learned over many years that running away doesn’t work. Yes, there are some types of physical pain that can be avoided by running, but we can’t run away from spiritual and emotional realities. In the spiritual realm, we must learn to make the painful journey out of the wilderness—not by running wildly away from trouble—but by leaning on our Savior and finding all we need in him.

No matter how wonderful our spouse, family, and friends are, there are times when they will fail. No matter how much our parents love us, they can’t always be there for us. I am one of the very blessed ones. Some have no parents or spouse at all, or the ones they have are cruel and wicked. Some people have no friends or family at all…good or bad! They are alone in this world…not just part of the time, but all of the time. What then?

No matter what the circumstances of your life are today, if at some time you have come to the Lord repenting of your sins and asking Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior, then you are a child of God and a part of the family of God and bride of Christ. In that case, whatever the wilderness…he is with you. How shall we escape? “How shall we then live?” By leaning on the everlasting arms of our Savior. By looking into his eyes and sensing his love…by being filled with his peace and presence. By following his example and walking beside him.

What is the wilderness? Most of the time it is the sense of emotional desolation we feel when we are disappointed by the circumstances of life. Really, it is the Wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1), and at its heart—the wilderness of our own sin, created by looking inward and feeling sorry for ourselves instead of looking upward and rejoicing in God when we are suffering tribulation.

Yesterday (fifteen years ago!) I called a former pastor’s wife whom I knew was suffering with vision problems and bruised ribs from a fall in the bathtub. When I asked her anxiously, “How are you?” expecting to be empathetic with her pain, she responded with incredibly cheery faith, “Oh, I’m just rejoicing in the Lord.” Wow! What a testimony to the realness of her comfort in God’s grace. This is the true secret of overcoming!

Just today (while editing this), I talked to a friend wh0 just come out from anesthesia after a hip replacement. I asked her, “How are you feeling?” to which she replied, “Oh, we had a fun day. They wheeled me into the wrong surgical suite, but they figured it out before they took out my appendix, and we all had a good laugh.” What a great attitude!

During the biggest test of my life, I “failed of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). Under the torch of God’s hot refining fire, I gave up in many ways. I gained fourteen pounds in six months. I lost all desire to live and just wished I could die and go to be with the Lord, “which is far better”(Philippians 1:23), more absorbed by my own pain that moved by the needs of those around me.

Have you been in the wilderness? Have you come to the foot of the cross? Have you found the way out? Please take the time to read Hebrews 12 slowly and carefully. In my (Scofield) Bible, the heading for this chapter is “The walk and worship of the believer-priest.” That’s you and me! Don’t forget our calling and responsibility. What are we to do? Look up, and know that God is all wise, all powerful, and present everywhere…even here this minute.

Understand that not one sparrow falls without his consent, and not one person falls without his consent either. We may feel alone, but we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us through terrible suffering…perhaps similar to our own…perhaps even worse. Most of all, “Consider him [Jesus] that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:3). Trust Jesus. Lean on him. As soon as you can, stop crying and wipe away your tears!

Eventually it’s possible to find peace and joy again—even after terrible trials—and feel like being alive once more. It’s possible to come up out of the wilderness. I know. It happened to me.