son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy
soul for testing.
HOW WILL THE
LORD reveal Himself to me? How best can He show His love? If
I were still living in Old Testament days, or were unduly
influenced by the world’s ways of measuring success, then I
might be tempted to suppose that it would be by showering me
with riches, fame and honour. Unless, that is, I were a real
Old Testament scholar, in which case I might notice how
deeply the Lord ‘forged’ the character of His greatest
I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your
Word . . .
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might
learn Your decrees.
Himself to eager young Christians as the God of Challenge
and Vision, but just as He comes to battle-weary ones as the
God of all Comfort, so He plunges more seasoned warriors
into the Refiner’s Fire. Although we love those times when
we are strongly aware of His presence, hindsight reveals
that it is often the difficult times which make us more
single-minded in seeking the Kingdom of God.
After the honeymoon period by the River of Delights when we
first come to know the Lord, we may well find that our path
is now heading up a steep and arduous Ascent of Toil. It is
easy to suppose the apparent withdrawal of God’s grace must
have come as the result of our sin. In part this may be
true. When our minds are filled with self-conceit, God
allows humbling experiences to come our way – even times
when He puts us, like Nebuchadnezzar, out to ‘eat grass’ for
a season – in order to straighten out our priorities. There
are many other reasons, however, why we experience dryness
|When the Lord has a
work of maturing to do in our lives, He may
sometimes lead us away from the River of Delights,
just as the path we were following turned away from
the water’s edge. It was narrow, rugged, and
alarmingly steep. We suddenly found ourselves on The
Ascent of Toil!
Spiritually, this is a time when we lose much of the
pleasure we have been accustomed to enjoy in our
relationship with the Lord. Our previously
unshakeable awareness of eternity dips underground,
leaving a mass of tangled emotions to sort out.
some preachers might lead us to suppose that constant
intimacy with God is available to anyone who is prepared to
receive it, any place, any time. Attractive though it may
sound, such teaching is often a recipe for frustration, and
little comfort at those times when our minds are overwrought
and our thoughts and actions unpredictable. Genuine intimacy
with God is perfectly possible, but we may need a radical
rethink of what it will mean in practice. The ways by which
the Lord fulfils His promises to us are very different from
our original expectations.
This is not easy for the flesh. Like Gideon’s army, we are
often too strong in ourselves. The Lord sometimes has to
expose our weaknesses in order to keep us from taking undue
pride in our strengths and achievements. Great souls become
great through being fashioned in God’s forge.
The Ascent of Toil is the proving point beyond which the
half-hearted cannot proceed; a necessary preparation for the
Broad Open Spaces. Just as ships do not set sail without
first undergoing extensive tests, so the Lord tests us to
find out what is in our hearts. The Lord is looking to see
whether we are willing to seek Him even when there appears
to be little benefit in doing so.
If you are currently experiencing such severe shakings that
it feels as though your original calling has been shattered
into a thousand pieces, then do not take offence, no matter
how strange the path by which you are being led. The Lord
will not fail you. Even in the midst of great confusion and
loss there will be many ‘treasures of darkness.’
In this second part we shall explore some of the ways by
which the Lord deepens and refines us. We shall ponder why
He allows us to go through times of wilderness and
suffering, and look at how we can overcome two of the
greatest enemies of intimacy with God – condemnation and
Ascent of Toil draws to a simple conclusion: the
more yielded we are to the Lord, the more easily He
can lead us.