There is a time for everything, Scripture says.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
I wonder if we recognize the time for confrontation and conviction – for tearing things down – as readily as we recognize the time for encouragement and building up? Are our hearts willing to receive all of it from God’s hand, or are we selective in what we take?
Increasingly, we have need of discernment, that we may know what season or hour we are in. The Bible warns of the dangers of clinging to only those words which make us feel good (Jeremiah 6; Ezekiel 13), and tells us that in these – the last days – such a tendency will characterize many in our generation (2 Timothy 4). The grace of Christ has come to comfort those who have put their trust in Him, but with that grace comes the refining, convicting work of the Holy Spirit. While His conviction comes gentleness and love, still it comes with the confirmation that we need to be transformed, and that does not always look or feel encouraging.
I love the presence of God. I love the joy that comes in times of worship and fellowship. I love the encouragement my brothers and sisters offer me, especially when I am struggling. These are gifts God provides for our difficult journey on this narrow path that leads to eternal life, and we have great need of them. There is nothing wrong with reaching for encouragement, when it is the time to be encouraged.
But I love just as much the loving correction and necessary rebukes which come from the Holy Spirit, and from those saints who have the courage to confront what they know is harmful in my life. As good as a sympathetic hug feels, there are times when I need a stern reminder that it’s time to change my attitude, or deal with my prideful heart. There are times when, as I enter into worship, I become aware of something in my heart which is not pleasing to God, and rather than rejoice, I weep in His presence.
These things do not feel encouraging, and if we are in need of always having everything packaged in such a way that it feels good, we will miss crucial opportunities for maturity and transformation.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, there is a time for encouragement, for being built up and for feeling great about your process. But there is also a time, and many times, when we will need to be brokenhearted over what we see in ourselves, because that will lead us to recognize our great need for Christ. Being confronted with the reality that we are not okay the way we are might not feel very encouraging, but it will yield much fruit, if we connect ourselves to the One Who has the power to take our mess and make it something beautiful.
I don’t like seeing the ugly in myself any more than most people do, but I understand the importance of the times when I must. I have learned to let God lead me into those times, so that I do not become preoccupied with my many imperfections, but I have positioned my heart to receive conviction as well as encouragement from the Spirit of God. And I have learned to see both as beautiful gifts.
I remember in particular a time when I felt so dis-couraged that I could hardly stand it. I ached to feel something different, to feel better. I sought all the help I could, and every doctor and therapist and friend I met with told me one thing: take medication. It would be the quickest route to feeling “balanced” and being “okay,” they all said.
But there was a conviction in my heart that held me in the grip of that deep discouragement. I didn’t understand it then, because I thought God was supposed to make my life better. I thought life with Him was supposed to help me feel okay. I wanted all the good, but I didn’t understand that sometimes He brings about the good through the revelation of all the bad that must be healed and changed.
If I would have taken the easy way out and allowed the medication to numb my dis-couraged feelings, I would have missed a great miracle, and a key to growing in intimate trust with God. Because I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit to endure through that season of very painful and ugly emotions, rather than reach for what might help me feel better quicker, He used that time to teach me the value of facing the truth – even when it hurts.
It turned out that there were things beneath the surface of my life which I was blind to, and which – had I reached for a quick shot of something to make me feel better – could have destroyed me and my family. But because I chose to embrace the conviction and discomfort as His gifts, He was able to expose things that were hidden, and present the opportunity for them to be healed.
Beloved, feeling good is not all there is to this life in Christ. In fact, the absence of discomfort and pain are associated with dangerous and deadly diseases like leprosy and addiction in the pages of Scripture. May we examine our hearts deeply in this hour, and become willing to accept the gift of God’s conviction as readily as we are willing to receive His encouragement. May we honestly seek truth in His presence, instead of just another quick boost of whatever might make us feel okay for the moment or the day.
So much of our worship has become about searching for the next great, inspirational song – something to make us feel like we can handle whatever comes our way. But what if sometimes we need to be freshly humbled and broken, and led back to the reality that we are sinful people with wayward hearts, who need a Savior every hour of every day that we are given?
My prayer lately has been – and I invite you to pray the same for yourself: “Lord, lead even my listening. Don’t let me choose what I want to hear for myself. You know what I need. You know the path I am to take. Correct me. Heal me. Direct me. Lead me, in everything.” Then my searching becomes much more careful, as I open my heart to receive all that the hand of God would hold out to me – even if it doesn’t look or feel pleasant.
Can you stay in conviction and allow it to do its work in you, Dear One? Or does discomfort drive you to places loaded with shots of encouragement? May we become a people who desire truth in our inward parts, even when that truth cuts us wide open. May we learn to recognize the value of God’s convictions, and respond to them with gratitude, even when it does not bring the comfort we may be desiring. May we be a people who abide in the Spirit, and thus recognize the season and the hour we are in, responding to the Word which God is speaking, rather than reaching to find our own.
And may we become people of conviction, who have the courage to confront the things we see in one another, rather than offer false encouragement in place of loving rebuke. There is a fine line to be walked here, I know. And there are many who have crossed that line and left a wound that keeps us from accepting another’s correction. But if all we have to offer each other is encouragement, and if all we are willing to receive from one another is the same, we are missing a great deal of what God has brought us together for.
It is time for us to take courage, and submit our hearts to one another, and the Lord. It is time for us to grow and mature in the hard things. It is time for us to get real with each other, and to desire healing and transformation more than we desire to feel good all the time. It is time for us to want what God wants for us, and to recognize that we are instruments in each other’s lives to bring about His perfect will – even through imperfect and uncomfortable measures.
Let’s commit to seeking all that God has in mind for us today, Beloved – no matter what package it comes in. Holy Spirit, steady us, and help our hearts to prefer the hard truths over the easy untruths, we pray.