Lake Michigan- Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
I walked on a nearby beach for the first time recently. It is a beautiful place near our home that has been enjoyed by others for years but for us it was the very first time. We enjoyed every step along beautiful North Bar lake near Empire Michigan. Beach chairs in place we then took a stroll along Lake Michigan that runs parallel with North Bar. How often we take for granted the Great Lake in our back yard but not this day, we were taking it all in.
There are many lessons we can learn through God’s creation if we will only hear his voice in those contemplative classrooms. The following is what nature showed me as I considered my surroundings.
There is a wind cut sandy berm and the beach is littered with smooth stones perfect for skipping across the water. I picked up a few that caught my eye because of their color and beauty. Others I kept, tossing them across the waves that crashed at our feet. The variety of stones are endless, all had a different shape, a different color; many were dull and gray and really went quite unnoticed as we walked over top of them last Saturday. Others were full of color and sparkling quartz, one I picked up looked like a Leland blue stone but I decided it wasn’t and returned its sandy home.
Every stone had one thing in common on that beach. Each one was smoothed by the millennia of storms and waves that have crashed over them since God called them into existence. If they could speak what stories could they tell? Would we care to listen and would their journey matter to us at all?
I wondered, do we see people like we see the stones? All are very similar yet unique in themselves. Ordinary and gray, walked over, stepped on and unnoticed by the those who care to walk their way. The pretty ones get noticed and ugly ones get thrown aside and thrown into the sea of waves, forgotten by all and never to be considered again. I was struck by the thought considering all these stones that I am like them in many ways. The waves of trials in my life are shaping me, they crash on me and have been smoothing my edges over time. I noticed again that the water brings out the unseen beauty in the stones and they catch our attention. How I respond in trials is being watched, it can be ugly or it can be beautiful.
Trials shape our lives. I have reflected back on myself before the troubles came into my life and remember a hard stone of a man unshaped by any storms. I saw things in black and white, I was ridged with sharp edges but I guess there is always a hidden beauty in every stone that God has created. I am in God’s rock tumbler, I am in his polisher and the experience has been up and down and round and round. If I could go back to the old me that predates all the trouble I would decline the offer. Why? God has purpose for the pain and the polishing though difficult as it is brings out the hidden beauty in the stone. Not that there is anything beautiful in myself; it is Christ who alone who is beautiful. I’m rather ugly honestly but God recreates ugly stony hearts and reshapes them in his workshop of trials and through the renewing process of his word.
My New Testament given to me by my parents in 1996
Trials in a life can embitter us, they can make us angry and resentful if we let our minds go to unhealthy places. But for the Christian we are to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4ESV) Trials have their place in bringing us to completeness but without the knowledge of God in the hardship we are left confused in our circumstances. To understand suffering we must understand God and how God uses it in our lives. This can only be discovered in the word of God to us. Jesus fully understands our pain, for he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)
The attached photo is of my Bible, it is dated one day after Jacob died. There is a process in place, there is an end in view for me and for you as a Christian. My enemy is seeking to eat me up and spit me out, to sift me as wheat but like Peter we have something incredible taking place in all our temptations, trials and testing’s. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith not fail. And when you have returned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV) The shocking thing is that Jesus let satan go after him, but the prayer of Jesus for him and for us guards us from failing faith. Peter did return and he did strengthen his brothers after his testing’s.
Sunset on Lake Michigan near Empire
Peter’s words are very helpful to me in this difficult stretch in my life. He tells me to be prayerful in my trials, clear-headed and alert, in humility resisting the devil. (James 4:6-8) Understanding that we are not alone in our troubles and that God’s grace is sufficient for every suffering saint. Christ himself stands with us in our purposeful suffering to “perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.” (1 Peter 5:10-11) “To him be the glory, and the dominion forever and ever. Amen”