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Pilgrim's Progress Map

You may or may not know that the housing industry is a leading economic indicator.  That’s why housing starts and home purchases are a regular news item.  So when the nation began to reel under the housing crisis of 2008, those of us in the industry had already been feeling the downward effects since 2006.  Now, ten years through this, we no longer live moment-by-moment, wondering if we will still be in business in an hour; but because of the heavy toll the crisis and our weak economy has exacted on us, our small manufacturing business continues day-to-day, waiting to see how the Lord will provide for our daily bread (and that of our employees) and preaching to ourselves that God is good and does good (Ps. 119:68) even when he withholds provision.

Perhaps this is why today’s closing hymn affected Dana and I so deeply.  It was new to us, but is actually an old, old hymn written by John Newton in the 1700s.  As I understand it, the music has fallen into disuse, but we sang it set to the tune of the Water is Wide.  The song is titled These Inward Trials and took us completely by surprise.

It begins straight-forward enough with this simple prayer:

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

But the second verse hints at an answer to this prayer that in many ways reflects God’s answer to us over these last ten years.

T’was He who taught me thus to pray
and He I trust has answered prayer,
but it has been in such a way
it almost drove me to despair.

You see, we would seek, like Newton, to be transformed and gain victory over sin merely by our blood-bought association with Christ; but it does not seem to be God’s way to lead us untroubled to Christ-likeness, to bearing the image of his Son.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request,
and by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Gratefully, long before God put us into the lab to test our head knowledge, we were carefully taught that one of God’s main means for our sanctification is to grow us by testing our faith through trial.  His intent, as Bruce Wilkinson taught us years and years ago, is not to break his children, but for us to come through on the other side with a deeper, more abiding and unshakeable confidence in the character and steadfastness of our God.

Instead of this, He made me feel
the hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds,* and laid me low.

The cry of verse seven mirrors feelings we have expressed in our darkest moments, moments (as recent as this month) when Dana was laid low in weariness, pleading for God to release him from his burden – a burden which places him in a position of responsibility to employees and lenders and yet allows him no earthly means to affect change, health, or growth.  Yet, as the verse goes on we see that this has been our road, by God’s design, to accomplish his high purposes in our lives.  And we stand to bear testimony that it has been only by God’s grace that his pilgrims have progressed!

‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
‘Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?’
‘This in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.

And what comfort or ease can be greater than the Lord’s good and godly purposes in our lives?  Yes, my soul – He is good and does good!  

These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in Me.’

* [Jonah 4]

– – – –

…We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5).

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