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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Responding to Fiery Trials

No one likes arrogant people.

You know the people I’m talking about. At some point during seemingly every conversation, they manage to find some way to toot their own horn. They think so highly of themselves that they believe it’s an honor for you to have the opportunity to know and spend time with them. Sometimes they try to hide their lofty opinion of themselves with modest comments, but you know they really don’t mean it. You can see right through their transparent façade.

My Struggle

I have a confession to make: I’m one of these people. I’ve struggled a lot with arrogance my entire life. I guess you could say that I was born with it. There are days when I wake up thinking I’m pretty awesome. Before I had a filter, I used to run around telling everyone how great I thought I was. Now that I’m a little older, I’ve adopted a filter and learned how to mask it pretty well, but deep down I still struggle with it a lot.

I don’t want to be arrogant. I don’t want to run around every day tooting my own horn. I don’t want to have this perception in my head that I’m better than everyone else and that when I show up, I’m gracing them with my presence.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Well, if you hate it so much, then do something about it brother.” Believe me, I’ve tried. Once I began to recognize that arrogance was not only culturally taboo but also sinful, I began taking steps to try to eliminate it from my life. I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t any better than anyone else. I tried to focus conversations away from talking about me. I tried to downplay peoples’ compliments to avoid sounding arrogant. But none of these strategic steps actually took away the problem; they did nothing more than mask it a little. It’s like any other sin: it’s not something I can wish away and then watch it magically disappear overnight. Nor can I pull up my bootstraps and “get ‘er done.” I’ve decided that it’s not something I nor anyone else has the power to fix.

My Fiery Trials

Four years ago, God decided it was time for him to begin chipping away at my arrogance. When I say chipping away, I mean chipping away. He didn’t take a shovel and scoop it all out at once; instead, he began chiseling away at it one small step at a time.

After the first year of chiseling, I began thinking I was in pretty good shape. I thought I was finally humble! But just when I got to thinking God was done, he picked up right where he left off and kept on chiseling away.

Another year went by and I once again noticed that more of my arrogance was gone. But I also once again made the mistake of thinking I had arrived, only to realize that God wasn’t done yet; he still had more work to do.

Three months ago, I found myself in a place where I recognized the need for him to continue chiseling away at my arrogance. So I did the worst thing, or the best thing depending on how you look at it, I could do. I prayed for him to humble me. Now you know what happens when you pray something like this, right? God’s going to challenge the biggest point of arrogance in your life. It was no different for me. The only difference was that I recognized what he was going to do before he did it; he was going to challenge the arrogance I exuded due to my hockey skills. I had just come off the best season of my life. I led the league in points for most of the season and my team, of which I was the captain, had just come away from having a near-perfect record. I certainly had something about which to be arrogant.

As it was becoming clear what was about to happen, I was tempted to tell God that hockey was off limits. But seeing as he’s on the throne of my heart, I quickly recognized that there’s no area off limits to him. And even if I tried to hold it back, it wasn’t going to do any good because he’s so good that he always gets his way. It was going to happen one way or another, so I could either jump on board or come kicking and screaming. As hard as I knew it was going to be, I chose to jump on board.

Over the last three months, God has been doing exactly what he said he was going to do: He challenged the objects of arrogance. First, our team lost our two best players, so we finished the season with a losing record. Second, I spent the first half of the season struggling to score. And third, I experienced a debilitating pinched sciatic nerve which prohibited me from skating to my full potential. To make matters worse, my nerve issues have caused me great pain in both my lower back and leg which make it extremely painful for me to function every day. (For those of you who may be concerned about my health, I have consulted with a doctor and have been following orders to get healed. It’s just taking way longer than I want it to take.)

I can’t even begin to explain how painful the past two months have been both physically and emotionally. Yet, I’m so excited about what the pain means for me! As one of the biblical writers once said:
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 in nothing.[1]
My goal in life isn’t to make it to the NHL or for that matter, play professional hockey in any capacity. But I do have a goal to be transformed into the image of Jesus. And since I see that the pain I’m experiencing is part of God’s work to make me more like Jesus, why would I be frustrated with the setbacks I’ve experienced in the last couple months? Instead, I rejoice in the setbacks because God has orchestrated them at exactly this time in order to further transform my heart to be like his heart and to grow my faith in him.

Once this round of chiseling is over, will I have finally arrived at my destination of being completely humble? Not at all. I still won’t be as humble as Jesus. Actually, I’ve realized I won’t be fully transformed into the image of Jesus in this life.[2] But because of the work he’s been doing in me recently, I’m one step closer to it than I was three months ago. This is great news both for me and for the people who have to put up with me!

Your Fiery Trials

Are you in the midst of a fiery trial? I’ve observed that the fiery trials going on in my life give me a glimpse into the work God is doing in my heart and I’ll bet the same is true in your life. For example, much of my arrogance comes from me deriving a sense of security from my own abilities. God has been removing the things from which I derive a sense of security because he’s calling me to rely on him for my sense of security. In the same way, God has probably orchestrated the fiery trial in your life to remove the things in which you’re trusting so that you can trust him more.

The question is: How are you going to respond to your fiery trial? Are you going to view it as a nuisance? Or are you going to view it as being orchestrated by God for the transformation of your heart and the deepening of your faith in him?

[1] James 1:2-4.
[2] See Philippians 3:12.

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