By T. F. Tenney
“Why did God let this happen?”
I suppose men of God have been asking this question since the patriarch Job said, “Oh that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat, I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments” (Job 23:3-4). Frankly, I do not have this answer.
Why is it we feel we have to have a boxed answer for every situation? I must admit I have seen bad things happen in the lives of good people and I had no answer. Whenever you cannot track God, you must trust Him. I have lived long enough to know every storm will not sink the ship. Often we resist the very circumstances that God has sent to develop us. Let me share with you a few concepts about the dealing of God in our lives.
It was a dry spell when the prophet said, “Dig the valley full of holes.” He did not say how big or how deep. All I know is the man who dug the deepest hole got the most water.
First of all, we have to learn to separate circumstances from our relationship with God. Paul told us nothing is authorized to separate us from the love of God. God Himself ordained that angels are given charge over us to keep us (Psalm 91:11). This does not mean we will always be kept from sickness, financial problems, or disasters. It simply means the angels will protect us from being separated from God. This is the ultimate. Regardless of the circumstances in life, nothing can separate me from the great love of my God, unless I personally allow it. No man can pluck me from His hand—much less any circumstance.
Job must have asked these questions: “What is the worst thing in life that can happen to me, is it the loss of children? No, they are already dead. Is it the loss of wealth? I am now bankrupt. My wife? She is backslidden. My health? I am sitting on the city dump scraping myself with broken pieces of pottery. I am a sick man. Is it the loss of friends? No, they have already turned against me.”
I believe he concluded the worst thing that could happen to him would be for God Himself to come from Heaven and execute him, put him to death personally, without ever giving him an explanation. It was then when he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). The bottom line is that Job determined no circumstance would ever interfere with his relationship with God. We also need to make this commitment. We must be able to step back and let circumstances stretch us. Our character must match our manifestation. It must equal the level of our talent. Talent without character is like clay marred in the hands of the potter, its usefulness lost. God knows the total man must be developed before he can ever be really useful in His kingdom.
Dick Iverson once said, “Maturity of character exhibits three basic qualities: a heart after God, a heart devoted to service toward men, and a heart of integrity within himself.” Failure in any one of these can spell doom and shipwreck. God considers them so important that in His sovereignty He uses circumstances to develop and enhance these characteristics. Iverson mentioned several things God uses in developing us for His kingdom.
One of these is solitude. Yes, God uses solitude. Iverson explained this noting that God, at times, chooses to place potential leaders in isolation, solitary places, alone. John the Baptist was in the desert until the time of his showing unto Israel (Luke 1:80). The apostle Paul spent time in Arabia and Damascus getting his life in order after his conversion (Galatians 1:17). Moses lived in an isolated desert for many years before coming forth as the leader of Israel (Exodus 3). King
David spent his younger years on the lonely task of tending sheep (I Samuel 16). In David’s case, when the prophet came and asked to see the sons of Jesse—his own family did not bother to include him in the number. Solitude is an instrument of God in the lives of called men and women.
We must learn there are seasons of silence in God. Many people cannot cope with this vacuum; to them silence is tantamount to defeat. There are those who have never learned to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). They have to cram their lives with noise of some kind. Iverson further observed, “Let a solitary atmosphere minister to your spirit.” Do not be defeated in this important time in your life by running away. The circumstance of solitude in your life is an opportunity for you to explore the depth of your spirituality. Can you sense God when you are really alone? Remember, the teacher is always silent while giving the test. With God it is always an open book exam.
The famous twenty-third psalm speaks of the Lord/Shepherd leading me beside “the still waters.” According to The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, 2002, the literal translation of this is “waters of quietness.” We have all heard the saying, “still waters rim deep,” which simply means a person’s calm exterior often conceals great depths of character, just as the deepest streams can have the smoothest surfaces. Do not be fearful of “still” times—times of solitude—they are sent from God.
Iverson also made an astute observation on obscurity. It really hurts not to be noticed. Many of us can identify with Joseph, when at the bottom of a pit—a dry well—he while the band is playing; however, few care to stay after the party to clean up! Being faithful in the menial and insignificant routine, the regular, unexciting, uneventful, mundane, unthankful, daily task is part of the training of the man of God.”
My pastor often told us, “A man who is too big to do little things, is too little to do big things.” I will admit faithfulness can be monotonous. This is found throughout the entire Bible. Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Paul, and Timothy all were found faithful. We should not minimize the situations in which we find ourselves. We should be diligent at whatever our hands find to do. We should not make comparisons of present circumstances with someone else’s state of affairs. It is not what we have; it is what we do with what we have that truly counts with God.
Whatever the monotonous day calls for, I ask this question: “What are you doing with it?” We are all living to hear seven words one day: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). He has told us if we will be faithful over a few things, He will make us ruler over many.
I quote Iverson again: “God uses these very circumstances: solitude, obscurity, and monotony to stretch young men and to build character in them. Do not waste energy ‘kicking at the pricks;’ it is a process one must go through in life if he is to have a tomorrow that will be pleasing in the sight of God.”
People often shy away from these circumstances and therefore miss the will of God in their situation. They do not develop spiritually, because it is in these areas the grit of character and spirituality is fostered. God’s choice of methods—God’s ways—are contrary to human reasoning and the methods of man. Remember, God is constantly looking at the heart of man. God is never in a hurry in developing inner qualities. Going through these circumstances takes time. Do not worry about promotion; God will pull the young man from the desert place and put him in the limelight when the timing is right, if it is His sovereign will. Remember, a pearl is a tribute to a conquered irritant.
The purifying process is never pleasant. It always comes in “layers.” We get through one process and then there may be another. We get our anger under control, and then must deal with jealousy God uses trials to purify us. He allows us to be in tough places to squeeze out the things not like Him. Just like water needs to be purified, so do we.
The purification of water is a multi-step process. After the water is extracted from the spring, it goes through many filters. There are activated carbon filters to eliminate any chlorine, acids and bad odors that may be present in untreated water. These filters also give water a more pleasant taste. Softeners are sometimes added to remove calcium, iron, and manganese ions from hard water. Ozone and ultraviolet rays are often injected into water tanks to protect against any bacteria that may have entered the process. Another way to purify water is to distill it. Water is boiled and the steam is then condensed and captured. The result is purified water. As you see, purifying is a process which takes time and effort. It is a “making” process—a remolding of what we were into what we should be.
“The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels” (Jeremiah 18:1-3). The Lord instructed the prophet to go to the potter’s house and observe the potter at work. An interesting phrase is used in Jeremiah’s account of the reason God gave the instruction: “I will cause thee to hear my words.” You hear the word when you get to the Potter’s house, but not before. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that cause us to intensely listen for the voice of God.
Intentionally and intently we can allow the other voices and noises of life to fade and we wait to hear from Him. There are other times when the noise of circumstances drown out everything else and God must “cause” us to listen—either in solitude, obscurity, or monotony.
Sometimes He must give us illustrated lessons, as He did here with Jeremiah. When God wants to teach us faithfulness, He will take us through something to give us the opportunity to learn its definition. There is a vast difference between knowing something and learning it. We can know something in our head; it is only when we “learn our lesson” that it becomes a part of our heart. When we bring knowing to learning, we bring the lesson into the living level of our personal experience. God does not want us just to know; He wants us to learn.
God takes us through life experiences and trials to turn words into lessons learned. The Word of the Lord to Jeremiah was to go to the potter’s house. When Jeremiah got there, he saw something. What he saw became a word from the Lord to Him. Often it depends on what you are looking for whether you will hear the word of the Lord.
“Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 0 house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, 0 house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:3-6).
At first glance, this probably seemed quite ordinary to the old prophet. While touring the Middle East I have personally watched potters working the clay in the old-time way. I have seen them carefully form a vase, then perceive some flaw with their fingertips that I, just a casual observer, could not detect. The next thing I knew the clay was crushed on the wheel and the potter began again his painstaking work.
The prophet was lamenting about Israel and their situation. God said, “Let me show you the root of the problem,” and took him to watch again something he had no doubt been seeing since he was just a boy. It was something basic and primary. A potter. A wheel. Clay.
It is dangerous to get away from the basics of God, to forget in the froth and foam of life, what is real. The real issues of life are not on the periphery. Sometimes it is necessary for God to take us back to the basics. What Jeremiah was about to learn was that God sometimes works in circles.
Have you ever gotten caught in one of God’s eddies?
Israel marched around the same mountain for forty years until they learned what God wanted them to learn. It was the difference between knowing and learning. Once it was learned God released them. Once the old Egyptian flesh died and was buried, He set them free from their trek around the mountain. Have you ever felt like you were marching around and around the same mountain? There have been many days I felt I could give guided tours!
It is monotonous—and it is very dangerous. It is easy to get disillusioned with the routine. We are often drawn by the desire to make something happen, but most of our walk with God is routine. It is not spectacular. It is not awe-inspiring fireworks displays. It is the slow steady burn of a single flame. The power of routine is what saved Daniel. He prayed every day. He did not pray more in crisis; he did not pray less in ease. His prayer life neither sped up nor slowed down the process.
“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Notice the “progression” in this passage is reverse of what we ordinarily think. “Mount up with wings as eagles” is followed by “run and not be weary” then “walk and not faint.” We want to start walking, then accelerate to a run, then take wing and fly. God says, “No, that is not My way. You may start off flying, then you will come down to running, but most of the time you will be walking.” Often our days are spent in consecrated plodding. We simply and firmly place one foot in front of the other foot. That is not to say there will not be those high-flying, ecstatic experiences. However, they are the exception rather than the rule. Where you finally end up is with the very basic skill of walking with God.
Each generation must experience God for themselves. God has no grandchildren. Our children can inherit our organizations, finances, and buildings. They cannot inherit our experience with God. The foundational structure of the kingdom remains firm. Yet, it must be learned by each succeeding generation as they embark upon building a structure for their generation.
God started out as a potter in the Garden of Eden. He formed man out of clay. He knows more about the pottery business and the pottery process than anyone. He commanded Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house. So Jeremiah went. He watched the potter put the clay on the wheel. He watched as the potter molded it and shaped it into some type of vessel. Then he watched as the vessel was marred and the potter had to start the process over again.
The wheel was willing. The potter was willing. The power to become was in whether or not the clay would yield to what the master potter had in mind. When the vessel was marred, it was not the fault of the wheel. It was doing what it was supposed to be doing. We cannot blame the potter. The potter was experienced and highly skilled. He knew what he is doing. The power was in the clay.
The difference between mud and a vase is the clay. From mud ball to vessel of usefulness, the power is in the clay whether to yield to the design in the Master’s mind. In Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord said, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you … to give you an expected end.” One translation says, “a bright future and hope.”
God did not just fling us out in the nebulous of life and forget us. He has a plan for us. He has a will for our lives. He does not play divine games of hide-and-seek. We are not pawns on some cosmic sacred chessboard. Too often we think the will of God is an elusive thing. I personally believe He wants to make His will known to us sometimes even more desperately than we claim to be seeking His will.
God will always give us the best if we leave the choice to Him. What we must do is bring our human mind and its frailties into submission to the mind of God. The divine mind and the human mind bring the flesh, or the clay, under control. “Not my will, but thine be done” is the prayer of a surrendered mind, heart, and will. It is the cry of moldable clay. It is the cry of human surrender to divine intervention. It is the cry when our well seems dry.
The above article, “When Our Well Seems Dry” was written by T. F. Tenney. The article was excerpted from Tenney’s book, Water from an Old Well.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.