Recently, we bought an old ugly dresser at a garage sale. It was three different colors with peeling paint and lots of scratches, but it was solid wood and so we made grand plans to update it. I’ve never tried to restore furniture before, and there was a lot of googling and calls to my mom (who is a pro at it!) for directions. I kept getting the same message: before I could do anything to beautify it, I had to sand it down, and again, and again! Then, I needed to scrub it clean. Then after all that, I could put the new paint on.
So, I bought my supplies, we took the drawers out, and I started sanding. I sanded and scrubbed and sanded and scrubbed. I felt each edge, and I didn’t stop sanding until it was as close to perfectly smooth as I could get.
There was one drawer in particular that the more I sanded, the more I found needed sanding. I so badly wanted to just be done! But I kept going because if I didn’t do it right, the new paint wouldn’t stick like I needed it to. Since I wanted the end product to be perfect, I kept sanding the edges smooth.
As I was staring at one of the edges, holding it an inch from my face to determine if there was any paint chips left, a statement the college pastor at my church said months ago came to my mind. “God’s hand is closest to you when He’s pruning you.” I loved that quote when he said it then because I thought it was a powerful truth. However, in that moment, the depth of truth in that quote struck me. Although I wasn’t pruning, I was doing a similar effort to this wooden dresser.
In that moment, I had a new understanding of what God means when He says “I will be faithful to finish the work I have started in You.” (Philippians 1:6) He is committing to continually smoothing out my edges because He wants His finished product to be perfect. He knows that if He were to leave any of the old me, then it would tarnish the new identity I have in Him. So He has committed to working out the salvation in me. He’s probably more tired of sanding my edges than I was! I certainly have more!
But even more than the awareness of how He needs to work on me was the understanding that in order for Him to do the work, however, means He is holding me so very close. His hand is never nearer than in those moments. I felt like I knew every millimeter of wood on that dresser by the time I was done because I was holding it so closely and inspecting it so carefully. Nothing was going to happen to it that I didn’t plan for. The more I was working on it, the closer I was to it.
God is doing the same with me but with infinitely more love.
I question God the most when good prayer requests are given a hard no. When I take a step of faith to find I’m falling flat. When reality contradicts God’s promises. When I fight for truth but see evil win.
In those moments, I’m left questioning if I’m a fool, a failure, or a combination of the two.
Earlier this month, I was reading through the book of Judges. In Judges 19, we find the particularly gruesome account of the assault and murder of a young woman by a group of men from the Tribe of Benjamin. The rest of Israel rises with righteous indignation and demands that the Tribe of Benjamin turn over the guilty men so that they can be punished. Sadly, however, Benjamin protects the evil men rather than punishing them.
So, Israel marches to battle the Tribe of Benjamin. They march for justice. For righteousness. For goodness. Israel gathers its troops collectively then asks God which tribe should fight Benjamin first. God sends Judah first.
It’s the first day of battle. Israel fights for God. Benjamin fights for sin.
Benjamin wins. By a landslide. 22,000 fallen soldiers to be exact.
Sinful, evil, selfish Benjamin won.
Israel weeps before the Lord. Asking if they should fight again. God sends them to battle again.
It’s the second day of battle. Israel fights for God. Benjamin fights for sin.
Benjamin wins, again. By another landslide. 18,000 more fallen soldiers.
Sinful, evil, selfish Benjamin won again.
At this point in the narrative, Judges 20:26 tells us this:
Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord.
Israel asks God again if they should fight. God sends them to battle again.
Israel had fought the exact same battle twice already. Israel lost the exact same battle twice already. As I read this story, I was overwhelmed with the courage and strength of Israel in these moments. Here they were fighting for a righteous cause- one that the Lord told them to fight for, and they were answered with resounding losses. Stunning defeats. Not once but twice. It’s so incredibly hard for me to try again after a failure, but Israel did so. And failed. Now God was telling them to try a third time.
Maybe God knew that it would take both failures for all of Israel, the whole army, to seek the Lord. God wasn’t satisfied with a partial response. He was willing to wait for the entirety of Israel to acknowledge their dependence on God alone.
In my spirit, I couldn’t help but recognize that maybe God lets me keep failing until all of me is willing to acknowledge my dependence on God alone. Rarely do I start a battle, or prayer, or plan with a pure motivation and absolutely surrendered spirit.
One more thing struck me as I started reading again. This time, when God told them to fight again, He followed the command to fight with a promise of victory in this battle.
It about jumped off the page at me.
This was the first time God promised victory. God had commanded them to fight the past two times knowing they would lose. Yet, He still commanded them to fight.
Will He not do the same with me?
Sometimes, God will send me into battle knowing I will lose. Sometimes God will say no to a good and right prayer request… more than once. My disappointment and frustration with God lies in the fact that I misunderstood the command to fight with a promise of victory. I believe them to be the same, but they are most definitely not.
God’s promise of victory will come after He has molded me into the soldier He designed me to be- one that depends on God alone for instruction and promise.
Maybe His changing me is actually part of the victory.
About Holly's Blog
Holly loves to write, and you'll find her blog covers all different topics!