Don’t Judge Me For My Troubles

A woman looking out window judge not
You’d rather listen to the Keep On podcast of this post? Great! Here’s the link.

Our family has faced our hardest times yet these last few weeks. We’ve “expanded our circle” of helpers and burden-sharers. It’s humbling. Yesterday my hot-mess sobs stopped the ladies’ prayer time cold. But today I want to share the good coming out of all this: I’m learning not to judge.

Judge Not

Oh, sure, I already knew that. To walk a mile in his shoes; and take the log out of my own eye first. But through this backdoor way, the troubles of the last months are peeling off judgmental layers I didn’t know I had.

I’m embarrassed to admit it. “Judge not” feels, now, too obvious to state. But what is plain as day to some is as clear as mud to others. In some dark nights this truth did not shine brightly. It was not front and center when my friends passed through the valley.

This post is for you who are in a world of hurt. And to you who aren’t in that painful world now, but love someone who hurts. I want you to know this when you are tried and I want you to remember it you see hard times come to others, so that you don’t assume you know why trouble came.

Don’t Assume

It is both massive caution and immense relief. So, what is this brilliant truth?

Troubles are not proportional. Life is not a formula. We must not assume that suffering and prosperity are distributed in proportion to the bad or good that a person does; that if we live by faith and obey Christ, health and ease will come, and if we don’t, it won’t.

The truth is, we do not always reap what we sow.

Job didn’t. But Job’s counselors gave him many iterations of “you reap what you sow,” to explain his trials. None of them helped. Every one hurt.

We hear it in the words of Job’s friend Eliphaz. First Eliphaz observes, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). That’s the assumption. Job suffering must be a punishment for some secret sin. For, as Eliphaz adds, “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days” (Job 15:20). Then he gets even more direct, “Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities” (Job 22:5).

You reap what you sow is biblical (e.g., Galatian 6:7, Hosea 10:13, Proverbs 1:31). As a general principal, you reap what you sow is true. But sometimes what looks like a harvest is not a harvest.

Job knew this. He is right when he says, “The evil man is spared in the day of calamity” (Job 21:30). And the suffering of Job was the suffering of “a man blameless and upright; who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).

No, life doesn’t work like this. Trouble is not a proportional thing.

Don’t Judge That Way

None of us like to admit to being judges like this, judges with evil—or at least self-protective— thoughts. But I know I have been. I fall back into thinking that if I live by faith, I will be spared of trouble on earth. But God is teaching me to stop judging myself and others that way.

Because the earthly outcome of genuine faith is not the same. That’s just not how God does it. God does not spare his children from suffering. The good die young. And the good die old. The length of man’s days, and the trouble he sees in those days, does not reveal his faith.

In other words, don’t judge a man’s faith by the suffering in his life. Don’t judge your sister’s faith by the hardship she endures. Please don’t assume the cancer came because she ate junk food or the prodigal was formed by parental indulgence. Don’t assume the conflict means she was controlling and the lost job means he was a poor worker.

No, trouble is not so simple, not so black and white.

The Rule, Not The Exception

We see this truth throughout Scripture. Righteous (and afflicted) Job is Exhibit A, blameless (and long childless) Zechariah and Elizabeth are Exhibit B, Apostle (and thorn-poked) Paul is Exhibit C, the man born blind (and it was not for his sin or his parents’) is Exhibit D, and John the Baptist (among those born of women no one was greater and still Herod took his head) is Exhibit E. The list could go on and on.

In other words, we can’t judge a man’s faith by the trials in his life. God’s ways are higher. For who has understood the mind of the Lord? Ours is a non-coddling God. Aslan is not a tame lion. Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever pleases him. He has mercy on whom he has mercy and makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. His righteousness endures forever.

In the end—hallelujah and amen— there is a crown for the righteous. Heaven awaits. Then we will see Jesus face to face.

But we make a grave mistake if we think we can judge the genuineness, purity and depth of one’s faith by looking at the trials they experience in this life.

My friends, this should not be. The end of Hebrews chapter 11 tells us why. It does not permit us to believe that a life of faith guarantees pain-free.

Both By Faith

Hebrews 11:32b-39 makes the case.

32 For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy— wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all of these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

Both were commended. All of these are in the “Hall of Faith.”

Both Were Commended

By faith some conquer kingdoms and some are tortured to death. By faith some become mighty and some are stoned. And by faith some raise godly sons and daughters and some endure prodigal wandering.

Our faith is not the ultimate factor in whether we suffer or prosper. It’s not even the determining factor in if our own kids follow Christ. God is. His sovereign will and wisdom and love determine what I face.

Our friends may not understand. They may still judge. Our trials might be too traumatic for others to share. I get that too.

But in the end, isn’t this truth comforting? Our faith is not the final determiner of our trials. Some shut the mouths of lions, some were sawn in two. And both were commended for their faith.

Swords And More Swords

God can and does deliver his people by faith. He even performs miracles for them. God changed the normal way things work so that his people were helped or rescued from danger or death. We see this in verses 32-35a. But God doesn’t always rescue the faithful from suffering.

Some escaped the edge of the sword (verse 34) and others were put to death with the sword (verse 37). And both are commended for their faith.

In other words, having genuine faith in God is no guarantee of comfort and security in this life. John Piper says, it is crucial that we see the agonies God’s people sustained in verses 35-38 come by faith, not because of unbelief. He draws this out of the text in two ways.

First, in verse 33, notice that the list begins with “. . . who by faith conquered kingdoms . . .” and without a break continues into all the miseries of verses 35-38. It is by faith that “others were tortured . . . and others experienced mockings and floggings…” All this misery is received and endured by faith.

The other way to see this is in verse 39 which looks back on all the sufferings of verses 35-38 and says, “And all these suffering people], were commended through their faith.” In other words, the suffering and destitution and torture of God’s people in verses 35-38 are not owing to God’s disapproval. Rather God’s approval is resting on them because of their faith. The miseries and sufferings were endured, not diminished, by faith.

John Piper,Faith to be Strong and Faith to be Weak

Don’t miss this faithful, suffering friends: God’s approval is resting on you because of your faith.

Keep on.

Why We Judge This Way

I told my parenting woes to a friend this week. Then I confessed that I assumed. I assumed that behind all troublesome teens were problematic parents—over-controlling, hypocritical, neglectful, or some vile combination.

Then she said something surprising. Insightful, really. She said, she thought we did this formula thing not so much because we’re smug, judgmental beasts but because we want to protect ourselves. Because we want to believe that if we do X, Y, and Z this thing that happened to her won’t happen to me.

I think she’s absolutely right. I think we look for the flaws and the sins in those suffering as a way to sort of insulate ourselves. If I don’t parent like that, my kids won’t turn out like that. Or if I don’t eat like that, I won’t look like that. If I don’t do that, I won’t get cancer. We desperately want to know the cause.

Because if we know the cause, we avoid the cause. If we can reduce life to a formula to protect ourselves and those we love. Or so we think. While there may be some truth to each of the examples above—healthy lifestyles do promote health—they always break down. And the formula approach shatters in the context of faith and troubles.

In shards and smithereens, it shatters.

Joyful Suffering Shatters Assumptions

A new friend joined our Thursday ladies’ life group a couple months ago. Jan was there for the hot-mess, sob-fest. She heard me get so choked up I had to pause the prayer.

But you’ll never guess what Jan said.

She said thanks.

When I first met you, you seemed so strong and joyful. I assumed your life was all good. But now I hear this side and see your tears and you still have joy. Thanks.

Many things in this life are utterly opposite from the way they seem. For we wouldn’t think God would send his beloved to the wilderness to be tested or let his closest friends suffer persecution and martyr’s deaths. We wouldn’t think.

My trials are tiny compared to the persecution described at the end of Hebrews chapter 11. But I’ve read about the life and death trials of God’s children and I’ve seen a few friends suffer to death and I know they have heard, “Well done, good and faithful.”

Your Gift to the World

Which takes me to John Piper’s last point on that message from the end of Hebrews 11.

“When the precious children of God are permitted to suffer and be rejected and mistreated and go destitute, God is giving a gift to the world. He is gracing the world. He is shedding his love abroad in the world. Because in those who suffer and die in the unshakable assurance of hope in God, the world is given a message and a picture: ‘The Lord himself is better than life. Turn, O turn and believe.’

Who would have thought it—that the suffering are a gift to the world?”

“There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8)? Who described Job in such glowing terms? Again, who commends “all of these” for their faith?

So judge not.

When a man is right with God, God puts his honor in that man’s keeping.

Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God.

“And blessed is he, whosever shall not be offended in me,’ said our Lord.

—Oswald Chambers, Baffled To Fight Better

2021: Better? Or More Need of Endurance?

solo oak tree in snow
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:3c

I can’t wait for 2020 to be done! 2021 has got to be better. I keep hearing that and I’m just not so sure.

But I know we have need of endurance.

Need Of Endurance

That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews put it, For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised (Hebrews 10:36).

Endurance is bearing up under pressure or strain. It’s holding the weight above your head for 30 more seconds while your arms are quivering and aching. It’s carrying the six-year old all the way back while your legs are shaking. Weight bearing strengthens your body. It also strengthens your soul. But there are no shortcuts. You must bear up.

Endurance is strength in opposition. People who endure stand firm and handle pain because they know that trials can be productive (James 1:2-4). I like to write about about strong moms and strong grace and strength to do the ordinary things. My business card says I’m a spiritual strength trainer. I love to help people stand firm and grow strong.

So it’s not surprising that in this truth-denying climate, with freedom-ceding Covid-19 and a hyper-charged political scene, I hear the call to endure louder than ever.

Because 2020 might have been birth pangs and tremors. Not recovery and aftershock, but beginnings. You have need of endurance.

Because who’s not to say that the year of our Lord 2021 may be an even wilder ride?

Oak Or Squash?

Before James Garfield was President of the United States, he was head of Hiram College. At Hiram, a father once asked Garfield if his son’s course of study could be simplified so he could get through by a shorter route.

“Certainly.” Garfield replied. “But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash he requires only two months.”

The blessed are the steadfast. The ones who endure like Job and grow strong in their faith like Abraham (Romans 4:20). The ones who feel the pain and scratch with potsherds and grieve their losses as praise, but don’t charge God with wrong (Job 1:22). But they don’t take shortcuts. They cling to God’s promises (Romans 4:20). They’re strong, steady oaks.

The not-blessed are those who squish under pressure. They feel they heat and turn to mush. They don’t stand firm. They spring up. But trials— like 2020 come and under the pressure, they wilt (Mtt. 13:21).

Or, to borrow from Garfield, they seek shortcuts. They don’t stand firm and they’re squash. Squishy, mushy squash.

God Supplies What We Need

So bear up. No shortcuts. Oaks of righteousness endure. Remember righteousness comes by faith. And faith means taking God at his word. His word in Philippians 4:19 says, my God will supply all your needs. So if we have need of endurance, we can bank on the our God—the God of endurance—to supply it. He gives it to the end to all who are saved. And he gives it with such kind purpose.

James 5:11 says that the purpose of the Lord is “compassionate and merciful.” And so his oaks endure.

Because God gives endurance. And because they know He will come through.

Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand...

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

James 5:8b, 11

Why I Don’t Tell The Boys They’re Smart & Handsome*


You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  

-David McCullough, Jr., You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements, p. 308

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.

-Romans 5:3-4

I pounced the moment it hit my inbox. What self-respecting parent could resist this subject line: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart? Sal Kahn wrote the article. He’s the genius founder of the online learning academy that bears his name.

Kahn describes reading with his newly literate 5 year old. His son labored over a word (“gratefully”):

He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.” I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell­-tale signs of a “growth­ mindset.” But this wasn’t by accident. Recently…I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows… 

I get that. Early in motherhood I remember reading “process praise” is better than “person praise.” That is, telling Sam, “I like how you didn’t quit when your Lincoln Log roof fell in,” is preferable to, “You are such a clever little guy.” Praise persistence over natural success.

Maybe it’s intuitive that this is a higher quality praise. Or maybe not. Praising Jen’s silky long hair, Michaela’s long legs or Michael’s strong muscles comes naturally. I can live two months on a good compliment, Mark Twain said. Any kind’ll do. My happy meter rises as much if Jim commends a fetching smile or faithfulness to a troubled friend. Alas, charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting. But (incoming “process praise,”) the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Kahn’s point is spot on regarding intellectual growth. My own tearful grappling with x and y left an indelible mark. Not the A in Ms. Beaumont’s Algebra I, but the process by which it came. To get over my Letters don’t belong in math mental block required Dad and I to mutually endure the kitchen table tutoring until until I could think algebraically. I finally understood that letters were symbols, and as such they could be manipulated with certain rules. Seeing through letters to symbols, I could solve once perplexing problems.

Praising perseverance and grit builds mental muscles more than praising innate traits. And embracing the “growth mindset” will help us take on, not turn from, challenge.

In Kahn’s words,

…the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.

Our physical and emotional dimensions weren’t within Kahn’s purview. But we know “process praise” and the “growth mindset” it fosters undergird physical abilities and emotional resilience. Both are partly inborn, but both can be built with effort. Free throw percentage and fluency playing Bach’s Inventions, to dealing with long lines and flawed friends only improves with endurance. To grow, we must struggle along.

However, not everyone realizes this. Dr. Carol Dweck…has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure

Can we also extend Kahn’s work to the realm of faith? Is a “growth mindset” prescribed in the Scripture? Does God encourage with “process praise”? How does Christ commend us? 

Divine praise and apostolic encouragement are not based on aptitude and innate traits. It’s man who looks at outward appearance. When God saw man that he had made, his very good is more a commendation of Creator than creature I think.

Scripture is replete with commendations of Spirit-empowered perseverance and persistence in the face of trials.  Perhaps the best known is Romans 5:3 where Paul rejoices in his sufferings. If that’s not a growth mindset, I don’t know what is.

As for “process praise”:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…(Revelation 2:2) 

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:4)

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:7)

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3) 

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12) 

And the anchor verse for this blog:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12)

Is this picking process over product? Does “process praise” promote imperfection? Is it akin to “fuzzy” new math, where critics allege 3 times 3 can equal 10, as long as a student can explain how they reached the answer?

I don’t think so.  Here’s why.

When we consider Him patiently enduring and for the joy set before us press on amid problems, we are changed. Pressing on to perfection, we work out this salvation while Christ works it in us. Persistence becomes, at the great day of the Lord, perfection. He has perfected those who are being made holy, will all be past tense. It’s not just the process, then, that God will praise.

Our doing and being meld. So that after you have been faithful, you can be said to be faithful.

I stake my life on this praise. To hear my Master say,

‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 
Matthew 25:21

*Disclaimer: While I don’t tell the boys they’re smart and handsome I do occasionally tell others that they are. If you are one of those others, I beg your pardon. Maternal braggodocio dies hard