It could very well be that when you rose from your bed this past Christmas morning, after rubbing the sleepiness from your eyes, your hands reached for the things under your Christmas tree or the stockings hanging by the fireplace and, instead of the things that you hoped for, you found a lump of coal.
Maybe you found coal even though you weren’t (especially) naughty this year, and so were perhaps not especially deserving of a not-so-subtle rebuke from “jolly-ol-Saint Nick”. Indeed, there’s enough naughtiness in the world without us summoning more of it – from wars to crime, from pride to immorality, our cup certainly seems to “overfloweth”.
Of course, I’m not really talking about a literal nugget of coal, but instead an unexpected mishap, grief, or difficulty. You, like untold millions across the country, may have awakened with some sort of situation or circumstance that was possibly unlooked for, yet proved all too real in spite of the supposed good cheer of the season. If so, you could very well be less enamored with the possibilities of the future than you are with weighed down with anxiety for the impending new year. And just for the record, there are some coals with which we must deal in life that are simply not judgments resulting from sin in either our parents’ lives or our own. It is true that SOME may be demonstrations of judgment, but it is also true that, “It was neither that this man sinned or his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 NASB).
Having said all that, chances are pretty good that you are carrying around some sort of spiritual coal. While I have no intention of throwing your way any trite or flippant remark about “looking on the bright side” when staring down the barrels of an arsenal of hardships and difficulties, I would prefer to reflect with you the value of occasionally finding ourselves holding “coal”.
For instance, Christians need a renewed passion for God’s glory – a yearning to know Him better, and see His face with spiritual eyes so that their breaths are taken away and He is all they see. Comfort and ease can be hindrances to a closer walk with God insomuch as they tend to lull us into a posture of contentment with temporal things. But the coals of trial, trouble, and loss can provoke a longing in our hearts for something more substantial than the “cheap” thrills that short term satisfactions provide us. Sometimes the coal can be found in the loneliness of lives that are cut off or estranged from loved ones. It’s also in the fear we feel when sickness comes to us even in our own homes and then never wants to leave again. Sometimes it resides in the worries that plague us when we’ve lost our jobs and we’re left to wonder desperately how we’re going to make ends meet.
Such coal, naturally, must be “dug up”. It must be brought to light and honestly processed (or confronted), but once it’s been “mined” (recognized, identified, and engaged), it can feed the hot and flickering flames of joy and peace, as the spark of divine presence and promise breathes into our circumstances a Godly perspective.
I believe with all my heart that our God wants to set a glorious fire blazing in your heart and in the hearts of all His people, burning up the dross of despair, pride, greed, bitterness, hate, lust, and complacency. I am convinced that He wants to fan the glowing embers of the hearts of His people to a towering inferno that will drive back the night of sorrow, fear, and discouragement.
There is no doubt in my mind that our living God yearns to thaw our frozen hearts and drive back the chilly fingers of apathy. It turns out that the very things that give us reason for “throwing in the towel”, are also the very things that our heavenly Father can use to demonstrate this incalculable love and His awesome power.
Not only that, but as we give Him room to work in our lives, with the pressure He applies to our “hearts and minds”, coupled with the “high temperatures” of rejection and frustration, some of our “coals” will be transformed to spiritual “diamonds” – precious memories that are more important to us than strings of pearls. And although handling such coals may perhaps be painful, these experiences become not only treasures to us, but they also convey precious testimonials to those who are observing our lives. These observers watch and wait as God conveys His grace and power through our open hearts so that they then have room to wonder about the hidden reservoirs of inner strength that they didn’t know we had.
Yes, it is entirely possible that you found coal on Christmas morning or on some other occasion this past year. But, if surrendered to the care of our loving Father, you might very well find that they produce the best gifts you could have ever received.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…. Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the Word of Truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:2-4, 17-18 NIV).