Christian Devotionals

"It Was a Very Good Year"

Well here we are, 2006 is in the history books and we’re heading into 07. For me personally, this has been quite a year. You might think that after being diagnosed with stage four cancer, enduring major surgery and six months of aggressive chemotherapy that I would be somewhat soured to 2006. If I choose to dwell on all the frightening and painful events of the past year, this would go down as the worst year of my life. But the Christ-focused Joe Rieger–living in the Spirit and learning to view things from God’s perspective – sees things entirely differently. This could very well be the best year of my entire life. This isn’t just a bunch of stoical nonsense where I’m playing the part of the hero to try to impress you. This is just the way it is. God used the trials of this past year to bring out the best in me. He used cancer to strip me of pride, self-pity, ingratitude, self-reliance and a bunch of other character flaws that were holding me back spiritually. Even when I was physically healthy, I was miserable and prone to bouts of depression. I’m sure God, my wife and kids would attest to the fact that I was a joyless complainer who was never satisfied.

So when God can’t get through to you and straighten you out with a quiet whisper, He’ll use a loud shout to get your attention. In my case, cancer was needed. I’m not saying God caused the cancer in order to punish me. First of all God doesn’t punish believers, He disciplines them. Punishment is designed to satisfy justice. Jesus Christ already took care of the punishment that I deserve when He died on the cross and I put my faith in that sacrifice. The wrath of God for my sin and every sin of every man and woman was satisfied through Christ.

Now it’s up to each of us to individually accept Christ’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Unlike punishment, which God reserves for satisfying justice, discipline is used to straighten believers out and restore us to usefulness.

And chances are that God didn’t cause the cancer in my body, but He did allow it in order to bring about needed change. To use a biblical analogy, I’m in the Refiner’s fire where God – the Refiner – is using these difficult and painful circumstances in my life to burn away these flaws of mine. In metallurgy terms, the refining process brings out the best in the precious metal – gold or silver – by drawing out and burning off the dross (the scum on the molten metal). In order to produce refined gold, it will need to be subjected to the flame. There’s no easy and fire-free method to accomplish the refining process, you need intense heat. That’s just what I needed and God is loving enough and hands-on enough to give us what we need. Fortunately for us, He doesn’t stick us in the flame and walk away. No, He stays by the flame and provides the right amount of heat for just the right amount of time to bring about the desired results. Oh make no mistake about it, I am far from being 100% refined. There’s more flame and more change in my future. While I’m hoping and praying that the cancer will be eliminated and there will be no further need of chemotherapy, this may not be God’s will for me. I am comforted and encouraged, however, that my God is a hands-on God and He will be with me every step of the way. And for the record, I like the refined Joe much better than the old Joe. I’m better able to see God’s hand in the big and small things in life and appreciate all that He has done and continues to do for me. I’m now better equipped to serve my Lord in new capacities. I am truly blessed and in the words of one of my favorite Sinatra songs, “It was a very good year.”

"For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord."
Malachi 3:2-3 (New Living Translation)

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