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LOSS PRECEDES GAIN
by Philip Owen

          In some quarters, there is concern that this new year will bring fresh deprivations to the citizens of this nation. Many anticipate restrictions on freedom, increased burdensome regulations, and loss of purchasing power through increased inflation and additional taxes. It remains to be seen to what degree any of this proves to be true. But it is well worth the while of believers to remember that God Almighty rules in the affairs of men and that we are no more the pawns of government than if we reigned sovereign as a king. Whether those who govern are believers or unbelievers, moral or immoral, God works behind the scenes accomplishing His perfect will. If we should view any downturn in our affairs only as the work of evil, incompetent, or just mistaken men, we will become frustrated and angry. But if we remember that God is working to accomplish His purposes, we will be able to rest and, yes, even to rejoice.

            It is worth noting that one of the Lord’s standard methods of operation involves deprivation before blessing. Sometimes as in the scenario suggested above, the loss is involuntary; other times it is voluntary. Regardless, the believer who recognizes and yields himself to God’s hand will be the one who is blessed. Consider Abraham when he was still Abram and received his first call from God. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; . . . and I will bless you’” (Gen. 12:1, 2b).

            God gave Abram a command requiring a progressively more personal and intimate series of losses. First, he was to separate from his homeland, then from his extended family, and finally from the very household into which he had been born and nurtured through his youth. Separation upon separation. Loss upon loss. And what will Abram receive in return for these self-imposed losses? At this point, just words, the promise of a God Abram had just met. Abram is commanded to leave something real and substantial—his country, his relatives, his father’s house—for something as yet vague and unknown—an unidentified country and various unsubstantiated promises of blessing.

            Nevertheless, Abram believed God and obeyed Him. “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him . . . . And they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan” (vv. 4a, 5b). Armed with God’s command and promises, Abram divested himself of the things he had held dear and set out on a journey for an unknown destination. We know the rest of the story. God fulfilled all His promises to Abram in a manner and to a degree that the patriarch could never have imagined.

            What about us? Yes, Abram’s deprivations were voluntary whereas some of ours may not be. But we should remember that in both instances they will have been governed by the Providence of God. And what if some of the anticipated fears or concerns should not be realized? Will we live smugly, complacently, and selfishly? Or will we accept by faith that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b)?

            When we can recognize and rest in God-imposed losses, we have attained some level of maturity. When we voluntarily choose to give up that which the Lord has abundantly bestowed on us, we have matured even more. Unlike Abram, God may not come to us with a direct promise, but we have these assurances from His Word. Having requested aid from the church at Philippi, Paul explained: “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account” (Phil. 4:17). Additionally, the writer of Hebrews says, “do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (13:16). Whether this year holds abundance or deprivation is in God’s hands. But how we respond to forfeitures imposed on us and how much we give voluntarily of ourselves and our substance is up to us. Will this year find us fearfully clutching our stuff or trusting God and dealing bountifully, knowing that we must be stripped of our rags before we can be clothed in His robes?

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