Don Goulding - Blog

Faith Muscle

IMGP7559Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold - gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away - and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

A hunched man sat outside his house gazing into the stunted pines and granite crags of China’s Yellow Mountains.

“I was a porter for fifty years,” he explained through my translator. “Every day I carried goods up sixty thousand steps to the top.”

The man before me was a knot of muscles developed from five decades of hauling loaded buckets, balanced from a pole across his shoulders. Most locals I met played mahjong tiles everyday, but this gentle soul had done something extraordinary with his life. He’d carried bricks and parcels up more than one billion stairs.

Faith is a muscle that atrophies without exercise. When there’s no resistance from trials in life, my faith in God gets weak and flabby. Hardship makes me pray and trust God until my faith increases. Trials build up faith, and faith builds up glory.

Faith is my most valuable strength. I may be a deeply religious person and have an impeccable service record, but those don’t move the heart of God like faith in his Son. My heavenly Father wants to see a well developed, highly sculpted faith in my life. He wants my time on earth to be extraordinary, not mahjong-boring, but soaring-faith glorious.

Back in the Yellow Mountains I gave my new friend the gospel message, which he eagerly received. But he gave me something of almost equal value in return. He demonstrated that living a significant life requires overcoming significant hardship. If he’d loitered among the mahjong players instead of fighting the gravity of those stairs everyday, we would’ve never been touched by his incredible story or spurred on to glorious faith.

Prayer: Master Trainer, use trials to build up my most holy faith.

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Strangler Fig

a1d4bf8925ffdae5012c3de7320f50f6I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)

We camped in Africa’s Zambezi Valley as hyenas yipped about devilish pranks, lions roared with proud grunts, and crocodiles held their deadly silence. But the creation that arrested my attention was a curious tree. Clumps of pale-green leaves looked tired amidst the canopy. Fat shoots ran down the original trunk and fanned to the soil. Two trees melded into one.

Our host explained that it was a strangler fig. It began as a common acacia but a fig tree grew around the host taking over nutrients and water until it assumed the shape of the old tree. The strangler became a verdant habitat for everything from honeybees to monkeys.

I used to be a homely acacia. I had a second-rate existence. Then the Spirit blew his seed into the axis of my branches, the hollow point of my greatest need. The gospel germinated and roots drew up truth. A new form of life grew on top of the old. I still have my unique shape, but now my days are full of abundance. 

Tufts of the original me poke out. They agree in theory the fig self is better, but they won’t volunteer for the upgrade. Each branch, every leaf must be choked then regrown. Fear must expire under the strength of trust, and hatred must die by the hand of love. It’s a slow but needed strangulation of a lesser me.

The fig me stands tall and majestic, but there’s no room for pride in the recreated fruit or the habitat to the hurting. The new life of the fig is the life of Jesus and the boast is in him.

Prayer: Jesus, take over and live strong.

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Shun Decay

gospelBut to Adam he said, “Because you obeyed your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground thanks to you …” Genesis 3:17

I squatted by a campfire with African refugees in a Côte d’Ivoirian shantytown. In the sand, I drew two parallel lines to show the gulf of sin. A stick figure depicted man on one side and a radiant cloud represented God on the other. As I added a cross over the gap, my interpreter explained the gospel.

A Liberian man in his thirties crawled from under the plastic tarp of his hovel to join our group. His living space was one meter high by one meter wide. He made no claim on Jesus that day, but hopefully a seed was planted because he must have more. I wanted him to understand the offer of salvation so his squalor might be replaced by paradise.

As we talked, children played around the ramshackle camp. I asked myself how they could be so nonchalant about their circumstances. But the little ones had no clue they were the poorest of the poor. They were too young to remember anything except fleeing war and bivouacking.

I, too, fail to grasp how cursed is my preliminary existence on earth because it’s all I’ve known. I have a hard time imagining life without brokenness. Everything is infected by the curse of Adam. Rivers writhe with microscopic terrorists, animals and humans eat one another, and my own thoughts can’t remain pure. Nothing I experience today will be whole, and still I go on laughing.

It’s okay to be at peace because Jesus has a scheduled plan for remaking heaven and earth. It’s not okay to be content with this life as it is. This is not God’s final work. That refugee man must have more, and so must I.

Prayer: Spirit of Jesus, separate my heart from the corruption of life.

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