In her book A Lamp unto My Feet, Elisabeth Elliott writes in connection with the tragic loss of her husband at a relatively young age: “Repeatedly I am asked variations of this question: Did the Lord comfort you, or were you sometimes lonely or sad? It is not an either/or thing. If I had not been lonely and sad at times, how could I have needed, received, and appreciated comfort? It is the sick who need the physician, the thirsty who need water. This is why Paul not only did not deplore his weaknesses but also gloried in them, for they provided the very occasions for appropriating divine help and strength.”
Elizabeth continues: “It was in prison that Joseph knew the presence of the Lord. It was in the lion’s den that Daniel’s faith was proved. It was in the furnace that Daniel’s three friends found themselves accompanied by a fourth. We have plenty of ‘proof texts’ – but in order to experience their truths, we have to be placed in ‘proof contexts.’ The prison, the lion’s den, the furnace are the “contexts” where we are shown the realities, incontestably and forever.”
I love that thought and am greatly challenged by it. We love the great and exceeding promises of God’s Word; the hope, the comfort, and the wisdom they afford. But our love for them must not just be on paper but in life; not just in theory but in practice. Their real benefit, as Elizabeth Elliott notes, comes and is proven when we have to live them out in a cruel or crushing context. Our notebooks, minds and kitchen walls are filled with plenty of “proof texts” from the Bible, but in order to experience their reality, we have to trust, treasure, and test them in “proof contexts.” The cancer ward, battlefield, prison cell, or divorce court, not the seminary classroom, or church bible study is where we learn the true worth of our Bible and its precious promises.
In Psalm 105:16-25 we have a summary of the life and impact of Joseph as recorded in Genesis 37-50. Before Joseph’s elevation to a place of power within Egypt, a role he used to bless his father and family, Joseph spent time in prison falsely accused of sexual assault. It was a dark moment in his life; one that tested his belief in God and the fulfillment of a dream given earlier (Gen 37:5-10). In fact Psalm 105:19 tells us that the word of the Lord tested him while he was in prison. Joseph had a “proof text,” and the prison was the “proof context.” He lived that “proof context” patiently, submissively, and victoriously. The prison proved to be the back door into the palace.
C. H. Spurgeon once told of a minister who visited a dear old lady in his congregation, and while there sought to encourage her with some precious promises from Scripture. Taking her Bible and turning to one, he saw written in the margin “P” and he asked, “What does this mean?” “That means ‘precious’, sir,” she replied. Further down the page he saw “T” and “P” and he asked what those letters meant. “That,” she said, “means ‘tried and proved’, for I have tried it and proved it.”
Today, let’s prove the text of Scripture in a “proof context” for God’s glory!