The Christian life is about coming into conformity with Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29; 12:2). A Christian must settle “in Christ.” The geological term for settling in is “compaction.” This is where sediment rests in one place and takes on the form of the permanent landscape. A Christian is malleable, but Christ never changes (Heb 13:8). The mold is set, and the Christian is slowly poured into the shape of holiness.
This sounds simple enough. It appears easy enough from the description, so why does it feel so painful in the personal experience of the Christian? Sediment in a river feels the thrill of a powerful current of water. When the river chooses to deposit the sediment, whether it is at some rocky impasse or around a sharp bend, the sediment is forced to settle down into its ordained spot for a time.
Saints, at conversion, feel the rush of providence. At first, they are unaware they have been dislodged from the place of sin, and equally unaware they are being taken by the Spirit to the place of compaction. The rush of the spiritual life is exhilarating. As if God were playing chess with her life, the Christian feels the good hand of God upon her, moving her from time to time. Then, like a log in a river caught on a dam, the experience for the compacted Christian feels almost like mini-damnation. She is stuck in one place. She wriggles and writhes for a time, but this proves exhausting and fruitless. She waits, day after day, wondering if anyone or anything will ever dislodge her from her place of compaction.
Providence seems to smile on compaction. This is the place of concentrated sanctification for the clay pot in the kiln of the King of kings. He is the Potter (Jer 18). The Spirit holds the believer in place, and the Refiner’s fire purifies the saint to make her holy (Mal 3:2). This is the will of God for His people (1 Thess 4:3).
Moses needed Egypt purged from his heart, his mind, and his life. Midian was just the place for him. Sure, Israel was enslaved to Egypt, but they were comfortable in the status quo. God is not happy with our status quo in this world, but like the glass blower, who puts his work into the blow torch and then removes it, so God moves His children in and out of the fire until they are sanctified entirely (1 Thess 5:23). He is shaping you into the person He wants you to be. Note: blow torches are very hot.
Our Father disciplines His children, whom He loves (Heb 12:4–17). Every son is scourged (Heb 12:6). Consider the course of our Lord Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father. He did not faint under dark providence. He always did what was pleasing to His Father. Our Father disciplines His children for their good (Heb 12:10). God wants us to share in His holiness, for without holiness, we cannot see the Lord. Once the discipline is over, there is peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11).
Christians must pursue sanctification, and we do so by yielding ourselves to His sanctifying Spirit. We must want our blessed inheritance more than the immoral and godless Esau wanted his inheritance. The Israelites waited for the Promised Land in the wilderness. This was a place of compaction. God was with them, but they needed to learn. You may wish to examine yourself in this matter. Do you want to be holy, even as He is holy? You must understand, your course of discipleship is very costly. You will lose much before you gain much more from your experience. The first thing to lose is sin.
What liberates the Christian from sin is God’s justification. This is a onetime event, where the meritorious work of Christ is credited to the account of the sinner. She is not guilty of all her sins at that moment and forever more. It is eternal immunity for the new ambassador for Christ. As the Christian submits herself as a slave of righteousness to Christ, the result is sanctification (Rom 6:19). Both righteousness and sanctification are Christ’s doing (1 Cor 1:30). We are called to sanctification (1 Thess 4:7), and Jesus prayed for us to be sanctified (Jn 17:17).
Compaction is what holds us while God does His work. The lathe holds the spindle. The vise holds the object to be cut, drilled, or sanded by the carpenter. Job could not go anywhere. Every moment of suffering was a lifetime of pain, but he was compacted by his circumstances. The boils on the bottom of his feet prevented travel. He could not run away from providence. David asked, “Where can I go from Your presence?” You, too, must learn this lesson. You cannot run away from compaction.
Every sand crystal at the bottom of a river is where it is supposed to be. The status of every blade of grass is known to Him. God’s providence is meticulous. We would be more concise with our garrulous speech if we understood His precise judgment for every idle word. Sovereignty frowns on unbelief. One’s complaining and sarcasm exposes his discontent. You are not going anywhere, and you may as well stop murmuring.
Compaction offers a type of rest after the fight. Elijah rested at Mt Horeb after his fight on Mt. Carmel. He had fought the priests of Baal, but now he was alone to fight his demons. The prudent judge of Israel gave rest to the nation, but apostasy was soon stirring up strife, again. Jesus sat down at his enthronement in heaven, but He is coming again. Solomon could add, “There is a time to flow and a time to compact (Eccl 3).” They seem to cycle. The wrath of God is withheld, and then it is unleashed. Winter is the season of compaction. Night is when the family settles in, before springing forth in the morning dispersion. Old age is a type of settling before the soul is released from the body. You would be wise to learn this rhythm.
Life intensifies in the place and season of compaction. Jonah prayed more fervently in the belly of the big fish. Naomi was Mara in Moab (Ruth 1:20). Surely, Jeremiah’s lament was more grievous, when he was stuck in the mud of the damp cistern (Jer 38). The suspense between Good Friday and Easter was shared by heaven and earth because of compaction. The rich man’s tomb would reveal whether the promises of Christ were true or not. The pressure cooker has you in lockdown, but you will be more tender coming out.
Trial and testing are found in the circumstances of compaction. Daniel met some lions. His friends were invited to dance with flames of fire in the king’s furnace. The Baptist needed confirmation from Jesus, while in Herod’s hold. David got an elongated tour of the Holy Land, with free cave stays each night for years. Instead of cursing Yahweh in anger and unbelief, He wrote psalms to vent his emotions. Compaction makes the walls of confinement seem to close in. The cornered animal prepares for the fight of its life. You know more of what you are made in each season of compaction. Learn your lessons.
There is growth in the place of compaction. The Israelites were incubated into a strong nation while enslaved in Egypt. Jacob was stuck in Laban’s employ, but his flocks grew immensely. So did his love for Rachel. David accumulated mighty men. The tree grows in the same spot year after year. Be still, in your season and place of compaction, and know He is God. His plans are to prosper you. Never, never, never forget this truth, while you suffer the purge of discontent.
Some of the best work of the faithful is done in compaction. Luther was imprisoned in Wartburg Castle for his own protection and gave himself to give the German people a Bible in their own language. Paul wrote some of his best letters in a Roman jail. Athanasius was exiled five times to the desert, and where were his best thoughts on the Trinity produced? John gave us the Revelation from his exile at Patmos. You must pray for God to give you wisdom for your occupation. There is something He may have you do through your illness or injury or unemployment.
Compaction is like a nutcracker that squeezes the shell to release the meat. It is the life of a grape under the winepress. It is the spice under the pestle. It is the wine in the bottle with a good cork that benefits from being forgotten in a dark cellar for years. How much rejoicing is there when it is found by grandchildren? Joseph waited in Pharaoh’s jail until the appointed time. He, like David, was then ready to rule a nation.
The release from compaction is potent. The champagne cork tells the tale in one movement. The Jews are still celebrating the Passover. Naaman was no longer a leper. He went back to Syria a happy man. David threw off his sackcloth, and he washed off the ashes of his repentance at the death of his baby son. It was time to live again. Paul and Silas were unchained by an earthquake. They were emboldened to stay imprisoned for the sake of justice. It was the four lepers who enjoyed the firstfruits of unexpected booty, at the surprise end of the siege by the Arameans. We muse the glory of Christ’s resurrection, but how exuberant will we be at our own?
The results of compaction prove the wisdom of the One who subjected us to it. It was fortunate for Lot to have booked travel on the night he did. Jacob’s family was fed by their exalted brother at the end of their famine compaction in Canaan. When the Israelite’s were released from wandering in the wilderness, they got the Promised Land. Nineveh believed the preaching of the released prophet, and the people were saved from God’s wrath. When David was released, Israel got a better king.
When Christ was released from the tomb, His disciples got a glimpse of a glorified body. We, too, will be released from our compaction in this present evil age, resulting in eternal glory. You will benefit from your current compaction, and the one to follow further downstream. Remember, sovereign providence is always in fine stead, despite your world falling apart on occasion. Just settle in.
Compaction is from God. It is ordered for His children. It is His prison of discipline and grace. Compaction is something we see in nature. It is something we see in everyday life. Christians are compacted in many different ways. The evidence of release and the beneficial results following compaction, show us the wisdom in it. You are Christ’s slave, a soldier in His service. These are your war stories. They are painful to go through, but your grandchildren will marvel at your tales from your gulag. Your oppressors: time; space; circumstances; and people may be your adversity, but God will make them your university.
In conclusion, you must survey the history of God’s dealing with you. You will benefit by recounting the difficult seasons of stalled out cars, stunted career paths, or flat broke bankruptcy. If you look closely, you will remember your imprisonment, your suffering, your release, and the glorious results from what constrained you. Upon wise reflection, you will realize it was love that constrained you. This is the Christian life. Compaction…live it!
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 9, 2021