How to Handle Sufferings Part II
Ruth; Psalm 23; 31:9; 119:50; Isaiah 41:10; 43:12; 61:1; Matthew 25:35-40; Luke 24:13-53; John 14:1-7; 15:11; Romans 5:1-11; 8; James 5:13-18; 1 Peter 4:12; Revelation 21:4
We should not think it is strange when we go through a tough time. 1 Peter 4:12
Are you dealing with stress, troubles or sufferings? Or, is there perhaps someone near you who is? Is your life falling apart? So, what can be done? In James we are told to sing songs, to which you may say…What??? We are called to be praising our Lord, coming together in unity, with a willing, loving heart, even when we are in dire stress or trouble? And the answer is yes, because we will be so much better for it. How we deal with life when it gets tough is an aspect of real worship, which is never a show; rather, it is a response of our love, giving Christ our praise. As in life and in the Church, Christ is the audience. So, our real growth and spiritual formation shows Him and others authentic worship, even in sufferings, as we will be better for it. It will help us to be inspired and to be inspiring to others because we are inspired by who Christ is and what He is doing in us. It is our heart showing our love to Him. Prayer and worship share the same heart and attitude that helps us get through life, including those bad days and terrible consequences (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:12-17).
Suffering is usually defined in Scripture as meaning "in distress," and includes physical sickness, being stressed out, or having emotional and/or personal problems. To the person in this situation, hope seems to be missing and relief is all together absent, but when we go to the person, we take hope and relief! Tribulations, as Romans, chapters five and eight refer to, are the hardships we face. God does not always cause them to go away, Rather, He carries us through and uses them to teach us maturity and character. Trials build faith and character, allowing us to be better used to glorify God. Trials are not personal attacks against us, but they allow God to work in us in a profound way so we will be of better use to Him and others. So, when life hurts us, we can look and see our Lord carrying us through the people he brings us, and His Word as an extension of His arms of love.
As we look at church history, especially the lives of Christian saints throughout time, one key theme runs through it all. From the first century Christians to modern China and Sudan, that theme is suffering. Oswald Chambers wrote, "You cannot help suffering; it is a true and needful training for the soul that dares to be true to God." Suffering is an essential aspect of our Christian growth, whether it is mental, physical, financial, or spiritual. It is the main connection that enables the battery to power us to be the best Christian possible. It is the link between the Holy Spirit and God's perfect plan working in us. Without this vital connection, the power source-our Lord-would not be able to prime us for His service. We may have the ability and the power of the Spirit, but the vital link between them would be missing. A spark of truth and service may pass between them that causes us to think we are working and doing fine. But, there can be so much more! With the connection firmly in place, the power will flow the most, and our walk in Him will become our best. That is "why" we are encouraged in the Word to hold on tight and be tough to the end. In other words, perseverance knows that our future is in His Hands and in His control, so that whatever consequences we may face, we are to look to the rewards to come. Our hope and purpose is to be with Christ in everlasting eternity.
What does Suffering Mean?
In First Peter, chapter four, we find that trials are normal. We are even told to welcome them! This may seem strange; how could one welcome hardships and calamities? The theme here is not masochistic (the tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences); rather, it is to be prepared. Peter is warning his people and us that times are tough now, but they will get worse, so to watch out! The reference in this passage is to the early Christians who were suffering for His sake at the hand of Nero. Nero was using Christians as scapegoats for his actions as he went insane and burned down Rome. At this time-in 64 A.D.-Rome was laying siege to Jerusalem (which would fall in 70 A.D.), and many Christians were either being captured as slaves or killed by being burned alive so Nero could light his garden.
The world was coming against these early Christians, but worse things were ahead. However, this is not just about suffering for being a Christian. It is also about life and what to do when it tends to fall apart around us. Jesus is telling us that we are to expect bad things-not to seek them, bring them about, or rationalize our sin. Rather, we are to seek Him and His glory. It is about being proactive with our faith and doing something about our situation. We can learn and grow as we understand persecution and bad things as opportunities to get closer to one another and to God. Life is not about what we have and what we lose; it is about our connection with others and with God. We need to ask ourselves, are we prepared? What will we do when our lives fall apart? The death of a loved one, a troubled family member, a business loss, an illness, thinking that things are in our control, then finding that they are no longer in our control¾times get tough and then get tougher. Will we? God says we can (1 Pet. 4:12-14)!
Peter tells us, do not be surprised. Christ, who was God of the universe, suffered; so, why should we be surprised when we go through it too (Matt. 16:21-23; John 15:18; Col. 1:24-27; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 John 3:13)? The word used here is painful trials, and is figurative as it alludes to a furnace that melts down metal to flush out impurities. It does not mean we will melt or be put in a furnace (well, lets hope not); it means that our sufferings will show proof of our faith (Psalm 66: 9-10; Peter 1:6-7). This refers to any physical or property loss, and even more about losing earthly relationships because of Christ. The incredible comfort in this passage is that the Spirit that raised Christ also rests on us and will raise us! We can have contentment and triumph, but we have to beware that suffering can persuade us to doubt God's love and plan for us (Job 2:9; 2 Cor. 2:15-16)! So, if we are not prepared to deal with suffering, we will not go through it well. It is like preparing to have extra food and water for a natural disaster. I was amazed when I saw people I knew suffering in the New Orleans disaster. They lived below sea level, they knew the levees were old and could fail, and they were in the biggest hurricane that has come. Yet, they did nothing to prepare, and then wondered why this happened. It is the same with our faith; it must be prepared for and built. (Oh, my church did come to their rescue; it is our call to do so and not be judgmental.)
Believers throughout the years have wondered what happens when we suffer. And suffer we will. Bad times are coming. Our call is to understand, and not be surprised or lament; rather, we are to get ready and learn to grow when life falls apart. Peter once scoffed at the idea that either he or Christ would suffer. Do we do this? Do we think nothing bad will ever come our way so we do nothing to prepare (Matt. 16:21-23)? Peter's people were wondering if this was the end; He draws from his experience, the Lord's teaching, and the inspiration of the Spirit to set them right. We have these same resources at our disposal! Perhaps, when something does not go our way or if we really encounter tragedy and loss, we may question, get mad, or wallow in our self-pity, when His resources are there for our taking. Remember, the point is not if we will, but how we will handle our sufferings, and how we will react in character and faithfulness!
We have to see this important fact: Sufferings and trials purify, refine, and strengthen us. They focus us on what is important and true, and away from the trivialities of the daily and the sinful life, drawing us more deeply and powerfully to Him (Mal. 3:1-5; Heb. 12:1-13). Peter was using this theme to encourage his people (and us) that God is still in control; His Kingdom is both here and is coming! We can be faithful in Him. All that happens to us, when we are obedient, is the will of God! We need to take the warning from His love, that we will be held accountable, and so much more will those who are against Him and us. This also points to the judgment of the Church, where the fakes and the ungodly are held accountable and condemned while the righteous ones are exalted (Jer. 25:18-25; Ezek. 7:7-12; 9:6; Amos 3:2; 1 Pet. 4:6). Suffering can also be used as discipline! Thus, always seek the reason for suffering. Did you cause it? A real Christian whose faith is in Christ has no need to fear judgment; rather, he or she should look forward to it and to the reward (Phil. 1). The prideful and unbelievers on the other hand….
Now, Peter tells them to rejoice in all things, including suffering, to see Christ at work, accept help from others, and rise to our feet, if we can, strong in our faith because we have His divine grace and love! We have His comfort; but, at the same time, we are responsible for moving ahead with our faith (Eph. 6:16; Phil. 2:12-13; James 1:2; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). This is an opportunity for us to show our good attitude and motivation (Matt. 24:30; Luke 17:30).
We Indeed Have Hope!
Hope is our look forward to be in Christ forever. Hope realizes that He is there no matter what, and whatever we face or go through, He carries us. Hope gives us confidence and perseverance that produces joy. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, "…the substance of things hoped for." Hope is our future in Christ in glory, in Heaven, and it is our faith for now. Christ is the substance and the fuel to get through! The other side of this is when we focus on our circumstances, we will see little to no hope. We can only attain it by being in Christ, with our eyes focused upon Him. Christ is to be our anchor, our expectation, anticipation, and conviction (Luke 12:15-21; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 1 Cor. 4:8-13; 2 Cor. 4:7-18; 5:6-8; Rom. 15:13; Phil. 1:21-24; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; Heb. 6:18-19). Hope calls us to patience and confidence for perseverance as well as His service in any adversity so we can indeed endure suffering, and continue in His call (Rom. 5:1-5; 8: 18; 25). Christ, as our Hope, must be the focus for us as well as for others; it must never be phony or depressed (1 John 3:3; 4:18)! Hope is the essential tool in the arsenal of faith; it is the result and the effect of obedience and trust in our Lord (Heb. 6:18.) If you have no hope, then you have no vision, no purpose, and no trust in the One who loves you. Then, when life "hits the fan," you have no recourse other than to be angry and bitter, thus suffering even more.
In biblical, Christian theology, we are given a worldview and perspective of life and suffering that does not fit with that of society, or with our own feelings or desires. We are given a purpose that has hope, and it will transcend our suffering. Hope, along with our trust in Christ will give us the big picture; and, it is not on earthly goods and situations, but in relationships, and ultimately in Christ. This hope we have in Christ does not make sense to a worldly person. It does not mesh with their self-perception or the aptitude of "my way" because they see themselves as good and not deserving of suffering. Yet, in God eyes, no one is good and no one deserves good. We do not like such statements. They cause us to be angry-perhaps even at God. Yet, our anger is misplaced, as God is perfect and just in His judgment. He is holy, sovereign, and pure. We, by our own free will and choice, sinned against Him, beginning with Adam and Eve, and continuing with all peoples since then. Sin is absolutely heinous in God's sight. So, Christ paid the ultimate price for our sin so that we might enter His presence with our sins covered, and have a place securely reserved for us in eternity. That is what atonement means, and it is our ultimate hope. We are under the veneer of His redemption. Even though we are corrupted and full of sin, we are still called to have hope in Him to help us grow and to seek His Will, as He becomes as He already is, our great Comfort as well as our Hope.
Hope does not cover our sin; it sees it and shows us the way to deal with it. Whatever you may have been taught or have experienced, felt, or thought, the fact is that our sin is still there. But, He, Jesus Christ, is caring and covers it, something we could never do. So, we need to understand that our ideas of, we do not deserve this, are not rooted in biblical precepts, but rather in our own minds. A mind that is in pain seeks the "why," when we need to be seeking His reassurance and nurture. Because we tend to be only focused on the "why," we may miss the fact that God does care and that He does have a wonderful plan for our lives. We may not feel like this is so, but our faith is not in feelings; it is in facts. He may not give us what we want. However, He does give what is best.
Hope helps us to see that we are called to persevere, that is, to keep our focus upon Christ as Lord, and to continue in Him with purpose despite the obstacles we face. This means we can, with His help, continue in a state of grace to the end for our eternal reward. We can keep on track, knowing He will take care of us because we belong to Him. Whatever we face and go through, our Lord is there and we are in His arms. When we realize this fact, we can persevere through anything because our Lord, King, and Creator of the universe is there carrying us through.
God's Perfect Purpose
John, chapter nine, records a personal tragedy, a seemingly valid reason to ask "why." A person was born blind at birth. How could there be anything more senseless? The Disciples quickly picked up that this could be sin, the original sin that penetrates and corrupts everything in the universe (Rom. 5:12-21). After all, it is classic Jewish thinking to jump to that conclusion, or be fatalistic, as were the friends of Job. There are situations where sin does infect the innocent. A child with cancer is a prime example. The cells of our body are not perfect, neither is our environment; so, when the two converge, devastation can result. But, in the case of the blind man, sin was not the issue; he was blinded so that God could be glorified. Again, people may cry, "foul." "Why" would God do such a dreadful thing, especially to a newborn baby? But, He did not do a dreadful thing. The miracle of Christ willing to work in us and to give us anything, including a limited life, is pure Grace, and not senseless. So, when bad things happen, we are not to see the dilemma, but rather what we have left to work with and what we have in front of us to go on, and learn to count it as joy.
God's perfect purpose is to ordain us to flow in His perfect Will. Yet, we do not live in a perfect world. So, He has to work in us¾through the sin and corruption of the world, and through our bad choices. This is what Romans, chapter eight, is about. In this, we are to see Him loving us and working in us, regardless of the situation. This is what generates the hope and joy. Our ultimate joy is who we are in Him, not our circumstances, not our experiences, not our knowledge or education, and definitely not our feelings. Our joy comes from the fact of our free gift of Grace that we did not deserve. Our joy in Christ must supersede all else. It must be the centerpiece in our lives.
We need not fixate on our suffering or that of others. We also need to see the joys in life. Life is harsh and hard, and it is sometimes difficult to see the good things, the blessings we do have. A man without an arm may forget he still has another arm and two legs. This is not to minimize the hardships, but to help us see that there is so much we miss when we are only seeing what is wrong or the problems we face. When we just fixate on the negative, we will become callused, over burdened, and trapped in a self-created world of fatalism. See why we feel defeated and without purpose? When we see ourselves walking on this path of fatalism, we must stop and pray, go to a park and watch children play, or remember the good we have seen and experienced. Even the most hardened, stressed life will have its joys. Even Ann Frank wrote about joys while in self-imprisonment, hiding from the Nazis. I have talked to Pastors in the Sudan who exist in the harshest life imaginable; they still celebrate and seek joy in their lives and that of others; it is what keeps their faith tangible and directed on His path.
The path to following God's Will and seeing that joy is not always an easy path; it is a path filled with potholes and highwaymen. Yet, the modern church considers suffering as negative, because it does not line up with what many see as happiness, peace, or joy. Some even teach that suffering is a sign that one is out of God's Will and has unredeemed sin. However, this is not biblical. It is a difficult journey, but take heart; our sufferings are very temporary in the scheme of our eternal existence.
God's purpose and plan is to make us His children (1 John). He is the good parent who guides and protects His children; at the same time, He does not over protect them so they lose out on opportunities to please Him, to the ultimate good. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to be our advocate before the Father and to make everything that happens work to the glory and purpose of God, no matter what we face in pain, suffering, and hardships. The big picture is that we are meant for eternity, not for this world. Here, we are temporarily looking to the hope we have now and to come. Christ will see us through if we trust, obey, and follow His way. When we understand this in a deep way, we are able to trust in our Lord through all things. We can grow through our perseverance, becoming stronger and more mature in the faith! Just think how your life would be transformed just by changing your perceptions from what you see in front of you to seeing Christ in front of you!
Christ Walks With Us in Our Times of Waiting and Confusion
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10
Yes, Christ carries us (Psalm 23; 31:9; 119:50; Isaiah 41:10; 43:12; 61:1; Matthew 25:35-40; Luke 24:35; John 14:1-7; 15:11; Romans 5:1-11; 8; Ephesians 1:1-10; James 5:13-19; Revelation 21:4)! We do not see Jesus actually carrying someone; rather, we see His example and His call; we see who He is, what he does, and how we are to react. The Gospel is our induction into the domain of the Spirit filled and led life (Rom. 5:1‑8:39) The Gospel is the empowerment to us for the continual functioning of divine power, because it is the means by which all who place their faith in Jesus Christ are transferred from the realm of sin and death into the realm of the Spirit and life! The great, fundamental aspect of life is that we have been saved and redeemed, and we received it when we realized we needed it!
Our great suffering has been prevented as we who are justified by faith now have peace with God. Thus, we are to rejoice in our hope (of what He did for us and of Heaven to come), and rejoice and glory in the midst of troubles. The abundant love of God was shown to us when He reconciled us to Himself by the death of his Son while we were still unworthy sinners and His "enemies." And, to top it off, God assures us of our salvation and motivates us to rejoice and glory in Him no matter what happens or what we go through, because He has gone through more. The book of Romans answers the common objection that sin is not fair. Sin entered into the world by one man, Adam, and affected all people; but, the grace of God, which justified us, came into the world by One man/God. Adam, along with all of us, deserved it; Christ did not. Yes, it certainly is unfair¾but to God, not to us! The law proved the circumstance that we deserve sin unto death; but the superior, abounding love of grace is ours, as "reigning through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1‑11)
Here, in Romans chapter five, we see the God who carries us. This is the image of our loving and gracious God who transcends the boundaries of our sin to give us His grace. Yes, this grace saves us; but, it does so much more. It gives us the joy by which we can endure the harshness of life. God gives us the hope to persevere and make our life purposeful and meaningful. He does this with His Spirit and His love! He gives us access to Himself. It is God's abiding love that keeps us attached in grace and purposed for His glory. Alone, we would quickly fall away into sin and forget who we are in Christ, just as the Israelites did throughout the Old Testament, especially in Judges, chapter two. The Holy Spirit is the glue Who keeps us stuck together. He takes us, who were His enemies by our sin, and reconciles us so we are no longer enemies, but rather, His friends (John 14-15).
A Brief Look at What We Have in Christ¾Romans 5
· First we have justification. This means that not only has God forgiven and accepted us, He has covered us with the righteousness of Christ. Christ no longer holds our sin against us. Therefore, we are pleasing to God. The implications of justification are our true riches, our access to God through the Holy Spirit by what Christ has done. The barrier we had with God, the focus of His wrath that had separated us from Him, has been removed. What Christ did has led to our repentance, which is the response and realization of our salvation that points us to the lasting source of blessings. He brings us hope, true joy, and contentment. He is our confidence; through Him we have, not self-esteem, but "Christ-esteem! "
· Then, we are given riches! Our riches are about how wonderful it is to be a Christian, and what we have in love, hope, joy, and grace. We have access to God anytime. If it were based on our works, it would be limited, even null, depending on what we did.
· Then, we have peace. This means we have been reconciled and are no longer His enemies as we were while still in sin. We have assurance and hope; our sin and guilt have been covered and removed from His sight. However, we must accept and receive it by faith. This understanding helps give us our hope, joy, and contentment, even in suffering!
· The big deal is that we are right with God because of Christ, not because of our faith and obedience. However, faith and obedience are the fruit and proof. Thus, salvation is not logic or knowledge; it is what we have here on this earth to obtain and grow in (2 Cor. 5:17-19). This does not just give us optimism; it is not just wishful thinking. We have the fact of the tangible love of God.
· Our identity is who we are in Christ, and nothing else. Once we fully realize that the love of Christ has been poured out on us, we can identify ourselves in Him. We will be able to identify Christ's interest in others, and put our own interests aside (John 15:3; Rom. 9:3; 1 Cor. 9:22). Then, because we have Christ, we will not be frustrated or filled with worry when life falls apart (1 John 4:17-19).
· Because we are in Christ, our lives must not be guided by our desires or our needs. When we think "we are all that" (holy), we are of no use to Him. All it does is isolate us into a sub-culture; God calls us to be salt and light. Our goal is not to serve, but to be His children; that devotion will lead us to serve. Serving will lead us to not just survive sufferings, but to succeed. And the key to this, as you should know, is to keep our eyes and our mind upon Him!
· We will realize more fully that trials work to our favor (Rom. 8:28), not against us. They actually promote our spiritual growth! Our justification is not an escape from bad things happening. It is a starting point to develop faith that builds maturity, character, patience, and dependence on God's grace, as Abraham did by faith; we are accountable for our choices all because we have GRACE! Grace was not an after-thought, but a part of God's plan all along. God has always dealt with people, from Adam to the Patriarchs, prophets, and all, with grace. The Old Testament helps us understand the conflict and limit of the law. We are all in Adam; we had no control over our first birth, but we had to learn (John 16:33).
· We have the Love that Christ died in our place. The love that flows from us is not from us, but from God through His Spirit (1 Cor. 13). We cannot prove love; we can only respond and obey it. All this happened in God's timing (John 17:1; Acts: 2:23; Gal. 4:4); thus, we need to trust God's timing and not our own. And, through His love, Christ will meet us in our deepest need. Love is not from our nature; it is the response when we put Jesus first and let Him work in our lives (John 15:12; 21:17; 2 Pet. 1:5-7; 3:9; 3 John 7). Thus, when God brings us people and situations we do not like, we can use them for His glory and even learn and practice the true love He gave us. Love is also disciplined, constant, and spontaneous.
· Our relationship with God is through Christ. Christ's redemption is that He took away our sins and preserved us in faith for God's glory. Therefore, our idea of justice and what we may want cannot be factors to an all knowing and all-powerful God.
The key to the realization of our justification that will lead to the revitalization of our daily lives is we must place our focus on the cause¾Christ and what He has done¾and not the effects of what we face and deal with. Then, we can better see Him caring and carrying us through. The real effect of His work in us will create growth and maturity from a natural desire. Our duty is to take care of the chicken (what we do in life, how we are, what we learn) and not just the eggs (the consequences of people coming against us in a fallen world), for the eggs will come anyway when we care for the chicken, but they will not be as rotten as they could be.
We have to see the magnificent aspect of what Christ has done for us. We need to see the joy (James 1:2-4) and the hope (Heb. 6:18-19) we are given. This is foundational to life and liberty. Without hope, we cannot persevere in life effectively, because we would give up and become captivated by correction or oppressed into drudgery. This hope gives us the road upon which to drive our maturity and spiritual growth. As we go through life, we learn; and, when we learn, we grow; when we grow, we develop character, honing and improving our worship of Christ. This builds our personality and lets us be better used in the lives of others. Our character and what He is doing in our lives are our true treasures. And, this richness is much more tangible and impressive than what the world offers. To take this hope to new levels and apply it with passion and conviction, we have to see who we are in Him. We must be careful that our faith is developed from God's nature and not ours! This hope will not only fuel our liberty, but also our worship as we praise God for what He has done. Do you realize what He has done in you?
Sowing the Right Seeds
Being a farmer in James' day was a harsh, life-and-death occupation, where one was dependant on and at the mercy of the rain and ground. There were no modern irrigation methods, fertilizers, or pesticides, just hard work and waiting. It is a perfect image of what it means to grow in Christ at times, for sometimes, all we can do is wait. We desire retribution and vengeance; He desires for us to wait expectantly, seeking Him with confidence. But, we do have irrigation, fertilizer, water, and pesticides through Him and that includes His Word, prayer, fellowship, and His Spirit! If we do not learn and practice patience, we will quickly become impatient, bitter, and give in to self-pity. While we wait, we are not in a hopeless, meaningless holding pattern, for we are learning and growing in Him! While we wait, God is working; He is in control! He is compassionate and will intervene, heal, restore, and bless in the fullness of His timing (Gen. 50:20; Psalm 37:7; 130:5; Isa. 49:23; Jer. 29:11; Lam. 3:26; Micah 7:7; Hab. 2:3; Matt. 5:10-12; Rom. 8:28-39; 13:1; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 1:6; James 1:2-18).
This comes down to what we do with the junk and hurt that life throws at us. Do we sow the right seeds-the seeds of faith and devotion to our Lord, with absolute trust and obedience in Him? If not, "why" not? Because, if our purpose in life is not lined up to His, we will only have broken circumstances and directionless pursuits that lead to emptiness and despair! We will become imprisoned and helpless from the hurts we undertake; they will have no outlet or purpose other than to fuel our resentment and distress. When we do sow the right seed, we are prepared to weather the storms of life, because our roots are deep in our Lord Jesus Christ; our identity is in Him, and our hope looks to Him. The storm-tossed seas will press us but not break us; our anchor in Him will keep us steady. The mooring ropes that tie us to His anchor are in our hands. He gives us the boat, the rope, and the anchor; we still have to tie them to one another, which we do as we grow in Him.
We have to see the magnificent aspect of what Christ has done for us. We need to see the joy (James 1:2-4) and the hope (Heb. 6:18-19) we are given. This is foundational to life and liberty. Without hope, we cannot effectively persevere in life because we would give up and become captivated by correction or oppressed into drudgery. This hope provides us the road upon which to drive our maturity and spiritual growth. As we go through life, we learn; when we learn, we grow; when we grow, we develop character as we hone and improve our worship of Christ. This builds our personality and lets us be used better in the lives of others. Our character and what He is doing in our lives are our true treasures. This richness is so much more tangible and impressive than what the world offers. To take this hope to new levels and apply it with passion and conviction, we have to see who we are in Him. We must be careful that our faith is developed from God's nature and not ours! This hope will not just fuel our liberty but also our worship because we praise God for what He has done. Do you realize what He has done in you?
The confidence we have in Christ of who He is, and what He can do brings an attitude that directly affects how we respond to any given situation. When we have confidence in our Lord, we can venture beyond our limits, abilities, and comfort zones to engage in life for His glory.
Sufferings Get our Lives back on God's Path
Continued from our last monthly article, the sixth theme, which is what this article is about, is condensed in this point: Sufferings can be used to get our lives back on God's path when we have messed up. Sin is extremely enticing and we can easily slip off God's path. Thus, we need to be willing to see that sometimes the sufferings we have are because of our faulty decisions. We need to repent and not allow sin to entice us. We need to become more guarded against sin because a bigger picture is in sight-Christ, His example, and our willingness and commitment to follow. When we see Him and not our personal viewpoints and desires, we will grow, mature, and be prepared for anything!
Sufferings are also a warning, a sign to get right with God. He is the Great Judge and He has the right and power to do as He wills. He will show us our sins; if we are not convicted to repentance, we will suffer. This suffering has no purpose or glory other than to punish. We cannot blame God for this punishment for we bring it on ourselves! One example might be when we use drugs or drink and drive and wonder "why" we have no car, home, or family, or we connive and sin, then suffer the natural consequences because we disregarded doing the right thing. However, God will hear our repentance and we can be assured that when we are faithful, our sufferings serve to glorify Christ, showing Him and His majesty to others. We will be powerfully and effectively used in ways that will echo into eternity. Our time here on earth is short; our time with Him is eternal.
The Spirit will give us the warning; we have to be willing to listen. When we do fail, God, through His Spirit and Word, will give us grace and will still instruct us; it is up to us to listen! He prepares the path. We must walk on that path by faith and not allow ourselves to be distracted. We will then be able to reject our wrong desires and, instead, do what is right. And, we can see and use His correction to hone us. When we look to Him and His Word, He will help us learn from our mistakes and grow in our faith and obedience.
Suffering has a way of getting our attention, and usually our '"why"?' and "how come?" become the all-consuming focus for us, and, of course, a serious, if not devastating, assault to our faith may result. Those assaults of suffering will either build up or destroy our faith in and commitment to Christ. To a non-Christian, this is very tragic indeed. We will gain nothing from an experience unless we have a strong foundation of faith and obedience and an understanding of the love of our Lord and that we are still His beloved. It will be meaningless and senseless. Yet, God has chosen to make suffering a part of His plan, a plan to help us grow, to discover, to see what life is really about, and to see what is important versus what is trivial. In fact, I have never seen a study on this, but those who have never been through the hard stuff in life tend to be very shallow and incapable of compassion or deep connections with others; in effect, they are unable to do effective ministry or even get the most out of life.
God warns us not to come into suffering by our own misdeeds! Watch your conduct because when we suffer, we glorify Christ. However, there is no glory in evil acts, causing suffering in any way, or pride, thinking it will draw God's favor. The only charge a Christian should face is being a Christian! If we refuse to heed His call to get our lives right, we may continue in our sufferings. These are the natural results of our poor choices, just as running into the street blind may cause us to get hit by a car. Seeking sin or being undisciplined will prevent us from listening to correction so we will give into doubt and fear or look to lust to rule our mindset and life. If we refuse correction, we will not learn from our mistakes and will therefore remain in suffering. Such sufferings are needless unless we turn to Christ. We will become the "fool" of Proverbs fame, never learning from our mistakes.
We must allow God to discipline us; this is an aspect of His love. When God corrects us, we can learn and grow instead of becoming conceited or going astray. He lets us learn from our mistakes, yet combines His grace with our determination in order to give us recovery. The call for us is to literally throw off what hinders us so we can be more firm and orderly in the faith. Our faith and the learning of His precepts will help give us understanding of what we are not to follow or do, such as seeking what harms us and/or misplaced desires, and then, the Spirit's help will keep us from doing it. It is holding onto Him and allowing His control while we learn and grow, even through hardships and sufferings. We can seek not to allow ourselves to be distracted, no matter what, so we can line ourselves up with goals from His precepts and excel onward to His glory (Prov. 10:17; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Col. 2:4-5; 1 Tim. 4:6-8; 2 Tim. 1:7; Heb. 12:1-13).
How Do We Get Help in our Sufferings?
First of all, we have to realize that Christianity is not a self-help religion or enterprise. It is not just about providing information so we can fix things in our lives and the lives of others. It is all about the fact that we cannot help ourselves, and we need a Savior to intercede for and help us through the good times and the bad. It is all about God intervening in our lives, using His Word and us as His words and arms. There are two examples of this that stand out for me in Scripture. The first is in Ruth where Ruth and Naomi have experienced terrible sufferings¾the loss of their husbands and sons. On top of this, they went through a horrible famine that caused them to leave their home and venture to a land where their opportunities were bleak. Consider that as women without husbands and family, survival was extremely limited; but, they were proactive. They did not sit and wait to die as most might have in that time. They sought the best possible opportunity that was better than they had where they were. They had to rely on each other and trust in God. This is a prime example that God is still there calling us to press on and using others to carry us as the extensions of His arm (Book of Ruth).
The second narrative that points to how Christ carries us is that of the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Here, they were distressed and confused, they had lost their Lord and Savior, and a complete breakdown in their lives, purpose, and meaning was taking place. Then, Jesus Himself walked beside them. This is a picture of how He walks with us, using His Word and the words of others (Luke 24:13-32). This is also a picture of how He provides us opportunities and situations to better ourselves, but we do not see them because we are either not looking or we are so consumed by our hurt we refuse to look or strive.
It can be a strange concept to consider that Christ carries us, a God who is beyond our grasp of thinking, beyond our ability to measure. As He is Transcendent, Who is Omnipresent, Omniscience and Omnipotence, how can a mere person with the most vivid imagination see Him in our troubles and hurt doing this? Because He does! Even though His is Sovereign, at the same time, He tells us, He is Immanuel, which means "God is with us." This describes God in the most powerful and profound language we have, who walks besides us and holds us. His name Immanuel is also His attribute and nature, for He is God and fully able to save us by replacing Himself in our place of living a sinless life and taking God's wrath upon Himself so we would not be lost forever. He is a God who carries us indeed, through the trials of life and through our jubilations too. (Isaiah 7:14; Psalm 24:7-8; Prov. 1; Matt. 1:23; John 1:1-3,14; 4:9-10; 8:56-59; 17:5; Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:9; I Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2:17-18).
Immanuel also means that Christ was birthed in History; in so doing He must also be birthed into you His Immanuel means He is touching you, discipling you so He is fully engaged in your heart and mind. Your transformation and Fruit is the evidence of Him carrying you, for Him to carry you He must be evident in you!
The key to dealing with this theme of suffering is the act of committing our lives into God's hands and care (Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:46). Entrust yourselves to Christ! Allow others to come along side you to help you too. Be practical, upbeat, "take care of business," and do not wallow in your pain and situation. Faith requires our faithfulness to continue in, to pursue, and to build on what God has given. Even when we face extreme suffering, God is still with us, empowering us. We can remain faithful and grow from our experiences. We must not become disillusioned, fearful, or turn away from Him! Faithfulness will be rewarded beyond our grasp to envision it (Micah 6:8)!
Do you see His hand upon you? Do you recognize the opportunities he gives you to enable you to get out of your sufferings? You many not recover from a paralysis, but the recovery of your attitude and the hope you show pointing to Christ is so much more real and vibrant to others. Even in the mist of dire circumstances (as with Paul in 2 Cor 11: 23-29), we can have hope beyond hope. God Himself can direct our path. This life is a small wrinkle in time, a mere rehearsal to what is to come in the vastness of eternity. We are made for Heaven and our lives here are classroom experiences of learning and growing closer to God and those around us, and being our best for His glory. What we have or do not have, what we gain or what we give up is in no way a comparison to what is to come for us in eternity. Our hope is not here in this world; it is still to come! We have not yet experienced our true life; it is still to come! Thus, we should not get frustrated or lose faith. God gives hope so we can still persevere in and through all things. God has given us His Spirit as our Comforter and Guide. As long as our eyes are upon the Lord, we can have greater trust and perseverance through good times and bad! Then, we can see His loving hands upon us. We can release our pride and allow others to help us as we help others through what we have learned.
What comes after we get through our sufferings? We take what we have gained and use it to help others. Imagine how vibrant and effective your church can be when everyone does this! We are His imitators and ambassadors; we are to love as He loved us. We are to trust in His love so we can love and grow from our hurts and help others through theirs. Ruth had the intervention of Boaz, a man who trusted God (exemplified by His faithfulness), and was not afraid to put it into practice. He was the acting presence of God in Ruth's life as we are called to be in the lives of others. Yes, Christ is here in our troubles, as He showed us by ministering to the hurting Disciples on the Emmaus road.
Can you be a representative of His hand upon others? Can you see Him at work? Can you see His hand upon you so you can be the hands and feet that help others around you? The call for us in this passage in James is to engage people who are going through a tough time with love and care, be it persecutions or a curve ball thrown by life. It is not about the healing, although, whenever possible, we are to seek the best and continual medical, psychological, and/or relief attention. Our call is actually more about showing our love that comes from His love. Also, it is caring for the sick or suffering person by making sure others know they are sick so they can respond. We are called both to pray and to seek the proper needed attention (Isa. 1:6; Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34). The church and its leadership, whose call it is to train, care for, and administer His love and precepts to the rest of the congregation, are responsible. This means helping those in need! They must have the qualities of Christ working in them before they can help others. The connection is that the elders should be the primary ministers to the people of the church (Matthew 25: 35-40; Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 3:2-7; 5:15; Titus 1:5-16; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). True service is doing for others what we really do not like to do (2 Cor. 12:15).
This comes down to the realization and the practice of the power of faith that refers to trusting in God, then being faithful towards others with our intercessory duty. It does not mean a "special power" as some have proclaimed; rather, it is a call of action to demonstrate our Christian community and faith displayed in our care toward one another. Yes, God does heal and directly intervene today, but His healing and direct help are not guaranteed, normative, nor will it even help a person on a deep needed level. If a person gets a new arm and still has pride or a dark soul, or even refuse to help another, what good was it? How we respond and learn is what matters to God over all else, even an actual healing. If your body is healed and your mind and heart are not centered on Him, what good is it? It is merely temporary and of no eternal use.
The other side of this is that without looking to Him, we will engage in bitterness, we will withdraw, and our hurts will escalate and take control so all we have left will be anger, dysfunction, and stifle, making our sufferings far worse than they would have been if we just stayed in them. We could have it far, far better if we seek help and are proactive in our faith. When life falls apart, we have to see that we do have hope, hope in Christ, and we need to be in a healthy church that is a living representative of His grace. God calls His Church to respond to those in need and distress. How awful it is when we ignore one another and become selfish and uncaring. We are the arms of Christ; we are His words of comfort as His ambassadors, as His children in His family. We have to realize that we as individuals and collectively as a church have the call and incredible privilege to be the prayer warriors and the actual means of being His arms, as well as the process He uses to intervene and give comport and help (Rom. 2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 5:1-2; James 5:10-19 ).
In this world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33)
The Lord will keep you from all harm - He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:7-8
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Founder and Director of Into Thy Word Ministries, a missions and discipling ministry. He is the author of several books including Into Thy Word, A Field Guide to Healthy Relationships and Net-Work. He is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (M.Div.) and holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Practical Theology from London (Ph.D). He has garnered over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a Church Growth Consultant.