Redeeming Pain

When history speaks, do we listen?

by Terry Powell

It’s one thing to say that God’s sovereignty redeems our pain or weakness for a greater purpose. It’s another thing altogether to see a vivid illustration of the truth.

David Brainerd (1718-1747) took the gospel of Christ to Indians in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, often living alone with sparse food rations and exposure to cold. Extremely melancholy in temperament, Brainerd endured long episodes of joylessness, often slinking into despair over awareness of his sin, or over an incapacity to feel more love for the people he was trying to reach. Physical frailty accompanied his psychological anguish. He died of tuberculosis before his thirtieth birthday.

A couple years after launching missionary work among the Indians, in 1845, God’s Spirit brought a spiritual awakening in New Jersey. Within a year, the church Brainerd started numbered 130.

Brainerd kept diaries in which he described bouts of despondency, disclosed his consciousness of sin in light of God’s holiness, and recounted efforts to evangelize the Indians. Their pages teem with honest self-disclosure as well as desperate dependence on God for physical and emotional sustenance.

Twenty-two places in his diaries he yearned for death as an escape from his misery. Yet he persisted in proclaiming Christ, even when his own temperamental makeup eclipsed his ability to experience the joy inherent in the gospel. One entry revealed his acceptance of weakness and deeply-entrenched desire to finish well: “Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God… Oh, that I might never loiter on my heavenly journey.”

After his death, the fruit of Brainerd’s life multiplied exponentially. In 1749, Jonathan Edwards, in whose home Brainerd died, took the diaries and published them as a Life of Brainerd, a book that’s never been out of print. Renown missionaries and leaders galvanized by Brainerd’s story include John Wesley, Henry Martyn, William Carey, Robert McCheyne, David Livingstone, Andrew Murray, and Jim Elliot.

The borders of Brainerd’s impact weren’t expanded in spite of his emotional and physical afflictions, but because of them.

His story resonates with so many servants over the years because when push comes to shove, they, too, wrestle with sinful propensities, episodes of despondency, and physical frailties. They believe they are candidates for the same divine grace they observe in Brainerd’s life. John Piper, himself buoyed by Brainerd’s story, offers this apt summary statement: “Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.”

How can God use you despite physical or emotional frailty?

For biblical indicators that God uses weak, needy people, read these texts: 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9-10. Resources quoted are The Life of David Brainerd, by Jonathan Edwards, and The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction on the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, by John Piper.


Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Terry has a new blog at http://www.penetratingthedarkness.com. It deals with the believer’s depression and other mental issues. Please visit him and tell him “Hi” from me.

Saved from What? What ‘s Your Story?

“If I was to ask you tonight if you were saved? Do you say ‘Yes, I am saved’. When? ‘Oh so and so preached, I got baptized and…’ Are you saved? What are you saved from, hell? Are you saved from bitterness? Are you saved from lust? Are you saved from cheating? Are you saved from lying? Are you saved from bad manners? Are you saved from rebellion against your parents? Come on, what are you saved from?”

–Leonard Ravenhill

“And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:50

 

 

 

 

 

A Stone’s Throw Away

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“He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed”

Luke 22:41

Who knows what Jesus is thinking at this precise moment as he entered the Garden? His disciples waited for Jesus and scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them— “a stone’s throw.”

We often share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants has disciples to follow him. And they do, but not all the way. They came close, but were oblivious to the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time, needing someone close.

Many of us will make the same trip to the garden. Soon every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observers. It is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each will experience it for themselves. “The servant is not above his master.”

But Jesus is close— he completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as he escorts us through this time. He comes in grace, and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.

“God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1

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Proximity is Your Choice

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23″Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
24You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73, ESV

Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control.  One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.”  And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with Bipolar Disorder.  But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence.  There is no flickering, no jumping about.  He is steady.  He does not flit or fluctuate.  He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.

He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’.  We can experience many confusing days.  We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude.  It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts.  Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.

There is a realization in verse 25. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real.

The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places.  This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’.  He is completely over with the things of this earth.  He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.

In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness.  He understands the foolishness of his flesh.  He knows that it is pathetic  and feeble.  There is absolutely nothing he can do about this.  He has tried and tried repeatedly.  His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes.  He can hold nothing. He must stay under the faucet.

But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart.  He has done this on an eternal level.  What this means is this:  He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him.  The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.

 27″For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
   you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28But for me it is good to be near God;
   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
   that I may tell of all your works.”

Psalm 73, ESV

 Proximity determines everything.  Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum.  Being close to Him confers life.  Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death.  The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’.  This is a biggie.  Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, and nothing good will ever come from it.

“Every man is as holy as  he wants to be.”

AW Tozer

The Psalmist again deals with proximity.  God draws a person, but coming near is always your choice. The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.”  He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful.  There is some effort that must happen.  So he makes God his refuge.  The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls.  He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.

 

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Some Struggles Are Not Optional

“There are some fires you can’t get out of–you’ve got to go through the fire–you’ve got to go through the flood–you’ve got to go through the test–you’ve got to go through the struggle that you might decrease and he might increase.”

 –T.D. Jakes

 

“God never promises to remove us from our struggles. He does promise, however, to change the way we look at them.”

 –Max Lucado

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:12

 

 

 

Listen For His Voice

“The next time you find yourself alone in a dark alley facing the undeniables of life, don’t cover them with a blanket, or ignore them with a nervous grin. Don’t turn up the TV and pretend they aren’t there. Instead, stand still, whisper his name, and listen. He is nearer than you think.”

–Max Lucado

Father God, please teach me to pray when life is dark and I am all alone. Forgive me for not seeking you first. Lead me through these trials. I know you will never forsake me or leave me alone.  Amen.

 

 

 

When the Storms Rage On and On

He takes charge

 “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Deut. 31:8, NLT

You can go to the British Museum in London, England and view old nautical charts that were made in the early 1500s. Written on them are things like, “Here be fiery scorpions” and “Here be giants” or the classic, “Here be dragons.” These notations were written I suppose, to discourage any kind of exploration.

At this early point a man named, Sir John Franklin wrote on each map, “Here is God.” His sincerity was well noted– and it strengthened the sailors, and helped them to trust in a discovery that would lead to salvation for many.

35 “As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.”

Mark 4:35-37

Jesus, all of a sudden stands up. He declares we must go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. (He says, “Lake.” But this is not a lake.) It is the storm. It rips over the disciples. It confuses them, and causes fear.

There is enough waves, that the disciples (trained fisherman) begin to wonder why their world is “falling apart.” They realize they are in deep trouble, and I suppose many “crossed” themselves and prepared to die. Everything is now lost.

The certainty of death approaching can be quite sobering. It clarifies so much. If you’ve been at this “threshold,” you will understand what I am saying.

“But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

Mark 4:38-39

Where is Jesus? There He is, sleeping on a pillow. How can He sleep, when the world is going to end? They wake up Jesus, and pointedly ask Him, “Don’t you even care? We are at the very point of death!

Shaking off His slumber, Jesus stands. He looks at the vicious waves, and then announces, “Be at peace, be still.” Immediately the storm ‘shuts down.’ There is no reluctance, no hesitation. The waves become calm and subdued, instantly.

Jesus turns, He focuses on His own disciples. “Why did you doubt?”  He asks. And they can say nothing. “Where is your faith?” And they can say nothing. They are overwhelmed at the authority of Jesus.  They dare not offer anything that may confuse others who will encounter Jesus.

Confusion rules when desperation is present. But yet this is not true, confusion will enter in, when everything we see is impossible. We take a look at Jesus, and we see and discover His power and significance. Rightly so, He overwhelms us, and He takes us apart.

The disciples should have realized the strength of Jesus. He was so very tired. Yet He told His followers that He would bring to the opposite side of the lake. Being in the middle of the lake is not a factor.

Our lives should be focused on Jesus leading us through. He is in our small boat, and yet we struggle with our waves. They cripple us and completely dismantles us, the intense waves are breaking over us. But we should never determine that life will work without His presence.

We won’t always travel through calm waters. There will be definite times when we approach peace and confidence. Dangers that will visit us are not in our proximity. We are His children. We must bring our souls to rest. Amazingly, He does love us. We are His property and must believe that we belong to Him, He will bring us all the way home.

Never, ever doubt His deep love for your soul.

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