How Well Do We Suffer?

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?'”

John Newton, Exodus 3:2

It seems that pain is the best teacher. I suppose as we navigate through life we find the ‘capacity’ of our hearts expanding. We learn the hard way to come under God’s direction, and we finally learn to love others. Maybe this is how God changes us? After all, isn’t the crushed grape that yields the wine?

C.S. Lewis once made the comment, (and it’s worth thinking about,) that “experience is the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” We face many obstacles, run into quite a few dead ends, and along the way we learn that when we really hurt, we really start to learn some things.

I look over my life and it seems chock full of challenge. I’ve lost the use of my right arm, I have struggled with depression. I had a brain tumor removed, and must walk with a cane. I struggle with intense fatigue. (I no longer can pastor a church or teach in a Bible college.)

My wife and I have lost a child. I have prayed earnestly for a complete healing and had others pray for me. It’s funny, but all of this has happened after I became a Christian disciple! I often ask myself why?

What did I do to deserve all of this?

Paul and Barnabas came into an interesting place (we can read about it in Acts 14.)

“They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” 

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Some of our Bible teachers we listen to minimize suffering, and we adopt a lot of our own theology to factor out pain and difficulty. But is this what the Bible teaches? If we read Hebrews 11, we find that life could be pretty grim for those with faith in God.

“Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”

Why does it have to be so hard for believers in Jesus?

Common sense suggests that things should get easier for those who believe. We somehow think that God rewards faith with instant glory. I painfully discover that my discipleship, my faith, doesn’t mean some wonderful existence on this planet. It seems that pain becomes the way we grow up and mature in Him. I honestly believe, after over 40 years of following Jesus, that suffering is part of God’s plan for me.

It has never been easy. I wish it was.

No matter what you are going through, remember that God always loves you. He has chosen us to navigate us through much difficulty. We must however, convert these painful things by our faith in Him. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I Came to Love You Late [Regrets]

regret

Regrets are a funny thing.

You really start to gather them when you’re middle-aged. I’m 62 now and am surprised (and somewhat disturbed) by my memories of things gone by. I guess this is one of the job hazards of getting old. But that’s the deal.

I guess what really bothers me the most are all the missed opportunities.

I wonder what life could have been like if I had accepted Christ at a younger age. A lot of pain would’ve been averted and perhaps I might have loved Jesus deeper than I do now. Some of us come to love Jesus late in life. There is so much time frittered away.

I regret the years spent in rebellion and disobedience. I remember the words of a 70-year-old man who had just received Christ, “Why did I wait so long for this to happen?”

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,”

Philippians 3:13

Paul learned to adjust his vision to his calling. He no longer lets his past sin and regret define him, choosing rather forget the past and press into the future. He did understand his sin and guilt. He also knew that his sin was atoned for by Jesus’ blood. 

The solution to our regret is to focus on God’s total forgiveness. Past, Present, Future.

Paul clearly saw what lay ahead of him. Heaven was his destination, and, it’s our calling as well; it’s where we truly belong, made righteous in the loving presence of Jesus.

Peter tells us that our past sin was enough. We have wasted enough time doing evil. I don’t know about you, but I had a bellyful of sin, and it’s time for me to lay aside all my foolishness and rebellion and instead live for God. Enough is enough.

You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.”

1 Peter 4:3

Thinking about my past keeps me humble and broken (which is no small thing)! But it also cements me into the joy of His marvelous amazing grace. I now know Jesus’ love.

Oh the joy I have of being forgiven!

David, that great sinner-king, understood the joy of forgiveness. He wanted us to believe in it as well:

Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!

Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

Psalm 32:1-2

“We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear-and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.”

     C.S. Lewis

 

Do You Have an Anchor?

“Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.”

Paul’s voyage, Acts 27:29

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

Hebrews 6:19

An anchor is used when a boat needs to connect to the sea floor. It’s typically used to moor the ship or used in a bad storm.

“A boat anchor helps keep a boat attached to one place on the ocean floor so that it does not go adrift in the sea. Likewise, a “spiritual anchor” is something that helps keep us grounded, connected to what matters most, and able to cope with the challenges that life brings.”

Hopefulness is necessary for walking through the present circumstances we must face.

It also is for our future. To live without hope can be spiritually destructive. If there is no hope for us our hearts will break into pieces.

Hopelessness comes from living without an anchor. You must have an anchor as a believer. You must.

Despair will destroy you.

 A Christian may for many days together see neither sun nor star, neither light in God’s countenance, nor light in his own heart, though even at that time God darts some beams through those clouds upon the soul; the soul again by a spirit of faith sees some light through those thickest clouds, enough to keep it from utter despair, though not to settle it in peace. In this dark condition, if they do as Paul and his company did, cast an anchor even in the dark night of temptation, and pray still for day, God will appear, and all shall clear up, we shall see light without and light within; the day-star will arise in their hearts.

     Richard Sibbes

A Very English Pigeon

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

Psalm 32:8

In April 2002, I was sitting in a cavernous waiting room at King’s Cross in London, England.  I was waiting for a bus to Cambridge, UK.  I sat all alone and stared at the tiled floor at my feet.  The doctors had warned me not to travel alone, but I ignored their advice.

And now I was starting to unravel.

Depression had followed me all the way from Alaska to England. I had pushed my limits and was completely drained and becoming confused.  I began to cry out to the Lord, very desperately. Sometimes madly. (Read Psalm 88.)

As I sat there staring intensely at the floor, several pigeons seemed to put on a show, just for me. They were fat little guys, apparently scratching out a good living. Several very large windows were open, and these pigeons seemed to have no fear as they took advantage of a meal from bored travelers.

All of a sudden, something very odd happened. 

A pigeon came across the floor and “presented” himself, right square in front of me.  I watched him intently and saw that he was crippled, one of his feet was nothing more than a twisted claw.  He had been profoundly injured in such a way, that he would never be the same.  He was damaged, and yet somehow he survived (and he was thriving)!

It was like experiencing a lightning bolt. God’s own light switch was being flipped.

I saw that pigeon, and I saw myself, and it was a moment of clarity, a shining grace.  In the mega-hustle of 13,614,409 people in London, and in the midst of my own profound mental crisis, I knew God’s caring touch and it gave me real grace, love, and goodness–far greater than all my sin and confusion. He was just letting me know that He was very, very close. (See Psalm 34:18.)

I began to remember my damaged pigeon, completely oblivious to self-pity. I started to call out to the Father out of my confusion.  Within a few minutes, I found myself sitting on the top level of a double-decker bus, with the driver aware of my problems and who specifically guided me to the place I was staying. 

I was being cared for. Between a crippled pigeon and the dutiful ministrations of a bus driver, I’d finally found my hotel. (See Matthew 6:26.) 

I have come to realize that this trip to England was not for me to see Big Ben, Parliament, or wander the academic schools of Cambridge University.  Rather I was brought there to make contact with a certain pigeon, who was waiting to meet me and pass on vital instructions. 

The Father shared things that I need to know.  British castles and churches are beautiful and worth seeing but I must admit I’ve forgotten much.  But all I really needed was somehow given.

I will take everything Jesus wants me to have.

P.S.  Two things:

  1.  If you can avoid it, don’t travel alone.

  2. Please never call pigeons, “rats, with wings.” :-)

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