Disproportionate Suffering

“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?’

(Exodus 3:2-3)

“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”

— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”

All of us know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It seems like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge.

What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?

Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

 “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach (or counsel) at me.

He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”

It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance,

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.  

The Lord God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
    eager to learn his teaching.

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

Ask the Father to guide you. Be gentle. Be there. Hw will give you (in His time) a good word for them.

Is He Your Friend, or a Doctrine?

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”

  ~D.L. Moody

Friendship with God can be a liberating secret. It releases us from the terrible bondage of religion and ritual with all its negative connotations. Intimacy with our Lord will carry us beyond creed or doctrine to the place of true communion.

It’s not that the Law is bad, but in the intense light of God’s grace it’s a poor substitute. We value legalism, and that is precisely what we believe when we bypass the relationship. Doctrine is a good servant, but a poor master.

Grace always trumps legalism. Love surpasses rules.

We evangelicals talk big about “a personal relationship.” That is indeed crucial. But few be the believers that walk in a daily friendship with their Savior. That is truly a tragedy.

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends since I have told you everything the Father told me.”

John 15:15, NLT

Friendship with Jesus will bring true guidance. He shares secrets and wisdom with his friends. We are brought into a true knowledge of the Kingdom through the relationship of friendship with the King. We are not slaves– or drones, slavishly serving out of slavish fear.

We are now His friends.

Jesus wants to confide in us; sharing mysteries hidden by time and sin. And his kingdom is full of great perplexities! He is looking to bring us into a willingness of daily communion.

He will heal our wounds, and forgive all our sins. He is truly our savior as well as our friend.

Friendship comes with a price. It means we are now tethered to the Lord. That can get old, especially when I want to do my own thing. I will continually have to lay something down and choose to accept tether and follow Him.

But my soul now has a best friend.

Learning to Walk, Again

“I took Israel by the arm and taught them to walk. But they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.”

Hosea 11:3

Early in my walk, over 40 years ago, I concluded that I would be able to acquire all the knowledge that I could ever want.  I was on the short track, going up of course.  It was a glorious thing, it took me some time to realize I was very ignorant of so much.

The Bible communicates truth, not facts.

As I age, I start to understand that things are much more enigmatic and unfathomable than I ever dreamed they would be.  It is a step of faith to accept the truth when there are still a lot of things that are still vague.  Mike Mason wrote,

“You say you have faith to be healed, but what about the faith to be sick?”

That is a penetrating question, indeed.  “Why are some healed, and others are not?  Why do I have eternal life, and my friend does not?  Why should AIDS sweep through poor African villages when I live in a very comfortable suburb in the US?”  I have many other questions like this.

And I’m not making a whole lot of headway here.  Reasons and facts are not there. Life becomes more mysterious and inscrutable.  But there is a word we must know–it is the word “trust”.  It is a faith that assists us through the landscape of impossible questions.

As a sometimes struggling, mentally ill Christian, many (even in my own church) create more questions for me.  “Therapists, psychiatrists, and daily medications are really good, but do you really need them?” or  “Did God create in you the need for lithium and Zoloft?” and ” How can you follow Jesus when you have all of these depression issues?” And here’s a humdinger, “Where is your joy?”

But it is precisely these issues that help me be a disciple. 

I’ve been slowly learning you see.  And my weaknesses are becoming my strengths.  They lead me to exercise my feeble faith.  I trust in Jesus; my faith helps me trust. I find it interesting to note that the Book of Psalms, for the most part, was written by “a broken believer” like David– a king and (also) a rascal.

“People with their minds set on you,
    you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
    because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
    because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.”

Isaiah 26:3-4, The Message

These nebulous areas have only increased. 

Ironically my trust has only grown.  I have more questions than ever before, but my faith in him only gets stronger. I suppose I will never, ever be a gleefully upbeat, cheery person.  But I am learning “to trust and obey, there is no other way…”  He himself has taken up the chore of teaching me to walk, again. Just one thing, keep trusting.

Straining at Your Oars

“He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them.”

Mark 6:48

It’s good to know that Jesus sees our labor and effort.  He truly understands all that concerns us, and he perceives every issues that matters most to us.  Attentive and keenly aware He comes to our boat.  It’s quite common for us to think that he isn’t aware, and we may feel that He’ll pass us by without a word.  But that is not the case at all.

Jesus watches over us, all the time. 

He knows all about our battle, the fight we have with our flesh, the difficulty we have with the challenging people in our lives. I often struggle to steer my boat. Jesus knows when and why I labor like I do.  And He doesn’t condemn me.

The disciples were straining very hard to keep the boat afloat. 

Every oar was being used and every man had his seat.  They must work together.  Some were frantically bailing, and a couple gripped the tiller. Considerable effort was being expended but to no avail.  The wind pushed harder against them.  This is perplexing.  If you remember, they’re simply trying to obey the command of Jesus to cross the sea. 

Why do things have to be so difficult?

I’m intrigued by believers who expect sunshine, blue sky, and red roses because they are doing God’s will.  They don’t seem to think through the issues of conflict and challenge, weakness and humility.

“It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 14:22

Doing the will of God will often mean that there will be a headwind directly at us.
 

The seas will become impossible, and we may even be driven back.  But special comfort comes when we realize we’re being watched.  Jesus is doing constant surveillance on us, and He sees our toil on the oars. He comes to us, walking on the water.

Even in our storm, our hearts can rejoice.

“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”

Matthew 28:20

 

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