Can Faithful Living Exempt Me From Suffering?

JohnPiperBy John Piper

Originally posted on July 23, 2002. The following is an edited transcript of the audio.

 

Can faithful living exempt me from suffering?

No. God’s grace through Christ on the cross has obtained for us a pass on eternal suffering. And if we get a pass on any suffering in this life, he has done that for us as well. But our faithfulness is a response to that kind of provision for us; and if we have to walk through suffering because of being faithful then we know that he has bought for us everlasting peace and joy.

So, no. We can’t live our way out of suffering.

In fact, the people that I’ve known who have been the best people have often suffered most. We know that is true for the Apostle Paul and for Jesus Christ. The two best people in the Bible—the Apostle Paul and Jesus—suffered most. So there is no correlation between my virtue or my faithfulness and my freedom from suffering.

Do you think the effect that suffering has on us is lessened the more we view this world as not our home?

It’s good to be careful about that, because even people who love heaven and love Christ suffer much. But I still want to agree with you and say that, if we didn’t feel like we were losing the most important thing when we got a terminal illness, we could bear it much better.

The Apostle Paul, when he knew that he was going to be dying, said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). And if dying is gain then we will have tremendous help in losing the retirement, or marriage, or grandchildren, or standing in the community that we thought we were going to have, or some church we thought we were going to pastor, which is all gone now as we’re ready to die with this cancer.

But if death is gain—if we gain Christ, if we’ve cultivated a relationship to Christ where he is all and in all—then O how much pain will be spared us psychologically.

flourish12 (1)


© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

cropped-christiangraffiti1-2

Real Prayer for “Real” People

prayer-group

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

Psalm 145:18

I don’t want to pretend anymore. It’s been a little more than six months ago since I prayed this simple prayer: “Lord, may it be the real me who comes to the real you.”

‘Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long.’

Psalm 25:5

I have never had a prayer answered so quickly. I moved from delusion and darkness into truth and light in just a brief moment. Thirty years of “christian living” had left me a little befuddled, and I was no longer possessed a vibrant faith. I was worn and tired, and perhaps even disillusioned. I guess I had absorbed a lot of lies. I started to walk carelessly, as if my faith didn’t really matter anymore. Perhaps I was poisoned.

“Lord, may it be the real me who comes to the real you.” This prayer– (more like a heart’s “scream”)– came out of nowhere. As I started to pray I felt a tearing of something inside me, like when the veil was rent in the temple, just like when Jesus died. A desperate cry for truth wrapped itself around my heart. I furiously began to reach for God. I knew I hit something. He had my attention.

I wanted his truth, and no more theology about him. I sought his doctrine well, but not his face. I wanted the real Bryan to come in fellowship with God, and no more masquerades. No more silly pretense. Just the real me, meeting the real God. In a short time things were broken and dislodged within me; years of complacency and cynicism were uprooted. It was kind of like a flash flood in a desert ravine.

Thomas Merton carried this prayer inside his jacket. It should bless:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am  going
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

–Thomas Merton

You must find your own prayer; locate your heart’s cry. Vocalize that with the Holy Spirit’s direction. Merton’s own prayer can become an example of an almost brutal honesty, but it has to become from your own heart. A lot of David’s prayers in Psalms can fuel your search. Find out the truth, and then grab it and don’t let go.

“Lord, may it be the real me who comes to the real you.”

“Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.”

Psalm 86:11

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

A Sound Mind

2-Timothy_1-7

“A sound mind.” For some of us that doesn’t seem remotely possible. We’ve come to believe this is only true for others, maybe, but not me. As mentally ill people we seem to think that we shouldn’t be this way. Given enough time our illness becomes fused to our spirit and soul. We buy the lie and choose to live defeated. Only the Lord Jesus can break this chain.

Healthy thinking is a wonderful gift. That’s important to note. I can’t earn it; nor can I fabricate it. It must be simply acknowledged and received as a bonus. We must come humbly and broken. I suppose that is where we become the happiest and healthiest.

In 1 Timothy 1:7 we’re told that we have a salvation that includes:

  • incredible power,
  • love,
  • and a sound (healthy) mind.

These three are a gift from God. You don’t buy a gift, nor do you earn it. Rather it comes from Someone who loves you (!) and only wants to restore you. We may have issues, but the Spirit is sound and lucid. He speaks so we understand.

Afflicted people will find what they need from the Holy Spirit of God. Mental illness isn’t a death sentence. Rather it’s a grand opportunity for God to teach us about His power in the middle of our pain.

The healthy mind is one that is clear and life-giving. It is without any sick or crippling deficiencies. It’s a mind that is vigorous and robust. Those of us who struggle with a mental illness this is fantastically good news. And it maybe that you’re certainly impaired but even then you’re given a strength to use in service in the body. Everyone has a gift and calling.

There is nothing worse than fighting through muddled thinking when you’re having mental issues. Names, dates and memories disappear in the fog. It can be frightening. I know what it’s like to be afraid of one’s own mind. It seems like it’s trying its best to kill me. (Some of you can ‘read-between-the-lines’ and understand exactly what I am saying.)

My own experience is that the Holy Spirit is working, with my meds, to hold me in a good place. Just as a diabetic must take insulin, so I need to take my antidepressants. The brain is an organ that can get sick also. We live in a fallen and broken world. We are human and therefore vulnerable just like anyone else. (Somehow, we imagine better.)

Grace does heal many, but there are some who will find ‘weakness’ becoming their real strength.

The very presence of the Holy Spirit is what enables. Broken believers are coming to see that their illnesses are helping them to be weak enough for God to use. It’s not how strong you are, but it’s how weak. “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God,” 2 Cor. 3:5, NLT.

Here are two thoughts that have helped me out:

“It’s the reality of our broken, flawed lives which is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives.“

— Michael Yaconelli

bizen-kintsukuroi-tea-cup-1 (1)“When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold [‘kintsukuroi’]. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

–Barbara Bloom

 

aabryscript

 

cropped-cropped-cropped-christiangraffiti1-11.jpg

%d bloggers like this: