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Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

How God Uses Suffering

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Recently, I posted about my experience with major back pain, brought on by herniated discs, and the 5 Marks of Suffering that I learned about from an excellent book by Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Keller’s overview of how God uses suffering in our lives was inspiring. As someone called to help people love their families well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share his insights with you.

The loneliness of suffering can cause one to wonder, “God where are You?” Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering eloquently shows how God uses suffering in our lives. Here are Keller’s insightful, inspiring and hope-filled thoughts on how God uses suffering.

1. “Suffering transforms our attitude toward ourselves.”

We like to think we can control others, and control the world around us. But we have a hard enough time controlling our own hearts. Keller points out that suffering shatters our illusions of control, “as it shows us we have always been vulnerable and dependent on God.” As we confront this, we see with more clarity through our own pain and introspection, how fragile and out of control we really are.

2. “Suffering will profoundly change our relationship to the good things in our lives.”

Pain has a way of clearing the decks, of helping us reorder our priorities. As I battled that back pain, I became more laser-focused on what was most important and what I really needed to focus on each and every day of my life. I even wrote down on a piece of paper that I have in front of me on my desk every day “Every moment matters.” I want to be wise in how I use the time God has given me on this earth. I want to love God, love my family, and love others well!

3. “Suffering can strengthen our relationship to God as nothing else can.”

Keller notes, “Suffering reveals the impurities or perhaps the falseness of our faith in God…and therefore, it is only in suffering that our love relationship with God can become more and more genuine.” Through pain, we become more dependent, or maybe more aware of the dependence we’ve always had, on God. The “dry and painful” prayers of suffering can lead to deeper faith and joy in the One who created us.

4. “Suffering is almost a prerequisite if we are going to be of much use to other people.”

As I have posted before and wrote about in the book, All Pro Dad, pain can be turned positive by giving you a future message of hope to others. Keller eloquently paints the picture of how this happens when he notes that “Before when we saw others in grief, we may have secretly wondered what all the blubbering was about…. then it comes to us—and ever after, we understand.” Suffering helps us be empathetic and compassionate. Suffering drives us to God, who, in turn, sends us out to others with an experiential message of truth, love, and hope.

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Why Do We Suffer?

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll

Of all the letters Paul wrote, 2 Corinthians is the most autobiographical. In it the great apostle lifts the veil of his private life and allows us to catch a glimpse of his human frailties and needs. You need to read that letter in one sitting to capture the moving emotion that surged through his soul.

It is in this letter alone that he records the specifics of his anguish, tears, affliction, and satanic opposition. In this letter alone he spells out the details of his persecution, loneliness, imprisonments, beatings, feelings of despair, hunger, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, and that “thorn in the flesh”—his companion of pain. How close it makes us feel to him when we picture him as a man with real, honest-to-goodness problems . . . just like you and me!

It is not surprising, then, that he begins the letter with words of comfort—especially verses 3 through 11 (please stop and read).

Now then, having read those nine verses, please observe his frequent use of the term comfort in verses 3–7. I count ten times in five verses that the same root word is employed by Paul. This word is para-kaleo, meaning literally, “to call alongside.” It involves more than a shallow “pat on the back” with the tired expression, “the Lord bless you . . . ” No, this word involves genuine, in-depth understanding . . . deep-down compassion and sympathy. This seems especially appropriate since it says that God, our Father, is the “God of all comfort” who “comforts us in all our affliction.” Our loving Father is never preoccupied or removed when we are enduring sadness and affliction! Read Hebrews 4:14–16 and Matthew 6:31–32 as further proof.

There is yet another observation worth noting in 2 Corinthians, chapter 1. No less than three reasons are given for suffering—each one introduced with the term “that.” Can you locate them? Take a pencil and circle the “that” in verses 4, 9, and 11. Quietly, without a lot of fanfare, the Holy Spirit states reasons we suffer:

1. “That we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction . . . “ (v. 4). God allows suffering so that we might have the capacity to enter into others’ sorrow and affliction. Isn’t that true? If you have suffered a broken leg and been confined to crutches for weeks—you are in complete sympathy with someone else on crutches, even years after your affliction. The same is true for the loss of a child . . . emotional depression . . . an auto accident . . . undergoing unfair criticism . . . financial burdens. God gives His children the capacity to understand by bringing similar sufferings into our lives. Bruises attract one another.

2. “That we would not trust in ourselves . . . “ (v. 9). God also allows suffering so that we might learn what it means to depend on Him, not on our own strength and resources. Doesn’t suffering do that? It forces us to lean on Him totally, absolutely. Over and over He reminds us of the danger of pride . . . but it frequently takes suffering to make the lesson stick. Pride is smashed most effectively when the suffering comes suddenly, surprisingly. The express trains of heaven are seldom announced by a warning bell; they dash suddenly and abruptly into the station of the soul. Perhaps that has been your experience recently. Don’t resent the affliction as an intruder—welcome it as God’s message to stop trusting in your flesh . . . and start leaning on Him.

3. “That thanks may be given . . . “ (v. 11). Honestly—have you said, “Thanks, Lord, for this test”? Have you finally stopped struggling and expressed to Him how much you appreciate His loving sovereignty over your life? I submit that one of the reasons our suffering is prolonged is that we take so long saying “Thank you, Lord” with an attitude of genuine appreciation.

How unfinished and rebellious and proud and unconcerned we would be without suffering! Alan Redpath, the beloved evangelist and former pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago, once remarked;

When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible individual—and crushes him.

Here is another statement on suffering I heard years ago. I shall never forget it:

Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.

May these things encourage you the next time God heats up the furnace!

Don’t resent affliction as an intruder—welcome it as God’s invitation to trust Him.

— Charles R. Swindoll

Hope for Those Battling Cancer

SOURCE:  June Hunt

I’ll never forget the doctor’s words … “You have cancer.”

He delivers these words matter-of-factly as I sit on the examining table — absolutely stunned. My mind begins to race. But … Friday I have a three-day conference in Baltimore … and next Monday I have to be in New York City. I don’t have time for surgery!

My diagnosis felt like an ambush. It was one month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and I’d been asked to speak in New York on “Crisis Counseling” at a trauma and grief conference. Despite my own personal crisis, I felt not going wasn’t an option. Even though I wouldn’t be going to help victims, I would be helping those working with the grief-stricken victims. With many counselors, pastors and other leaders wanting to serve survivors, I felt humbled to help in any way.

The traumatic news didn’t stop with the radiologist’s words. It continued into the coming days. As I was boarding my flight to Baltimore, the surgeon called to confirm not only my malignancy on the right side, but also a second, more aggressive, cancer on the left. Suddenly, I found myself facing two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and multiple medications for years to come. My life had changed … forever.

Reflecting back, God’s Word hidden in my heart ministered to me. I was comforted by Psalm 139:16 … “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” God knows all my days — the length of my life is already settled. While I can’t extend my appointed days, I can trust my heavenly Father with my future. I also remember being fixed on Philippians 1:20 … “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” This passage became my prayer, “Lord, whether my time is long or short, may the love and peace of Christ be expressed through my body.”

Even though I’d taught the book of Philippians, I had never focused on this verse. But with life and death in question, this one Scripture kept my fight with cancer in perspective — shielding me from fear. And amazingly, throughout the entire ordeal, God helped me to not be overcome by fear.

Anyone struggling with cancer needs to know these three truths:

1. Cancer is never sovereign over our lives, only God is. The Bible says … “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8). Although I make decisions that influence my health, my life is ultimately in His hands. Long ago when I gave my life to Christ, I learned nothing could enter my world that hasn’t first passed through my heavenly Father’s loving hands. Nothing. So, whatever the challenge, there is purpose in the pain.

2. Hope is rooted in a relationship with Christ and what He has promised. The Bible says … “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). When our security is in Christ, He gives us an anchored life. Therefore, on each step of my journey, I genuinely had hope for my heart that didn’t depend on a doctor’s diagnosis.

3. God can comfort you and use you to comfort others. The Bible says that God is “… the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). If you know someone battling cancer, I encourage you to allow God to use you to be the one who gives comfort to your friend or family member. No one wants an unwelcomed illness. … No one enjoys pain as a partner. I never would have signed up for cancer. Yet that pathway of pain has proven priceless because the compassion I “caught” could have come no other way. Throughout my journey with cancer, God taught me how to be more empathetic and compassionate. I now feel more connected with those struggling with pain.

God’s Silver Lining

Now 15 years later as a cancer survivor, what others may view as “bad” in my life, God has used for good. Even now, I’m overwhelmed at all the meaningful ways loved ones supported me. Today, I genuinely praise God for the care I received, the growth I gained and the lessons I learned. Each is an invaluable part of my life. As you come face-to-face with your own struggles, may you experience the Lord’s peace that surpasses all understanding.

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June Hunt is an author, singer, speaker and founder of Hope For The Heart, a worldwide biblical counseling ministry.

Tan: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

SOURCE:  Taken from Disciplines of the Holy Spirit by S.Y. Tan

Occasionally the Lord leads us into a time of isolation and solitude that can only be described, in the words of St. John of the Cross, as a “dark night of the soul.”  We may feel dry, in despair, or lost.  God may seem absent, His voice silent.  The prophet Isaiah declared, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isa. 50:10).

Such dark times can be pregnant with God’s purpose; they can be times in which we are stripped of our overdependence on the emotional life, on things of this world, and on ourselves.  “The dark night” is one of the ways the Spirit slows our pace, even bringing us to a halt, so that He can work an inner transformation of the heart and soul.

Those who are hungry for God can expect to be drawn or driven into times of dryness or confusion, where faith and dependence on God are tested and deepened.

A. W. Tozer describes this process as the “ministry of the night.”  In these times, God seems to be at work to take away from our hearts everything we love most.  Everything we trust in seems lost to us.  Our most precious treasures turn to piles of ashes.

In times like these, says Tozer:

 

Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering.  Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing.  You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you – the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death, and what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life.  And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven.

 

As we seek to draw near to God, we can expect to have times in our lives when we too experience the “ministry of the night.”  Our best response during these seasons is to wait upon God, trust Him, be still, and pray.

 

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Trials: When God Calls You Out

SOURCE:  Jonathan Parnell/Desiring God

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:9

If we don’t sometimes feel like we’re “in over our heads,” it may be that we’re not following Jesus where he calls us.

Paul names it the “sentence of death” — that’s how he felt about the sufferings and complexities of his ministry. It was true affliction, a burden so heavy that he admits he lacked the strength to carry it. He was sinking, despairing even of life itself. The apostle Paul — to the extreme — was “in over his head.” And God did this in order to, as Paul says, “make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

The situations that stretch us come in varying degrees. Some are intense like Paul’s, others are scattered along the spectrum of the great unknown, where fear runs rampant and our faith feels small. But whatever they are, however hard they feel, we know why they come. It’s just what Paul says.

God brings trials into our lives to give us more of himself. Their purpose is that we might not rely on ourselves — not look to ourselves for salvation or hope or joy — but that we might rely on him. The purpose is that we would lean on God, that we’d fix our eyes on his glory, clinging to the truth that in Jesus he is always enough for us. Always.

This is the truth that resounds in the depths to which God calls us. He invites us to step out and follow him. To dream. To plan. To build. He invites us to put our hands to work for his name’s sake, not based upon our expertise or know-how or giftedness. He invites us here based upon who he is himself.

“His sovereign hand is our guide. His heart of mercy is our anchor. He will make our faith stand.”

He invites us here because he knows that it is here, unlike anywhere else, that our souls must rest in his embrace. It’s here, above and beyond every other place, where his children must grasp the wonder of what it means to be his own. Because of the cross and victory of Jesus, we are his and he is ours. We are his people and he is our God. We are his children and he is our Father. He is enough.

And he will prove his enough-ness to us. He will show us time and time again that all we need is found in him. All that we lack finds an abundance in his grace. Yes, we would fail. The weight is too much and, like Paul, we can’t carry this in our own strength. But God is here. His sovereign hand is our guide. His heart of mercy is our anchor. He will make our faith stand. He will be our God in Jesus Christ.

And so, let us go. Let us step out, following him farther than our feet could ever wander. Let us walk upon those waters, in over our heads, not relying on ourselves, but holding fast to him, trusting in him, casting all our hope on him. Because he really is enough.

7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Dennis and Barbara Rainey/ Family Life Ministry

Concerned about economic, political, racial, and moral instability in our culture?  Disheartened by struggles in your personal life?  Here’s what to focus on when the ground shakes beneath your feet.

Dealing with the hardships of life

Life will never be easy. We will always face problems and hardship. That would be true even if our culture felt more stable than it does today, for the Scriptures promise us, “In the world you shall have tribulation.”

So how will we deal with loss, with grief, with fear, with suffering? How do we respond when things don’t go our way? And how do we teach our children to face the hardships of life?

Christians today need to know more about God, more about ourselves, and more about the mission God has given us. Here are seven things to remember:

1. God is alive. He has not disappeared. He is eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, just as He has been from the beginning of time. As Isaiah 40:28 tells us, “… The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

2. God never changes. Psalm 90 (KJV) begins, “Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations … even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Inspired by these words, Isaac Watts wrote the following verses in the enduring hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” They remind us that our fears, though circumstantially different than his in ages past, are still the same:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

We all fear the loss of life, health, freedom, and peace. We fear the unknown future. But do you know who will be with us? Jesus, the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

3. God offers eternal life. If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, your sins have been forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. You are a child of God, and as Romans 8:38-39 tells us, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is encouraging.

4. God has won the battle. He has defeated death. History will culminate in Christ’s return. No matter what we experience in the world, we can find peace in Him. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

5. God is still in control. He is not surprised by anything going on in the world, or in your life. He is the sovereign, omnipotent King of kings. Even in times of uncertainty and chaos, Romans 8:28 (NASB) is still in force: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” So is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), which tells us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

6. God will provide for your needs. Especially in times of economic uncertainty it’s easy to grow anxious about the most basic things, like whether we will keep our jobs, or whether our families will have enough to eat. But in Matthew 6:26-33, Jesus tells us we should not be worried about what we eat, or what we will wear:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 

7. God has given us good works to do. Jesus’ words also remind us that there is more to life than meeting our daily material needs. When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, we operate according to His priorities—we’re concerned about building our family relationships, and connecting the hearts of our children to God’s heart, and impacting future generations by proclaiming Christ. We’re concerned about God using us to reach and influence others with the gospel. That’s what life is really about.

Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. Have you considered that your best opportunities to fulfill this role—to represent Christ and His Kingdom—may come in times like these when so many need help and encouragement?

Consider this: If you are feeling troubled by the instability in our world, then many of the people you encounter each day are concerned and fearful as well. What makes you different is that you have a firm foundation in Christ. This is an opportunity for you to shine. If you have built your home on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27), you will remain unshaken. That in itself is a witness to the watching world that there is something different about Christians. And if you then reach out to help others who struggle without that foundation, that makes you rare indeed.

When life feels insecure and unstable, focus on these timeless truths. Read the never-changing Word of God with your spouse and to your children.  No matter what troubles we are experiencing in our world and in our families, He is in control. He will not abandon us. He will provide for us. This may look different than you expect, but His promises have not expired in the 21st century.

How to Turn Your Pain into Something Positive

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Can pain ever be good?

That’s a fair question, but mostly an intellectual one to me, until recently. You see I’ve been blessed with good health and without much physical pain for most of my life. But a recent injury put me in a season of constant and intense back pain. For quite a while, I was getting just a few hours of sleep a night, sometimes feeling lost in an emotional fog. Even though it’s been a painful setback, it’s got me thinking about the importance of pain, and asking some big questions:

What will I do with my pain? How can I turn my pain into something positive?

Whether pain is physical or emotional, it can be used for good, to make a positive impact on others.

As I wrote about in my book, All Pro Dad, here are a few ways that pain can be used for something good and positive:

Pain can bring clarity to what is most important in life.

Yes, pain can create an emotional fog and make it hard to think straight. But it can also force you to an off-ramp in life for a while that can help you take stock of your priorities. As I’ve been working through the pain and fog, I’m also finding some clarity on things that are important in my life. It’s been a good time to take stock of my usage of time and resources to ensure I’m being a good steward of what’s been entrusted to me and my family.

Pain can be a bonding agent in relationships.

Pain allows you to identify with another person who is going through something very similar. Empathy is an important character trait of a loving leader. When you empathize with others, you experience similar feelings, thoughts, and emotions and then take action based on what you’ve experienced to meet the needs of others. It’s often the things we have in common that create or deepen our bonds.

Pain can change your trajectory.

Past pain can motivate us to look outward instead of just inward. Sometimes pain is paralyzing, and we get very self-focused as we deal with it. But as we do, pain (especially relational pain) can eventually help us to see the need to work towards helping others. Maybe it’s breaking a cycle of dysfunction or brokenness in a family tree that we’ve experienced, or picking up the pieces from an addiction we’ve battled that has hurt more than just ourselves. Eventually, we face a choice: stay focused on self or be motivated to help others.

Pain can give us credibility and opportunity to help others.

When we have endured pain we’ve never experienced before, we have the power of empathizing with others going through the same pain, not just those suffering in general. As a result, others are aware that we know what they are going through and will listen to what we have to say, perhaps even more so than others who try to speak into their lives but haven’t shared the same pain.

Pain can give us a future message of hope to others.

As we deal with the pains of our past or present, God gives us hope and healing that can become a very meaningful message to others. The pain can become a purpose for our voice as well as the message of hope our voice proclaims to the world.

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