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Posts tagged ‘endurance’

Marriage: ‘I Stayed’

There’s power in knowing you and your spouse are in it for the long haul.

Source:  Christy Scannell

One of the advantages of living in San Diego, aside from the fantastic weather, is that we have two theaters that stage Broadway-bound shows, both to test how they fare with audiences and to get out the kinks before hitting the Great White Way.  In the last few years I’ve seen several of these big productions, some winners (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and others not (The Full Monty).

A few years ago, my husband, Rich, and I zipped over to the Old Globe Theatre to take in A Catered Affair.  We agreed the musical had its plusses and minuses, but one of the standouts was Tom Wopat (yes, that guy from the Dukes of Hazzard) singing a lump-in-the-throat-inducing number, “I Stayed.”

To understand the impact of this song, you have to know that Wopat plays a 1950s middle-aged husband whose wife, among other issues, is accusing Wopat’s character of having never really loved her.  They married because she was pregnant, so she always suspected he rather would have been anywhere but with her.  Now that their daughter is marrying and moving out of their home, she frets over what kind of life she will have with this man who only tolerates her.

In response to her anxiety, Wopat angrily belts out, “I stayed.”   The song goes on to explain how perhaps she wasn’t his first choice, but he is confident he did the right thing by marrying her.  And most importantly—he stayed.  In other words, his loyalty to her, he felt, was his way of showing he loved her.  It might not have been a storybook romance, but theirs was a solid, faithful marriage that produced two children and, one would assume, a lot of family memories.

Needless to say, Wopat’s powerful song produced many tears in the audience (even from Faith Prince, who plays his wife).  I think that is because most of us know the value of “staying.”  Regardless of how a marriage comes about—from love at first sight to a shotgun ceremony—it’s more than anything a decision to say, “No matter what happens, I’m sticking with you—I’ll stay.”  And to say it over and over again.

I’m reminded of this commitment’s influence every week when I read in our Sunday newspaper the feature on a local couple celebrating a notable anniversary.  Somewhere in the piece the couple is asked some form of, “How on earth did you stay married for 50 (or more) years?”  Without fail, the couple responds in the fashion of, “We stuck out the bad times and celebrated the good ones.”  In other words, they stayed.

When Rich and I married, we agreed it was for life.  Regardless of what the church teaches, we all know Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the American population.  We knew we couldn’t go into a marriage with that as a looming option.  So we looked each other in the eye weeks before our wedding and made a pact that we would work out whatever problems came our way.  There would be no “growing apart,” no “irreconcilable differences,” no “dissolution.”  While we agreed to the same things in our marriage vows a few months later, I’ll never forget the muscle of our plain language that day when we said, in essence, “Whatever happens, we will stay.”

Lest you think this understanding moves us beyond the occasional squabble, may I point out that he is Irish and I am Scottish?  Yes, we fight.  We accuse.  We toss a few barbs.  I slam doors and he raises his voice.  Sometimes we go a whole day without talking.

But it’s all for naught.  Even when we’re at the height of an argument, eyes narrowed and faces flushed, deep down we know it all will end peacefully.  There won’t be any moving out or filing papers.  Within hours, or sometimes minutes, there are tears and hugs and “sorrys” and weak smiles.  Later, it’s almost as if the disagreement never happened. Life goes on.

Someday when our fiftieth anniversary approaches, I hope the newspaper (if such a thing still exists!) interviews us.  When the reporter asks the requisite “How did you do it?”  I’ll reach my wrinkled hand over to clasp Rich’s and say, “Because—we stayed.”

 

 

 

 

7 Suggestions for Processing Pain

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

What’s a great way to process (emotional) pain?

Here are 7 biblical ways:

Expect God to use pain for good – Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28

Use it to comfort others with similar pain – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Reconsider your perspective on the pain – Romans 8:18

Receive the honor of suffering pain – Philippians 1:29

Accept the normality of pain – 1 Peter 4:12

Celebrate His sufficiency during pain -2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Look for the reward in suffering through pain – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

How we respond to emotional pain is a choice we make.

The promises of God are real, even during our times of suffering. In the earliest days of any trial, we may not see any of these truths at work. That’s okay. We are frail people. The key is as we move forward, what we do with the pain in the days to come. Painful times are not going away in this earthly life. Jesus told us that. Learning to rest in Him is part of maturing as followers of Christ.

Suffering reminds us that His grace is sufficient for all our pain. In fact, though I don’t completely understand it, His power is perfect in our weakness, but only when I surrender the pain to Him.

We are not intended to handle pain alone. Thankfully, by His grace, we don’t have to.

Are you learning to “cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you”?

God’s Wise Ways: End The Misery — or — Strengthen Me In It?

SOURCE:  Charles Spurgeon

If He strengthens me

It may not please God to lessen the burden, but it comes to the same thing if he strengthens the back.

He may not recall the soldier from the battle, but if he gives him a greater stomach for the fight, and increased strength for its toils, it may be better still for him.

“The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?” Give a man health in his countenance, and he laughs at that which would have crushed him had he been in another mood.

There are times when the grasshopper becomes a burden, and there are other seasons when with undaunted spirit we can say, “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubabel thou shalt become a plain.”

From a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon entitled “The Secret Of Health,” delivered March 25, 1875.

God’s Word: The Best Prop in Hard Times

SOURCE: Taken from an article by Joseph Stowell

WORD POWER

“I have suffered much; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word.” Psalm 119:107

It was a beautiful day except for the fact that after a sizzling front nine, my golf game had tanked big time. I felt embarrassed in front of the two other guys I was playing with and really disappointed in myself. Why I tortured myself with golf and call it a game I’ll never know! But like a sports masochist, I keep going back for more pain.

As I was stuffing my clubs into the back of my car, trying to put on a good face, I was struck with the fact that I had just spent the afternoon with two guys who have problems that make my lame golf game look like a cakewalk.

Both of them have trouble on the home front, the kind of trouble that hurts the worst. Robert’s wife has been running him through the wringer of an excruciating divorce. It is something that he does not want and has tried for two agonizing years to turn around. She wants nothing to do with him or reconciliation.

My other golf buddy (the one who beat me mercilessly on the back nine) has been living for years with a situation at home that none of us would ever dream of enduring. His wife struggles with severe emotional imbalance and, though at one time was a follower of Christ, now wants nothing to do with Jesus or her husband. She still lives with her husband, so you can imagine what it means to walk into the house after a tough day at work to face a whole new set of challenges at home. He goes to church alone. He sleeps alone.

As I closed the back of my Tahoe, I noticed that my golf buddies were talking to each other in upbeat tones. What caught my attention is that they were talking about passages of Scripture that they had shared with each other the week before.

As they quoted portions of the passages to each other, the power of the content was compelling: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure” (Psalm 16:8-9). “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71).

It was clear to see that they were lifting each other up with the power of God’s Word. Their enthusiasm for the support and joy they were experiencing in God and His Word proved that in times of trouble the Word of God is a source of comfort that infuses unusual strength into situations that put Word-less people into the dumpster.

I have to admit that I have never thought of using God’s Word to prop me up when my golf game goes south. But I was reminded afresh that there is unusual power in the Word of God to give us an edge during times of trouble.

So, when life hits the wall—go to the Word. And don’t isolate yourself!

God loves us and gave us His Word to take us all the way through!

YOUR JOURNEY…

  • Flip through the book of Psalms until you find a passage that speaks to your heart. Memorize the key lines and meditate on them throughout your day.
  • Pray the passage back to God in personal terms.
  • Keep looking. The Psalms are a therapeutic gold mine!

For How Long?

SOURCE:  Francis A. Schaeffer as posted by  Ray Ortlund

 
“My last sentence is simply this: The world is lost, the God of the Bible does exist; the world is lost, but truth is truth, keep on!  And for how long?  I’ll tell you.  Keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on, and then keep on!”

Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City (Chicago, 1969), page 76. Italics original.

Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

SOURCE:  Wendy Horger Alsup/Practical Theology for Women

Fruitful in the land of my affliction. That phrase may sound poetic to some and archaic to others. Personally, I find it striking. I first wrote about it a few years ago when I was in a very dark place, and it is time for me to revisit it. The phrase comes from Genesis 41:52, where Joseph names his second son.

The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

I have heard a number of sermons over the years from the life of Joseph. He often becomes a moral lesson – be like Joseph when you are sexually tempted and unjustly accused, and God will exalt you as He did Joseph. I strongly resist that view of the life of Joseph. God’s not conforming me to the image of Joseph. He’s conforming me to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Joseph’s story is powerful because it reveals God, not because it reveals Joseph. My circumstances will be distinctly different than Joseph’s, but my God is the same.

There is much to learn of God in Joseph’s story, and the naming of Joseph’s son is one such place. Many thoughts hit me as I meditate on why Joseph named his son Ephraim (which sounds like the Hebrew word for fruitful). First, it’s counterintuitive. Joseph was fruitful in the very place that should have sucked the life out of him. The paradox intrigues me. But, second, I resist the name, because I don’t want to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. I want God to END my affliction, and then I want to be fruitful in the beautiful land I imagined would be God’s best for His children.

However, like Joseph, I am powerless to end whatever troubles plague me, and I get impatient waiting for God to move. It is in those moments that I wrestle with God, “How can I do what You have called me to do in THESE circumstances?!”

Once I calm down and take an objective look at Scripture, it finally hits me that no one in Scripture seems to be very fruitful EXCEPT in the land of their affliction. In fact, you can argue from Scripture that suffering, affliction, and death to self are essential to God’s plan for fruitfulness in His children.

John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

I have situations in my life that plague me, that I would desperately love to see changed. God tells me to pray for His will to be done, for His name to be hallowed, and for His kingdom to come. I long for those things to come about in my home, in my neighborhood, in my church, and in the larger Body of Christ. I talked about this in depth here. But in the midst of waiting for the affliction to end and God’s kingdom to come, I am blessed by God’s story in the life of Joseph, and I meditate on what it looks like to be fruitful in the very places from which I would most like to be delivered. And I receive hope that affliction doesn’t end the possibility of fruitfulness but may instead be the very thing that prepares the ground for “fruit that remains.”

John 15:16 NAS “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain … “

We Shall Thank God For Every Storm

SOURCE:  J.C. Ryle

“If we are true Christians, we must not expect everything smooth in our journey to heaven.”

“We must count it no strange thing, if we have to endure sicknesses, losses, bereavements, and disappointments, just like other people.”

“Free pardon and full forgiveness, grace by the way and glory to the end – all this our Savior has promised to give. But He has never promised that we shall have no afflictions. He loves us too well to promise that.”

By affliction He teaches us many precious lessons, which without it we should never learn. By affliction He shows us our emptiness and weakness, draws us to the throne of grace, purifies our affections, weans us from the world and makes us long for heaven.”

“In the resurrection morning we shall all say, ‘it is good for me that I was afflicted.’ [Psalm 119:71]  We shall thank God for every storm.”

~ J.C. Ryle

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985], 83. {Mark 4:35-41}

The Painful Discipline of Our Heavenly Father

SOURCE:   a sermon by John Piper

Hebrews 12:3-11

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Resting and Wrestling

There is a restful side to the Christian life and a wrestling side to the Christian life. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” Jesus said in Matthew 11:28. “Be anxious for nothing . . . let your requests be made known to God . . . and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). There is rest and peace in the Christian soul.

But there is also wrestling and struggle. Jesus said in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” And the word “strive” is agonizo – to wrestle and struggle. At the end of his life, Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” Keeping the faith is a fight to be fought and a race to be run.

These two sides are not related in such a way that you rest one day and wrestle the next. They are interwoven in two ways. 1) First, the main aim of our wrestling is to rest – in God and not in money or position or looks or achievement; the aim of our wrestling is to rest in the promises of God and not the promises of sin. 2) Second, all our wrestling and fighting and running are done with a deep restfulness of spirit that Christ himself has already won the decisive victory for us and is sovereignly working in us and will bring us to glory.

The Mystery of God’s Providence in the Pain of our Lives

The book of Hebrews is a very mature and sober book when it comes to the pain and stress of Christian living and the endurance that it takes to run the race and fight the fight and finish well. It’s not a book that people (especially teenagers and strong young adults) gravitate toward – unless they have suffered and struggle for some explanation of how that relates to God. In other words, the more easy and pain-free your life has been, the less you will cherish the kind of spirituality taught in this book. And the more you have suffered, the more you will cling to the precious teachings of this book – if you are willing to believe them.

That is a big if. I was talking with one of our members at the baptism service Wednesday evening, and he was telling me about recent conversations he had had with people who simply do not believe what this chapter teaches. It’s not a little feel-good chapter about how to make the best of your troubles – or even about how God makes the best of your troubles. It is a massive statement about the gracious sovereignty of God over the evil that befalls his people. And the big IF is: will you believe this? Will you accept the mystery of God’s providence in the pain of your life, and be trained by it (as verse 11 says) for the sake of good and peace and holiness and righteousness and life? Or will you kick against this chapter and demand in the season of suffering that God give a greater account of himself than he does in this chapter?

I think it will be helpful to approach verses 3-11 like this: first we will notice the pain and sorrow in this chapter? Second, we will ask what kind it is and where it comes from? Third, we will ask if it has a purpose or design and what is it?

First, then, let’s notice the thread of suffering that runs through this section. Keep in mind what we saw two weeks ago and last week. Two weeks ago in Hebrews 11:35b-38 we read about Old Testament believers who were tortured, mocked, whipped, imprisoned, sawn in two, destitute, homeless. Then last week in Hebrews 12:1 we heard the call for all of us to lay aside sins and weights and run the marathon of radical love and holiness, while these saints witness to us along the route that it really can be done “by faith.” And then in verse two the writer tells us to look to Jesus who, like these Old Testament saints, endured a horrible death and was shamed, but set his eyes on the joy set before him.

Glimpses of the Suffering of the Readers of Hebrews

And now he brings this legacy of suffering up to date and applies it to the believers of his day. In verse 3 he says, “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” The first glimpse of suffering we see in this church here is that something is threatening to make them “grow wearing and lose heart.” It is normal for Christians to have experiences of stress and suffering that threaten their faith and press too hard, or last too long and feel almost intolerable. Losing heart is a great spiritual danger. And these Christians were in that danger, as are many of you.

Another glimpse of their suffering is the reference to the hostility against Jesus (v. 3): “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself.” Why consider this? Because the same kind of thing is happening to you and you need to get strength from Jesus.

Another glimpse is in verse 4: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” The point here is that things are bad, but not as bad as they could be. There is hostility and trouble and stress and suffering, but evidently no martyrs yet. We know from Hebrews 10:34 that some had been imprisoned and some had been plundered. But it is not yet martyrdom, though that could come. The stress level here is huge. How do you sleep at night when being a Christian may result in mob violence?

Another glimpse of their suffering is in verse 11: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful.” In other words, the present experience of these Christians was sorrowful. Joy had been covered with a dark cloud of pain. The word “seems” (discipline “seems” not to be joyful) hints that there is a kind of residual joy of hope that hangs on beneath the cloud, but the tears and the sighs and the groans are so many that it looks like sorrow has the upper hand – at least for a season. As it does when a child cries after a spanking.

So I think it is fair to say that the believers in this passage are under tremendous stress; they are enduring some form of hostility; they are wrestling with great sorrow and are in danger of growing weary of the battle and losing heart. This whole book is written to keep that from happening.

The Suffering Is Coming from the Hostility of Sinners

Now the second thing to ask is what kind of suffering this is and where did it come from. The first answer is that the suffering is coming from hostile adversaries. This was true in chapter 10:32-34; and it was true of the Old Testament saints in 11:35-38; and you can see that it is true here in the connection between verses 3 and 4. “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” The link with Jesus and the hostility shown against him shows that this is what the Christians are dealing with. He endured hostility from sinners . . . you too have resisted, but have not yet had to shed your blood. So the suffering in view is mainly persecution in various forms, short of martyrdom.

But where did it come from? Who is doing this? Who’s in charge of this? The first answer to that is seen in verse 3: “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners.” This is what Jesus endured, and this is what you are enduring. The suffering comes from the hostility of sinners. The suffering is coming from the hostile will of sinful adversaries. That is the first answer.

It is not the main one, and it is not the decisive one. This whole passage is built on another answer to the question: Where does this suffering come from? And who’s doing this? And who’s in charge? The main answer of the passage is that God is in charge here, and that he is in ultimate control of these afflictions and that they are in fact the loving discipline of a perfect heavenly father. That’s the burden of this passage.

The Suffering Is God’s Discipline

Verse 5-7 says that one of the reasons you are growing weary and losing heart is that “you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.’ It is for discipline that you endure” (see Proverbs 3:11-12). In other words, what adversaries do to you out of sinful hostility, God is doing out of fatherly discipline.

This is extremely important for knowing your God and for living by faith through the suffering that is coming sooner or later into your life. Notice very carefully: this text does not say that God looks on while hostile sinners hurt his people, or while Satan ravages the elect, and only then steps in to turn all this evil for good. That is not what the text says. It has a totally different conception of what is happening to us.

It says that God is disciplining us; he is teaching us and correcting us and transforming us. In other words, God has a purpose and a design in what is happening to us. God is the ultimate doer here. Verse 6b goes so far as to say, “[God] scourges every son whom he receives.” Who is scourging? Who is whipping? (See 11:36). God is. God is not a passive observer in our lives while sinners and Satan beat us up. He rules over sinners and Satan, and they unwittingly, and with no less fault or guilt, fulfil his wise and loving purposes of discipline in our lives.

This is what I said earlier some Christians simply will not believe. They say that God is not in charge of the evil that happens to us. That he has given the world over to Satan and the free will of man. But it will not work in this passage. The hostility of sinners is real and it is wrong and responsible and guilty. But it is also – and this is a great hope for us – it is also the loving, painful discipline of our Father in heaven. God is not coming to his children late after the attack, and saying, “I can make this turn for good.” That is not discipline. That is repair. It’s the difference between the surgeon who plans the incision for our good, and the emergency room doctor who sews us up after a freak accident. This text says, God is the doctor planning our surgery, not the doctor repairing our lacerations.

Are Natural Calamities also God’s Discipline?

Someone might ask, does this principle of discipline apply to things like natural calamities and sicknesses that are not caused by the hostility of sinners? Should we see these things as part of God’s overarching discipline of his children for their good?

I would answer with a question: Which is harder to attribute to God’s design: the hostility of sinners against God’s people or the destruction of a hurricane? I believe the hostility of sinners is more difficult to attribute to God’s design. The reason is that in both cases – hostility and hurricanes – you have to deal with the pain caused by the event. But in the case of hostility you have the added difficulty that people’s wills are involved, whereas in the case of a hurricane you don’t have that difficulty. No human agent is causing the hurricane, but a human is willing the hostility. So if we say that God is governing the hostility of sinners against the saints, we imply that he governs not just natural effects but human wills, and what harm they bring to the saints.

And that is what this passage teaches. What hostile sinners mean for harm, God means for good. What they will as hurtful, God wills as helpful. What they plan as destruction, God plans as salvation. What they design as a deterrent to faith, God designs as discipline for faith.

The upshot then is this: if it is more difficult for God to govern the hostility of sinners against his people, and yet this passage teaches that he does just that, then why would we even think of denying the less difficult act of God’s rule over natural things like hurricanes and sickness? Especially when God himself says in Exodus 4:11 “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

So I see in this passage the precious teaching that God reigns over the hazards of our circumstances and over the health of our bodies and over the hostility of our adversaries and he designs all of life ultimately as a loving father’s discipline.

God’s Design is Love

Which leaves one last question: what is the design of God in this sovereign governing of our adversaries and circumstances? The text is wonderfully clear on this. Verse 6: “Those whom the Lord loves he disciplines.” The design of God is love. Our pain is not the effect of God’s hate, but of God’s love. Will you believe this? That is the question.

Or verse 7: “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons.” In other words, in your pain, you are not being treated as a slave or as an enemy. You are being treated as a loved child of God. The issue is: will you believe this? Will you let the Word of God settle the issue for you, so that when the suffering comes, you don’t turn on God and put him in the dock and prosecute him with accusations? He probably will not tell you why it is your turn, or why it is happening now, or why there is this much pain, or why it lasts this long. But he has told you what you need to know: it is the love of an all-wise Father to a child. Will you trust him?

Our Good, Our Holiness, Our Peace, Our Righteousness

But he is even willing to tell us more. Verses 10b-11, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Four words: our good, our holiness, our peace, and our righteousness. This is the design of our loving Father that comes to us painfully and mysteriously through the hostility of sinful adversaries and the natural hazards of a fallen world.

Verse 9b poses our concluding question: Will we “be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” Or will be rebel against the father of spirits, and die? Will we trust him? If we submit to this sovereign, loving, fatherly care, we will not “grow weary and lose heart,” but we will keep the faith, fight the good fight, and finish our course, and die well, and glorify our Father in heaven.

A few confirming texts:
Genesis 50:20
Amos 3:6
1 Peter 3:174:19
Acts 4:27-28

Singing in the Pain

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Jim Chew

Issues: The Bible gives such good reasons for rejoicing in the midst of our hardships that we can consider suffering to be a true privilege.

The opening portion of Peter’s first epistle is one of the most exuberant passages in the Bible. It begins with “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:3), and ends with “You believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).

Clearly, the apostle could hardly contain his joy as he wrote to his scattered flock.

We can easily identify with such high spirits if, like Peter, we review all the blessings we have in Christ. Joy is normal to the Christian. But in this same passage Peter reminds his readers that they “have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).

How strange! Sufferings, grief, and trials are hardly compatible with rejoicing. It is one thing to endure trials and sufferings because we love Christ, but quite another to rejoice in the midst of them.

Yet this unusual response to difficult times is not an isolated teaching in the Bible. Again and again we are exhorted to find joy in our affliction. In the opening verses of Romans 5, for example, the apostle Paul wrote about the joy of being justified in Christ, and then added, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.”

What do these inspired writers mean?

GRIT YOUR TEETH?

Let’s look first at Paul’s exhortation in Romans 5. I don’t think he is asking us to grit our teeth and be stoical about suffering. Neither is he saying that afflictions, in themselves, should be enjoyed. Rather, we are asked to rejoice in what sufferings can produce. Paul explains that we rejoice in our sufferings “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4). Suffering produces endurance and a Christlike character.

We can translate the Greek word for “suffering” in this passage with a more common and modern term: pressure. The pressures of life have a way of developing endurance in us, and this endurance can be exercised only when we are placed under pressure. The very trials we dread are thus used by God to strengthen us.

Therefore the followers of Christ can view sufferings as opportunities, as training situations in which our inner reserves of strength and tenacity are developed. And how we need these qualities if we are to maintain godly, righteous lives in the complex, highly pressurized societies in which we live!

SHARPENED SENSES

We’ve already noted the apparent contradiction in Peter’s first letter—the great burst of joy at the beginning, coupled with the reminder that he was writing to churches facing fierce persecution. Indeed, suffering is one of the major themes of the letter.

What gave Peter such a confident belief that trials and afflictions are occasions for rejoicing?

First, I think he understood the value of faith, which he said was “of greater worth than gold” (Romans 1:7). He could welcome and rejoice in sufferings because he knew they were the crucible in which his faith would be tested and proven, and that they would authenticate and strengthen his trust in God.

Peter also saw that our afflictions are opportunities to participate in Christ’s sufferings (Romans 4:12–14). Through afflictions we learn more deeply “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,” as Paul put it (Philippians 3:10). We are brought closer to the heart of our Lord. His presence becomes a reality. With a sharpened sense we learn to discern between things of eternal value and those that are merely passing away. We realize afresh that we are but pilgrims in the world. We become more like Christ.

But without sharing in his sufferings, we cannot hope to grow closer to him and to become more like him. Christ suffered; we are Christ’s, so we suffer too.

Only the person who thus identifies with Christ can really rejoice. The more we suffer, the more we share in his sufferings; therefore, the more we suffer, the more we can rejoice.

So it is that the apostles rejoiced to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 5:40–42). They did not mope or complain, but kept on teaching and preaching Christ. And Peter was one of them.

Peter knew as well that we learn how to suffer from our Lord. Christ’s suffering is our example, that we “should follow in his steps” (Acts 2:21). He suffered undeservingly, yet submitted to his persecutors and to the will of God. We can learn to do the same.

Submission is not a sign of weakness in the Bible’s point of view. On the contrary, a submissive attitude has powerful effects. With it, Christian wives can win their husbands to the Lord (Acts 3:1–2), and Christian citizens can silence their critics in society who are ignorant and foolish (Acts 2:13–15).

And let us never forget that Christ’s life of submission made salvation possible for all mankind. Howard Hendricks wrote, “You will never learn to suffer with the right attitudes if you have never learned to submit at every level, and you will never learn to submit if you do not have a deep appreciation of the salvation with which you were saved.”

A CERTAIN FACT

Suffering is painful, but submission to it always leads to victory. I remember visiting a close Christian friend who was dying of cancer. He was enduring great pain, and his body was so emaciated I could hardly recognize him. Yet his response was one of thanksgiving to God. Doctors and other patients were influenced by his radiant testimony, and visitors who came to comfort him were instead comforted by him. His last words to me were, “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.”

I can recall clearly a time in my experience as an overseas missionary when I was adjusting to a foreign culture and also assuming more and more responsibilities. With burdens and problems mounting, I was tempted to give up.

Again and again I turned to Scriptures that talk of trials and sufferings. It dawned on me that, compared to the difficulties experienced by many of God’s servants in the Bible, my problems were minimal!

The Lord then allowed a series of personal testings through which I experienced the reality of his grace and strength. I learned that God’s presence in the midst of suffering is a certain fact.

No wonder Peter tells us, “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14).

Are you in the midst of trials and perplexities? Happy are you! Celebrate this privilege, because the Spirit of glory and of God is resting on you!

The New Normal: Things Aren’t The Way They Are Supposed To Be

SOURCE: Based on an article at  Practical Theology For Women

I have had a few circumstances over the last 4 years that have grown and changed me. Inevitably, it is hard, not easy, circumstances that change us deeply.

Three years ago this month, my aunt was murdered.

I remember my sister’s story of the moment she had to tell my family. They were all on family vacation in the mountains. My sister got the call on her cell phone from another aunt. She told me she just stared at the scene in front of her–everyone enjoying the mountain air and time together as family–knowing that the news she had to share would change everything. It was a surreal moment. She did tell everyone, and nothing has been the same. Three years have passed. It’s fully incorporated into our lives now. It’s the new normal.

I’ve been thinking about this new normal. What has changed now? Besides all the obvious changes surrounding such a tragic loss, the foundation of change in my personal life has been, simply, my perspective. God shook the snow globe of my life, and some truths that were obscured by complacency have now taken a more prominent place in my thinking.

Here are some truths that are front and center now.

1) This world is not my home. I have to repeat this to myself regularly, but frankly it’s foundational to understanding everything else in this life.

2) Evil is very bad and we are not immune from it in this world. And rather than shaking my faith, this reminds me exactly why I desperately need a Savior. I need Jesus to save me from my own sin within me. And I long for King Jesus established on this earth as the sovereign authority who rules with complete justice. When God’s kingdom is fully established, there will be no more murder. There will be no more sickness.

3) Happy is a yuppie word. I struggle with the term happy. It isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, and peace are not necessarily grown in our lives through traditionally “happy” circumstances. Yet the beatitudes use the term freely. Blessed or happy are the spiritually bankrupt, those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and, maybe most surprising, those who are persecuted for righteousness. Whatever happiness/blessedness is in Scripture, it is counterintuitive. I’m learning to think about happiness in new ways.

4) Our need for God is better highlighted in hard circumstances. When life is good, I inevitably gloss over my need for Him. But His unchanging character is the only anchor for my soul when life gets messy.

If you’ve had a life-shaking, perspective changing event rock your world recently, I recommend spending some time in Hebrews 11-13. Three years ago, the Lord saved me from despair through that section of Scripture. It reminded me that hardship, persecution, and endurance have been common to the Christian life since shortly after time began, and they will continue to be so until Christ returns. It also reminds me that despite it all, God’s purposes can not be shaken. It teaches me that my new normal is really just the old normal with complacency removed.

Hebrews 12
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 

Why Endure a Pain-Filled Marriage?

Editors Note:  The author of this article states he was inspired by reading a review of three new books about Abraham Lincoln (Books and Culture, Sept./Oct., 1995, p. 6).

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by John Piper

Lincoln’s marriage was a mess, and accepting the pain brought deep strength in the long run.

I write this not because it is wrong to seek refuge from physical abuse, but because, short of that, millions of marriages end over the agony of heartbreaking disappointments and frustrations. They do not need to, and there is much gain in embracing the pain for Christ and his kingdom.

Our culture has made it acceptable (and therefore easier to justify) divorce on the basis of emotional pain.  Historically, the misery of painful emotions was not a sanction of divorce in most cultures.  Marriage durability—with or without emotional pain—was valued above emotional tranquility, for the sake of the children and the stability of society.  In Christianity such rugged, enduring marriage, through pain and heartache, is rooted in the marriage of God to his rebellious people whom he has never finally cast off.

“Your husband is your Maker … For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isaiah 54:5-7).

Lincoln brought debilities into his marriage to Mary Todd.  He was emotionally withdrawn and prized reason over passion.  She said that he “was not a demonstrative man … When he felt most deeply, he expressed the least.”  He was absent, emotionally or physically, most of the time.  Before his presidency, for years he spent four months each year away from home on the judicial circuit.  He was indulgent with the children and left their management almost entirely to his wife.

Mary often flew into rages.  “She pushed Lincoln relentlessly to seek high public office; she complained endlessly about poverty; she overran her budget shamelessly, both in Springfield and in the White House;  she abused servants as if they were slaves (and ragged on Lincoln when he tried to pay them extra on the side);  she assaulted him on more than one occasion (with firewood, with potatoes);  she probably once chased him with a knife through their backyard in Springfield;  and she treated his casual contacts with attractive females as a direct threat, while herself flirting constantly and dressing to kill.

A regular visitor to the White House wrote of Mrs. Lincoln that ‘she was vain, passionately fond of dress and wore her dresses shorter at the top and longer at the train than even fashions demanded.  She had great pride in her elegant neck and bust, and grieved the president greatly by her constant display of her person and her fine clothes.’”

It was a pain-filled marriage.  The familiar lines in his face and the somber countenance reveal more than the stress of civil war.  But the two stayed married.  They kept at least that part of their vows.  They embraced the pain, even if they could not or would not remove it.

What was the gain?  God will give the final answer.

But here are two historical assessments:

1) How was it that Lincoln, when president, could work so effectively with the rampant egos who filled his administration?  “The long years of dealing with his tempestuous wife helped prepare Lincoln for handling the difficult people he encountered as president.”  In other words, a whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.

2) “Over the slow fires of misery that he learned to keep banked and under heavy pressure deep within him, his innate qualities of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness were tempered and refined.” America can be glad that Abraham Lincoln did not run from the fires of misery in his marriage. There were resources for healing he did not know.   But when they fail, embracing the fire is better than escape.

Why Won’t YOU Bless Me?

Why does God sometimes withhold the one thing we long for so desperately?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Mark Littleton

All through the Church there are Christians who live in sorrow. They’re not necessarily poor. They don’t lack health or friends or pleasure. But there is something, perhaps just one thing, that they yearn for. It’s a blessing they can never obtain by their wits, schemes, perseverance, or charm. Only God can grant it. Nevertheless, for some reason God refuses to answer yes.

Though they pray, though they ask others to pray, though they listen to tapes, read books, and even slip into manipulation and threats on occasion, nothing changes.

I think of Judy. A vivacious, kind woman. She, sings, dances, and organizes special events at church that I all enjoy. She’s attractive and interesting. She has an excellent career. But unlike many women today who live happy and productive lives singly, she wants a husband. Yet, she is approaching her late thirties and has not found a man she feels would be right for her. She’s struggled with depression, anger, frustration, and simply learning to wait. She’s even “given it over to the Lord.” It would be easy to tell her, “He’ll come along,” or “Look at it as a blessing.” But I have also known that loneliness. It’s an ache.

I think of Doug. Converted several years ago, he is zealous, exuberant, excited about Jesus. But the shrill cry of his heart is, “Lord, bring my family to Jesus. Don’t let them perish.” His father is old. His mother is embedded in religious ritual. There isn’t much time left. But God seems not even to have moved, let alone converted.

I think of others. Chuck—out of work, yet nothing opens up. Don and Mary—strong Christians, but their teenaged children reject Christ and the faith. Brenda—her alcoholic husband shows no interest in the gospel, Jesus, or even her love.

And I think of Hannah, the woman “of a sorrowful spirit” (1 Sam. 1:15, KJV). She knew well what it was to cry for God’s blessing and to watch her prayers crash to the ground in resounding no’s from Heaven.

Have you been there?

Often, you’re obsessed with that one desire. You can’t shake it. Even though you tell yourself, “What’s it matter? It’s only a little thing,” it doesn’t work. It is the only thing that matters.

Hannah’s desire for a child built in her mind over the years to a gigantic crescendo. As she aged, she became deeply depressed. While some women would have gritted their teeth and plodded on, Hannah was ready to give up. The question seemed to screech through her mind daily: Will I die never having brought a child into the world? For her, life wasn’t worth living if she couldn’t become a mother.

If your happiness is marred by a deep longing, I have good news for you: The desire for and delay of God’s blessing—of any kind—can actually launch you into a deeper and greater fellowship with Him. Why does God sometimes delay, sometimes withhold, a legitimate blessing? Hannah’s story offers us much insight into the problem.

TO DEVELOP HOLINESS

God was more concerned about making Hannah a woman of God than a mother for God. Becoming a mother isn’t difficult. It’s turning mothers into the likeness of Jesus that takes work.

Scripture teaches that God is sovereign. Paul tells us in Eph. 1:11 that He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” He is Lord of all. Nothing that comes to pass surprises Him, catches Him off guard, or stumps Him. He planned it all from beginning to end. Nothing escapes His scrutiny and control. He’s in charge.

Applied in Hannah’s circumstances, this means that not only was God aware and concerned about her problem, but He, in His perfect wisdom, had planned it this way for His own purpose: the development of holiness in her life.

We all tend to rebel against this truth. “You mean God made her barren?” “You mean He put her through all that pain?” “You mean God is the cause of all this trouble?”

Not the cause. But yes, it was part of His plan. In order to develop character in Hannah, God orchestrated the events of her life toward that end. To bring about true godlikeness in her life, He withheld the blessing.

Look at the byproducts of Hannah’s time of trial: patience, endurance, a fervent prayer life, intimate knowledge of God, a passion for holiness. Would these things have come apart from her pain? In order to produce a Samuel, God first had to produce a Hannah.

TO TEACH US PERSISTENCE

Hannah’s experience brought out a second truth about why God delays His blessing. Wanting a blessing teaches us to persist. Hannah soon discovered there was no one who could help her but God. The doctors offered nothing. Her friends had given up. Even her own husband, who was normally so supportive, finally came to the place where he said, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8). Hannah found there was only One who could do anything about her problem.

Yet, although God seemed to refuse to bless, to say no to her requests, Hannah kept coming back. Verse 3 says they came “year after year.” Same prayer. Same requests. Same hope. Same answer. She didn’t give up.

In this regard, many Christians fall prey to a Satanic ploy that says, “Well, I prayed about it. God didn’t answer. So I guess it’s not His will.” And they give up. But is that what God intends?

The lack of a speedy answer to prayer is no reason for laziness in prayer. Many times we see people in Scripture pleading with God, believing they could influence His decisions. It wasn’t that they thought they could change His eternal will. They didn’t know His will! No one knows God’s eternal will until it’s history. There is never a reason to think, Whatever He wants will be. So why pray? Rather, Hannah thought, This is what I want, Lord. You said, “Ask.” So I’m asking.

As a sophomore in college in 1970 I wanted to buy a car. My father and I talked about it at length. We considered an MG, but he reminded me that I’d only be able to take one passenger to and from school. We cruised around the used car lots looking for my dream machine.

One lot featured a 1959 Dodge. “A good family car,” the salesman told us. Dad liked it. I nixed it. We looked at another MG. “Too much money,” said Dad. I said, “I can get a loan.” “From who?” he asked. I gave him a long, mournful look, then gave up.

Then one day someone called and told Dad about a lady who was selling a 1965 white Ford Mustang. “Four on the floor, 289 four barrel, less than 40,000 miles. Creampuff condition. It’s for you.” He raced me over. We checked it out, drove it around. I had to have it. We bought it, and I screeched off into the sunset.

I often think of seeking God’s blessing as like that time with my dad. It’s a process of working together. There’s give and take. There’s discussion, examination, hope, despair, a crisis, a climax. Prayer is an earnest discussion between two persons who love one another. You work out a solution to a problem that both believe is the wisest course. Had Hannah not gone through a time without blessing, she might never have learned to pray with power.

TO GIVE US GOD’S BEST

That brings us to a third principle: Lacking God’s blessing for a time may lead to far greater blessing up ahead.

God loved Hannah so much that He wouldn’t give her second best. He could have landed six kids in her lap by the age of sixteen. But He made her wait, for a reason. He wanted her to bear a Samuel. Not just some nameless kid like Peninnah’s boys. Samuel, a prophet of God. Sometimes God’s best blessing is the one preceded by the greatest pain. God loves us too much to let us get the goods too easily.

My friend Bill Scott told me about a birthday he had as a child. For years he had begged his parents for a horse. But as time wore on, he gave up on it. Shortly before his twelfth birthday, his Dad asked him what he wanted. “Blue jeans,” he said.

When he pranced downstairs on the morning of his birthday, he was ready to tug on those blue jeans. But his father simply asked him to go out to the barn. Bill asked where his present was. “You’ll get it,” Dad said. “But go out to the barn first. Make sure there’s plenty of hay.”

Bill was upset. He wanted those blue jeans. He threw such a corker, his dad finally said to his mother, “We’d better get this guy some blue jeans.” She rushed him out and bought a pair.

Dressed in his Levi finery, he was ready for the barn. He ambled out and discovered a horse in the stall by the hay, saddled and ready to go. He ran back to the house and shouted, “There’s a horse out there.” “Right,” said Dad. “It’s yours, Bill. For your birthday.” Bill was astonished. He wanted blue jeans, and his father wanted to give him a horse.

You have to think about that. We fight God all the time about such things. We want what we want when we want it! And God doesn’t want to give us what we want. He wants to give us the things we can only dream about.

What blessing are you seeking now? How long have you waited? Two years? Five? Ten? Maybe you need to ask, “What is God trying to give me that I haven’t thought about?”

In the end, Hannah’s lack of a blessing became one of God’s greatest blessings. God withheld lesser blessings to give her the greatest of all: not just a son, but holiness, intimate knowledge of God, a sweet and gentle spirit.

So what blessing are you seeking that God simply refuses to give?

Perhaps the real question is, what do you see God doing in your life now that proves it’s worth the wait?

The Most Misunderstood Woman in the Bible

Why Job’s wife may have gotten a bad rap

Editor’s NOTE:  This article gives pause to consider another perspective or other possible reasons why a person says or does something we might take exception with.  There can be other factors involved that must be understood before we rush to judgment based upon how things seem.  Without compromising truth or values or failing to realize we can always “do better next time” and “learn from our past,” it is also important to look at things humbly and gracefully in the context of the present circumstances.  Not only must we do this in reference to others, but also with even ourselves as we seek to embrace God’s direction to love others as we love ourselves (Mt 22:39).

SOURCE:  Christianity Today/Daniel Darling

Her name was never revealed and yet she may be the most infamous woman in the Bible. Augustine labeled her “the devil’s accomplice.” Calvin called her “a diabolical fury.”

And the contemporary understanding of Job’s wife hasn’t improved on Calvin or Augustine. It’s difficult to find a book or sermon treatment of the life of Job that doesn’t include the usual condemnations toward his wife. It has become a standard joke to pity Job, as if his wife was yet another cross God called this man to bear.

If the Proverbs 31 woman represents a model of Christian virtue, the wife of Job occupies the role of least desirable, sharing space in the Hall of Shame with the likes of JezebelDelilah, and Michal.

But is this image an honest assessment of her character? Or is there a possibility that in our rush to empathize and identify with Job, we’ve rushed to cast judgment on his wife?

What We Forget

I wonder if there isn’t a gap in our understanding of the Job story. Although clearly Job is the main character, he is not the only one. She may not have been the primary subject of the cosmic argument between God and Satan (1:6-112:1-4), but she was still caught in the crossfire. You might argue that every hardship endured by Job was similarly felt by his wife:

She watched her children die (Job 1:13-19).  Ten times God had blessed her womb. Ten times she endured the joy and pain of childbirth. Ten lives nurtured to love, honor, and respect Jehovah. From the account in the first chapter of Job, this appears to be a fun-loving, God-fearing, tight-knit family. Who was the heartbeat of this home? Likely Job’s wife played a part in that. It’s unlikely he could be such an esteemed man in society (Job 1:1) if his wife was not an integral and influential leader in her own right.

Imagine the grief that overwhelmed her soul as she looked down in disbelief at ten freshly dug graves.

She experienced dramatic financial loss.  The Bible describes Job as a wealthy man, perhaps the richest in the world (Job 1:3). Undoubtedly his wife was accustomed to a lifestyle of luxury and comfort. I imagine her home was adorned with the finest furnishings, her clothes spun from the most expensive threads. Her children likely had everything they needed.

In one really bad day, she lost it all. All their wealth, property, and way of life (Job 1:13-22). She was not only bankrupt, but homeless, forced to beg outside the city dump.

She became a caretaker for her disease-ravaged husband.  Although Old Testament scholars don’t agree on the nature of Job’s illness, clearly his pain was so excruciating, he asked God to take his life (Job 3). It distorted Job’s appearance so dramatically that his closest friends could barely recognize him and when they approached, fell to the ground in pity (Job 2:12). This last temptation brought by Satan was so severe, it nearly broke Job’s soul. Every day Job spent at the ragged edge of death, only experiencing momentary relief brought by the heat of the burn piles and the scrape of pottery shards.

While we weep with Job, we miss the faithful, steady presence of his wife. She put aside her own grief to stay care for her husband. Imagine the exhausting drain, caring for a suffering soul like Job. Imagine the loud howls of agony, hour after hour, day after day. Imagine the one you love walking the thin line of sanity, suffering excruciating, debilitating pain.

Job’s wife continued this mission of mercy without the resources of a helpful support network, without any financial resources, without relief. Their children were gone, their friends and family scattered, her God seemingly absent.

Words of Despair

And we come back to those seemingly bitter words of resignation, the only recorded words of Job’s wife in the entire story. Words shared at the lowest point of her life.

“Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9, ESV). These are tough words that appear to reflect a heart bitter and angry toward God. This is where most commentators pounce, accusing Job’s wife of collusion with the Devil to force her husband to do exactly what the Devil predicted Job would do: give up on God. Many question her faith, wondering if perhaps her faith in Jehovah wasn’t real.

I find both scenarios difficult to believe. Every human has moments, words, thoughts we’d love to have back, shared in the crucible of a crushing trial. Imagine if those words were recorded in history for everyone to dissect and analyze.

Clearly God chose to record her thoughts in Scripture, yet sometimes I wonder how fair it is to define an entire life based on one conversation. Nowhere before or after this incident are we given any indication that Job’s wife was a perpetually bitter, unhappy wife.

And perhaps her advice to Job wasn’t born out of her own misery, but out of compassion. Day after day, she witnessed her husband live out his days in utter agony, no relief in sight. Maybe she was seeking the most compassionate way out for Job. Curse God, pull the plug, and get it over with. Perhaps she longed to see an end to Job’s suffering, a painless journey to the sweet relief of heaven. This is certainly something Job himself desired of the Lord.

It’s not uncommon to find raw, honest, expressions of grief spilled on the pages of the Bible. Yet we celebrate David, Moses, Jeremiah, and even Job as being authentic and honest, but heap judgment on Job’s wife for similar expressions.

A Husband’s Response

Job’s response is fascinating. He carefully listens and watches his beloved wife shrink under the weight of their shared hardships.

I imagine Job lifts his blistered hand and strokes her hair. At first, his words read like a harsh rebuke: “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10, ESV).

Yet, if you listen to Job, you almost hear admiration. “You speak as one of the foolish women.” He didn’t say his wife was foolish. He didn’t even say her words were foolish. He said, “She sounds like one of the foolish women.”

In other words, “You don’t sound like yourself.” You might read these words like this:  Sweetheart, that’s not you talking. This doesn’t sound like the woman of God I know and married. That is not you talking, my wife. Let’s remember God’s promises. Let’s remember his goodness.

Such a far cry from the ringing condemnation she’s received in the centuries since. Job knew his wife’s suffering was just as acute as his. In fact, seeing the pain in her eyes may have added to Job’s great suffering.

It’s likely she was in a state of shock. Sudden loss has a way of clouding our judgment, distorting our view of reality and of God. Often those living in the thick of tragedy make contradictory statements about faith and life. Today we might even conclude Job’s wife suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Apparently Job’s words were the balm his wife needed to soothe her soul, because she isn’t heard from again in the remaining chapters of the story.

What Does God Think?

Curiously, while authors, commentators, and pastors all rush to judge her, God is silent. The Scriptures don’t record specific words of blessing for Job’s wife like they do for Job (Job 1:8).

Yet we don’t find divine rebuke either. Surely, if God was displeased with her, he would have expressed it. He didn’t hesitate to rebuke Job’s friends (Job 42:7-9).

All we know of God’s treatment of Job’s wife is how he blessed her after the trial was over. She shared in the doubling of their wealth (Job 42:10). She had the privilege of giving birth to ten more children, whom the Scriptures declared the most beautiful in all of the land (Job 42:12-15). And it’s likely she shared in the many more fruitful years of her husband’s life. The Scriptures say that Job lived long enough to see four generations of his offspring (Job 42:16).

A Model of Endurance

So what can we learn from Job’s wife today? Perhaps her greatest testimony is her simple presence during her husband’s lowest moments. At the end of Job, we read that his siblings and friends returned and “consoled and comforted him because of all the trials the LORD had brought against him” (Job 42:11). It’s easy and safe to show compassion after the fact, but during Job’s lowest moments, they were nowhere to be found.

Yet every single day, there was his wife, caring, loving, and enduring the trials Satan inflicted.

The trials that would split many marriages didn’t split Job and his wife. They stuck it out together. And at the end of this story, we read of them conceiving and raising another ten children.

Was her attitude perfect throughout the storm that engulfed her family? No. Did she say things she would later regret? Absolutely.

But through it all, she endured, her faith in God remained intact, and maybe, just maybe, her service to her husband should be held up as a model of biblical character.

————————————————————————————

Daniel Darling is the senior pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He is the author of Teen People of the BibleCrash Course, and iFaith. He and his wife, Angela, have two daughters and a son. www.danieldarling.com.

Why Stay in a Difficult Marriage?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Dawn Yrene

Quiet miracles happen even in the most tumultuous unions

“Divorce isn’t the unforgivable sin,” my friend hinted, not so subtly. I had just expressed my deep remorse over marrying a man with whom I had little in common.

Kevin and I had been proof that opposites attract. He was the wild type—a tattooed, leather-clad biker. His first love had been his Harley until he had met Christ, six months before meeting me. To be honest, Christ and the Harley still vied for first place. His closet was filled with bike parts, and the motorcycle “herself” rested in the middle of his living room when not in use.

I, on the other hand, was a straight-laced evangelical who listened to Christian music, worked a Christian job, and spoke Christianese. I had my own idols, though, and at age 26, marriage was becoming one of them.

Kevin and I met at a Christian singles’ retreat. Both of us were there because of a roommate’s persuasion. By the end of the retreat, I had found a new friend in Kevin, “but that’s all,” I assured myself. We were too different ever to be more: I was having a tough time sleeping in a tent, but I had seen him napping while sitting on his motorcycle. This was a true biker!

When Kevin asked for my phone number, I was surprised. Our next outing was a rainy Fourth of July fishing trip. We arrived back in town soaked but with a pleasant memory. Kevin talked little, but when he did, it was often about the Bible. He had a refreshing realness about him. He was a baby Christian, and as babies tend to do, he brought a fresh perspective to life—especially my spiritual life.

We began attending a Bible study and praying together. After a few months, he proposed. Yet despite all the good memories we were making, we were also beginning to disagree often. I assured myself that marriage would make us “one” on issues such as childrearing, spending, and the many other significant differences between us.

As any married person could have told me, that wasn’t a logical assumption.

Till Trials Do Us Part?

Marriage magnified our differences. Kevin’s focus on me began to take his eyes off Jesus. My hopes for a blissful marriage and a friend who would always be there did the same to me.

Sometimes we idolized each other, looking to each other to fill the empty places we should have let Christ fill. We also fought regularly. Though Kevin could say sweet things, he also knew how to make me feel low—even abused. I was surprised to see myself, the “good little Christian,” becoming hateful and vengeful. I began pondering my friend’s advice. After all, Christians aren’t perfect. What if I married the wrong person? Why stay married if it’s all about fighting? Why stay imprisoned when a simple divorce could mean freedom? Why be unhappy?

Amid all my questioning, a still, small voice kept reminding me of what I had prayed shortly before meeting Kevin. “Lord, instead of looking for a man who fits my list of wants, give me to a man who needs me as his helper, as Adam needed Eve.” Despite our differences, Kevin needed a helper, and the helper God had selected was me. And I needed Kevin—to balance me, challenge me, and cause me to trust God. Through the painful trials of marriage, God was purifying me, teaching me to obey even when it wasn’t comfortable, and rewarding me in quiet ways only I could see.

Nearly 13 years and five children later, my difficult marriage has brought happiness I never imagined and pain I never knew I could endure. Kevin has a growing relationship with Christ, as do I. Idolatry has been replaced by awe over God’s forgiveness. Brokenness and thankfulness have replaced abusive language and behavior. Answered prayer has turned a marriage that was an embarrassment to God’s kingdom into a testimony of His power.

Kevin and I are still more like black and white than gray. We need Christ to hold us together. But our roller-coaster ride has shown me that, contrary to worldly opinions, there are good reasons for staying in a difficult marriage. Here are several of those reasons.

Staying Power

WE ALL HAVE PRISONS.  Many situations can make us feel trapped: a nagging temptation, a tormented past, sickness, poverty, loneliness—or a difficult marriage. The Apostle Paul showed us what to do when there’s no way out: While in prison, he worshiped God (Acts 16:25). Being bound to an incompatible spouse doesn’t have to stop us from thanking God, experiencing peace, and receiving the His good gifts daily.

Divorcing my husband would ultimately be exchanging one prison for another. Bitterness and unforgiveness would create their own kind of trap. As Richard Lovelace wrote long ago, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” Could I, like Paul, rejoice in my prison cell?

DIFFICULTIES MAKE US BETTER PEOPLE.  We all hate suffering. But without it, who would we be? Looking at the lives of two biblical kings, a father and son, we get a glimpse. David lived a life of warfare, moving from one battle to the next. Yet at the end of David’s life, he worshiped so joyfully that he ignited a revival throughout Israel.

His son Solomon, in contrast, received from his father a productive and peaceful kingdom. He enjoyed peace, wealth, and whatever he wanted. Yet Ecclesiastes suggests that Solomon’s easy life led him to depression, cynicism, and weak faith.

DIFFICULTIES STRENGTHEN OUR PRAYER LIVES.  The Bible makes it clear that God wants people to stay married. Yet He hasn’t made marriage particularly easy. It’s only by crying out to God in our inadequacy that difficult marriages can change and grow. During our darkest moments, the psalms remind us that God understands our feelings and will help. In my marriage, the times forgiveness has been hardest have also been the times I have seen God’s rewards in the most amazing ways. Isaiah 64:4-5 says,

No eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right.

My marriage is undeniably better when I pray for my spouse. With this incentive, I’ve learned to pray for everything from simple blessings such as God’s mercy and peace in our house, to complicated requests such as how to communicate in a way Kevin will understand. I’ve even learned to pray things I don’t really want to pray, such as for me to recognize my sin and for God to change me into the wife Kevin needs.

STAYING MARRIED TEACHES US HOW TO FORGIVE.  If there’s one thing marriage has taught me, it’s how to seek and grant forgiveness. Kevin, who had suffered through two divorces as an unbeliever, recently told me how freeing it is to be able to ask forgiveness and receive it. In his previous marriages, the word forgiveness was never mentioned. I’ve also learned firsthand the truth of Christ’s words in Lk. 7:47:

Her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

When I truly forgive Kevin for hurts he regrets causing, his love for me grows. In the same way, I love him more when he sets me free from the debts I owe him.

Often it comes down to a simple choice: Will I hold on to bitterness, or will I love Jesus enough to put another person’s needs before my own—even if that person has wounded me to the core? Will I be kind to a spouse who doesn’t return my kindness because the Lover of my soul asks me to, or will I bail out? If I put my spouse in the place of God, then when he utterly fails, I may give up on him, even despise him. But if he is a gift from God—a part of my walk with Christ—someone who can test my love for God on a regular basis, I will be able to forgive even when he seriously disappoints me.

THERE’S A WAY THAT SEEMS RIGHT…BUT ISN’T.  A difficult marriage can seem like a mistake—but it may not be.  A spouse may be the best person to teach us to die to self (Mk. 8:35).  Males and females have different needs and wants when it comes to sex, communication—even TV preferences! In marriages where the list goes much further, including preferences in food (health versus junk), holiday traditions, denominational affiliations, and cultural backgrounds, divorce may, at times, seem to be the right choice.  But Prov. 14:12 says that sometimes what seems right leads to death. Kevin’s and my differences have caused many tears, especially in trying to raise happy, emotionally healthy children.  But if we trust God, we can believe that divorce, while it may seem logical at times, would only destroy the good results God wants to produce in us.

FEELINGS THAT HAVE FADED MAY RETURN.  Some couples find that bitterness and resentment have made it impossible to love one another. But Jesus said, “All things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27). Both Kevin and I have reached low points where it seemed we could never love each other again. Miraculously, our union has become such a team, such a friendship, and such a wonderful romance that we feel unworthy and amazed at God’s ability to restore. Utter hatred can become passionate love when we submit those feelings to God, and obedience overrides the desire of the moment.

MY MARRIAGE SHOULDN’T BE MY ENTIRE LIFE.  God has jobs, talents, and good works (Eph. 2:10) planned for each of us. In a bad marriage, God may bring relief through an outside occupation or a specific calling. He may use our hurts to minister to others who suffer. Focusing only on our marriages—good or bad—can cause us to miss out on the good God wants to do through us and for us in other areas of our lives.

I CAN CHOOSE TO SEE THE GOOD IN MY SPOUSE.  Every situation and person has good and bad aspects on which we can choose to focus. First Thessalonians 5:18 says to give thanks in allsituations.

When I wanted our yard fenced a few years ago, Kevin and I disagreed. He didn’t feel we could afford it. I wanted protection for our kids. Finally, he put up a six-foot chain-link fence—after I had told him I didn’t like chain link.

Years later, when I look at that fence, I can feel angry at my husband’s choice or thank God that Kevin sacrificed his time, sweat, and money to keep our children safe. I can also remember that men and women often think they’ve communicated clearly, when the opposite sex heard a completely different message. Maybe Kevin didn’t realize that chain link was that big of a deal to me. Maybe it was on sale. Maybe he tuned out during that part of the conversation. When marriage is tough, there’s still an opportunity to find my spouse’s good qualities and thank God for them—despite the imperfections.

Marriage by the Book

In an age in which counselors tell us to get out of “poisonous relationships” and even well-meaning friends say divorce is OK, I can remember the words of an old, yet living book. I can remember that it’s not really about my marriage to a man, but to the Bridegroom. If I love Him, I’ll obey by loving my spouse. In doing that, I find—strangely—that my difficult marriage can become a delight. And while God doesn’t promise that, He does ask if I am willing to die so that I can find real life in losing mine. I must admit such obedience doesn’t come easily.

Thankfully, Kevin’s Harley no longer resides in the living room. He sold it a year after we married to pay bills from our daughter’s birth. Now, we have a pet rabbit and five rowdy little children in its place. Lately, Kevin has been browsing the internet for another motorcycle. I don’t know what I’d do if he brought it into our living room. But with God’s help, we’ve made it over enough hurdles that I hope we wouldn’t let a little thing like a Harley in the living room get in the way of a happy marriage. With all our differences, we make too good a team for that.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that differences and difficulties are a recipe for truly great marriages. Differences may make marital harmony more difficult to achieve. But when two people with varying strengths come together, wanting to obey God and allowing Him to be strong where they are weak, the marriage that results becomes a powerful force for good in this world and a great reason for unbelievers to believe.

Closing The Window To PORN!

SOURCE:  Tim Challies

Walt Mueller writes a brief review of Tim Chester’s book Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free and then says this:

Chester offers up five key ingredients that must be present and in place for someone to win the battle with pornography.

1. An abhorrence of porn. You have to hate porn itself (not just the shame it brings), and long for change.

2. You must adore God. Why? Because we can be confident that He offers more than porn.

3. You must be assured of God’s grace. You are loved by God and are right with God through faith in the work of Jesus.

4. You must avoid temptation. Be committed to do all you in your power to avoid temptation, starting with the controls on your computer.

5. You must be accountable to others. You need a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle.

Tim Chester never claims it’s easy. This isn’t a “take these five steps and everything will be just fine” treatment. No, life is messy. And Tim Chester is writing about a messy battle. It’s a battle we must understand, engage in, and fight with long-suffering intensity.

Perseverance: Simply Holding On OR Vigorous Confidence?

Editor’s Note:  When we must persevere, do we just endure until a circumstance is over?  Or, do we participate in a growing, dynamic, intimate experience with God as He tests and gives evidence of our maturing capacity to trust His goodness, love, and sovereignty over our lives?  Hopefully, more of the latter becomes the goal.

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

Because you have kept My command to persevere . . . —Revelation 3:10

Perseverance means more than endurance— more than simply holding on until the end. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands. Is there something in your life for which you need perseverance right now? Maintain your intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the perseverance of faith. Proclaim as Job did, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Faith is not some weak and pitiful emotion, but is strong and vigorous confidence built on the fact that God is holy love. And even though you cannot see Him right now and cannot understand what He is doing, you know Him. Disaster occurs in your life when you lack the mental composure that comes from establishing yourself on the eternal truth that God is holy love. Faith is the supreme effort of your life— throwing yourself with abandon and total confidence upon God.

God ventured His all in Jesus Christ to save us, and now He wants us to venture our all with total abandoned confidence in Him. There are areas in our lives where that faith has not worked in us as yet— places still untouched by the life of God. There were none of those places in Jesus Christ’s life, and there are to be none in ours. Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You . . .” (John 17:3). The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering. If we will take this view, life will become one great romance— a glorious opportunity of seeing wonderful things all the time. God is disciplining us to get us into this central place of power.

Quotes on Suffering and Comfort

SOURCE: Dr. Robert Kellemen/God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting

“When tragedy strikes, we enter a crisis of faith. We either move toward God or away from God.”

“There is no human experience which cannot be put on the anvil of a lively relationship with God and man, and battered into a meaningful shape.”

“Christianity doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. It enables you to take it, to face it, to work through it, and eventually convert it.”

“God’s Word empowers us not to evade suffering, but to face suffering face-to-face with God.”

“In suffering, God is not getting back at you; He is getting you back to Himself.”

“Shared sorrow is endurable sorrow.”

“No grieving; no healing. Know grieving; know healing.”

“We live in a fallen world and it often falls on us.”

“The world is a mess and it messes with our minds.”

“Spiritual friendship with God results in 20/20 spiritual vision from God.”

“To deny or diminish suffering is to arrogantly refuse to be humbled. It is to reject dependence upon God.”

“Crying out to God empties us so there is more room in us for God.”

“Faith does not demand the removal of suffering; faith desires endurance in suffering.”

“Faith understands that what can’t be cured, can be endured.”

“Comfort experiences the presence of God in the presence of suffering—a presence that empowers me to survive scars and plants the seed of hope that I will yet thrive.”

“In this life, your scar may not go away, but neither will His. He understands. He cares. He’s there.”

“Spiritual emergencies can produce spiritual emergence.”

“Faith looks back to the past recalling God’s mighty works. Hope looks ahead remembering God’s coming reward.”

“In Christ, loss is never final. Christ’s resurrection is the first-fruit of every resurrection.”

“When we wait on God, we cling to God’s rope of hope, even when we can’t see it.”

“Hope waits. Hope is the refusal to demand heaven now.”

“Waiting is refusing to take over while refusing to give up. Waiting refuses self-rescue.”

“In Christ, we move from victims to victors.”

“God is a ‘time God.’ He does not come before time. He does not come after time. He comes at just the right time.”

“Faith is entrusting myself to God’s larger purposes, good plans, and eternal perspective.”

“Faith is seeing life with spiritual eyes instead of eyeballs only.”

“Through faith, I look at suffering, not with rose colored glasses, but with faith eyes, with Cross-eyes, with 20/20 spiritual vision.”

“Instead of our perspective shrinking, suffering is the exact time when we must listen most closely, when we must lean over to hear the whisper of God.”

“True, God shouts to us in our pain, but His answers, as with Elijah, often come to us in whispered still small voices amid the thunders of the world.”

“God’s eternal, heavenly story doesn’t obliterate my earthly, painful story; it gives it meaning.”

“Grace math teaches us that present suffering plus God’s character equals future glory. The equation we use is the Divine perspective.”

“Worship is wanting God more than wanting relief.”

“Worship is finding God even when you don’t find answers.”

“Worship is walking with God in the dark and having Him as the light of your soul.”

“Every problem is an opportunity to know God better, and our primary battle is to know God well.”

“Problems can either shove us far from God or drag us kicking and screaming closer to Him.”

A Spiritual Mismatch In Marriage–and the God Who Sees

Adapted from an article by:  Janel Breitenstein/Familly Life Today

A Long, Slow Obedience —-

A few weeks ago I found myself with my forehead on my bedroom wall, portable phone to my ear. It was one of those brow-creasing, gut-wrenching, I need wisdom please, Lord! conversations with a friend whose voice was breaking from the yoke of stress.

For nearly a decade now, she had braved a marital rollercoaster. Her husband did acknowledge Jesus. But from the sound of it, his desire for Christ collided with significant dysfunctions from his past and present. He ultimately had a hard time transferring his faith into his marriage. She knew she wasn’t guiltless; we chatted at length about her own contributions to the tense, complicated situation. But it seemed that for her husband, the responsibility of cherishing and nourishing his wife like Christ does His bride–the church–wasn’t on his radar screen yet.

As I stood there, now hand to forehead, praying out loud for her into the receiver, my thoughts became consumed with the magnitude of her daily burden. Yet I was transfixed by her staggering opportunity. She wielded the chance to constantly showcase the gospel to her husband, to her kids, to a watching world, and to a Father who sees what is done in secret (Matthew 6:4,6). In her I was reminded of the God who ardently watches and cares for her, as He did for a discarded Hagar in the Canaanite wilderness.

I began to digest what the gospel in this particular pair of jeans looked like. I thought of the choices she would be making over and over in the nitty-gritty moments of life: when she was asking about his day, for example. Or disciplining their boys. Or folding his socks again. Or agreeing on a movie. Or assembling dinner. Or when one of them had a bad day.

In a thousand decisions, she’d be resolving to love her husband as God has loved her. While she (and I) were still His adversary, God loved us–chose our lives in place of His own. He set aside His rights, status, all the love and honor He deserved, and wrapped himself in every reality of serving us … to the point of death.

My friend remembered well the fractured home she’d come from. And for the sake of her young boys and their future marriages, for the love of her husband, and for sheer obedience to God, she’s going to rise every day to shed what was easy (if divorce can be truthfully so named) for what is eternally and presently better.

She may well not be able to thrive in the harmony of teamwork with her husband, and she may be infrequently respected and appreciated. Her needs and longings may not be met, and her dreams may not unfold to reality. She will be offering her body to a person with whom she doesn’t feel wholly connected or known.

Unless God chooses to change the heart of her spouse, she’s looking at a long, slow obedience.

But I trust it won’t stop there. I’m praying that she’ll love this man with her heart, not out of sheer compulsion. Because that’s how we were loved by God. I’m praying God will saturate her with devotion to the husband He’s given her. That she will look out for her husband’s needs, bear his sorrows, hail his triumphs. I’m asking God that just as Jesus served us because “God so loved“–her husband will be served; be so loved.

Any marriage offers occasions on an everyday basis to say, “I choose you. I set aside what I need–or want or deserve–for you.” But I think God must have a unique, filling love and strength for those who, day following day, immerse themselves and their wills in less-than-loving marriages.

He knows intimately their spiritual singleness in the middle of marriage. He witnesses–and intervenes–in the challenges of single parenting of the spiritual sort. He grasps the loss of well-kept hopes for true marital partnership: collaborating for a higher purpose, honing one another in a race toward the Cross.

I trust that in the cavities created by my friend’s marriage, God will be her more-than-sufficient husband, loving her. Buoying her. Empowering her. He’s been where she is, and He drew her with His relentless kindness.

LET GOD’S WILL BE DONE

(Excerpted from The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jan-Pierre De Caussade)

The cruel chisel destroys a stone with each cut.  But what the stone suffers by repeated blows is no less than the shape the mason is making of it.  And should a poor stone be asked, “What is happening to you?” it might reply, “Don’t ask me.  All I know is that for my part there is nothing for me to know or do, only to remain steady under the hand of my master and to love him and suffer him to work out my destiny.  It is for him to know how to achieve this.  I know neither what he is doing nor why.  I only know that he is doing what is best and most perfect, and I suffer each cut of the chisel as though it were the best thing for me, even though, to tell the truth, each one is my idea of ruin, destruction and defacement.  But, ignoring all this, I rest contented with the present moment.  Thinking only of my duty to it, I submit to the work of this skillful master without caring to know what it is.”

NOTE:  Jean Pierre de Caussade S.J. was a French Catholic Jesuit writer known for his work Abandonment to Divine Providence (also translated as The Sacrament of the Present Moment) and his posthumously-published letters of instruction to the Nuns of the Visitation at Nancy, where he spiritual director from 1733-1740.

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