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Posts tagged ‘God’s purpose’

I Am Afflicted

SOURCE: Taken from a sermon by  Pastor Mark Driscoll

I Am Afflicted: Sermon Recap

1. A third of the Psalms are laments. All of the Old Testament prophets except one include a lament. The Bible doesn’t avoid suffering. You won’t avoid suffering.

2. Don’t believe false teaching that says you won’t suffer if you really love Jesus. Jesus will end all suffering eventually, but on earth he suffered more than anyone.

3. When it comes to suffering, don’t ask “Why” ask “Who am I in Christ?” Your affliction doesn’t establish your identity, but your identity can get you through your affliction, if your identity is in Christ.

4. Suffering will cost you a lot of time and energy, so I encourage you to invest it. If you’ve suffered, you have powerful credibility to lead others to the genuine hope found in Jesus.

5. It’s not wonderful that suffering happens, but it’s wonderful that God can use it to help, bless, and encourage others.

6. How are you suffering? What is God teaching you? How can you use it to bless others?

7. If one of the great goals of your life is to be more like Jesus, the most horrible seasons can also be wonderful opportunities for growth.

8. God can use the most painful parts of our story to be the most encouraging to others.

9. Addiction, self-medication, debt…much of life is spent trying to figure out how to go on after we have lost heart. Jesus says, “Take heart!”

10. Some don’t talk about their suffering because it somehow feels more righteous to bear it quietly and avoid burdening others. But the apostle Paul was open about his suffering, and none of us are more godly than him.

11. God usually doesn’t give us an answer for our suffering, but he provides us with his presence: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

12. If you minister to hurting people you will have a growing ministry.

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God’s Wisdom Shines In Darkness

SOURCE:  Deejay O’Flaherty/A Puritan At Heart  posting Thomas Watson

The wisdom of God is seen in helping in desperate cases.

God loves to show his wisdom when human help and wisdom fail.

Exquisite lawyers love to wrestle with niceties and difficulties in the law, to show their skill the more. God’s wisdom is never at a loss; but when providences are darkest, then the morning star of deliverance appears.

`Who remembered us in our low estate.’ Psa 136:63.

Sometimes God melts away the spirits of his enemies. Josh 2:24.  Sometimes he finds them other work to do, and sounds a retreat to them, as he did to Saul when he was pursuing David. `The Philistines are in the land.’ `In the mount will God be seen.’

When the church seems to be upon the altar, her peace and liberty ready to be sacrificed, then the angel comes.

–Thomas Watson–Body of Divinity page 75

[Thomas Watson (c. 1620—1686) was an English, non-conformist, Puritan preacher and author.]

Wisdom for the Trials of Life

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/InTouch Ministries

Read | James 1:5-8

At first glance, today’s passage on wisdom doesn’t seem related to the subject of trials, but James is actually continuing His thoughts from the previous three verses. We need wisdom to know how to respond to suffering. This means we should see trials from the Lord’s viewpoint and understand His purposes in allowing them in our lives.

If you want to profit from struggles, be sustained in them, and come through with joy and victory, you must be persuaded of the following truths:

1. God is in full control of the timing and intensity of your trial and will not allow it to go beyond His boundaries.

2. He has a specific purpose for your suffering which you may not understand until it is over.

3. This trial will prove to be profitable if you submit to God and trust Him through it.

4. Trying situations are opportunities for faith to prove genuine and grow stronger.

5. When you endure extreme pressure with unexplainable peace and joy, the Lord will demonstrate His sustaining power to a watching world.

6. Your difficulties are used by the Father to produce Christ-like character.

7. God will walk with you through all trials.

8. The Holy Spirit will enable you not only to survive but also to come out a conqueror.

If you believe all these principles, they will shape how you respond to difficulties in your life. This perspective eliminates the negative reactions normally elicited by trials and makes supernatural responses possible. Instead of feeling miserable and hopeless, you’ll experience amazing peace and joy.

9 Lessons From God Concerning Sickness

Sickness is meant…

SOURCE:   J. C. Ryle

1. To make us think—to remind us that we have a soul as well as a body—an immortal soul—a soul that will live forever in happiness or in misery—and that if this soul is not saved we had better never have been born.

2. To teach us that there is a world beyond the grave—and that the world we now live in is only a training-place for another dwelling, where there will be no decay, no sorrow, no tears, no misery, and no sin.

3. To make us look at our past lives honestly, fairly, and conscientiously. Am I ready for my great change if I should not get better? Do I repent truly of my sins? Are my sins forgiven and washed away in Christ’s blood? Am I prepared to meet God?

4. To make us see the emptiness of the world and its utter inability to satisfy the highest and deepest needs of the soul.

5. To send us to our Bibles. That blessed Book, in the days of health, is too often left on the shelf, becomes the safest place in which to put a bank-note, and is never opened from January to December. But sickness often brings it down from the shelf and throws new light on its pages.

6. To make us pray. Too many, I fear, never pray at all, or they only rattle over a few hurried words morning and evening without thinking what they do. But prayer often becomes a reality when the valley of the shadow of death is in sight.

7. To make us repent and break off our sins. If we will not hear the voice of mercies, God sometimes makes us “hear the rod.”

8. To draw us to Christ. Naturally we do not see the full value of that blessed Savior. We secretly imagine that our prayers, good deeds, and sacrament-receiving will save our souls. But when flesh begins to fail, the absolute necessity of a Redeemer, a Mediator, and an Advocate with the Father, stands out before men’s eyes like fire, and makes them understand those words, “Simply to Your cross I cling,” as they never did before. Sickness has done this for many—they have found Christ in the sick room.

9. To make us feeling and sympathizing towards others. By nature we are all far below our blessed Master’s example, who had not only a hand to help all, but a heart to feel for all. None, I suspect, are so unable to sympathize as those who have never had trouble themselves—and none are so able to feel as those who have drunk most deeply the cup of pain and sorrow.

Summary: Beware of fretting, murmuring, complaining, and giving way to an impatient spirit. Regard your sickness as a blessing in disguise—a good and not an evil—a friend and not an enemy. No doubt we should all prefer to learn spiritual lessons in the school of ease and not under the rod. But rest assured that God knows better than we do how to teach us. The light of the last day will show you that there was a meaning and a “need be” in all your bodily ailments. The lessons that we learn on a sick-bed, when we are shut out from the world, are often lessons which we should never learn elsewhere.

~ J.C. RYLE

How Can I Pray In The Midst Of Pain?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal

1. “Save me, O God… I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched” (Ps. 69:1, 3).

When you are having difficulty formulating words to pray, read through the psalms and pray along with David and the other psalmists. I have found the following psalms especially helpful during times of pain and darkness: 6, 10, 13, 22, 30, 31, 40, 42, 55, 56, 69, 84, 88, 118, and 145.

2. “Pour out your hearts to him” (Ps. 62:8).

Be completely honest with God about your feelings, struggles, and pain.

3. Be assured that God’s purpose, even in times of testing, is “to do good for you in the end” (Dt. 8:16,NASB).

Surrender your suffering to God daily. Pray that His purposes would be accomplished and that He would be glorified through your suffering. Believe that He works all adversity both for His glory and our good as we accept all from His hand.

4. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7).

Ask God to guide you to specific promises in His Word that will speak to your pain and sustain you during this time.

5. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24).

Confess areas in which you are doubting God and His promises. Ask for faith to believe His Word.

6. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Ro. 8:26).

When you are at a loss for words but heavy in heart, ask the Holy Spirit to pray for you in ways you are unable to pray.

7. “He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Take time to intercede for others as Jesus is doing for you.

8. “I am in pain and distress… I will praise God’s name in song” (Ps. 69:29–30).

Listen to and sing worship music that will remind you of God’s love and power, even in the midst of sadness and pain.

9. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Though you may have many unanswered questions about your suffering, begin praising the Lord for what you do know: that He is good (Ps. 119:68), that He is in control (1 Chron. 29:11), and that nothing can separate you from His love (Ro. 8:38–39).

Out Of The Darkness: How can you pray when your heart is broken?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article in Discipleship Journal/Robert Boardman

Pain!

Sometimes it feels like you’re drowning in it.

No matter how much we try to fight it, suffering is a part of life. It may be in the form of a broken body or a broken heart but, sooner or later, it will come.

Pain can make us or break us; When it hits full force we have two choices: to blame and reject the God who could have prevented it, or to trust that it is part of His perfect plan for our lives. Pain is the crucible in which real faith is formed.

In Psalm 77, Asaph shows us how personal anguish can lead to growth. His pilgrimage shows us four crucial steps that lead from despair to joy.

Asaph had an exceptional ability to be honest about spiritual struggles. His honesty shows in each of the eleven psalms he wrote (73–83), whether he is confessing his own failures (Ps. 73:2–3) or admitting his confusion over God’s strange ways (Ps. 74:1). He knows us. He understands our innermost struggles, our abject hearts. He puts words to our wretched feelings. Yet he perseveres by faith to praise, and from his perseverance we can take hope.

STEP ONE FOCUSING ON OURSELVES

It’s natural, when we suffer difficulty, to think first of ourselves, to pray first about our personal needs. And Asaph was no exception. In Psalm 77 he wrote,

1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. 3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.

Notice Asaph’s focus in these first four verses:   I cried out, I was in distress, I sought the Lord, stretched out untiring hands, my soul refused to be comforted, I remembered you, I groaned, I mused, my spirit grew faint, I was troubled. Some people condemn this kind of preoccupation with one’s own feelings as selfish, yet it can be the first step toward healing—if it leads us to seek help beyond ourselves. After all, God is thinking about us, too. He loves us. He desires our greatest good.

While God cares about our suffering, He is more concerned with molding our lives so that we will bring Him more honor, glory, and praise. But our private pain, at least at first, prevents our understanding that.

It is never easy to turn to God for help. By nature we are proud. We would rather maintain our independence, even as failures, than acknowledge our dependence on God. We will cast all our cares on God only when we are honest enough to admit that we are overwhelmed by them (1 Pet. 5:7). If we try to cover up the pain, or pretend it is not there, we are really relying on our own efforts to deal with it. So looking first within ourselves and becoming aware of the pain that is there is the first step toward growth.

In 1945, I had returned from war in the Pacific with a serious injury and a new hope: life in Christ. In the U.S. Naval Hospital in Farragut, Idaho, my spiritual life was beginning to grow as my body slowly mended. Then I met Jean. Her beauty, her personality, and her godly character captured my heart, and I was in love.

Then one day in 1947 a thick letter came. Even before I opened it, I knew instinctively that it was a “Dear John.” The heart I had given her, Jean had returned smashed, crushed seemingly beyond repair.

I cried out to God in anguish. And as I poured out my pain, confusion, and fear before His throne, over time, He began to collect the broken pieces and painstakingly accomplish His skilled repair work. (Interestingly, when God did finally give me a wife, her name was Jean, too.)

God is our refuge. He waits eagerly to take us in, to listen to our heart’s cry, to care, to comfort, to mend. But first we must admit that we are hurting. The feelings we attempt to hold within will someday burst like the walls of a dam, sending raging waters upon the unsuspecting in the peaceful valleys below and causing inestimable damage.

STEP TWO: ASKING QUESTIONS

Now Asaph shifts focus. No longer does he look only at himself and his troubles. He looks at God. And what he sees, he doesn’t like.

Shaken by what, from all appearances, is a failure of God’s love and faithfulness, he assails God with questions:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? 8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?  9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Asaph is in such turmoil that he questions the very character of God. Yet God does not destroy him. He recognizes the desperate cry of a wounded heart, a confused heart, and sees it as a necessary step toward faith. God is never angry or upset over a person’s honest questions.

In 1970 in Seoul, Korea, God saw best to take to himself the small daughter of our friends Paul and Sukja Yoo. During a severe water shortage in one of Seoul’s steamy, humid summers, the Yoos kept their tile bathtub filled with water in order to have a minimal supply. In an unattended moment, little Hiju, intrigued by the prospect of playing in the water, tumbled in and drowned.

Paul and Sukja asked God, “Why?” God understood and welcomed the question. In His own time and way, He answered their anxious hearts.

The cry of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross echoed Ps. 22:1:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”  He questioned the Father, but trusted Him for the answers.

The glorious resurrection was an answer to His impassioned plea. And in time there came multitudes from every tribe, kindred, tongue, and nation whose sins were washed away in His sacrifice on Calvary.

For every believer, there are times of darkness when we do not have answers to our questions. But during those times we can and should ask God honest questions about ourselves, our circumstances, our ministry, our loved ones, family, enemies, our future . . . end then believe Him for amazing and wonderful assurances. “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Is. 50:10).  He teaches us to wait after asking our questions in order that we might learn to trust Him wholly, even without answers.

STEP THREE: REFLECTING ON THE PAST

Until this point, Asaph has been involved in a great struggle. He has wrestled with the deep problems of his own soul and the hard circumstances around him.

God’s seeming inactivity in response to the psalmist’s prayer brings bewilderment, but it does not prevent him from making a very important decision. He says,

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Beginning from verse 10, Asaph begins to come out of the darkness. Now the tempo of his outlook begins to change. Notice the “I will’s” in these three verses. Asaph is choosing to reflect on God despite his suffering, overwhelming circumstances, and the bewilderment of God’s silence. He is no longer carried along by the circumstances of his trial and his questions.

Asaph’s willingness to do this reveals a meek and lowly disposition. He stops fighting against God and opens his heart to His answers. His struggles in prayer begin to cease.

God honors this kind of humility; He responds to one who will think upon His mighty acts. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2).

And as Asaph begins to focus on the power and faithfulness of God throughout history—and perhaps even earlier in his own life—he gains the perspective he needs. He begins to see his own struggles in the context of a longer, larger work of God through history. He begins to anchor himself in the immovable foundation that will counterbalance present appearances.

Surely God brought salvation then, if He showed compassion then, if He fulfilled His promise then—surely He can do so now, for me, in the midst of my torment.  Such might have been Asaph’s thoughts as he clung to the reassuring facts of God’s dealings in history. He may not have had an explanation of his own sufferings yet; he may not have seen their outcome yet. But this he knew: God had delivered His people before; He could deliver him now.

So it is with us. Reflecting on the past faithfulness of God brings spiritual equilibrium to our lives. When we remember what God has done for us in the past, we know that once again, even in the midst of a great test, He could lift us up, bring solutions, and reveal Himself to us. Looking back gives us perspective on the needs of the present and the possibilities of the future.

STEP FOUR: FOCUSING ON GOD

Now, in answer to his own doubts and complaints, Asaph sets forth in praise the specific things God has done that give him hope:

13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? 14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. 15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.  16 The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.  17 The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. 18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. 19 Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.  20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Remember how self-centered the first section of this psalm was? Sixteen times in six verses Asaph had spoken of himself—”I,” “me,” “my.” Contrast that with his words in this last section. Not once in eight verses does he refer to himself. His focus is entirely on God: on God’s holiness, power, redemption, faithfulness, and tender mercy. Meditating on these things delivers Asaph from the bondage of depression and self-pity and ushers him into the liberty of exultant praise.

Warren and Ruth Myers say this about praise:

Prayer has been called the slender nerve that moves the mighty hand of God. Any form of sincere, believing prayer channels God’s power into our lives and situations, but the prayer of praise especially releases His power. Praise is “faith in action”—and faith brings victory that changes circumstances or victory in circumstances as they are.

One of the most dramatic stories of the power of praise is found in 2 Chronicles 20. When King Jehoshaphat of Judah learned that Moabite and Ammonite troops were advancing on Jerusalem, he stood before the people and acknowledged his powerlessness before God. God promised that He would deliver them.

So sure was Jehoshaphat of God’s faithfulness that he appointed a group of men to march in front of his army “to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness.” And “as they began to sing and praise,” God caused the enemy armies to turn upon each other. Every soldier of Moab and Ammon was dead before Jehoshaphat’s troops reached the battlefield.

Praise is the ultimate weapon against the forces that would defeat us, as well. If we would only praise God by faith, as Asaph did, it could lead us to amazing victories, both in our personal lives and in our ministries.

Taking our eyes off ourselves and choosing to praise God is the final step toward growth in the midst of suffering. Praise proves we are “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). Our spirits rise, God regains His place at the center of our lives, and we become “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

C. M. Hanson wrote, “Praise is like a plow set to go deep into the soil of believers’ hearts. It lets the glory of God into the details of daily living.” Let us say with the psalmist, “I will praise God’s lame in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs” (Ps. 69:30–31).

FOUR STEPS TO GROWTH

What worked for Asaph can work for us, too. In the midst of our greatest difficulties, we can be transformed from despair to adoration if we will be honest about our own feelings, ask the questions that haunt us, remember how God has worked in the past, and praise His holiness, faithfulness, and love.

We must not bury our feelings. Hiding them merely lets them fester end spread. Instead, we must expose them to the healing air of communion with God.

Neither must we hide our doubt inspired questions, however impertinent they might seem. They’ll be no surprise to God. We might as well get them out in the open where they can be objectified and answered.

But when we’ve asked our questions, we must be honest enough to listen for answers, too. And we will find those answers in the miraculous works of God recorded in Scripture, in history, and in our own past.

Finally, as we are reminded of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, let us praise Him. And as we focus our hearts on God’s power to work on our behalf instead of on our own suffering, we will be freed from the bondage of despair.

In our deepest distress, when we cannot see the path down which God leads us, we can be sure that, as our Good Shepherd, He leads us by the hand. The reasons for our trials may not yet be revealed—may never be this side of eternity. But we know who goes before us, and by what He has done we can be sure of what He will yet do.

Ever tried manipulative praying? I have…

Adpated from an article at Counseling Solutions

A true story: once upon a time God allowed me the privilege of entering into what I called the “dark night of the soul.” What really happened is that my loving and merciful Heavenly Father escorted me into the crucible of suffering.

It was a time in my life that lasted over nine years.

Though it’s a hokey cliche, I must say, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”

What I mean is that there has never been a time in my life where I felt more in tune to God and there has never been a time in my life where I wanted the unrelenting pain to go away more than then.

I was hurting, angry, bitter, and hopeless, but I knew the Lord was mercifully and incrementally helping me to die to myself.

You see the juxtaposition of the fear/faith tension in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet, where he pleaded with the Father this way:

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blow, burn and make me new.

Has God ever “battered your heart?” What began as knocking, breathing, and shining soon turned into breaking, blowing, and burning?

The beginning of woes for me was 1988. That was 23-years ago. I can look back on it now with more clarity and understanding.

The day God began battering my heart

One of [my] favorite Broadway plays is Les Miserables. One of the characters in the play is Fantine, who lives a mostly miserable life and ends up dying too soon. Her “song” in the play is called “I Dreamed a Dream.” Here is a portion:

I had a dream my life would be So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed…
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed…

I understand. During the season of my crucible I was extremely bitter about where my life was and where it seemed to be going. My desire and God’s desire were colliding and I was not one bit happy about the story He was writing for me.

The first four years of my dark night of the soul was spent studying the Book of Job. During that time I read, meditated, prayed, and cried through Job’s struggle. I’ll never forget the day when I arrived at chapter 23 and read these words:

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. – Job 23:13-15 (ESV)

The words above stunned me. God is changeless, even when suffering is appointed for me! Are you kidding? Are you saying I cannot turn Him back from the course He has me on? Correct. Are you really serious that He is thinking about a few other things for me too? Yes. Then what else is in His mind?

I wonder if I can fake God out?

As I meditated on these thoughts that were really more than I could process, it occurred to me that God released Job from the crucible of suffering and wonderfully blessed him in due time. (Job 42:10) At that point I began to think that He would release me too.

I concluded that all I needed to do was let God know that I had learned the life lessons He was teaching me and that I was not bitter or angry anymore. He needed to know that I was ready to move on to the blessing He had prepared for me. This is how I prayed:

Thank you Father for the privilege of suffering. You have taught me many things and I am grateful for the life lessons. You are merciful. Your work in me has accomplished many things and I am now ready to go to the next thing. I’m ready to be released from this suffering and look forward to much fruitful ministry that I know will grow because of this season you have spent in my life. Amen!

I knew in my heart of hearts this was “manipulative praying.” I was desperate and hurting. I was the one deciding when enough was enough and was unwittingly (okay, wittingly) trying to manipulate God with the hope that the suffering would end. Then I read this verse again:

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. – Job 23:13 (ESV)

At some level of my heart I knew what I hoped through this kind of praying would not happen. I also knew He was not through with me yet. God sees in the dark and He most certainly knew what I needed then and now. In fact, He knows  more of what I need than I do. The real issue for me was whether I would trust Him as He did surgery on my soul, regardless of how long the surgery would take.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. –Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)

It took nine years for that operation…and, thankfully, He is still relentless in His pursuit of me.

What he desires, that he does. – Job 23:13 (ESV)

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