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Posts tagged ‘pain’

Weathering The Storms Of Life

Source: (Adapted from the article, Weathering The Storms Of Life by Noel Yeatts; Christian Counseling Connection Vol. 16/Iss.1)

The following article excerpt is based on one’s overwhelming life struggle and what was learned.

How does one who is going through unbearable and indescribable pain, misery, and uncertainty face this deep, dark struggle?  One answer is to believe that God is going to do incredible things through this trial of life.

However, before God can use us in light of this circumstance, He made need to teach us come critical lessons as follows:

1.  God is ultimately in control and He has our best interest at heart.

Every one of us will be called upon to face adversity.  It is a fact of life.  We may not be able to see the reason for our trials and challenges, and we might not know the purpose right away, but rest assured that God is sovereign and is working behind the scenes for our benefit.

2.  We are never alone.

Even on our weakest days, God is with us.  He will never forsake us and longs to gather us under His wings of protection.

3.  We need to focus on what really matters.

Charles Swindoll says, “We shouldn’t deny the pain of what happens in our lives. We should just refuse to focus on the valleys.”  Consider what is most important to you in life.  Then decide not to waste your time and energy worrying about the small stuff.  When you focus on what really matters, your family becomes more valuable to you than ever before and each moment becomes so precious.

4.  We need to cope one day at a time.

When you are going through a storm, don’t try to take on your entire life—live one day at a time.  Minimize the bad days.  Maximize the good days.  Thank God for today and accept it.

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Children and Spouses of Troubled Families

SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

*The Children — Many children of dysfunctional families (termed CODF’s) have to cope with baffling and painful situations.  Children who are subjected to abuse of different kinds may receive little or no help from others, mainly because their teachers, neighbors, and church leaders may not realize their plight.  Without assistance from others, children try to fix themselves.  Clumsily, with childish hands, they suture the wounds, often leaving ugly scars or unhealed lesions that split open in later life.  All of this is an attempt to protect themselves from the abuse.  The home has the power to produce angry, rebellious, or disheartened children.  Families can aggravate serious psychological disorders.  Kids under stress can develop an abundance of physical and emotional problems even while in the womb.  Many scientists how believe that stress can program a fetus to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and other disorders in adulthood.  So sensitive is the brain to its environment that absence of emotional warmth can kill brain cells.  The loss of these cells is devastating during a child’s early years, when brain connections require learning skills for language, math, and getting along with others. As infants, if anything interferes with bonding with their mothers, they may have permanent emotional scars that will influence the outcome of the remainder of their development.  The extent of the damage done to CODF’s depends on lots of factors, for example, when in the life of the child the parent became addicted, how the family reacted to it, how long the addiction continued, and the severity of the abuse and neglect.

Thankfully, despite the severity of the situation, not all of these children will be severely wounded.  Psychologists call them resilient or stress-resistant children. Some CODF’s may have a strong orientation toward personal growth.  They are able to initiate and intentionally engage in the process of self-change.  Second, they may possess a trait termed hardiness.  Hardy people are actively involved in living, believing they can control their circumstances.  Some kids are less affected by their stressful family life because of the presence of another adult in their lives.

The children of troubled families may sometimes feel frustrated and unable to control their own lives. Their helplessness may be compounded by a feeling of failure.  This is due to their trying to solve the problem in their family.  Kids feel responsible for their parents’ problems partly because they are so egocentric, believing they are the cause of most everything that happens around them.  But they also may think they are to blame for the problem because the troubled parent tells them they are.  Taking such responsibility on themselves is usually destructive to children because they are doomed to failure.  Without someone explaining to them that they shouldn’t take the weight of the family on their shoulders, they may continue to do this into adulthood and even have trouble stopping then.  Their failure to solve the family’s problems may make them angry.  Thinking their good behavior will make their parents break free from their dependency or compulsion, they may be upset when they don’t get the hoped for results.  Their anger may take the form of resentment.

Expressing anger is complicated by the attachment the child has for the parents.  Besides needing the parents’ care, children are taught to love and respect them, making it very hard to accept the anger and hatred they feel.  Feelings are mixed – love and hate, pity and disgust, anger and sympathy.  The child plays the same Jeckyll-Hyde role the troubled parent is playing. Fear may also keep children from directing anger toward the parent.  And the “don’t feel, don’t talk” rules will make them keep their anger bottled up inside of them.  This may cause them to resort to sarcasm, forgetfulness, hostile jokes, and other passive-aggressive behaviors.  They may also overreact to normal events and become extremely angry with people who haven’t done anything to deserve such a reaction.

One way CODF’s express anger is by reverting back to an earlier stage of development.  Also, a child may make light of the stressful situation at home or resort to humor to handle it. Additionally, children may be deeply hurt by a parent’s abusive ranting and raving and lack what are known as “self-soothing” abilities.  They lack inner resources to calm themselves in the face of severe stress and intense emotions.  Finally, children in stressful situations may develop a false self.  Instead of the addicted parent’s encouraging the children to express themselves and commending them for it, the parent’s behavior demands that they become something else.  If the parent is also physically or sexually abusive, the squelching of the child’s personality can be extremely severe.

Shame is another emotion that inhibits children’s development of their true self.  Theirs is not a shame for what they have done, but for who they are—an absence of self-respect.  The time between eighteen months to three years is a time when a child gains a sense of autonomy.  Restricting the child, as dysfunctional families are prone to do, may make them doubt and dislike themselves.  Guilt feelings may also develop very early from ages three to six.  In an addictive family, the children may receive little affirmation for their ventures and be blamed for innocent mistakes, causing them to feel guilty for attempts to exert themselves.

They will also be shamed by the embarrassing activities of their parents.  Their shame may also be due to the fact that all children tend to identify with their parents.  Of course, constant parental criticism may result in children’s having little self-respect.  When little children are verbally harangued by their parents, told they are worthless or bad, they will believe these things.  They lack the maturity to realize these messages are lies of an evil, addicted, compulsive person.

Trust will almost always be a problem for the dysfunctional family’s children, too.  Consistent care teaches them that they can rely on others.  If their care is sporadic, harsh, or unkind, they learn to mistrust, making it difficult for them later to form close relationships.  Distracted and disturbed, a dysfunctional family may early breed mistrust in children.  The inconsistency of the wet-dry cycle probably is enough to instill distrust in a child.  Children in dysfunctional families are often compulsive and have a tendency to become addicted to something.  Or they may turn to an addiction as an escape from pain.  The enmeshed family system has taught them to depend on things outside themselves for happiness and satisfaction.  Additionally, children of dysfunctional families are often obsessed with pleasing others.

CODF’s cast themselves in various roles.  The child may choose the role as a survival tactic, or, because each role performs a function in the family system, the system itself will force the child into the part.  Sometimes a specific child will play more than one role or through time switch from one to another.  These roles help the family maintain its dysfunctional homeostasis and can eventually be harmful to the children.  The following are various roles:

Chief Enabler – shelters the addict from consequences of his or her behavior; cost to them is martyrdom;

Family Hero – keeps family’s self-worth, acts as family counselor; cost is a compulsive drive;

Family Scapegoat – diverts attention from the addict; cost is possible self-destructive behavior and often addiction;

Lost child – escapes family stress by emotional and physical separation; cost is social isolation;

Family Mascot – diverts attention from the addict by humor; cost is immaturity and/or emotional illness.

Family members learn “addictive logic” to deny the chaos.  They learn to lie and say the problem doesn’t exist so as not to betray the family.  To survive in an addictive system, children learn to deny healthy responses that tell them they are in danger; they have to keep increasing these dishonest coping skills as their situation worsens.  Also, a torrent of negative thoughts may be coursing through children’s innocent minds:  “I can’t do anything right; I am a failure; I’m not loved; I will be abandoned; I am ugly and bad…etc.”  They desperately need someone to tell them these are lies and help them see the truth about themselves and their families.

*The Spouses — Being married to an addict can be like a ride on a roller coaster – terrifying.  Life is chaotic and unpredictable, up one day, down the next, depending on how the spouse is behaving.  Emotions fluctuate and are mixed.  The dry period, when life is on the upside, inspires hope that it will last, along with nagging fear that it won’t.  In cases of spousal abuse, the cycle is well documented:  abuse followed by remorse followed by forgiveness followed by abuse followed by remorse, and so on.  The same happens in addictive marriages:  The husband manifests an addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober and pleads for forgiveness.  The wife forgives, and the two are reconciled.  The husband manifests the addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober, and on and on.  The spouse will probably be experiencing many of the same emotions as the children – fear, anger, helplessness, loneliness, and the like.  Some will hate their husband or wife, their bitterness created out of years of broken promises and neglect.  Spouses will also blame themselves for their partner’s problem.  Shame too can be intense.  And to cover his or her embarrassment, the husband or wife of the troubled person will strive hard to make a contribution outside the home.  He or she may be driven to succeed in the workplace.  Some will devote themselves to social work or church ministry.  The marriage relationship will deteriorate.  Feelings of love that were likely present in the beginning of the marriage will slowly die as the partner’s addiction progresses.

Three of the most important marital resources – respect, reciprocity, and reliability – will be challenged.  Respect involves conveying to another person (through words, deeds, or simply being present) that the other is of value.  By their irresponsible behavior and neglect of family duties, addicts and the like will not be likely to keep this resource in their relationship.  Reciprocity in relationships refers to the balance of giving and receiving care and consideration.  Not much fairness will be felt in a dysfunctional family where the weight of maintaining the family falls on the addict’s spouse and/or children.  Reliability refers to the expectation that the person will be there for us on an ongoing, fairly consistent basis.  Broken promises and no-shows will destroy this resource.  An addiction, like any other violation of the relationship bond, will chip away at trust.  People married to the addiction/compulsive behavior often convey to their partners that they are not important.  This deterioration of the marriage and emotional struggles of the spouse will sometimes diminish his or her capacity to parent.  Sometimes the spouse, wrestling with the partner’s addiction/behavior, will dump his or her responsibilities on the children.  Because of this neglect, some adult children are angry at the spouse of their addictive/compulsive parent more than they are the one with the addiction/compulsion.

*The Role of Codependency — Codependency is another form of enmeshment.  The spouse of the troubled individual is referred to as the “co-addict.”  This can be described as one person’s addictive patterns aligning themselves with another’s so that there is some degree of systemic collusion or addictive pattern.  Essentially, a codependent is related to another in an unhealthy way.  One person cares so completely for the other that he or she neglects himself or herself, living almost entirely for the other person.  Being an enabler is sometimes part of such a relationship.  Enablers don’t usually consciously do things to help their partner continue his or her destructive behavior.  In fact they will probably attack their partner’s problem with a vengeance, doing everything possible to get him or her to straighten out. Yet, at the same time, they will do things that facilitate their spouse’s behavior.  For example, they will protect their spouse from the consequences of his or her actions:  phoning his boss to report him sick when he can’t go to work because of the addictive behavior; giving money to a wife who has a money related addictive problem; making excuses to the kids for a parent’s absence, and so on.  Then, too, the partners contribute to the addicts’ problem by facilitating the reorganization of the family around them.  Children, too, can play the role of codependent.

Codependents sacrifice unnecessarily and to the detriment of others as well as themselves.  Following Jesus’ example, Christians are encouraged to make sacrifices, but they are not to make senseless ones.  Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself benefited others.  But the codependent’s sacrifices are harmful to the one for whom they are made.  It is not really loving.  Love, as conceived in the New Testament, is concern and care for a person’s highest good.  Preventing an addicted/compulsive spouse from suffering their own consequences is not showing this type of concern and care.  This troubled spouse needs to see the results of his/her lifestyle and choices.  As Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”  Love is sometimes expressed by not doing something for someone.  Also, codependents need to understand that it is not wrong to care for themselves.  As indicated in Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 19:19, we are commanded to respect others as we respect ourselves.

Some write that codependency is defined as “a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity.”  By this, they mean that people who live in enmeshed families develop a tendency to live this way in general, even with people outside the family.  Symptoms include the following:

* Thoughts and attitudes dominated by the other person: “I think more about your life than mine.”

* Self-esteem related to the other person: “I value your opinion more than my own; I need to help you in order to feel good about myself; I need to be needed.”

* Emotions are tied to the other person: “When you are hurting, I often react more deeply than you do.”

* Interests geared to the other person: “I know more clearly what you want than what I want.”

* Relationship to others is affected by the other person: “I neglect my friends to get overly involved in fixing you; I am compulsive about pleasing others, yet I get upset by their demands on me.”

In selecting a mate, some men and women seem to be attracted to a person who needs their care.  Besides the obvious shortcomings, one major problem of this type of relationship is the powerful dependence these partners have on each other.  They become so enmeshed that they seem unable to function as individuals.  They become so intertwined that it becomes difficult for the other to leave the relationship regardless of how dysfunctional it is.  Codependents will have considerable psychological distress.  They will suffer from poor self-esteem, since they may feel little worth apart from what is derived from rescuing others.  They will also suffer from an extreme need to be needed, making them depressed when they feel they are not.  Also they may have an unhealthy willingness to suffer, somehow believing that suffering for someone will make that person love them; being a martyr will make them feel rewarded.

Despite codependents’ sorry state of affairs, they will have a strong resistance to change.  Leaving the troubled spouse, even as a step toward healing, accountability, and re-creation of the marriage,  is not an option, because they fear feeling guilty, living alone, or not being able to make it financially.

In conclusion, when we or our families experience trouble, we must call upon the Divine weapons and resources that God has provided us.  We must remember that we cannot face the vast array of past and present problems on our own. Therefore, we must keep our focus on the Lord since we don’t know how to deal with these things (2 Chron 20:12b).  He has the willingness and power to do the impossible, demolish the past and present strongholds that have enslaved us, and make us to be who He created us to be (Phil 2:12; Luke 1:37; 2 Cor 10:3-5).

40 Consequences of Adultery

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by David Boehi — Family Life Ministries

If I committed adultery…

  1. My relationship with God would suffer from a break in fellowship.
  2. I would need to seek forgiveness from my Lord.
  3. I would suffer from the emotional consequences of guilt.
  4. I would spend countless hours replaying the failure.
  5. My spouse would suffer the scars of this abuse more deeply than I could begin to describe.
  6. My spouse would spend countless hours in counseling.
  7. My spouse’s recovery would be long and painful.
  8. My spouse’s pain would grieve me deeply and compound my own suffering and shame.
  9. Our marriage relationship would suffer a break in trust, fellowship, and intimacy.
  10. In our marriage, we would be together, yet feel great loneliness.
  11. The reputation of my family would suffer loss.
  12. My children would be deeply disappointed and bewildered.
  13. My grandchildren would not understand.
  14. My friends would be disappointed and would question my integrity.
  15. My employment or job performance would be affected.
  16. My witness among neighbors would become worthless.
  17. My witness to my family would be worthless.
  18. My testimony among my spouse’s family would be damaged.
  19. My service in ministry would be damaged.
  20. My ability to work within the church would be damaged.
  21. I would suffer God’s discipline.
  22. Satan would be thrilled at my failure.
  23. Satan would work overtime to be sure my shame never departed.
  24. My spouse might divorce me.
  25. My children might never speak to me.
  26. Our mutual friends would shy away from us and break fellowship.
  27. I would bring emotional pain to the person with whom I committed adultery.
  28. I would bring reproach upon the person with whom I committed adultery.
  29. If my affair partner is married, that person’s spouse might attempt to bring harm.
  30. My affair partner’s spouse might divorce her.
  31. An unwanted child could be produced.
  32. My part in conception might trigger an abortion, the killing of an innocent child.
  33. Disease might result.
  34. Some might conclude that all Christians are hypocrites.
  35. My business could fail because I couldn’t be trusted.
  36. My leadership among those I have led in the past might also be diminished in impact.
  37. My zeal for ministry would suffer and possibly result in others not continuing in ministry.
  38. My health would suffer.
  39. I might have to start life over again.
  40. This same sin might be visited upon my family for four generations.

It’s a pretty sobering list, isn’t it? What’s even more sobering is that many people will consider these consequences and still proceed in their sin. The fantasy is more important to them than the reality.

The biggest benefit of this list may be in helping us realize the need to set up strict safeguards to ensure that we are faithful in our marriage commitment. If I am convinced of what adultery would do to me and to my family, I will watch my wandering eyes, guard my thought life, and avoid any situations that could put me in harm’s way.

The fantasy is just not worth it.

How do you know when someone is truly sorry?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.

Hosea 7:14

As biblical counselors, sometimes it’s hard to discern if someone is truly repentant.

Tears are often the language of the heart, but when one is crying in the counseling office, it’s important to hear what the person’s heart is really saying.  The apostle Paul speaks of two kinds of sorrow, worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).  As Christian counselors, it is crucial that we learn to distinguish between the two especially when we are doing couples work.

Worldly sorrow is a self-focused sorrow. It may contain great emotion, tears, and apologies, but the grief expressed is for one’s self. The person mourns the consequences of his or her sin and what she has lost. This may be a marriage, a job, a reputation, friends and/or family, or can even be one’s own idea of who they thought they were. Here are some of the things we often hear a person say when they are sorrowing unto death.

·         I can’t believe I did such a thing.

·         Why is this happening to me?

·         Please forgive me. – Implying, please don’t make me suffer the  consequences of my sin.

·         Why won’t he/she forgive me? (In other words, why can’t reconciliation be easy and quick?)

·         I’m so sorry (sad).

·         I’m a horrible person.

·         I wish I were dead.

·         I hate myself.

Judas is a good example of this type of sorrow (Matthew 27:3-5).  After he betrayed Christ, he was seized with remorse yet it did not lead to godly repentance, but self-hatred and suicide.

It is natural that we feel compassion for the person suffering such emotional and spiritual pain. However, it’s crucial that we not confuse this kind of sorrow with the kind that leads to biblical repentance, especially when we are working with both the sorrowing sinner and the one who has been sinned against.

Godly sorrow demonstrates grief over one’s sinfulness toward God as well as the pain it has caused others. John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

Below are eight things I have found that demonstrate those fruits of genuine repentance.

·         Accepts full responsibility for actions and attitudes, doesn’t blame others or situations.

·         Acknowledges sinfulness (instead of “I can’t believe I could do such a thing”).

·         Recognizes the effects of actions on others and shows empathy for the pain he/she’s caused.

·         Able to identify brokenness in detail such as abusive tactics, attitudes of entitlement, and/or areas of chronic deceit.

·         Accepts consequences without demands or conditions.

·         Makes amends for damages.

·         Is willing to make consistent changes over the long term such as new behaviors and attitudes characteristic of healthy relationships.

·         Is willing to be accountable and if needed, long term.

In my work with couples who have experienced grievous sin, I have found that it is not their sin that destroys most relationships. All couples experience sin. The destruction comes when we refuse to acknowledge it. It is our blindness to it and our unwillingness to humble ourselves to get help, be accountable, and repent that makes reconciliation and healing impossible.

7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Family Life/Dennis – Barbara Rainey

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

Years ago our family of eight and some dear friends of ours with their two kids vacationed in a small condo on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It was a beautiful setting and a wonderful time for our families, but one night we were introduced to an experience that Southern Californians face regularly.

At 2 a.m. we awoke to a boom that made us think a truck had hit the building. Then we noticed that everything was shaking. We jumped out of bed and hurried to the living room where all our children were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. The chandelier over the dining room table was swinging.

It was an earthquake—not very large, but very unsettling. We felt disoriented and confused. We wondered how long it would last and what we should do. The earth is supposed to be steady and solid, and now it wasn’t. When it finally stopped we couldn’t go back to sleep for hours because our fears had been awakened and our security threatened.

Unsettling times

Does our experience describe how you have felt recently? Many Americans have felt shaken by economic instability, racial conflict, mass shootings, and terrorist threats in recent years. Even the current political races have left us feeling anxious, troubled, disoriented. We wonder what to do. We feel afraid as the ground shakes beneath our feet.

Many followers of Christ feel just as unsettled over the unprecedented transformation in the moral climate of our culture. The world’s views on human sexuality, especially, have changed so quickly that Christians are now labeled as bigots for holding to biblical standards. We don’t know how to act, what to say or not say.

And inside our individual homes, many may be feeling disoriented and disheartened because of illness, hardships, failed relationships, or recent deaths of friends or family. Like a friend of ours who just received a cancer diagnosis—her world has just been shaken. Perhaps your world has been shaken, too.

Our stability

A couple of years ago I (Barbara) was reading through the book of Isaiah, and I came across a passage I had never noticed before. Isaiah 33:5-6 says, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”

I was struck by that phrase in the middle: “and he will be the stability of your times…” At the time our country was experiencing an economic downturn. Everyone in America was feeling the impact.

When life feels insecure and unstable—not just in the world outside but also inside your family—remember that God is ultimately in control. No matter what is happening around you or how unsteady the world feels, He is our sure and stable foundation.

In many ways, America has been a pretty stable country for the last few decades. But it may not continue to be. When you feel the ground shift beneath your feet, it’s good to remember that Jesus is your Rock and your Fortress. He will be the stability of your times.

Dealing with the hardships of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When It’s Not “Okay”

SOURCE: Kasey Van Norman, M.A.

Discovering Raw Faith in the Midst of Tragedy

The truth is, no matter the condition of our faith, we all have bad days. And when I’m having a bad day—you know, like barfing for twenty-some hours straight as a result of a toxin that’s flowing through my veins and killing off every cell in hopes of catching the one or two bad ones that could kill me—on those days, I don’t need someone to come along and tell me that it’s all going to be okay.

My experience with cancer is not the first time I’ve encountered this phenomenon.

When I watched my mom spiral into depression after my parents’ divorce, she would say, “It’s going to be okay.”

When I was with my dad every other weekend as a child and watched him take drink after drink, he would say, “It’s going to be okay.”

The day I ended up in the hospital after sticking my finger down my throat one too many times and had literally burned holes in my esophagus and weighed a good eighty-five pounds soaking wet, a nurse told me, “It’s going to be okay.”

After my miscarriage when I was twelve weeks pregnant, my friends told me, “It’s going to be okay.”

As I stood in front of my mother’s corpse at the funeral home, amid sobbing people and a slew of flowers, people came through the line and said, “It’s going to be okay.”

And then, when I shared the news of my cancer diagnosis, I received e-mails and shoulder pats with those dreaded words once again; “It’s going to be okay.”

There have been countless times when I want to stand up and shout, “NO! IT IS NOT GOING TO BE OKAY!”

We live in a broken, messed-up world, and there are some things that are never going to be okay.

Embracing raw faith means understanding that the Christian life also means accepting pain, suffering, and trials. Genuine faith means accepting the reality that life is a continual movement to become more like Jesus. Man-made religion wants to lull us into a place of rules and being just okay, but Jesus rocks our world and calls us to live deeply, whether in times of joy or struggle.

In other words, it’s okay to not be okay.

Better than Okay

God doesn’t guarantee us deliverance from hardship, and following him doesn’t mean we’ll never go through the fire. But he does promise us something better: he doesn’t waste anything we go through. And no matter what happens, he will go through it with us.

God’s grace runs deeper than any heartbreak we will experience in this life. His love goes beyond than any unanswered questions we might have. And God’s purpose and plan for our future can trump any sin, any obstacle, and any defeat we might experience.  He can use the very things that plague us—our most difficult trials—to chisel us into the character of his Son.

That’s something we can’t experience if we settle for okay.

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Excerpted from Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight by Kasey Van Norman. Available at www.raw-faith.com.

“BUT”

SOURCE:  Tim Clinton/AACC

“You face your greatest opposition when you’re closest to your biggest miracle.” Bishop T. D. Jakes

“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” G. K. Chesterton

Often, the most powerful, life-changing miracles seem to happen in the “buts” of life.

Consider the story of Naaman. 2 Kings 5:1 describes him with glowing accolades.

Commander of the army of the king of Syria.

A great man with his master.

High favor.

A mighty man of valor.

Then out of nowhere – life-altering words.

But…he was a leper.

Think about that. Leprosy. The most dreaded disease of his day. A visible outward malady that in reality defined who he was. Putrefying infected sores that in time caused loss of fingers, toes, nose. Everyone who came in contact with him saw the miserable condition he carried with him everywhere he went. There was no hiding it.

Many Christ followers understand this reality in their own journey. No doubt, many of you are living there right now.

You love God, and you really do believe that God loves you. You read the Word, pray, give your tithes and offerings, attend worship services, desiring to obey and walk in His Spirit.

But…

The doctor gave you terminal news.

But…

Your spouse left, and the hole in your heart grows deeper and wider by the hour.

But…

Your position at work was eliminated, as was your pay check, and you find yourself in the unemployment line.

But…

A son or a daughter rejected a lifetime of nurture and admonition and the relationship is strained, broken and seemingly destroyed.

“Buts” that now seem to define who you are. “Buts” that perhaps even cause you to question God and His plan, much less His goodness. “Buts” that understandably cause you to ask “Where are you God?”

Let’s look again at the well-known Bible story of Naaman. At the recommendation of a young slave girl, he travels to find the prophet Elisha. Elisha sends a servant out to instruct Naaman to go and wash seven times in the Jordan. Albeit reluctantly, and even with quite a bit of raging about how irrational the command is, he obeys.

I wonder how Naaman felt after he dunked himself the first time. No change. The second time. No change. Third time. No change. After number six, he might have been thinking that this was a horrible joke and a waste of time. The anger he had initially felt was returning. Someone was going to pay for this public act of embarrassment.

Have you been there? Faith…trust…obedience…and seemingly no change. You find yourself confused, distraught, and perhaps even a bit angry at God.

Then Naaman dipped the seventh time and “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” 2 Kings 5:14 ESV

He went back to the “man of God,” stood before him and declared, (now) “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel…” 2 Kings 5:15  ESV

God was in the midst of his pain. Faithfully at work in the “but” of Naaman’s life. Steadfast in His in plan in Naaman’s journey, which ultimately brought Him glory.

And God is in the midst of your pain also. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t forsaken you. He is faithfully working in the plan of your life, and He will ultimately get glory by taking your storyand making it His story.

Don’t be defined by the “but” in your pilgrimage. Don’t give up. Keep believing that He is God, and that He is good.

Your miracle could be just one more “dip in the Jordan” away.

A miracle that will turn your life around.

A Prayer for Loving Well in the Face of Suffering

SOUrCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

And many followed him [Jesus], and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” Matt. 12:15-21

Dear Lord Jesus, I’m greatly moved today as I ponder your compassionate heart for the broken and suffering. Surely there’s no Savior like you: entering, not running from our chaos; taking, not despising our shame; shouldering, not ignoring our burdens. “Bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks” love your appearing. Justice will be fully victorious because you have been the willing sufferer.

For sure—for gloriously sure, your sufferings as our sin-bearer are over. As the Lamb of God, you offered yourself once and for all upon the cross (Heb 10:1-18). No additional sacrifice for our sin remains to be offered—none!

We no longer have to fear being judged by God for our sin. Your perfect love has driven away all fear of punishment (1Jn. 4:18), anxiety about judgment day (Rm. 8:1), and uncertainty about eternity (1 Jn. 5:13). I boast and rest in your completed sufferings for us, Lord Jesus; and I shout a hearty “Hallelujah!” But, at the same time, I also cry out, “Help me, Lord Jesus, help me.”

Help me—grant me grace to go with you into the sufferings of friends and family; sit longer in the groans and birth pangs of my own heart (Rm. 8:23); and engage more fully in the injustices and brokenness of my community. This is who you are and this is what you’re doing; for your name is Redeemer.

But, like most, I have an aversion to pain and suffering. Like many, I’d love for the Christian life to be an antidote for all discomfort and distress. Like some, I get overwhelmed and overtaxed by the sufferings of others. Here’s my peace, consolation, and ballast, Lord Jesus: you’re not calling us to suffer for you but to suffer with you, and that makes all the difference in the world. We’re called into the fellowship of your sufferings, not into the isolation of our sufferings.

You’ll never lead us into hard places where you’re not present. You’ll never ask us to do anything all by ourselves. You’ll never leave us or forsake us, Lord Jesus. You will “lead justice to victory, and in your name all the nations will put their hope”. So very Amen I pray with peace, in your kind and compassionate name.

God’s Prescription: Pain Relief & Healing

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Life Abundant: Pain Relief and Healing

All our dysfunctional behaviors, our poor decisions, our sin can be boiled down to one issue.

We don’t like pain, we are addicted to comfort, and instead of following [God’s] instructions for pain relief, we reach out to the store shelves of the world and pull out world’s salve that falls way short of the advertisements and empty promises.

The Holy Scripture tells us that Christ’s mission in coming to earth was to forgive and to save … to provide “eternal salvation” for us. He came to deliver oh so much more than just our redemption. He brought us eternal freedom, fulfillment, peace and joy. Healing in every area of our being is now available for us.

You see, often times, we have a hard time believing the healing He brings is actually available for us here on earth. I know that not all our physical and psychological illnesses will be made whole now. But even though we struggle, His peace and comfort can melt away pain and renew our mind in powerful, relieving ways. Our biggest illness is spiritual, so connecting with Him and maximally absorbing Him will have a powerful impact on our other ills. (Our science actually shows this to be true.)

The prophet Isaiah tells us the Messiah will come to bind up and heal, to release and set free (while we are here on earth). Jesus Himself referenced this passage as captured in Luke 4:17. Think about this: Christ came not only to forgive you, but to restore and release you. This is the central passage in the entire Bible about Jesus. He fulfilled every prophesy, testifying to the truth and then dying for us, bringing ultimate healing and shalom to our lives and His relationship with us.

Today, take Jesus Christ at his word … as the healer of all the broken pieces within you … Who unites them into one whole and healed heart. Think what life would be like if you believed that promise. Think about what keeps you from believing His promise? What do you believe in more strongly than His promise and the incredible body of evidence He has compiled? Why do you believe that something else?

What you will believe — Jesus’ promises and teachings, or your own theories — is your decision.  So choose well. Your life depends on it.

Dear Father God, I pray and ask You to release me from all bondage and captivity, as You promised to do. Open my eyes to the cheap imitators that promise healing, but only lead to more pain and distance from You. Take all my broken pieces and give me an all-receiving heart … make me whole. I know, Father, that You will not do this at a distance, so I desire to be as close to You as I possibly can be … show me the way to You, my Lord, and Savior. I pray in the name of the One You sent to forgive me, save me, and heal me, Jesus Christ–– AMEN!

The Truth
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.  Isaiah 61:1

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10:10

We Must Take SORROWS and SINS To God

SOURCE:  C. H. Spurgeon

    “Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.”

         — Psalm 25:18

 It is well for us when prayers about our sorrows are linked with pleas concerning our sins—when, being under God’s hand, we are not wholly taken up with our pain, but remember our offences against God. It is well, also, to take both sorrow and sin to the same place.

It was to God that David carried his sorrow: it was to God that David confessed his sin.

Observe, then, we must take our sorrows to God. Even your little sorrows you may roll upon God, for he counteth the hairs of your head; and your great sorrows you may commit to him, for he holdeth the ocean in the hollow of his hand. Go to him, whatever your present trouble may be, and you shall find him able and willing to relieve you.

But we must take our sins to God too. We must carry them to the cross, that the blood may fall upon them, to purge away their guilt, and to destroy their defiling power.

The special lesson of the text is this:—that we are to go to the Lord with sorrows and with sins in the right spirit.

Note that all David asks concerning his sorrow is, “Look upon mine affliction and my pain;” but the next petition is vastly more express, definite, decided, plain—“Forgive all my sins.” Many sufferers would have put it, “Remove my affliction and my pain, and look at my sins.” But David does not say so; he cries, “Lord, as for my affliction and my pain, I will not dictate to thy wisdom. Lord, look at them, I will leave them to thee, I should be glad to have my pain removed, but do as thou wilt; but as for my sins, Lord, I know what I want with them; I must have them forgiven; I cannot endure to lie under their curse for a moment.”

A Christian counts sorrow lighter in the scale than sin; he can bear that his troubles should continue, but he cannot support the burden of his transgressions.

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Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Divorce: The Ultimate Relationship Wound and Loss

SOURCE:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Divorce: Despair or Trust?

Divorce is the ultimate relationship wound and loss.

When marriage problems end in separation and then divorce, the loss is deeply experienced not only by the couple, but also by the entire family. It even impacts friends and often the coworkers of that family. Divorce can leave the family in suspended animation as battles usually rage for many years after.

Recovering from divorce involves working through a grieving process, much like when a spouse has died. It also involves making decisions. You might not have had a choice in getting a divorce, but you do have choices in your response. Will you hold on to bitterness and anger … or will you forgive? Will you give up and give in to despair …or will you trust Jesus to help you rebuild your life on Him and not on your marriage or your spouse? Will you walk in fear … or will you be courageous to face the future God has for you? Do you trust you, marriage, your ex-, or God?

Satan and your flesh, filled with insecurities and hurt, will try to influence your me-centered focus to give up, to feel like a failure, to feel no hope is possible, and that you’ve lost everything. You have to resist these lies and distortions. Remember, Satan is the Great Deceiver. This is the only character trait he has to present and relate to the truth.

Divorce can bring one of the most intense pains possible into a person’s life. But you don’t have to go through it alone. Jesus loves you and wants to help you. If you will commit your ways to Him, the Holy Spirit will guide you in making those hard decisions … He will give you the courage and peace you need to be clear-minded … and He will restore your hope. With God, all things are possible.

Today, if you are thinking about divorce, STOP! Get some wise counsel as this is not God’s plan, (but sometimes acceptable) and therefore will be a nightmare for you and a lot of loss for many.

If you are divorced, dive into the Bible and get to a church based Divorce Recovery group so you can process and heal using Biblical truths and lenses. If you are a child from divorced parents, really examine the lies that divorce embeds in your mind about you, your parents, and relationships. If you know people in these situations, be there to help them genuinely heal and see God and life more clearly, because Satan really uses divorce to suck the soul out of people and make them his puppets. If you are married, commit to grow your marriage and express your love to your spouse. Life is your decision, so choose well.

Prayer

Dear Father God, forgive me for the poor decisions I have made in the past. I know divorce saddens You. My hurt and loss seem unbearable at times. Please help me access the strength, power, peace, and comfort You provide to overcome. I know that through You, I will not just overcome, but even thrive as a result of learning through these experiences to put all my eggs in Your basket alone. Right now I have to make so many decisions. I need your help. Help me to choose the right path … the one that is right for my family and for me, and most of all the path that pleases You. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who shows us what step to take next, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.

Psalm 25:12

 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

Matthew 19:6

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

Even When… God is…

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 61

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Certainly, God takes no pleasure in what is hurtful (Ezek. 33:11), and he is never the author of sin (James 1:13-14; I John 1:5). Yet, for his eternal purposes, he sometimes allows suffering and permits unjust acts by men and women whom he decides not to restrain, even though he has the power to do so… Even when sinful and painful things are happening, God is somehow exercising ultimate control and working things out for his good purposes.

Food for Thought

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

From war and rumors of wars, to politics and politicians, to road rage and playground rage, it is tempting to bow our heads in despair. Hate is strong. The song of peace is mocked. But even when it sounds as if there is no peace, you and I must remember the deeper, truer song of His word. God is in control. And He is working for his good purposes.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864

We Are All ADDICTS !

SOURCE: Taken from an article at Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

We are all addicts.

Every one of us is addicted to comfort.

We all struggle to deal with discomfort, especially emotional or psychological pain. Even though we say “no pain, no gain”, it’s amazing how quickly we run from discomfort and pain, or need to quickly soothe it. You see, we are all born separated from God … and that is the ultimate pain. A temporary separation on the cross is what prompted even Jesus to ask God to have this “cup” pass from Him.

As kids, we develop strategies to deal with pain. Unfortunately, we aren’t mature and our “teachers” aren’t perfect. So developing coping mechanisms for physical, psychological, relational, emotional, and spiritual pain is random, faulty, and very short-sighted … not very effective for the long haul.

Our solutions are usually flesh-driven options, knee-jerk reactions, or immediate relievers. These “solutions” are the Addiction Objects … things we go to and rely on in a repetitive way to fill needs instead of looking to God for His answers. Now God could directly soothe us or He might choose to provide appropriate objects to fill our needs. But each time we need to look to Him first, not the object.

Addiction objects can be drugs, alcohol, food, or pornography. But they can also be anger (or any emotion), work, productivity, security, our intellect, kids, money, spending, “martyr complex”, exercise, our looks/physique, sports, TV, hobbies, fighting, control, a relationship, sex, texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If it is something that comforts you or relieves some negative feeling, Satan will use it as an addiction object. People can find themselves obsessively and compulsively hooked on almost anything.

One of the great lies that Satan perpetrates on us is that addiction objects offer self-protection. The truth is they are really self-destructive. Just look at Solomon’s experiences in Ecclesiastes, as he pursues everything under the sun for comfort, while leaving out God. He becomes overwhelmed, lost, and depressed, hen finally declares all objects to be vanity or meaningless when God is not pursued first.

When you are uneasy, lonely, stressed, etc, what do you go to first? Bingo! You found your addiction object. Next time, try to look to God first and see what He prescribes for your pain. He is the Ultimate Physician and Healer and is always available for drop-ins.

 Prayer

Dear Father God, for many years I struggled with the pain of needing to be needed, accepted, valued. I turned to my addictions for comfort, but they caused more pain. You have freed me from my bondage to all addictions, but I still struggle with a need for control. Help me tolerate discomfort, because your grace is sufficient. Help me to grow the Mind of Christ and to look to You as my ultimate Lighthouse of refuge and sanctuary. In Christ’s freeing name.    AMEN!

The Truth

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 2:1-3

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9,10

 1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;

8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Ecclesiastes 12:1,8,10,13

Suffering Together

SOURCE:  Jerusha Ann Clark

Allowing pain to nourish your marriage

I’m not sure how long Jeramy and I sat in the hospital parking lot. It might have been fifteen minutes; it could have been forever. The bitter cold of Colorado winter wrapped its arms around our silver Jetta, scattering ice crystals on the windows. Maybe on a different night they would have been beautiful to me.

For me, any response to the world would have been a welcome relief. I hadn’t been able to carry on a normal conversation in weeks. Often Jeramy would catch me staring off into space, but when I “came to,” I could explain neither where I’d been nor what I’d been thinking. As far as I can remember, I only thought, breathed, and lived pain during those hellish days.

St. Stephen’s loomed in the not-so-distant foreground. It was one of those seventies-style concrete hospitals that looks more like a communist tenement than a place of healing. It was a psychiatric hospital.

I had been placed on a 5150, a psychiatric hold for people who are a danger to themselves and others. The social worker who did my intake evaluation told Jeramy that, based on her 20-plus years of experience, I was suffering from the most severe level of postpartum depression possible. At least they let Jeramy drive me from the ER to St. Stephen’s. Still, he had to leave me there—alone. Not until years later did he tell me that he wept for the entire 40-minute drive home.

Neither of us knew what to do. Neither of us felt the comfort the Bible promises for those in pain. Neither of us could pray with any conviction of hope. We knew God was there, but he seemed distantly cold. The pain was wreaking havoc on our marriage.

We were Christian authors, a pastor and pastor’s wife, a couple who wanted to honor God with life and marriage. We were in agony. Up to this point, we didn’t understand what it meant to suffer together, and—to tell you the truth—we didn’t want to learn how to let God walk us through the valley of the shadow of death…together. We would have traded what authors have deemed the “gift of suffering.” And yet we would have missed the very things that have shaped our marriage and ministry in the most powerful ways.

An Era of Pain

It seems as if every marriage is hurting during these difficult times. Several of our closest friends are facing financial ruin. Husbands and wives are looking at one another across the dinner table, wondering how their relationship dissolved into an endless string of loveless, lifeless days. Two couples we’re close to are going through divorce and custody battles. Infertility is robbing those we love of the joy they desperately want to experience. The children of our friends are straining their parents’ marriages with choices to live alternative lifestyles, to cohabitate—seemingly without guilt—to stridently abandon the faith of their youth. The death of loved ones, the news that it’s cancer, teen pregnancy, horrific violence in elementary schools—it’s hitting everyone we know. We live with the constant awareness of deep suffering.

Christians may understand this on an intellectual level: “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3). We want to do this. But did anyone ever teach you how to suffer as a couple? Our premarital counseling didn’t address it, and we had the “best of the best” mentoring us. What we’ve come to realize is that the joy of suffering together can be won only by actually suffering together.

Since we fought the battle against postpartum depression, Jeramy and I have faced other pains: a best friend’s betrayal, suffocating challenges at work, confusion about the future of our work and ministry, my diagnosis with fibromyalgia, the murder of a family member. Life overflows with pain, doesn’t it? But what we’ve learned about suffering together has changed the way we face pain.

We choose—though we don’t always do it well—to let suffering together untie us and bless others.

The Hidden Invitations in Suffering

Although most of us have figured out there’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all formula for how to suffer with our spouses, we also know that our Father gave something far better—his Holy Spirit, the Comforter, God’s indwelling presence to guide and guard. The Spirit who walks alongside us picks us up when we stumble and screw things up and ache from the consequences of our sin or the awful, uncontrollable circumstances we never could have planned for.

The Spirit who guides us directs tenderly and compassionately. Suffering is an invitation to know the Spirit on a level more preciously intimate and real. Do you desire this? Will you walk with your spouse through pain to experience it?

Suffering together produces fellowship with Jesus, God the Son, who agonized here and understands well our pain. I love The message translation of Hebrews 4:15-16: “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” His mercy is there for you and your spouse. Do you ache for it? Will you reach out for it together? Jeramy and I have had to choose this. It hasn’t happened naturally. Every one of the pains we’ve faced together has extended us two invitations: draw close to one another through Jesus or allow the wedge of anguish to drive us apart.

Suffering together is likewise an invitation to know the character of God the Father, not as a list of Sunday-school attributes, but as the very life and breath of our marriage. Grace, peace, hope, goodness, faithfulness—these are not resources God metes out. They are the incarnation of his person within us. Love isn’t merely a characteristic of God; it is the very essence of his power and presence, pouring himself into you and through you to your spouse.

I realize that very few of us would opt to know God through the agony of suffering. But as A.W. Pink wrote, the truth is “the promises of God never shine as brightly as in the furnace of affliction.” You and your spouse, suffering together, can know the truth of who God is in a way that would not have been possible on a road unmarked with pain.

But how do we do that?

Okay, so we don’t have a formula. We’re invited to know God on a deeper level. But how do we walk—day by day—through the pain?

Jeramy and I, not only in our battle with postpartum depression, but also in the anguish of various broken dreams, unmet expectations, and delayed hopes, have discovered some practical helps for suffering together. Perhaps these three will encourage you.

1. Offer one another the gift of presence. Suffering often drives couples apart, and it’s far easier to stay a few extra hours at work than come home to a house in chaos, a house filled with pain. It’s easier to check out emotionally than to talk to one another about what you’re facing. But, just as Emmanuel— the God with us—models, we are called to be present to and for one another.

The Greek verb tense used in Galatians 6:2, “Share each other’s burdens,” might be better translated “Keep onsharing one another’s burdens.” You can share in carrying the burden only if you are present with one another.

It takes so little…holding her hand, speaking a word of respect to him, offering to serve in a way that enlivens and unites the two of you. I remember the night Jeramy came home from Wal-Mart with two movies I loved as a kid: The Three Amigos and Ghostbusters. All we did was sit on the couch together and watch. I could barely laugh. I’m not even sure—to this day—what Jeramy was thinking. But he was next to me; he spoke love to me without words. He was present with me.

After I was physically and mentally stable, Jeramy needed to work through anger, resentment, and confusion about what we’d gone through. I listened, trying as far as I was able to be present with him.

2. Choose to press in. All of us would like to end our suffering right away. Who wants to prolong pain? Often, we think that rushing through the valley of the shadow would be best for everyone involved. Instead of trying to escape or just “get through this,” what if you pressed into what the pain says about you, your spouse, your marriage, and your God?

Jeramy and I went through months of therapy—together and individually. During one of the sessions, my counselor asked that I read Matthew 5:4 aloud. “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I parroted the words, not feeling blessed in the slightest. She asked me what the verse meant. Seriously? I thought. I just got out of a psychiatric hospital. You want me to exegete Scripture? I looked at the words again, and it hit me with ferocity. Tears of illumination burned in my eyes. “I have to go through the mourning to get the comfort, don’t I?” Yes. Yes. We cannot escape the pain, but we can allow it to lead us further up and further in.

It didn’t happen all at once, but slowly, as Jeramy and I pressed into the pain rather than avoiding it, we found that we were not alone there. Jesus was with us and we experienced it, not just “knew it.” And as we grew in intimacy with Christ, we grew in intimacy with one another.

3. Remember the days of your suffering. Over the years, Lamentations 3 has become a beloved passage of Scripture for Jeramy and me. This portion of God’s Word is most famous for its declaration that “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Verse 23).

Perhaps it’s been a while since you read what comes before and after this beautiful assurance. In verse 1, the prophet Jeremiah wails, “I am the one who has seen the afflictions that come from the rod of the LORD’s anger.” You do not need to bury the memory of your suffering. Indeed, you cannot. The memory of his anguish was what allowed Jeremiah to shout, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness” (21-23).

This can be your experience, too. As you and your spouse allow the memory of your pain to nourish your marriage and spill out of your relationship into the lives of those around you, you will be able to help others see “No one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow” (Lamentations 3:31-33).

Perhaps it’s difficult for you to imagine exactly how remembering your suffering as a couple can help anyone else. Here are a couple of ways that has worked in our marriage. Together, we actively remember significant dates. We choose to recall the day I was admitted to the hospital. We remember the moments in therapy—individual and couples—when God broke through our suffering in order to heal. We don’t try to erase those memories. We embrace them as ways to recall God’s faithfulness.

Letting God use your memory and your openness isn’t always easy. But it is true and good and beautiful. And, as is so often the case, allowing God to use us becomes every bit as significant a blessing and source of healing for us as it is for those we desire to bless. Picture this for a moment: how different might the world be if all of our marriages proclaimed the truth that pain can heal, can unite, can be transformed into praise, can bless the body of Christ, wounded in so many ways?

Our hope as a couple, and my prayer through these words you’ve read, is that God will comfort your marriage with the comfort he has given ours.

Indeed, in everything we can choose to say, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

May it be so, Lord, for Jeramy and me and for my brothers and sisters.

————————————————————————————

Jerusha Ann Clark is a writer who lives in Escondido, California. She is the author of several books including The Life You Crave: The Promise of Discernment.

Oppressed and Burdened — Ready to Give Up and Sink?

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow as posted by Deejay O’Flaherty 

Come All Ye Burdened Ones

Come, oppressed and burdened believer, ready to give up all and sink!

Behold Jesus, the Almighty God, omnipotent to transfer your burden to Himself, and give you rest!

It is well that you are sensible of the pressure — that you feel your weakness and insufficiency — and that you are brought to the end of all your own power. Now turn to your Almighty Friend, who is the Creator of the ends of the earth — the everlasting God, who does not faint, neither is weary.

Oh, what strength there is in Jesus for the weak, and faint, and drooping of His flock!

You are ready to succumb to your foes, and you think the battle of faith is lost. Cheer up! Jesus, your Savior, friend, and brother — is the Almighty God, and will perfect His strength in your weakness.

The battle is not yours, but His!

Jesus . . .
sustains our infirmities,
bears our burdens,
supplies our needs, and
encircles us with the shield of His Almightiness!

What a Divine spring of consolation and strength to the tired and afflicted saint, is the Almightiness of Jesus.

Your sorrow is too deep — your affliction too heavy — your difficulty too great for any mere human to resolve.  It distances in its intensity and magnitude, the sympathy and the power of man.

Come, you who are tempest-tossed and not comforted. Come, you whose spirit is wounded, whose heart is broken, whose mind is bowed down to the dust. Hide for a little while within Christ’s sheltering Almightiness! Jesus is equal to your condition.

His strength is almighty!
His love is almighty!
His grace is almighty!
His sympathy is almighty!
His arm is almighty!
His resources are infinite, fathomless, measureless!

And all this Almightiness is on your side, and will bring you through the fire and through the water.

Almighty to rescue — He is also your Brother and Friend to sympathize. And while His Divine arm encircles, upholds, and keeps you — His human soul, touched with the feeling of your infirmities, yearns over you with all the deep intensity of its compassionate tenderness!

“Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend!”

Song of Songs 5:16

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Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878), also known as “The Pilgrim’s Companion”, stood out as one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century in England and America.

“The Lord Rebuke You, Satan!”

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/David Daniels

Acquitted!

Satan’s Accusations Are No Match For Jesus’ Defense.

The problem started during “the rockets’ red glare.” My six-year-old was playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for his elementary school talent show. For several months, Pearson had been learning to play piano by ear, and my wife and I were thrilled that he was confident enough to show off his skills to a listening public.

However, he missed one note—just one among a hundred.

When the piece concluded, the audience erupted in thunderous applause, but Pearson clearly was discouraged. After the show, I cut through the crowd to congratulate him for a fabulous job. His feelings of disappointment and self-criticism burst like bombs and destroyed his ability to bask in my praise. In his mind, he was a failure.

Like Pearson, I sometimes allow even the smallest errors to stifle my sense of success. I can spend multiple weekends crafting a project in my woodshop. Then, after all my hours of sawing, gluing, sanding, and finishing, friends will compliment me on my accomplishment. They marvel at the masterpiece, but I see the mistake.

Such is the tension of living as a Christ follower.

All of us carry past stains or flaws that Satan uses to convince us that we are failures. Like a wrong note or a crooked cut that seems to nullify an otherwise great job, past sin—though confessed and forgiven—can overshadow the abundant, joyful life we have in Christ.

At these moments, we need a reminder of grace. When the devil points out our spiritual blemishes and accuses us of sin, God provides an immediate defense to help us reflect on the past but not dwell there.

Court in Session

The exiled Israelites also struggled to overcome guilt for past sins. During the second year of his reign, the Persian king Darius permitted them to return home to Jerusalem. They had been taken captive generations earlier by the Babylonians, not because they were militarily inadequate but because of sin. The Israelites had traded the worship of God for idols, the holiness of God for sensuality, and the justice of God for selfishness. So God made their home like their hearts. Their city walls were demolished, their temple was destroyed, and their people were deported to live as aliens in a foreign land.

Ezra, one of the leaders during the time of their return, reflected on the reason for their defeat:

From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.

—Ezra 9:7

God’s people were under God’s discipline. He had used shaping, sharpening circumstances to correct them and redirect the course of their lives. Although God disciplined them out of love to produce the fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:6, 11), it was nonetheless painful.

At Israel’s return to Jerusalem, this pain was unbearable. As the leaders stood atop piles of debris, they surveyed a city in disrepair and wept. The rocks and rubble were reminders of their former depravity and God’s severe discipline. How could they ever hope to receive His favor again?

Israel’s discouraging circumstances set the stage for the courtroom drama that unfolds in Zechariah 3. Zechariah was a prophet called by God to speak to Israel as they were rebuilding the city and temple. In a vision Zechariah received from God, the spiritual representative of God’s people stood before the angel of the Lord. Satan was also present—as the prosecutor.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.

—Zech. 3:1

This vision depicts the ongoing spiritual battle we, as God’s people, face every day: As we work toward restoration, the enemy attacks with accusation.

Accusation is one of Satan’s primary strategies. His name means “accuser” or “one who opposes.” In Rev. 12:10, he is called the “accuser of [the] brethren” (NASB). After he traps us in sin through temptation, he overwhelms us with reminders of our failure.

A scene from The Lion King clearly illustrates this strategy. The villain, Scar, leads his nephew, Simba, into the middle of a wildebeest stampede. Simba’s father dies attempting to rescue his son, and Scar blames the young cub for the devastating outcome. His accusations consist of a wickedly covert combination of “no one will ever know” followed by “I told you so.”

Satan repeatedly uses the same tactic against Christians.

Our accuser lures us into sin and then puts us on trial when we take the bait. Even after we’ve confessed and sought forgiveness, he continues to condemn us for our failures.

In Zechariah’s vision, “Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel” (Zech. 3:3). I know exactly how Joshua must have felt: exposed, ashamed, unworthy. The devil’s attacks cause me to question my position before God, the cross’s power over sin, and God’s protection from eternal judgment. First, I experience guilt—that painful sense that I am unclean and unforgivable. Second, my heart floods with doubt: Does God still love me? Is the cross big enough for my sin? Third, I drift into fear, wondering whether I really am saved; perhaps I have lost the eternal security I once possessed. Finally, I slip into hopelessness—that discouraging sense of irreversible defeat.

For the Defense

Fortunately, there were three people in the courtroom Zechariah saw. As soon as the devil stood to deliver his prosecution, the Lord rose to defend His servant:

The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?…Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it, says the Lord Almighty, and I will remove the sin of this land in one day.

—3:2, 8–9

The courtroom judge became a criminal advocate. This is a picture of amazing grace. When the devil harasses us, God rises to our rescue.

God based His defense on His promise to send a servant, the life-giving “Branch” who would remove the sin of the people in a single day and deal with their failure once and for all. What God’s people at that time could only imagine, we enjoy fully today. Through Jesus Christ, God is both “just and the justifier” (Ro. 3:26, NASB). The Apostle John summarizes this remarkable assurance when he writes, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 Jn. 2:1). Because of Christ’s work on the cross, the one who can damn me rises to defend me instead.

The remainder of Zechariah’s vision spells out Jesus’ threefold defense.

Grabbed by God

First, we have been chosen by grace. In verse 2, the Lord vigorously reprimands the enemy:

The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?

The people of Israel understood grace. Their nation was the fulfillment of the covenant (Genesis 12) in which God selected Abram to be the father of His chosen people, not because of his great ancestry, spiritual potential, moral lifestyle, or good looks, but as an act of grace. So when Satan’s accusations came, the Israelites could lean on the fact that their relationship with God wasn’t initiated or earned by them . They didn’t grab God; He grabbed them like sticks snatched from a fire. Therefore, their position with God was secure. Likewise, Jesus assured His followers, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16).

Grace is difficult to grasp. I earn an income. My children earn an allowance. I earn a degree, a promotion, and a reputation. When the telemarketer enthusiastically informs me that I’ve won a free cruise, I laugh. Because nothing in life is free.

Except salvation.

Paul affirms this great truth by reminding his readers that our salvation is a free gift not based in any way on our merit (Eph. 2:8–9). None of us is strong enough, smart enough, or good enough to crawl out of the fire of judgment. We are simply sticks snatched away by Jesus, the righteous Branch.

Fortunately, we cannot undo what we did not earn. Since God chose us even with the stain of past sin, He doesn’t reject us when we experience present failure. His grace not only reaches to the depth of our deepest sin; it also reaches far enough to cover our sin day after day after day. Just as our goodness didn’t secure our salvation, so our sin cannot endanger it. When we are reminded of our imperfections, we can rejoice in the unfailing grace of God.

Squeaky Clean

Each year my oldest son, Grant, enjoys a summer camp tradition called Buffalo Hunt. During this activity, preteens chase their counselors through mud pits trying to steal token rubber bands from their wrists. By the end of the game, Grant’s clothing is so dirty, so stained, so foul, that even the strongest detergents can’t clean it.

Literature sent out before camp warns, “Have your child wear something that can be thrown away.” At least the camp is honest. The shorts and shirt are unredeemable. They’re filthy. They must be discarded.

So must our sin.

God doesn’t excuse, ignore, or minimize our sin. He calls it what it is. Joshua was “dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel [of the Lord]” (Zech. 3:3). The word filthy means “covered with excrement.” Sin is like dung in the presence of God. There is nothing that can be done but to strip it away and throw it out.

And that’s exactly what God does for Joshua:

The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.

—3:4

The ugliness of our sin is removed by the ugliness of the cross. Christ died to make us clean. That’s our second defense.

First Corinthians 6:9–11 describes sin’s repulsiveness and God’s remedy:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I will never forget the first time I read those words. After the first few verses, inadequacy tumbled into hopelessness. The wicked have no inheritance in the kingdom of God! As far as I could tell, my life was hidden in the list of sinners.

Then suddenly, the passage changed direction. “That is what some of you were”—past tense (emphasis mine). I used to be a sinner wrapped in filthy rags. That was my identity. But I was washed by Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.

Whenever a person comes to Christ, the old is stripped away (2 Cor. 5:17). God removes our sinful nature and gives us a new, Spirit-infused one. He also takes away the guilt or stain of our sin, throwing our transgressions “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12) and forgetting them forever. Finally, He takes away our fear of condemnation (Ro. 8:1) so that we can live at peace with Him. We are not old stuff veneered to look brand new. We have been completely renovated, with all sin, guilt, and fear stripped away. So when we hear the voice of accusation, we can rejoice that we are clean!

New Threads

As quickly as Joshua’s clothes were removed, rich garments and a clean turban were brought out, and he was dressed in fine array. Not only was he clean; he was clothed.

Just before I was married, I purchased an antique wardrobe as a gift for my new bride. Because the auction find was covered in years of dirt and neglect, I spent many evenings after work stripping off decades of stain and varnish to reveal a beautiful mahogany cabinet. But the removal of the old was only half the restoration process. I also needed to reapply stains and sealants to protect the furniture from further abuse.

After God removes our sin, He redresses us in a new fashion. He clothes us in “garments of salvation” and arrays us in “a robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10). This completes our defense against Satan’s prosecution. Our new clothes seal us from further accusation by identifying us as God’s children.

In the story of the prodigal son, when the wayward young man comes to his senses and decides to return to his father’s house and admit his failure, he hopes that he can at least have a room among the lowest servants. Instead, the gracious father receives his son with open arms and, after a moment of celebration, demands that a new robe, sandals, and the family ring be brought to the son. After all, a son must look like family, not like a hired servant.

In Gal. 3:27, Paul writes that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” As believers, we are wrapped in Him and His righteousness. This is our new identity. We are no longer strangers, but children. Not aliens, but heirs. Not enemies, but friends. Not sinners, but saints genuinely changed by Jesus forever.

I must be careful not to define myself by anything—positive or negative—other than the righteousness of Christ. I am not essentially Type A or a perfectionist or a pastor. My Christian friend isn’t an alcoholic, a divorcée, or an entrepreneur. There are no workaholics, Olympic champions, middle-classers, Gen-Xers, financial experts, or introverts in the kingdom of God. All that our Father sees is the righteousness that He has put on us. Everything else is a limiting, often unfair label—not an accurate indicator of our new identity in Christ.

This is our greatest defense against the devil. When he calls us a failure, a fraud, a hopeless sinner, we may stand firm on the truth that we are nothing less than righteous offshoots of the Divine Branch. Our life in Christ is simply learning to live what is already true about us.

Almost 200 years ago, Edward Mote penned words for a hymn that take on greater meaning in light of Zechariah’s vision:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,

All other ground is sinking sand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

I have no other hope than what Christ has done for me and in me. I cannot trust any identifying factor in my life other than the righteousness of Jesus that He gained for me at the cross. I stand on the foundation of Jesus. The last verse of this affirming song summarizes this truth:

When He shall come with

trumpet sound,

Oh may I then in Him be found.

Dressed in His righteousness alone,

Faultless to stand before the throne.

Faultless. Without accusation. The devil may point his finger at us, but we stand innocent before the throne of the Eternal Judge because we stand clothed in Christ.

Case Closed

In November 1999, I conducted a private memorial service for four unborn children. Wesley, Richie, Jessica, and Drew had been aborted years earlier, and their mothers wished to honor them. As you can imagine, the service was filled with intense reflection, grief, and loss. If anyone faced the temptation to sink into the depths of unworthiness, these women did. But something had happened to each of them in the years since their regretted decisions. They had discovered a new life in Christ. They knew they didn’t have to bear the burden of their offenses. They had been chosen by grace, they were cleansed of sin, and they were clothed in Christ.

Grace triumphed. Jesus stood for them. They had been acquitted, and court was adjourned.

(God’s) Productive Pain

SOURCE:  Joseph Stowell/Strength For The Journey

“All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I’ll never forget when our youngest child Matthew fell and broke his wrist. It was grotesque! His arm took a sharp left turn at his wrist and then turned again to resume its normal journey to his hand.

We rushed him to the hospital where the doctor began to set his wrist. I watched as the physician pulled and twisted Matthew’s arm. I wanted to jump up and pull him away from my son! But I simply sat and watched, knowing that the agony was necessary to make Matt whole again.

If we trust earthly doctors to do that for our children, how much more we should be willing to trust God, the Great Physician, to reset our broken lives “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). One of God’s purposes in pain is to brand the image of Jesus in our hearts. Can we weep with those who weep? God may need to stain our cheeks with our own tears so that we can genuinely empathize with others as Jesus did. Are we self-sufficient? God may need to strip away our security to conform us to the God-sufficiency that Christ displayed. Are we faithless? It may require a tragedy to teach us to trust the Father as Jesus did.

Next time you feel broken, don’t panic—praise Him! God is at work!

Life’s fractures can be mended
By faith in Christ the Lord—
At first the pain but then the gain
And usefulness restored. —Hess

God’s purpose in pain is to brand His image in our hearts.

“God—where were you?”

 SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  Ed Welch/CCEF

“God, where were you?”

That’s the good version of the question, because you are still on speaking terms with the Lord.

But if this question is left unresolved, over time it becomes, “Where was God when __________ happened [I was raped, my child died, I was fired because of someone’s lies . . . ]?

You are no longer talking to God, you are now talking about him.

Later? Just silence. God, from your perspective, is no longer a player in everyday life.

For now I just want to raise this very difficult question, which is capable of stunting spiritual growth and corroding one’s faith in Jesus.  If it is your question, you must do something with it.

Here is a start.

What are you really asking?

Sometimes “where were you?” is not really what is on your heart.

When my daughter Lisa was little, she would have a predictable response when she was hurt.

“Daddy!” Or sometimes, “Daddy, why did you do that?” These are variations on, “where were you? Why didn’t you do something?” She probably did the same thing with her mother when I wasn’t around. Whoever was closest during the accident was, somehow, at fault.

Once she stubbed her toe while running after her sister. I was reading a book on the other side of the room.

Sure enough, “Daddy!”

In response I could have explained, “Lisa, I didn’t do it to you. You were playing with Lindsay and hit the sofa leg with you bare foot.” But my daughter didn’t really want an explanation of what happened. What she was really saying was this: “Daddy, please help me. I feel hurt and alone.”

All I needed to do was to pick her up, and say “Sweetie, I am so sorry,” which is not an admission of guilt but an offer of compassion. She was not really blaming me. She wanted comfort and the assurance that I cared about what happened to her.

So we could expand “Where were you?” to “God, why did you do this to me?” or “Why didn’t you prevent that evil from happening to me?” These questions belie deeper and usually more basic concerns about God’s love. His answer: “Yes, I know these things are hard to understand but I really do love you – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus proves that – and what hurts you hurts me.” Comfort and compassion.

What if it’s not a question; what if it’s a statement?

Are you actually asking God, “where were you?” or are you making a statement like “God was not there. He can’t be trusted. He isn’t safe.”

Sometimes these statements are expressed as anger towards God. When people speak about anger with God I want to understand what they are really saying before I try to respond. Real anger at God, I believe, is a rare and dangerous thing. Most people who mention such anger are not quite as angry with God as they think. They are just having a hard time putting words on their sufferings.

“Sometimes I hate God.” Maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. You might actually be saying, “I hate myself for letting this happen. Regarding God, I don’t know what to think. He says he loves me, but I don’t understand. It seems he wasn’t there when I needed him.”

What should we do about this?

There is much more to say.  Here are the first steps.

1. Speak to the Lord, not just about him.
2. Recognize that behind your bluster and sometimes lame attempts at acting angry are childlike questions about God’s love and care.
3. Repeat #1.

A Prayer about God Working in and Through Our Pain

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Heavenly Father, the story wrapped around this one verse demonstrates there’s simply no other god as merciful, gracious, and engaged as you. Your forbearance is immeasurable; your kindness is inexhaustible; your plans are irrepressible. We worship and adore you.

When your people received this letter of encouragement from Jeremiah, they were in exile in Babylon. How could they not feel bereft, bewildered, even betrayed by you? Yet, by your own testimony, Father, when you lead us into difficult seasons, it’s not to punish us but to prosper us. When you send hardships, it’s not to bring us harm but to give us hope. When you discipline us, it’s not to send us into the “dog house” of your displeasure, but to free us from the consequences of our foolishness… and to guarantee our good future.

You’re not a God who reacts out of irritation, but one who always acts out of great affection. You know the plans you have for us, individually and corporately. There’s no happenstance in heaven; no randomness in redemption; no coincidences, just providences. You don’t make up things as you go along. You never engage in “trial and error.” “Stuff” doesn’t just happen, sovereignty is always happening.

Father, this way of thinking would be utter madness if you never sent Jesus—a big time spitting into the wind; the spin of all spins; delusional at best, demonic at worse. But Jesus is the “Yes” to every promise you have made. His life, death and resurrection are the guarantee of our gospel-prosperity, living hope, and glorious future. Apart from Jesus there is only hopelessness unimaginable. Because of Jesus there is joy unspeakable.

So bring the truth, grace and power of this gospel into our current situations; into our personal stories of pain; into the brokenness our local churches; and into the needs of our communities. Turn our sighs into songs, our cynicism into servanthood, and our grumblings into the rumblings of a coming visitation of the Holy Spirit. Comfort us that we might comfort one another. Bless us, that we might bless others. Mercy us, that we might mercy others. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ triumphant and compassionate name.

How Do You Spell Relief?

Learning to let your pain lead you to God

SOURCE: Kevin Miller/Discipleship Journal

Have you noticed that life is difficult? It certainly starts with difficulty—for both the mother and the baby. And the end is often difficult. Recently I stood vigil with a friend at his dying father’s bedside. A plastic tube snaked from an oxygen outlet on the wall to a mask over the father’s nose and mouth. The stenciled black letters on his hospital gown rose and fell with every gasp.

Between that beginning and that ending, each of our lives brings some degree of difficulty, some level of pain. Early on we discover ways to soothe ourselves: get a good grade, make somebody laugh, dress up and receive compliments. Soon enough, however, we graduate to more adult methods of relieving our agonies.

R–E–L–I–E–F

We’re all familiar with socially unacceptable avenues for numbing our pain such as alcohol, drugs, or pornography. Yet we may fail to recognize the less obvious “medications” people use to handle life’s disappointments.

Applause.  A Christian musician told me, “On stage you can get the feeling of excitement, the feeling of being larger than life. The lights are on you and people are appreciating and admiring you. You really start to like that experience. It tells you, ‘I am somebody.’ And you can’t get enough.”

Adrenaline.  We can pump up our adrenaline to cover our pain by watching frightening movies, driving aggressively, or booking our lives full of activities. Anger also can bring a rush of adrenaline, making us feel stronger and more in control. Anger can become a defense, an energizer, and even a friend.

Food.  Ah, the pleasure of eating hot corn on the cob with butter melting into it. But food was not given to drown our sorrows. Jan Christiansen confessed in one article, “I’d been hungry for pizza for days. . . . Yesterday was a bad day for me. One thing after another hit me until I found myself in a ‘blue funk.’ . . . It was late. I was depressed, and I ordered pizza. . . . I turned to that food to ‘make it all better.'”

Shopping.  Acquiring more stuff is a useful anesthetic. We can get a surge of pleasure from searching for and then owning something new. I recently stood over a display case filled with PDAs, staring dreamily at the Palm Tungsten with its sleek anodized aluminum case. I nearly started drooling. Later I wondered, What was that about?

Achievement.  Several years ago, as part of a spiritual–life assessment tool, I asked three people who knew me well—my wife, my prayer partner, and my teenaged son—to fill out a feedback form. All three ranked me low on the same statement: “Shows an inner contentment even when things go wrong.” I was surprised, since I see myself as even–keeled. But all three told me, “When work is going well, you’re doing well. When work is not going well, you’re moody and upset.”

Guilty as charged, I realized. I’ve said my identity is based on God’s love for me, but much of it is really keyed to my performance.

My pattern looked like this: Driven to excel and be recognized, I would take on too much. Then when the work began to build, so would the stress. I’d start to think, It would feel so good to be completely caught up. The fantasy of completion (and perfection and accomplishment and reward) would build until I’d dive into my work and stay up till 2 or 3 a.m.—or even dawn. Instead of feeling tired, I’d be flying higher than a kite.

I told myself that I was just a high achiever, someone who pursued excellence and wanted to provide for his family. While there was some truth in that, something in me was taking a good thing such as work and twisting it with indulgence.

Whether it’s through shopping, eating, working, or something else entirely, we want to feel better. Yet the underlying pain remains, because life is difficult. We have no reason to expect otherwise. The Bible doesn’t portray people who were free of suffering, least of all Jesus. Even when He was a toddler, people tried to murder Him. He was abandoned, unfairly judged, and cruelly executed. We’re told Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Is. 53:3).

No, we can’t erase life’s pain. There’s no shortcut to avoid it and no end run around it, so we try to ease it.

God’s–Eye View

We may think it’s OK to medicate our pain as long as our “medicine” is socially acceptable. But God doesn’t look at it that way. God sees us turning to this thing when we’re down. God sees us looking forward to it. God sees our hearts going after it. God sees us asking this thing to tell us, “It’s OK, it will be all right, you matter,” though these are words only He can speak to us. God is not fooled; He sees that our “medication” has become an idol. Henry Blackaby, author of Experiencing God, explains that “an idol is anything you turn to for help when God told you to turn to Him for help.”

In Jeremiah, God cries out:

My people have done two evil things: They have forsaken me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!

—Jer. 2:13, NLT

To grow closer to God, we need to recognize when we have slipped across the line from enjoying something to using it as an idol. We need to stop soothing our pain through ways that were never meant for that purpose.

Don’t underestimate the difficulty of this process.

My wife, Karen, a counselor, once worked with a client who couldn’t control his anger. His outbursts were affecting his wife, his children, and his coworkers. Karen wanted to find out if he could even conceive of living differently, so she asked, “What would your life look like if you got rid of your anger?” He sat silent for a long time. Then he said, “If I get rid of my anger, what will I have left?”

You won’t want to give up your “helper.” But when you say no to the false help, you can say yes to something even better. Henri Nouwen said in an interview,

I cannot continuously say “No” to this or “No” to that, unless there is something 10 times more attractive to choose. Saying “No” to my lust, my greed, my needs, and the world’s powers takes an enormous amount of energy. The only hope is to find something so obviously real and attractive that I can devote all my energies to saying “Yes.” . . . One such thing I can say “Yes” to is when I come in touch with the fact that I am loved. Once I have found that in my total brokenness I am still loved, I become free from the compulsion of doing successful things.

We have to find something incredibly good to replace our chosen pain reliever. Obviously, “something 10 times more attractive” is God. But many Christians would say, “I’ve been having quiet times and doing all the right Christian things, yet I’m not finding my relationship with God powerful enough to deal with my pain. What do I do?”

Coming Clean

The decision to turn away from false help isn’t one of simply adding more “right things.” Rather, you must take the path that leads you into the pain.

Admit your pain.  Few people acknowledge the amount of pain they carry or how heavily they’re medicating it. I know people in their late 40s who still are unaware of (or unwilling to face) the scars they carry.

One friend says, “My family had this idea that we were the perfect family—and we were a good family. But the myth that we were perfect kept us from being honest. . . . It took me years before I could look around and say, ‘My sisters and I are all carrying pain.'”

Health begins with honesty. Are you willing to acknowledge your pain, listen to it, and let it lead you to God?

Confess how you’ve been medicating yourself.  Almost as difficult as acknowledging pain is admitting how you’ve been trying to manage it. Are you willing to confess the ways you have asked a created thing to tell you you’re OK? Harboring an idol is not just a lovable weakness, a little mistake, or a bad idea: It’s serious. Joshua urged the people of God:

Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped . . . and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.

—Josh. 24:14–15

God is all that your idols can never be: your Creator who will rescue you.

Break the escape cycle.  Medicating pain usually follows a predictable cycle.

  • Stress.  Your day goes badly; your week goes sour; the argument gets out of hand. Pressure builds.
  • Fantasy.  You start thinking about this thing that makes you feel better. You imagine how good doing it or having it would feel. The fantasy grows.
  • Indulgence.  You give in: You eat too much, visit the porn site, rage at the kids, buy the PDA.
  • Release.  You feel better.
  • Guilt.  The relief doesn’t last. Almost immediately, you feel regret and guilt. You pledge to try harder, but then stress mounts, and you repeat the cycle.

You have to halt the cycle early to break the pattern. When you feel stress building, you must exercise your will to turn to God rather than continue toward the thing that brings relief. This will require some preparation. Ask yourself, “When am I most likely to feel stress? What would remind me to notice that stress rather than unthinkingly move into the fantasy stage? What would it look like to break the cycle by bringing that pain to God?”

Open your life to others.  Your idols have rewarded you (while damaging your soul). To continue turning from them will be difficult. You need relationships to help you see the hand of God at work in your life.

Meeting with a friend over a weekly sack lunch helped me greatly when I was trying to break the cycle of using work to feel good. As we talked about our lives and prayed for each other, I gradually realized, Tim cares about me even when I’m messed up. And then I began to understand, God must love me like that too. Just as Henri Nouwen predicted, tasting the sweetness of God’s love began to “free me from the compulsion of doing successful things.”

Listen to God.  Scripture is as essential to our spirits as food is to our bodies. We need to hear what God is saying as we read the Bible or worship. Sometimes God also speaks through a caring Christian friend.

Listening to God sounds simple, but we may resist opening our spirits to Him. Why? Once we’re quiet, we feel—sometimes for the first time—the extent of our pain. The rage, the sorrow, the loneliness flood our souls. One writer describes this as “bearing our pain in God’s presence.” It takes courage. Persevere, though, for the word God speaks is the only thing powerful enough to soothe our pain, give us hope, and free us from idols—as I found out several years ago.

The Other Side of Pain

I was jet–skiing on a lake in Wisconsin when I suddenly noticed I was about to hit a high wake from another boat. I felt a slam on the side of my head and seconds later realized I was underwater. When I came to the surface, I felt dazed and nauseated. Soon an intense, heavy headache began.

I went home and read from the Mayo Clinic Family Health book:

About a third of all persons with concussion have a combination of symptoms . . . for some time after a head injury. In addition to headache and dizziness, these symptoms may include insomnia, irritability, restlessness, inability to concentrate, depression, or personality changes such as moodiness.

This became a prophecy for my life.

For several nights I couldn’t sleep for fear of drowning, so I lay in a fetal position on the sofa, unable to control my thoughts: What if I have permanent damage from this accident? What if I can’t concentrate or handle my job? What will Karen do when I’m unemployed? Will she still love me?

I was like a caged animal, scared and wide–eyed.

On the fourth morning, I went to the emergency room, where I sat in a little stall under the fluorescent lights, feeling alone. And then I had a very clear sense that Jesus was standing next to me, His hand on my shoulder. I began to weep in relief and gratitude just to know He was with me.

The doctor put me on an anti-anxiety medication that made me calmer . . . for a little while. I’d be sitting in a meeting at work and suddenly feel as if three Dobermans were charging me. Breathing fast, I’d repeat to myself, Don’t run from the room. Don’t run from the room.

I went to a psychiatrist. In the waiting room I eyed the other unfortunates pretending to read magazines. “You may be here because you need a psychiatrist,” I wanted to yell, “but I don’t! I can pull my life together anytime I want. It’s just that I . . . uh . . . I . . . ”

The psychiatrist put me on a different medication that immediately calmed me. Yet the thought of each day’s work would still slay me. Before, work had energized me. Now the sight of a calendar clogged with appointments made me feel as if I had to empty Lake Michigan with a spoon.

I could see in people’s eyes that they were worried about me. One day a coworker asked how I was doing since the accident. I admitted, “Well, I’m having some problems with dizziness and anxiety attacks.” His lips tightened. Was it concern or disapproval?

Finally Karen said, “Look, you have sabbatical time built up. Why don’t you take two weeks off?”

I balked because I knew everyone would ask about it, and I couldn’t say something such as “I’m going on vacation,” or “I have some writing to do.” How could I say, “I need to get my head back on straight”?

I had always trusted my mind and my ability to work; now I was weak and unable to handle one day. I had always wanted to look good in front of my bosses; now I felt humiliated. My idols of excellence and recognition were being dismantled. All I could do was hope in God and cling to Him.

One day my then–11–year–old son, Andrew, handed me a piece of paper with a Bible reference on it. “Here, Dad. I was reading and thought this was for you.” I looked it up and read,

Therefore, thus says the Lord, “If you return, then I will restore you—Before Me you will stand. . . . For I am with you to save you and deliver you.”

—Jer. 15:19–20, NASB

Each night I read those verses, repeating the words, “I will restore you.” I hung on to that passage like a drowning man hanging on to a life preserver.

God kept His word. When no one could truly help me or understand what I was going through, God loved me and decided, for His purposes and His glory, to restore me. Over the next few months I gradually regained my strength, composure, hope, and balance.

How well I know that hearing from God is the soul’s only hope. With what difficulty I came to realize that my idol of achievement had to be crushed so I might worship God alone.

In life, you and I are going to feel deep, deep hurt. Our instinctive reaction will be to numb that pain. But life and wholeness come when we decide not to dull our senses, but to listen to our pain and let it lead us to God. In His presence, we can say yes to something 10 times greater: His love.

How Can I Pray In The Midst of PAIN?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Stacey S. Padrick

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).

Facing the Pain Inside

Why do things go so wrong when you try so hard to do what’s right?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Larry Crabb as adapted from Inside Out

I am convinced that most of us wrestle regularly with problems no one else ever knows about. For most of us, things simply are not at all as they seem to be.

The fact is, a lot of things are going on inside me that I have no intention of sharing publicly. The same is true for most of us. One of the most common things I hear from people who have come for counseling is, “I know I have questions and struggles and hurts going on inside me, but I’m scared to death to face them.” We simply don’t know how to handle it all, and we have no real confidence that other people could handle it either.

Most of us try to forget the whole inside mess and just get on with the Christian life, which becomes an ongoing struggle to look good on the outside and to deny what is really going on inside. But I wonder how much pain and disappointment—how much real agony of soul—is going on beneath the surface that has not been resolved or taken away, but only covered over behind perfect church attendance or Bible memorization or doing all sorts of good things for your church.

For the thousands of people like me who so often wonder why things go so wrong when they try so hard to do right, the Lord has a radical message, a message that needs to be clearly stated and heard.

SEEING THE PATTERNS

First of all, God is not a cosmetic specialist. He has no desire simply to get people in our churches looking the way they are supposed to look. His desire is to get down to the core of my being where I wrestle with anger, where I fight sexual urges that shouldn’t be there, where I feel distant from others, where there’s depression I hide from everyone else—to get down to the real issues of life, and accomplish change from the inside out.

Some years ago my wife and I were shopping for a new home. We finally found one that had everything we wanted, though the price was a little higher than the limit we had agreed upon. “Honey,” I said to her, “what do you think?”

“Larry,” she said, “this house is perfect. We’ve talked about it and prayed about it. This is the home I think we ought to have.”

After asking more questions—”Are you crazy about it?” “Are you sure it has everything you want?”—I finally said, “Honey, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. Since you love the home so much, we’re going to buy it.”

“Larry,” she responded, “do you know what you just did? You have just taken the responsibility for the decision off your shoulders and put it onto mine, so if it ever turns out to be a bad one you’ll be able to blame me.” (Married to a psychologist, she’s able to think this way.)

She was right. I’m not big on decision-making. As a counselor I can handle suicidal crises and people with bizarre sexual problems, but I can’t handle making decisions in my own family. “All right,” I said, “I’ll take my share of the responsibility. Let me think this through and I’ll decide.”

I called an elder in the church. “I want to talk with you about a major decision I’m making,” I said, and we talked at length. “Larry,” he said, “if you want to buy the house, go ahead and buy it. From my perspective I see no spiritual issues here that need to be addressed.”

“Fine,” I said. Then I called a financial consultant who assured me the monthly payments were within our reach. “Go ahead and buy it,” he said. I thanked him and said, “Let me think about it.”

Then I called my father. “Dad, I’ve got a decision to make and I need your help.” I told him all the issues—the money factors, details about the house— and asked what he thought I should do.

“Larry, I know exactly what you should do,” he said.

Music to my ears. “What?”

“Make a decision.”

So I did. Finally.

On another occasion I had a few free hours to spend on a Friday afternoon. Two options occurred to me: going to the YMCA to work out, or playing tennis with my kids in the schoolyard behind our house. I decided to go to the “Y.”

I got in my car to make the three-mile trip. After about a mile I said to myself, I think I’d rather play tennis with my kids. I turned the car around, got halfway home, and thought, No, I think I’ll go work out. I turned the car around again. Within sight of the “Y,” I decided I really did prefer to play tennis with my kids. I pulled into the parking lot and right back out. But on the way home again I reached the same point of indecision.

I pulled the car off to the side of the road and threw up my hands. What is going on inside of me? Why on earth can’t I decide? Why is it so hard as an adult male—a man who professes his willingness to lead his family as a husband and father—to make decisions when he’s supposed to? Why is there such a pattern of weakness in my life in this area?

Indecision may not be as big a trouble for you as it is for me, but as I’ve described it, what kind of struggles in your own life come to mind? Do you see any patterns that disturb you? Maybe it’s time to take a hard look—an inside look.

You may be feeling uncomfortable at the thought of such a close-up, beneath the-surface examination of your life. “Just like a typical psychologist,” you might be saying, “trying to make a big deal out of every little thing in life.” Taking such a deep look inside is seldom a pleasant endeavor (at least for me). But Jesus says taking an inside look is what He wants us to do.

DIRTY CUPS

In Matthew 23, Jesus encountered the kind of people who seem to specialize in doing everything right and making sure you notice it. You know the type: the person who looks at you with a condescending warmth when you admit a problem. The person who never gives a hint that he has struggles too.

To such externally religious people, so respected in their community because of their careful attention to do everything they were supposed to—Jesus had hard words:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. —Mt. 23:25–26

No message is clearer from these words than this: Our Lord is not terribly impressed with people who look good on the outside, but haven’t dealt with their lives on the inside. Jesus encourages you and me to search below the surface—to see something deep in our lives that needs attention, something not very pretty.

Change—real change, the kind Jesus wants to make in my life and yours— involves far more than trying harder to do all we should. It requires what is so difficult for most of us in this fast-paced world: a hard look at our insides. And that takes courage.

FEELING THE PAIN

It’s so much easier to just live life on the surface, particularly when our situation is relatively pleasant. For when we look inside, what we see is usually painful. We were built to live in a nonfallen world, yet we’re living in a fallen world as fallen beings: I’ve sinned, you’ve sinned, there are problems all over the place—and I’m disappointed that I’m not experiencing what my thirsty heart craves in full measure now. The more I’m aware of what I long for, the more I realize the disappointment I feel in my soul.

For example, real change—the only kind Jesus will settle for—requires a courageous look at the quality of our relationships. Christianity is a religion about relationships, and God, in His ultimate existence, is a relational being. He designed us to live in relationships, and the measure of whether I can change to become what He wants me to be is whether I am living in relationships in the way I should.

But in my own relationships there are painful failures that, frankly, I don’t have the courage to face on my own. Maybe you have them too. All my relationships in some measure disappoint me, just as I disappoint everyone who has a relationship with me. Yet most of us constantly place pressure on other people to never disappoint us—to always understand our struggles, to always respect our efforts, to always support us, to always come through.

Deep in our souls, down at the core, we desperately long for this understanding from others. Not having it is painful. Our insides scream with the pain of loneliness and rejection and failure. It hurts so much that we try to relieve the hurt through our own efforts—often by withdrawing from others so that they won’t have the opportunity to disappoint us further. In every relationship we try to keep from looking and feeling bad, from being embarrassed, from reliving old disappointments—in short, we strive to avoid pain.

But feeling that pain is a first step, driving us to a new level of dependence on Christ. The only way to admit there is no real satisfaction apart from Christ is to first feel the disappointment in every other relationship. Once we admit our hurt—and admit that nothing and no one on earth really satisfies our longing—we can begin to fully depend on Christ to satisfy us.

DISCOVERING THE MORE

There’s more to what it means to know Christ than the most spiritual person around you knows anything about—there’s more! But we’re not going to discover the more until we acknowledge our thirst.

In Jn. 7:37 we read about an appearance Jesus made in Jerusalem on the final day of the Jewish harvest festival. He stood in their midst as an uninvited preacher and cried out, “If you’re thirsty, come to Me; and from your innermost being, I’ll cause rivers of living water to swell up!”

If you’re thirsty, He said, then come. The condition for the invitation is an awareness of thirst.

You and I are thirsty people. We long for a deep satisfaction, the kind that makes our insides very alive, that makes us rich people. We thirst. Deep in our souls, down at the core, we desperately want something—and want it legitimately—that we don’t have and really can’t have until Heaven—to be respected, to be deeply involved with someone who truly accepts us.

Jesus does something about this deep thirst. But it’s our responsibility—and our opportunity—to trust Him to produce the kind of change that way down we really want for ourselves.

To trust Him includes having the courage to face your sadness, knowing that one day the Lord will make everything right. For now, let the full impact of what it means to live in a fallen world really get to you. Let yourself be torn up. To be a strong, stable Christian does not mean you neither hurt nor weep. Face the fact that you long for a better world and for what you do not have and cannot have now. Groan over it . . . because it’s the route to joy, and to real inside change.

Trusting God also means trusting His forgiveness—which is the basis for change. When I come to the point of realizing I’m a sinner and that Jesus died for my sins, at that point He forgives me of my sin and He says, “Larry, I have given you life. Don’t try to go out and find it; rather accept it. Don’t try to preserve it; trust Me to take care of it.” Accepting God’s forgiveness allows the change process to begin.

Finally, trusting God means obeying Him by giving up that style of relating to people that really has our own comfort and protection in view. It means trusting God with our deepest longings and moving toward people in love—even though it’s risky and uncomfortable. Jesus leaves us in a disappointing world with the commandment to get more involved with people who are guaranteed to disappoint us further. The Christian life requires taking risks.

So the hurt doesn’t end. But trusting Christ with our pain and obeying Him by loving others leads to a deep sense of wholeness, a deep sense of intactness. There is life in Christ, and we begin to experience the reality of that life when we do what He says, when we give up our futile efforts at self-protection and allow Him to change us from the inside out.

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).

How Does My Suffering Compare To Yours?

No More Minimizing Pain

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

“But my suffering isn’t as severe as hers.”

It sounds courageous and compassionate. If you believe it, you avoid playing the victim card, and the victim card is as unattractive as it is unhelpful. So who would have thought that these good intentions could go so bad.

There is No Suffering Gauge

The truth is this. There is no suffering gauge in Scripture, as if being burned at the stake scores a 100, Stage IV cancer is an 85, a broken friendship is a 50 and uncomfortable shoes are a 5. If there were such a system, a person whose suffering topped out at 80 would have to defer to the one who measures 81. The one with the less severe suffering would have to suffer in silence. He or she would have no right to seek the comfort of others or God. To do so would be hogging time that could be better used by more qualified sufferers.

There is No Compassion Meter

And here is something worse. A suffering gauge would inevitably be accompanied by a compassion meter. We would show more compassion to the one with the greater suffering and dole out a fraction of compassion to the one with less suffering. God too would have full-on compassion for a score of 100, but he couldn’t be bothered by the uncomfortable shoes.

Too many of us believe that such a system exists.

God, however, never compares our suffering to anyone else’s. Never. He doesn’t even compare it to his own suffering. There is no, “Let’s see, you just got divorced. Hmm. Do you want to know real pain? I suffered and died for your sins.” Instead, his personal familiarity with human pain assures us of his compassion—not of his comparisons.

Call Out to God—Always

The Psalms constantly invite us to call out to the Lord, which is another way of saying that our God constantly invites us to call out to him. We might not identify with the Psalmists who are being pursued by blood-thirsty enemies, but we can always find a Psalm that speaks on our behalf. Consider Psalm 130. It is one of my favorites because the Psalmist doesn’t specify the nature of his trouble. Instead, he is wonderfully vague. The only entry requirement for this Psalm is that you have to hurt.

The danger in establishing a pecking order within suffering is that you feel authorized to call out to the Lord when things are really bad, but you remain isolated and silent if your pain is below the national average. This, of course, can never be. If there is anything we know about ourselves and Scripture we know this: we were made to speak both the joys and sorrows of our heart to the Lord.  He delights in hearing our joys and shouldering our sorrows. The most human thing we can do is call out to him. Any system that restrains the cry of the heart is suspect at best. More than likely it has diabolic fingerprints on it.

So expose this wretched system. Jettison it now. Get mad that you were duped into believing that your God doesn’t care about the details of your life. You can still say, “My suffering is nothing like what she is experiencing, which makes it that much more amazing that God hears me and cares.”

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————


Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a neuro-psychology specialty from the University of Utah as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary.

Living With A Painful Situation

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 64-64

Although we can be sure that God is always working for our good and the good of others, even through trials and suffering, we will not always know exactly what that good is.

In many cases his ultimate purposes will not be evident for a long time.

And in some situations his ways and objectives are simply too profound for us to comprehend, at least until we see God face to face (see Romans 11:33-36).

This should not diminish our confidence in him or our willingness to obey him, however. As Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

This passage provides the key to dealing faithfully with painful and unjust situations. God may not tell us everything we want to know about the painful events of life, but he has already told us all we need to know. Therefore, instead of wasting time and energy trying to figure out things that are beyond our comprehension, we need to turn our attention to the promises and instructions that God has revealed to us through Scripture. The Bible tells us that God is both sovereign and good, so we can be sure that whatever he has brought into our lives can be used to glorify him, to benefit others, and to help us to grow.

Food for Thought

Are you living with a painful situation? Is there a situation in your life that you just don’t understand why it has transpired in the way it has?

As you trust God with the “secret things,” first remember all he has already done for you through Christ. Then focus your attention on obeying his revealed will, and you will experience greater peace within yourself (Psalm 131; Isaiah 26:3) and serve him more effectively as a peacemaker (Proverbs 3:5-7).

Do You Want To Be Healed?

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

38 years in a bed.

Next to a pool.

Sounds relaxing doesn’t it?

But as we read on, the story says the [broken] man was alone and horribly crippled. Probably twisted feet, pencil thin legs and atrophied muscles barely covered by a thin blanket. Why? Because this was the pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. There was something miraculous about this pool. Periodically the water stirred, and the first one into it was instantly healed.

Suddenly a commotion just inside the gate caused everyone to turn and look. A Man [Jesus], followed by a large crowd, walked through one of five alcoves. With humble determination, He moved to the crippled man’s side. Whispers fill the air. “Is it Him?” some ask. Every ear strains to hear what He might say as He kneels tenderly next to the man.

And then, with a quiet strong voice full of power and grace, He asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The broken man feebly hangs his head and utters an interesting reply, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” His answer only goes to affirm the depths of his hopelessness. Not “yes” or even “no”. Just discouragement and despair

Even more interesting is the edict He gives in response. “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off. (John 5:1-9 MSG)

Jesus asked him — Do you want to be healed?

Each of us, at some point in our lives, have heard Him ask us the same question. Whether it’s physically… emotionally… relationally… or spiritually. Too often, we answer with the same timidity he did. Our pain is too deep. The hurt has been lodged in our heart for way too long. The doctors have tried everything. Hopelessness fills our souls…

When you really think about it, healing starts with a choice. And it is always for His glory.

Meditate on these words. Treasure them up and ponder them in your heart:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

“O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” (Psalm 30:2 ESV)

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14 ESV)

“And many followed Him. And He healed them all.” (Matthew 12:15 ESV)

“He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

“Do you want to be healed?”

The next time He asks you that heartfelt question, reflect on these verses before you answer. And yes, He is always waiting and willing to turn our lives around.

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. 

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.

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?

Where Are You, Lord? What’s really going on when God seems absent?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Tom Eisenman

I knew right away that Josh had called with the bad news we’d hoped never to hear: Jada, our 14-month-old granddaughter, had succumbed to the genetic disorder she’d battled so bravely throughout her brief life.

After hanging up the phone, Judie and I were too numb with grief to cry. We just held each other for what seemed an eternity.

That day was the final crushing blow in a long season of trauma and pain. In the months before, we had lost one of our best friends in a tragic automobile accident. The day after his funeral, I received word that my mother had suffered a massive stroke. The following day she was gone. Just prior to these heartbreaking losses, I’d had to resign from a long-term ministry position. Under financial stress, we sold the home we loved; then we were forced to move twice in less than a year. Now our beautiful grandbaby was dead. On occasions, we wondered if our grief would consume us.

This period was also spiritually confusing. Judie and I both struggled to relate to God. At times we felt as if He didn’t care.

“God, where are You?” we’d pray. “What are You doing?”

Too often there would just be silence.

God’s strange absence was one of the most jarring things we’d ever experienced. We were confident God was there. We knew He was at work in our lives. But He was not there and working in the ways we had come to expect.

I remembered at one point how King David had also experienced painful times when God seemed distant to him. We began to take some comfort in knowing we were not the first children of God to endure confusing periods of spiritual darkness.

The 16th-century priest John of the Cross wrote extensively about these wilderness journeys. He called them “dark nights of the soul.” John testified that these prolonged and painful periods of dryness—when received in faith rather than resisted—would eventually result in a truer, more profound intimacy with God.

The Soul at Midnight

If you look for “dark night of the soul” in your concordance, you won’t find it. But even if that phrase doesn’t come directly from the Bible, it’s clear that many people depicted there experienced what I’ve been describing. Few enjoyed as close a relationship with God as David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Yet David often struggled to find God’s presence in the midst of painful circumstances.

In the Psalms we encounter his descriptions of the common dark-night feelings of suffering in isolation, losing one’s bearings, and having no solid place to stand.

 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

—10:1

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.…I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.

—69:1–3

David knew what it’s like to feel God withdraw His presence. Confronted with his sin of adultery and murder, David pleads,

 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

—51:11–12

 Painful, Yet Fruitful

The “willing spirit” David prayed for usually comes at a great price. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that God is for us and that nothing can separate us from His love (Ro. 8:31–39). But God is also deeply committed to our growth. The Scriptures describe three painful processes that God will use—often during dark-night periods—to remove from our lives that which does not honor Him.

Pruning.   Jesus teaches that pruning is at the heart of His Father’s transforming work: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be more fruitful” (Jn. 15:2). In the California wine country where I live, we constantly see pruning’s effects. Grapevines look like dead stumps after they’ve been pruned. You wouldn’t believe anything good could again come from these gnarly hunks of wood. But by late summer the vines are flourishing, bending low under the weight of a healthy and abundant crop.

Refining. Another process is refining through fire. “See, I have refined you…,” God says. “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10). And the Apostle Peter, no stranger to suffering, writes,

These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.—1 Pet. 1:7

Shaking. Finally, the writer of Hebrews describes a process of shaking, telling us that God is removing…what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.…For our “God is a consuming fire.”

—Heb. 12:27, 29

At the heart of the dark-night journey is this place of reduction and humiliation where every twig marked “self rule” must be cut off and thrown in the fire. God’s fire burns away deadwood but also refines our characters, drawing the impurities from our souls. And where we have tried to rest our lives on pillars that do not reach bedrock, there will be a shaking, a divine demolition, until only that which cannot be shaken remains. Yet even then God promises,

Fear not, for I have redeemed you.…When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze [or, consume you].—Is. 43:1–2

When we encounter this work of God, we feel lost and out of control. We grope around, trying to find our bearings, confused by the upheaval in our souls. Yet God is profoundly shaping our faith. We are being dismantled at our core, then gracefully reconstructed from the inside out.

Road Signs

It is good to know when you might be entering a dark night. It is a comfort to know that this tough time is a work of God in progress, not some senseless series of ugly events. Here are some signs that I believe can help us recognize when we are experiencing this unique work of God.

A perceived change in God’s presence.  During the painful period Judie and I went through, we experienced God maintaining a more distant posture toward us than we had come to expect. I believe this is a classic sign of a dark night in progress. It can catch us off guard, because the shift will often follow a period during which we have felt close to God, dancing in His blessings. Then life suddenly changes. When we, like David, cry out to the Lord, He can seem unresponsive, indifferent, and aloof.

One subtle but significant clue that this is an authentic dark night is that, even though it appears God might have abandoned us, it’s common to have a still deeper sense that this unusual experience is a work of God. He may be absent in the ways that we have come to expect, but He is present in new ways. A shaking is going on; God is in the shaking.

Diminished ego.  Another clue is when we become aware that our egos are undergoing a major adjustment. The dark-night experience always disempowers us. The manipulative, possessive, controlling self must be broken down.

We may recognize this first in our prayer lives. We do everything we have always done to engage God in prayer, but nothing works. The harder we try to touch the face of God, the more we work at it, the less we seem able to achieve the experience of God for which we long. The key words here are try, work, andachieve. We are learning who is really in control. There is no way we can force God’s presence; it is always a gift.

What starts with prayer often bubbles over into other areas. During dark-night experiences we become keenly aware of our limitations. In this past year of brokenness and searching, I was surprised to find myself slipping at times into thinking the unthinkable: angry thoughts, sexual fantasies, strange doubts, even obsessive ruminating about who I really was. I struggled against temptations I had been certain were dead and gone.

We can begin to wonder whether we’ve really made any progress with God. It feels like regressing. Our Christian self-images may become part of God’s demolition and reconstruction. We may have become too attached to ideas of our effectiveness in religious work or of our strength of character. How quickly pride enters into every area! As God diminishes our egos, a more authentic humility grows in us. When we emerge, we will have new spiritual energy and fresh thinking that could not have come about if we had stayed where we were, with everything organized and securely in place under our old regime.

Distorted images of God.  Another area in which God works involves our worship of false images of Him. A common experience is to realize more fully how self-serving and immature many of our previously held concepts of God have been.

Letting go of favorite images of God is painful and can shatter our comfortable religious world. If we are attentive to God’s work here, the result will be a more authentic relationship with the one true God who has been waiting for us in the darkness from which we have likely been fleeing.

The Apostle Paul experienced this radical religious transformation. Paul was blinded by God on the road to Damascus; that’s darkness. After the return of his sight, believing brothers sent him off to Tarsus for several years of self-imposed exile (Acts 9:1–30). God set Paul aside until his entire set of images of God could be dismantled and then reconstructed on the solid foundation of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.

Other signs.  In the dark night of the soul, God is teaching us utter dependence upon Him. For this reason, every aspect of our lives that we turn to for fulfillment, satisfaction, or security may be challenged.

Even physical illness or limitation can become part of the dark-night experience. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s repeated plea for God to remove the thorn in his flesh. Paul finally learned that the thorn kept him from becoming conceited and taught him complete dependence upon the grace of God (2 Cor. 12:7–10).

Often our dark-night experiences will involve some of what Jesus suffered. We may have to endure acts of injustice or betrayal—even by close friends—that can bring profound disillusionment. Experiences such as these deepen our intimacy with the Lord and grow our compassion for what He did for us. A purification takes place when we cannot count on others; we are driven back to the Lord as the true and trustworthy friend.

A Willing Soul

Once we’ve identified what we’re experiencing as a dark night of the soul, the question remains: How do we position ourselves to grow from it? There are some important ways we can cooperate with God during this unique spiritual transition.

Honestly express your emotions to God.  Dark-night seasons are painful and disorienting. We may be hesitant to talk with God about what we’re really feeling, especially what we may be feeling toward Him.But this is no time for pretending. God can handle our honesty. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

Fight the temptation to run from your distress.  You may have been a goal-oriented, self-assured, and efficient Christian. Now, however, God has allowed a spiritual earthquake to occur. The temptation will be to recreate what you had before, much like the Israelites who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt rather than face future uncertainties with God.

During our recent testing, a wise friend said to me, “Tom, let it burn.” This was solid advice. A dark night is not just some emotional tremor after which you can get back to life as usual. God is transforming your entire being. You will eventually enjoy a whole new way of seeing, believing, and living. Open yourself to the new life the Lord is birthing in you.

Resist trying harder.  God may remove you from activity during the dark night. Perhaps you have been too busy, too results-oriented, too much in control. You have a sense that it is OK to withdraw from previous commitments and involvements. When you finally let go, you may have to battle feeling lazy or guilty. Concerned friends and family may also suggest that you get busy again: “Try harder,” they’ll seem to say, “and you can pull yourself out of this.”

Rushing back into a life of frantic activity, however, is likely the opposite of what God would want you to do. Give yourself space to experience God differently. Rest, solitude, and silence are your best friends.

Seek companions.  All change represents loss. Anytime we experience loss, we enter into grief. The emotions of grieving can include loneliness, self doubt, and anger—even anger at God for seeming inscrutable and uncaring in the face of our agony. This is a good time to reach out to spiritually mature friends who are good and patient listeners. You want people who will hear you without trying to fix you, who will listen long and hard with you for the true voice of God. These caring friends can offer encouragement and perspective as you endure the unpredictable emotions of the dark night.

Be faithful, but release your expectations.  When our experiences of God change, we may become anxious as we desperately seek the touch from God to which we’ve become accustomed. It’s good to remain faithful to our spiritual disciplines, but we need to let go of our expectations regarding how God may or may not respond to us.

Be patient with yourself and with God.  Dark-night periods can last for months, a year, or even longer. The deeper changes at which God may be aiming take time. You may see little progress according to previous patterns of God’s work in your life. This is new territory, new ground being plowed. Wait patiently, and pray for eyes to see inklings of the stronger future God is bringing about.

Call to mind God’s faithfulness.  Even though we’re not sure what God is up to in the present, recalling His provision and leading in the past can steady us in disorienting times. Hold on to the truth you know: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

TOUCHING BEDROCK
The dark night ultimately teaches us that we cannot control God, nor would it benefit us to do so. We need to die to ourselves in order to be transformed into people who can fully participate in the new order the whole creation is groaning toward (Ro. 8:19–22). So we give ourselves wholeheartedly to God who, in His goodness to us, often acts in ways that are surprising and unpredictable.

I’ve come to see, as John of the Cross did, that if we can stay open and spiritually aware during these unusual, searching times we learn truths about ourselves that we might never have discovered while living contentedly within our carefully constructed religious comfort zones.

Many times during our dark period, Judie and I cried out to God in pain, wondering what He was doing. We knew that God was not bringing these calamities into our lives. Nor was He punishing us. But now we see that He was using these hard circumstances to accomplish His deeper work of humility in us.

We had much to learn and to let go of before we could finally and fully rest where we are today: on the solid bedrock of God’s love. Now that we are emerging from this prolonged and painful time, we feel most fortunate. We have gotten all the way down to this richest place, a place where all that’s left is all we will ever need—God’s great faithfulness.

Do I Care Enough To Confront?

SOURCE:  based on a post on May 19, 2011 by Wisdomforlife

If you choose to care about others, there may be occasions when you’ll need to be an instrument of sorrow in their lives. These are times when you have to say things they don’t want to but need to hear. When the people we care about choose selfish and destructive life-patterns, love compels us to confront them. But how many of us are willing to be instruments of sorrow in this way?

Do we care enough to confront?

Why are so many people willing to tolerate dysfunctional relationships instead of confronting in love?

Is it easier to accept superficial or even destructive relationships than to confront others? Is it just less complicated to assume that people aren’t open to correction or to retreat behind the thought that we should mind our own business?

Concern over whether people are open to correction is legitimate.  What do we do when, for good reasons, we believe those in need of confrontation are not open to correction? How do we balance the demands of Proverbs 24:4-6?

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 24:4-6)

Caution is needed in confrontation.

Jesus taught about this in Matthew 7:1-6. After emphasizing that self-judgment must precede all involvement in the lives of others, he warned against “casting pearls before swine.” This implies that there are people who are not worthy of confrontation– no doubt because they’re not receptive to it (See: Dogs, pigs and sacred things).

When confrontation is necessary:

When people we love are destroying their own lives and hurting those around them, we must be willing to confront them. If we let them continue without saying a word, we show a profound lack of love for them and for the lives affected by them. Although difficult, confrontation is often non-negotiable for those who care about the well-being of others.

Confrontation and genuine relationships:

Loving confrontation is often necessary for maintaining genuine rather than superficial relationships. When we allow people to believe we’re on good terms with them despite deep violations of the relationship, we participate in deception not truth. Confrontation is also often non-negotiable for those who will not accept insincerity and hypocrisy.

“If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (John R. W. Stott, Confess Your Sins, p.35).

Confrontation and Church unity:

Local Church members and leaders must be willing on occasions to speak truth into the lives of those who don’t appear to desire it. When an assembly of believers exchanges unity based in love and truth for superficiality and hypocrisy, it ceases to be a light-bearing community for Christ.

Looking for measurable changes:

But when we choose to confront, how do we know if the person is responding in a way that sincerely honors God? If the matter clearly involves objective wrongs, measurable changes will be part of a godly response. To help evaluate this kind of response, one must be able to distinguish between godly and worldly sorrow.

Godly vs. worldly sorrow

II Corinthians 7:8-11 is the biblical text that reveals this difference. It offers a vivid description of true repentance (godly sorrow) and exposes the deception of false repentance (worldly sorrow). Some people display a show of sorrow or repentance to manipulate and deceive. We must not fall for this.

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (II Cor. 7:8-11).

Consider four principles in this text:

1. God’s instruments of sorrow:

The apostle paints a vivid picture of how one ought to feel about being an instrument of godly sorrow:

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.” (II Cor. 7:8-9)

The vacillating back and forth expressed in these verses indicates the tension one feels in being an instrument of sorrow. No pleasure is taken in bringing pain into the lives of others. But sometimes love requires us to take this role. You need courage and faith to embrace a ministry of intervention and grace to accept the possibility of being misunderstood.

Confronting others about deception and sin is a risky ministry of love. We must be willing to suffer changes or even loss of relationships. Sometimes when we choose to be instruments of godly sorrow, those we confront turn on us and malign us. This is what happened to the apostle Paul. But the response was temporary with those who responded with godly sorrow.

The apostle took the painful path of embracing temporary misunderstanding to gain deeper and lasting relationships based in truth and love.

2. Godly sorrow comes from true believers

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,” (II Cor. 7:10)

This could be translated, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that points to the reality of salvation or indicates salvation.

When confronted about error, sin or false doctrine, genuine believers will ultimately come to their senses and acknowledge the truth. They might respond with resistance or anger at first. If so, those who confront must not over-react or lower themselves to the level of anger. Don’t take the bait and escalate. Keep it pastoral not personal. Trust God’s Spirit to cultivate conviction.

Genuinely saved people ultimately respond to their sin with godly sorrow (cf. Matthew 5:3; Luke 18:9-14;I Peter 5:6).

3. Worldly sorrow must be detected:

“….but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Worldly sorrow is perhaps best understood when contrasted with the description of godly sorrow in II Corinthians 7:11. Worldly sorrow brings death because it is sinful and all sin ends in death (Romans 6:23a; James 1:14-15). Worldly sorrow is self-centered and is typified in Cain’s self-pity over the consequences brought on by his sin (see: Genesis 4).

4. Godly sorrow described and detected

“See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (II Cor. 7:11)

Seven characteristics of godly sorrow: 

After Paul had confronted the congregation about their refusal to properly deal with a sinful member, they responded with godly sorrow. Consider the elements of godly sorrow.

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you:

1) earnestness- intense and earnest care (not a passive acquiescing).

2) eagerness to clear yourselves- a desire to be exonerated.

3) indignation- probably toward themselves for allowing sin to go unchecked in their assembly ( or, toward the sinful member cf. 2:6-7).

4) alarm/fear– toward God for their failure to respond properly to his apostle (cf. 4:21).

5) longing- a desire to be restored to their proper place and to fellowship with Paul.

6) concern- a burning desire to do what is right.

7) readiness- to see justice done – (i.e. to see things be corrected and made right).

Because of their repentance, the apostle could say to them, “At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

Godly sorrow involves a willingness to take seriously the offense committed. True repentance flows out of humility (Luke 18:9-17), and a readiness to accept responsibility. A visible and wholehearted change of behavior follows true repentance (godly sorrow). It produces “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8a). The apostle Paul said, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20b).

When called by God to be instruments of godly sorrow prayerfully take inventory of your own heart and life before confronting others. Go in a spirit required in Galatians 6:1-3

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”

How Could God Let This Happen?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Gerald L. Sittser

Trusting God when you’re the victim of injustice

Sooner or later injustice happens to us all. Yet knowledge of that fact never really prepares us for the pain of unjust circumstances when we experience them.

I received a letter recently from a woman who recounted her experience of injustice. “When my son was two,” she wrote, “his father called me from work one day to let me know he would not be coming home. He had found another place to live: with his girlfriend, as I discovered later.” For several years she avoided the pain by staying busy. But eventually it caught up to her. “I began to feel angry at having been stolen from. I was angry at having to do it all by myself—raising my child, bringing home the money to pay bills, making all the decisions. I felt used up, rejected, and discarded. I felt rage on behalf of my son, who was an innocent in all of this.”

The Undeniable Reality of Injustice

Eventually, each of us will experience painful consequences caused by the foolish or malicious choices that people make. Some injustice is obvious, such as rape, robbery, or murder. At other times, it may be less dramatic. A hardworking employee is passed over for promotion because she is a woman. A young athlete sits on the bench because his coach does not like him. These mundane cases of injustice can be especially difficult because the victims receive little public sympathy and have no recourse to justice.

The issue of injustice is not simply an academic question to me. I have experienced it firsthand, and it has taken everything in me to keep my spiritual equilibrium as a result. In the fall of 1991, a drunk driver lost control of his car and collided with our minivan, killing my mother, my wife, and one of my daughters. Because of a legal technicality, he was found “not guilty.” I spent months trying to make sense out of the injustice of it all. You can imagine my surprise when a friend of mine admonished me to think less about my experience and more about the sovereignty of God. “Eventually,” he said to me, “you will have to make peace with the sovereignty of God. Either God is in control, or He is not. You must decide which you believe is true.”

All of us must decide what to believe about the sovereignty of God. Our experience with painfully unfair situations makes that decision both relevant and difficult. What we decide will in large measure determine how we respond to the unjust circumstances that force the question upon us in the first place. Is God in control or not? If He is, then we can trust Him as He works out His redemptive purpose in our lives, even in the face of injustice. If He is not, then we should abandon faith and find our own way through the hard times of life. The choice is stark and simple. But the struggle we may go through to make a decision of such magnitude is anything but simple. My friend was therefore right. I had to decide what I believed about the sovereignty of God.

Presence and Purpose

The Bible is clear: God is sovereign. He is the one who created us, provides for us, and directs the course of our lives (Psalm 139). God sees all, knows all, transcends all. As finite creatures, we are bound by space and time. He is bound by neither. “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. . . . For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:2, 4).

If a single biblical story affirms God’s sovereignty, it is the story of Joseph (Genesis 37–50). Joseph experienced terrible injustice. He was betrayed by his brothers, who sold him as a slave to a caravan of merchants traveling to Egypt. They in turn sold him to Potiphar, a member of Pharaoh’s court. Joseph served Potiphar well and won his trust. But Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. When Joseph resisted her advances, she accused him of attacking her. Joseph ended up in prison.

Eventually Joseph was released from prison. He was appointed second in command over all of Egypt because he correctly interpreted a dream that had troubled Pharaoh, a dream that foretold a seven-year famine. In addition to interpreting this dream, Joseph advised Pharaoh to establish a plan to avert the disaster. After Joseph’s appointment, he implemented a national project of storing surplus grain and then supervised the distribution of that grain when famine struck. The famine forced Joseph’s brothers to travel to Egypt to buy grain, where they were reunited and eventually reconciled. The story concludes with Joseph’s family settling and prospering in Egypt.

The account gives us two perspectives on the sovereignty of God. The author of the story provides the first perspective. Twice he writes, “The Lord was with Joseph.” Surprisingly, he makes the comment on two occasions when Joseph was the victim of gross injustice. The first occasion occurs just after Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the second just after Joseph was thrown into prison (Gen. 39:2, 21).

The author’s perspective was informed by his knowledge of how the story would end. He could write with accuracy and confidence that God was with Joseph in his darkest hour, though that did not appear to be the case. The author saw that God was working out a purpose that Joseph did not at the time understand.

Joseph himself provides the second perspective on God’s sovereignty. His comment to his brothers at the end of the story indicates that he believed God was with him, even after so much injustice. “You intended to harm me,” he said, “but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

God’s Redemptive Sovereignty

As Joseph made a decision to believe, so must we. But what exactly should we believe about God’s sovereignty? Should we believe that it is cold, calculated, and machine-like? Or is God sovereign in the way a good writer is, who creates characters in a novel that face enormous messes but in the end find great happiness?

God’s sovereignty is not manipulative; it is redemptive. When God created the world, He called it good. He mourns the evil that ravages the world, and He plans to restore the world to its original goodness. It is as if the world is a masterpiece, like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, upon which vandals have viciously painted graffiti. Now God, the artist, has decided to restore it to its original magnificence. God wants to redeem people so that His image, as reflected in Jesus Christ, is restored in them (Ro. 8:28–30, 2 Cor. 3:18). As a result, the entire universe will be set ablaze with His glory and holiness.

If God did not act in His sovereignty to redeem us, every human being on planet Earth would be doomed. If we were left to ourselves, imprisoned by our own sin, then we would be of all creatures the most to be pitied. There are many things we can do for ourselves, but salvation from sin is not one of them. Only God in His sovereignty can redeem us.

God has, in fact, already redeemed us in Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote, if any person is in Christ, that person is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus won our salvation through His sacrificial death and His bodily resurrection. He became sin for us so that we could become righteous like Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Further, God is redeeming us every day by changing our lives. God takes the stuff of daily life and wields it as His tool to make us like Jesus. He uses the circumstances of everyday life to transform us. We can assume, then, that God in His sovereignty is always working in our lives. The tools He uses are immediately at hand—the relationships we have or lack, responsibilities we are assigned by choice or necessity, opportunities we are given, suffering we did not choose but must endure, problems we face, dilemmas we encounter. God uses these occurrences to perfect us. It is not in spite of, but by means of such life experiences that we grow into the fullness of Christ. Thus, the very circumstances that we blame for our misery are the things God uses to make us like Jesus. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.

We must learn to trust God, even when there seems to be little reason to do so. There may be times when the way God leads us can seem unjust. Take Abraham as an example. After waiting 25 years for a child, Abraham finally witnessed the fulfillment of God’s promise. Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac. Isaac was God’s supreme gift to Abraham and Sarah. It seemed a cruel thing when God later commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son and heir, to God (Genesis 22). God seemed to be violating His promise and desecrating His gift, as if He had turned against Abraham. Abraham must have been utterly bewildered. Amazingly, he still obeyed. While journeying to the place of sacrifice, Isaac became curious. “Where is the sacrificial animal?” he asked his father. Abraham’s response is telling. “God will provide the sacrifice,” he replied. And God did. The book of Hebrews teaches that Abraham had such confidence in God that he believed God could raise Isaac from the dead.

Why this test? The text tells us that God wanted to know whether or not Abraham trusted Him. Abraham did not presume to know more or better than God. Neither should we. Again, it all comes down to a decision to believe.

Hard Questions

God is sovereign and worthy of our trust. Complete trust in Him, however, does not eliminate the pain we feel in the midst of injustice. The darkness will still be dark; hardship will still be hard. It does us no good to think otherwise. If Jesus cried in anguish, so can we. However sovereign God is, injustice still hurts.

These seasons of suffering may raise difficult questions in our minds. It is entirely human and understandable to question God when we do not understand what He is doing in our lives, or to cry out in agony even if we do understand. Job, for example, was never faulted for questioning God; the book of Psalms contain many psalms of complaint (e.g., Psalm 88). Even Jesus asked in desperation, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34).

The crucifixion of Christ is the quintessential example of the mysterious and complex way in which God works. It was obviously a horrible miscarriage of justice, and the people responsible for the deed were wrong to do it. Yet God used that unjust event to accomplish the salvation of the world.

Pursuing Justice

It’s important to remember that belief in God’s sovereignty does not excuse evil or justify wrongdoing. Bad parents are still bad parents, though God will use bad parents in His sovereignty to make us better people. God uses injustice to accomplish His greater purposes. Yet the positive outcome of suffering unjustly does not nullify the painful nature of such experiences. God’s ability to accomplish His purposes through injustice does not erase the guilt of the one responsible for the suffering.

Nor does trusting in God’s sovereignty imply that we should never seek justice as a means of righting the wrongs done to others or even to us. It is possible and appropriate to pursue the two courses simultaneously.

On the one hand, we can and should trust that God is always working in our lives and cooperate with Him as He uses even injustice to transform us and advance His work in the world. Jesus commanded His disciples to absorb the wrong done to them and do good instead (Mt. 5:38–48). The Apostle Paul restated the principle by encouraging believers to overcome evil by doing good, leaving justice to the wrath of God (Ro. 12:17–21). Paul made it clear that believers belong to Christ and can, therefore, live in peaceful contentment, in all circumstances (Phil. 4:11–13).

On the other hand, we can also appeal to earthly institutions like the state to seek justice when we have been legitimately wronged. For example, Paul appealed to Caesar when he was falsely accused by the Jews and unjustly imprisoned by the Romans (Acts 25:10–12). Paul wrote Romans 13 to show that God establishes justice on earth, in part, through the state.

How can we live in such a tension? Say, for example, that I am treated unfairly by an employer. By faith I believe that God is sovereign. I look for signs of God’s gracious work in my life. I allow God to use the experience to change me for the better. At the same time, I recognize that what my employer did was wrong and that he should be held accountable. So I decide to appeal to a grievance committee to address the unjust way my employer has treated me. My submission to God, in other words, does not excuse the faults of my employer or prevent me from seeking justice through the appropriate channels of authority.

The Triumph of Redemption

Submission to the sovereignty of God, therefore, does not have to make us passive in the face of injustice, as if we were little more than victims. We should identify injustice and resist it as best we can, but always in a spirit of humility, contentment, and peace. For we know, whatever the outcome, that God is in control, that good will triumph over evil, and that God is working out His redemptive purpose in our lives. We do not have to get our own way. We do not have to win. In the end, whether justice prevails in our immediate circumstances or not, God’s sovereignty will triumph, and we will be redeemed.

Endure Suffering – Not Until Deliverance, But Because GOD is Worthy

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Wendy Alsup

There is a moment in the story of Job that disturbs me when I read it. In Job 23, Job is at his lowest point. His children have died, he’s lost all of his money, and he’s covered in painful boils. Everything to which he has given himself in this life has become dust. His comforters don’t bring comfort. He says his complaint is bitter and cries that he doesn’t even know where to look for God. Job, a righteous man by God’s own account, is in a miserable place not by his own foolishness. Really, if anyone deserved serious comfort, by my system of accounting, it was Job.

But, after a long silence, when God finally speaks to Job in chapter 38, His words don’t fit the profile of what I think Job deserves to hear.

1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2″Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4″Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

God continues on this way for four chapters. “I am GOD, Job! I hung the stars in the sky, created the oceans and every animal in them. Can you do that?! I am all powerful and all knowing. Don’t act like you could possibly know better on any issue than I do.”

I would expect God to say something more comforting–at least as I define comfort. Something like nothing can separate us from the love of God. Or that God works all things together for our good. Or that they who wait on God mount up on wings like eagles. Or that He who began the good work in us will be faithful to complete it. But none of those promises are emphasized here.

Instead, to the guy who was probably at the lowest point of anyone ever named in Scripture, God says, “I am God. I am all powerful. And I know what I’m doing!”

I have been wrestling personally with God over some things in my own life. Recently, I seriously prayed for a word from Him–“God, give me something to make sense of this time in life. Help me know how to think about all this and how to respond in obedience.” I don’t know what I expected, but His word was pretty clear. “Without faith, it is impossible to please Me.” (Hebrews 11:6).

God didn’t tell me that my troubles would soon end or that things would make more sense soon. Instead, He said pretty forcefully, “Trust Me! Believe in Me. I hung the stars in the sky and I know what I’m doing.”

I am reminded that God never explained to Job on earth (at least according to the Scriptural account) the purpose for his suffering. As far as we know, Job didn’t know until heaven what all was going on behind the scenes. In fact, Job’s suffering had no earthly purpose at all. It was fully about proving the trustworthiness of God’s character in the heavenly places to Satan and his minions.

I am beginning to see that the primary point of long periods of silence by God during our earthly sorrows and suffering is that we show His worthiness of our belief and trust based fully on who He is and not on what things He gives us. Satan can’t believe we would trust God just based on His character and not on the blessings on earth He gives us. That’s Satan’s taunt–“They only worship you because you are good to them. They’d never worship you if you didn’t answer their prayers and take care of them like they expect.”

The truth is that true faith doesn’t worship God because God is good but because God is God.

We don’t endure because we expect deliverance but because He is worthy. And we will never fully clarify this in our own hearts until God stops fitting our definition of goodness and requires us to sit patiently at His feet without answering our prayers for a season. And even if that season lasts the remainder of our lives, He is worthy.

The other truth is that for no one in Scripture did that season last the rest of their lives. God’s promises ARE that He will complete the good work He began in our hearts. He will work all the hard circumstances for honest to goodness GOOD in our lives. And when we wait on Him to work, He lifts us up on wings as eagles.

But that isn’t why we trust Him, have faith in Him, or worship Him. We worship Him because He alone is God. And He is worthy.

Oddly enough, until God actually moved again in my life (and He did), those counterintuitive words from Him did minister great grace to me.

… my righteous ones will live by faith.  Heb. 10:38

The Significance of Christ On The Cross: Suffering or What Suffering Accomplished

SOURCE:  Based on an article by Jon Bloom

“So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him” (John 19:16-18).

One astonishing thing about the Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus is that they include almost no detail. They all simply say some form of “they crucified him.”1

If the gospels were our only historical source we would not know what crucifixion is. We would not know how bloody it was since the only mention of blood in any of the narratives is John 19:34, where blood and water poured out of Jesus’ pierced side. We would not have known that nails were involved except for Thomas’ declaration of doubt in John 20:25: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

And yet Jesus’ death was brutal. The Roman flagrum that shredded his back was enough to kill some men. Pinning a human being to a wooden crux with nails until they die is among the cruelest form of execution ever devised. Jesus’ physical suffering was horrible beyond comprehension.

But the Spirit did not move the gospel writers to include such gory details in the canon of Scripture. Why is that?

One reason is that the suffering of Jesus was simply ineffable. The suffering of his body was dwarfed by the “anguish of his soul” (Isaiah 53:11). No words can capture the sacred horror of the Sinless One becoming sin for us. Let words be few.

But another reason is that it is not the Son’s suffering that Father wants us primarily to see. He wants us primarily to see what the Son’s suffering accomplishes: “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

For this reason God is not impressed if we are deeply moved over Jesus’ torment. Unbelievers are moved to tears watching The Passion of the Christ. “Could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone.”2  He is impressed with whether or not we believe in the gospel Jesus preached.

It is true that God the Son suffered more than we’ll ever know. And it is right to pray for softer hearts and a more profound grasp of what Jesus endured to save us. But as we survey the wondrous cross today, remember that in our worship God will not be looking for tears, he will be looking for trust.

2From “Rock of Ages” by Augustus Toplady

Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand in It

SOURCE:  John Piper/Desiring God

1. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s delegated world rule.

Satan is sometimes called in the Bible “the ruler of this world” (John 12:3114:3016:11) or “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) or “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), or a “cosmic power over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). Which means that we should probably take him seriously when it says in Luke 4:5-7 that “The devil took Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’”

And of course that is strictly true: If the sovereign of the universe bows in worshipful submission to anyone, that one becomes the sovereign of the universe. But Satan’s claim that he can give the authority and glory of world kingdoms to whomever he wills is a half truth. No doubt he does play havoc in the world by maneuvering a Stalin or a Hitler or an Idi Amin or Bloody Mary or Saddam Hussein into murderous power. But he does this only at God’s permission and within God’s appointed limits.

This is made clear over and over again in the Bible. For example, Daniel 2:20, “Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.’” AndDaniel 4:17, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” And when the kings are in their God-appointed place, with or without Satan’s agency, they are in the sway of God’s sovereign will, as Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

Evil nations rise and set themselves against the Almighty. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:2-4). And do they think that their sin and evil and rebellion against him can thwart the counsel of the Lord?Psalm 33:10-11 answers, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”

God is sovereign over the nations and over all their rulers and all the Satanic power behind them. They do not move without his permission, and they do not move outside his sovereign plan.

2. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s angels (demons, evil spirits).

Satan has thousands of cohorts in supernatural evil. They are called “demons” (Matthew 8:3James 2:19) or “evil spirits” (Luke 7:21) or “unclean spirits” (Matthew 10:1), or “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). We get a tiny glimpse into demonic warfare in Daniel 10 where the angel who is sent in response to Daniel’s prayer says, “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me” (Daniel 10:13). So apparently the demon, or evil spirit, over Persia fought against the angel sent to help Daniel, and a greater angel, Michael, came to his aid.

But the Bible leaves us with no doubt who is in charge in all these skirmishes. Martin Luther got it right:

And though this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim
We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure
For low his doom is sure.
One little word will fell him.

We see glimpses of those little words at work, for example, when Jesus comes up against thousands of demons in Matthew 8:29-32. They were possessing a man and making him insane. The demons cry out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”—they know a time is set for their final destruction. And Jesus spoke to them, one little word, “Go.” And they came out of the man. There is no question who is sovereign in this battle. The people have seen this before in Mark 1:27 and were amazed and said, “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Theyobey him. As for Satan: “We tremble not for him; his rage we can endure.” But as for Christ: even though they slay him, they always must obey him! God is sovereign over Satan’s angels.

3. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s hand in persecution.

The apostle Peter describes the suffering of Christians like this: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). So the sufferings of persecution are like the jaws of a satanic lion trying to consume and destroy the faith of believers in Christ.

But do these Christians suffer in Satan’s jaws of persecution apart from the sovereign will of God? When Satan crushes Christians in the jaws of their own private Calvary, does God not govern those jaws for the good of his precious child? Listen to Peter’s answer in 1 Peter 3:17, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” In other words, if God wills that we suffer for doing good, we will suffer. And if he does not will that we suffer for doing good, we will not. The lion does not have the last say. God does.

The night Jesus was arrested, satanic power was in full force (Luke 22:322:31). And Jesus spoke into that situation one of his most sovereign words. He said to those who came to arrest him in the dark, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. Butthis is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:52-53). “The jaws of the lion close on me tonight no sooner and no later than my Father planned. ‘No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord’ (John 10:18). Boast not yourself over the hand that made you, Satan. You have one hour. What you do, do quickly.” God is sovereign over Satan’s hand in persecution.

4. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s life-taking power.

The Bible does not take lightly or minimize the power of Satan to kill people, including Christians. Jesus said, in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning.” John tells us, in fact, that he does indeed take the lives of faithful Christians. Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Is God then not the Lord of life and death? He is. None lives and none dies but by God’s sovereign decree. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). There is no god, no demon, no Satan that can snatch to death any person that God wills to live (see 1 Samuel 2:6).

James, the brother of Jesus says this in a stunning way in James 4:13-16:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

If the Lord wills, we will live. And if he doesn’t, we will die. God, not Satan, makes the final call. Our lives are in his hands ultimately, not Satan’s. God is sovereign over Satan’s life-taking power.

5. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s hand in natural disasters.

Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, blistering heat, deadly cold, drought, flood, famine. When Satan approached God in the first chapter of Job, he challenged God in verse 11, “Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And then the Lord said to Satan (in verse 12), “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.”

The result was two human atrocities and two natural disasters. One of the disasters is reported to Job in verse 16: “The fire of God fell from heaven [probably lightning] and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” And then the worst report of all in verses 18-19, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead.”

Even though God had loosened the leash of Satan to do this, that is not what Job focused on. “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:20-21). And the inspired writer added: “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

Job had discovered with many of you that it is small comfort to focus on the freedom of Satan to destroy. In the academic classroom and in the apologetics discussion, the agency of Satan in our suffering may lift a little the burden of God’s sovereignty for some, but for others, like Job, there is more security and more relief and more hope and more support and more glorious truth in despising Satan’s hateful hand and looking straight past him to God for the cause and for his mercy.

Elihu helped Job see this mercy in Job 37:10-14. He said:

By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

Job’s first impulses in chapter one were exactly right. When James wrote in the New Testament about the purpose of the book of Job, this is what he said, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).

God, not Satan, is the final ruler of wind—and the waves. Jesus woke from sleep and, with absolute sovereignty, which he had from all eternity and has this very moment, said, “‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39; seePsalm 135:5-7148:7). Satan is real and terrible. All his designs are hateful. But he is not sovereign. God is. And when Satan went out to do Job harm, Job was right to worship with the words “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

There’s not a plant or flower below,
But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from Thy throne.
(“I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” Isaac Watts)

6. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s sickness-causing power.

The Bible is vivid with the truth that Satan can cause disease. Acts 10:38 says that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” The devil had oppressed people with sickness. In Luke 13 Jesus finds a woman who had been bent over unable to stand up for eighteen years. He heals her on the Sabbath and in response to the criticism of the synagogue ruler he says (in verse 16), “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” There is no doubt that Satan causes much disease.

This is why Christ’s healings are a sign of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God and its final victory over all disease and all the works of Satan. It is right and good to pray for healing. Christ has purchased it in the death of his Son, with all the other blessings of grace, for all his children (Isaiah 53:5). But he has not promised that we get the whole inheritance in this life. And he decides how much. We pray and we trust his answer. If you ask your Father for bread, he will not give you him a stone? If you ask him for a fish, he will not give you a serpent (see Matthew 7:9-10). It may not be bread. And it may not be a fish. But it will be good for you. That is what he promises (Romans 8:28).

But beware lest anyone say that Satan is sovereign in our diseases. He is not. When Satan went to God a second time in the book of Job, God gave him permission this time to strike Job’s body. Then Job 2:7 says, “Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” When Job’s wife despaired and said, “Curse God and die” (2:9),” Job responded exactly as he did before. He looked past the finite cause of Satan to the ultimate cause of God and said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not accept evil?” (2:10).

And lest we attribute error or irreverence to Job, the writer closes the book in the last chapter by referring back to Job’s terrible suffering like this: “Then came to him all his brothers and sisters . . . and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (42:11). Satan is real and full of hate, but he is not sovereign in sickness. God will not give him even that tribute. As he says to Moses at the burning bush, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11; see also 2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

7. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s use of animals and plants.

The imagery of Satan as a lion in 1 Peter 5:8 and as a “great dragon” in Revelation 12:9and as the “serpent of old” in Genesis 3 simply makes us aware that in his destructive work Satan can, and no doubt does, employ animals and plants—from the lion in the Coliseum, to the black fly that causes river blindness, to the birds that carry the avian flu virus, to the pit bull that attacks a child, to the bacteria in your belly that Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren just discovered cause ulcers (winning for them the Nobel Prize in medicine). If Satan can kill and cause disease, no doubt he has at his disposal many large and microscopic plants and animals.

But he cannot make them do what God forbids them to do. From the giant Leviathan that God made to sport in the sea (Psalm 104:26) to the tiny gnats that he summoned over the land of Egypt (Exodus 8:16-17), God commands the world of animals and plants. The most vivid demonstrations of it are in the book of Jonah. “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). And he did exactly as he had been appointed. “And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10). “Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah” (Jonah 4:6). “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered” (Jonah 4:7).

Fish, plant, worm—all appointed, all obedient. Satan can have a hand here, but it is not sovereign. God is.

8. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s temptations to sin.

Much of our suffering comes from the sins of others against us and from our own sins. Satan is called in the Bible “the tempter” (Matthew 4:31 Thessalonians 3:5). This was the origin on earth of all the misery that we know—Satan tempted Eve to sin and sin brought with it the curse of God on the natural order (Genesis 3:14-19Romans 8:21-23). Since that time Satan has been tempting all human beings to do what will hurt themselves and others.

But the most famous temptations in the Bible do not portray Satan as sovereign in his tempting work. The Bible tells us in Luke 22:3-4 that “Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot. . . . And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them.” But Luke tells us that the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was the fulfillment of Scripture: “The Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16). And therefore Peter said that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). As with Job, the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away—the life of his Son, Jesus Christ. Satan was not in charge of the crucifixion of Christ. God was.

Even more famous than the temptation of Judas is the temptation of Peter. We usually think of Peter’s three denials, not his temptation. But Jesus says something to Peter in Luke 22:31-32 that makes plain Satan is at work here but that he is not sovereign: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again [not: if you turn], strengthen your brothers.” Again, as with Job, Satan seeks to destroy Peter’s faith. God gives him leash. But Jesus intercedes for him, and says with complete sovereignty, “I have prayed for you. You will fall, but not utterly. When you repent and turn back—not if you turn back—strengthen your brothers.”

Satan is not sovereign in the temptations of Judas or Peter or you or those you love. God is.

9. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s mind-blinding power.

The worst suffering of all is the everlasting suffering of hell. Satan is doomed to experience that suffering. Revelation 20:10 says, “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Satan’s aim is to take as many there with him as he can. To do that he must keep people blind to the gospel of Jesus Christ, because the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). No one goes to hell who is justified by the blood of Christ. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). Only those who fail to embrace the wrath-absorbing substitutionary work of Christ will suffer the wrath of God.

Therefore, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This blinding is the most deadly weapon in the arsenal of Satan. If he succeeds with a person, their suffering will be endless.

But at this most critical point Satan is not sovereign, God is. And Oh, how thankful we should be! Two verses later in 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul describes God’s blindness-removing power over against Satan’s blinding power. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The comparison is between God’s creating light at the beginning of the world and God’s creating light in the darkened human heart. With total sovereignty God said at the beginning and at your new birth, “Let there be light.” And there is light.

We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but in great mercy God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). We were blind and spiritually dead. We saw nothing compelling or beautiful in the gospel. It was foolishness to us (1 Corinthians 1:1823). But God spoke with sovereign Creator authority, and his word created life and spiritual sight, and we saw the glory of Christ in the gospel and believed. Satan is a terrible enemy of the gospel. But he is not sovereign. God is. This is the reason that any of us is saved.

10. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s spiritual bondage.

Satan enslaves people in two ways. One with misery and suffering by making us think there is no good God worth trusting. The other is with pleasure and prosperity making us think we have all we need so that God is irrelevant. To be freed from this bondage we must repent. We must confess that God is good and trustworthy. We must confess that the pleasures and prosperity of life do not compare to the worth of God. But Satan hates this repentance and does all he can to prevent it. That is his bondage.

But when God chooses to overcome our rebellion and Satan’s resistance, nothing can stop him. And when God overcomes him and us, we repent and Satan’s power is broken. Here it is in 2 Timothy 2:24-26:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhapsgrant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Satan is not sovereign over his captives. God is. When God grants repentance, we are set free from the snare of the devil—and spend our days celebrating our liberation and spreading it to others.

Conclusion

The evil and suffering in this world are greater than any of us can comprehend. But evil and suffering are not ultimate. God is. Satan, the great lover of evil and suffering, is not sovereign. God is.

“He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35)

He declares “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:10)

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38; see Amos 3:6)

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21; see 16:9)

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33)

Therefore, “if God is for us, who can be against us? . . .Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:31-37).

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

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