Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘struggles’

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.

Waiting for God to Intervene

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministry

Psalm 27:13-14

Are you currently waiting for the Lord to intervene in some way in your life or in the life of a loved one? One of the struggles we face as Christians is trying to understand why our heavenly Father sometimes delays over matters that are so urgent to us. Only the Lord knows all the reasons. However, there are several adjustments we can make in our attitude and mindset as we wait.

Determine your focus. In the urgency of the moment, it’s easy to center our attention on the need instead of on God. We may start out waiting for the Lord but end up waiting for the answer we want. Soon we’re more interested in what He can do for us than we are in Him. Sometimes God delays until we get our focus back on Him. He wants us to delight in Him, not just in what He gives us.

Release your expectations into His hands. The Lord is working on our behalf, but sometimes we cling so tightly to a desired outcome that He must wait until we open our hands and let go of our expectations. Holding onto your own assumptions about how the Lord should intervene is emotionally exhausting. But peace awaits those who trust that He will do what is in our best interests–in every situation we encounter.

We need to remember that while we are waiting, God is working. He sees the entire picture and is active behind the scenes, arranging everything according to His will. But perhaps His most important work is the deepening of our relationship with Him as we learn to love and trust Him in the wait.

Evil Has A Name

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 50-51

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Satan prefers that we do not recognize his role in our conflicts.

As long as we see other people as our only adversaries and focus our attacks on them, we will give no thought to guarding against our most dangerous enemy.

Both James and Peter were aware of this danger, and they warn us to actively resist Satan’s schemes (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9). Paul gives a similar warning, reminding us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). 

Food for Thought

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
— C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Who is your most dangerous enemy?

Think about it for a moment. What would you say? Odds are that among both non-Christians and Christians, most of us would answer in terms of flesh and blood; in other words, someone or some group of people. But as Ken reminds us, that’s just not the case. Three scriptural authors — Peter, James and Paul — all echo the reality that our most dangerous enemy in this life is Satan.

There is an enemy out there and we’re basically oblivious to his schemes – we’re asleep at the wheel. We just keep on blaming each one another, a.k.a., flesh and blood, for everything that’s going on. Ken says it well: Satan prefers that we do not recognize his role in our conflicts.

If we have any intention of living as peacemakers, it’s imperative that we live with an awareness of our most dangerous enemy. Now it is true that most of our struggle comes through flesh and blood, but we’ve got to be self-controlled and alert, remembering that it’s not ultimately against flesh and blood that we battle.

What Controls Your Attitude?

SOURCE:  Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Do you ever have one of those weeks? You know, where life seems to always be one step ahead of you. You can never catch your breath and feel like you are constantly choking. No break in sight. Just when it seems like life can’t get any worse … it does.

I recently had one of those weeks. My wife and I weren’t connecting and tension was in the air. Discussions about the upcoming holidays were pending. The kids’ attitudes were affected by household chores and difficulties at school and with peers. At work there was one curve-ball after another. Accounts weren’t paid on time, some contractors gave us some bad news, others weren’t producing, friends were really struggling, plans for a mission trip were not going smoothly. Then, with so much work to catch up on, a storm blew in and we lost power for 48 hours.

In the past, these kinds of weeks would have caused so much distress, prompting poor decisions that would have led to even worse circumstances and consequences. This vicious cycle would spiral so quickly and last longer because of the poor way I handled a set of circumstances.

My life took a dramatic turn when I learned that no matter what you do, you will never stop life’s bad turns.  We are all going to be tested, to be sifted, purified, and refined.

Traffic jams will cause you to miss that important appointment. You’ll lose a job or promotion. Someone will be rude or hurtful, or cheat on you. Regardless of the situation, remember, God is the one who allows all things to happen. We don’t know why, but He does, and He has a plan.

You can live happily each day despite life’s ups and downs, but it can only be done through daily dependence on Jesus Christ and trust in God’s sovereignty and plan. The Apostle Paul tells us that he learned the secret of being content in every situation: that he could do everything through Him that gives me strength.

Today, remember it’s not what happens to you that counts. How you choose to react to each situation reflects your attitude, your heart, and is the fruit of your life.

It just comes down to who’s in control of your attitude. When you feel uncomfortable today, stop and assess your reaction to the day’s events. What kind of lenses are you using, your me-centered ones, or your God-centered ones? Your decision, choose well.

 Prayer

Dear Father God, I invite You to be in me and at work with me. Help me grow, Father, so that I may have the same attitude and mind as Jesus Christ. I know peace doesn’t come from the outside, but comes only from You inside me. Help me look inward for peace and not wait for my circumstances to settle down for me to be at peace. I do not want to be ruled by the circumstances around me … I want to be ruled and guided by Your Holy Spirit. I pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus – AMEN!

The Truth

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:5

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:12-13

Leaving The Past — Stepping Into The Future

SOURCE:  Adapted from Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Ministry

[Try] as I may, I find that my brokenness and past sin are sometimes like a huge stone hanging around my neck. Carrying that stone causes guilt, shame, weakness, and at times, causes me to avoid certain opportunities and experiences. I know and believe I have been forgiven, but I struggle with laying down that stone and walking away from it. Many people share this struggle, do you?

Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible experiences for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform those mistakes and sins, the destructive guilt and anxiety, into constructive thought and hope for a transformed and transforming future. We don’t have to hold onto distorted lenses from past wounds and mistakes. But we do have to look back and re-examine them through Godly lenses, letting God into and heal our past so we can have clear lenses to see Him, ourselves, and daily experiences that He brings into our life today.

Trusting God’s forgiveness is a big and difficult stretch … for most, myself included, really receiving God’s forgiveness takes time. For me, I had to work up to this huge step of trust by practicing, implementing, and applying trust in much smaller areas of life and in my relationship with God. Then I was able to absorb His forgiveness in the bigger areas of my life. You can, too.

Trusting Him when there is an illness … a flat tire … change of plans … someone else is in charge … a deadline is changed … a random bill comes into your life … protection for your children is needed … feeling unloved or valueless. Like any skill, starting small, practicing, and then stretching it can lead to powerful capabilities. Trust is the same way. Trusting in His power of forgiveness is one of the richest skills you can develop. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Jesus Christ.

Today, leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into your invincible future with Him. Start by trusting Him, His agenda, promises, character, and instruction in 3 small situations today. You probably already do, but acknowledge and identify it so you can apply it to bigger, tougher areas tomorrow. Your decision, choose well.

Prayer
Dear Mighty and Forgiving God, I can easily become paralyzed with shame, guilt, and fear over my past. I have hurt You … and I know I have hurt others. I am so thankful for Your promise of forgiveness – Thank You, Lord. I ask You, Father, to help me lay down the heavy stone of my past that I have been carrying. Let me remember and be accountable for my past brokenness and sin … but let it not keep me from moving toward You with freedom. I pray in the name of the one whom You sent to lift the burdens of my past, Jesus Christ –AMEN!

The Truth
But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
Isaiah 52:12

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.
Jeremiah 33:8

The Foundation of Unwavering Faith

 SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministry

Hebrews 13:1-8

When life’s storms arise, what is your typical response? Some people find themselves easily blown off course. Others become fragmented in their thinking, as doubt and fear plague their minds. They begin to wonder whether the Lord actually cares for them. But Scripture tells us unequivocally that He does.

Today’s passage provides the foundation for security during difficult times. In verse 8, we are assured that Jesus never changes. His being, works, and words remain the same forever. To understand the importance of this constancy, imagine a friend who has seemed loyal but without warning gossips or betrays you in some other way. Such unreliable devotion and violation of trust cause painful wounds.

All people will at some time, in some way disappoint us. The Lord is the only one who loves us perfectly and consistently. So take heart: God never changes. Regardless of what we’re facing today, our heavenly Father is still the One whose hand poured blessings upon us in happy times. And He is the One who strengthens, guides, and upholds us during difficult days. Each passage in the Bible reveals another facet of His flawless character, and we can know that we’re loved with the same devotion that Christ displayed by dying for us at Calvary.

Think about life’s peaks and valleys. When situations bring happiness, how do you picture God? As difficulties arise, does your view change? Thankfully, in the ebb and flow of circumstances, we can hold fast to Jesus as our anchor. Cling to our unchanging, eternal, loving Lord at all times.

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.

Spiritual Listening: Six Biblical Principles

SOURCE:  Bob Kellemen [Excerpted from Spiritual Friends.]

When your friend is hurting or struggling in life, learn how to LISTEN spiritually. Use the following acrostic (LISTEN) to remind yourself of basic components of competent spiritual listening.

L Loving Motivation: Proverbs 21:13

“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13). As a loving spiritual friends, you are motivated, like God, to listen for, hear, care about, empathize with, and respond to the hurts of the wounded. What drives careful listening is not secular theory or human curiosity. Care does. Christ-like compassion does.

I Intimate Concern: Galatians 6:1-3; Colossians 4:6; James 3:17-18

Paul (Galatians 6:1-3; Colossians 4:6) emphasizes the humble, spiritual, gentle, and gracious concern that accompanies competent spiritual listening. James (James 3:17-18), in a context sandwiched between the use of the tongue and the cause of quarrels, explains that wisdom for living flows from a heart that loves people and peace, a soul that is considerate and submissive, and a mind that is impartial and sincere.

S Slow to Speak: Proverbs 18:13; James 1:19

James is emphatic. “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Solomon explains why. “He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame” (Proverbs 18:13). Remember a basic principle of spiritual friendship: hear your friend’s story before you tell God’s story to your friend.

T Timing: Proverbs 15:23; 25:11

“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23). “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). “Apt” means fitting, timely, given in due season. As a skillful spiritual friend, speak words said at the right time, in the right way, for the right reason because of right listening.

E Exploring: Hebrews 3:7-19; 10:24-25

Both Hebrews 3 and 10 speak of encouraging in the context of exploratory listening. Before you encourage your friend, tune into, see, listen, and hear what is going on in your spiritual friend’s life (external situation) and heart (internal reaction).

N Need-Focused Hearing: Ephesians 4:29

Before speaking words that benefit others, listen for specific needs. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). As you listen, ask: “What is it that my spiritual friend most needs? What are his hurts and wounds? What are her fears and scars? What wholesome words relate to her specific situation? Specifically, given his situation, what words will benefit him?”

Handling Stress Like Jesus

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Jan Johnson

When you’re nervous or intimidated, do you struggle to think clearly?  How about when you’re being questioned or even bullied?  That phrase, “Stress makes you stupid,” describes the way we struggle to answer the easiest of questions when we feel inadequate or challenged.

Because of this, I’ve always been mesmerized by Jesus’ clarity and peace during the “day of questions” of the final week of his earthly life.  Group after adversarial group came to him trying to trick him.  He knew what they were up to, yet he was not intimidated.  He gave answers that showed not only showed his clarity of thinking (as opposed to our muddled thinking when stressed) but also his brilliance in sorting out complex questions (“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s . . .,”). I picture him that day with his shoulders relaxed, his voice calm, not indulging in dramatic or overstated questions, completely himself under fire.

Nor was Jesus combative.  He didn’t try to silence his questioners or play one-up games with them.  He took every question seriously and then spoke back to the deeper issues behind them (usually the Great Commandment:  love God; love others).  Even when he answered their question with another question (Matt. 21:23-26) it wasn’t out of irritability, but to point them to the answer.

In order for Jesus to respond to these testy intimidations with calmness, clarity, and depth, he must have lived with a deep peace inside him unknown to most of us.  His OKness was not about who liked him or didn’t like him, about who approved of him or didn’t approve of him, about whether bad or good things were about to happen to him. He walked this earth in complete peace – I think of Jesus as “peace on wheels.”  He had the kind of peace I begin to taste when I move through the day saying, “The Lord really is my shepherd;  I do have everything I need;  I can be like that crazy sheep, lying down satisfied in the green pasture. I can face shadows and darkness without fear because God really is me. can even sit across the table from a difficult person and remember that I am an anointed one of God with my cup full of whatever I need at this moment. My body really can be God’s dwelling place every minute of my life.”  As I do this, I taste the inner life of Jesus.

Jesus genuinely loved people, including his questioners.  So he didn’t see them as opponents or adversaries but as people standing in front of him that he had the opportunity to love.  This was how Jesus lived and breathed, loving God and loving others. We, too, can move into such a life, loving God and others even if it’s only for the next ten minutes throughout the day.

Something Greater than Healing

Source: This Christianity Today article first appeared online:  (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/october/12.30.html?start=1

Interview by Sarah Pulliam Bailey with Joni Eareckson Tada

Now facing breast cancer and chronic pain, the author, speaker, and advocate talks about the blessings of suffering.

Joni Eareckson Tada might be mistaken for a modern-day Job. The disabilities advocate was severely paralyzed in a diving accident at age 17. For the past ten years, she has endured chronic pain. Now, at age 60, she confronts breast cancer. Sounding upbeat and confident after surgery, she spoke with Christianity Today about her latest book, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty, where she outlines her theology of suffering.

How has your perspective on suffering and healing changed since your breast cancer diagnosis?

Thankfully, it hasn’t changed at all. You examine Scripture again and follow every passage regarding healing. I did that with my quadriplegia, and I did that again 10 years ago, when I embarked on a whole new life of chronic pain. Just a month ago, getting diagnosed with breast cancer, I looked at those same Scriptures, and God’s words do not change.

Even though it seems like a lot is being piled on, I keep thinking about 1 Peter 2:21: “To these hardships you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.” Those steps most often lead Christians not to miraculous, divine interventions but directly into the fellowship of suffering. In a way, I’ve been drawn closer to the Savior, even with this breast cancer. There are things about his character that I wasn’t seeing a year ago or even six months ago. That tells me that I’m still growing and being transformed. First Peter 2:21 is a good rule of thumb for any Christian struggling to understand God’s purposes in hardship.

Can you elaborate on new ways you think about God’s character?

In John 14, Jesus says, “Anyone who has faith in me will do … even greater things than these.” We tend to think Jesus was talking about miracles, as if Jesus were saying, “Hey guys, look at these miracles! One day, you’ll do many more miracles than me!”

The thing that Jesus was doing wasn’t necessarily the miracles. He was giving the gospel; he was advancing his kingdom; he was reclaiming the earth as rightfully his. When Jesus gave that promise, he was saying, “I’m giving you a job to do, my Father and I want the gospel to go forth, and I promise you’ll have everything you need to get that job done, and you’ll do an even better job than me.” Jesus ministered for three years, and at the end, he had a handful of disciples who half-believed in him. After Jesus went to heaven and the Holy Spirit came down—my goodness, Peter preaches one sermon and thousands believe. That’s the greater thing that God wants us to do.

That’s what I have been seeing this past month. Every x-ray technician, every nurse, every doctor’s secretary, every clinician, every person I meet in nuclear medicine and at the MRI—it’s amazing how many opportunities I’ve been given to see people hungry and thirsty for Christ. I knew that was true before, but there seems to be something special that is accompanying this diagnosis. I’m just so amazed by people asking me, “How can you approach this breast cancer with such confidence in a God who allows it?” And I’m being given the chance to answer.

The greater thing is not the miracle; it’s the advancement of the gospel, it’s the giving of the kingdom, reclaiming what is rightfully Christ’s.

You have hinted at a classic question: How can a good God allow such suffering in the world? How does your latest book, on God’s sovereignty, address that?

When people ask that question—even I struggle with that question—we aren’t accepting the fact that this earth is wired to be difficult. The rule of thumb is that we experience much suffering because we live in a fallen world, and it is groaning under the weight of a heavy curse. If God being good means he has to get rid of sin, it means he would have to get rid of sinners. God is a God of great generosity and great mercy, so he is keeping the execution of suffering. He’s not closing the curtain on suffering until there is more time to gather more people into the fold of Christ’s fellowship.

That answer suits me, and I think it would suit others if they stop and think: Suffering is connected to sin; if God were to get rid of suffering, he’d have to get rid of sin, and then he’d have to get rid of sinners—and God is too merciful to do that.

Is it different when the cause of suffering is natural? For instance, you might not have control over getting breast cancer. Do you cope differently from someone who has something done to her by another person?

Certainly I could have controlled this one; I should have gotten a mammogram five years ago. I have no one to blame but myself. I can’t point the finger at secondhand smoke in restaurants. I should’ve gotten a mammogram, and I did not. I failed to do it, and I regret that. (If I were to tell your female readers anything, I’d say, “Get a mammogram.”)

Whether hardship is brought on by our own negligence or through the direct assault of the hand of a wicked person, or our own ignorance and misinformed decisions, or our lack of awareness or misdoings, or some catastrophe of nature—these things fall under the purview of God’s overarching decree. A close look at the New Testament shows that God’s sovereignty extends over all these things. God permits all sorts of things that he doesn’t approve of. He doesn’t approve of my spinal-cord injury or my cancer, but in his sovereign decree he has allowed them. I don’t care if you use permitallow, or ordained; it’s all the same thing. Ultimately it goes back to God being in charge. I don’t think there is a real difference.

The greater thing Jesus promises we can do is not the miracle, but the advancement of the gospel, reclaiming what is rightfully his.

Suffering is hardship and heartache. It’s one package. Yes, God could have prevented it. He could prevent a thief from breaking in and stealing, he could prevent a wicked man with a gun from firing it, and he could have prevented my cancer. He could have put in my heart: Go get a mammogram. If he chooses to allow these things to occur, it doesn’t mean he’s any less caring or compassionate. His will, purpose, and sovereign design may be a bit more obscure and enigmatic on this side of eternity.

When you discovered you had breast cancer, was your reaction different from all your previous experiences of suffering?

I don’t fall apart emotionally. There’s a lump. Wow, okay, let’s get this taken care of. I broke my neck. Yikes. What is this going to mean? Okay, let’s buckle down and move forward. I’m the kind of person who cannot allow those emotions to go down the grim path of despair. It’s too deep of a miry pit. I’d rather face life head-on and with full force and take things as they come, learn from those things, and move forward.

How should we respond to someone who is suffering?

It’s important to follow injunctions from God’s Word: Go to the elders, be anointed with oil, and confess sin. If you feel you need to go to a special prayer service, by all means attend it. Have a pastor anoint you with oil and lay hands on you. After you do, you have to keep on living. That’s what happened to me when I was first injured. I confessed sin and was anointed with oil. Do I sit around for my hands and feet to get the message? I have to live in the meantime. If you feel led to, pray and seek healing, but keep living while you’re looking for the healing.

Even if the focus is on living, shouldn’t Christians prepare themselves for further suffering and death?

None of us, in our culture of comfort, know how to prepare ourselves for dying, but that’s what we should do every day. Every single day, we die a thousand deaths. We don’t just walk through the valley of the shadow of death when we get a medical report or when we survive a stroke. We go through the valley of the shadow of death every time we say no to our selfish desires. When we say yes to the grace of God, we are learning how to die.

This past weekend, I was singing hymns with friends. One of my favorites is “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” but the words in the hymnal we were using had been changed. They took out the verse on death: (singing) “Death of death and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side.” They exchanged the wonderfully rich, pithy, deep, hard words with something vague like, “Help me through until the other side.” They extricated those words about death and hell’s destruction. Why do that? We need to learn how to die every day. Suffering does that. It prepares us. Every time we go to sleep, it’s a rehearsal of the day when our eyes will ultimately close and we wake up on the side of eternity.

What teachings of Jesus especially help you understand suffering?

There’s the portion of Scripture in Matthew 18 where Jesus says, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.” Here Jesus, the one who delighted in healing hands that could not work, restoring feet that could not walk, giving sight to eyes that could not see—here he is, saying cut off your hand, gouge out your eyes, if these things are causing you to sin. Jesus underscores his priority that yes, the physical body counts, but it does not trump the health of the soul.

When people ask about healing, I’m less interested in the physical and more interested in healing in my heart. Pray that I get rid of my lazy attitude about God’s Word and prayer, of brute pride—set me free from self-centeredness. Those are more important, because Jesus thought they were more important.

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