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Posts tagged ‘Why’

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.

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God and the Problem of Evil

Editor’s Note:  Questions such as “why do bad things happen; why does evil seem rampant; why do the innocent suffer; does God care; Is God good; can’t God do something about these tragedies?” seem to constantly come before us.  The below article by Dallas Willard helps give more understanding about this.

SOURCE:  Dallas Willard

There are very few people who do not ask “Why?” when confronted with the terrible things that have happened in history and continue to happen day by day. This is because we nearly all believe, to some degree, that there really is a God who is conscious of human beings, who is good, and who has sufficient power to prevent bad things from happening. Unless there is such a God, there is no “problem of evil” as usually understood. If there is no God, the only answer to the question “Why are children starving in Somalia?” is “Why not?” We would have no reason to think that they shouldn’t be starving. The occurrence of evil would no longer be strange, and might even seem quite natural–though we would still have the “other” problem of evil, the problem of how to get rid of it.

Certainly the Christian faith is committed to a picture of God and the world that makes every event ultimately redeemable, and therefore permissible, by a personal God who is both willing and able to nurture into being a creation which cannot be improved on. It does not hold that every event is good in itself. Bad things, even horrendous moral evils, do come to pass. But in the vision of Jesus Christ communicated to his people, all human beings–and yes, even the sparrows and the lilies–are effectively cared for. Every person is invited to say in faith and obedience, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

But how can we resolve the classical thorn in the side of such faith, which insists that if God were both all-good and all-powerful, he would not permit the evil things which do happen to occur at all? (We shall concentrate here on the evils that men do or cause, the moral evils. They pose the most serious problem. We shall ask why God permits human beings to do evil.) It would seem that God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful, if moral evil exists, and that we are forced to let one or the other go.

In resolving this dilemma, the first step is to affirm that a universe which permits the development of moral character–one which makes it possible for persons to become the immeasurably precious and even glorious beings that they sometimes do–is of greater value than any world which does not. A world containing only minerals, or minerals and plants, for example, would be of much less worth or intrinsic value than one which also contained human beings as we know them. If personality is not to be regarded as having a very great value, it would clearly be wrong of God to permit the actual suffering and wrong-doing that occurs in order to procure it.

But the moral development of personality is possible only in a world of genuine freedom. To nurture moral perfection, horrendous moral crimes must be permitted by God–though he himself never approves of them, actualizes them or requires them. Nurturing moral perfection (within a suitable world) and not allowing wrong doing is impossible. If a child is never permitted to do wrong, it will never become capable of developing a nature or character that resolutely chooses the good. Good persons must live in a world where doing evil is a genuine choice for them.

But does this not mean that God is limited in power, that there is something he cannot do? Not at all, for the impossible is not something that could be either done or left undone. If the janitor does not sweep the room after a lecture, his supervisor can rightly point that out to him, and require that he do it. But the supervisor cannot require that he both sweep the room and not sweep the room. Sweeping the room and not sweeping the room is not something that can be done or left undone. It is nothing at all. The fact that the janitor “cannot do it” does not mean that the janitor is limited in some way, as he would be if he had no arms and could not hold the vacuum or broom.

To hold God to be limited because he does not nurture moral character while simultaneously preventing choice is like regarding the janitor as limited because he does not both sweep and not sweep the room. Producing people with character without giving them choice is impossible because the capacity to choose is a part of character. So it is not something God “left undone,” for it is not anything at all. It is not something he cannot do, because it is not `something’. Period. God remains of unlimited power. He can do anything that might be either done or left undone.

Hence the presence of moral evil in the world does not mean that God is lacking in goodness or in power. The classical dilemma is dissolved by setting existing evil in the context of the good that God achieves in permitting (but not producing) moral evil.

While this may seem like a “merely logical maneuver,” it in fact yields the conclusion that permits us to see the suffering of individuals, ourselves or others, in the larger world of a great and good God, who has all eternity, and resources beyond our wildest imagination, to ensure that the life of every individual who suffers, in whatever way, is ultimately one that even that individual will receive with boundless gratitude.

If all the individual has is `this’ life, then clearly evil, pain and frustration is not redeemed. But seen in the context of God’s world as a whole, seen as but a part of a life that never ends and endlessly becomes more and more glorious, there is no evil individuals may suffer that can prevent them from finding life to be good and God to be good. Theirs is the perspective of St. Paul, who speaks of great suffering as “our light affliction, which is but for a moment and which produces for us a weight of glory far greater than it.” (II Cor. 4)

The child dying in famine is ushered immediately into the full world of God in which it finds its existence good and its prospects incomprehensibly grand. There God is seen, as he now surely is not seen, to be good and great without limit, and every individual received into his presence enjoys the everlasting sufficiency of his goodness and greatness. There is no tragedy for those who rely on this God.

It is the hearty assurance of this for the individual–which we here do not attempt to prove, but only to show that it is not automatically ruled out by the presence of evil in our world–that empowers the individual to deal with the “other” problem of evil: namely, how to get rid of it. If I am truly concerned about moral evil in the world, I should at least worry as much about my responsibility for it as about God’s. By ceasing to do evil I can make a significant impact on the moral evil that is in my world. By trusting the goodness and greatness of God, I can turn loose of the chain that drags me into moral evil: the chain of self-deification, which puts me in the position of the one I trust to take care of me. Nearly all evil-doing is done under the guise of `necessity’. “I wouldn’t lie, cheat, steal, hurt others but for the fact that it is necessary to secure my aims–which of course I must bring about.”

By contrast, if I rely upon God, I can relinquish the realization of my aims to him. I can stop doing what I and everyone else knows to be wrong, and I can calmly cease co-operation with immoral behavior occurring around me. I also can stand against the evils in my world, unconcerned about what is going to happen to me if I do. We need not try to be perfect. We can concentrate on just doing a lot better. That is the surest way of vastly improving the world we live in.

And by far the best way of taking this stand is by simply relying on Jesus Christ to guide and help us. The life that is in him is the best light that has ever been given to human beings. The surest sign that God is who we hope he is is the presence of Jesus Christ in human history. By trusting him the best we know how, we will begin to share in the eternal kind of life that belongs to God. We will begin to live in the world of the Twenty-Third Psalm, where we “fear no evil,” where “goodness and mercy shall follow me all of the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That will be given to us in response to our trust. Experience will confirm it to us.

Because I make my living as a university professor and philosopher I am frequently asked, in so many words, “Why do you follow Jesus Christ?” My answer is always the same: “Who else did you have in mind?” I am open, I am willing, and I always seek to know more. But so far I have found no one who remotely compares to Jesus Christ as a practical guide to how things are and should be in human life. He proves to be one who is in touch with reality in depth and who guides me evermore into a life that comes to terms with evil in all of its dimensions. He brings us into the path leading to an experiential solution for the problems of evil.


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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