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The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

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There was seemingly no end in sight as the trials continued to pummel us. I lost count of the times that I cried out to God to spare us; to rescue us and others experiencing the excruciating emotional pain each week. But it just continued, the trials were relentless with seemingly no end in sight. Yet there were times when the eye of the hurricane would pass; times when God would remind me of his grace and his love. There were frequent times when dear friends would lift us up in prayer and the peace of God would suddenly be evident In the storm.

There is no doubt the suffering of the last few years has changed me. I cannot go back to the person I was before the storm blew through my life. Certain passages in scripture now resonate with me like they never did before my trials. When Paul writes about the thorn in his side in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, I can feel the piercing of the thorn and the torment that shook his confidence. I understand more fully Paul pleading for God to remove it. And I understand better that the Lord’s grace is sufficient, that God is made perfect when we are weak.

I have found that when I come to the end of myself and my arrogance, God can begin a new work in me for his kingdom. I am better able to rely on God for my strength to see me through the trials in life. Where once I did not understand James 1:2-4, I now know that the trials I face help me to persevere in my faith. The more I draw closer to Christ Jesus, the more I mature in my faith.

I feel I am only beginning to understand perseverance and how it is shaping me in my faith In Jesus. I am only beginning to appreciate how Christ can meet all my needs. Perhaps I am getting closer to the point where I can thank God for blessing me with trials.

The man stands on the street corner holding a sign that says, “Hungry and Homeless, please help!”

Tomorrow he will return with the same sign.

Innocent people are gunned down in the streets in a violent act and war wages on throughout the world.

Tomorrow the violence will not cease.

Computer hackers from the other side of the world empty the bank accounts of people struggling to earn a living.

Tomorrow the stealing will not stop.

In a hospital bed cancer ravages the frail body of a child as he clings to life.

Tomorrow the cancer will remain.

In the midst of all the suffering, the overwhelming and endless need, sometimes I feel helpless to change anything.

All is not right with the world.

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” – 1 John 2:17

Some day the world will be made right.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Rev. 21:4

But today I can bring hope to the hopeless.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” – 1 Peter 3:15

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I have always admired the way Joseph kept his focus on God even though his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Throughout Genesis 39-45, from the point Joseph is sold by his brothers to when he is reconciled with his brothers, Joseph continually lets his devotion to God guide his decisions. Yet there is one passage of scripture in all these chapters on Joseph that is easy to miss yet very thought-provoking.

In Genesis 41, after Pharaoh has placed Joseph as second in command of all of Egypt, he has two sons. When the second son is born Joseph remarks in verse 52, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (NIV).” Even though he has become a powerful ruler of Egypt, he still calls it “the land of my suffering.” He is beginning to see how God has used his suffering to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s statement in verse 52 causes me to ask if I can see God’s fruit in the land of my suffering. Too often I am focused on the agony and not on what purpose God might have for my pain. In the midst of our enslavement and imprisonment in the land of our suffering, be mindful of the fruit God is ripening for his glory.

When someone close to us is sick or injured, we tend to pray for healing. When we struggle with emotional or difficult situations, we desire release from the pain. When tragedy strikes, we yearn for the time before life was ripped apart. We cry out to God for healing; to take away the pain; to relieve the suffering. But when there is no response we wonder why he has abandoned us. The real question, however, is whether we have abandoned God.

In the midst of suffering in this world it is difficult to remain focused on God. In Psalm 22 David expresses this emotion when he writes “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?” (NIV) In the midst of his torment, as his enemies pursue him, David shows his humanity by wondering why God does not save him. He reminds God in verses 4-5 how he saved Israel before, how “In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”( NIV)

It’s the same rationale we sometimes use when we are burdened with adversity. We look at past times when God has come to our aid. We see others experience healing, the injured become whole again and others who seem to avoid tragedy all together. We remind God how he helped the faithful before and wonder why he does not help us now. In these times it is difficult to see life beyond our own struggles, to understand God’s bigger purpose. Our feelings of abandonment are a very real part of our life on earth.

Jesus experienced this emotion of feeling abandoned by God. While dying on the cross he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”— which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 NIV). In the wake of his crucifixion, most of his followers fled for their lives. While Jesus could have sought to save himself from the immense pain of the cross, he remained focused on God’s plan for us. After his cry to God from the cross, “Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.” (Matt. 27:50 NLT) This set the stage for his resurrection and our salvation.

While our pain is very real, we must be careful that it does not cause us to abandon God and his purpose. It is a part of surrendering our life to Jesus so that we may become his instrument. In the midst of his distress, David maintained his reverence for God. “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!” (Psalm 22:23 NIV). Continuing our reverence toward God in adversity points us toward the time when we will be fully restored with God, a time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev. 21:4 NIV)

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