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Suffering is a part of life in this world. It is difficult to understand the reason we experience pain and grief. Like Job, we wrestle with why we experience anguish — trauma that causes us to cry out as Job did: “If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the sea… (Job 6:2-3, NIV).”

Pain in our life, deep misery, can cause us to cry out for help. As Job wrestled with God’s purpose for his agony, it caused him to open up to God and others about his pain. He expressed his true feelings: “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul (Job 7:11).” This is the essence of true community with God and other Christians; open and honest conversation about our struggles and emotions that builds a deep connection with God and each other.

When we share our suffering, we open the door to sharing a journey that can deepen our faith in God. We move beyond surface conversations like Job’s friends who claim they have answers for his suffering: “Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty (Job 15:5).”

To walk with a friend through the anguish is to experience it with them; to cry with them; to grieve with them. Sharing our deepest feelings, our deepest pain, welcomes others to deepen their faith with us as we replace trying to understand the purpose for pain with a deeper faith, a deeper trust in God. We can exclaim as Job did, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2).”

© 2019 CGThelen

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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.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published Jan. 29, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

Physical strength is something that we can see and recognize, but how do we know if someone has spiritual strength? How do we know someone has a strong faith in Jesus Christ? Often it is through difficult times in life that the strength of our faith becomes evident. Just as the strength of a weightlifter is tested by adding more weight, the added pressures of trials in life test the strength of our faith.

Like a weightlifter preparing for competitions with muscle building exercises, God works with us to strengthen our faith and endurance. He encourages us to read scripture, pray and meet with other Christians. He continues to add weights, continues to encourage us, continues to tell us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).”

Yet when we are in the middle of great difficulties in life; when our arms are fully stretched holding the weight of the world above our head; when our arms tremor as we watch more weight being added to the barbell; it’s hard to heed God’s reassurance that his burden is light. All we can see is the crushing weight of trials over our head, not wanting to release our grip even though we can feel ourselves growing faint and weak, weary from the pressure.

That’s when God gently tells us, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:28-31).”

© 2019 CGThelen

#WednesdayWalk Through the Bible — an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a person who saw Jesus on the cross based on Mark 15:33-39.

It was a strange darkness unlike any I had ever seen. Around noon it suddenly covered the whole land in a way that was unlike any severe storm I had ever seen. My friend commented that he wondered if this was what the darkness looked like when it covered Egypt at the time of Moses before the Exodus. Some said it was because they crucified Jesus.

It wasn’t something I necessarily liked to see, but curiosity got the best of us so my friend and I made our way to Golgotha. There in the darkness we could make out three crosses. I barely recognized Jesus, the man I had seen a few times teaching the crowds. It was a gruesome scene with blood dripping down the wood beams from bodies suspended with spikes. I became nauseated at the site. What had this man done to deserve such severe punishment? What had he done to deserve death?

Suddenly we heard Jesus cry out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Indeed, I could not understand why God would allow such a brutal injustice.

Someone near us remarked, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” My heart ached. It wasn’t enough that they crucified him. Now he had to endure these people mocking him. I wanted to turn my head and shield my eyes, but someone brushed by me with a staff that had a vinegar-soaked sponge on the end. I watched as he hoisted it up to Jesus and offered him a drink. Someone else shouted, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”

“Yes, leave him alone!” I whispered to myself. Something stirred deep inside me as I gazed at Jesus on the cross and then looked at the people mocking him. Something did not feel right. Why were so many so intent on making fun of him?

“We should go,” my friend said to me with a sad face. “I’ve seen enough.”

I nodded in agreement. As I turned to leave, I heard Jesus cry out. I looked back at the cross and saw his body suddenly slump with a sigh as he breathed his last. Tears began to stream down my cheeks as I traced trickles of blood down the wood beam to a pool on the ground. My head slumped with sadness. “Who was this man,” I wondered to myself. That’s when I heard the centurion standing in front of Jesus say, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

© 2019 CGThelen

The pain is deep

It eats at my soul

My heart stiffens

I ache for relief

My body tightens

Muscles tense

Tendons strain

I can’t move

My brain swells

Turbulence within

Emotions swirl

A whirlwind inside

Tears well up

Eyes close

Salt water streams

Touch my lips

Body crumples

Folding in half

Whimpers break

The silent room

Darkened window

Broken shade

Beam of light

Upon the floor

Tear drops glisten

Reflecting light

Sparkles of hope

Deep in my soul

“I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” – Psalm 6:6

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” – Psalm 42:5

© 2019 CGThelen

Praying to God for healing is a difficult thing for me. It is a wrestling match between my will and the will of God. It is a deep yearning to lay down my desires for God’s desires. Yet my emotions tell me I want people I love to be whole, to not suffer. It hit me again this week when I found out a coworker who retired last year has terminal cancer and a year to live.

This struggle of wills reminds me of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:1-6. After he became ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz said to him, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover (verse 1, NIV).” These are words we do not want to hear from the doctor: “Your cancer is terminal.” They are words I have heard about a loved one: “He will not make it through the night.”

Hezekiah turned away from Isaiah in his bed and faced the wall. He prayed to God, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes (verse 3).” I can feel Hezekiah’s grief as he wept bitterly. I have found myself reciting a similar prayer when devoted followers of Christ I know have died; when friends contract terminal cancer. “Lord, these are people who have followed you; righteous people dedicated to serving you. Why?” In prayer I plead as Hezekiah did, “Lord, these people have walked faithfully with you; they are devoted to you.”

God heard Hezekiah’s plea, his prayer. In verse 4-5 he tells the prophet Isaiah to go back and tell him, “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.” God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and he hears our prayers. Yet it is a matter of God’s will, his plan, whether he heals. God added 15 years to Hezekiah’s life, but not just because of Hezekiah’s will or his righteous acts. “And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

God chose to heal Hezekiah for his purposes; for his sake and for the sake of his servant David. God chose to continue to use Hezekiah. It seems I always want what I want and I don’t understand why God does what he does. But that is the element of faith in him. Part of the process of opening up to God in prayer is to also open up our heart to God; to share with him the deep desires of our heart and to know he hears our prayers. The answer to our prayers, our pleas, is to rest in God’s will for our life and the lives of those we dearly love in this world.

© 2019 CGThelen

In the deepest pit of sadness, as sorrow overwhelmed me, I cried out to God to somehow free me from the suffering. When tears flowed seemingly from no where, I cried out to you Lord, “Let this pass.” When my body tensed, my breathing quickened and my heart rate increased, I cried out to you God. Tears flowing, filled with sorrow, I cried to God to let this pass, but you gave me the words of your son Jesus instead: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will (Luke 14:36, NIV).”

God has created us for a specific purpose. He has uniquely crafted us, chosen us to do his will. Our obedience, as difficult as it is at times, is essential to carrying out God’s plan — to help others find the path to salvation through Christ Jesus. Through our struggles God deepens our faith. He uses our pain to help build empathy for others who experience pain. In the Kingdom of God nothing is wasted; fruit is born out of our suffering.

When I feel alone and full of grief, I recall the words of Jesus: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (14:34).” Even though Jesus shared with his disciples the deep emotional pain he felt, they ultimately abandoned him in his time of need. Jesus understands the feeling of loneliness; he understands suffering for God’s purposes. In Christ Jesus you are not alone. He will never forsake you.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” – Mark 14:32-36

© 2019 CGThelen

I feel the light begin to wane

Darkness knocks at my door

An old acquaintance

Wanting to pay me a visit

.

The last time you were here

You crushed all my joy

Took away any laughter

Pulled the shades on the light

.

Tears well up inside of me

Hopelessness seeps in

My body aches with pain

As I struggle to move

.

A river of sorrow flows

From deep within my soul

Drowning out all emotion

Numbing my senses

.

With my last ounce of energy

I fight back against the dark

Press as hard as I can

To keep the light within me

.

I cry out to the Lord God

“Please give me the strength!”

I hear him gently whisper

“I am your strength.”

.

I feel God’s peace wash over me

Though I am encircled by dark

The light within glows bright

Emptiness filled with God’s joy

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“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” – Psalm 116:5-8

© 2019 CGThelen

This is the time of year when some of us get Christmas letters talking about all the great things accomplished during the year. But there is one letter I read recently that boasted about weaknesses and hardships — Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, specifically 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. I doubt I would ever use language in a Christmas letter to my friends and family using language like Paul used in verse 10, telling people how “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (NIV).”

At the core of living a life for Christ there seems to be a constant battle between self and selflessness; between a life in the Spirit of God and the flesh. Paul wrote about this struggle in 2 Cor. 12, reminding the Corinthian church to not boast about themselves, but to boast about Christ; to boast about their weaknesses. This is something that seems counterintuitive in our world. Afterall, who goes around bragging about how weak they are or their failures in a resume?

Yet humble people are often praised in this world and the arrogant often despised by others as being filled with self. When we empty ourselves of self we make room for the Spirit of God to work within us. We learn to rely on strength in Christ Jesus. As verse 9 reminds us, the Lord’s “grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It seems simple enough that we are strongest in Christ when our selfish motives are weakest. But to put It into practice is a daily struggle. Can I honestly delight in weakness as Paul writes in verse 10? It seems my first response to insults and persecution is to defend myself; my response to hardship and difficulties is to become envious of those who seem to have the perfect life. I am more inclined to boast about myself at the expense of Christ.

In the church when we admit our failures, our weaknesses, we humble ourselves before each other. This helps to open us up to allowing Christ to not only strengthen us, but the body of believers as well. Maybe it’s not a letter bragging about all your weaknesses, but rather sharing one of your struggles with some close friends “so that Christ’s power may rest on” you (verse 9).

© 2018 CGThelen

“Is their hope? Is healing possible?” I asked my friend. “Yes,” she replied. “It is possible.” I looked into her eyes and I sensed her response was not just empty words. “You know from experience, don’t you,” I remarked. “Yes,” she nodded, “I do.”

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Knowing that she had gone through trauma; knowing she had suffered gave her answer credibility. And now, because of the suffering in her past, she was able to bring me comfort; bring me hope that healing is possible. She knew first hand how God can help us through traumatic events in our life. In 2 Corinthians 1:4, Paul wrote about our compassionate God, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (NIV).”

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Our suffering teaches us to reach beyond ourselves and rely on God. It helps us to learn perseverance that deepens our faith in Christ Jesus. It shows others the authenticity of our belief in God and where we put our trust. The suffering we endure also provides hope to those currently suffering. We can tell them because we share the sufferings of Christ, we also share in the comfort that abounds through Christ.

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The struggles we go through in life can deepen our faith and reliance on Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:9 that struggles cause us to “not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” But it is the aspect of bringing comfort to those who are struggling that helps to deepen the bond between us and other Christians. In verse 7, Paul told the Corinthians, “just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

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As a community of believers we should be united in our suffering and our joy, giving praise to God for both. Paul reminded us in verses 10-11, “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

© 2018 CGThelen

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