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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

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The last time you were here

You crushed all my joy

Took away any laughter

Pulled the shades on the light

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Tears well up inside of me

Hopelessness seeps in

My body aches with pain

As I struggle to move

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A river of sorrow flows

From deep within my soul

Drowning out all emotion

Numbing my senses

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With my last ounce of energy

I fight back against the dark

Press as hard as I can

To keep the light within me

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I cry out to the Lord God

“Please give me the strength!”

I hear him gently whisper

“I am your strength.”

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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

I have journeyed through the deep, dark valley

Felt the pain, sorrow and trauma

Struggled to take each step forward

As I traveled that beaten down, rutted path

Occasionally I glanced up from far below

And noted a slim slit of light high above the canyon walls

Wandering in this deep pit of despair

I encountered many others trudging with heads down

Focused on the darkness and the worn path below

I tried to direct them to look up at the light

But they refused to listen, called me names

Attacked me with hateful words and foul language

Discouraged, I soon found myself with my head down

Feeling beaten, weak and tired I slumped on the path

I cried out to God for help, cried for what seemed like days

Then I heard someone walking by me

I couldn’t even lift my head to see who passed

I could hear their feet stop and step next to me

I felt a hand upon my slumped and weary shoulder

I tried to look up but could not muster the energy

“I will walk with you, help hold you up,” the person said

I felt two strong arms pull me to my feet

I looked forward at the deep, dark valley ahead

Too weak to take a step, this person nudged me forward

We journeyed for months along a winding path

Often barely able to see the light above

Eventually we emerged out of that deep, dark valley

Surrounded by daylight, we sat a moment on the edge

I could feel the light warm my chilled body

I peered over the edge and looked down at the valley

So dark and deep I could not see anyone in it

Then I looked up at my partner through this journey

I saw not one, but many faithful followers of Christ

Those obedient to His call, to answer my cries for help

Still weakened from my journey, I asked them, “Why?”

One of the faithful answered, “I once walked that valley;

I know the pain you felt, I know you needed help.”

I nodded and looked back down at the valley

I too now know the pain of that lonely journey

Perhaps with renewed strength I will return to the valley

To help others emerge from the realm of darkness

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” — Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV)

Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” — Psalm 31:21-22 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 27, 2010.

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)

© 2010 CGThelen

Each time I read the book of Exodus I wonder how the Israelites could be so short-sighted and constantly desire to return to their old ways. Why would they willfully chose to worship idols instead of the God who created the heavens and the earth? Why would they desire to return to the enslavement of Egypt instead of the land God promised them? I believe the answer lies in Exodus 2:23-24.

In the beginning of Exodus we find the Israelites enslaved in Egypt by a Pharaoh who had forgotten how Jospeh saved Egypt from ruin by famine (Exodus 1:8-10). The Israelites were now so numerous that they were viewed as a threat. So Pharaoh “made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields (14, NIV).” How the Israelites dealt with this ordeal says a lot about them and their view of God.

Exodus 2:23 tells us, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out.” It’s interesting that it doesn’t say they cried out to God, but rather it says they just “cried out.” It’s a subtle but important distinction that God hears their cry and chooses to act even if the Israelites did not cry out to Him. It explains a lot about why the Israelites throughout the book of Exodus were so quick to turn to idols and desires to return to Egypt. Like us, they were often immersed in the immediate struggle and lacked faith in God’s promise.

As readers of the Old Testament, we have the advantage of seeing the whole picture of God’s future plan; the ability to see God’s ultimate purpose for Israel. We don’t always have that vision for our own lives. Sometimes we can become like Israel where we are so immersed in the immediate that we only see our current pain and struggles. At those times we must remember to not just cry out, but to cry out to God. Pray he will help us to focus on His plans instead of just our current trials.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26 (NIV)

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” – Psalm 40:1 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

Throughout my life I have grumbled about a lot of things, often related to the actions of other people. I have also heard my fair share grumbling from other people. So when I read Exodus 16, verse 8 jumped out at me — particularly the last sentence: “Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord (NIV).”

It made me wonder if we look at our grumbling as complaining to God instead of complaining to people? In Exodus 16 the Israelites are complaining because they lack the food they had in Egypt. Verse 2 tells us, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” In the next verse they accuse Moses of bringing them into the desert to starve to death.

The Israelites had forgotten that God appointed Moses as the person to bring them out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10). The irony is that they grumbled about being freed from the slavery they grumbled about before they left Egypt. They could only focus on their current discomfort, not God’s plan to lead them into “a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:17).” Instead they choose to grumble and blame Moses for their current struggles.

God offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ; life with him in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21). He has appointed people in our life to guide us to this new land, to help us grow in our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we struggle in life let us remember that when we grumble at people for directing us to do hard things, we are actually grumbling at God; a God full of love and grace who wants what is best for us.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! – James 5:9

© 2018 CGThelen

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

© 2018 CGThelen

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