Saturday, July 23, 2016
As we saw last week, Jesus is always there to hear and answer the prayers of His children, and He always does so in the best possible way, motivated by perfect love and enabled by infinite power and wisdom. This is often difficult to understand when we are praying earnestly and in His will, and yet He is allowing us to suffer, for one of several reasons, as part of His perfect plan.
If our suffering is a consequence of our sin, God may use this as part of the chastening process, as a loving Father disciplines His children to shape their character and behavior (Proverbs 13:24; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19). Yet not all our suffering is the result of our personal sin (John 9:1-3). Once we are saved by placing our faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way (John 14:6) to Heaven, physical or emotional pain unrelated to our own sin helps to make us more like Jesus Christ.
As born-again Christians (John 3:3-8), we can identify with His suffering for us as He approached the cross, and on the cross, even though He was blameless, pure and holy (Philippians 3:8-10). The prophet Isaiah foretold that Jesus, the promised Messiah, would be a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Although He was wounded and punished to save us, we despised and rejected Him (Isaiah 53:1-12).
God the Father did not answer the prayer of Jesus to remove the cup of suffering from Him if it were possible, yet He sent an angel to strengthen and comfort Jesus as He submitted to His Father’s perfect will (Luke 22:42-45). Jesus understands our suffering, gives us mercy and grace in trouble, and helps us in time of need (Hebrews 2:9-18).
We should not be surprised when God allows to go through trials, as these strengthen our faith, refining it as gold is refined by the fire and resulting in praise, honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns (1 Peter 1:5-7; 2:20) and we stand before His judgment seat. As we share in suffering as Christ did, through fiery trials of persecution or other trouble, we are promised joy when He returns. If we suffer according to God’s will, we can trust Him to keep our souls and to enable us to continue His perfect plan for us. Not only is He our faithful Creator, but also our Redeemer and Sustainer (1 Peter 4:12-19).
God may permit us to experience loss – of health, wealth, power, cherished dreams, and even of loved ones – to strengthen our faith in and dependence on Him (Job 1). If we ignore His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12) and His more urgent calls, and if we quench and grieve His Spirit living in our heart (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30), it may take disaster to bring us to our knees and to call out to Him in distress (Psalm 34:18). He receives our broken spirit and heart as cherished sacrifices to Him, allowing Him to restore us (Psalm 51:17).
Even when we are submitting to His will, God may allow painful experiences to afflict us so that we gain wisdom and compassion to counsel others going through similar trials (2 Corinthians 1:7; Colossians 3:12). His light within us shines the brightest when we are in the darkest of circumstances. Job refused to renounce his God even when he had lost nearly everything he once held dear (Job 23:10-12).
The apostle Paul found the peace that passes all human understanding and perpetual joy in the Lord (Philippians 4:4,7) when he had undergone countless hardships and was imprisoned in a miserable jail cell (2 Corinthians 11:24-30). He was able to thrive in all circumstances because of His intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, Who provided for all his needs (Philippians 4:12-13;19). Paul teaches us to receive that peace by handing our anxieties over to Him in prayer with thanksgiving and praise (Philippians 4:6-7).
God’s grace is sufficient and His strength is made perfect in our weakness, so we have reason to rejoice in our shortcomings (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). We can even rejoice in our sufferings, as our perseverance through trials builds our character and gives us the sure hope of God’s love through His Spirit that lives within every believer (Romans 5:3-5). No matter how dark is the night of our sorrow, He promises that joy will come in the morning and that He will turn our mourning into joyful dancing (Psalm 30:5-12)
Once we begin to try to appreciate the limitless depths of God’s love, wisdom, and power, and to trust His grace and mercy (Psalm 119:76-77) to always work all circumstances together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28), we can begin to find the emotional and physical healing we so desperately need (Psalm 147:3).
Praise God that His compassion and mercy are unfailing, faithful, and new every morning, always giving us new hope and a fresh start, no matter what our circumstances (Lamentations 3:19-26).
© 2016 Laurie Collett
Sunday, July 17, 2016
As we hear the daily news, it seems that trouble is on every hand – violence, death, wars, civil strife. In our personal lives, we are all afflicted by suffering through loss of a loved one, sickness, pain, or disability, if not ourselves directly, then a family member or friend.
Over the past week and today, our pastor has appropriately been addressing the subject of trouble from a Biblical perspective, and I was inspired by this to repost this lesson from the archives. Praying for all readers to find comfort in our Lord Jesus Christ, a mighty Fortress from the storms of life.
When we first become born-again believers by placing our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we may feel overwhelming relief as He lifts the tremendous burden of sin from our shoulders. But as the days or years pass and our initial euphoria subsides, we may feel disappointed that being Christian does not mean that our problems are over.
Far from it, for Satan targets not only the newly saved believer but particularly mature leaders who are being most productive for God, and everyone in between (1 Peter 4:12-13; 5:8). God’s Word counsels us to put on the whole armor of God to ward off the attacks of the devil (Ephesians 6:11-18).
No matter how faithful we are to do this, Christians as well as the unsaved can expect the shadow and sorrow of physical death and of all the heartache in this world, for all still experience the curse of sin during our earthly life (Romans 3:23-24; Genesis 3:16-19).
And yet, praise God, believers have Christ to comfort, heal and deliver us (Psalm 25:12-20; 42; 56:1-4,13; 116:3-9; 62:5-8; 68:20; Proverbs 24:11-12; Isaiah 38:17; 2 Corinthians 4:8-9). I don’t know how those who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus can endure the pain and sadness of this world. Comparing my own emotional life before and after I was saved, from despair and turmoil to joy and peace in the Lord reminds me of this. And yet, no life is free of earthly cares.
Sometimes believers may think that admitting our discouragement, pain, or distress may be disloyal to our Savior, as if we are being ungrateful for the tremendous price He has paid to free us from the punishment for our sins and to give us eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).
The truth is that all Christians hurt from time to time, and yet we have Jesus to help us always, in all circumstances and dangers (Isaiah 43:2). He is the Friend Who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24) and Who never leaves us nor forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:8; Hebrews 13:5). He alone can heal us physically and emotionally (Jeremiah 17:14), give us hope (Psalm 62:5), restore the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12) and empower us to live holy lives (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Every born-again believer should also have a trusted brother or sister in Christ as a mentor and/or confidante (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; Proverbs 15:22; 20:5; 27:17), as well as the loving support of a church family (Hebrews 10:25) so that we can bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Although a Bible-preaching, Christ-centered church and Christian friends are invaluable, they may not be available to all believers, and even these suffer from imperfections resulting from our sin nature. Too often we hear of church leaders who lose their testimony and their ability to counsel others effectively when their own sins or burdens interfere with their ministry. Even Paul, chosen by Christ to deliver the Gospel to the Gentiles, to plant churches, and to write 14 books of the Bible, was concerned that he could lose his usefulness to God and his ministry put on the shelf (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Our former (late) Pastor used to say that man will always let you down, but that God will never let you down! (Proverbs 29:25-26) Praise God for His faithfulness! When we suffer, there may be times, circumstances, and people best served by our silence (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7), as complaining or admission of sinful thoughts or acts could actually be a stumbling block and discourage others from their Christian walk, ministry and obedience (Romans 14:13; 15:1; 1 Corinthians 8:9).
But praise God, He is available 24/7, not only willing but actively seeking us to tell Him our troubles, confess our sins (1 John 1:9), and lay our burdens at the foot of His cross. We can boldly approach His throne in prayer knowing that He not only hears us (Psalm 17:6-7), but that He has compassion on us because He has experienced every human grief, yet without sinning Hebrews 4:15-16). When believers pray to Him in despair, He listens, encourages us, and answers us (Psalm 10:17; 102:17). If we trust in Him with all our heart, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Not only does He love us infinitely and permanently (Romans 8:37-39), but He has the infinite power and wisdom to do what is best for us. Think about what that means – His perfect love means that He desires to do what is best for each of us (Luke 11:9-13), and His complete knowledge and power (Psalm 147:5) means that He can accomplish exactly that.
So why are we sometimes disappointed with what we perceive as Him ignoring our prayers, refusing our well-intentioned requests, and allowing trials in our life? His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), and He sees the total picture while we clutch desperately to one tiny piece of the puzzle. God does not tempt us with evil (James 1:13), yet He may allow us to suffer for one of several reasons, as we shall discuss next week.
Praise God that He turns our despair and confusion into joy and peace, if not always in this world, then completely and eternally in Heaven!
© 2016 Laurie Collett