Thursday, August 12, 2010

Suffering


Many of my friends are walking through dark times in their lives and being forced to wrestle with big, ugly stuff. I find it ironic, in a God-is-so-cool way, that in my assigned Bible reading the topic of pain and suffering keeps coming up.

What do I say to my friend whose husband cheated? To the mother holding her very sick child and watching a team of doctors grasping at straws to find a diagnosis? To my loved one fighting valiantly against unrelenting disease? And as I pray for ways to minister to them, what do I do with the junk I'm finding in my own life?

The Old Testament reading assignment is the book of Job. Talk about a dude who knows suffering. In one day he lost his wealth, his riches, and his children. Shortly after that his wife cursed him and his body was riddled with disease. And yet he says in Job 1:20b-21, “Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’” Wow! I can’t say confidently that I would praise God if my family was taken from me, but it gives me something to aspire to.

I’ve always loved King David because he wears his emotions on his sleeves. Most of the Psalms are laments and prayers from the deepest recesses of his soul. Listen to these verses from Psalm 72 and 73. BOLD emphasis is mine

“In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” (72:1-3) – I have a Rescuer, a place of refuge. And I can always run to him no matter my mental or physical state.

“…You are my strong refuge.” (72:7b) – When I am weak, my Rescuer is strong.

“…Who, O God, is like you? Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.” (72:19-21) – There is hope. A bigger picture. Restoration around the corner. This season of suffering is just that, a season.

“When my thoughts were bitter and my feelings were hurt, I was stupid as an animal. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:21-26) – Bitterness makes me stupid, so I have to choose to forgive even when all I want to do is hate. And what a beautiful image of God holding my hand.

My New Testament reading was in I Peter. Listen to what Peter says about suffering.

“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1:3-9)

When Jesus was on earth, He gave His followers instructions on what to do WHEN suffering came. Not IF suffering came. I love that God is merciful and that He gave us a “living hope” through Jesus. No matter what I’m going through, I have hope because Jesus conquered death and I know that life on earth is temporary. Eternal life in God’s kingdom is forever. Keeping a kingdom perspective helps me see suffering through a new lens. Do I “rejoice” when my faith is being refined and proved genuine? Or do I curl up in a ball and wallow in self-pity?

Jesus would You forgive me for the times when I wallow in self-pity? And will give me the endurance to persevere through times of refinement and suffering so that in the end, my faith will be proven genuine and my life will result in bringing you praise and honor? Fill me with an inexpressible and glorious joy and thank You for saving my soul.

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