The Struggle Is Real

God's purpose in our strugglesDid you know that if you help a butterfly out of its chrysalis, it will probably not be able to fly and might die? There’s something in the process of breaking out of the chrysalis that exercises and strengthens wings and gets fluids where they need to be.

Similarly, a baby chick pecks its own way out of a shell. It can sometimes be aided if it’s stuck, but it’s risky. A baby joey climbs from its mother’s uterus to her pouch even though it can’t see yet.

Even a human baby’s struggle to crawl and then walk comes about with many fits and starts until he or she develops the strength to progress.

I’m not sure why so much of life involves struggle. Maybe struggle is one result of the fall of man into sin in Genesis 3. But God uses struggle in our lives for good.

Yet, we don’t like struggle. We do everything to escape it if we can. Labor-saving devices created more time but took the natural exercise out of our lives. I’m not ready to go back to toting my water from a creek or beating my laundry with rocks. But I’d probably be more fit if I did.

Trials act in the same way spiritually. We try to reduce them or get out of them as soon as possible. But if we don’t exercise our faith, it won’t grow strong.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Just like any other struggle, our “faith muscles” may grow weary. But God has promised to be with us, strengthen us, and help us. And people see that the grace and strength to endure come not from us, but from God.

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

Trials test the genuineness of our faith plus result in praise to God.

 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

God watches over our trials in love. He won’t let them last any longer than necessary.

Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:32-33)

Meanwhile, just as Jesus, who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” so we keep our eyes on the future ahead of us.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

A man in one of our former churches had an awful disease called Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome which caused multiple tumors to grow throughout his body. He said once that he could endure it if he knew God had a purpose in it.

He does.

Our suffering and trials may be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, financial, or something else. It’s normal and acceptable to pray for quick relief. We may not know all the reasons why God allows our particular suffering. But we know He is using it in our lives and that of others. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 says sorrow teaches our hearts things that could not be learned by feasting and laughter. God is producing something in us that wouldn’t come about any other way. Without those trials, we might end up as weak and helpless as a flightless butterfly.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon,
Remember Me Monday, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story,
InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Share a Link Wednesday, Welcome Heart, Heart Encouragement,
Faith on Fire,Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network.
Links do not imply 100% agreement)

When the Answer to Prayer Is Bad News

IMG_0646?ver2I love the little book of Habakkuk. It’s just three chapters long in what’s called the minor prophets of the Old Testament—minor not because they are less important, but just because these books are shorter than the five books called major prophets.

Habakkuk was a prophet who prayed—or complained or lamented—about what was going on in his country: violence, iniquity, destruction, strife, contention, perverted justice (sound familiar?) (verses 1:1-4). He sounds exasperated when he begins:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (verse 1:2).

God responds:

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told (verse 5).

That sounds good! But God continues:

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans … (verse 6).

Wait. What?

The ESV Study Bible notes that the Chaldeans were technically a particular tribe in Babylon which grew to prominence, but eventually Chaldeans and Babylonians became almost interchangeable names. God goes on to describe them. Bitter, hasty, seizing dwellings not their own, dreaded and fearsome … more fierce than evening wolves … they fly like an eagle swift to devour … violent … their own might is their god (verses 6-11).

Habakkuk surely didn’t expect his prayer to be answered by the violence of an invading army. He understands God has “ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (verse 12). But, he asks, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (verse 13). The age old question: how can a holy God (verse 12) look on and allow evil to flourish? After expanding on this a while (verse 14-17), Habakkuk awaits God’s response (2:1).

God answers in 2:2-20. He doesn’t give a direct answer to Habakkuk’s complaints, just as He didn’t to Job. But He assures Habakkuk He knows what He is doing, He will take care of the Chaldeans in good time, and “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). The ESV Study Bible says:

It will take faith to wait patiently for God’s plan to unfold, but the righteous believe that God will accomplish it. The phrase but the righteous shall live by his faith is quoted in the NT to emphasize that people are saved by grace through faith (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; cf Eph. 2:8) and that Christians should live by faith (Heb. 10:38-39). The kind of faith that Habakkuk describes, and that the NT authors promote, is continuing trust in God and clinging to God’s promises, even in the darkest days (p. 1724).

The book ends with a final prayer of Habakkuk, changed in attitude from his first. He reverences God. He goes on for several verses about God’s holiness, power, and majesty. He asks:

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy (3:2).

After stating he will quietly wait for God’s timing, Habakkuk ends his prayer in faith and worship:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places (3:17-19).

These statements are remarkable in themselves, but even more so in context. Not only did Habakkuk not get the answer to prayer he was hoping for: he got news of impending disaster. He didn’t get an explanation, but he got an encounter with God. Afterward, he was humbled and hopeful. Though even hard times were coming, he rejoiced in the God of his salvation and acknowledged God as his strength.

I don’t think this means he pasted on a smile to face an invading army and loss of resources. What he describes in his prayer in chapter three is horrible. Other prophetic books concur. The Babylonian invasion and captivity were devastating and costly. It’s okay to be sad, to grieve losses, as my friend, Lisa, wrote. Lamentations is Jeremiah’s hope-filled sadness over the same invasion. But Habakkuk had faith, prayed for mercy, and rested in God as his strength for what was coming.

I can’t help but see parallels to our current situation. No one can say exactly why God allowed a pandemic to occur. No one would have asked for it. We hope it will all last as short a time as possible. It might get worse before it gets better.

The same could be said of other bad news situations: a lost job, a scary diagnosis, a failed relationship, and upending of normal way of life. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were threatened with being thrown in a fiery furnace if they did not bow down and worship the king’s golden image. They refused and replied, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (verses 17-18). Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified, prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). In both of those situations, the immediate deliverance was not granted. But God worked mightily for His glory and the benefit of others and delivered in His own time and way.

Our hopes and prayers aren’t always answered as we would like. But in the face of an invading virus, shortages, or any other bad news, what we most need is an encounter with God. We can trust His wisdom, purposes, and love. We can rejoice because He is with us and is our strength. He will give us grace to go through hard things.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Anchored Abode,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement,
Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network.
Links do not imply complete endorsement.)

Laudable Linkage

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I don’t want to “laud” my own writing, but I wanted to let you know The Perennial Gen published a piece I wrote titled “Limitations Don’t Limit Your Ministry.”

Here are some great reads discovered this week:

How to Study Your Bible in 2020.

How a “You do You” Culture Has Made Us Vulnerable to the Coronavirus, HT to Challies. “We can only stop the virus by doing what is best for others not just for ourselves.”

A Life That Points Others to Christ. “My most earnest prayer is that when someone hears my testimony, they would be compelled to go find Jesus and His Word for themselves.”

God Is Always Good. “We evaluate God’s character based on our circumstances, when we should evaluate our circumstances based on God’s unchanging character.”

Safe, HT to Challies. A poem by Paul Tripp.

‘Progressive’ Christianity: Even Shallower Than the Evangelical Faith I Left, HT to Challies. “I’ve walked in both shoes: the shoes of those who deserted and the shoes of Peter who couldn’t leave, no matter how hard it seemed to stay. I was an #exvangelical who left the faith of my youth for ‘progressive Christianity.’ Then I returned. Here’s my #revangelical story.”

Was Jesus Married to Mary Magdalene? Revisiting a Stubborn Conspiracy Theory, HT to Challies. In a word, no. This post debunks some of the false claims.

Surrendering Control When Facing Coronavirus, or any other situation where we don’t have control. “I’ve found it helpful, when facing out-of-control situations that cause me anxiety, to sort my concerns into two categories: 1. What I Can Control; 2. What I Cannot Control.”

3 Ways of Confronting the Problem of Diminishing Attention Spans Through the Great Books, HT to Challies. Good reasons to read the classics.

Guides for Kids and Middle-Schoolers to Take Notes During the Sermon, HT to Challies.

The Story Warren has a round-up of “awesome good-priced, free, discounted, livestreamed, giveaway, etc., stuff” being offered online during our “sheltering at home.”

Finally this video shows How Soap Kills the Coronavirus, HT to Challies.

Have a good Saturday, and stay safe.

Let Trouble Draw You Nearer

Let troubles draw you to God

When loved ones go through hard things, I pray that they may be drawn closer to God in all that is happening to them. I know that trials have the potential to turn people away from rather than to God.

In thinking through some of the reasons God allows suffering recently, part of me marveled that God would risk the negative reactions some people would have. Some get angry and rail against God or the universe or their loved ones. Some fear and panic.

But faith is strengthened by testing. And some people won’t turn to God until they are put in a position where there is no other choice.

Thankfully, as the psalms indicate, many work through the bad reactions, remind ourselves of what we know to be true about God, and rest in Him

As we experience this current pandemic, I’ve seen a variety of reactions already. Many are tense and on edge in the face of uncertainties: health of self and loved ones, possible lost time from work, shortage of supplies.

Hudson Taylor once said, “It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies — whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.”

Let these current trials and pressures draw you to Him. Don’t let them come between you. He knows what’s going on in the world. He is wise, kind, loving, and good. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He has promised to supply all our needs.

Do the practical things: wash hands, disinfect, avoid crowds. etc. But in faith. And, as Laura said, watch out for others who night need extra help in times like this.

A stanza in Henry Lyte’s hymn, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” says:

Man may trouble and distress me, ‘twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me; heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me;
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me, were that joy unmixed with Thee.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Hearth and Home, Senior Salon, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Happy Now,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth,
Blogger Voices Network)

Biblical Reasons for Suffering

Biblical reasons for sufferingA little boy falls and scrapes his knee. His father runs to him and . . . gives him a science lesson about velocity and gravity and a lecture on safety. Right?

No, of course not. The father comforts his child and tends his wounds.

I’ve heard some people say that’s all they want when they’re suffering. They don’t need to know the why behind it: they just want their heavenly Father’s comfort and assurance of His love.

But some of us do want to know why. The question of why God allows suffering is one of the biggest issues people wrestle with.

Some think it’s wrong to ask God “Why?” Elisabeth Elliot said in her book, On Asking God Why:

I seek the lessons God wants to teach me, and that means that I ask why. There are those who insist that it is a very bad thing to question God. To them, “why?” is a rude question. That depends, I believe, on whether it is an honest search, in faith, for his meaning, or whether it is a challenge of unbelief and rebellion. The psalmist often questioned God and so did Job. God did not answer the questions, but he answered the man–with the mystery of himself.

When we lived in GA, a man in our church had Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which caused tumors to grow throughout his body. The tumors weren’t cancerous, but their growth caused multiple problems, especially when they began in his spine and brain. He once said, “I could bear this if I knew God had a reason for it.”

We may never know exactly why God allows hard things to happen in our particular cases. But the Bible gives some general reasons why God allows suffering and how He uses it.

Sin

No, suffering doesn’t mean the person experiencing it is being punished for sin. Job’s friends mistakenly thought that of him and God soundly rebuked them. When Jesus’ disciples asked him whether a certain man was blind due to his own or his parents’ sin, Jesus said neither (John 9:1-3).

But sin and suffering entered the world when sin did. Man’s inhumanity to man falls here. Sin, sorrow, sickness, etc., will be eliminated for believers when they get to heaven (Rev. 21:4), but not before. So some degree of suffering is just due to living in a fallen world. That doesn’t mean it’s random: God still is in control over what He allows.

Yet sometimes God does chasten His children, and He may use suffering to do it. Proverbs has a lot of corollaries about the consequences of certain actions. Discipline is actually a proof of our sonship. The psalmist said affliction helped him learn and obey God’s Word. Hebrews 12:1-12 says: “all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

In Revelation, God brings calamities to get people’s attention and accuses, “yet you still did not repent.” At least one purpose behind the events was an attempt to bring them to repentance.

Growth

One of the most meaningful metaphors concerning suffering for me is described in John 15. Jesus said He is the true vine, His Father is the vinedresser, and we’re branches in Him. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (verse 2).

I’m not good with plants. But even in my limited experience, I’ve learned that some plants grow fuller when they are cut back. I’m told that expert rose pruners don’t just cut off the dead blooms: they remove perfectly good blossoms as well. Energy and nutrients are redirected to where they are most needful.

Somehow, when God “prunes” something in our lives, we grow in ways we would not have otherwise. Romans 15:3-4 says our suffering produces endurance, character, and hope. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 says sorrow teaches our hearts things that could not be learned by feasting and laughter.

Refining

James 1:3-4 says, “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Malachi 3:2-3 speaks of God refining and purifying the sons of Levi. The Hebrew word for “refine” there means to smelt, to apply heat to separate impurities from the ore. Hebrews 12:25-29 speak of God shaking the earth “in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (Spurgeon has a wonderful devotional on this here). Trials and suffering have a way of clarifying what’s important, of burning off any excess in our lives. 

That we may learn who God is

Nebuchadnezzar went through an extensive trial through which he learned that God was God and Nebuchadnezzar was not. Though Job knew God, after his ordeals, he knew Him in a much more intimate way. Many people testify that, although they would not have chosen their trials, they don’t regret them because of how much better they knew God after  the process.

That we may learn what we are and what we trust in

Moses told the children of Israel that “the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word  that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). God knew what was in their hearts, but He had to bring it out so they could see it.

One of the reasons God caused the events in Exodus was to get people’s attention and to show that their gods were no gods, that He alone was God. He did get their attention, and there are signs some believed (Exodus 18:5-11; Exodus 14:18; 14:31; 11:9).

Sometimes we don’t realize we’re trusting in something other than God until God removes it. Though that process is painful, it’s ultimately kind in turning us from a false hope to the only true God.

To humble us

As mentioned above, part of God’s purpose for bringing Israel through the wilderness was to humble them. Nebuchadnezzar had to be humbled before he would see his need of God. Paul’s “thorn” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7 was partly to keep him from being too proud because of all the revelations he had received.

For the sake of others

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Paul mentions several times that some of his suffering were for others:

  • Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10).
  • And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14).
  • If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:6).
  • “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:5-6).
  • Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).

Joni Eareckson Tada has suffered for 50+ years since her diving accident. God may have had reasons unknown to us for allowing this, but her suffering has opened a ministry to untold numbers of people.

To glorify God

I mentioned earlier Jesus telling the disciples that a certain man wasn’t born blind due to sin. He went on to say that the man was born blind “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 1:3). When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He said this illness was “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:1-4).

I admit I have wrestled with this one. When I was about 38, I read about the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years and imagined his being paralyzed my whole lifetime. Part of me wondered how God could ask this of him. But 38 years is not that long compared to eternity. Paul said, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Paul didn’t use the word “light” lightly: he had been speaking of excruciating suffering earlier in the chapter. But compared to the “eternal weight of glory,” it was light.

It’s like pregnancy: expectant mothers go through a range of discomfort all through pregnancy, culminating in the pain of childbirth. But they count all the suffering worth having that little one in their arms (John 16:21).

After speaking about the inheritance laid up for us in heaven, Peter says: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15).

That the world may be shown what love and obedience mean

I’m grateful to Elisabeth Elliot for this one. In John 14:27-31, Jesus said, as he was preparing for the cross, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Elizabeth wrote in Keep a Quiet Heart:

The disciples’ worst fears were about to be realized, yet He commanded (yes, commanded) them to be at peace. All would be well, all manner of things would be well—in the end. In a short time, however, the Prince of this world, Satan himself, was to be permitted to have his way. Not that Satan had any rights over Jesus. Far from it. Nor has he “rights” over any of God’s children… But Satan is permitted to approach. He challenges God, we know from the Book of Job, as to the validity of His children’s faith.

God allows him to make a test case from time to time. It had to be proved to Satan, in Job’s case, that there is such a thing as obedient faith which does not depend on receiving only benefits. Jesus had to show the world that He loved the Father and would, no matter what happened, do exactly what He said. The servant is not greater than his Lord. When we cry “Why, Lord?” we should ask instead, “Why not, Lord? Shall I not follow my Master in suffering as in everything else?”

Does our faith depend on having every prayer answered as we think it should be answered, or does it rest rather on the character of a sovereign Lord? We can’t really tell, can we, until we’re in real trouble.

Paul said that somehow “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:8-10). So we don’t display His working and wisdom only to other humans, but to beings in the heavenlies.

To learn that His grace is sufficient

Paul had asked God to remove something troubling in his life that he called a thorn. God said No. Instead, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

I believe it was Corrie ten Boom who said, “When all you have is Christ, you find that Christ is all you need.” The times in my life when anything I normally depended on was taken away and I felt the rug pulled out from under me were the  times I came to know by experience that Christ truly was sufficient for every need.

As children grow up, they depend on their parents less and less until they are able to stand alone. But Christians grow more and more dependent on God as they mature.

To spare us from something harder

We tend to overlook this part of Israel’s journey from Egypt. Exodus 13:17-18 says God didn’t bring Israel a nearer way through the land of the Philistines because the people might be tempted to turn back when they saw war. Instead, He led them through the wilderness to the Red Sea—where they were stuck between the sea and Pharaoh’s army. God already knew how He was going to deliver them, and they should have been able to trust Him for that trial.

To teach us to depend on His Word

In Deuteronomy 8:2-3, mentioned earlier, God says He led Israel through the wilderness and gave them manna partly to “make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Psalm 119:67 says: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.”

To identify with Christ

This is one of Scripture’s mysteries. I have several passages on this topic, but since this post is long already, I’ll just share a couple:

  • “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
  • “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:8 10).
  • “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Conclusion

These truths from Scripture help, but in some ways they don’t satisfy. Elisabeth Elliot said once, in a source I have not been able to retrace, that even though God accomplished great things through her first husband’s death, he didn’t necessarily have to die to accomplish those things. God calls people to salvation and service all the time without requiring someone’s death. Yet He chose to work that way in this case.

Even when we don’t know why, we know God. We are “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8). We know His character. We know He is wise and good. We know He is with us (Isaiah 43:2; Daniel 3:24-25) and loves us. He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He promises His grace is sufficient. and He will bring good out of everything He allows. As Joni Eareckson Tada says, God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief,
he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;

for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
(Lamentations 3:31-33).

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

From “How Firm a Foundation,” attributed to “K”

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Happy Now, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth)

 

 

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest round-up of noteworthy reads:

Lies That Keep Women from the Word: Busyness Is Not the Problem, HT to True Woman. “Imagine if you thought that in order for a green bean to nourish you, you had to eat it in a calm place with nice lighting and no kids. What if a shower cleaned you only when you had a journal on hand to write about it? Or what if toothpaste worked only in Instagrammable moments?” Silly, yet we do the same thing with Bible reading. Good stuff here.

A Different Kind of Christmas List. Doing all the things leaves us exhausted. Choose the ones that mean the most to you and your family.

The Christmas Rush. From the first Christmas to now, people rush by the most important aspect of Christmas.

Someone Needs to See You Suffer Well. “Don’t assume your suffering is a detour. Suffering may hinder or even halt a hundred things in our lives, but God loves to use our griefs to magnify our small visions of him. And suffering makes the gospel run with a pace unknown in prosperity.”

Some Kids Barely Survive Christmas: Celebrating the Son with Special Needs. “Special needs can isolate families. When a child’s sensitivities preclude even a routine trip to the grocery store, the usual avenues of fellowship — birthday parties, baby showers, church-wide dinners — become unfeasible. But love and fellowship from other believers, offered without judgment, can provide parents a cool cup of water as they labor through arid terrain.”

The Humility of the Given Self. Wise words on sacrifice and humility in motherhood, but applicable to all of us who are task-oriented.

Why Did God Give My Kids a Sick Mom? HT to True Woman. “For mothers struggling with chronic pain, fatigue, physical or mental illness, our inabilities can be soul-crushing. . . . We want our kids to see us smile, even though it’s hard. . . . Whether or not you’ve struggled with significant illness, we all have seasons when we worry we don’t have enough to give to our children. And we can all be encouraged that God has good purposes for us and our children in every season.”

From Girl Power Strong to the Right Kind of Strong. HT to True Woman. “The Bible’s concept of weak and strong doesn’t line up with culture’s. This is especially the case when it comes to ideas about womanhood.”

And for a Christmas smile:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

I have another short list today. But sometimes I think it might be better to share more frequent short lists than occasional long ones. I think several good links get lost in a longer list.

Groaning Grace. “Although it may seem merciful to strike an intentionally positive note, it actually leaves Christians ill-equipped to deal with the hardships of life, whether those tragedies are personal or national. Whereas God has given us perhaps as much as half a Bible that riffs on suffering, we paint the Christian experience as a life of perpetual joy.

The Mistake I Made With My Grieving Friend, seen multiple places. “From that day forward, I started to notice how often I responded to stories of loss and struggle with stories of my own experiences.”

Is Genesis 1:28 a Cultural Mandate? HT to Proclaim and Defend. I so appreciated the discussion here about imperatives in the Bible. Every imperative sentence or phrase is not a command.

Picking Up The Pieces, HT to Challies, on other women filling in when one woman’s mom passes away.

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: Suffering Is Never for Nothing

Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot is “a very slight adaptation” of a series of talks Elisabeth gave at a conference. Someone had given a set of the conference CDs to Jennifer Lyell. She was so blessed, she gave copies to others. Finally she met and befriended Elisabeth and her husband, Lars, when Elisabeth could no longer speak. Later she obtained permission to transcribe the talks and have them published.

Though this volume wasn’t published in Elisabeth’s lifetime, if you’ve read her books, listened to her radio program, or heard her speak, you’ll hear familiar themes.

Just a bit of background for those who might not be familiar with Elisabeth: she and her husband were missionaries to an Indian tribe in Ecuador when several of the missionary couples were burdened to try to reach a tribe then known as Aucas ( later it was discovered they called themselves Waorani). The Aucas were thought to be a savage tribe: their every encounter with any from outside their world ended badly. After several seemingly friendly encounters, the men thought the time had come to try to meet the tribe in person. The first visit went well, but then the Aucas speared all five of the men to death. A few years later Elisabeth, her young daughter, Valerie, and Rachel Saint, sister to another of the men, Nate Saint, went to live with the Auca/Waorani. Elisabeth shared that story in Through Gates of Splendor. In later years, Elisabeth remarried, but her second husband died of cancer. Before that marriage, Elisabeth lost almost the entire body of the translation work she had painstakingly labored over in the jungle. Along with these major losses in her life, she’s dealt with the everyday ones we all face.

I don’t know if Elisabeth intended to start a writing career when she published her first book: she was still a missionary in the jungle at the time. But God led her to write several more. I was one of many who considered her a mentor from afar, appreciating her no-nonsense, straightforward style and firm foundation on the Word of God.

To come back to this book, after naming several examples of suffering, Elisabeth boiled it down to this definition: “Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have” (p. 9). That’s well and good, but what do we do about it? Elisabeth says, “I’m convinced that there are a good many things in this life that we really can’t do anything about, but that God wants us to do something with” (p. 8).

Probably our biggest struggle concerning suffering is wondering where God is in it and why He allows it. Verse after verse assures us that God is right there with us in suffering. And some passages give us a few ideas of why He might allow it. Elisabeth says, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God . . . The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering” (p. 9).

Still, “There would be no intellectual satisfaction on this side of Heaven to that age-old question, why. Although I have not found intellectual satisfaction, I have found peace. The answer I say to you is not an explanation but a person, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God” (p. 12). She shares that when she first heard the news that her first husband was missing, she didn’t hear anything more about his condition or whereabouts for five days. God brought to her mind Isaiah 43:2-3: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” She realized God wasn’t promising anything about her husband, but He promised to be with her.

“The questions remains, is God paying attention? If so, why doesn’t He do something? I say He has, He did, He is doing something, and He will do something” (p. 13).

She discusses the perspective of the cross and the two different kingdoms, the one on this world and the kingdom of God.

It’s He who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain. And He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know suffering is never for nothing (p. 16).

We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance (p. 43).

Faith is not a feeling. Faith is willed obedience in action (p. 45).

She then discusses our response: acceptance, gratitude, offering whatever it is back to God, and the transfiguration He works in us, with a chapter devoted to each of those.

Now if I had had a faith that was determined God had to give me a particular kind of answer to my particular prayers, that faith would have disintegrated. But my faith had to be founded on the character of God Himself. And so, what looked like a contradiction in terms: God loves me; God lets this awful thing happen to me. What looked like a contradiction in terms, I had to leave in God’s hands and say okay, Lord. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. But I only had two choices. He is either God or He’s not. I am either held in the Everlasting Arms or I’m at the mercy of chance and I have to trust Him or deny Him. Is there any middle ground? I don’t think so (pp. 26-27).

Many years ago I read a different book by Elisabeth on this topic, A Path Through Suffering. At first I thought this was a republication of that book by a different name. It’s not, though. Some of the information probably overlaps, but they are two different books, both worthy to be read and extremely helpful.

I enjoyed reading this book over the last few weeks with the True Woman Summer Book Club and looking through the comments and study questions there.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

When Your World Is Shaken

Has your world ever been shaken? Has you ever experienced the rug being pulled from under you and everything going topsy-turvy? An unexpected serious diagnosis, a betrayal, a financial failure, a massive, destructive storm?

My own world was shaken once when I was 15. My parents divorced and we moved from a very small town to a humongous city. On one hand, my parent’s breakup was not a surprise: circumstances had been leading to that conclusion for a long time. But it was still a shock to the system when it happened. On top of family issues, I had to process the loss of friends, familiar neighborhoods, and school and face the culture shock of a totally different area, new school, etc.

Another shaking occurred in my thirties. One morning my left hand felt a little funny, like I had slept on it wrong. Within three hours, my left arm, both legs, and my lower torso were numb, I couldn’t walk on my own, and I was having trouble going to the bathroom. I thought I was having a stroke. After eight days and multitudes of tests, I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis. Would it get better . . . or worse? Would I walk again? How could I live in my split-level house when I couldn’t get up the stairs? How could I take care of my 2-year-old? No one could tell me.

I don’t remember when I first read C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, but his meditation on the evening of June 22. was eye-opening for me. The verse for that evening was Hebrews 12:27: “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” Even though that passage is talking about the ultimate “shaking” at the end of the age, we can apply some its truths to our comparatively smaller shakings.

Spurgeon says:

We have many things in our possession at the present moment which can be shaken, and it ill becomes a Christian man to set much store by them, for there is nothing stable beneath these rolling skies; change is written upon all things. Yet, we have certain “things which cannot be shaken,” and I invite you this evening to think of them, that if the things which can be shaken should all be taken away, you may derive real comfort from the things that cannot be shaken, which will remain.

What are some things that cannot be shaken? These truths are all through Scripture, but I’ll share a representative verse or two for each.

  • God’s sovereignty. Nothing that happens to us is a surprise to God. Well, then, why didn’t He prevent this calamity? That’s a question for another post. But He has a purpose in what He allows.

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

“The LORD is constantly watching everyone, and he gives strength to those who faithfully obey him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a, CEV).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29, NIV).

God’s power, might, and knowledge are all still in force though circumstances are in an upheaval.

  • God’s presence. One of the first things people ask in a crisis is, “Where is God?” He’s there.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

  • God’s love. We might not understand how the turmoil we’re facing fits with God’s love, but we can rest in the fact that His love never leaves us.

 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

  • Our salvation. Tumultuous circumstances do not indicate that my salvation is in question.

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).

  • Our home in heaven. Spurgeon concludes his devotion on this topic this way: “Our country is Immanuel’s land, our hope is above the sky, and therefore, calm as the summer’s ocean; we will see the wreck of everything earthborn, and yet rejoice in the God of our salvation.” Sometimes trials remind us of this very thing: we seek “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” This world is just a temporary dwelling, a tent.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-3).

This is one reason it’s so important that we mine the bedrock truth from the Bible. So often we seek affirmation or warm fuzzy spiritual feelings. But nice feelings will evaporate in hard times. We need to know God’s character and Word are true no matter how we feel and how circumstances seem.

If you’re familiar with Elisabeth Elliot, you know that her world was shaken in a major way a few times. Her first husband was killed by the Indians he was trying to reach with the gospel. Her specialty on the mission field was translation, and years of painstaking work was lost in an instant. Her second husband died of cancer. A recently published book, Suffering Is Never for Nothing, is transcribed from her sessions at a conference. In the third chapter she says:

We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance (p. 43).

Sometimes it’s not the big things that shake us up. It’s the little accumulated everyday frustrations. I never read the book If God Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My Locker Open, so I don’t know if it’s good. But I’ve had similar thoughts! I love God and I am trying to serve Him here, so why am I stuck in traffic/is my computer not working/is what I need unavailable. Elizabeth wrote in another book of the frustration of spending an inordinate amount of time in the jungle on a stove that wasn’t working. Couldn’t God “make” it function so she could get back to the more important translation work? He could, and sometimes He does. But we live in a fallen world, and He doesn’t take away all the effects of that yet. She wrote in A Lamp For My Feet:

Whatever the enemy of our souls can do to instill doubt about the real purpose of the Father of our souls, he will certainly try to do. “Hath God said?” was his question to Eve, and she trusted him, the enemy, and doubted God. Each time the suspicion arises that God is really “out to get us,” that He is bent on making us miserable or thwarting any good we might seek, we are calling Him a liar. His secret purpose has been revealed to us, and it is to bring us finally, not to ruin, but to glory. That is precisely what the Bible tells us: “His secret purpose framed from the very beginning [is] to bring us to our full glory” (1 Cor 2:7 NEB).

I know of no more steadying hope on which to focus my mind when circumstances tempt me to wonder why God doesn’t “do something.” He is always doing something–the very best thing, the thing we ourselves would certainly choose if we knew the end from the beginning. He is at work to bring us to our full glory.

Sufferings and trials have a way of clarifying for us what’s most important. As the things which can be shaken fall away, the things which cannot be shaken come more clearly into focus. Many of the psalmists go through this process: they come to God shaken by a problem: an enemy is after them, they’re troubled by the prospering of the wicked, etc. But as they pray and remind themselves of the truths they know, they’re brought back to a place of peace.

As Samuel Rutherford said, “Believe God’s word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your sea.”

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
    though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:1-5, 10-11

(Sharing with Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, Welcome Heart, Share a Link Wednesdays, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Inspire Me Monday)

Laudable Linkage

I’ve been debating with myself about whether to post these now or wait. It’s later in the day than I usually post, because we had an outing earlier today. But this is a nice-sized list: if I wait til next Saturday, it might be twice as long. So I think I’ll go ahead and share them. Hopefully you’ll find something that interests you among them.

Are You Pointing Your Suffering Friend to Earthly Things. “The ‘at least’ and ‘look on the bright side’ statements that jump from our mouths originate from a desire to fix a hard circumstance, but in saying them, we run from the reality that we simply can’t. We can’t take our fellow Christians’ suffering away. Unfortunately, in our efforts to help take their minds off their pain, we often point them to the wrong place.”

When Missionaries Return Broken, HT to Kim.

The Quiet Miracle of Roots and Leaves. Lots of good stuff in this one. “It turns out that a believing teen’s struggle with apathy and hypocrisy requires the same grace from the same Savior who longs to deliver less-catechized teens from drug addiction and immorality.” True for us adults, too.

The Opposite of a Bucket List. “Even if I did come up with the perfect list–challenging enough to be exciting, but not so challenging as to be impossible–and I managed to actually accomplish every item on it, what then of the end game? What would be left to life once everything on the list had been checked off?” I like her alternative much better.

Should Introverts Be Expected to Act Like Extroverts? HT to Challies. I’ve read many articles about introverts, usually by introverts. This one, written by an  extrovert, was refreshing.

These 5 Classic Books Are Getting Remade Into Movies, HT to Karen Swallow Prior. Some look promising. I hope they do them justice.

I came across this quote by Spurgeon on a friend’s Facebook page, reposted from the C. H. Spurgeon Quotes page. Thought it went well with my Monday post about church.

Have a great rest of the weekend!