Tag Archives: suffering

Jesus Knows Exactly How You Feel

The words “I know exactly how you feel” can either be the best or worst thing to say to someone suffering. If you do know exactly how a hurting friend feels, then they will probably be comforted by the knowledge that they are not alone in this experience, no matter how painful it is. However, if you don’t know exactly how they feel, then… well.. you’re just a great big jerk. There are certain events in life that you just can’t sympathize with unless you’ve been there.

For example, when Connie was pregnant with Kara, half of me expected her to miscarry in order that we would be able to sympathize with other couples who have experienced that tragedy. It’s not that I wanted Connie to miscarry; but I knew that if it happened, God would use it as an opportunity for us to minister to couples who have experienced it. We would know exactly how they felt. To some degree, I still fear that God may one day take our daughter or even my entire family from me so that I will be able to sympathize with people who have endured similar loss. I certainly don’t want anything like that to happen, but I do realize that it is not outside the realm of possibility. But unless something like that were to happen, there are certain people with whom I will never be able to truly sympathize.

Many people have a similar understanding of God. It’s easy for us to think of God as far away and unable to understand what it’s like to be human. This is especially true when we are suffering. Consider, for example, the following passages:

Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me. (Job 23:3-5)

God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.
I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
I stand, and you only look at me. (Job 30:19-20)

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

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

 

I could find many more, but you get the idea: When we suffer, it’s easy to think of God as distant.

But that’s not where the story ends. If, as Job described it, we have all been cast into the mire (Job 30:19), then Jesus has entered into the mire with us. Jesus has not left us alone. Think about what Hebrews 4:15-16 says; this should blow your mind:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Or what about this one:

Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36, emphasis mine; see also Mark 6:34)

When we suffer, we can draw near to Jesus because He knows exactly how we feel. He has compassion for us, because He has seen firsthand how off-course and wayward we are. In fact, Romans 8:34 says that Christ intercedes for us; he pleads on our behalf because He has suffered too! So when you suffer—not “if,” but “when”—consider it an opportunity to grow closer to Christ because He knows exactly how you feel.

John Piper on faith that escapes suffering

The common feature of the faith that escapes suffering and the faith that endures suffering is this: Both of them involve believing that God himself is better than what life can give to you now, and better than what death can take from you later.

John Piper, What Does It Mean to Live by Faith in the Service of the Fatherless? (Christian Alliance for Orphans, Summit VI: Minneapolis)

The God of All Comfort

There’s a song I heard a while back on the radio and I really liked it. So, a couple weeks ago, after getting an iTunes gift card for my birthday, I decided to buy it. It’s called Breakeven (Falling to Pieces) by The Script:

I’m not sure why, but I had never actually heard one of the lines until I bought it. Here is the first verse:

I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing
Just praying to a God that I don’t believe in
‘Cause I got time while she got freedom
‘Cause when a heart breaks no it don’t break even

It’s that second line that really caught my ear: “Just praying to a God that I don’t believe in…” Isn’t that very, very telling? Regardless of why the songwriter doesn’t believe in God, and regardless of his opinion of Christians specifically, he knows that God should be able to give him comfort during a time of heartbreak.

Every time I hear that line I think of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

God gives us comfort so we can comfort others; it shouldn’t stop with us. God guides us through our heartbreak so we can guide others through their heartbreaks. Today in class we talked about the Book of Job, specifically the theme of trusting God through suffering. One of my classmates shared that he and his wife had experienced five miscarriages. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for them. Thankfully, God comforted them, He sustained them through their trials, and he eventually blessed them with two full-term children. Since then, they’ve been able to minister to numerous other couples when they go through miscarriages. God comforted them, and now they are sharing that comfort with other couples going through the same thing.

Here’s where it breaks down for me though:  far too often I’m more inclined to simply cover up any of my heartache. I’m afraid to be transparent about my struggles, so I simply miss out on the chance share my comforts. My classmate inspired me. Perhaps it’s time for us to start being more vulnerable about our pains, struggles, and trials. Perhaps it’s time to start being more open to other people. God will comfort us, but it’s up to us to comfort others and use that as an opportunity to share the source of that comfort:  Christ.

Building a Life Worth Living: Building off of the Maker’s Designs

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. –Proverbs 19:21
And we come to it…planning.  I consider myself a “do-er”; that is, a person who must always be moving.  ALWAYS.  Especially now facing all the constant struggles that I do, I’m always looking, listening, analyzing…PLANNING.
“If X happens, then I’ll do Y, or if X doesn’t happen, then I’ll do B.”  It’s exhausting and it feels almost like manipulation.  
Life, according to the world, is nothing but a series of plans to be made and executed with all the fervor and efficiency our humanity has to offer. And we love to plan, don’t we? Even as believers, we get very motivated and focused on the plan; the road that leads us to the end of the task; the accomplishment of a mission that satisfies some deeply rooted need to succeed and be counted; to make our mark. And while this, in itself, may produce a well-intended work that bears good fruit, we are keenly aware and reminded of our particular failings as people – EVEN WHEN WE SUCCEED. We love to follow plans and we are good at it, but whose plan are we following exactly?
How many of us have had good plans; Even plans for ministry?  I am talking about intense, call-of-God type plans that compel us to action in various ways, sometimes life-altering and always purposeful. Ever have those?
How many of us, once the plan is in motion, suddenly realize that we have decided to take the reigns and steer the direction of that plan? At some point, we forget where our purpose, and our help, comes from.  I’ve known for some time now, that my tenure in the U.S. Air force is coming to a close.  The timing of that is still in question, but it is much sooner than I expected.  So, being the man in perpetual motion, I started to take action to secure my future!  I pursued a position in the secular community – for profit, for comfort, for security.  Then, despite a phenomenal interview and all signs pointing towards a safe and secure job…I was turned down – kind of…
So, after much prayer and a gentle reminding of my call to ministry, I re-vectored and am back on that unsecure, SCARY path that the Living God has called me to.  The hard road.  But, it’s in that uncertainty that I find hope, it is in that uncertainty that I find peace, it is in that uncertainty that I find my place!

Jeremiah 29:11 Says, “For I know the PLANS i have for you, says the Lord, plans for a future and a hope…”
If you notice that what MORGAN has planned is nowhere in that statement from the Almighty…not anywhere.
Ok, Ok, I get it, He has my best interests in mind…but what does that mean, why am I still tortured by a past I cannot forget…
1st Peter 1:5-9 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 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, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Remember, that for each of us out there who knows him, there are many others who do not. He has his heart set on those people; those who suffer in hopelessness. So how do we know that our plan is also God’s plan? Well, that is the question isn’t it? I am not sure there is a perfect answer apart from the generic ‘pray about it’ answer you might find in the coffee area of church on Sunday. I do know one thing though: If our plan is focused more on serving the lost and suffering and less on serving ourselves and our ambitions, well then it is probably mostly God.
The funny thing is, God will let us carry out our own plans until we see that His way really is the ONLY way!  Funny how he does that, isn’t it!?

suffered under Pontius Pilate

(This is part six of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)

We’re still talking about Jesus. Mainly because Jesus Christ is the definitive character of Christianity. This entry looks specifically at the line that says that Jesus:
“suffered under Pontius Pilate,”
Like before, we’ll break this passage down into several smaller sections.
“He Suffered…”– We find here that Jesus was a man familiar with suffering. Isaiah 53:3 says he was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” This should give us great comfort. This tells us that when we experience sorrow or grief we are not alone. We have a Savior who has suffered, too! Hebrews 4:15 tells us that when we are suffering, we have a Savior who can sympathize with us. He can look at us and say “me too.” He’s been in our shoes and he’s made it through the other side. For this reason, when we suffer we are invited to cast our cares on Jesus because He loves us (1 Peter 5:7). Not only that, but God Himself will, after we have suffered a little while, restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10). This is the beauty of having a God who knows where we are (because He’s been there too) and has shown us how to suffer yet remain faithful.
“under” – This single word tells us something profound about Jesus:  He wasn’t a victim. In John 10:11-18, Jesus describes Himself as the “Good Shepherd.” Specifically, in John 10:15, 17 Jesus says that He lays down His life. In John 10:18, He goes so far as to say, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” Jesus is not a victim who got caught up at the wrong place at the wrong time. After Jesus is arrested, he is brought before Pilate and questioned. Pilate tells Jesus that he has the authority to release him. In John 19:11, Jesus tell him, “”You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Jesus willingly endured the cross; He passively laid down His life for us and in our place. He chose the nails. He chose the nails for us.
“Pontius Pilate” – Although I honestly don’t know for sure why they included the name Pontius Pilate, I do know that this lends historical credibility to the Gospels. Here’s a bio I got of Pontius Pilate from an atheist website. Even those who don’t believe in Jesus or God will not deny that Pontius Pilate existed. We find in John 19:16 that Pilate was the final authority to approve the crucifixion of Jesus. Not much else is known about him. The only reason we remember him is because he was instrumental in the crucifixion of Jesus. We know that Jesus existed, Pontius Pilate existed, and that the historical record of the Gospels is accurate and reliable.

This line tells us that Jesus was real and that Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified out of submission to God the Father.

Two thoughts on Ruth

This week I read the book of Ruth for one of my classes and wanted to share two things God revealed to me after reading it:

First, I would say this book beautifully illustrates the idea that sometimes God uses the least likely people to accomplish His will; in this book he used a foreign widow who had travelled to Bethlehem with her “bitter” mother-in-law. It’s likely that a man as well respected and important as Boaz could have had any available woman he wanted in such a small town, but he chose Ruth and the her grandson is was King David. From this lineage also came Jesus.

Second, I would say that you never know how your suffering will be used by God to accomplish His purposes in someone else’s life. Naomi lost everything! She was in the worst possible situation women could be in during this era (a widow with no husband or sons to care for her) yet God used the events in her life to bring her back to her hometown, with Ruth, so that the Davidic—and incidentally the Messianic—lineage could continue. The story doesn’t end with Naomi getting re-married, although she does get to hold her grandson, but Naomi was key to this story playing out the way it did. The point is that sometimes we don’t get the happy ending we want, but God uses our life as one small piece in His grand plan.

Grieve with hope

God never promised that life would be easy. In fact, Jesus promises pretty much the opposite in John 16:33. Jesus says we will have trouble. Life is full of pain, grief, and sorrow. These emotions are all part of the human experience. They’re a part of who we are and how we experience this fallen, broken world. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reassures us that this is normal. There are times and seasons for everything.

Specifically, Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there are times to mourn. There are times for sorrow; but there are also times to celebrate. Life is a paradox. One of my favorite quotes comes from the character Brian in Vanilla Sky, he says, “Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour, and I know the sour…”

I think life is a lot like that. It takes the sour to appreciate the sweet. It takes death to appreciate life. And it’s okay to mourn when people die. In fact, it’s Biblical. Look at the Psalms. Sixty-seven psalms are regarded as lament psalms either wholly or in part. Sixty-one are laments in their entirety. To me, one of the saddest Psalms, is Psalm 88. Look at Psalm 88:14, 16, 18. Those verses are tragic. Yet in Psalm 88:1 the Psalmist refers to God as “the God who saves me.”

After Job lost everything, he went into a deep state of sorrow. In Job 2:13, his friends show up and just sit there with him for a whole week. No one says anything; they’re just there for him, supporting him, comforting him.

Even Jesus, in Mark 14:34 says that his “soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Even Jesus! Arguably the shortest verse in the Bible (depending on what translation you use) is John 11:35 where the text says that “Jesus wept.” If Jesus can mourn, so can we. If Jesus can feel despair, so can we. It’s okay.

It’s not a sin to feel sorrow, despair, or depression (although it can be easy to sin while feel like this). The problem comes when we try to hide our emotions from God; or when we try to “sterilize” our prayers. Many of the Psalms are full of questions to God. Questions like, “How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:3), or “Why have you rejected us forever, O God?” (Psalm74:1). Those are just two examples but there are dozens of others.

My point is simply this, when time are hard and we feel pain, we need to be honest with God. We need to bring our pain to Him and lean on Him for strength. Psalm 142:1-2 talks about being open and honest with God. Psalm 143:1 asks God to listen, with verse 10 asking for guidance. And Psalm 144:1-2 gives praise to God calling Him our fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and shield.We need to admit that we don’t understand the world but that we trust in someone who does. God is in charge and it’s not our place to know all the answers to life’s questions.

The good news is that we have hope; if not in this life, then certainly in the next. God will be victorious and He will be glorified. Although most of the Psalms are lament psalms, read the last one, Psalm 150:6 is the last verse in the book of Psalms and it simply says, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.”

God also promises that he will be with us during hard times. One of my all-time favorite Bible verses is 1 Peter 5:10. While it does promise that we may suffer for “a little while” it also promises that God Himself will restore us and make us “strong, firm, and steadfast.”

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:11).