Allowing Your Pain to Make a Difference

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There’s a reason I do what I do, and am what I am.  Through nearly 33 years of marriage my wife and I have been through a lot – more than I could ever share with you.  One of our big challenges came from the year 2014.  In the space of nine months, Mary had three spine surgeries.  I went from not only having the role of husband, but that of caregiver, as well.  It took months of daily physical and occupational therapy, not to mention the endless doctor visits, for my wife to learn to walk again and do simple tasks that most of us take for granted.

The good news is that Mary is upright and walking.  She can mostly get around and do things on her own.  The bad news is that she lives with chronic pain every single day.  Some days aren’t too bad, and Mary can accomplish a fair amount of what she wants to do.  But there are other days when she can’t get out of bed; days when taking a shower and getting dressed is all she can get done; and, days when the pain becomes so problematic that discouragement and depression sandwiches her like two evil slices of bread.

Yet, even on the worst of days Mary is an amazing wife.  She is tough and resilient, as well as compassionate and caring.  I’ve learned most of what I know about caring ministry from her.  I don’t talk a lot about her on this website.  Yet, Mary is behind each word I craft and every phrase I smith.  She is always on my mind and in my heart.  Mary has taught me how to care through the example of her own life, and given me the opportunity to show how much I care for her.

Mary maintains a Facebook page about her journey with pain called “Joy in the Mourning.”  Because she lives with chronic pain, her posts come neither regularly nor easily.  It is a labor of love, some days being a whole lot more labor than love.  Recently, Mary was able to return to a job.  By no means able to hold a full-time job, she has found meaningful work doing what she does best: caring for people as a companion to folks with dementia.

The following is her most recent post.  I hope you are encouraged in your own journey of faith.  Whether you face chronic physical or emotional pain, care for someone who does, or just want to live-out your faith in ways that make sense, I trust you find some joy in your life through whatever circumstances you may face today:

Friends, I’ve got great news!  I have completed the first 90 days at my job!  It’s been a long time since I have been able to say that.  I’m sore today from working. Usually, I say that I hurt today due to getting dressed or showering, walking the dog, or getting out of bed.  It has taken over 3 years, post-surgeries, to be able commit to a regular schedule of working.  

In my healing journey, I had to commit /submit myself to physical therapy, yoga stretching, strength training, biofeedback, acupuncture, massage therapy, weekly counseling with a pain psychologist, daily prayer, journaling, meditation, and even sought out healing through the laying on of hands from godly healers, as well as nutrition, essential oils and music therapy.  All very helpful, but…

I have to admit a foundational piece to getting to where I am today: I mourned. 

I gave myself permission to mourn my loss.  I admitted my anger… no, I wrestled with my anger is a better phrase; and, I embraced my sadness, and let myself feel the loneliness of disability. I asked the hard questions: WHY!? How long? I cried… a lot. In my darkest times a little spark of light invaded my space.  A gentle and soft comfort hugged my heart. A warm sprinkle of hope powdered my soul.  I began to discover a new kind of joy.

No matter what your specific suffering is, I believe that mourning your loss, and allowing yourself to walk through the valley of the shadow will lead you to a path where you can experience comfort, hope and even joy.  For me, this part of the journey has been life-giving. Christ understands suffering. He will walk with us through this experience.  

I never told you what I’m doing now. I am a companion for those who suffer – mostly Alzheimer’s patients, and those who are suffering life-altering afflictions.  I’m working 2-6 hours each day, sharing some of the comfort I received, and being real and open while allowing my pain to make a difference.  May you be blessed, my friends.

“Why, God!?”

why god

“Why, God!?” is a refrain expressed by all kinds of people and, most likely, by you at some point in your life.  That’s because we all face suffering, on some level.  The circumstances might vary from person to person, but we all have been touched by this fallen world and experience some sort of brokenness.

Brokenness of either/both body and soul comes in all shapes and sizes.  Yes, it sometimes is the result of our own foolish and/or self-destructive choices.  But sick bodies, broken spirits, and damaged souls are just as likely to occur simply because we live in this world that’s askew from how it should be.  In other words, sometimes we really are victims of disease, accidents, natural disasters, and mysterious evil that we have trouble putting a name to.

In such situations, it’s very normal of the human condition to cry: “Why, God!?”  I like honesty, and this is an honest question.  Personally, I don’t “poo-poo” people who are frank and sincere with God.  Yes, sometimes that question is only rhetorical – not really asking a question but expressing anger.  That’s okay, too, because God is more than big enough to handle a question asked in frustration, even rage.  Even a cursory reading of the book of Psalms reveals David’s emotions of not understanding many of his situations and exactly what he’d like to see happen.  Sometimes he pukes some awfully raw feelings onto God – and those emotionally charged words made their way as being a part of the Bible.

I get it.  Suffering is an unwanted companion, and we’d like to send it packing and have nothing to do with it.  Yet, suffering and the evil it can wreak is not outside the purview of God.  As heinous and as powerful as suffering might manifest itself, it is never beyond God’s capacity to touch it with resurrection power.

The answer to our “why?” question is, frankly, not usually answered – and even if it does get answered, sometimes we don’t like what we hear.  I want to make an observation about the New Testament Gospels and the life of Jesus, and I want you to consider it for a moment.  The observation is this:

Jesus never explained evil and suffering. 

Christ did not send out fliers and emails for a seminar on suffering from a divine perspective to be held at the downtown Jerusalem Hilton.  Instead, Jesus, the supreme Pastor, was present with people in their pain and wondering.  Jesus Christ did not provide cerebral answers to questions; he asked his own questions and filled people with God’s grace, forgiveness, and love.

Jesus encountered people in their concrete real-live struggles and trouble, and, when a group of five-thousand people were hungry, he asked, “Who will feed them?” and when folks were struggling with how to make ends-meet, “Where is your treasure?” and to those with misplaced values, “What does it profit?”  Christ’s questions were designed to shepherd and lead people toward a path of healing, not necessarily a way of being cured.  Jesus Christ’s words and actions were meant to show people that he himself is the path toward peace, healing, and, sometimes, even the perceived need to be healed.

In the encounter with a Samaritan woman, Jesus, the Pastor, comes along and has a lengthy conversation with her that began with talking about getting a drink of water on a hot day and ends with the woman being in touch, maybe for the first time, with her deepest need of being accepted, loved, and satisfied.  Sometimes I chuckle over some scholars and writers pouring over this story in John’s Gospel, trying to find the secret sauce or discernible outline to speaking with people in need of emotional and spiritual healing or enlightenment.  Yet, again, I’ll just make a simple observation about the story:

Jesus put love where love was not.

woman at the well

The woman did not have love from the Jews because she was a “half-breed” Samaritan.  Furthermore, she had a string of loveless marriages and was with a man who apparently was just using her.  Then, Jesus showed up.  He abandoned all contemporary Jewish convention by speaking with a Samaritan woman.  He put his agenda on hold.  He was fully present to her.  He asked questions and took the time to listen.  And then he extended to her the kind of love that she desperately needed. Drinking water from a deep well became a powerful metaphor and picture of cleansing and refreshment to a dry and parched soul that had not known love for a very long time.  Jesus changed her life.  He put love where love was not (John 4:1-42).

So, let’s wheel back around to the question of “why?” and “why” we ask it in the first place.  Typically, we want a fix.  We’re broken, and it’s a big enough mess that the only repair person is God.  God, however, doesn’t feel the same anxiety we do about the dilemma (in fact, he doesn’t have any worry at all).  Instead, God does something we usually don’t expect.  He sends someone to care, and another to help, and yet another to pray, and even more to meet various needs.  Behind the scenes, far from our fear-laden hearts, the Lord of the universe is paying attention to us and orchestrating a massive campaign of love.

In those times when it seems chaos will win the day, and in those seasons when evil appears to have the high ground, please know that there is a God in heaven who sees your life and is personally writing a protest song against the injustice and unfairness of what is happening.  And Christ’s resurrection is at the center of that song.  When it’s sung, it will melt fear, cause demons to flee, and create transformation in ways that you would never have seen coming.  Where we are looking for a supernatural miracle, God is eyeing to bring common ordinary people to your doorstep with a basket full of love.

When Jesus left this earth, here is exactly what he wanted his followers to know going forward:

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

The ever-present love of Christ shall never leave you, nor forsake you.  You can count on it.  Allow your “why” question to turn into a “who” question.  “Who” will be with me to the end, will pour his love into my heart, and will hold me up when I can’t stand anymore?  Every path leads to one infinite source of living water: Jesus Christ.  It is to him that you and I are to find our peace and our rest.

Holy Saturday

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“Christ suffered here on earth. Now you must be ready to suffer as he did, because suffering shows that you have stopped sinning. It means you have turned from your own desires and want to obey God for the rest of your life. You have already lived long enough like people who don’t know God. You were immoral and followed your evil desires. You went around drinking and partying and carrying on. In fact, you even worshiped disgusting idols. Now your former friends wonder why you have stopped running around with them, and they curse you for it. But they will have to answer to God, who judges the living and the dead. The good news has even been preached to the dead, so that after they have been judged for what they have done in this life, their spirits will live with God.  Everything will soon come to an end. So be serious and be sensible enough to pray.  Most important of all, you must sincerely love each other, because love wipes away many sins.” (1 Peter 4:1-8, Contemporary English Version)

I haven’t been Christian my entire life.  I can relate to Peter’s exhortation.  I know what it feels like to carry on without any thought to God, Jesus, or anything other than myself.  The thing about partying and immorality is that it’s a life filled with constant movement.  Slowing down only makes you come face-to-face with what is truly inside your soul.  And if you have an empty vacuous soul, or a damaged spirit, or a broken heart, then drinking or working away your inner pain makes sense when you have no regard for God.  The last thing I ever wanted to do was suffer, yet in my pre-Christian state it seemed I could never outrun the hurt no matter how hard I tried, even with all the constant locomotion.

It is Holy Saturday – the quiet place sandwiched between the ignominy of the cross and the celebration of resurrection – the day of solitude, silence, and stillness.  Today isn’t a particularly popular day.  People don’t rave about Holy Saturday, in fact, many Christians haven’t had a thought that this day could have any significance.  Yet, this very day has its place in the scheme of the Christian life.

There cannot be resurrection and new life without a death and dying to self.  There must be suffering before there can be glory.  Whenever Christians quickly jump to triumphal language about victory and speak little to nothing about suffering, then we are left with nothing but cheap grace which has been purchased with the counterfeit currency of velocity.

Today is a day to get our heads and our hearts wrapped around the important reality that our Lord Jesus Christ was in the grave.  It was real suffering on Good Friday, and today it is a real death.  There is no movement.  All is silent and still.  Jesus is in the solitude of a dark tomb.  There is no getting around it.  If we want a Resurrection Day with all its celebration and glory, then we cannot circumvent Holy Saturday.

To put it in the Apostle Peter’s words: Are you ready to follow Jesus and suffer as he did?  Are you willing to stop your ridiculous striving, manifested through your crazy calendar of constant movement and embrace the Holy Saturday of solitude, silence, stillness with its contemplation and embrace of suffering?  Will you have sense enough to pray?  Will you practice a Christian counter-cultural shift and face the ridicule of your friends so that you can take some much-needed time to be with your Lord Jesus in the tomb?  Or, are you so antsy and anxious that you just want to leap into Easter with no solidarity with your Lord in the grave?

Perhaps you think I’m being a bit too hard or harsh or cold…. It’s because Jesus is cold.  He has a bonified cold dead body.  It’s no fake death.  There’s no “swoon theory” here, as if Christ only passed-out and did a weird divine fainting spell.  Nope.  He’s dead.  And if you and I want to live with Jesus, we must die with Jesus.

Anyone who tries to promise you a new life apart from journeying with Jesus into the grave is a spiritual charlatan.  Only through death can there be life.

Today, on this Holy Saturday, purposely slow down, do less, give yourself a large chunk of unstructured time, and put a lot of space between things you must do on this day.  Fill the time with unfettered access to God in Christ.  Slowly read the Gospel accounts of Christ’s death and burial.  Read the book of 1 Peter.  Allow prayers to arise from the careful and thoughtful reading of Scripture.  Feel the solidarity with Jesus, journey with him along the way from life to death… so that there might be a truly glorious resurrection filled with abundant life and flourishing – a life that doesn’t need constant partying, working, and schedule-filling to feel significant and happy.

May you die well so that you might live well.

Good Friday

christ on the cross

We all suffer.  In some way, whether with a chronic physical condition, emotional or moral distress, mental illness, or spiritual oppression, everyone must face living in a fallen world with its pain and heartache.  Suffering which seems to have no reason, the senseless kind and the type where nothing good appears to be going on at all can be very troubling to our souls.

At first glance, “Good Friday” might seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man.  Yet, it is very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ meant the redemption of the world.  On this day Christians remember and commemorate the events that led up to the cross; unpack those events and interpret them with profound meaning and significance; and, worship Jesus with heartfelt gratitude in light of this redemptive event.

The bulk of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are given over to the final week of Christ’s life, especially leading to the cross.  Good Friday worship services often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross.  Christians remember the last words of Christ, and recognize the significant impact his death had on the immediate persons around him.  Believers also contemplate the lasting results of that singular death as an atoning sacrifice; perfect love; reconciliation between God and humanity; victory over evil; and, redeeming all creation.

Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression on this day.  It is appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for the accomplishment of deliverance from the power of sin.  There is the recognition that something profound and meaningful has truly happened in the egregious suffering of Jesus.  Thus, we not only remember the anguish of Christ, but what that horrible torment accomplished.  In fact, the cross of Jesus is so significant that an eternity of considering its impact could not plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.

With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar.  Yet, it is not.  The bottom line is that the cross is not popular.  Perhaps that is because no one likes suffering and cares not to think about it.  Not only do unchurched folk care not to think about it, but church attenders would like to be mindful about other things than the cross.

Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the problem: “Religious people want visionary experiences and spiritual uplift; secular people want proofs, arguments, demonstrations, philosophy, and science.  The striking fact is that neither one of these groups wants to hear about the cross.”  Indeed, as the Apostle Paul has said, the cross of Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Our contemporary religious milieu celebrates and promotes self-styled spirituality; it is the “in” thing to eschew church and develop a personalized religion that fits the demands of the modern (or postmodern) world.  The cross, however, is “out;” too much blood and sacrifice, and not enough of what I’m looking for in life.  Perhaps we should think long and hard on Hebrews 13:12-13 –

“Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured.”

The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges.  Because Christ suffered, our suffering has meaning.  So, today, let us contemplate the cross, observe the salvation accomplished through Christ’s death, and offer prayers and petitions for those who need deliverance from the power of evil.  In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the suffering on the cross.  Amen.

How to Overcome Suffering

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There is a way to overcome suffering.  There’s a path that you can follow which will lead to the overcoming of your struggle against sin; your dealing with the meanness of others; your chronic physical pain; your continual facing of financial trouble; your estranged relationship(s); your past bad decisions that keep coming up to bite you in the present; your constant feeling of angst about the state of the world’s great needs and problems; your Anfechtung (spiritual oppression and depression); and, a hundred other reasons for suffering in this broken old world.  The road ahead, however, will be completely counter-intuitive to how you might currently be thinking about overcoming suffering.  It might be so far off your radar that you might just discard what I’m about to say to you.

Before I get to that, I’ll just say first that suffering is endemic to the human condition.  Everyone suffers.  Since we live in a fallen world, there is not one person who hasn’t suffered in some way, whether it is physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional.  None of us will ever be immune to affliction.  There is no way to insulate yourself from pain.  If you are not currently suffering in some way, it just means that you are either coming off a time of hardship or are about to enter a new period of distress.

Holiness and godliness don’t keep suffering at bay.  In fact, the Lord Jesus himself promised us that following him will involve a kind of suffering that those who are not Christians will never face.  “While you are in this world, you will have to suffer,” are the blunt words of Christ to his disciples (John 16:33).  The Apostle Peter, who was part of Christ’s inner circle of followers, came to understand this reality.  “Dear friends, don’t be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire.  Be glad for the chance to suffer as Christ suffered” (1 Peter 4:12).  Peter understood that all Christians are not above their Master.  If Christ suffered, his followers will suffer, as well.

James, the Lord’s brother, understood that everyone faces difficulty.  But he wisely discerned that suffering can become a teacher for the Christian.  “My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble.  You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested” (James 1:2).  All the adversity the Christian faces are the means of producing maturity, strengthening faith, and developing patience.

The Apostle Paul, a man who was more acquainted with suffering than any follower of Jesus in history, had this to say about all those terrible circumstances: “Anyone who belongs to Christ Jesus and wants to live right will have trouble from others” (2 Timothy 3:12).  “We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure.  And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us” (Romans 5:3-5). “God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake” (Philippians 1:29).

The New Testament writers have a perspective on suffering which is very different than how we typically think of it.  Yes, we will have to suffer.  It’s part of being in the world.  Yet, Jesus said, “but cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33, Contemporary English Version).  Or, in another translation, “In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world” (Common English Bible).  Yet another translation, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (New International Version).

Now, let’s wheel back around to the overcoming of suffering.  Here is the truth and the practice we must adopt when it comes to suffering:  the truth about overcoming suffering comes not from us, but through Christ; and, the practice of overcoming suffering doesn’t come from fighting against it but by sitting with it and learning from it.

Okay, let me state this again in a different way.  Jesus has overcome the world through his death, resurrection, and ascension.  On the cross, he has absorbed all the sin and suffering of everyone.  Your suffering, then, might hurt and it might be senseless, but no matter it’s source, that suffering will always rule over you unless you invite it to take a seat with you and have a conversation with it.

Let me say it another way, and to the point: Quit fighting against your suffering. Stop kicking and screaming long enough to look your suffering square in the face and learn from it.

In other words, your suffering is trying to tell you something.  But if you keep taking the stance of a pugilist trying to punch it away, it will just keep moving forward at you and never topple.  You can’t beat suffering.  You can only learn from it.  And you’ll only learn from it, even overcome it, when you embrace it.  So, here’s the counter-intuitive, counter-cultural practice that you might not like and might think I’m off my rocker for suggesting: Submit to suffering.  Yes, I will say it again: Submit to suffering.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I’m not trying to sanitize your troubles, adverse circumstances, or even your terrible trauma.  Evil is evil, bad is bad, and no amount of saying otherwise will change the leopard’s spots.  However, only through submitting to the process of what suffering teaches us will we ever have power over it.

Perhaps an illustration is in order.  Let’s liken suffering to encountering a bear in the wilderness.  The National Park Service gives us this advice if facing a bear while out hiking:

“Once a bear has noticed you and is paying attention to you, these strategies can help prevent the situation from escalating.

  • Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
  • Stay calm and remember that most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by woofing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won’t be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
  • Hike and travel in groups. Groups of people are usually noisier and smellier than a single person. Therefore, bears often become aware of groups of people at greater distances, and because of their cumulative size, groups are also intimidating to bears.
  • If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears. Do NOT run, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down. Like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Do NOT climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.”

Fighting suffering is about as useful as taking on a bear.  Bears, like suffering, can be dangerous.  We don’t blame bears if they act like bears.  Likewise, we ought not to be surprised when suffering hurts.  But we can learn a lot about suffering and even come to the point of oddly admiring it for it’s large ability to teach us things we would not learn otherwise.

I suggest we treat suffering like facing a bear in the wilderness of trouble.  Calmly identify yourself.  Talk in low tones to your suffering.  That’s right, speak to it.  Remember who you are.  You belong to God.  Treat suffering as if it is curious about you.  For God’s sake, stay calm.  Doing the big freak-out is only going to encourage suffering to do damage.  If you’re alone, that’s not good.  Walking with others in Christian community is one of the best practices of the Christian life.  Suffering is intimidated by groups of people encouraging one another and showing hospitality to each other.  Keep your eye on suffering.  Don’t ignore it, or pretend it isn’t there.  Don’t run.  Face suffering.  Keep it in front of you.  It will pass, but you must be patient and calm.  Once it is gone, then you can reflect on what happened and debrief with others about the experience.

The path to overcoming suffering is to acknowledge it, respect it, submit to it, and let it pass.  Then, you will be able to consider “it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Stop fighting.  Start maturing.  Stop going it alone.  Start living in vital and vulnerable community.  Stop being a martyr.  Start letting the martyrdom of Christ be your center of life.  Stop talking.  Start listening.  Stop treating your suffering as an adversary.  Start talking to suffering as a companion to learn from.

Psalm 22:23-31 – Full of Suffering

“Let all those who are suffering eat and be full!
Let all who seek the Lord praise him!” (Common English Bible)

cry of dereliction

“Suffering” is a word we’d like to avoid.  Simply saying or reading the word can make us cringe.  Suffering? No thanks.  I’ll pass on that.  Yet, something inside of us instinctively knows we cannot get around it.  Everyone suffers in some way.  It is endemic to the human condition that at times we will suffer physically, financially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

That’s why I believe there is such talk within Christian circles of miracles.  It’s more than understandable.  A chronic pain sufferer wants relief; she prays for a miracle of health.  A small business owner is bleeding financially; he looks to God for an immediate miracle of wealthy clients.  A beloved senior saint knows that she is afflicted with something, and she’s told it’s Alzheimer’s; she prays for the miracle of deliverance, even to be taken home to be with the Lord.  A young adult finds himself in the throes of depression and has tried everything to cope and get out of it; he petitions God for a miracle out of the deep black hole.  The believer in Jesus keeps experiencing a besetting sin and just can’t get over it; she looks to God for the miracle of not struggling any more with it.

These and a thousand other maladies afflict people everywhere.  There are stories out there.  Folks who have experienced a miracle tell of their wonderful deliverance.  But what about the rest?  Those without the miracle?  Do they have a lack of faith?  Has God forgotten them?

christ-in-gethsemane

Oh, my, no.  God sees, and God knows.  God understands suffering.  Jesus knows it first-hand.  Remember, it was Jesus who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Even Jesus cried out in his suffering.  But there was no deliverance coming for him.  There was, instead, deliverance coming for us.

Sometimes the greatest miracle and deliverance of all is to be freed from the need for a miracle.  The reason God doesn’t just offer immediate relief from everyone’s suffering and bring a miracle is that he is doing something else: Walking with us through our suffering.  God oftentimes has plans and purposes for us well beyond our understanding.  We simply are not privy to everything in his mind.

We may not get the miracle we desire.  But what we will get without fail is God’s provision and steadfast love all the way through the suffering.  Where is God in your suffering?  Jesus is suffering with you.  You are not crying alone; Christ weeps with you.

Let, then, those who suffer, eat and be full.  Let them be satisfied with the portion God has given them.  What’s more, let them offer praise to the God who is right beside them in every affliction and trouble.

God Almighty, you are the One who knows suffering and affliction better than anyone.  I admit I don’t often understand what in the world you are doing or not doing in my life and in the lives of those I love.  Yet, I admit that I have found in you the comfort, encouragement, and strength to live another day in my trouble.  For this, I praise you; in the Name of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Peter 3:8-18 – Suffering Before Glory

 

“Don’t pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing in return. You were called to do this so that you might inherit a blessing.” (CEB)
 
            We don’t like to suffer.  I don’t like to suffer.  After all, it hurts.  I’m not really into pain.  I’m not a high tolerance pain kind of guy.  I have no problem taking a pain pill at the first sign of discomfort.  Yet, I know there will be time I’m going to have pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it.  To live in this broken world is to experience suffering.  To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.
            There must be suffering before glory.  Just as Christ suffered, we ought to expect that we will suffer as his followers.  As Christians walk with Jesus during the season of Lent, they journey through the desert full of temptation and hard circumstances.  At the end of the journey will be the glory of Easter, a celebration of the resurrection.  Christian theology and practice hangs it’s hope on these redemptive events of Christ’s cross and resurrection, suffering and glory.
            We are not above our Master.  We, too, will suffer.  The real question is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we don’t respond with insults.  Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ.  Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason.  God takes a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.
            Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not bad news laced with insults.  If we suffer for being Christians proclaiming good news, we shall receive blessing from God.  But if we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.
            God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it.  Christians are to be on the front-lines, leading the charge of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel.  Jesus said that it’s no problem to show love and respect to people we like.  It’s a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate.  Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers.  God will handle the hate-filled person, not you or me.  Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t.
            Take some time today or in the next few days to slowly and carefully read the book of 1 Peter in one sitting.  It’s a short book.  Pay attention to how the adversity of living in this fallen world gives Christians the opportunity, hope, and encouragement to live well.  May it be so, to the glory of God.
Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering.  I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits.  Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I must face in this fallen broken world.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.  Amen.