Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

I recently finished a book by Tim Keller titled Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Highly recommend it. It was a gold mine, and I took a stack of notes. I’m going to skip over the explanations and go right to the application part of dealing with suffering.

It’s A Matter of Perspective

In a natural secular framework, this life is all there is and the meaning of it is to be happy. Suffering has no place in this line of thought so there are no inherent resources for dealing with it. It’s why we tend to look to older cultures for help where suffering was a way of life.

Suffering is dealt with by controlling your responses. Some medicate, or self-medicate. Others do it through force of will like the Stoics (who leaned towards fatalism) and Buddhism (which kills all desire so suffering cannot take root). There is also finding the source and eliminating it. Either way, the person is all alone with no one to make it right in the secular view.

I went the way of the Stoics after my godson died, deciding to tough it out for the most part. I did talk to therapists and counselors. It still led to a fatalistic attitude and bottling it up. Like a volcano about to blow, people around me started to get burned and I realized I needed GriefShare.

Learning From Suffering

In the middle of the pain, it’s hard to see any good in it. It’s not until after that we can see it. There are three benefits of suffering.

  1. People who endure and make it through are more resilient. My definition of a bad day is so much higher now.
  2. Suffering strengthens relationships. It’s where you find out who your friends are. It also teaches you to appreciate the living more in times of grief.
  3. Suffering triggers a change in priorities and philosophies. We discover what’s truly important, who is truly important. Slights are easier to forgive, petty arguments become pointless, and trivial negatives are overlooked.

There is a line in the movie The Crow, where the main character, Eric Draven says, “Little things used to mean so much to Shelly–I used to think of them as trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial.”

In relationships, the people we care about, and our actions that affect them: that is absolutely right. Everything is precious.

Suffering Is A Forge

A dear friend of mine quoted part of the 23rd Psalm in GriefShare.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.

“Through.” You have to walk through it. As we walk, we are humbled when we discover how little control we have. That was one of my major wake up calls.

It also teaches what it truly important, and forces us to rely on God. Like the Psalm says, “for you are with me.” Grief and pain are like clouds that hide the sun, but God is there.

The lessons we learn from it can help us to help others.

Suffering is Inevitable (Yay?)

This is a broken, fallen world that will one day be restored. Until then we will face suffering. We may bring it on ourselves, it may be from betrayal, or we have no idea why it’s happening. The one we all face is loss.

Tim Keller’s advice to prepare for it beforehand is to have a deep knowledge of the Bible and a strong prayer life. The first prepares the mind, the second, the heart.

Walking with God in Suffering

Unlike those with a naturalistic secular view, we’re not alone. It’s not a fight we have to fight alone, and we have a hope that their worldview cannot give them. Afterlife.

Tim lays out 8 things to do as you walk through the valley.

  1. Cry. Be brutally honest with yourself and God. David did, there are several Psalms on lament. Job is an entire book of one man questioning God. Jesus cried bloody tears in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  2. Trust. Trust God because He is sovereign, and trust His love because He’s been through it. Remember Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
    Wrestle with it all until you can say is, ‘thy will be done.’
  3. Pray. Job complained to God, and in doing so acknowledged God can do something about it. Go to church, read your Bible, ask God to help.
  4. Discipline your thinking. Look back at answered prayers. I keep a list of mine to help me remember. Look at God’s promises in the Bible like all the tears will be wiped away, no more sickness or death, and everything will be made new. Do this until your heart is engaged.
  5. Self-examination. Adversity presents an opportunity to look at ourselves and ask, ‘how do I need to grow?’ and ‘what weakness is this time of trouble revealing?’
  6. Reorder your loves. Suffering reveals that we either love some things too much, or we don’t love God enough in proportion to them. Suffering hurts more when we turn good things into ultimate things. Jesus suffered mightily on the cross for us and recognizing that will help.
  7. Stay in a community. Don’t isolate, find a church where sufferers are loved and supported. Find a GriefShare group, DivorceCare, or Celebrate Recovery.
  8. Remember some forms of suffering require skill at receiving and accepting grace and forgiveness from God and giving it to others.

Father, I pray that this reaches those that need and read it. That they draw near to you and you to them, wrapping them in your comforting arms. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

What Job 1 Can Teach Us About Suffering

Suffering isn’t something we like to think of. Particularly if you live in a culture where the goal is happiness. In a naturalistic framework, suffering is the ultimate evil–killer of happiness. What does the Bible say about it? Quite a bit.

Lately, I’ve been camped out on two subjects: the problem of evil, and suffering. If you want to take Suffering 101, read the book of Job. That’s where we’ll be today, Job 1, and looking at the lessons from it.

A Philosophical Look At Job

It begins with an introduction to a man so righteous and good that only two other Old Testament characters can compare. Of course, it’s Job. Philosophically speaking, the question is, can you love God for who He is rather than what He’s done for you?

Job proves that you can. However, we learn something about the culture at the time. There were two lines of thinking then.

One is the Great Symbiosis, a line of cultural thought that says you seek favor from a deity or multiple gods by caring for them. Offerings were usually just cooking them dinner, or plying them with gifts.

A good modern day equivalent is talismans or offering something for a favor. How many of us have ‘negotiated’ with God? I have and didn’t keep my end of the bargain.

The second is the Retribution Principle. It simply states the righteous will prosper while the wicked will suffer. Karma follows the same line of thought, someone paying back what they did in a past life. You see calls for it online, “Karma will get them,” or “They’ll get what’s coming to them.”

My question is when they go through hard times, do they consider it to be their bad karma being worked off?

At the core of the Retribution Principle is justice. In a perfect world, it could work. However, we cannot avoid being affected by others’ actions, or our actions affecting others. The fact Job was the most righteous man to have ever lived at that point blew that principle out of the water.

A Personal Look At Job

This is where we turn from the philosophical to the personal. Job wasn’t guilty of anything, yet he suffered. Jesus wasn’t guilty of anything, yet the Son of God suffered. Not all who suffer are guilty of anything.

It’s not always punishment or the natural consequences of a sin. It can be because of this broken world, a personal or satanic attack. Supernatural beings aren’t using us as pawns in an undecided game. We serve an all-powerful, all-knowing God who sees and knows the end result.

Part of that was God the Son coming to earth to suffer and die for us. God knows suffering on more than an intellectual level. Suffering is actually part of the Christian life. 1st Peter is a pretty good book on it.

I don’t know who said it, but they put it like this: to the Christian, joy is at the center with suffering at the periphery. For others it’s reversed, suffering is at the center and joy is at the periphery. How can this be true?

The Christian’s joy comes from a relationship with an unchanging God.

What’s This Mean For Us?

We can’t comprehend the why of it in totality or see how far the ripples will spread. Romans 8:28 tells us God knows and He’s with us working all things–the good and bad–for the good of those who love Him, according to His purposes.

In this light, since I came with nothing, and will leave with nothing I have gotten for myself, I should–as hard as it is–give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Because as Christians, we have our salvation to be thankful for, the good to enjoy, the lessons pain teaches us so we can help others, and can rely more on God.

So cry, and run to the Father, remembering He works all things for your good according to His purposes.

The Lord Is Faithful In Your Struggle

Have you ever felt like an ant in a mean kid’s ant farm? Trouble comes to everyone in this fallen world, even good people. I know a few of them. Pastor Rod preached a sermon on lessons from his own family’s struggles. I pray that it helps you, too.

Troubling Times

Are you facing something now? More trouble could be coming; Satan loves to pile on, hoping to distract you. But remember Jesus’ word’s in John 16:33; “In this world, you will have trouble, take heart! I have overcome the world.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
Lamentations 3:22

He also said that God will use unlikely people in unexpected ways to remind you of His faithfulness. Be ready, and willing to hear. Can you remember that happening?

Faith

cryingHere’s an important point: experiencing emotion isn’t a lack of faith. You can express them, just read Psalms or Job. We’re not robots and can still have faith while wracked with emotion. Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him…”

I said it myself during our last miscarriage.

You can even take a step of faith during your fear. Find an area to put more trust in God. Rather than allowing a wedge to come between you and God, get closer.

Why?

We wonder why things happen, and unless a natural consequence is evident, we usually don’t know. What we can do is use it. Pastor Rod referenced the verse that that got me involved in leading GriefShare at church.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7

 

The principle is God can and will use your trouble to minister to others. He can actually use trouble to protect and position you for His help and blessings when you look in hindsight. Many ministries have come from that principle.

All seven of FirstNLR’s GriefShare leadership team is evidence of it. The leaders in Celebrate Recovery, DivorceCare, our single mom’s ministry, etc. We’ve gone through it, and because of it, we can walk with you rather than just talk to you. I’ve linked to all of them if you need someone to walk with you through your troubles.

When you share your struggles, you can receive the support of God’s people. God has an assignment and purpose for you, even in troubling times. Respond with radical dependence on Him.

We can’t choose what’s happening, but we can choose our outlook.

The Lord is Faithful

Pastor Rod’s outlook is God knows, and He is faithful.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 

If you want to see the sermon of Pastor Rod and Cindy’s cancer journey, you can watch at http://subsplash.com/firstnlr/v/bkax35p