“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is!” 1 John 3:2
Let us not be greatly discouraged at the many tribulations, difficulties, and disappointments which lie in the path which leads to glory–seeing that our Lord has foretold us of them, has made a suitable provision for every case we can meet with, and is Himself always near to those who call upon Him in His almighty strength–as a sure refuge, and a never-failing, ever-present help in every time of trouble!
Note likewise, that He Himself was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief for our sakes. He drank off the full cup of unmixed wrath for us–shall we then refuse to taste of the cup of affliction at His appointment, especially when His wisdom and love prepare it for us, and proportion every circumstance to our strength? He puts it into our hands, not in anger but in tender mercy–to do us good, to bring us near to Himself; and He sweetens every bitter draught, with those comforts which none but He can give!
The time is short, the world is passing away, all its cares and all its vanities will soon be at an end! Yet a little while, and “we shall see Him as He is!” Every veil shall be taken away–every seeming frown be removed from His face–and every tear wiped away from ours! We shall also be like Him!
Psalms 46: 1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.”
When we wonder around with our days all aflutter, where do we go when we’re tired and just need to rest? Busy this, busy that. Busy here, busy there. Can we find our way back to a place of peace?
When in the midst of so many trials, so many floods that threaten to overwhelm us, where do our minds come to rest when it all gets to be too much?
Do you have a place of quiet rest, a place of safety amidst the storms of life where your mind can be at ease? Oh, how you need one.
There is one, you know. There’s a place where our minds can rest and never have to worry again; a place of ease and comfort that is so grand, so strong, that no matter what storms are blowing or how rough they are, we can be at peace. Our Home is attained by grace through faith because of the death of Jesus Christ. Our Home has a name: He is El Shaddai (Almighty God), Jehovah Jireh (the Lord Who sees and provides), Jehovah Rohi (the Lord my Shepherd). He is our hiding place (Psalms 32: 7, “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble….”), our help and our shield (Psalms 32: 20, “Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.”), our refuge (Psalms 9: 9, “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.”) and our comfort (2 Corinthians 1: 3, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;”) The one whose mind is stayed on Him will be at peace (Isaiah 26: 3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trustest in thee.”).
Grace is the road. Faith is the destination. Repentance is the key. Then, no matter how hard the winds blow, no matter how bad the storm, it can’t cause us to fear. When our minds rest on the Truth that is God, He will keep our hearts in perfect peace. Just as He promised.
Psalms 30: 5, “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (ESV)
Proverbs 24: 10, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (ESV)
When times of pain comes, when it seems that one more difficulty will push me over the edge, I find it helps to ponder on these things:
Even when I can’t see what it is, there is a purpose in my suffering.
God is not capricious.
God is completely trustworthy.
God knows what it is like to suffer.
Nothing in this life is forever, not even pain.
God uses our suffering as a means of our purification and to strengthen us.
God will never put more on us than He enables us to handle.
God didn’t spare His own Son suffering.
When we are in the fire, our Lord is there with us.
Our valley of pain might just one day lead to the road of deliverance for another.
God is always good even when our circumstances seem to show otherwise.
Weeping may endure for the night, but joy really does come in the morning.
So often modern Christians laugh at the people in the Bible who didn’t believe and obey God. If we had lived back then, we would have been so much different than they were, we say. We often fail to realize that they said the same thing. In Matthew 23: 29, 30, Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, And say, if we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” “We wouldn’t have killed the prophets, we would have listened…,” they said, and yet they cried out for Jesus, the very Son of God, to be crucified!
Aren’t we the same? Don’t we say that we would not “have been partakers with them” and then turn around and do the very thing we said we wouldn’t?
God delivered the Israelites from the land of Egypt. He drew them out from bondage unto Himself and delivered them from the hands of Pharaoh’s army by parting the Red Sea so that they could escape on dry land. He then killed their pursuers when He allowed the waters to cave in on them. Yet, these very same people turned around and worshipped a golden calf instead of the true and living God. God had manifested His power before them in so very many ways and yet they departed from Him to worship an idol. Looking at them, we might shake our heads in disbelief and say, “How could they turn to a false god, thinking it could satisfy them? We would never be satisfied with a golden calf. We would never doubt God…not us.” But, is that true? We live on the other side of the cross and we’ve heard the Gospel. We know the truth and yet, we, too, turn away. Enticed by the world, we “worship” at the altar of self-fulfillment, materialism and fun. We turn on our one-eyed idol and bow before it at night. Turning a blind eye to God’s commands on righteousness, we welcome blasphemers, adulterers and child-molesters into our homes…all in the name of “entertainment.” In our daily lives, we specialize in bending and breaking God’s laws, willingly ignoring His teachings on self-denial, modesty, honoring our parents, servant-hood, holiness…willingly, knowingly, substituting our own “truths” for His. How are we different than they?
What about Doubting Thomas? We laugh at his expense. Yes, he doubted that a dead Man was now alive…but he wanted to believe. When shown convincing evidence that his Lord, whom he knew had died, was standing before Him alive, he bowed down and worshipped Jesus. How blind he was to doubt, we say. We would have believed right off. We wouldn’t have doubted Jesus, not once. But does our faith really measure up? Have we never doubted God? Or, is it closer to the truth that, not only do we doubt God, but that we live in a pattern of consistent doubt? God tells us through His holy Word to believe that He is faithful and can provide what we need and yet we give into anxiety and worry. We doubt that God was telling us the truth when He said that He created everything in six days. We doubt that He really meant “me” when He said, “Go ye.” We doubt His truth and follow the guidance of Hollywood.
Then there’s Peter. He couldn’t walk on water for long because he took his eyes off of Jesus, stupid man. If we were given the chance to walk on water, we would never take our eyes off of God. We would walk on bold and steady, never floundering at all; yet, do we? Aren’t we exactly like Peter? No, unfortunately, we are much worse than him. Peter sunk beneath the waves, that’s true, but he also reached out to Jesus to save him and accepted His rebuke. What do we do? We take our eyes off of Jesus and put them on ourselves anytime we say, “I know God says that, but…” or “I simply don’t have time…to read the Bible…pray…go to church.” When we fail to delve deeply into God’s Word and weep before Him in prayer, when we fail to obey Him because it’s simply easier not to, our eyes are firmly and squarely on us rather than on Him. When we fail to consider God’s power when waves are crashing around us, we are trusting in our own abilities rather than in His. And, just like Peter, we will sink. Question is, will we rise and accept rebuke…just like Peter?
What about the disciples as a whole? How very slow they were to understand Jesus’ teachings; how very quickly they fled their Lord when things turned truly dangerous. We would never fail Jesus like that. If we could just have lived back then, we would have drank in every word Jesus spoke to us. We would have bowed in prayer, desperate to understand, to learn, to grow. We would have stood by Him to the end, even if it meant our own death. Jesus certainly could have counted on us, we say. But can He count on us today? Our churches are weak on theology and strong on fun. Our lives are wastelands of devotion to worldly things. Jesus bids us come and we go…fast, in the opposite direction. Jesus can count on us? Hardly.
Or the Jews? They followed Him when He served their needs and rejected Him when His teaching became too hard, too demanding…when He no longer filled their bellies. Many, expecting a powerful, physical kingdom, couldn’t accept that a humble Carpenter could be the long-awaited answer to their prayers so they rejected Him. Most of His own family initially rejected Him. His own brothers and sisters did not believe that He was the Messiah…until after His resurrection. What about us? We want God to serve us rather than us serving Him. We give lip service to our obedience to Him but let our stand for Him threaten our finances, our family peace, our nice “stuff” and what do we do? We turn away. We want a “god” who is interested in us and what makes us happy so we reject the real God–a God Who is more interested in our holiness than He will ever be in our happiness because without holiness true happiness is impossible. Just like the Jews of old we find that Jesus isn’t pleasing to us as He is. He is harsh. He is demanding. He doesn’t fit into our ideals of what a “God” should be, so we reject Him.
Consider Judas. All those years with Jesus and yet he sold Him for 30 pieces of silver! Selling the Lord! Can you imagine such a thing? We absolutely, positively, would never even think of doing that! Torture us and we will be faithful to Him. Take everything from us and we will not sell Him out…. “What? What was that? Go to the beach? Great, just a minute, let me grab my bikini.” “Did you see that show last night? Wasn’t it cool? Yeah, I know it has homosexual characters but I just over look that kind of stuff. I mean, come on, everybody watches it.” “Yeah, I missed church last Sunday, but it was my only day off and I really needed to sleep.” No, not us, we would never sell Jesus out. Would we?
What about the Jews in the crowd who demanded Jesus’ crucifixion? A few days before these same people had been praising God and welcoming Jesus as their King. “Hosanna” they cried and laid down palm branches to welcome Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; how could they then turn around and demand His crucifixion? How could they betray Him like that? We would have been there defending Him, encouraging Him, fighting for Him. But would we have? Do we defend Him today? Do we stand up for the absolute truth of God’s Word…today? Do we bow to the pressure of those who laugh at us for our beliefs? Do we rebuke those who would blaspheme God’s holy name…here and now? Do we stand up for the uncomfortable truths of the Bible? Are we outraged when it Jesus’ name is used as a curse word? Maybe Jesus can’t count on us, after all.
I wonder if Jesus ever laughs at us for our audacity? Or if He just sadly shakes His head at our blindness? Perhaps He cries over us, weeping at our self-centeredness, at our failure to understand that, not only would we have abandoned Him had we lived then, many of us have already abandoned Him here and now.
Deuteronomy 4: 24, “For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.”
Hebrews 12: 29, “For our God is a consuming fire.”
God doesn’t care what we do. He doesn’t care how we worship. He just cares that we love Him.
There’s many paths to God. Jesus just happens to be my pathway.
Revelation 4: 8, “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”
JC is cool, man!
Jesus is my home-boy.
I Peter 1: 16, “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
But, see, God isn’t demanding. He just wants us to have fun.
The big man in the sky is watching out for me. He knows my heart. I’m just doing what everybody else is doing.
Stop being prudish. Christians have the right to have fun, too.
Jeremiah 15: 6, “Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting.”
I can wear what I want to. If guys look and lust, that’s their problem and not mine.
Yeah, the show was a little on the coarse side but it was fun. God wouldn’t care about that.
If I don’t do what my friends are doing, I will be laughed at and no one will want to be my friend.
Well, of course, I don’t always tell the absolute truth. A little white lie can be helpful sometimes. I mean, you don’t want to get into trouble, do you? Or, make someone unhappy. Sometimes folks don’t really want to know the truth.
Isaiah 53: 4-6, “Surely, he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The church has to grow with the times.
The Bible is just so old-fashioned. For it to make sense to us, we have to view it through the lens of our culture.
Yes, I believe that the church has strayed from the truth but if I speak out about it, I will be out of place.
Matthew 10: 28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
If I speak up, I will lose my congregation.
If I preach against their sin, they will leave the church. If I speak out against their unrighteousness, they will quit giving and then what will the church do?
Hebrews 11: 36-38, “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins: being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
Our church is a relaxed and fun place to be. Nobody is going to judge you.
We’re open-minded in our church, come visit us.
Our church has a cool praise band. Our teens have lots of fun. You can enjoy yourself here.
I Peter 2: 9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:”
We’re not really into teaching Scripture too much. We want everyone to understand that God just loves them and wants them to have a great life.
The virgin birth? Who believes that anymore? Creation? In six days? Come on. Science has proved that that isn’t true. Anyway, that stuff is so old-fashioned….what? Do I love Jesus? Of course, I love Jesus. What’s that? Oh, the Bible. Yes, it’s a great love letter from God…open to interpretation. It means one thing to me and another to someone else….That’s okay because God, He just loves us so much, you know? He wants us to come to Him so He can bless us.
It doesn’t matter what you do. It matters how much you love.
Revelation 3: 15, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”
I pray a couple of times a day and when I eat…I really don’t have time for much prayer. Yeah, I need to do better but prayer is so hard.
I tithe my money. I come to church. I teach Sunday school. What more do you want?
I do a morning devotion. I try to help others. I’m not much of a church person but I live a good life. I’m sure He understands.
I’m involved in two ministries. I study hard. I do for God, you know? I just don’t have too much time to invest in seeking Him.
God loves me too much to send me to hell.
Matthew 7: 21-23, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Matthew 25: 41, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”
2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
Sometimes God shows His people extraordinary difficulties. His loving hand carefully chooses the burdens that are ours to bear, gently lays them on our shoulders and then, standing by our side, watches, guards and protects us. And, though we know He is there, at times it feels as if we will be broken from the weight. We falter, we fail and, often, we complain, but God, in His Sovereignty, rights us, focuses us and lays the burden squarely back on our bruised and weakened shoulders. Sometimes being broken is the point and so, guided and guarded by God, break we do. At other times, we stagger and right ourselves only to stagger again. Grace alone upholds us.
Sadly, ofttimes, when God bestows His gift of extraordinary difficulties, other Christ-followers react in shock and turn from us, flee from us, ignore our burdens. At those times, added to our burden of pain, fear, poverty, illness, abandonment, abuse or a thousand other difficulties, we now have to bear the burden of human aloneness. It is as if we, who suffer under God’s own care as directed by His hand, are lepers in the Kingdom of God. As such we often share the same fate, abandonment, as do lepers in the more physical, earthly, realm. And yet we are told in Holy Scripture that we are to “weep with those who weep” just as much as we “rejoice with those who rejoice”. It seems as if, for most, it is far, far easier to do one than the other.
A common approach to ministering to those in distress, especially distress that has a less-than-physical cause, is to lay the blame for a fellow Christian’s pain fully back on them. Like Job’s questionable friends, we accuse, castigate and condemn without ever stopping to think that we might be wrong in our accusations. Or, if we are perhaps a bit more loving in our approach, we tell the suffering one that “time will help you to get over it” or that “things really aren’t as bad as they seem” (ignoring the fact that they very well may be worse than we can hope to imagine): if they’ve been abused, we tell them that the other person “didn’t mean it”, or that they’ve “misunderstood”; if they’ve suffered great losses of the heart and of the mind, we tell them “the sun will still come up tomorrow” or “it could be worse, you know” or “if only you’d been better, done better, had more faith, this wouldn’t have happened”, or, in some other sorry way, mitigate their pain, their sorrow, their loss.
I, like most, have known quite a few difficulties in my life but, as with everything, all is of grace and, by God’s mercy, they’ve been tailored just for me. Still, at times, I feel the need to share, to seek prayers, to find comfort in the words, the companionship, of a fellow Christian traveler. Over the last few years, that’s where I’ve lived as the difficulties multiplied and one part of my life, and then another, and another, gave way. And, though in some ways, rebuilding has begun, in others, life continues to give way. God in His graciousness, has, over the last year, seen fit to give me a very few select travelers who not only understand but in some way share an intimate knowledge of my burdens for they’ve oft suffered in many of the same ways and, more importantly, who know the value of trusting God in difficulties and taking what we’ve learned and becoming comforters. Many times we’ve been able to comfort each other. For these precious few I daily thank God.
But besides these precious ones, when I’ve tried to share my pain with fellow Christians or, sadly even with leaders within the church, when I’ve dared to ask for prayers or guidance, when I’ve tried to explain my sorrows or sought to unburden myself (at those times when I can carry the burdens no longer), I’ve known the additional pain of being stared at in doubt, misunderstanding, even anger and confusion. All before the one I’d prayerfully turned to blanches and changes the subject, makes accusations, explains away my pain, or, more commonly, silently ignores the fact that I ever turned to them to begin with. As it is and has been with me so it is with many who suffer.
Are we really called by God to cast sorrow upon original sorrow by castigating and accusing those who are already wounded? Do we honor our Lord by ignoring their suffering, by changing the subject, denigrating their pain, refusing to listen? Do we bestow grace by walking away? Do we show Christ-likeness by refusing to try to understand simply because we don’t want to? Are we so callous as to allow our misunderstanding to cause us to fail to seek the truth and, through our failing, perhaps even become a pawn in the hand of Satan, an instrument used by him to pour salt into a fellow Christian’s open, bleeding, wounds? All of this in the Name of our precious Lord? Sadly, from my experiences and those of many I have known, these responses are often the norm.
To say we believe God is one thing. To live as if we believe is quite another. Let us, when God pours out His grace in the form of pain and difficulties, lean on Him, take His succor and, from our experiences, learn to become comforters so that we may respond to those who weep and mourn in a way that shows we live what we say we believe. When confronted by life’s wounded, pray we remember that the Lord has taught us, in Matthew 25: 40, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.“