Suffering abounds. All around us we see people facing all sorts of things that seem impossible to handle.
Stories of Suffering
We live in a time in history when we are more aware of the injustice and evil in the world. For generations before us, injustice, oppression, and harassment were just seen as the way things are without much hope of changing.
It used to be that tragedies were being reported on the nightly news, but now we actually know the people facing injustice and abuse.
Our friends and family members are sharing painful stories on their Facebook feeds:
- We discover that people we know are sick and can follow along in their painful journey.
- Far too many times, I have read the heart breaking stories of friends of mine who have been harassed or even attacked because of their ethnicity.
- Recently, my Facebook feed was filled with the stories of women and some men who have suffered sexual assault or sexual harassment.
- We see friends with whom we may have lost touch but now they are expressing suicidal thoughts as a cry for help or as a genuine farewell.
As a result of a world filled with suffering, we struggle to trust God. Instead we wonder how could a loving God allow so much suffering?
The Danger of Cultural Christianity
The cultural Christian answers to suffering have been far too trite.
This can be very dangerous.
Most Americans have been victims of cultural Christianity. Some of you may struggle with your faith or may have rejected faith because of the ways others have misrepresented Jesus.
If you’ve ever thought I don’t want to be a Christian “if that is what a Christian believes” or “if that is how a Christian is supposed to vote” or “if that is what the Bible says” then you have been a victim of cultural Christianity, a religious version of what Jesus intended to be a movement based on a relationship. Jesus did not come to start a religion! He came to bring you and me into a relationship with God!
I want to encourage you to have an open heart and open mind. You may have been rejecting cultural Christianity which is a misrepresentation of Jesus, but rather than turning to what Jesus actually said, you have missed the beauty of His actual message.
God may not always deliver us from our trials, but He is always with us in our trials.
God gives us more than we can handle, but he doesn’t give us more than He can handle.
God gives us more than we can handle, but he does not give us more than we can handle with him.
Sometimes, God uses the love of others around us to help us find healing.
Asking for help is a sign of maturity – not weakness.
We live in a fallen world. We are also adversely affected by the choices others make, whether those choices seem innocent or those choices are downright evil. We don’t have to look very far to see evidence of a world in disrepair. Disease, death, violence, natural disasters, injustice all point to the fact that something has gone wrong. Other times we face difficult moments as a result of the times in which we live. Challenging circumstances remind us of our frailty, and they can be what draws us closer to God rather than pull us away. We do not have to become victims to our circumstances; we can overcome!
It is so easy to say that until you experience personal trauma.
It is easy to trust in God when everything is going great! Very little faith is required! A deep faith is necessary to trust God when things are not going well. Shallow faith gives up.
Do you just talk about trusting God or do you actually trust Him and experience His power?
Our faith is made real in the midst of suffering.
A friend once told me: “My faith was lip service before, but now that I have been willing to admit I am a broken person and need God’s help and need my wife’s forgiveness, my faith has become real. My faith became real when I was willing to go to places I had been avoiding all of my life.”
Often we are in the midst of the pain, so we bail. We bail on God. We give up on relationships. We give up on our dream. When in reality, we quit just before the breakthrough.
“Everything can look like failure in the middle.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Maybe the struggles you are currently facing are the direct results of your prayers for something better in your life? Maybe God has allowed pain to come into your life to refine you and help you become the person He created you to be.
The apostle Paul experienced a great deal of suffering for his faith. He was beaten, attacked, imprisoned, beaten with stones, and ridiculed for his faith.
Paul said: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11
In other words, we cannot experience the power of new life without experiencing the pain of dying to the old life. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion.
John the Baptist*
*Excerted from a message I did with Robb Overholt at Gateway Church in Austin
John the Baptist was a prophet sent as a forerunner to Jesus, to point the people of Israel towards their long promised Messiah. And he had done just that…
Yet John was not liked by the religious leaders. He was an outcast relegated to the outskirts of the city.
One day, when Jesus approached him at the Jordan river near Bethany, John couldn’t contain himself and shouted out: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
With awe, and probably trembling hands, John had baptized his Lord, Jesus. And then saw the Spirit descend and remain on Jesus.
But eventually he would sit in Herod’s filthy prison. John the Baptist was arrested for simply being John the Baptist. He had not done anything illegal. He was genuinely being persecuted for his faith. Herod was a wicked King of the region. John had expected this. Prophets who rebuke sinful kings, which John had done many times, usually do not fare well in the end. Unfortunately, he was no exception. Herodias, Herod’s bride, wanted him dead. John could see no reason why she would be denied her wish.
What he hadn’t expected was to be tormented by such oppressive doubts and fears. Since the day of his proclamation on the Jordan, John had not doubted that Jesus was the Christ. But stuck alone in this putrid cell he was assaulted by horrible, accusing thoughts.
What if he had been wrong? There had been many false prophets in Israel. What made him so sure that hewasn’t one? What if he had led thousands astray?
There had been false messiahs. What if Jesus was just another? So far Jesus’ ministry wasn’t exactly what John, and others, had always imagined the Messiah’s would look like. Could this imprisonment be God’s judgment?
So he sent two of his closest disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Luke 7:20
Jesus’ response was/is stunning. Jesus was familiar with John’s sorrows and grief and the attacks that Satan brings on people when they are weak and vulnerable. Jesus loved John.
With John’s faithful friends present, he healed many and delivered many from demonic prisons of their own.
Then he turned to them and said, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Luke 7:22
John would certainly recognize Isaiah’s prophecy from long ago in those words. This promise would bring the peace John needed to sustain him for the few difficult days he had remaining.
If you are derailed by others’ suffering, are you willing to trust God more because of the healing of others?
Are you willing to trust the God who can do the miraculous – even if He chooses not to do the miraculous for you?
When Jesus had sent John’s friends away, he said something stunning about John: “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” Luke 7:28
This, right after John questioned who Jesus was.
God does not always answer with the speed we desire, nor is his answer always the deliverance we hope for. But he will always send His grace and that will always be sufficient for those who trust him. That He has promised.
Our response to suffering…
Our response to suffering will determine the quality of our lives. We all face disappointment. Who we become depends on how we respond.
Our current crisis may seem gigantic, but in a year will we even remember how we were feeling on this day? Since we do not know the future and our memory of the past fades so quickly, we often live as if the present is all there is. We have been told to live like there is no tomorrow, but more often than not there is a tomorrow. The spirit of the old cliché is to live with urgency. Most of the times we do not seem to be at all urgent about doing good, but when things are going bad everything seems urgent. When it comes to doing good, live like there is no tomorrow. When it comes to crisis, know that there is a tomorrow.
Consider some of the most trying moments of your life. What were they? What happened? How did you feel? How did you get through that time? Has the pain subsided? If you could make it through those experiences, you can make it through this painful time as well!
Many times, as life proceeds, we begin to regain our hope. We can see that life can go on. Life can get better. I would imagine, you and I have forgotten more trials than we are even remembering.
God is always with us. Even when we cannot feel His presence. Even if we have rejected Him. God is more tenacious than we are. His love is enduring. His love perseveres, for His love for us is perfect. As we cling to Him daily, we see His hand in our lives. Our trust grows as we see Him guiding us through the great moments and the smaller trials. We have the faith to trust Him in the most challenging moments.
Why doesn’t God just come to rescue us?!
He has and He will!
How do we know God cares? He came to us. He lived for us. He suffered for us. He died on the cross for us. He rose from the dead for us. He hears our prayers. He sends others to our aid. He mourns when we mourn. He laughs when we laugh. He is there for us.
In the midst of suffering, we can feel God’s presence even more. He cares for us, and sometimes we will not know how much until we are in the midst of painful times.
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