Archive for the ‘Trials’ Category

We all suffer. It’s amazing the variety of ways we do. Backaches, heartbreaks, and pressures to perform are common sources of our pain.

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Suffering is made easier when it has meaning. Most of my periods of pain as adult do have meaning. I can look back and see some of what God was doing in the situations. However, I still struggle to understand what God was doing through my difficult childhood. But that’s okay. I accept there were reasons the suffering took place.

Sometimes others don’t seem to be struggling that much. But my confidence is God has worked together  difficulties to make me more like himself in ways that would never have happened in easier times.

If we are Christians, we know God loves and watches over us. Yet, we suffer. How do we explain that? There are a number of possibilities. God is a loving father and disciplines us so we will grow more like him. This process often is painful as he allows us to suffer the consequences of failing to live life his way.

Pain comes because we live in a fallen world. How could it be otherwise? We can’t expect this to be a “heaven on earth” experience when our world is in rebellion against God.

He allows suffering so we can experience his comfort and encouragement. This develops our dependence on him and deepens our intimacy. Pain makes us desperate and more inclined to throw ourselves on his mercy, otherwise, we prefer to rely on ourselves. But it’s in our struggles we recognize our weakness and grow strong in the Lord. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

The difficulties encourage me to look forward to heaven where there will be no pain. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4, NLT).As long as we are here, we are promised trouble (Job 5:7).

Regardless of the good reasons to suffer, I don’t like it. Many times, my choice would be comfort over difficult growth.

How do we please the Lord in our pain? What does godliness look like?

Joseph was shipped off to a foreign land as a slave by his jealous brothers. He was put into prison when he was falsely accused of wrong-doing. Yet, he served his masters well, saw God in his circumstances and did not become bitter by his harsh treatment. He saw God’s good purposes in his circumstances. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good” (Genesis 50:20, NLT). Like Joseph, we need to develop God’s perspective on pain by applying scripture to our suffering.

We may feel God doesn’t love us much when we are going through hard times. But he does. Pain can deceive us. God promises us that hard times will never mean he has stopped loving us (1 Peter 5:10).

Several years ago, I went through a period of intense chronic pain. I was confused and didn’t know what to do. In my darkness, I focused on doing the responsible thing in God’s eyes, regardless of the pain. This helped me to face my fears instead of running from them. I learned avoiding trials was not always the responsible thing to do. The commitment to do the responsible thing despite pain was the light God used to lead me out of the darkness.

May God give us his perspective on pain- it’s for a purpose, it’s for our good, and he will help us through it. Let’s give thanks for what he is doing through our suffering today.

 

 

 

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Facing the Pain

Nobody likes pain. It’s amazing to what great lengths we go to avoid pain. Diets that promise that we won’t suffer, pain-killers that kill the pain but ignore the root problem, and various anti-aging creams that promise to shield us from the pain of losing our looks. But is it wise to avoid pain? Do we lose out in the long-run by running away from the cause of our pain?

I experienced considerable pain in my childhood home. Pain from low self-esteem, fears, and hurts. I ran from the pain by ignoring it, compensating for it, and staying busy. I finally began to face this pain head-on when I was forty when the feelings began to boil over. I know a person who has a drinking problem. She is using alcohol to run from her pain. Until she is ready to face the deep pains within, she will continue to struggle with the temptation to anesthetize herself through alcohol.

Before we discuss some good ways to deal with our pain, let’s discuss what’s not helpful.

What’s Not Helpful

Pain is often used by God to get our attention that something is wrong. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67). To run from pain is to often miss developing a long-term solution to our problems.

Sometimes it’s wise to delay facing the problem. Running from my childhood hurts was probably the wise thing for me to do until I had more maturity and resources to face them. Running from a toothache by taking Motrin is wise until we can get to a dentist and deal with the source of the problem.

But if we continue to run, it’s often not helpful. Alcohol, drugs, pain-killers, and idols are all ways we can use to avoid facing our pain. Pursuing anyone of them creates an even greater pain in the long-run. For example, many of us run away from the pain of low self-esteem. So, we compensate for it by pursuing the idols of achievements and the approval of others. This often drives us to overload and the fear of not measuring up–both situations can create considerable pain. It would have been better to face the original pain of low self-esteem and apply God’s solution to it–his gift of worth to each of us. “You are precious, you are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4, paraphrased). Notice the preciousness we get from God is not conditional; we are always precious to him. It’s because we don’t believe this that we have the pain of low self-esteem.

What’s Helpful

What’s most helpful in facing pain is getting to the root cause. This may need God’s help. We can pray, “Search me Oh God, try me and know my anxious thoughts…and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139: 23,24).

Facing the root cause of the pain can be tricky. Several years ago I had a toothache and went to the dentist. Before the pain went away, I had to have four root canals and a tooth pulled–and it still didn’t stop the pain. Finally, I discovered that the source of the pain was stress. In treating the stress, the pain went away in three months after I had chased after a dental solution for over a year. This is an example of the value of defining the source of the pain.

A final thought regarding facing the pain. God promises to help us face our pain. We run often because we are afraid-afraid that we will be overwhelmed by the pain. But God promises otherwise. God says, “I am faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Let’s not drown our pain in pain-killers, idols, and alcohol. Relying on God’s promised help, may we face the root causes courageously. The pain is God’s call to action as we can expect God to restore, strengthen, and establish us through facing the pain (1 Peter 5:10).

 

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Responding to Pain

I like life to be comfortable. Therefore, I hate pain, especially the chronic kind. So, I have struggled the last nine months over having chronic pain.

But life’s not supposed to be this way! What’s wrong?

Probably nothing. The Bible teaches that pain and trouble will always be a major part of our lives (John 16:33). The real question is how do we respond to pain and difficulties when they happen?

Climbing a mountain

A hard truth that we need to face is that God is more interested in our godliness than in our comfort (Philippians 3:8). I have known this truth for many years – and for many years I have not fully accepted it. Yet, his chipping away at my independence is relentless and a fulfillment of his promised intention to see Christ formed in me.

But I want comfort! However, Paul considered comfort rubbish compared to being like Jesus.

Another aid to enduring difficulties is that God promises to bring good out of them. “I cause all things to work together for good for you” (Romans 8:28, paraphrased).

But I often don’t believe this because I don’t understand how this miserable pain could cause a good. But God says, “Trust Me and don’t rely on trying to understand how I will make your pain work a net good for you” (Proverbs 3:5-6, paraphrased).

A final thought about how to respond to pain in a godly way is remember that God walks with us through the difficulties. He helps us get through them. As I reflect on how he has worked to help me through painful times, I am amazed I was able to endure. These include three years of near constant neck pain and one year of 4 root canals and a tooth extraction. But he got me through them as he promised he would (Philippians 4:13).

So, cheer up! Our pain is to help us become godlier (James 1:2-3), May we set our minds on what God is doing and not get buried in our painful self-centeredness (Colossians 3:2).

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Why Dark Nights of the Soul?

You may have heard of the expression, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It sounds scary. But what does it mean?

The Dark Night is basically a withdrawal of some of God’s blessings so that we will cling to him more. It is painful to let go of good things so that we will depend on something better.

Let me explain by giving you an example from my life. To some extent, much of the last three years have been a Dark Night experience for me. In that time, I lost my church family of 31 years where I was loved and respected, I lost my health for over a year in recovering from major heart surgery, and I lost having positions of leadership.

God had used this loving community, leadership positions, and good health to help me realize that he loved me, I was important to him, and that I was secure. Now, he wanted me to believe these things were true without the props.

But in the short run, my soul went through a Dark Night. In that time, I grew stronger in relying on who I was to God, and not so much on what other people and things told me.

A silhouette of man free climbing on rock, mountain at sunset. Adrenaline, bravery, leader.

What It Is

One of the key things God does in bringing us to maturity is to remove the idols from our heart. Idols are anything we depend on other than God to meet our needs. For some of us, it’s food instead of God’s comfort. For others, it’s power instead of the worth that comes from being God’s precious child. And for others, it’s pleasing people instead of pleasing God. You name it and someone has probably made it an idol.

We will tend to tenaciously cling to food, power, and pleasing people at all cost, until God pries them from our clutching fingers through Dark Nights. It’s then that our hurting soul discovers that even though we don’t have these things anymore, we still have God and his better ways to meet those needs.

Why God Allows Them

Most of us want this Christian life to be comfortable. There are often a lot of benefits in following God, such as improved marriages, better health and some of the nicest people on the planet to be with. But God wants us to grow up. He wants us to love him for himself, and not just for his benefits.

In the Dark Night, we lose many of the idols that keep us from relying on him. We realize that all our efforts at earning praise, being liked, and being comfortable don’t work well enough. We are learning to “cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And that is enough to satisfy us.

In the Dark Night, we are being disciplined (trained) by God to find our needs for love, power, and purpose met in a more intimate love relationship with him. We realize that “no discipline is enjoyable while it is happening–it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11, NLT).

 

 

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In the last few days, I’ve become aware of the sufferings of several older friends and relatives. One just got diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a diagnosis that he was dreading to hear. Another was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer and starts chemotherapy this week – he is handling it well, but his wife is experiencing considerable anxiety.

Then a friend shared his concern about his wife who is slipping into dementia and is refusing to eat.

Even younger people I talked to were suffering. One received a diagnosis this week of Lyme’s disease and another was struggling with an undiagnosed pain that often keeps him standing all day to get his office work done because it hurts too much to sit. This has been going on for over a year.

What is going on here? I felt depressed over these sufferings and scared that they could happen to me. If God is good, why does he allow so much suffering?

Why?

The truth is we don’t know exactly why. Unless God specifically tells us, why we suffer belongs to the secrets things of God. “The LORD our God has secrets known to no one” (Deuteronomy 29:29.)

However, a few things we know. These include:

  • The pain helps us look forward to a few years from now when we will never suffer again (Revelations 21:4).
  • Suffering produces endurance and makes us stronger Christians (Romans 5:3-5).
  • The difficulties develop our reliance on God who enables us to overcome sufferings that would otherwise crush us (Isaiah 43:2).
  • Suffering helps us to experience God’s comfort, which helps us to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
  • Suffering jars us out of our comfort zones and opens us up to a deeper relationship with God (Psalm 119:71).
  • Suffering humbles us and gives us opportunities to allow God to make us stronger (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

So, how are we supposed to respond to the daily dribble of difficulties and sufferings?

How To Deal With Suffering

First of all, it’s a matter of perspective. How does six years of pain compare to 6,000,000,000 years of painlessness? “Why”, you say, “It’s nothing.“ So God says the same thing (Romans 8:18).

Another thing that is helpful in facing suffering is to accept it. M. Scott Peck, a Christian psychologist and author, has a quote that is one of my favorites:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Difficulties have often frustrated me. “This should not be!” I say to myself. “This is wrong! God where are you?”

But there isn’t anything wrong – Life is difficult because we live in a world in rebellion against God. Our suffering is a natural consequence.

A final thought about dealing with suffering is to face it. We love to run from our pain. We take painkillers, stay busy, and repress our hurt.

Instead, we need to listen to the pain and learn from it. God often uses pain to get our attention. He wants us to change and deal with our problems his way.

May we grow to accept the benefits of our suffering. May we accept what we can’t change and embrace it. Let’s allow God to use suffering to do his good work in our heart.

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Going Through Hard Times

Last week I went under the knife for the second time in 10 months. The surgery was for an abdominal aortic aneurism. It was expected to be a piece of cake compared to the previous open-heart surgery.

The initial report is that the surgery went well and that I am doing fine. This week, I seem to be recovering well and continuing to show signs that the surgery was successful.

However I do harbor a few concerns, which I hope to clear up when I meet with my surgeon this week.

In addition, in the months between these surgeries, I have been hospitalized for a possible infection from surgery, a temporary stroke, and dehydration.

Never have I been through such trying times physically. What is going on here?

Why Hard Times?

The Bible clearly teaches that God takes us through hard times for our good. Now if we measure everything that happens to us by how good it feels, we will have a difficult time living this truth. Sometimes the pain hides the good from us.

I can see that my hard times of the last 10 months have increased

  • my humility
  • my dependency on God for physical security
  • my endurance
  • my compassion for the suffering of others

The pain is often necessary for us to loosen our grip on the idols that we use to meet our needs instead of relying on God to meet them. For example, if we depend on good health, and fail to see that it is a gift from God, he may remove it for a season. We can then learn that the only thing we can count on is his presence and the health that he chooses to provide (Isaiah 41:10).

What Can Help Get Us Through the Hard Times?

Something to remember that can help us get through hard times is that life is difficult. It was intended to be that way. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

One of my favorite passages from a book is from The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. In the book he says,

“Life is difficult. But when we accept the fact that life is difficult, then it’s not so difficult.”

It can help to remember also that God is the potter, and we are the clay. He continually works to mold us into his likeness, that we may experience “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).”

“But it hurts!” you may say. “I don’t like what you are doing.”

But “Does the clay dispute with him who forms him, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!…. Who are you to command me concerning the work of my hands?”’ (Isaiah 45:9,11, TLB).

It helps to know that God is more concerned about our transformation than our comfort.

Finally, we can take comfort in the fact that he will never give us more than we take.

“No temptation has overtaken [us} but such is common to man, and God is faithful, who will allow [us] to be tempted beyond what [we] are able; but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that [we] may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That temptation for us may to be to despair or give into bitterness.

He knows us completely and is sensitive to when we need a break and need the joy that comes after the storm has passed (Psalm 30:5).

So, are you going through a hard time? Is God painfully working in your heart to make you more like himself?

May I suggest that you ask him to bring to your mind some of the qualities he is developing in you through this hard time. Then, thank him for each of them.

 

 

 

 

 

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