Embracing Suffering

anchors

Romans 5:3-5 ‘Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’

Suffering.

We all want to avoid it.

We all try to escape it.

Our flesh rises up to run from it.

The enemy tries to magnify it.

What if we embraced it?

What if we embraced it in others?

I walked yesterday in 70km gusts of wind. It wasn’t a constant gale, there were moments of the heavenly scent of crabapple blossoms assaulting my nostrils, baby ducklings waddling unhindered, stillness and calm, baby bunnies seeking safety.

And then gusts that blew me off-balance, causing me to put my head down and press into it to gain traction, my breath on hold until it passed around and through me. It struck me that life so closely resembles what a wind creates. We go along minding our own business, completely enamoured with all that is around, when WHOOSH our breath is sucked out of us. A death, a sickness, a temptation, a betrayal, a disaster, a disappointment, any kind of perceived set back to the path that was smelling amazing and looking hopeful.

My suffering presently comes in the form of hormones running amok trying to navigate this perimenopausal pathway. The symptoms have been presenting themselves for a few years slowly but surely and for some reason have decided to turn up the heat (sometimes literally) this year. To say that I feel like I’m losing my ever-loving mind is a great understatement some days. I vacillate between ‘normal’ to depression to crying to resistance to weight loss which causes crying to forgetfulness to anger to racing thoughts to crying to pains to sleeplessness, and oh did I mention crying? I have begun to seek help along with crying to God for direction and strength and clarity. I am doing my research,  keeping in mind that the comfort I receive may be to suggest it to many other women in years to come. I sense we do not need to have years of suffering.

Graham Cooke said, “The expectation of God can engulf your circumstances.” I want to walk with God through this, I don’t want my character lacking because I did not embrace this suffering.

There was a time in my life that I was less concerned with my character and more concerned with avoiding the suffering in my life. The more I have embraced that suffering is part of the human condition, the more life is about God and less about me. I think we all have a natural aversion to pain and sorrow. Who really wants to live in this place? How do we ‘glory’ in our suffering? I am learning it is a part of what makes us whole and sometimes a lot of our pain stems from trying to avoid what we think is a non-redeemable whole hot mess.

But God…

As you see in the Romans passage above, it doesn’t stop at the suffering. In ‘Through the Eyes of a Lion’, Levi Lusko says, “Whatever our cross to bear is, is not going to last forever. What God produces in us will.” We live eternally, either with God in heaven or in hell. It is our choice and so it is with our character. We can choose to live in the brokenness that comes and is in us and the world or we choose victory, knowing that what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross is enough. We are free. We can choose to live in the hope of that regardless of any sickness or pain we may endure. David Crowder band says it best, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t cure.” (Come As You Are)

Why are we so unwilling to face our pain? I think in the deepest part of us we know that we cannot handle it in our own strength. So does God. Are we missing the mark by enduring the suffering that we are given? A dear wise friend who has suffered with depression and anxiety responded this way,” I think it surrounds his Glory. It always comes back to Him. It’s not about us. LordemptymeThat is where we miss the mark. We can go through seasons of being free. But God also uses these ‘thorns in our flesh’ to draw us closer to Him. God knows us better than we know us and so in that he knows what will cause us to run to Him. He is jealous for our attention and I’m speaking out of my own experiences but it’s been in my worst depressions and deepest anxieties that my heart has sought after Jesus the most because I knew He was the only one who could save me.”

I think we have a tendency to judge things that we do not know or understand as we grapple with our unbelief when God has not brought the healing we seek. The truth of a God who allows suffering does not line up with our Sunday School understanding of a God of love. How can this be love?

It is in our own weakness and inability to grasp the depths of His love that we fight instead of embrace.

It is here that we throw out meaningless platitudes to those in the midst of suffering. It is here we are afraid to enter in. Yet, it is here that God invites us. To come without understanding, to sit without words, to hold up arms in prayer and practical love. For ourselves. For others. With Him.

You see suffering produces things. In the verse from Romans above, particularly perseverance, character and hope. James assures us to ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, 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

One definition of perseverance is ‘a continuance of a state of grace to the end’. To me this means keeping our eyes on Jesus and walking in the grace he affords us freely, to continue to look toward Him and it is in this that our character is deepened. It is here we are given the strength to stand and have a testimony of God’s grace, goodness and glory. It is in this place hope is born. And Hope does not put us to shame!

So, we will all suffer in our lifetimes. How we respond to it is either key to our growth or our detriment. We have opportunity to choose and choose again. A godly response or a fleshly one.  ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ Romans 12:12

How we help other people walk through suffering contributes to the character God is building. When you think you have nothing left to give, God sends someone who needs a smile, a hug, an ear, a helping hand. It is in this season when I am afflicted that many have come needing all of these things and more and so I pray for the ability to walk through it all in a continuing state of grace in order that His glory be shown.

‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.’ Isaiah 40:28,29.

hardships

How are you turning to God in your suffering and weakness?

Advertisements

Joy Unspeakable while Suffering Well

At first glance this title seems like quite a conundrum but in fact it is my heart’s desire. After all, we have not been promised a suffering free life but man do we fight against it don’t we? John 16:33 says,’I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ hallelujah we say but then our focus blurs from our suffering and as it is defined, suffering is not a walk in the park. Suffering – the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship. Pain caused by injury, illness or loss etc, physical, mental or emotional ( I am adding spiritual as well for when we are separated from God, this causes pain in our lives,  in our spirit, in God’s heart and forever with eternal separation if we don’t choose Him).

Joy Unspeakable are the words that God spoke into my spirit as I was praying yesterday. Although I am not totally sure what this will look like as it unfolds I know that as my intimacy with God increases, there is more room for joy to bubble up. How can we share what Jesus has done in our lives if we have no joy? How can we minister to the needs, hurts and interests of others as Jesus did when we are bound up in our own? Pastor Bobby Conway wrote The Fifth Gospel and he says that we are the fifth gospel. As Christians, we were left in this world for two reasons, to grow in the likeness of Christ and to share the message of Christ.

How do we accomplish this seeming conundrum of joy amidst suffering? We move our expectations from our suffering to our Saviour! Suffering provides us opportunity to show hope. If we can suffer well, we show the hope that is in Jesus eternally. Before this topic seems too heavy, also know this, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17. I don’t dismiss at all that circumstances can seem too much to bear when you are under the weight of them but in the perspective of eternity, they are momentary. I have experienced suffering in many forms and I watch friends and family suffer in various ways. I have also suffered without the joy and hope of Christ before I knew Him and that is a dark place, one I never want to experience again. Suffering, especially watching others, breaks my heart often and have I been successful with joy unspeakable all the time? Definitely not, I would dare to say not often. As I mentioned before though it is my hearts desire as I learn to trust God more with orchestrating my life as He sees fit.

Now, how do we suffer well? Even typing that makes my flesh want to fight against it a bit! 1 Thessalonians 5:17,18,’Pray without ceasing, in EVERYTHING give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ Ephesians 5:20,’ ALWAYS giving thanks for ALL things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.’ (emphasis mine) We give thanks and we keep our eyes on the eternal value of the trouble we may have to endure. Guarding our mouths is another way to suffer well, are you constantly complaining about your distress? Ephesians 4:29 says,’ Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.’ My husband Wade was a perfect example of this last week as he thanked God for a disagreement we had and gave thanks for an opportunity to learn better for next time. This is not that we shouldn’t talk with someone about our trouble but to just be careful it does not become chronic and that we are retraining those thoughts coming in to find places of gratitude instead.

God has been highlighting Romans 8 for me this week and I encourage you to read the whole chapter. Today these verses jumped out at me, vs 15-17, ‘For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.’ God wants to share His glory with us. Incredible. Lord even when we suck in our suffering? Absolutely! But it is easier when you can do it well and I receive more glory for what is worked through your joy unspeakable. And ps, it is not all about you…2 Corinthians 1:3-5, ”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.”

http://thefi5thgospel.com/