January 7, 2013
Last week we started on a new study dealing with suffering and we dealt with the haunting question “Why?” This week we want to continue and share what our sufferings have in common with Paul, Job, and a host of others.
The Bible is very fair in recounting the stories of those who experienced suffering. These portraits of pain reveal much. We come to better understand that affliction is the common lot of mankind and is something to be expected. If we will allow these accounts to teach us, we will also be better prepared to relate to others facing similar experiences. And, we, ourselves, will be better prepared for what happens in our lives.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that by becoming a Christian and living the Christian life you will be guaranteed immunity from trouble. No one is promised anything like that. We are promised comfort, strength, and help, and we are given hope and God’s grace, which is sufficient for our every need.
On the other hand, don’t ever let anyone put a guilt trip on you. Don’t let them throw accusations at you like Job’s comforters did (read the Book of Job in the Old Testament). Oftentimes these people will infer that some sin, some prayerlessness, some lack of faith has brought on your calamity. Don’t believe it.
Job as Mentor
Job’s experiences can serve as a good teacher. His replies to those who sought to “comfort” him can shed much light on the struggles we have when affliction strikes us.
Job has been described as a good man who feared God and stayed away from evil. That description fits many a godly man, both in this present age and in preceding eras of time.
Job had a large family – seven sons and three daughters – and was immensely wealthy, employing many servants. He was considered the richest cattleman in the area where he lived.
One day Satan, the accuser, approached God, scoffing. He suggested that the only reason Job feared God was because God had always protected him, his home, and his property. In effect, Satan said, “No wonder Job ‘worships’ You! Take away his wealth and he’ll curse You.”
Let’s look at what happened after that. God allowed the following things to happen:
- The Sabeans – enemies – came.
- They raided and drove away Job’s animals (oxen and donkeys).
- They killed all the farmhands except one messenger. Fire fell from heaven.
- It burned all the sheep and the herdsmen except one messenger.
- Three bands of Chaldeans came.
- They drove off all his camels.
- They killed all his servants except one who escaped. Job’s sons and daughters were feasting.
- A mighty wind swept in from the desert, engulfing the house.
- The roof fell in on them, and they all died, except one messenger who escaped.
What was the response of Job to all of this? He tore his robe in grief. He shaved his head. Then he fell down on the ground and worshipped God. Is that what you expected would happen? Most people can understand giving way to grief, but the rest? Is worshipping God what generally happens when people are confronted with bad things?
Notice, also, Job’s verbal response:
Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).
The Bible has a comment to make on Job’s reaction. We are told that, In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly (v. 22). Oh, how much we can learn from this man when life heaps more upon us than we think we can possibly bear!
However, don’t think of Job as some “super saint” who didn’t have feelings or anything to say. Let me point out that Job was very human, very much like you and me. He did voice some perplexity, some anguish of heart. He suffered deeply, and in his humanity he did cry and express his feelings. Job did ask some “Whys?” (See Job 13:24.) I think it is safe to say that God who made us, who endowed us with our emotions and feelings, doesn’t expect us to remain stoic -unflinching under pain and suffering. We should not consider it weakness or sin when we give way to the throes of emotions that come over us in times of trouble or when we are confronted with death.
Out of all this tragedy and the accusations of his friends, Job was still able to maintain his integrity (see Job 2:3). God vindicated Job, stating that Job had been harmed without cause. But Satan doesn’t give up easily. “Touch his body with sickness;” he told God, “and he will curse You to Your face!”
Job’s friends looked for reasons why all these things were happening to Job. Isn’t that often the case with us? We seek answers. We wonder why. We imply that there must be some “secret sin” or sins. This is not to say that we won’t pay the price when we abuse our bodies – whether through drugs, alcohol, smoking, overindulgence, or immorality. We do pay for such indulgences. It is the old law of sowing and reaping: Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7). But such was not the case with Job.
Job admitted that he had impulsively cried out in desperation over his condition. He was struck with boils from head to foot, an extremely painful condition. He even expressed a death wish, a longing to die. Again, this is for our instruction. Though Job questioned God, he never lost his faith in God. Such patience and perseverance! We hear about the “patience of Job” (see James 5:11), and it truly existed.
Job never gave up on God. He was terrified and admitted it. He had a faint heart, and everything seemed so very, very dark, an impenetrable darkness. He searched, crying and reaching out to God. Yet, his honesty reveals much about the man. Finally Job could say, But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10). This testimony of faith has been called by some, one of the greatest found anywhere in religious literature.
To those who say that God doesn’t deal fairly, is not in control of all things and events, and is not a just God, I point you to the Book of Job. Job showed courageous faith, and God rewarded him for it. But even if God hadn’t rewarded him on this side of heaven, you can be certain God’s grace would have manifested itself on the other side: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation [testing]: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him (James 1:12). The final tally is never in this life for the one who entrusts himself to the God who made him and sees the end from the beginning.
Through suffering God is giving us opportunity to trust His sovereignty, just as He did Job. In the end, Job said that he knew God could do all things and that no plan of His could be thwarted (see Job 42:2). This is the response which is so becoming to the one who believes in God and has entrusted himself to His grace.
You and I are going to experience hurts in life. There is no question about it. Sometimes we may lose our perspective on things because suffering does strange things to us. Someone has suggested that in our afflictions what we really need is not an explanation from God but a revelation of Him. We get that from the Bible.
Paul Suffered Too
“When I am weak, then am I strong.” Does that sound like a contradiction? How is it possible to be weak, yet strong? There are many who find it very difficult to believe that this is possible.
On our weekly television program my wife, Rexella, had the unique privilege of interviewing men and women from nearly every walk of life. Many of these guests have written outstanding books which relate some crisis experiences they have had which would have sent someone of lesser strength into an emotional tailspin from which they might have never recovered. Yet, these people would be the first to tell you that in themselves they are not strong. On the contrary, they know only too well their own utter weakness. And that is just it – they are weak, and yet, they are strong. How can that be?
I think of a very special lady named Barbara Johnson. I was amazed to hear Barbara’s story of triumph over despair. Barbara learned how to cope with the crippling of her husband through a tragic accident on a slippery California mountain road and the death of two sons. One was killed in Vietnam and a drunken driver killed the other. Then, as if that weren’t enough tragedy for one woman to absorb, she made the horrifying discovery that another son was into the homosexual lifestyle.
Rexella asked Barbara how she coped with the death of her sons. Confidently, Barbara replied, “I found a great measure of satisfaction knowing both boys were Christians, and I knew they are now deposits in heaven. They are with the Lord. As Christians, we can have this kind of victory knowing that our loved ones are rejoicing around the throne of God.”
Barbara admitted that it was the experience of finding out that her third son was living the homosexual lifestyle that had caused her more heartache than the actual death of her two other sons. Still, out of the weakness she experienced, the trauma, the inability to bounce right back, and the peculiar pain a mother goes through in a situation like that, Barbara found strength.
The strength came as Barbara realized she was powerless to bring about change in her son’s life. With that realization came relinquishment. “You have to relinquish your child – or whatever situation is troubling you – into the hands of God. When you do, you find it releases you and you can reach out in loving care to others that need help. People all around us are fractured and broken. You know, to be restored means to put back in place. The word actually means to pop back in place. So now I am trying to help people like that, to restore those who need restoration.”
Barbara says, “God makes gold out of our lives one way or another – in the furnace of pain, in the furnace of suffering.”
Initially the very word homosexual made Barbara shudder and produced all kinds of unpleasant physical and emotional reactions. Today she explains, “We’re all ex-something in our lives. Sometimes the sin is so big – like a big black wall – that we can’t even find the sinner, and it is hard to love the unlovely. But God can remove all the stain of sin. Now I see them through His eyes, and I want to reach out to love and help them.”
“When I am weak, then I am strong.” It was the apostle Paul who first said that. Paul wrote that in the context of suffering. He explains in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth that there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me . . . (2 Corinthians 12:7). It sounds like the old story of Job all over again, doesn’t it?
Paul pleaded with the Lord for relief three different times. How did God respond to those pleas?
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (vss. 9,10).
Paul’s afflictions read like a catalog of horrors. He writes of his jail experiences, hard labor, whippings, stonings, and shipwrecks. He faced grave dangers from mobs in the cities as well as possible death in the deserts, on stormy seas, and from men who claimed to be brothers in Christ who were not. He lived with weariness, pain, and sleepless nights. Often he went hungry and thirsty, shivering with the cold, without enough clothing to keep himself warm (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Paul’s confession of weakness was not an admission that he succumbed to depression or even defeat. Never! Paul accepted his suffering and whatever conditions and circumstances that precipitated it as opportunities for relying on the inexhaustible grace that God does supply.
What can we learn from the apostle’s experience? Paul’s prayers were not answered. His “thorn in the flesh;” whatever it was, was not removed. Did Paul become bitter about this? No.
God Is Preparing Us
What happens to some people when their prayers are not answered the way they want them answered? Surely you have seen the bitterness that invades their lives like the spreading tentacles of a monstrous spider. Bitterness usually means there is some selfishness in their hearts. It means we want our way, not God’s way. Does this mean God doesn’t want us well?
God takes no pleasure in seeing His children suffer. But suffering is a reality. God is peopling heaven. In the meantime, He is preparing us for a glorious future with Him. God is equal to the needs of His children in their hours of trial.
Paul counted it a privilege to suffer for Christ. He spoke of suffering as preparation that enabled him confidently and joyfully to become all that God had in mind for him to be. He was able to rejoice when he ran into problems and trials, for he knew they were for his own good – they were helping him develop patience .
. . . we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience [steadfastness], experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Romans 5:3-5).
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
The apostle spoke knowingly of the things of nature, plaints and animals, suffering under the bondage of “sickness and death.” There is no perfection here on earth. He speaks of the “groaning” we all do as we await release from pain and suffering. We wait for bodies that will never be sick again and will never die. So all of this is meant to teach us to wait, to hope, and to trust God.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
Paul cautioned against criticizing God. He used the analogy of the potter working with a lump of clay. The thing made cannot say to the one who made it, “Why have you made me like this?” Just so, the apostle warned against resisting the will of the Father (see Romans 9:15-24).
Paul was not calling upon Christians merely to “endure” what comes their way. He was challenging them to allow their suffering to work for them here and now as well as for their ultimate good, an eternity spent with the Lord in the heaven He has prepared for those who believe in, love, and trust Him.
Rexella interviewed Michelle Price and her parents. Michelle is a young lady who at the age of eight had a leg amputated because of a malignant tumor. Her parents were very frightened. They feared they would lose their precious daughter.
“I knew that I had to completely let go of Michelle,” her mother explained. “If we could just learn to give things to the Lord `palms down’ instead of ‘palms up,’ where we keep taking the situation back. But I had to remind myself that Michelle was a gift from the Lord, and He loved her very dearly – in fact, more than I did. the doctors only gave her a four percent chance of surviving.”
Michelle’s father explained that he used to try to understand God and all that was happening. “Now it’s really great to know that I don’t have to understand God – that I can just trust God and believe in Him.”
After her surgery, the chemotherapy, and the many long months of recuperation, Michelle said she would awaken each day and think, “This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it! He is my strength:”
The many people Rexella has interviewed who have gone through some very painful and traumatic experiences all quoted the apostle Paul in one way or another. How glad we can be that Paul persevered, that he trusted himself to God’s mercy and grace. He allowed the suffering to be as a servant. He didn’t regard his painful experiences as an enemy or as his master.
The Reverend David Biebel is another example of someone who used the suffering he experienced to work for him, not against him. Reverend Biebel and his wife suffered greatly when their small son died. Healing came for them as they reached out to others going through other or similar suffering.
“‘We went through many different kinds of emotions,” he said. “One of the hardest things was to really face the fact that our son was no longer with us – to truly face the truth. I think we denied that at first.
“In the beginning we found ourselves asking the question that is so common in the face of loss: ‘Why?’ “
Because he was a pastor, David Biebel was plagued with additional feelings of guilt. “You get conflicting thoughts and feelings. Your mind tells you one thing that God is in control and He loves you, that your loved one is in heaven. But your heart is still broken. You get involved in feeling angry, and you might even become somewhat bitter. I wrestled with these things. I had to get up and preach and teach and represent this God, and often I felt like I was living as a hypocrite.”
By confessing his conflicting thoughts and feelings to God, David Biebel was able to surrender back to God what had been given to him and his wife. Someone has likened it to placing our pain on the altar as an act of worship to the glory of God.
Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
We come back to the apostle Paul – to the truths he learned as he accepted his suffering as God’s special gift, entrusted to him.
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels [that is, in our weak bodies], that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed, Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:6-11).
Paul explained that this is why he never gave up. Though he knew his body was dying daily, his inner strength in the Lord was growing every day. Troubles and sufferings are, after all, quite small, he said, and won’t last very long. These are actually short times of distress in comparison to what awaits us in eternity.
Do not look at what you can see right now – the troubles all around you – but keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Look forward to the joys that await you in heaven. The troubles will soon be over, and the joys to come will last forever (see 2 Corinthians 4:15-18).
FROM THE HEART OF DR. REXELLA VAN IMPE
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE?
How would you feel if you knew you could never again change anything about yourself or your life? Would you be happy with who you are, what you have, what you have accomplished, and the way things are now from now on?
Or do you have a to-do list of improvements youd still like to tackle in your personal life-some changes that will result in progress and growth? Chances are that you may have put off getting started simply because the familiar is more comfortable and going in new directions can be a little bewildering at first.
But someone has aptly pointed out that if we keep on doing exactly what we have been doing, were doomed to continue getting the same disappointing results. Which means that a little dissatisfaction from time to time may be good for you!
No one enjoys dissatisfaction, but it is not always bad. Without it, we probably wouldnt be motivated to change, so we wouldnt grow. And if we didnt grow, we would atrophy.
Dont make the mistake of thinking that satisfaction is the same thing as smugness. Smugness is a sort of self-satisfaction which is not true satisfaction at all. On the contrary, self-satisfaction breeds apathy, pride, and a holier-than-thou attitude. It is a work of the flesh, not a fruit of the Spirit.
At least one kind of dissatisfaction is both beneficial and desirable. Check out Pauls words in Philippians 3:12-14-Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (emphasis added).
Room to grow
In this passage, Paul affirms that he did not feel he had arrived at a point of perfection. He was, in a sense, dissatisfied. He knew there were things he could do better. He was aware of certain areas in his life that could be improved. In other words, he had room in his life to grow.
The great apostle responded to this inner feeling of need in a beautiful way. Rather than brooding over his past failures and allowing his sense of imperfection to become an excuse for depression and self-rejection, he acknowledged and accepted them. Then, refusing to abandon himself to failure, he dedicated himself more completely to his purpose of striving to be what God wanted him to be.
We need to develop the same attitude if we are ever to be truly fulfilled. We must forget our past failures and press on toward the mark. We must refuse to sink into self-pity or apathy. Above all, we must refuse to become discouraged. Real satisfaction is within reach, but it requires that we have a healthy dose of the right kind of dissatisfaction.
Signs of a life out of order
Both men and women can recognize signs of a need to get our act together and change our priorities in life. A heart in disarray can magnify itself in many ways.
Sometimes our work may suffer; our social life becomes non-existent, and even our health may deteriorate through discontent and bewilderment. Mothers may ignore their families, and fathers may become aloof, preoccupied because of inner turmoil.
Dissatisfied enough to change
God often uses our dissatisfaction to make us the best that we can be. Surely when were dissatisfied with something we become more willing to change, more eager to improve. God can take our yearning to be better and, through His power working in us, begin to transform us to be more and more like He wants us to be.
I have always been slim, and I even remember a time in my teenage years when I was literally gangly. Like most teenagers, I was self-conscious and not entirely satisfied with my appearance. I thought my teeth were crooked, that I was too skinny, that everything was wrong with the way I looked.
One day I went to my wise and understanding mother who was always completely honest with me. In tears, I cried, “Mother, I think I look awful!”
“Well,” she said, “you dont look your best, honey, but lets work on it.” Rather than minimize my dissatisfaction, she wisely decided to use it for my benefit. First of all, she began to build up my confidence. She tried to help me see which of my features could be emphasized and which ones could be improved. She helped me realize that I could look better with a little work and determination, but she brought into focus the importance of accepting the areas that couldnt be changed. With her tender love and wisdom, she taught me that what we are is, after all, more important than how we look.
So many women today are dissatisfied because they, too, are frustrated with their appearance. Still, instead of doing what should and can be done about it, they allow themselves to be trapped in an attitude of self-pity and despair.
Ladies, I want to encourage you to sit up, think straight, and replace self-pity with self-determination-the determination to look, feel, and be your very best!
Neva Coyle has written two best-selling books about feeling better about yourself. From a defeated, discouraged housewife who didnt like how she looked or how the world was passing her by, she became a free woman. These books tell the story-Free To Be Thin and Living Free.
At one time or another, each of us needs to be encouraged to improve our appearance (if you dont believe me, just ask your husband!) And for those of us who are married, this is an important consideration. Our concern serves as an indication that we still care-that we want our husbands to continue to be satisfied and happy with the choice they made. Those of you who are still single need to remember that man [does look] on the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7), and accept the validity of that portion of the verse.
While I still disagree with contemporary humanitys obsession with outward appearances and insist that we must not allow outward things to control us, we must remember that they are important. It is true that “first impressions are lasting impressions.”
The central point, then, is one of attitude. If we know we have done all that we should do and can do to look and be our very best, then we are our best. Problems in this area arise only when we allow our dissatisfaction to overrule rather than help us to improve the aspects of our physical appearance that can be changed. Perhaps the entire subject can best be summarized by a familiar quote: “Lord, grant me the grace to change the things I can, to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Hard work, even in the area of trying to better our appearance, is important. If we can improve ourselves by working at it, God expects us to do so. All too often we ask the Lord to give us more than we deserve simply because we are not willing to apply ourselves.
Florence Littauer has written a very down-to-earth book that every woman should read. Its entitled, It Takes So Little To Be Above Average. The gist of her message is that we shouldnt be so satisfied to be just average when its so easily within our grasp to be above average. So whether its dissatisfaction with your weight, your personality, your intellect, your home, your family relationships, your other relationships-set some new goals, take aim, and then go for it.
Setting goals is most essential. I learned very early in life that to succeed, a person must have goals. But above all, they must be the right kind of goals. They must be realistic and attainable. Set your personal goals so they are within reach. Then when you accomplish them, set higher ones-establish a new plateau of achievement.
Recognizing your areas of need
The key to growth, improvement, and maturity is to have a realistic picture of the deficiencies in your life. Dont make excuses for your shortcomings, but do not be obsessed with them either. One attitude leads to pride, the other to discouragement. Both are detrimental to your growth as a person.
Im glad my mother did not try to convince me that there was nothing wrong with the way I looked as a teenager. By telling me honestly that I could improve myself and then helping me to do it, she instilled in me a sense of self-confidence and a desire for growth. Through it, I learned to live with an accurate picture of myself, understanding both my needs and my strengths. And that is a healthy step in the right direction toward the kind of satisfaction God wants us to have.
At the beginning of this chapter, I quoted Pauls words from Philippians 3. Obviously he never saw himself as faultless. None of us should either, for we all have shortcomings.
Most Christians tend to think of Paul as a “super saint,” and truly he was an extremely godly man. He was disciplined, dedicated, and mightily used of God.
But he was also painfully aware of his great spiritual needs. Romans 7 describes his inner struggle between flesh and the spirit. Finally, in desperation, he cried out, O wretched man that I am! (verse 24). Pauls cry was not one of defeat, but rather the deep, heartfelt yearning of a godly man who wanted to be more godly. Far from giving up in defeat, Paul was simply using his inner dissatisfaction to spur himself on to greater victory!
This message of determination runs throughout Pauls writings. Please notice a significant truth from his life-as he grew and matured, his sense of personal need only deepened. One would think that as a person wins new victories and attains higher goals, his sense of need would begin to diminish. Just the opposite is true. As we grow closer and closer to what God wants us to become, the more deeply we sense our shortcomings.
Pauls life beautifully illustrates this truth. In one of his early writings (1 Corinthians), he described himself as least of the apostles (15:9). What humility for one to see himself as last in order of importance and first in order of need.
Later, Paul wrote in Ephesians, [I] am less than the least of all saints [or Christians] (3:8). Now he had demoted himself even further. Not only did he see himself as the least of the apostles, but he also placed himself at the bottom of the list of all believers.
Finally, toward the end of his life, in a letter written to Timothy, Paul described himself as the chief of sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15). He remembered he had slaughtered hundreds of believers in his persecution of Christians in earlier days.
Thus he had moved to seeing himself as chief among sinners. Here is a man who knew the right kind of dissatisfaction-the kind that spurred him on to greater consecration and, in my opinion, to becoming one of Gods choicest servants.
I am glad for the kind of dissatisfaction that leads one to look for ways to bring about self-improvement. Like Paul, we need to cultivate this kind of dissatisfaction. We need to let it drive us to a greater dependency on the Lord. Indeed, we need to search for and cooperate with His master plan for our lives.
When the work of God is complete in us and we reflect His glory, never again will we be baffled, bewildered, or befuddled by anything life places in our pathway.
CHANGED LIVES-one at a time
Rexella’s message on tears was very timely for me, as most of my weeping seems to be done at night. I appreciated all the scriptures as they were reminders to me that God wishes us to weep for the lost and for our losses and grieve.
You folks have talked about God saving up our tears, and as He is moving more and more of us to cry and weep before the end of this age, it was so nice to read what He had given you to pass on to us about how He uses our weeping as ministry.
God Bless you both and all your staff.
Dear Dr. Jack & Dr. Rexella,
New Years greeting in Jesus Christ our soon coming King.
I would like to say thank you for the pass year of the programme that faithfully comes on now on Saturdays. Thank you too for faithfully sending the books I ordered, and for the Today magazine. I have encouraged my family and friends to listen weekly as well. Your up to date information is not on secular TV. Thank you both again and may the LORD grant you both health & strength to continue preaching, teaching the word, as we keep our eyes and ears looking up, for our redemption draweth nigh.
May the Lord continue to bless your ministry.
Love in Christ.
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