Disproportionate Suffering

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’

(Exodus 3:2-3)

“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”

‚ÄĒ John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”

All of us know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It seems like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these extreme sufferers can be a real challenge.

What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in unbelievable pain?

Perhaps a very simple word of calm encouragement is the only real way to touch their hearts. They often don’t need another teaching or a link to a website. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact, I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach or counsel me. The light he carried was more than enough.

He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should become our own method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway. (If you hear someone quoting Philippians 1:6 in heaven, that will probably be Fred.) ūüôā

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”

It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance,

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.¬†¬†

The Lord God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
    eager to learn his teaching.

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

Ask the Father to guide you. Be gentle. Be there. He will give you, in His time, a good word for them.

 

Furnace People

The Furnace

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.

Isaiah 48:10

“Once we have come through the ‘furnace of humiliation,’ desperately, fearfully clinging to Christ for all He is worth, then we are fully equipped to march into somebody else’s furnace.”

‘Blessed with Bipolar”

Becoming a real and authentic person starts with the responses that we’ve made in the presence of Jesus. Amazingly, this simple faith becomes the prerequisite, granting us the right to enter into the promises of the Lord. If you have those promises you may enter. However, without faith in those promises, you won’t find anything real.

You will not be able to handle the Kingdom of God unless you’re walking out of a life of brokenness and humility!

Furnace people will often recognize those without any real and tangible connection with God’s work. There are furnace promises, but many, without truly understanding will walk around in unreality. Often ‘they get religion.’ These are those who land on “the rocky soil.” They become ‘quasi-disciples’ who will do and say things that they really don’t really understand.

But furnace people have a connection to that which is honest and true. The Holy Spirit refuses to give up. These people can’t tolerate anything false or manipulative.¬† Their own hearts are being transformed by the fire, and it seems only then are qualified to minister God’s grace. Only furnace people can enter. You will know them by their scars.

The Church has a tremendous need for those who have withstood the furnace of humiliation.

After we endure its ugliness and its great evil, we’ll discover that we’re in an altogether different place than when we first started. The Church is waiting for those who went in and then come out on the other side. Again, the furnace of affliction will have done its work.

I was thinking today about Joseph, and his ordeal, as found in the Book of Genesis chapters 37-50.  He was a rare kind of person. Perhaps, one in a thousand. You may emulate but never exceed his faith. His confidence in the Lord was true and came from his lousy circumstances.

Furnace people have the ability to function gracefully at this particular stage.

Furnace people are sovereignly brought to a place where they can minister the grace of God into desperate situations. We must convince ourselves, that furnace people have a gift.  They have been through the worst.  They may be battered and bruised.  But they still stand.  We must look to those who are the gracious agents of a loving God.

Our brothers and sisters have carried the Word with wisdom and grace. They come to us, through the fire. But will we receive them?

My hope is that you will personally grasp what God has worked for you. That really is your truest calling.¬† The things good or bad, that have happened are part of how you’ll understand grace. He waits for you to respond.¬† Will you come to Him, through the grace you find in flames? The most gracious people you’ll ever meet are those who endured God’s furnace.

¬†“He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.”

Malachi 3:3

***

Behold, The Hen of God!

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“How often I‚Äôve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn‚Äôt let me.”¬†

Matthew 23:37, Amplified

Scripture tells us that Jesus only wept twice. The first was at the tomb of Lazarus when he cried over the evil and destructive power of death. The second is here–the night before he was crucified, where he stood on the Mount of Olives–and wept over the city of Jerusalem.

The disciples saw the tears roll down His face.

Mother hens do not provide milk for their chicks, they simply aren’t equipped for that. Instead, they teach them by example–and occasionally hold food in their beaks until the little ones get the idea that they can scratch on their own. The yolk sack from the eggs they are hatched from will provide food for the first 72 hours–after that, they’re on their own.

The chicks will always return to their mother. They instinctively know who she is, it’s she that provides them with heat and shelter. You’ll see them snuggling up to mom, especially when the weather gets cold, wet–or for protection. The little chicks ‘automatically’ understand that she got what they need. They’ll always stay close to her.

There is no “magic force field” for the believer. We’ll face all the things that the unbeliever does, maybe even more–but he does cover, and lavishly provides the grace and peace that we need. Life can be brutal and nasty, there is no question about that.

“O God, have pity, for I am trusting you! I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this storm is past.”

Psalm 57:1

The Lord will always protect his people. He’s deeply and intensely aware of us–he shields and provides everything we need. He covers us, keeps us, and protects us. We truly belong to him. He has adopted us as His own. We’re His sons and daughters, we are “family.”

“The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him, we cry, ‚ÄúAbba, Father.‚ÄĚ

Romans 8:15

Do we really understand this? Do we really grasp the profound implications of his promises to us?

I have many questions (of course I do.) So why do we do the things our Father hates? Why do we bring him tears by the way we behave? Will we come to him at the first sign of “danger?”

When I’m threatened or challenged do I find shelter under the wings of God?

The city of Jerusalem was stubborn and unreceptive to His love–can I also resist him as well? Is my own hardness blocking His will? Do I ignore Jesus’ protective love?

“But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them shout for joy forever. May You shelter them, and may those who love Your name boast about You.”

Psalm 5:11

Many Troubles, Bad Times

“You have given me many troubles and bad times,¬†but you will give me life again. When I am almost dead, You will keep me alive.”

Psalm 71:20, NCV

“He was¬†despised and forsaken of men,¬†A man of¬†sorrows and¬†acquainted with¬†grief.”

Isaiah 53:3, NASB

Everyone hurts sometimes. We all will face our special sorrows. But there are times when our pain pounds us intensely, and it can get really bad. The darkness rolls in on our souls like a caustic fog. We might devastatingly discover that there are things that are worse than terrible.

I have never spoken out like this, but my wife and I had a daughter who died— she was stillborn. She was doing great, up to a week before her due date. We knew that in seven days, we would be able to see her– face-to-face.

But that was not to be. Elizabeth Grace Lowe died from¬†strangulation¬†(from her own umbilical cord.) Nothing could have been done. My wife had noticed a moment of very frantic activity, as Elizabeth fought for her life. We plummeted from ecstatic joy to devastating sorrow in just seconds. It came “out of the blue,” totally unexpected.

We were completely undone. 

“For the Lord will¬†not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.”

Lamentations 3:32-33, NASB

There is pain, but there are also promises.

There can be brutal sadness, but there are psalms. There is a blessing for all those who grieve. This topic deserves far more attention than this simple post. (If you’re in the thick of things, I’m trusting the Holy Spirit will help you to your next step.)

There can be such sorrow in this life, much more than the human heart can possibly contain. But our Savior has a title (one of many.) He is the “Man of Sorrows.” He is the one who is “on point.” He leads us through such intense hostility. He is there when the switch is flipped and it becomes instantly dark. He can’t, won’t, and will not leave you to face your pain alone.

There are a few things that I want to communicate to you. These have come out of great darkness. I have tried awfully hard to be a disciple, even through the worst of it. They may be right, wrong or just okay, I don’t really know…

  1. God takes the full blame for our pain and sorrow. He doesn’t shift the blame or deny His presence in our sufferings. Sometimes you need to adjust your theology. Maybe it’s hard to trust Him right now–that’s more than understandable. In eternity, I believe, it’ll make perfect sense.
  2. Jesus has fully shared our sorrow. All that you are feeling right now, He feels. If you feel you are at a minus 10, then He does as well. As you suffer, He is your shadow. He knows. He feels it all.
  3. Nothing is ever wasted. We really shouldn’t treat these moments of sorrow as a waste. Have you ever wondered at Jesus’ ‘economy’ after the 5000 were fed? ¬†He assigns value to the leftovers. The disciples pick up their baskets and collect everything again. Nothing will go to waste.¬†
  4. This pain, this sorrow is the intensive crash course¬†in becoming a person of mercy. You now will always walk with a limp. At times the scars will be quite visible to those who can really see. This will become forever a healed wound (but a wound nevertheless.) It helps to seek out others who have walked this same path. I don’t think I will ever fully trust a person who doesn’t walk with a limp.
  5. You will need (but maybe not accept) the transformation of your suffering into glory. This will take some time, and it almost feels like you’re not progressing at all. I encourage you to re-think each of these simple points. The Holy Spirit may be working, perhaps behind the scenes.
  6. Finally remember this: God is not a monster, stomping on us like a boy crushes ants. He has carried all of our pain and illness. He clearly comes alongside every suffering believer. It is Satan who would suggest to you that God is a Celestial Menace, not worthy of our love. I will be very blunt with you, that idea has to be implicitly rejected. Its origins are satanic.

*“The LORD is close to the¬†brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 147:3, NLT

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the¬†brokenhearted¬†and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

Isaiah 61:1, NLT

“He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.”
Psalm 147:3, TPT

*

Burning Bush Believers

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ (Exodus 3:2-3)

“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”

‚ÄĒ John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace

 

We all know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It looks like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge.

What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?

Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

¬†“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact, I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach (or counsel) at me.

He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”

It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance”

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.¬†¬†

“The Lord¬†God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
¬†¬†¬†¬†eager to learn his teaching.”

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

Trust Jesus to show you how to love, and serve those who seem to struggle so. Ask the Father to give you the right words–He will if you only ask.

 

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A Stone’s Throw Away

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_1odvenqfc6kkgwo0sg0skgsco_1280

“And He withdrew from them about a stone‚Äôs throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,”

Luke 22:41

WHO KNOWS WHAT JESUS IS THINKING as he entered the Garden? His disciples followed Jesus but scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them. He knew He must find some much-needed strength through prayer— this verse tells us he went “a stone’s throw.”

Often we share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants His disciples to follow him. And they do,¬†but not all the way. They came very close but didn’t really understand the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time perhaps, needing someone close.

Some who are reading this will make the same trip to the garden.

Perhaps every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observer or tourist. The garden is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each disciple will experience it for themselves. The servant is not above his master.” We must follow the Lord Jesus, and it’s not going to be easy.

I’ve gone to the Garden myself, sitting in the dark, waiting for Him to come. And He does. And He is my light.

Jesus is very close. He stands by us. He listens and watches.

He completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as He personally escorts us through this time in the “garden.” He comes in grace and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.

“God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1

“No physician ever weighed out medicine to his patients with half so much care and exactness as God weighs out to us every trial. Not one grain too much does He ever permit to be put in the scale.”

   Henry Ward Beecher

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Restore the Sparkle or I Will Die

Trials are hard, at times they seem to suffocate us and weaken our walk with God. David shares with us his own difficulty in these six verses.

Buckle your seat belt folks!

 

Commentary, Psalm 13

For the choir director: A psalm of David.
 

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

V. 1-2, David believes that he has been forgotten. A phrase is repeated an astounding four times, “How long?”  It seems that impatience is a significant issue for him. Often when it gets this bad, we desperately look around to find anything to fill the gap. Anything.

Something else struck me. Within these two verses, you’ll find five hard questions. Whenever you find a question in the psalms especially, you must stop reading and take a closer look–why is he asking this?

V. 2, “Anguish…sorrow, every day.” Somehow David is alert enough to recognize (and admit) that his life is saturated with real difficulty. It seems it comes and when it comes there’s  no relief– it’s a constant, gnawing, challenging pain which can be physical, emotional, or spiritual (or all three).

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don‚Äôt let my enemies gloat, saying, ‚ÄúWe have defeated him!‚ÄĚ Don‚Äôt let them rejoice at my downfall.

V. 3,  Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” (I love this version–“sparkle). David knew that life could be exceptional, it was meant to gleam and shine. There is much more than just breathing in life. He speaks of being restored. He looks toward God to change his world again.

V. 4, Also, he is quite aware that his life is being threatened. The word, “gloat” is an interesting translation. It has the idea of relishing someone else’s failure. The dark prince savors your defeat. He has been looking forward to this desperate moment. The enemy rejoices at his failures.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

V. 5,  But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” The Lord has covered David with His hand. His life has been saved by a love that never falters or weakens. Never! He knows that God has rescued him.

Notice how David responds to the wonderful goodness of God.

  • I trust. 
  • I rejoice.
  • I sing.

V. 6,  Tremendous verse; it is really wonderful. When we finally get to this last verse, we see that we have “run the gauntlet” with David. And we have learned how to sing.

Often good jewelers display their diamond necklaces on a black background. The darkness intensifies the brightness of the jewels. They become even more beautiful to look at. David is singing and praising the Lord in His nearness. The darkness has only strengthened his faith.

I truly believe that this is what we were made to do.