Hearing the Lord in Sufferings

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,

Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

[How Great Thou Art, Stuart K. Hine]

All change is painful, but so is not changing in the face of my daily perpetual shortcoming and glaringly obvious needs for deliverance. God has given me hands and a heart that others sometimes say are miraculous in going to the exact spot of and removing their physical, psychological and emotional pain. Where are Jesus hands visible today in your life removing suffering and granting new life? This is the question I must remember to ask myself often and much these days.

I am in a bit of a working thesis that the narrow way of life seems almost best “single stepped” a day at a time in the likeness of a kind of “programmers debugging mode.” I know that God desires change from me (Psalm 55:19), and when I repent and am made new (Acts 3:19), I am effectively allowing my existence to be re-coded by Jesus and His Holy Spirit. When His promises inhabit me more than the mountains of misery my nature wants to focus on it is pure evidence that He is alive and real.

Paying attention to Him in the midst of what is painful and believing in His Love and essential goodness is much more difficult than diverting and ignoring. It is actually the only truly redemptive practice, but the impulse to medicate and suppress that has overtaken our opiate addicted nation is doubly treacherous. On the one hand it allows us to keep going where we normally would be pain-limited and need to stop; while on the other hand it removes the innate incentive God provides to force us to come unto Him to produce the meaningful and necessary holistic change He designs for us.

Self-inflicted sufferings come when we harm or create injury in others, put off what we know we should do, do what we know we shouldn’t, fail to follow God’s plan for us, indulge or give in to wrong appetites, fail to forgive others, overwork and fail to rest well, have wrong thoughts, pursuits and affections, make wrong relationship, business and financial (even entertainment) choices, misunderstand the nature of God’s calling for our lives, and a myriad other possibilities. Most self-inflicted suffering is habitual and can be considered besetting before we may even notice or identify it and can be pernicious to overcome.

Apart from self-inflicted sufferings it is painful to care, painful to share the body of Christ and painful to be in His awareness of the world condition. The man of sorrows Jesus Christ meets us in the midst of these things and takes away our pain restoring us as we are willing to steadfastly yield it up to Him in sufficient belief and be in higher powered right action. Holding on to my pain and the pain of others is reckless and easy, holding on to Him in the midst of letting go of pain is the way to everlasting life.

“Narrow is the gate that leads to life, and few there are that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). As believers we experience that He is THE WAY. His narrowing allows us to even be able to pass through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24)! Why is it such a painful thing to be separated from all of our cares and sufferings so we too can rejoice as Paul does? It is a foolishness and a folly for us not to do this! “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Jesus warns us carefully concerning the defilement of cares in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) and the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). When we are in our cares, we are becomming the servant who literally hides their talent in the ground.

In Numbers 21:4-9 the people detested their suffering in the desert. “Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died... The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it upon a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Essentially, all the people who could only focus on the snakes biting them were eliminated from the tribe, while those who could manage to look up in the midst of the deadly snakes could live. In John 3:14-15 our Lord Jesus declares to us: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

How often have I realized that mulling on my suffering becomes a deep spiritual hindrance? Ray Stedman says “the mystery of the gospel is the answer to the impotence of man -- the fact that we are unable, oftentimes, to fulfill our ideals and to realize our dreams. We are failures in doing what we know we ought to do -- to love, to forgive, to restore.” How often am I living this as a reality instead of just acquiescing to it as an idea? People who know me closest and love me have seen my propensity to be nearly overcome at times by sorrows and sufferings, and I feel it clear today that I need to be looking up more and more quickly, or else!

“... For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.”

“For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire." (2 Peter 2:19-22)

Ray Stedman says “the cross is always the way to a crown, and that there is no way to guarantee that the victory is certain unless there is an element of the sufferings of Christ being filled up within the physical body of a Christian, of a believer in Jesus Christ.” I need to remind myself daily that picking up my cross (Luke 9:23), travailing in childbirth of the spirit (Romans 8:22), pressing on to attain God’s heavenly calling (Philippians 3:14), and being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) can all be accomplished in His strength and not my own. I am simply not sufficient in the face of these things, and yet His sufficiency ought to have me being resurrected in the midst of them. Hebrews speaks very deeply in this:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?"

“‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

“If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?”

“For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:1-13)

As His Word is a lamp unto my feet (Psalm 119:105), He is correcting me, optimizing my code and making straight all of my ways to him (Proverbs 3:6). As my living water is purged of impurities (James 3:11-13), His sanctification becomes a practiced way of life, a process of yielding up my members unto God (Ro 6:13-22) and reorganizing myself entirely around the simplicity of His new commandment:

“When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, 'Where I am going you cannot come.'”

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:31-35)

How do I see interplay in my own life between sovereign God and His ability to heal me wholly alongside my own creative acts as His beloved son made in His image which are necessary to lead me into His love? He gives me room as a gentile to run down any path I want just to see that it is not the one I want to be on (Romans 2:14). Am I sorry for running down the path of being choked by the cares of the world (Mark 4:19) enough not to do it any more? Do I know I have a “safe” playground with built in safety as long as I look upward (Matthew 6:33, Titus 2:13); but, a “savage garden” in life when I look down to avoid the things which kill me?

All this, the pain I feel seems uniquely a signal to stop, but stop what?? That is the question! My charter in His image must be more than to suffer idly, reflexively avoid pain or even attempt to “subdue” it. My whole hope, faith and confession needs to be, like Paul, and as Ray Stedman says so well:

“We learn to trust God, to turn from our fears, and to renew ourselves with divine strength, to draw upon God's great and mighty promises in the hour of pressure and danger. As they see this, their praise begins to ring out in amazement and wonder at a God -- the God of justice, the God of infinite holiness whom they know -- who is also able to find a way by which he can lavish his love upon the very ones who deserve his wrath. This makes the angels praise God.“

“They glory as Charles Wesley captured it in that great hymn that I love to sing: "'Tis mystery all, the Immortal died." Imagine that -- the Immortal died! "Who can explore this strange design? In vain the first-born serif tries to solve the depths of love divine. 'Tis mercy all, let earth adore, and angel minds inquire no more’."

What is the cause or causality of the pain in my life? God promises me pruning (John 15:1-17), chastening (Proverbs 3:11-12) and scourging (Hebrews 12:6-11) outright. When I am in Christ captivation instead of pain captivation, I experience myself being precipitated into the mystery of Christ himself, and the living gate of His narrow way.”

Ray’s Prayer: “May our hearts, Lord, praise your name with such joy and thanksgiving that your heart is delighted, our Father, as you read the thoughts of our minds and the expressions of our hearts. May they be pleasing in your sight, so that, as you look at us, it may be as the angels sang so long ago: "Glory to God on the highest and on earth, peace among men with whom he is well pleased." We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.”

My favorite passage on suffering:

1 Peter 4:1-13

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking,
for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,
2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do,
living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.
4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;
5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead,
that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another,
as good stewards of God's varied grace:
11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves,
as one who serves by the strength that God supplies
—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you,
as though something strange were happening to you.
13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings,
that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Lawrence Hoppis (July 20, 2019)