Longsuffering Is Hard

A former pastor, an older, distinguished Southern gentleman with a deep bass voice, used to pronounce longsuffering with an extended “o”: looooooooooongsuffering. His point was, of course, to illustrate that longsuffering is suffering long.

Newer Bible translations render this word “endurance” or “patience,” and both of those are perfectly accurate. But I like the old word, longsuffering, because it’s a reminder that suffering of whatever nature is hard.

That last thought was a bit of a revelation for me (more like a “duh” moment, actually). I realized I’d been thinking that if I endured something hard for a while, then it wouldn’t “feel” hard any more. Longsuffering would give way to sweetness and ease. When whatever I was enduring still felt hard, I wondered what was wrong with me.

But “longsuffering” indicates it is still hard. And we still need grace to endure. Praying for it doesn’t make it easy, but bearable.

Like long-term physical issues. Or caregiving. Or trying neighbors or coworkers. Or difficult circumstances with no resolution in sight. Or extended loneliness.

Or even our own selfishness. Does anybody else get discouraged by the thought that our selfish nature will always be with us and we’ll have to keep fighting it until we get to heaven?

Sometimes my worst reactions are to little things hardly worth the name of “suffering” and certainly not long. Amy Carmichael once wrote:

The hardest thing is to keep cheerful (and loving) under little things that come from uncongenial surroundings, the very insignificance of which adds to their power to annoy, because they must be wrestled with, and overcome, as in the case of larger hurts. Some disagreeable habit in one to whom we may owe respect and duty, and which is a constant irritation or our sense of the fitness of things, may demand of us a greater moral force to keep the spirit serene than an absolute wrong committed against us. (1)

Thankfully, God is longsuffering with us.

The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6).

Thankfully, we can pray for His longsuffering in us:

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness (Colossians 1:9-11).

Longsuffering with joyfulness, it says. Yes, there will be great joy when whatever we’re suffering is over. But God gives joy in it as well. Maybe not joy for whatever it is in itself, but joy that God is with us, helping us, teaching us through it. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

Wait a minute, you might say. Didn’t Jesus say His yoke was easy and His burden light? Yes, He did, in Matthew 11:28-30. One aspect of His yoke being easy is that the Pharisees had added on or expounded upon the Old Testament law, making it extremely burdensome. People couldn’t keep the OT law as it was. Jesus’s yoke was easy in the sense that He kept the law in our place and took the punishment for our sin upon Himself. Another aspect of His yoke being easy is that He helps us bear whatever He allows. He calls us to cast all our cares on Him and come to Him for help. Those who don’t know Him don’t have that help.

But He never indicated the Christian life is a bed of roses.

There are several reasons in Scripture why God allows suffering of various kinds. And it’s okay to say it hurts or it’s hard. But “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:3-4a). All things.Through the knowledge of Him. Get to know ever better our great high priest who “sympathize[s] with our weaknesses . . .who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4: 15-16).

I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11, NASB)

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(1) Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87.

All Bible references are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

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Book Review: Suffering Is Never for Nothing

Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot is “a very slight adaptation” of a series of talks Elisabeth gave at a conference. Someone had given a set of the conference CDs to Jennifer Lyell. She was so blessed, she gave copies to others. Finally she met and befriended Elisabeth and her husband, Lars, when Elisabeth could no longer speak. Later she obtained permission to transcribe the talks and have them published.

Though this volume wasn’t published in Elisabeth’s lifetime, if you’ve read her books, listened to her radio program, or heard her speak, you’ll hear familiar themes.

Just a bit of background for those who might not be familiar with Elisabeth: she and her husband were missionaries to an Indian tribe in Ecuador when several of the missionary couples were burdened to try to reach a tribe then known as Aucas ( later it was discovered they called themselves Waorani). The Aucas were thought to be a savage tribe: their every encounter with any from outside their world ended badly. After several seemingly friendly encounters, the men thought the time had come to try to meet the tribe in person. The first visit went well, but then the Aucas speared all five of the men to death. A few years later Elisabeth, her young daughter, Valerie, and Rachel Saint, sister to another of the men, Nate Saint, went to live with the Auca/Waorani. Elisabeth shared that story in Through Gates of Splendor. In later years, Elisabeth remarried, but her second husband died of cancer. Before that marriage, Elisabeth lost almost the entire body of the translation work she had painstakingly labored over in the jungle. Along with these major losses in her life, she’s dealt with the everyday ones we all face.

I don’t know if Elisabeth intended to start a writing career when she published her first book: she was still a missionary in the jungle at the time. But God led her to write several more. I was one of many who considered her a mentor from afar, appreciating her no-nonsense, straightforward style and firm foundation on the Word of God.

To come back to this book, after naming several examples of suffering, Elisabeth boiled it down to this definition: “Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have” (p. 9). That’s well and good, but what do we do about it? Elisabeth says, “I’m convinced that there are a good many things in this life that we really can’t do anything about, but that God wants us to do something with” (p. 8).

Probably our biggest struggle concerning suffering is wondering where God is in it and why He allows it. Verse after verse assures us that God is right there with us in suffering. And some passages give us a few ideas of why He might allow it. Elisabeth says, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God . . . The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering” (p. 9).

Still, “There would be no intellectual satisfaction on this side of Heaven to that age-old question, why. Although I have not found intellectual satisfaction, I have found peace. The answer I say to you is not an explanation but a person, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God” (p. 12). She shares that when she first heard the news that her first husband was missing, she didn’t hear anything more about his condition or whereabouts for five days. God brought to her mind Isaiah 43:2-3: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” She realized God wasn’t promising anything about her husband, but He promised to be with her.

“The questions remains, is God paying attention? If so, why doesn’t He do something? I say He has, He did, He is doing something, and He will do something” (p. 13).

She discusses the perspective of the cross and the two different kingdoms, the one on this world and the kingdom of God.

It’s He who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain. And He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know suffering is never for nothing (p. 16).

We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance (p. 43).

Faith is not a feeling. Faith is willed obedience in action (p. 45).

She then discusses our response: acceptance, gratitude, offering whatever it is back to God, and the transfiguration He works in us, with a chapter devoted to each of those.

Now if I had had a faith that was determined God had to give me a particular kind of answer to my particular prayers, that faith would have disintegrated. But my faith had to be founded on the character of God Himself. And so, what looked like a contradiction in terms: God loves me; God lets this awful thing happen to me. What looked like a contradiction in terms, I had to leave in God’s hands and say okay, Lord. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. But I only had two choices. He is either God or He’s not. I am either held in the Everlasting Arms or I’m at the mercy of chance and I have to trust Him or deny Him. Is there any middle ground? I don’t think so (pp. 26-27).

Many years ago I read a different book by Elisabeth on this topic, A Path Through Suffering. At first I thought this was a republication of that book by a different name. It’s not, though. Some of the information probably overlaps, but they are two different books, both worthy to be read and extremely helpful.

I enjoyed reading this book over the last few weeks with the True Woman Summer Book Club and looking through the comments and study questions there.

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When Your World Is Shaken

Has your world ever been shaken? Has you ever experienced the rug being pulled from under you and everything going topsy-turvy? An unexpected serious diagnosis, a betrayal, a financial failure, a massive, destructive storm?

My own world was shaken once when I was 15. My parents divorced and we moved from a very small town to a humongous city. On one hand, my parent’s breakup was not a surprise: circumstances had been leading to that conclusion for a long time. But it was still a shock to the system when it happened. On top of family issues, I had to process the loss of friends, familiar neighborhoods, and school and face the culture shock of a totally different area, new school, etc.

Another shaking occurred in my thirties. One morning my left hand felt a little funny, like I had slept on it wrong. Within three hours, my left arm, both legs, and my lower torso were numb, I couldn’t walk on my own, and I was having trouble going to the bathroom. I thought I was having a stroke. After eight days and multitudes of tests, I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis. Would it get better . . . or worse? Would I walk again? How could I live in my split-level house when I couldn’t get up the stairs? How could I take care of my 2-year-old? No one could tell me.

I don’t remember when I first read C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, but his meditation on the evening of June 22. was eye-opening for me. The verse for that evening was Hebrews 12:27: “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” Even though that passage is talking about the ultimate “shaking” at the end of the age, we can apply some its truths to our comparatively smaller shakings.

Spurgeon says:

We have many things in our possession at the present moment which can be shaken, and it ill becomes a Christian man to set much store by them, for there is nothing stable beneath these rolling skies; change is written upon all things. Yet, we have certain “things which cannot be shaken,” and I invite you this evening to think of them, that if the things which can be shaken should all be taken away, you may derive real comfort from the things that cannot be shaken, which will remain.

What are some things that cannot be shaken? These truths are all through Scripture, but I’ll share a representative verse or two for each.

  • God’s sovereignty. Nothing that happens to us is a surprise to God. Well, then, why didn’t He prevent this calamity? That’s a question for another post. But He has a purpose in what He allows.

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

“The LORD is constantly watching everyone, and he gives strength to those who faithfully obey him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a, CEV).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29, NIV).

God’s power, might, and knowledge are all still in force though circumstances are in an upheaval.

  • God’s presence. One of the first things people ask in a crisis is, “Where is God?” He’s there.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

  • God’s love. We might not understand how the turmoil we’re facing fits with God’s love, but we can rest in the fact that His love never leaves us.

 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

  • Our salvation. Tumultuous circumstances do not indicate that my salvation is in question.

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).

  • Our home in heaven. Spurgeon concludes his devotion on this topic this way: “Our country is Immanuel’s land, our hope is above the sky, and therefore, calm as the summer’s ocean; we will see the wreck of everything earthborn, and yet rejoice in the God of our salvation.” Sometimes trials remind us of this very thing: we seek “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” This world is just a temporary dwelling, a tent.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-3).

This is one reason it’s so important that we mine the bedrock truth from the Bible. So often we seek affirmation or warm fuzzy spiritual feelings. But nice feelings will evaporate in hard times. We need to know God’s character and Word are true no matter how we feel and how circumstances seem.

If you’re familiar with Elisabeth Elliot, you know that her world was shaken in a major way a few times. Her first husband was killed by the Indians he was trying to reach with the gospel. Her specialty on the mission field was translation, and years of painstaking work was lost in an instant. Her second husband died of cancer. A recently published book, Suffering Is Never for Nothing, is transcribed from her sessions at a conference. In the third chapter she says:

We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance (p. 43).

Sometimes it’s not the big things that shake us up. It’s the little accumulated everyday frustrations. I never read the book If God Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My Locker Open, so I don’t know if it’s good. But I’ve had similar thoughts! I love God and I am trying to serve Him here, so why am I stuck in traffic/is my computer not working/is what I need unavailable. Elizabeth wrote in another book of the frustration of spending an inordinate amount of time in the jungle on a stove that wasn’t working. Couldn’t God “make” it function so she could get back to the more important translation work? He could, and sometimes He does. But we live in a fallen world, and He doesn’t take away all the effects of that yet. She wrote in A Lamp For My Feet:

Whatever the enemy of our souls can do to instill doubt about the real purpose of the Father of our souls, he will certainly try to do. “Hath God said?” was his question to Eve, and she trusted him, the enemy, and doubted God. Each time the suspicion arises that God is really “out to get us,” that He is bent on making us miserable or thwarting any good we might seek, we are calling Him a liar. His secret purpose has been revealed to us, and it is to bring us finally, not to ruin, but to glory. That is precisely what the Bible tells us: “His secret purpose framed from the very beginning [is] to bring us to our full glory” (1 Cor 2:7 NEB).

I know of no more steadying hope on which to focus my mind when circumstances tempt me to wonder why God doesn’t “do something.” He is always doing something–the very best thing, the thing we ourselves would certainly choose if we knew the end from the beginning. He is at work to bring us to our full glory.

Sufferings and trials have a way of clarifying for us what’s most important. As the things which can be shaken fall away, the things which cannot be shaken come more clearly into focus. Many of the psalmists go through this process: they come to God shaken by a problem: an enemy is after them, they’re troubled by the prospering of the wicked, etc. But as they pray and remind themselves of the truths they know, they’re brought back to a place of peace.

As Samuel Rutherford said, “Believe God’s word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your sea.”

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
    though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:1-5, 10-11

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It’s okay to say it hurts

Several years ago someone stood up in a church prayer meeting and requested prayer for a young couple. The husband had just been diagnosed with cancer, and the wife reportedly “wasn’t taking it very well.”

I wondered what was meant by this comment on the wife’s reaction, and I wondered how in the world one does take such news well. If she threw over her faith because she didn’t want to believe in a God who would do such a thing, yes, that would constitute reacting poorly. But I doubt this mutual friend was conveying such a severe response.

Perhaps she got upset, cried, even got angry. But are those responses wrong? Is the Christian life one of perfect serenity and beatific smiles no matter the circumstances?

It doesn’t appear that way in Scripture. The psalms show a range of emotions: grief, confusion, anger, despair. Paul speaks of being with the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3) and being “hard pressed on every side . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down” (2 Corinthians 4:8). He reports being “in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger . . . through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). Even the Lord Jesus wept (Luke 19:41; John 11:33-35) and sweat great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). We don’t “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but we do grieve.

I was once subscribed to an email group of transverse myelitis patients, back in the days before forums, message boards, or Facebook groups. I was conscious of wanting to glorify God and be a good testimony there, both of which were good goals. But I felt that in order to be a good testimony, I had to present myself as always victorious and overcoming and positive. At some point another Christian lady joined the group, and I was blessed as she did not gloss over the hardship and pain and frustration, yet she glorified God in the midst of all of that. Not only did her testimony ring true, but it also made her more relatable. We might admire the people who seem like they’ve always got it all together, but we’re not likely to go to them for help. We’re more drawn to those we can identify with, who’ve been in the trenches we’ve been in and yet survived them with grace.

On the other hand, it’s not good to wallow where the Lord extends grace to overcome. I’ve read people who readily admit to weakness, fear, pain, and grief, yet never exhibit God’s grace in dealing with those things. They seem to glory in their perpetual “mess.” Paul admits being “hard pressed on every side . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down,” but he doesn’t stop there. He says he is “not crushed . . . not driven to despair . . . not forsaken . . . not destroyed” ((2 Corinthians 4:8). He is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). He doesn’t “lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Why? Because “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) And later on in chapter 12:7-10, Paul shares that God did not remove something grievous in response to Paul’s prayers, but instead  promised “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We do need to distinguish between lament and complaint. We see lament all through the psalms and in some of the prophets, a crying out to God in the midst of painful circumstances. But 1 Corinthians 10:9-10 says of Israel during their trek from Egypt to Canaan: “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” One of those incidents of complaint occurred in Numbers 11:1-3. The people had previously grumbled about lack of water and food (Exodus 15:22-25; 16; 17;1-7), and God just met their need miraculously. He was longsuffering with them, perhaps because they had not been out of Egypt long and had not been taught His ways. But by Numbers 11, God responded to their complaints with fire and a plague. Did God just run out of patience with them? No, but by that time they had seen His miraculous deliverance from Egypt and provision of water and food. They should have gotten to know Him better and exhibited trust in Him at that point, plus grasped the larger picture of what He was delivering them to. What are the differences between lament and complaint? I don’t know all of them: that’s something I would like to study out more. Tim Challies points out the difference in one’s posture of either pride or humility. Complaint in these cases seemed to include a lack of faith, as I mentioned, and even an attack on God’s leadership, and by way of implication, on God. The laments in the psalms honestly admit the dire circumstances and hardships, but there is an element of faith running through them.

In George H. Guthrie’s book Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word, Michael Card says:

Lament teaches us that we have to go through the process of dealing with our suffering before God. You don’t just stuff your feelings down and put a good face on it, like a lot of us tend to do. You need to go through the process of pouring your heart out to God. And if you don’t have the language for it, the Bible will give you the language.

Almost all of the psalms of lament involve the psalmist reminding himself of the truth he knows. God is good and righteous. He loves us. He sees and knows what’s going on. He will bring about justice in His own time. He has the power to deliver us, and at some point He will. But in the meantime we can rest in Him. Through prayer and praise, the psalmist exhibits faith that God hears him and will do what’s best.

So when our friends are going through a hard time, we don’t need to add to their burden by judging their tears and lamentations. We can lend a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and gently remind them of God’s truth.

Enduring hardship as a Christian is not just a matter of a stiff upper lip or a smile that glosses over painful circumstances. When we’re in the midst of pain and sorrow ourselves, we can “take it to the Lord in prayer,” as the old hymn says. Sometimes we can cry out to Him in ways that we could not before others. We remind ourselves of the truth we have gleaned from His Word, that He knows all about it, He cares, He has the bigger picture in view, and He has promised His grace for our every need. And He’ll be glorified as others see His grace in us through the hard times.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Psalm 3:3-4, ESV

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Book Review: The Scars That Have Shaped Me

ScarsWhen Vaneetha Rendall Risner was a baby in India, she contracted polio before her inoculation. The doctor had never seen a case of polio before, misdiagnosed it, and prescribed a wrong treatment which left Vaneetha paralyzed. Vaneetha had twenty-one operations from age two to thirteen. She spent much of her young life in the hospital and felt safe there and at home,  but was “openly picked on at school.”

She wanted “nothing to do with God because he had allowed all this to happen,” but when she was a teenager, He drew her to Himself.

Vaneetha’s trials weren’t over, though. After her first daughter was born, she had three miscarriages. Her son was born with a heart defect which surgery corrected, but a doctor’s mistake led to her baby’s death at the age of two. Then she contracted post-polio syndrome,  which causes “increasing pain and weakness, which could potentially result in quadriplegia.” There is no cure. Then her husband left her.

The magnitude of any of one of those trials weighs heavy, but all of them together are crushing. How does a person cope with all of that?

Vaneetha tells her story in short order in The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering and then spends the rest of the book  sharing what God has taught her through her trials. Her words, like Joni Earecksn Tada’s, carry weight because they are based on Scripture and they’ve been tried in the trenches.

It’s hard to summarize a book like this, so I’ll just share a few quotes:

Our faith is not a facade we erect to convince ourselves and others that pain doesn’t hurt—it is an oak tree that can withstand the storms of doubt and pain in our lives, and grow stronger through them.

I’ve often been devastated when he tells me no, but as I submit to his will in those situations—even with disappointment and tears—he assures me he’s working for my good. I see only part of the picture. He has a purpose in his denials. The Father said no to the Son [in Gethsemane]. And that no brought about the greatest good in all of history. God is not capricious. If he says no to our requests, he has a reason—perhaps ten thousand. We may never know the reasons in this life, but one day we’ll see them all. For now, we must trust that his refusals are always his mercies to us (emphasis mine).

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

This is the most precious answer God can give us: wait. It makes us cling to him rather than to an outcome. God knows what I need; I do not. He sees the future; I cannot. His perspective is eternal; mine is not. He will give me what is best for me when it is best for me (emphases mine).

Replacing “what if ” with “even if ” in our mental vocabulary is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make. We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God. We see that even if the very worst happens, God will carry us. He will still be good. And he will never leave us.

So what do we do when we feel drained and empty? When no one understands our suffering and no one seems to care? When we feel discouraged and tired and unbearably lonely? Read the Bible and pray. Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall. Does it sound simple? It is. Does it also sound exceedingly hard? It is that as well. But reading the Bible and praying is the only way I have ever found out of my grief. There are no shortcuts to healing.

When I say read, I don’t mean just reading words for a specific amount of time. I mean meditating on them. Writing down what God is saying to me. Asking God to reveal himself to me. Believing God uses Scripture to teach and to comfort me. To teach me wonderful things in his law (Ps. 119:18). To comfort me with his promises (Ps. 119:76). Reading this way changes cardboard into manna. I echo Jeremiah who said, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” ( Jer. 15:16).

I mentioned yesterday the concept she brought out that what we think of as the lowest points of our lives are actually the highest, from God’s viewpoint, because that’s often where the most change and growth occurs in our lives. Another concept she described was that we often feel our prayers have not been answered when God doesn’t deliver us out of a situation, but His grace sustaining us through a trial is just as much an evidence of His power as a miraculous deliverance.

In waiting for the huge, monumental deliverance—the kind where I can put my issue to bed and never have to pray about it again—I’ve overlooked the grace that keeps drawing me to him. The prayers that may appear unanswered, but actually are fulfilled in ways that keep me dependent, tethered, needy.

I’ve often wondered about the difference between Biblical lament, such as what we see in the Psalms and other places in the Bible, and complaining. These thoughts helped:

Scripture never mandates that we constantly act upbeat. God wants us to come to him in truth. And so the Bible doesn’t whitewash the raw emotions of its writers as they cry out to God in anguish, fear, and frustration when life ceases to make sense. People like Jeremiah and Job, Habakkuk and David have all poured out their honest feelings of sadness and disappointment to God.

The Bible is shockingly honest. And because of that, I can be honest as well. I can both complain and cry, knowing that God can handle anything I say. The Lord wants me to talk to him, to pour out my heart and my thoughts unedited because he knows them already.

This conversation is different than the grumbling of the children of Israel. They complained about God and Moses to each other. I am talking directly to God. Telling him my doubts. Asking him to help me see. These saints I quoted all talked directly to God, which was the first step to healing. They named their disappointments and voiced their struggles before him. They needed to know that God understood them. And that they could be truthful with him. No pretense or platitudes. Just raw honesty, acknowledging their pain before God.

Like most of us, I would rather learn from others about suffering than have to go through it myself. But some portion of suffering is allotted to all of us, and I am so thankful for a godly example like Vaneetha’s. Much of what she said spoke to my heart even though my trials have been different.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Our trials are not just for us

Some sermons, the gist of them or a particular point or illustration, stay with us forever. One such message for me took place some 25-30 years ago. Our pastor at that time began describing some of the creatures Ezekiel saw in his vision, like the wheel within a wheel full of eyes, and went on to detail various other heavenly beings. Then he read from Ephesians 3:

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:8-10, ESV).

The pastor probably brought several things out of that passage, but the one that most struck and remained with me was verse 10: somehow God teaches and displays to “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (“principalities and powers” in the KJV) something about Himself through how He deals with us.

We’re going through Job in the church we’re visiting now, and we see an example of this in the first two chapters. Though the events in this book occurred before the church itself was born in Acts, the principle is the same. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6; 2:1). God’s conversations with Satan about Job seems to be before the rest of the assemblage, though they could have been private. Either way, God displayed truth to a non-human being through an earthly one.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus told His disciples:

 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father (John 14:30-31, ESV).

In this case, one reason for Jesus’s obedience to the Father’s command was that the world might know that Jesus loved the Father.

Some years after the sermon I mentioned, I read this from Elisabeth Elliot in Keep a Quiet Heart:

The disciples’ worst fears were about to be realized, yet He commanded (yes, commanded) them to be at peace. All would be well, all manner of things would be well–in the end. In a short time, however, the Prince of this world, Satan himself, was to be permitted to have his way. Not that Satan had any rights over Jesus. Far from it. Nor has he “rights” over any of God’s children… But Satan is permitted to approach. He challenges God, we know from the Book of Job, as to the validity of His children’s faith.

God allows him to make a test case from time to time. It had to be proved to Satan, in Job’s case, that there is such a thing as obedient faith which does not depend on receiving only benefits. Jesus had to show the world that He loved the Father and would, no matter what happened, do exactly what He said. The servant is not greater than his Lord. When we cry “Why, Lord?” we should ask instead, “Why not, Lord? Shall I not follow my Master in suffering as in everything else?”

Does our faith depend on having every prayer answered as we think it should be answered, or does it rest rather on the character of a sovereign Lord? We can’t really tell, can we, until we’re in real trouble.

Any trial we have undergone has probably fallen far short of what happened to Job or to Jesus. Even still, our first thought, our consuming thought is usually for relief. We want it to end, we want things to go back to normal, we want to be out from under whatever the pressure is.

First we need to ask God to help us learn what He is trying to teach us – usually something of His grace, provision, strength, and love in contrast to our limitations and our need to rely on Him. But we need to remember the bigger picture. Maybe our trial isn’t just for us. Maybe creatures in the heavenlies are learning something about God through His dealings with us. Maybe the world, or at least our children, family and friends, acquaintances, need to be shown, to see in action, genuine faith and loving obedience even in difficult and mysterious circumstances.

Elisabeth Elliot went on in the piece above to write:

I never heard more from the young woman [mentioned earlier in the piece]… But I prayed for her, asking God to enable her to show the world what genuine faith is–the kind of faith that overcomes the world because it trusts and obeys, no matter what the circumstances. The world does not want to be told. The world must be shown. Isn’t that part of the answer to the great question of why Christians suffer?

May God enable us as well.

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(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story), Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Writer Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories)

“Let patience have her perfect work”

Sometimes when people are going through a hardship or loss or suffering in some way, we want to “fix” it. And that can be good: sometimes the very reason God allows something to come to our attention is so that we can help in whatever way He has prompted us and gifted us to help.

But sometimes in our attempts to fix or set things “right,” we can seem to minimize someone else’s concerns or brush off their situation as not really that hard. Many of us are familiar with Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Too often we want to make those who are weeping rejoice instead. That’s not wrong in itself: there’s certainly time for encouragement, for gently helping someone restore their focus, for cheering someone up. But there are also times to just sympathize.

We run a few risks when we don’t take that time to sympathize. The person might not feel heard and validated, and in that case, nothing we say is going to register. Or, we might make them feel somehow “less than” an ideal spiritual Christian for having such a struggle. We not only fail to help them, but also they’re sure not going to open up to us next time.

Here is an example: a single person says she sometimes struggles with loneliness and discontentment. Most Christians rush to point out that we need to find our contentment in Christ and not a human being, that no human being can totally meet our needs, that Paul says being single provides many more opportunities to serve the Lord. And those are all true. But we’re bypassing the cry of her heart: loneliness is hard. And it’s not unspiritual to feel lonely. God is the One who said it wasn’t good for man to be alone and who inspired Solomon to write “two are better than one.” He knows the hardship, yet He allows it for other purposes.

Or someone’s husband dies. We rush to assure that her loved one is in a better place. True, if they’ve believed on Christ. And we’ll see them again. True. But it hurts like everything until that time comes. It hurts when a loved one is away for a week, even with smartphones and Skype and texts and all the ways we have to keep in touch: how much more when they’re away for years with no contact? The Bible calls death an enemy. So while death has lost its sting and we don’t sorrow like those who have no hope, we do still sorrow.

Sometimes we find grace by acknowledging the pain and working through it rather than by downplaying it. I so appreciated the pastor speaking at a funeral of a young mom of five children: he said publicly to her husband, “I don’t know how you’re going to do it. You’re going to need God’s grace.” The husband was probably thinking the same thing, that he had no idea how he was going to carry on parenting five children without his wife while also missing her companionship. How refreshing to have someone acknowledge that rather that quote Romans 8:28, pat him on the back, and go on his merry way. The pastor pointed to the available and needful grace of God without minimizing the hardship.

James 1:3-4 says, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. The ESV says, instead of patience, steadfastness: the NASB says endurance. If God allows trials to help us grow and strengthen our faith, among other reasons, we need to let it do its work, to work through grief and pain rather than bypassing it. We need to offer comfort and assistance, yes, but without short-circuiting or brushing away the depth or effect of it. Acknowledge it. Empathize with it. Someone once said Job’s friends did more for him when they sat in silence with him for a week than by saying all that they said to him.

True, sometimes we whine or wallow and need to adjust our perspective. Sometimes our thinking is wrong and needs adjustment. James even says to count it joy when we experience trials, not that the trial is joyful, but that God is using it to do a work of some kind in us. Sometimes as a friend or counselor, it’s not easy to know just what to say or how to help. That’s why I am so glad the next verses in James assure us that we can ask God for wisdom. He also reminds us a few verses later to be swift to hear and slow to speak. We need to hear people out and seek God’s wisdom rather than presuming or assuming or rushing in to “set them straight.” Sometimes God does guide and give us something to say in the moment. Sometimes all we can say is, “I don’t know why God is allowing this, but I know He has a reason. It’s hard. I don’t know how to help. But I can listen and pray with you.

When we go through a trial of some sort, usually we just want relief, preferably from a change in circumstances, or at least by finding some way of making the situation easier. And that’s fine, both to pray for and seek for relief. And when people sometimes say the wrong thing, we can avoid bitterness and appreciate that at least they were trying to help. When people don’t understand, we can encourage ourselves in the Lord. Sometimes that lack of understanding is part of the trial. But in the midst of all of that, we need to remind ourselves that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). We can let them do their work; we can trust in and work with God’s processes and purposes; we can ask Him what He wants us to learn through it all. And knowing that God is working something in us, even when we don’t understand, we can “rejoice in our sufferings” (verse 3).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Writer Wednesday, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

For God’s Glory

Recently I was reading a post from someone who had a child with a disability, and he mentioned that God did everything, including this, for His own glory.

While I agree with that statement, I think non-Christians and skeptics, and even some Christians, have trouble with the idea of God allowing what we would think of as bad to happen for His own glory. What kind of person does everything for his own glory, anyway?

Well, when humans seek their own glory, it’s usually self-motivating and undeserved. Sure, we’re to give honor to whom honor is due, and there may be times an authority has to demand the respect due their position. The latter is usually not for selfish motives, but to be able to enforce the authority they’ve been given to keep whatever order they’re in charge of. But if we say someone is seeking glory, we think of them as prideful and maybe even a bit immature and would probably be quick to think of their faults which would undermine any glory they think they deserve. Everyone wants significance, everyone wants to matter, but that’s different from seeking glory.

God, on the other hand, is perfect. He’s also the sovereign, almighty ruler of the universe. He’s the only One who deserves glory in that sense. But He’s not an egomaniac striving for attention. He is also good and kind and wise and loving.

He doesn’t seek glory because He “needs” it. He seeks it because we need it.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

It’s only when we see His glory that we see our own need and His sufficiency, that we get to know Him better and love Him more. It’s only by beholding His glory that we’re changed to be like Him.

What about those hard things that God allows for His glory, like a man who had been blind all his life, or a man who had been lame for 38 years, or the death of a beloved friend? I remember one time being especially troubled about the man lame for 38 years: maybe I was around 38 at the time and could not wrap my head around being lame for a lifetime. Why had God let him languish for so long before healing him? In each of these cases, the healing or resurrection magnified the Lord even more: their long duration (of the blindness or lameness) or difficulty proved that this wasn’t a trick, a set-up. If Jesus could heal such hard cases, that was a further evidence that He was God. But what about the poor people in such a state? 2 Corinthians 4:18:18 says:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I had a friend one time get offended that God called the trial she was going through a light affliction when it was anything but light to her. It was heavy, weighty, burdensome. But He wasn’t “making light” of it: He was saying that our affliction would seem light compared to the “eternal weight of glory” being prepared for us. We can’t even imagine what that will be like!

What I think most people mean when they say God did or allowed something hard for His own glory is that somehow through those circumstances, people were drawn to Him or learned something of Him that they would not have any other way. Somehow in the least likely situations, suddenly they see Him clearly. Sometimes through someone else’s ministering to them, sometimes through unusual provision, sometimes in peace or a reminder of God’s love from His Word. But all of a sudden, a ray of light pierces the darkness. We see a glimpse of His glory, and then we’re assured of His love and power and ability to take care of anything we’re dealing with. More than that, we see His majesty and greatness, and we’re lifted out of our own fog and doldrums into pure worship.

And [Moses] said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.

And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.

And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth…
Exodus 33:18-23; 34: 5-6

God’s desire for us to see His glory isn’t for egotistical reasons: it’s to show us His goodness.

May this be our prayer:

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Book Review: God Is Just Not Fair

Not FairWhen Jennifer Rothschild was 15 years old, she was blinded by Retinitis Pigmentosa, effectively killing her dreams of becoming an artist and cartoonist. Then, several years later, she experienced a time of deep depression which, as she put it, tore holes in her blanket of faith.

In God Is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Jennifer Rothschild explores from her Bible study and personal experiences the questions that often come up when experiencing some sort of trial or trauma: Does God care? Why did He allow this? Why did this person experience healing but I didn’t?

That last question, not only of unanswered prayer on my part, but of the very same prayer being answered in someone’s else’s life, can bring up questions of God’s fairness. Fairness doesn’t mean He does the exact same thing in every person’s life. We’re not robots or cookie cutter Christians: God works in our lives individually according to what He wants to do in us and how He wants to grow us and show Him forth in our own circumstances and sphere of influence. And Jennifer turns this around to ask if it’s fair that we receive mercy and blessings instead of wrath for our sin. If we got what we truly deserved, we’d all be in trouble.

But Jennifer doesn’t tell us to therefore stifle our questions. She encourages us to bring them to light. We might not find answers to all of them, but we will for a few, and for the rest we can trust Him. Where He doesn’t give answers, He gives Himself.

There is so much good teaching here, it’s hard to sum it up. But I’ll give you a few examples:

If God allows you to wrestle with him, it is not so there will be a winner and a loser. He doesn’t need to prove he is stronger and you are weaker. No. The point of wrestling with God is to give you an opportunity to cling to him. God wants you to hang on to him no matter what — and the result will be blessing. You are blessed when you bring your hurts and questions to God and struggle with them in his presence. In that divine wrestling match, you may feel wounded, but you will also receive a blessing you couldn’t have received any other way.

He sometimes allows something bad in our lives to prevent something far worse in our lives. That is a wondrous work of God I cannot even see, because sometimes I have no idea how God is working on my behalf.

Being willing to thank God doesn’t mean you ignore what bothers you. It just means you are willing to look beyond what bothers you and see the good in a situation also.

Paul positioned gratitude as a choice, not a feeling. My friend, even when we don’t feel grateful, we can still be grateful.

Your difficulty can be hard enough, but the resentment or anger you drag along with it can be even more debilitating than the difficulty itself.

When we are enduring hardship, perhaps the better questions to focus on are not about the whom of suffering but about the how: • How will God use this redemptively in my life? • How will he use this loss for my gain? • How can I cooperate with my loving God’s master plan through this current suffering? • How can this possibly help me grow or change? The why of suffering is sometimes never answered. But to ask the how of suffering allows us to begin to see the beautiful redemption of what God can do in and through our suffering.

God’s ways may seem strange to us, but his ways do not have to live up to our standards or our analysis. He is who he is, and we are who we are. He is beyond error, perfect in all his ways. If his ways confuse or disappoint you, guard against the temptation to re-create him into a god you like better. You and I are to humble ourselves before him and seek to conform to his standard, not the other way around. He is sovereign and good, compassionate and merciful. If we do not accept God in his wholeness, we will never experience our own.

Ultimately, I trust God’s will to be best. He knows more, sees more, and loves more than I do.

Faith is the evidence of things unseen; instant response is not the evidence.

Unanswered prayers and prayers with disappointing answers can be greater gifts that getting what we thought we wanted.

He may allow your suffering to remain because he is using that hard thing to protect you from something far worse, preserve you for something far better, or provide for you what you don’t even realize you need. His apparent inactivity is not a sign that he is forgetful or lacks compassion, but rather an indication of his deep compassion and higher purpose for you.

God allows you to struggle, even though his power could prevent it, because his wise and compassionate authority knows that the benefit of your struggle far outweighs the comfort you may experience from his rescue.

God delivers us in different ways. Sometimes he protects us from awful things so we never have to endure them. Other times God delivers us by rescuing us or healing us. Sometimes God brings us through hard things —that’s also a form of God’s deliverance. But then there are the times that God, out of his great care for his children, delivers us out of the horror and into glory.

Thomas’s questions and doubts could have led him away from the Christ he loved and away from his friends who followed the Christ. But what a loss that would have been. Your questions and doubt can take you many places if you let them. They can take you down a road of cynicism, despair, or loneliness. But, my friend, what a waste of your doubts and questions! When you are full of questions and doubt, might you respond like Thomas? Might you stay connected with your friends who follow Christ? Will you take whatever faith or curiosity you have and channel it toward Christ himself? He welcomes questions, and he welcomes the questioner. He already knows your questions, but ask him anyway. Jesus won’t just give you the lesser gift of an answer; Jesus will give you himself because he is the answer…It was in the midst of Thomas’s honest struggles that Jesus revealed himself to Thomas. He will do that for you, too.

Being too self-focused makes every sorrow deeper, every problem bigger, and every slight more personal. It harms us and makes us forget God and others.

Never stop seeking; never stop walking with and toward him. Jesus invites us to keep taking steps toward him, even if every stepping-stone is in the shape of a question mark. As you continue to seek, don’t let theological information become a substitute for faith. Don’t let knowledge become a substitute for wisdom. And don’t seek God only for the answers he gives —seek God himself. Pursue an encounter with the God who loves you. Don’t settle for mere answers, my friend. Be satisfied with nothing less than God himself.

Every difficult, confusing season in life offers a choice. You can either surrender your questions and sorrow to God so he can use them, or you can surrender to bitterness and the enemy of your soul, who will use them against you. Don’t give him the weapons to hurt you.

The only quibble I noted or can remember is one phrase near the end of the book about “forgiving God if you need to.” God does no wrong, so He has no need of our forgiveness, and whenever I see that thought, it strikes me as a little pretentious. But what I think Jennifer is getting at is, don’t hold whatever God has permitted in our lives against Him. She speaks in the rest of this paragraph of trusting Him, being patient, and humbling ourselves before Him. As Jesus said, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matthew 11:6).

Because Jennifer has gone to the mat with these questions and wrestlings in her own life, her words are authentic rather than empty platitudes. And because she has sought the Scriptures and bases what she shares there, she can offer the only real hope we have: that God loves us, has a reason for everything He allows, will use it to develop us, and will give us the grace to go through it.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Faith on Fire, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved), Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday)

Protection for wounded spirits

img_0052As many of you know, I broke and dislocated my little toe about ten days before Christmas. I had never broken any bone before, and this has left me feeling very glad that I hadn’t and hoping that I never will again. Even though it’s just a little toe, the pain, discomfort, and inconvenience have had an impact on me as well as the rest of the family.

The first week I was to stay off of it as much as possible and keep it elevated as much as possible. When I saw the doctor for a follow-up visit a week after the injury, I was hoping for some specific directions for the next weeks. But the doctor was rather vague. He said it should heal in six or so weeks, and if it hurt, that meant I should stay off of it a bit. I was hoping to avoid hurting it.

One thing the doctor did emphasize, though, was protecting the toe. I didn’t have to “buddy wrap” it to the next one like the doctor did the first week, but he gave me adhesive tape to wrap lightly around the foot to keep the toe in place and told me to continue wearing the boot I was given or a good walking shoe. Thankfully we’re coming up on the six week mark, when it should be fully healed.

The emphasis on protecting the broken toe while it heals caused me to think of other injuries or wounds that we don’t really associate with needing protection: spiritual or emotional hurts. The protection for a broken bone involves supporting the broken member so the bone heals correctly. For an open wound, protecting it not only keeps other things from bumping it and causing pain, but covering it keeps it from infection. But we don’t usually think about protecting those who have been wounded in non-physical ways, except perhaps the first few days. And how would we even go about that, anyway?

You might think the answer would be that Christian community should surround and support the wounded member. “Community” seems to be the popular, go-to solution for everything these days. And, yes, we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) and “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Community can do much to help and aid.

But what if community is part of the problem?

When you’re single, longing for someone to love, and there are no prospects on the horizon, but at a wedding people ask, “So when is it going to be your turn?”

When you’ve had four miscarriages, with only the first made public, and someone asks, “So when are you guys going to start a family?”

When you’re mourning on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, and a friend says, “Shouldn’t you be over that by now?”

When years later your family is still suffering the effects of a trauma that, to other eyes, seems to be all over, and someone says, “Shouldn’t you have moved on from that by now?”

When you’re visiting a new church in a new town with some trepidation, and the members of your small group or class aren’t cliquish in the sense that they deliberately keep others out, but they have all been friends for so long that anyone new feels out of the loop. When an observer mentions aside to the leader that perhaps they could take pains to reach out to the new ones, the leader says, “Well, the Bible says if you want to have friends, you should be friendly. They need to extend themselves.”

When people say the wrong things, we need to extend grace and assume they meant well. Thank God for sensitive, Holy Spirit-filled and led people who truly know how to come alongside and help, who know how to comfort as they have been comforted. Lisa shared a wonderful post recently on Invisible Band-aids and the need to be alert and attentive to those wounds which don’t show.

But other people can’t be there all the time, and in a sense it’s true that, as the old hymn says, no one understands like Jesus.

The best protection and support for wounded hearts, minds, and spirits is God’s truth, whether we apply it ourselves or share it with someone else..

When Hannah was childless and her rival provoked her and her husband didn’t understand the full weight of her sorrow, she poured out her heart to the Lord, knowing He was the only one who could meet her need.

When Joseph was betrayed, lied about, and forgotten, he trusted that God was sovereign and meant it for good.

When David’s men blamed him when the Amalekites raided their camp and kidnapped their families, to the point that they were going to stone him, David encouraged himself in the Lord.

When the psalmists brought problems and trials and anguish before the Lord, they eventually reminded themselves of His character, power, and love.

Paul was “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 also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

All throughout the Bible, you see people in various troubles or problematic situations reminding themselves of what they knew to be true of God, staking their souls on what He said, no matter how things looked or felt at the time.

A few other parallels between physical and internal wounds came to mind. You often don’t realize what muscles are used where until something is injured. I didn’t realized my toes dug in to keep balance when I picked up something on the floor, or that I pushed off with my toes when reaching for something from a cabinet, or moved my toes when I stretched in bed, and I got some rude awakenings when I did those things. Years ago, recovering from an old-fashioned gallbladder surgery before they started doing them laparascopically, one of the things I had been told to hold off doing was vacuuming. I thought that was odd – vacuuming didn’t seem strenuous to me. But the first time I tried it, I discovered, wow, you do use abdominal muscles when you vacuum! Similarly, after the deaths of my parents, I was unprepared for being blindsided by waves of grief set off by the most innocent things.

Both of them passed away at Christmas time, so for the first few years, though we celebrated, rejoiced, and even laughed, we just weren’t into what a friend called the “froth” of the season. I remember thinking that I wished sometimes that we still wore mourning clothes for a season after the death of a loved one to let others know to be sensitive. With my “boot” now, or when I used a walker or cane after transverse myelitis, I’ve been glad that I had some way of conveying to others that there was a reason I was walking a little more slowly, and hoped those devices signaled them to be careful and not to jostle me. We don’t have any such signalers after a trauma or loss or heartbreak.

Even though the intensity lessens over time, that spot still may be tender for a very long time. One friend whose husband was in prison for several years is very sensitive to jokes about prisoners, or condescending stereotypical remarks about them, or things like baby onesies made to look like prison uniforms, and after her experience, I’m more sensitive to them, too.

We need to take appropriate measure to promote healing – setting a bone, resting, taking medicine for physical wounds; for spiritual ones, we might need to confront an offender, confess any wrong on our parts, forgive, and seek reconciliation. Both health and spiritual ills usually get worse when they are not dealt with. We do have to be careful that we’re not preventing healing or making things worse by nursing our wounds.

But we can no more tell someone with a broken spirit to “get over it” any more than we could someone with a broken limb. Healing takes time. Community can and should help. But ultimately we need to splint our souls to God’s truth, to prevent the infection of bitterness by resting in His love and care, to protect our broken hearts and spirits by trusting in His grace.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:49-50

Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant. Psalm 119:76

Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. Psalm 119:92-93

The hymn “Still, My Soul, Be Still” has ministered to me since I first heard it, and the last couple of stanzas especially bring out the need to stake ourselves on God’s truth:

Still my soul be still
Do not be moved
By lesser lights and fleeting shadows
Hold onto His ways
With shield of faith
Against temptations flaming arrows

Still my soul be still
Do not forsake
The Truth you learned in the beginning
Wait upon the Lord
And hope will rise
As stars appear when day is dimming

God You are my God
And I will trust in You and not be shaken
Lord of peace renew
A steadfast spirit within me
To rest in You alone

~ Words and Music by Keith & Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Tell His Story, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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