No “Plan B”
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave too?”
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go?” You alone have the words that give eternal life. (John 6:66-69)
And even Christ did not want to remove his suffering at the cost of missing out on His glorious mission. Jesus said:
“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from what lies ahead?’ But that is the very reason I came. Father, bring glory to you name.” (John 12:27-28)
But after the struggle, God gave Jacob his new name as a symbol of how his life had been changed. Israel means one who struggles with God and overcomes. God not only allows, but sometimes delivers wounds and suffering to change our lives. For the stakes are much greater than what we can see with our eyes today. He desires to give us a new identity that reflects the real reason for our lives – to be men who overcome and then love and fight for others well! The thing we resist is that often we are asked to be overcoming men who live with a limp – a limp that reminds us every day that we are totally dependent on the blessing of God and on the new identity and noble purpose bestowed by God. We can never demand or take for ourselves our new identity – it must be bestowed. Every great servant of God from the Bible has struggled with Him, and each person’s demanding spirit had to be wonderfully destroyed. Men who honestly contend with their God about their wounding and who passionately search for a blessing in the midst of the wrestling, will become powerful in this War and for our King. And we know from all the great sufferers whose stories were told in the Bible that, in the end, God’s plan is good!
“There are times when God will not lift the darkness from you, but you should trust Him. At times God will appear like an unkind friend, but He is not; He will appear like an unnatural father, but He is not; He will appear like an unjust judge, but He is not. Keep the thought that the mind of God is behind all things strong and growing. Not even the smallest detail of life happens unless God’s will is behind it. Therefore, you can rest in perfect confidence in Him.” (Oswald, My Utmost, July 16)
Allowing our Brothers to suffer. Given that suffering and death to our flesh is a necessary part of the human condition for a follower of Christ, why is it that often times in our Christian community we refuse to allow our brothers to suffer without trying to fix them? Is there an expectation that they necessarily should not be suffering? Of course we love them, but often our actions – although well intended – could be interferring with what God is trying to do. Our natural temptation as men is to step in an try to fix the chaos – like by quoting the “right” scripture from the Bible to relieve the pain. Sometimes truth – even from the Word of God – does not alleviate the pain. Yes, sometimes we are called to move in and be a rescuer on God’s behalf and to bring hope from the Word of God. But often we are called to just sit in the muck and stench of the sewer with our brothers as they are suffering. Sit with them, cry with them, and love them as they suffer and God is doing His redeeming work.
Pain is difficult regardless of how fervently we pray! When Paul was being beaten with a whip and when Jesus was pleading with God in the Garden – the pain was immense and real: “He (Jesus) prayed more fervently, [yet] he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44) Intense agony obviously is an acceptable – and ironically can be a good and necessary – condition of the human heart. Sometimes life just flat-out sucks! (excuse the English) But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with God or that there is anything wrong with the one suffering. Jesus’ time on the cross was horrific and agonizing … and without sinning He yelled out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – even when Jesus understood God’s ultimate redemptive plan! (Matt. 27:46) Jesus was hurting …. there was not a joyful smile on the face of Jesus while being beaten and nailed to the cross … there were tears, pain, blood, sweat, confusion, disappointment and heart-ache. God temporarily turned His back on his Son. It hurt!
“Jesus knew, too, the cost of divine restraint, the deeply personal cost of letting the world have its way with him. He understood that redemption comes from passing through the pain, not avoiding it: “for the joy set before him [he] endured the cross.” Somehow redeemed suffering is better than no suffering at all, Easter better than skipping Good Friday all together. Although Jesus knew the redemptive pattern in advance – he had revealed it to his disciples – how remote it must have seemed to him in the garden and on [the cross]. How remote it seems to all of us in the midst of our trials.” (Philip Yancey, “Prayer – Does It Make Any Difference,” p. 88)
God desires to bless us through our suffering. It is very appropriate to cry out to God for rescue and mercy for our lives, to run into the arms of our Father God like a child, and to ask for protection against torment and evil. “You parents – if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give good gifts to those who ask Him.” (Matt. 79-11) Even in the midst of our suffering, it is important to remember that we are in the arms of our Father, our Papa, our “Abba.” He never abandons us in the midst of our trials. He holds us and is with us every step of the way – even though we may feel abandoned. And our Abba is in the process of blessing us as His children and giving us good gifts and eternal blessings. We can trust that in his timing we will be delivered from the intensity of the suffering – it won’t last!
We can be certain of this: If we surrender to our King, no matter the burdens our Father asks us to carry, from eternity’s perspective we would not trade our story and our legacy with anyone! In the end, the blessings and good gifts our Father has in store for us we would not trade with anyone else – in spite of the pain! God knows what each of us were created for, and He knows how to individually bless us. For that reason, Paul reminds us to consider our suffering a privilege. (see Phil. 1:29; Rom. 5:3-4) For God’s rewards will far outweigh any suffering we are asked to endure. “For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long, but they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever.” (2 Cor. 4:17)
“The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but its difficulty does not make us faint and cave in – it stirs us up to overcome.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost, July 7
“A time to cry and a time to laugh….” (Eccl. 3:4) Another great lie of the Enemy is to convince us that the suffering and pain that we might experience today will be ongoing – forever. But the Bible teaches that such heartache comes in seasons. Just because today feels desperate, that does not mean tomorrow will be filled with suffering. So if today life feels too difficult to bear – cry out to God for mercy and HOLD ON! “Mercy!” “Mercy” “Mercy” “Mercy”... is all we need to pray. Or, better yet, you may want to pray the “Jesus Prayer,” a prayer that has been used for centuries by the spiritual fathers: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner.” There is hope! For even in the midst of our suffering and lament, we are promised that “we will find grace to help us when we need it.” (Heb. 4:16) God is not going to ask us to endure more pain than he will give us the grace to endure. He will give us the grace for the day! He does come – He will come! “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” (1 Pet. 5:10) Never give up hope!
Suffering Prepares us for the Battles ahead. The Bible also teaches us that suffering refines us and strengthens us for the battles ahead: “Dear brothers … whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” (James 1:2-4) As stated by Larry Crabb, “Unbroken Christians operate mostly with only natural power and do not fully release power capable of transforming souls.”
And “remember that your Christian brothers all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Pet. 5:9)