3 Lessons for Dark Times in Ministry

There have been some pretty dark days in ministry over the years. Some of the darkest times stem directly from sin. It could be my own sin or the sin of others that pushes the darkness, but I have learned that there are 3 things a pastor ought to remember in these times.

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There have been some pretty dark days in ministry over the years. Some of the darkest times stem directly from sin. It could be my own sin or the sin of others that pushes the darkness, but I have learned that there are 3 things a pastor ought to remember in these times. (yeah I am sure there are like 50 other things. But I find that these things are the ones that I need to remember the most)

First, you are not God

I am not God. I don’t have power. I can’t persuade hearts. I can’t move mountains. I can’t affect change. I can’t sooth hurts, calm nerves, enlighten eyes, thrill hearts, or illuminate minds. I can’t even do these things to myself. When I read the Scriptures, ultimately I can’t understand them without the Holy Spirit.

All I can do are two simple things. First, try to be as clear as I can when I am sharing the Word of God. Whether I am preaching, teaching, witnessing, encouraging, leading, persuading, or sharing, the best I can do, the MOST I can do is try to be as clear as I possibly can. And then get out of the way.

The other simple thing I can do is pray. Prayer is powerful because God is powerful. As God governs and guides his world, to his ends, for his purposes, with his aims, he has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching and praying. Prayer can do whatever it is God wants it to do.

So remembering that we are NOT God should help us clear out the cache of tasks that we really have no business worrying about. Then we can focus, as pastors that is, on the two things God has given to us: Ministry of the Word and Prayer.

Second, you are not indispensable

Even if we stay in the same church for decades, we are only one blip on the radar for the growth of these people. Their families, other pastors, friends, books, internet preachers, are all blips in their lives.

And God many times uses others when we can’t be used at the moment. Or let’s put it another way, God cares more for our church’s spiritual growth than you or I ever will. He will complete what he started in them, even if he does it without us.

There are even times we are simply useless. Our sin runs amok, and our zeal is lagging. Yet, God’s people are still making progress in spite of us. Why? Because God is not limited to one single man in the lives of hundreds of people. God has great means at his disposal.

So we are not necessary, but we are wanted. God wants to use us in the lives of the church we serve; the people want us to use our gifts to serve them and help them. But in the end, God can get someone else to replace us, and there are more people serving your congregants than just you.

Third, you are not alone

I think this might be the hardest part for most of us as pastors. We can spend hours with people in meetings, appointments, worship services, and even service projects, and we can still feel totally alone.

No one seems to understand the burden we bear. God has charged us with the spiritual oversight of a group of souls, and we will give an account of how we have shepherded these people. Then there are the daily pressures of preparing sermons and being clear, counseling and giving people advice that we hope is right, and leading and modeling how Christians ought to live.

So at times it feels that no one else is doing what we are doing. It feels no one cares what it is we are doing. But we are not alone.

God has promised to be our God and for us to be his people. The writer to the Hebrews reminds them that God will never leave them nor forsake them. It’s a New Testament way of saying, ” I will be your God.” Because of that, we are never alone. We have with us the Triune God in his oath swearing self. And so we are not alone. We can walk through these dark days; we can face the hard times. We don’t have to go it alone. If we feel alone, it is because we are failing to believe what God has said.

But I think we need to also say, usually the people in our churches are with us. They might not understand all the pressures we face, but they are there. They might not grasp what they could do for us, but they haven’t left. They might not be very vocal, but they are just a phone call away. They might even be ugly to us and expect of us beyond what they should, but they are still there. And we are not alone. God by his grace, through these people that seem to not be growing and learning or loving Christ, are actually the ones God will often use to bring his grace, mercy,and compassion to us. Because if they treated us as we have treated them(except those times when someone who is really evil towards us), we would suffer greatly. I think we find that these people we believed so immature, are actually many times more mature than we ourselves, because rather than throw their hands up and walk away from the church and from us. Quietly wait for us to get ourselves together, praying for us, and longing for us to realize we are not alone.

 

God’s Providence over Sin and Evil

For God to control sin, decree sin, plan sin, does not make God evil. How is that so? Because of two truths:

I hold to the Second London Baptist Confession. It has some beautiful things to say about God’s providence over sin and evil. Notice Chapter 5 paragraph 4.

God’s almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness are so far-reaching and all-pervading, that both the fall of the first man into sin, and all other sinful actions of angels and men, proceed according to His sovereign purposes.

  • Genesis 50:20
  • 2 Samuel 24:1-2, 10
  • 1 Kings 22:22-23
  • Romans 11:36
  • Acts 2:23
  • Acts 4:27-28

Here the point is simply that God’s sovereign control reaches to farthest places including: The First Sin and All other sinful actions of angels and men. Being sovereign over them means that these events certainly come about and these events necessarily are established.

It is not that He gives His bare permission, for in a variety of ways He wisely and powerfully limits, orders and governs sinful actions, so that they effect His holy designs.

  • 2 Kings 19:28
  • Genesis 50:20
  • Acts 14:16
  • Isaiah 10:6, 7, 12

Here the confession declares God does not give bare permission for sin, but he uses it like a tool. So he curbs it, shortens it, and keeps it from bursting out worse than it actually could. Much of God’s activity in regards to sin is keeping a lid on it. Just think what this world would be like, if God did not control it?

But God does this to meet his own designs and plans and ends. What the human or the angel will intend to harm, God will intend the same sinful action to produce wellbeing.

Yet the sinfulness involved in the actions proceeds only from angels and men and not from God who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

  • James 1:13-14
  • 1 John 1:5
  • 1 John 2:16

So God can overrule sin, direct sin, govern sin, plan sin, decree see, and yet he is not the source of sin. He is not the fountain from which it springs. It comes from man. From his own desires. Yet God’s decree makes certain what will take place.

Summary

For God to control sin, decree sin, plan sin, does not make God evil. How is that so? Because of two truths:

  • He controls and decrees evil because he rules over all things.
  • Yet God is perfectly holy and just.

I think the explanation of the paradoxical truths lies in places like Job’s account and Joseph’s account.

Job

God brought up Job’s name to Satan, before Satan could ever think to ask about Job. Satan asked for permission to hurt Job, and God gave that permission. But Job gave God credit for it, and Job was not charged with sin.

So Job experienced suffering, both tragedy (no human agent involved) and wickedness (a human agent involved). And this was directly brought about by Satan, but was planned by God. So God’s good ends were met, while other actors (Satan and other human actors) sinned and intended harm. God used them in what they would naturally want to do.

Joseph

Joseph was betrayed and sinned against by his brothers. But Genesis 50:20 tells us that God intended that event with the same Hebrew word (Strongs# 2803) as the Brother’s intending the event. One was for harm the other for good. How can God have his control over sinful actions and not be sinful himself? Because he is controlling for the purposes of his glory and his plan of redemption.

Application

The application and pastoral currency of this doctrine lies in the fact that God causes all things to work together for good. God pursues a goodness for his people who are called according to his purpose and who love him. God pursues Christ-likeness for his people, and that is the goodness he pursues. Why? Because the ultimate joy in all the universe is God, so for us to grow in Christ-likeness will be for our good and our joy. So Tragedy and Wickedness cannot harm us, because God uses it for our good and his glory.

 

Suffering, part 5; Mixed Bags

We are full of questions and answers. We trust in one moment while we doubt in the next. We question God’s goodness, but we trust his power.

So I have been publishing a few articles concerning suffering and John chapter 11. So far I have write the following.

  1. Suffering Part 1 – dealt with the definition of suffering
  2. Suffering Part 2 – dealt with the timing of suffering
  3. Suffering Part 3 – dealt with the purpose of suffering
  4. Suffering Part 4 – dealt with applying the purpose of suffering to our lives.

Today I want to move forward in John Chapter 11 to deal with the Response to suffering.

Mary and Martha in John 11:3 send a message to Jesus:

“Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

These two ladies struggle with this fact: there brother is sick and not getting well. This must be distressing. A father would be helping his daughters find a husband, and yet we don’t see husbands or a father. So Lazarus is the only man in their lives. Regardless of how you feel about that, you need to appreciate the hurt, distress, and angst that these women struggling under as they send their message to Jesus.

Once Jesus decides to come and raise Lazarus from the dead, he gets close to town, and Martha hears and goes out to meet Jesus.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Do you see the two sides of Martha?

Doubt

Martha is full of doubt. Notice what she says:

  • if you had been here my brother would not have died  – Martha questions Jesus’ absence. If he had been here death would have been avoided. Why wasn’t Jesus here? I thought you loved Lazarus? I thought you cared for us? I thought you were good? You let him die even though you are life itself.
  • but even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you – But will you ask? Will you care enough to do anything now? I am asking, but I am not sure?

Isn’t that like us? Doubt fills our hearts and minds in the middle of suffering, and when it does, we question God’s goodness. We cannot conceive of any reason at all why Jesus would not come and help us in our suffering. Neither could Martha. But that is not the only thing we see in Martha.

Faith

  • If you had been here my brother would not have died – Jesus I know you are life, I know you are powerful, I know you heal.
  • even now I know…God will give you – A glimmer of hope, there is still a chance that my brother will be ok. You can just ask.

Suffering stirs up doubt, but it doesn’t extinguish hope. And this is the “mixed bag” that we are. We are full of doubt and hope. We are full of questions and answers. We trust in one moment while we doubt in the next. We question God’s goodness, but we trust his power. We doubt his care, but we trust his timing. We trust in goodness, but we question his purposes. We are absolutely mixed.

Our problem is this: When suffering comes, it fills our eyesight, and we have trouble seeing anything else. The pain, the problem loom so large, that any purpose of God, or any power or any goodness, gets diminished in our eyes. Then we have nothing but a smoldering hope dowsed with doubt.

Are you this way? Do you have both doubt and trust in you? I believe if you are a Christian you most certainly do have both. And while admitting to ourselves that we doubt God’s goodness, doesn’t feel good, it must be done in order for us to find the healing we need in the midst of our struggles.

Next time we will see how Jesus responds to Martha.

 

Suffering, Part 4 – So I should…?

Jesus designs our suffering for us so that we and those around us might center our lives on the gospel, so that HE might be glorified.

I am trying to weave together several studies I have done on the issues of suffering, particularly as I have studied through the Gospel of John chapter 11.

Here is a “table of contents” if you want to check out the other articles first before reading this one:

  1. Suffering Part 1
  2. Suffering Part 2
  3. Suffering Part 3

When you read through, at least Part 3, I think there are a couple of implications of these truths that we ought to draw out a little bit.

We have to Change our Thinking

Often non-Christians and even some immature Christians will at least pronounce their frustration with suffering and God’s seemingly lack of care. They will blame God for not doing something about the suffering, or they will begin to think wrongly about God as they try to justify all of these thoughts in their minds.

  • Some will think perhaps God is not strong enough to do something about suffering
  • Some will think perhaps God is not all-seeing enough to know that suffering is coming
  • Some will think perhaps God is not good and just won’t do something about suffering.

But all three of these thoughts are not proper for Christians to think. God is powerful, God is all knowing, and God is good. So you cannot shift the blame of suffering to some lack in God. God designs suffering for a purpose, and so we ought to change the way we think about suffering and God. He is strong, omniscient, and good.

We have to Center our thinking

We have to center our thinking on the gospel.

In Part 3 we concluded with this thought:

Jesus designs our suffering for us so that we and those around us might center our lives on the gospel, so that HE might be glorified.

So how does this work? What exactly does this mean? What do I need to do? Two things.

Suffering displays the gospel to others.

When we are suffering, and we lean in and rest on Christ or our solace and comfort in suffering, then God uses suffering to display the gospel to those around us.

Jack suffered from severe pain in his cancer, but no nurse made it off shift without hearing the gospel from this pain drenched man. In his suffering, he trusted himself to Christ, knowing there was a purpose, and he used every opportunity he could to point to Christ.

Suffering drives us to the gospel.

Often for Christians, suffering exposes sins that were lying dormant under the surface. When suffering comes we find ourselves surprised by our response, our wickedness, and our anger. So the suffering reminds us of our sin.

But we can come running to him in the middle of our suffering, and we can know that he has paid for our sinful response. Because the point of suffering is to drive us to the gospel.

 

 

Spiritual Depression: Call it Suffering

Depression is a form of suffering.

First, let me say I am indebted to Ed Welch in Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness.

Depression is a form of suffering.

What is suffering? Suffering is when something uncomfortable, painful, or debilitating happens to us through no fault of our own.

  • When a sickness takes us down for a day
  • When we cancer cells racing through our bodies
  • When an unfair boss fires us from our jobs
  • When people gossip about us and ruin our reputations
  • When we are falsely accused of something we did not do
  • When some natural disaster befalls us and takes from us our property, livelihood or family
  • When someone sins against us physically with some sort of attack (either against us or against someone we love)

Each of these things has one thing in common. It is something outside of us, coming at us, hurting us, and causing pain. This is suffering.

Now a small caveat. Does this mean when I sin and am suffering the consequences of my sin I am not suffering? Right. Maybe it can be classified as suffering, but this is not what I primarily have in mind. Why? Because we can trace its roots back into our actions.

Does this mean that we who suffer have no sin? No, that does not mean that. Take the list above for example.

  • When a sickness takes me down for a day – I can respond with anger and frustration
  • When cancer races through my body – I can still have and idol in my heart.
  • When an unfair boss fires me – I could begin to gossip about the boss out of frustration

So just because we are suffering does not mean we are sinless. And just because we have consequences for our sins, does not mean we are suffering.

However suffering is something that is not obviously connected to our direct actions, and it comes and causes us pain.

God speaks much about suffering and how to handle suffering:

  • James 1:2-4
  • Matthew 5:11-12
  • 1 Peter the whole book really
  • Romans 5:3-5

So if depression is a form of suffering AND God tells us how to handle suffering, THEN we can handle depression through the same way we would handle suffering. That means there is hope for depression.

But the question is: IS depression suffering?

  • Do you know where it comes from?
  • Is it because you have unconfessed sin?
  • Is it because you are living out a sinful lifestyle that you are trying to hide from others?

I think if the source of the depression is not you some how, or at least not obviously you, then it is something that comes from without. And therefore it is suffering.

So take up the Bible read those passages about suffering. Walk the Darkness, Talk over the Darkness, and Call the darkness suffering.

God has always promised to be with his people in their suffering. He calls them to suffer (Phil 1:29) and he will never leave us alone in our suffering (Hebrews 13:5). Therefore you have all you need to live in the darkness and to do so with godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Spiritual Depression: Talk over it

Depression is the slow, soft whisper of hopelessness.

Depression is the slow, soft whisper of hopelessness.

You are standing in the middle of room. It is full of people bustling by laughing and carrying on. Your own voice sounds odd with a chuckle or snort as you respond to the things around you. However, your voice is distant and faint in your own head because whispering in your heart and in your mind is a voice.

This voice accuses the people in front of you of being too well off, or he tells you they really don’t care about you. He begins to highlight your failures in your relationship to the people with you. He reminds you of the time you were angry. He points out the lying spirit you have. He even begins to remind you of broken relationships not in this room. You hear the names of your parents, siblings, lost loves. You hear about the lust, the greed and the gossip that griped your heart for years. And when you try to shake it loose, it grips tighter, and the voice reminds you about last night and the shape of your house. He accuses you of being lazy because your apartment looks like a pig sty. Over and over and over again, the voice accuses, belittles, discourages, and mocks you.  Eventually he tells you that there is only one way out. He paints the picture of solitude, isolation, and maybe even death as the paradise of mercy.

I don’t know about you, but I have listened to this voice too many times in my own life. And it may sound differently to each of us. But the effect is the same: hopelessness.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a fantastic book called Spiritual Depression. While I don’t remember everything in that book I do remember the idea that we must stop listening to ourselves and instead we must take ourselves in hand and start talking to ourselves.

In Psalm 42 the inspired author does this very thing. It is interesting to watch what he does.

Verse 3 he describes his life:

“my tears have been my food day and night. While they say to me all the day long, where is your God?”

How terribly hopeless for the voices to tell us God is not going to help.

In verse 5 the psalmist does what Dr. Lloyd-Jones tells us we must do: he talks to himself.

“Why are you cast down o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

This is taking yourself in hand. Imagine grabbing yourself by the shoulders and shaking yourself just a little. “Hey what’s wrong with you? What is this hopelessness mounting up?”

The Psalmist goes on to say:

“Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Now the psalmist is talking to himself. He is commanding himself to do something different because what has he been doing? Listening the voice of hopelessness resonate in his head.

How many of us might benefit from a good dose of: kick-yourself-in-the-pants? If others speak these things to us, the voice whispers with them and accuses them of being unloving. So we have to take ourselves in hand and demand an answer. Why are you cast down? And then we must command an attitude: HOPE IN GOD.

I am convinced that many Christians face unnecessary depression because they have never learned to talk over the darkness. Raise your voice, run outside, get off the couch and out of the bed. Regardless of how much your body hurts with this stuff, go shout at the hopeless soul that has been listening to the darkness. Talk over the darkness until your soul can hear you, and then preach to it: HOPE IN GOD.

This is not a magic formula for getting rid of some disease. This is just how Christians face hopelessness. And you may be the kind of person who every day of your life, you have to run outside and talk over the darkness. I have done it enough to know, it does get better.

Walk this darkness and then Talk over it.

Spiritual Depression: Walk the Darkness

Spiritual Depression: Walk the Darkness

Maybe it’s because of the sun setting earlier than we are used to; maybe it’s because of the overwhelming memories of family and friends we are no longer close to; maybe it’s because we simply lack enough serotonin in our bodies: Whatever the issue it is at least anecdotally true that the holiday season ushers some into a state of spiritual depression.

Answering why you may feel depressed is not as important as answering how to deal with it. So how can we cope and deal with these feelings that drag us and weigh us down? How can we peek out from under the blanket of “I Don’t Care” and do something meaningful or even just amusing?

Let me suggest a few things. Nothing here is original with me. I don’t have profound and wonder insights. I read books, and others have been profound. I think of 3 books especially that have helped me greatly in this subject. And so I will tell you three things. Today is the first one.

Understand God’s Sovereignty.

It is clear that “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NASB95) You need to grasp that God is in charge of all things, and whether you call God’s in-charge-ness: allowed or ordained, really does not matter much. Either way the events of your life have flowed through the hands of God first. And for some reason (Romans 8:29 tells us part of that reason) God says yes to this depression in your life.

The quicker we embrace this truth the better off we will be. Because the question we should be asking ourselves is: Lord, how do I embrace this darkness you have sent to me so that I might see accomplished in me all that you desire. (I thank Larry Crabb and his book: Finding God for this little nugget)

Personal Experience

I suffered a deep darkness about 19-20 years ago, and in the middle of that darkness, God brought Larry Crabb’s book across my desk. I cannot tell you what all he said in that book. I have forgotten most of it. But the one thing that stuck with me all of these years is this: If God is sovereign over all things, then he has brought this darkness to you for a reason. I must embrace the darkness, and I must not shun it because then I am shunning God’s plan for me.

I have been in dark places since then, but I have never fallen quiet as hard as I did 20 years ago. Why? Because when the darkness comes:

  1. I don’t try to hide from it
  2. I don’t try to numb it
  3. I don’t try to make my feelings change.
  4. I simply embrace what God is doing in my life.
  5. I wait on his timing to mold my life into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29)
  6. I wait to see specifically what God wants to do in me.
  7. I seek to dwell on the cross.
  8. I pray, or I try to pray.
  9. And I hold on.

Can I encourage you to see that these feelings you long to change are part of God’s plan for you? Don’t let the feelings get the upper hand and keep you from thinking. Consider the feelings that you can’t seem to shake, like a pathway that God wants you to walk down, and then walk the darkness.

Suffering part 3: Christ designs the purpose of our suffering

Jesus designs our suffering for us so that we and those around us might center our lives on the gospel, so that HE might be glorified.

In Part 1 of this series I simply laid out the categories related to suffering as I see them. My goal in this series: speak about what would really be considered suffering.

In Part 2, I started through John 11 looking at how God controls the timing of our suffering.

Can suffering be purposeful? Or is all suffering senseless? I believe the Bible portrays purposeful suffering. And as we continue to walk through John’s Gospel, especially chapter 11, I think we can see the purpose of suffering.

Understanding how the Son is glorified

Jesus himself clearly states the purpose of Lazarus’ suffering. Notice John 11:4:

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Jesus declares this suffering to be for the glory of God, specifically that the Son of God may be glorified. Martha and Mary and Lazarus will have grief and pain and it will be for the glory of the Son of God.

But what does Jesus mean by the Son of God would be glorified? Is it simply that Lazarus would be raised from the dead? I think that is part of it, but I don’t think that is the main idea.

John uses this idea of the Son of God being glorified in a few other passages in the gospel of John. Look at these verses:

John 7:39 – Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified

John 12:16 – 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

Each of these passages seems to be referencing the time after Jesus has died and resurrected. Chapter 7 is referencing the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, so Jesus would have died, risen, and ascended. Then chapter 12 seems to point to the same period, because it is when the disciples started putting Jesus’ words together to make sense of things. Finally in chapter 17, Jesus positions this glorifying of the Son in the immediate future. So with these passages in mind, we conclude that “glorifying the son” seems to involve the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

So Lazarus’s illness will NOT be to death, but it will be to the GLORY of the SON of God. That glory is his death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. It is Christ’s passion.

Understanding that Jesus knew what his disciples needed

Jesus expresses his delight and joy in the midst of suffering. Notice verse 14. The Disciples are slow to understand what Jesus is saying in verse 11, “that our friend is asleep and I go to wake him up.” Partly because the disciples are slow and partly because of fear of dying, the disciples don’t want to go back to Jerusalem. So Jesus speaks plainly to them, “Lazarus died and I am glad I was not there.”

This is a weighty statement. This surely is difficult for us to hear. Jesus was glad he was not with Lazarus while he was ill. If had been there, Lazarus would not have died. At least that is what Mary and Martha thought (verses 21 and 32). They knew he was life itself, and Jesus would have healed the one whom he loved.

But Jesus was glad he was not there. Why? Why was Jesus glad he was not there? So that his disciples might believe.

Understanding the role of Lazarus in the plan of God

Verse 45-57 relates the story of the Pharisees’ plot to kill Jesus. They are fixed and determined to see Jesus die. Do you get that? We started in verse 4 with Jesus saying that Lazarus’ sickness would not lead to death, and now we have Jesus about to die. Can you see the pattern?

  • Lazarus will be ill. Why?
  • So that he will die. Why?
  • So that Jesus can go raise him. Why?
  • So that the plot will be hatched against Jesus. Why?
  • So Jesus might die and rise and ascend. Why?
  • So Jesus might save his people.

So Jesus is right — Lazarus’ illness doesn’t eventually lead to death, it leads to life. The timing of Lazarus’ sickness leads right into the overarching plan of God, the predestined plan of Jesus’ death so that Jesus might save.

Acts 2:23 – 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Acts 4:27-28 – 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

It was appointed unto Jesus die for the sins of many. It was his mission, his life, his purpose, so that he might save us and bring us to himself. As Paul says in

Ephesians 5:25-27 – Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So how does this help us to see our suffering as having a purpose?

Jesus designs our suffering for us so that we and those around us might center our lives on the gospel, so that HE might be glorified.

No, you are not in the timeline leading up to the crucifixion, as Lazarus was.  But you can look at your suffering in a different light if you focus on how it may bring you an opportunity to point to the glory of God.  In the next post we will try to point out more specifically how this works out in our lives.

Suffering part 2

The timing of suffering arises out of Christ’s love for his people.

Does God have anything to do with our suffering?

John’s gospel has an interesting story that may shed light on suffering for us.

The story of Lazarus starts in chapter 10 with Jesus across the Jordan where John has been baptizing. Where was this baptismal place? Some have said he was simply right across the Jordan and could have easily been back to Bethany in a day. Some point out that Jesus could have been further north, attempting to get Jesus off the hook for his delay.

Thee is some room for debate, but the physical distance form Jesus to Bethany is really not that important.

So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:6)

When Jesus heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed for 2 (two) more days. That’s right. Jesus purposefully delayed. Jesus refused to come when the family wanted him to come. Jesus refused to come when Lazarus was still alive and ill. Even after Jesus claimed this sickness would not end in death, he still stayed. (John 11:4)

Jesus was king over Lazarus’ life. To demonstrate his power, his right, his wisdom and his sovereignty over the timing of suffering, Jesus delayed.

Mary and Martha were in agony watching Lazarus suffer. The disciples were in fear of returning so near to Jerusalem so soon. Lazarus, once raised from the dead, would have to face death again, and he most likely did not look forward to that process. But none of them were sovereign over the timing of their suffering. Jesus didn’t ask them if they were ready.

God is sovereign over the timing of our suffering as well. He brings to our lives what he wants, when he wants. He doesn’t ask us if this is a good time or not. And he doesn’t seek our approval of his plan before he acts.

Too many will take this to mean that God is not good. Some will take it to mean that I think God is mean-spirited, that he is out to get us; Some that he somehow enjoys our suffering. But John records for us an encouraging word.

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.(John 11:5-6)

Jesus’ plan for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha originated in his love for them. It was out of his love that he left Lazarus in his sickness for 2 (two) more days. It was out of his love that he allowed Mary and Martha to experience the loss of a loved one. It was out of his love that he ripped Lazarus from the world beyond and forced him to die a second time. The timing of suffering arises out of Christ’s love for his people.

When we see the love ahead of the plan, we can more easily submit ourselves to him and be at peace as we walk through the suffering.