Why Am I Suffering?

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.—Romans 8:18

This article is not for everyone. Rather it is for those of you who know what it is to suffer, because you are going through it right now.

Some of you have joints that are screaming from rheumatoid arthritis. Some of you are miserable from chemotherapy. Some of you have back pain so severe you can only stand, sit or sleep for short periods of time. Some of you get frequent headaches so massive that any kind of light or sound is a torture. Some of you are reeling from multiple surgeries, barely recovering from one when doctors tell you to get ready for another. And some of you possess one of a thousand other maladies–-physical or emotional. What they all have in common is that they all define what it is to suffer.

It’s often when our suffering is at its worst that the devil walks in, ready to attack our faith. Many times, he points out other people similar to us in age and circumstance. He leads us to think that they don’t seem to have anything near the suffering and pain that we have. And with that, he lets our sinful nature do the rest. He lets our sinful nature drag us away into the dungeon of self-pity.

But the Lord of your life has something to say about this. He speaks though the apostle Paul who knew all about severe suffering. He grappled with a terrible problem that appeared to plague him until he died. Instead of comparing himself to others who did not have to suffer as he did, Paul made the comparison that really matters. He said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

What is the specific reason why the Lord is allowing you to suffer? That is not for us to say. Perhaps it is to nurture within you a faith that is heroic and robust. Perhaps it is to give others around you a living, breathing sermon on Christian courage. Perhaps it is to bring you into contact with a lost soul the Lord will save through your witness. Perhaps it’s for an entirely different reason.

Never forget, however, the comparison that matters. Your temporary suffering is a droplet in comparison to the oceans of joy that await you in heaven. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why he suffered and died for your sins. That’s why he rose. That’s why he lives.

Harmony Accomplished By Humility

What does it look like when two people live in harmony? They might smile at each other. They might laugh a lot. If two people are in harmony with one another, you would never see them fighting. They would never avoid eye contact with one another. They would never use cutting sarcasm with, or say anything mean about, the other person. Harmonious relationships are good relationships. They can be a great source of joy, encouragement, and strength.

Relationships in which there is some hostility or friction, however, can be quite the opposite. And what are you supposed to do if you have a relationship like that, one that frequently fills you with discouragement or pain? Well, there’s one thing you should not do. You should not wait for the other person to make the first move.

God’s Word in Romans 12:16 gives you godly goal for all your relationships: “Live in harmony with one another.” And the instructions as to how you should carry that out all have one thing in common. They all focus your attention on your own heart and actions—not the other person’s. “Do not be proud.” “Be willing to associate with people of low position.” “Do not be conceited.” In other words, use your time and energy to love and to serve the other person. Or, to say it another way, do what Jesus did.

When God’s relationship with us became broken with sin, the Son of God didn’t sit in heaven waiting for us to love him. He came as a baby in Bethlehem. Jesus lowered himself into the humblest of situations, associating himself at birth with the lowliest of families, associating himself throughout his ministry with the most recognizable sinners, and eventually taking the lowest position of all on a cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Why? Because he desired a harmonious relationship with us. And he knew that harmony could only be accomplished by humility.

Overcome Evil with Good

A Christian friend shared this story from his life. He was driving across town and irritated another driver on the roadway. That driver accelerated past him, yelled some choice words, made an obscene gesture, and sped on by. Not long after, the Christian man saw that same car stopped on the shoulder with car trouble.

What would you have done if that sequence of events happened to you? Would you have laughed at the other driver’s misfortune? Would you have said a prayer or even stopped to help?

Throughout our lives, people are going to say and do evil things that will cause us pain and hardship. Our sinful hearts will want to avenge these wrongs. Our sinful hearts will think that the best way to overcome evil is with evil. God tells us in his Word: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

This is only possible through a good God who alone can deliver us from evil and who has overcome the evil of our sin. This is only possible with a God of peace whose forgiveness allows us to live at peace with him and whose peace enables us, as far as it depends on us, to live at peace with everyone.

So, what did the Christian driver do? He stopped behind the other car. When the driver saw who had stopped, he feared that the man he had treated so poorly would now treat him poorly. But this Christian man hadn’t come to repay evil for evil. He came to offer help and assistance. He overcame evil with good. May our God equip us to do the same!

Romans 12:17-21
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Your Life is Meaningful

Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. … For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. – Ecclesiastes 1:2,2:21

What is the meaning of life? It is one of those cosmic questions that everyone asks at some point but, since it seems too big for us to get our heads around, we tend to quickly dismiss it and go on to the next meeting or mall or movie.

A man named Solomon asked this question near the end of his life. Solomon was the king of Israel at the height of Israel’s power. He was healthy, wealthy and wise. Yet, as he neared his life’s end Solomon realized that none of his power or success or wealth would last. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. … For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it.”

If this life is all there is, none of it means anything in the end.

But, Jesus changes everything! Jesus promises that there is a life after this one, an eternal life in heaven. He guarantees we can have this life through faith in him because he paid for our sins on the cross and because he himself came back to life on Easter morning! This means that this world is NOT all there is. We are only going to live in this world for a few years compared to the eternity we are going to spend in the world to come.

So, we don’t need to get so uptight about how much money we don’t make. We don’t have to be constantly stressed over every little thing that doesn’t go our way. We don’t have to chase after every trend that comes down the media highway into our homes.

Live your life in the Lord Jesus and you will learn how meaningful your life is both in the here and now as well as in the heaven to come.

Managing Possessions

No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. – Acts 4:32

“That’s mine! You can’t have it! Leave it alone!” Many parents have heard words like that so often that they never want to hear them again. At work you hear: “He took my parking place.” “That was supposed to be my promotion.” “Why doesn’t anyone think about my loyalty to this company?”

The concern about me and what’s mine seems to be present at every stage of life. Some stages may be more filled with it than others, but the general thought is still the same. You have to fight to hold on to what you have. You have to fight to get what you deserve.

The early Christians spoken about in our reading didn’t think that way. In fact, they didn’t claim anything as their own. Those believers did not find it necessary to talk much, if at all, about their own possessions. Possessions were not that important to them.

Why? The first reason is that these believers realized that everything they had was God’s, not theirs. They didn’t think about possessions as belonging to this person or that person. Everything belonged to God. Each one of them was only a manager of God’s possessions.

Think of that. What you have is not yours. It’s God’s and you are the manager. One person manages one particular group of things and other people manage other things. Having that understanding can change your point of view about possessions dramatically.

Another reason why the early Christians didn’t consider their possessions to be their own was that they were learning, as all of us are, that we use our possessions only for a short time. What we possess now must be viewed in the perspective of our eternal glory of heaven. Our lives here and now are only a short step in our unending journey. Everything comes from God, and he has even better things, even more valuable things, in store for us. Heaven awaits. This fact teaches us to place the right amount of value on what God has given us to use here on earth.

Success

All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. – Proverbs 16:2-3

Best-selling motivational author Stephen Covey once said, “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you at your funeral, you will find your definition of success.”

John Wooden was a very successful college basketball coach. He wrote, “Success is the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

These are definitions of “success” from two men who experienced a great deal of success in their respective fields. What these definitions have in common, and what many definitions of success do, is that they focus on the end result of your hard work. Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as: “a favorable or desired outcome,” or “the attainment of wealth, favor, or respect.”

A godly definition of success, however, does not focus on the end result of hard work. It focuses instead on motives at the beginning. “Motives are weighed by the LORD,” the Bible says.

This means that someone who is regarded as successful in the world’s eyes may not be successful in God’s eyes. Someone who has attained great earthly wealth, for example, but whose motive in doing so was primarily to store up more comfort or pleasure for themselves, would not be considered successful in God’s kingdom. The same is true for someone who has gained the favor of many friends because they desired more popularity than everyone around them, or someone who has attained the respect of their neighbors because they thought it might help them eventually get something they want from them.

The Bible helps us identify what a godly motive is when it urges us in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” In other words, our motive in whatever we do ought not be that we gain something, but that God does; that through whatever we do, God would gain greater recognition.

This is how Jesus defined success. As Jesus hung on his cross, he had no money, his friends had run away, and there were far more people ridiculing him than respecting him. And yet Jesus considered the day a success because his motive from the very beginning of his life on earth was to help the world recognize his Father’s desire to love you and me more than anything. He glorified his Father in whatever he did, and his plan—to forgive us of every sin so that our future would include the great gain of heaven—did succeed.

When we do the same thing, when we commit each task to the Lord, remembering that our plans are in the care of the one whose love led Jesus to the cross and whose power pulled him from the grave, then whatever amount of earthly wealth, favor, or respect we may gain, we will have already received success through Jesus in the greatest kingdom of all.

Trust your faithful Lord and Savior

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

“Do not fear.” “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” God has spoken those reassuring words to his people throughout history. Scripture contains dozens and dozens of instances where the Lord spoke such words of comfort. Whether it was to Abram before his big move or to Joshua trying to fill the shoes of Moses or to Mary and Joseph about to become parents of the Messiah or to the Israelites in Isaiah’s day facing war and destruction, God has lovingly said to his people: “Do not fear.”

When do you need him to say those words to you? Maybe you are about to have surgery. Maybe it is when you are anxious because it is your first day on the job or your first day of retirement. Perhaps it is when you are trying to get up the courage to speak to your friend about Jesus. Or maybe it is when you recently lost a spouse and don’t know how to move forward. On such days as these, your Lord says: “Do not be afraid.”

‘That’s easy for him to say,’ we may think to ourselves. ‘He’s not the one going through what we are going through.’ Dear friend in Christ, please realize that when the Lord says, “Do not be afraid,” those aren’t just nice words meant to flatter us for a moment or to give us a quick pep talk. Those words are spoken by the Almighty God who has already backed up his words with powerful action. The One who tells us not to fear is the same one who has achieved our salvation by sending his Son into this world to live and die for us. Jesus’ death and resurrection in our place prove that God will always be there for us. He will never leave us alone. He has planned our future and it is eternal and perfect and glorious.

God’s encouragement for us not to be afraid comes with words of power: “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God knows exactly what we need and what we are going through and he knows exactly what he needs to do to keep us safe and finally bring us home to heaven.

Whatever you are facing today or tomorrow or the next day, don’t be afraid. Trust your faithful Lord and Savior to get you through each day and to bless you with strength and faith and everything else you need for this life.

Joy versus Pleasure

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)

Have you ever been one of those recreational joggers who decided that it would be a good idea to run a marathon? I was once. However, life’s responsibilities got in the way and I never made it to the starting line of a marathon.

I have watched others do it. I think I get the strange attraction. You punish yourself for several months just so that you can really punish yourself on one specific day for 4-6 hours until you cross the finish line 26.2 miles later. Then what?

Then you bask in the glow of the deep joy of great accomplishment. I don’t know that anyone considers marathon training to be the pursuit of personal pleasure. Joy, yes. Pleasure, no.

If you want to please yourself, take a slow stroll around the park while enjoying a tasty ice cream cone. If you want the satisfaction of the deep joy of great accomplishment, then pound the pavement for 8 – 10 – 12 miles or more.

So it is with the Christian faith. If you are after personal pleasure, you can find it everywhere. The world is full of fun things to do—things that please with very little effort on our part.

Joy, however, comes from “pounding the pavement”, that is, from the stress and strain of great personal trials—the “testing of your faith”, James calls it. Why test my faith facing “trials of many kinds”? Because when the testing is done, I have perseverance. Perseverance is “the ability to see past present problems and anticipate future blessing with confident reliance on God every step of the way.”

Consider Jesus. The Bible book of Hebrews says that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame” because of the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus, the sinless Son of God found joy in the brutally hard work of bearing the sin of the world in his death on the cross. Don’t forget, this came after the 33-year marathon of living a completely sinless life on our behalf.

When we live our Christian faith no matter what painful trials we may have, we are living the life chosen for us by God. We are part of his joy. The testing is his testing. The perseverance is his perseverance. So “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,” when Jesus sets you on his path leading you to his finish line.

The Great Light

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. – Isaiah 9:2

Are you afraid of the dark? If so, you are not alone. Whether we like to admit a true fear or not, there are things that are scary about the dark: we can’t see where we are going, and we can’t identify hazards that might be surrounding us. Darkness that is so enveloping keeps us from knowing what is going on around us and sometimes puts us in danger.

How comforting, then, that in the Bible verse from Isaiah, God describes his Son, our Savior, as a great light in the darkness. Jesus is the light that came to illuminate the way for those who couldn’t see where they were going. That’s us. We were all living in the darkness of sin, unable to see our way out, unable to find the path to eternal life, unable to even see the dangers that are all around us. This verse tells us we were not just living in physical darkness and ignorance, but we were living in the land of the shadow of death. In other words, we were on the path to hell. This is much more serious than feeling a little lost in a dark house, or worrying about imaginary monsters hiding under our bed.

When Jesus came into this world to live a perfect life, suffer and die for the sins of the world, and rise again, he secured our salvation and revealed it to us. That’s why Jesus is called the light. He made a way out of our darkness, and he guides us on the way to heaven. We no longer have to wander around in the darkness and guilt of our sin. Thank God for caring enough about us that he sent the Light to save us from darkness.

Death Will Be No More

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. … Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; … For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.” – Isaiah 65:17, 20, 22

 

A friend of mine died yesterday.

He was diagnosed with leukemia only a few months ago. He underwent one course of chemotherapy that, unfortunately, didn’t do what the doctors had hoped it would. Then, just last week, he underwent a second course of chemotherapy. Things were looking okay until he suddenly was struck with a massive infection that began to fill his lungs with fluid. For the past several days, he with God’s strength fought valiantly. But yesterday afternoon, he died.

All this makes me profoundly sad. It broke my heart to see my friend struggling to breathe until he breathed no more. I wept, and continue to weep, with his wife, his sons, and the rest of his family.

As Jesus was deeply troubled at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus, I am deeply troubled. But even as I grieve, I do not grieve as one who has no hope.

I and all who grieve for my Christian friend have hope. For we know that a time is coming when death will be no more. A time is coming when, as God says in the verses from Isaiah chapter 65, there will no longer be “an infant who lives only for a few days or an old man who does not live out his years.” In fact, a time is coming when there will be no death at all. Death itself will be a thing of the past and won’t even be remembered anymore.

All of this will become a reality because Jesus already has conquered death. By rising from the dead, he destroyed death’s power so that it cannot hold onto God’s people anymore. Because of this, I know that death will not hold me forever when it comes my time to die. It will not hold my friend forever either. A time is coming when we will see each other again and live in the new heaven and new earth where there is no death. And we will be with Jesus forever.

May this reality fill your heart with hope.  Trusting in Jesus as your Savior, you too can look forward to the time when death will be no more.