Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

Surrender and trust

I have a friend who is doubly suffering – in body and in spirit.

His bodily pain is greater than anything I have ever faced.  He has consulted doctors and they have yet to find what is at the root of his illness.  He cries out to God for healing and is despondent because healing does not come.

I struggle to find words to give him hope and comfort.  Anything I say will sound trite because I have not gone through his trials. And yet . . . Jesus did.

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus knew what was coming. The mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual torture he was about to go through was more than any human has ever borne.

I have always been struck by Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane.  In Matthew 26:36-45, we read that Jesus prayed three times to his Father to spare him the crucifixion.  Luke tells us he sweat drops of blood – he was in agony of soul.

But he surrendered his will to God.  He said: “Yet not as I will, but as you want.”

He trusted that the Father’s plan was the right one – for him and for all people always.  He knew that God’s plan was good.

In our minds, we believers accept that God’s plans are good.  But when we go through trials, it is easy to forget that truth.

How can it be good that I am suffering, we cry out.  How can God allow this?

That is the difficult thing we all wrestle with.

In her book Adventures in Prayer, Catherine Marshall says she spent six months bed-ridden with a severe lung infection which left specialists baffled.   She had prayed for healing with all the faith she had.

Finally, in tears, she said: “I’m tired of asking.  I’m beaten, finished.  You decide what you want for me.”

The presence of God filled her room and she experienced Christ as she never had before.  From that moment, her recovery began.

Of course, surrender doesn’t always end that way.

In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul tells us that he asked God three times to remove “a thorn in the flesh” from his life.  Paul, the instrument of healing for so many people, was not healed.

Yet, he heard from God words that have helped many people over the years: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In our weakness, we are driven to God.  We discover that we are ultimately helpless and we are entirely in God’s loving hands.

There is nothing better than that.

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Forever

Does this life mean more to you than the one to come?

Does eternity mean less to you than being a being a big winner in your career? Or, the envy of everyone else in your marriage? Or, going all out to enjoy the pleasures of this life?

There is nothing wrong in investing ourselves heavily in this life, brief as it is.  But God wants us to look for our ultimate satisfaction in him as John Piper says.

And our brief lives on earth are really just a preparation for a wonderful eternity with God.  Nothing on earth can compare with the joys of being with God in the world to come.

That’s the intriguing argument of noted author Paul David Tripp, author of Forever.  I am so captivated by this thought that I am writing about it even before finishing his book.

“No matter who you are, where you are, and how old you are, you long for a perfect world and struggle with the fact that the address where you live is anything but perfect,” declares Tripp.

Yet, we keep hoping that we can achieve perfection in our lives on earth.  We try to fulfill our dreams of success or ultimate pleasure in the here and now.

So even Christians – myself included – tend to push God into the background as we pursue our earthly goals.  We tend to think that we must get what we want now.

Tripp says that the problem is that “we live with a destination mentality instead of a preparation mentality”. In other words, we feel that we have to pack in everything we can into this life because that’s all there is – we feel we can only achieve what we want in our existence on earth.

But this view of life fails to grasp that “our complete, present, personal happiness is not what God is working on in the here and now,” writes Tripp.

“Living with a preparation mentality . . . means living with the knowledge that God is using the disappointments and difficulties of this world to prepare us for the next. God uses the pressures of the present to craft us into the kind of individuals with whom he would choose to spend eternity.”

Tripp goes on to say that God is using the present world “to produce three things in me – longing, readiness and hope”.  I am to long for more of God, prepare for the time when I will see him face to face, and build a lively hope in the joys to come.

The apostle Paul summed this up well in his great statement: “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (Philippians 1:21)

Instinctively, I believe Tripp is right.

Blessing – not cursing

God asks a lot of us in our relations with others – sometimes, it seems too much.

But, the hardest path is often the best for us.

I have been thinking about this as I consider broken relations within the Christian community.  I have been part of some of these regrettable breakdowns in my life.

When I have been hurt, my tendency is to crawl back into my shell like a turtle, nursing my bitterness and damaged feelings.  Others blow off steam and stamp away.

Neither attitude is good for us in the long term.  We cannot hold onto our anger and bitterness.

The way of the Lord is forgiveness and blessing.

I agree with those who say we cannot forget the hurts we received.  But we can release them.

I have written about forgiveness before.  I have in recent years realized that I must forgive several people who attacked me verbally at different points in my life.  The Lord commands it and it is freeing.

Yet, I also see that the ultimate step is blessing those who have stung me with their comments or actions.

I was thinking about this as I was reading the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:14 this week: “Bless those who persecute you.  Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.”

There is great power in blessing.  As I pray a blessing on someone, I begin to see them as God sees them.  We are all damaged people, but God wants to heal and restore.  He loves my brother in Christ as much as he does me.

There is a sense, too, that blessing builds up while cursing tears down.  It may be that the root of the other person’s anger will be removed by a blessing.

Others have pointed out that blessing and cursing have an impact in the spiritual realm.  Critical words act like spiritual curses.

So, I am beginning to bless others in my prayer time whether I am angry with them or not.  I believe God is pleased.  He wants to bless his loved ones.

Not alone

I am reminded, this Easter season, that we are not alone.

That may seem obvious.  Most of us are surrounded by people – loved ones, workmates, friends.

But many of us – perhaps most of us – have, at some point in life, felt like we are lost in a huge forest with no idea how we can find our way home.

That is particularly true of people who have been suffering for a while.

A friend tells me that no one can truly understand his desperation after years of being in physical pain – and now, depression.

I admit I can’t understand his pain because I have never faced something like that.

Yet Jesus knows.

There is nothing so human – and so profound – as Jesus’ wrestling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and then dying on the cross.

Believers are familiar with the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22.  Jesus took several disciples with him to pray on the night of his betrayal and his friends fell asleep at this critical time.

He wanted his closest friends to be with him and to support him as he struggled with the thought of his rapidly-approaching death.  He not only faced great physical suffering – he knew he would bear the mental and spiritual burden of everyone’s sin.  And he would be cut off for a moment from the Father.

No one has borne such pain.

We know that Jesus pleaded with the Father to spare him this horrible death.  But, in the end, he submitted to the will of his Father, knowing that his death would reshape history and bring him an endless sea of brothers and sisters in eternity.  Once he took this stand, he was ready to face death with great courage.

It is true that Jesus was the only one to go through this experience.  He could not ask anyone else to take his place.

Certainly, his sleepy friends could not help him – and they did not understand until after his resurrection.

But was he truly alone?

In a sense, yes.  We read in Mark 16 that Jesus cried from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  That was the pivotal moment when the burden of sin was heaped on Jesus and the Father had to turn his face away.

But the power of God moved in him as he obeyed and carried him through to the greatest triumph in human history.

There is no closer relationship in the universe than the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They are one.

And Christ now lives within us who believe.  We are united with Jesus.

So, even when we suffer, we are not alone.