What Makes It Possible for the Christian to Rejoice in the Midst of Pain and Anxiety?

Today I’m sharing from the Ligonier blog.

 

What Makes It Possible for the Christian to Rejoice in the Midst of Pain and Anxiety?

From R.C. Sproul

In 1993, my wife and I were involved in an historic train wreck. The crash of the Sunset Limited into an inlet from Mobile Bay killed more passengers than any Amtrak accident in history. We survived that eerie accident but not without ongoing trauma. The wreck left my wife with an ongoing anxiety about being able to sleep on a train at night. The wreck left me with a back injury that took fifteen years of treatment and therapy to overcome. Nevertheless, with these scars from the trauma we both learned a profound lesson about the providence of God. Clearly, God’s providence in this case for us was one of benign benevolence. It also illustrated to us an unforgettable sense of the tender mercies of God. In as much as we are convinced that God’s providence is an expression of His absolute sovereignty over all things, I would think that a logical conclusion from such a conviction would be the end of all anxiety.

However, that is not always the case. Of course, our Lord Himself gave the instruction to be anxious for nothing to His disciples and, by extension, to the church. His awareness of human frailties expressed in our fears was manifested by His most common greeting to His friends: “Fear not.” Still, we are creatures who, in spite of our faith, are given to anxiety and at times even to melancholy.

As a young student and young Christian, I struggled with melancholy and sought the counsel of one of my mentors. As I related my struggles, he said, “You are experiencing the heavy hand of the Lord on your shoulder right now.” I had never considered God’s hand being one that gave downward pressure on my shoulder or that would cause me to struggle in this way. I was driven to prayer that the Lord would remove His heavy hand from my shoulder. In time, He did that and delivered me from melancholy and a large degree of anxiety.

On another occasion I was in a discussion with a friend, and I related to him some of the fears that were plaguing me. He said, “I thought you believed in the sovereignty of God.” “I do,” I said, “and that’s my problem.” He was puzzled by the answer, and I explained that I know enough about what the Bible teaches of God’s providence and of His sovereignty to know that sometimes God’s sovereign providence involves suffering and affliction for His people. That we are in the care of a sovereign God whose providence is benevolent does not exclude the possibility that He may send us into periods of trials and tribulations that can be excruciatingly painful. Though I trust God’s Word that in the midst of such experiences He will give to me the comfort of His presence and the certainty of my final deliverance into glory, in the meantime I know that the way of affliction and pain may be difficult to bear.

Read the rest here.

Life in Exile

Photo credit by Tammi Rhoney

When you pass through the waters I will be with you.
─Psalm 43:2

Life in Exile 

By Tammi Rhoney

Many of us with chronic illnesses and pain feel like we live life in exile, separated from the rest of the world because of the isolation caused by our illnesses. With the Coronavirus causing havoc around the globe and forcing businesses, schools, churches and restaurants to close, others are going to feel the isolation and loneliness that we live with on a daily basis. I have suffered with Myalgic Encephalomyletis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), a severely debilitating complex chronic illness that has kept me mostly housebound for twenty-seven years, almost half my life. One friend accurately named M.E. “the leprosy of the twentieth century.” It’s easy to become discouraged because we feel so disconnected, but God has a reason for our captivity.

In the book of Daniel, when Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were held in captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar, they sought to glorify God and refused to eat the king’s food and bow down to his golden image (Daniel 1:8, 3:18). They knew the Lord and wanted to obey, worship and glorify Him, even in very difficult circumstances, and they chose to trust God no matter what the outcome. God had a reason for their captivity and that was to bring glory to Himself.

The same is true for us. We worship the same God as in Daniel’s time.  While in captivity with our illnesses, we can find new ways to glorify God and worship Him. I enjoy listening to the dramatized Bible via audio on the Bible.is app because it takes less brain energy than reading and brings God’s Word alive with music, sounds and voices.  We can listen to on-line sermons, memorize and meditate on short Scripture verses, send cards to others and call someone who is lonely when we feel up to it. The more afflicted we feel, the more important it is to spend time in prayer, praise and worship to God each day and keep our focus on Him and not on our circumstances. Psalm 16:8 says, “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  

There are some similarities and differences between Daniel and his friends’ life in exile and our daily exile caused by poor health. One main difference is that we know God sent Israel into exile as punishment for their sin, while today’s chronic illnesses often are not God’s punishment for specific sins, but part of living in a fallen world. Both are from God’s Hand (Job 2:10, Isaiah 45:7). Scripture says that God is completely Sovereign and free to do as He wills for His own glory (Psalm 15:3; 103:19). His Sovereignty determines the length, duration and severity of our illnesses, just as He determined the duration of captivity for Daniel and his three friends. If it is God’s will, He chooses when and where to deliver us, how and when only He knows (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Daniel and his friends didn’t know that they would be delivered from the fiery furnace and lion’s den, but even if they were killed, they still intended to remain true to God (Daniel 3:16-18).

They also didn’t know that a theophany of Christ would appear with them in the furnace that was heated seven times hotter than normal (Daniel 3:19, 25). God chose to reveal His awesome power in and through them as their clothes were not even singed and there was no smell of smoke on their garments (Daniel 3:27). Dr. Bill Barcley, our senior pastor, said, “God reveals His power and glory in and through us, especially in times of trial and through our perseverance.”

We’re never alone; God promises to be with us because we are His very precious, redeemed people (1 Peter 2:9). Remember that God says, “I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1-3, ESV). Yet God doesn’t always save His saints from death or disease. Our calling is to trust and obey Him and leave the rest in His Hands.  As Paul proclaimed, weakness is one of the ways God displays His strength and power through us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Life in exile is fruitful because:

Even as believers, we are a very sinful, idolatrous people, but thankfully our sins are covered by Christ’s precious blood (1 John 1:9).

Sometimes God chooses to remove all distractions from our lives so that He becomes our most important and treasured possession.

While life in exile is not fun, it’s sometimes necessary in God’s plan. We should ask Him to help us give thanks to Him for this time of refining in our lives and for how He’s going to use these fiery trials for our good, the benefit of others and His glory (Romans 8:28).

Strength for the Journey

Strength for the Journey

By Pat Knight

 Snowflakes or samples of DNA illustrate exceptional individuality. There are no repetitions with either. God created each person with specific physical attributes, personalities, emotions, and the desire to seek Him. Our Lord endows us with free wills, allowing us to make exclusive decisions. We are not puppets on a string merely doing the Lord’s bidding. Though it must break His heart, God permits us to ignore or resist Him, bumbling through life without His guidance.

During our struggles and trials, God offers His superior strength and power, without which we must depend solely on our temporary resources. God’s strength moves mountains of trouble and maintains the universe in perfect order. Extraordinary fortitude is available to each of us when we appropriate God’s immense strength. It is not bullish or intimidating, but comprised of quiet gentleness merged with power. God always uses His strength appropriately, combined with love and compassion to help us overcome obstacles.

Teaming our uniqueness with His strength, we possess the ability to accomplish great feats in God’s name. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians12:9). The Apostle Paul witnessed God supplanting his human frailty with almighty strength. Paul had a physical problem for which he sought God’s cure. Rather than heal him, God eclipsed Paul’s weakness with the promise of His sufficient strength. Paul admitted, “‘for when I am weak, then I am strong’” (v. 10). Paul knew the secret of dealing with his infirmity was to supplement with God’s endless supply of strength.

Humans are exceedingly shortsighted. Though God is acquainted with the future plans for our individual lives, we cannot see beyond this very minute. Our Lord knows whether we will benefit more from healing our physical disorders, or by lavishing us with His abundant strength to triumph beyond our afflictions. Paul placed his priorities and his full faith in God. Then he followed His Lord into a victorious life full of spiritual accomplishments, traveling over the known world as a missionary, preaching the Gospel until the end of his life.

“Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

God is immutable—incapable of compromise or change, no less powerful or loving than when Paul lived on earth. Our physical or emotional weakness may be for the purpose of encouraging others who hurt as we do, the individual work which God has chosen for us.  “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). The Apostle Paul demonstrates that contentment is learned behavior, a choice we make to depend on God’s guidance and the riches of Christ. We are surrounded with people willing to throw cold water on enthusiastic ideas. If those whom God chooses to endure illness or hardships were to transform into encouragers with heavenly strength, God’s love would be exponentially transported throughout the world in a contagious manner.

Each unique, spirit-filled Christian is enabled by God to develop and perpetuate a distinctive style of encouragement in order to disseminate God’s love. Those empowered by God and permeated with His strength, have the capacity to distribute joy and peace to a hurting world. We are challenged to exercise our gift of free will to project encouragement, enthusiasm, and ebullience. Only by experiencing the strength He provides, are we able to reach out to others in a way that is honoring to God, who created us as in His image to represent the holy and righteous characteristics of Jesus. 

“I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13, KJV).  God and believers working together have the ability to affect change in this world, as we elevate God’s name and purpose. With such awesome, privileged life goals, our troubles pale. The more we perform God’s will for our lives, the less we concentrate on self and our temporary troubles.

Paul provides an example of how to focus less on our physical problems and gain victory by accessing God’s strength. God desires to demonstrate the fine art of victorious living. With great expectancy, request to be instilled with God’s strength and steadfastness. He will then intervene to provide “exceeding, abundantly beyond all we ask or think according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV). Jesus patiently awaits your trust and obedience. He delights to work in you and through you to shine the light of His splendor and supremacy into a dark world.

Becoming Beautiful in God’s Time: He Makes All Things New

Last week I introduced Tammi Rhoney, our new writer. You can read about that here. Below is her first devotional contribution to this blog.

Photo credit by Tammi Rhoney, taken at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, VA

Becoming Beautiful in
God’s Time:
He Makes All Things New

By Tammi Rhoney

I love God’s promise in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that He makes all things beautiful in His time. Many of us with chronic illness and pain don’t feel very beautiful, especially when we compare ourselves to younger, healthier women. As one middle-aged friend put it after attending a Bible study at her church, “I feel like a beat up old Volkswagen next to a bunch of sleek, shiny brand new Corvettes.” Chronic illnesses take a toll on our bodies inwardly and outwardly, but God’s Word says that “our momentary light afflictions are producing in us an eternal weight of glory far beyond compare” and we are not to lose hope (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV). God has something very special planned for those of us who suffer, just as he does for the caterpillar.

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

The first week in June my husband and I visited the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and Butterfly House in Richmond, VA. Since then, I’ve been studying the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly. It’s a very amazing and interesting process! Butterflies go through four life stages: the egg, larva or caterpillar, the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. Each stage is unique to the individual species. In the Egg Stage, when the female butterfly is ready to lay eggs, she begins to search for an appropriate host plant for the young caterpillars to eat because they have big appetites. She finds the plants by sight and smell and then places an egg on a leaf, stem, flower or seedpod. The butterfly’s body produces a special substance that glues the egg in place so it won’t wash off in the rain.  It’s glued on so strongly that the egg will tear apart before the leaf does. Butterflies lay their eggs in many different formations: single eggs, groups of eggs and eggs stacked on top of each other.

Caterpillar Stage

In the Caterpillar Stage, these tiny creatures devour the leaves of their host plant storing up enough energy for metamorphosis, the change from caterpillar to butterfly. The more a caterpillar eats, the faster it will grow, a process called molting. A caterpillar may molt up to five times depending on its species, weather and the availability of food.

Once a caterpillar has reached maturity, it starts to look for a good place to pupate, or begin the Chrysalis Stage, spinning a patch of silk as an anchor point for the chrysalis. The caterpillar continues to spin until it’s completely enclosed in an outer shell called a chrysalis, similar to a cocoon. The chrysalis dries and hardens, protecting the caterpillar from weather and small predators. The dull coloration helps it blend in among leaves and twigs. During this stage, the caterpillar liquefies inside the chrysalis and reorganizes, almost magically transforming into a butterfly. If the weather is warm, the butterfly will emerge in about two weeks. If it’s cooler, it may wait until spring to emerge. Using its long legs, the butterfly pulls itself out of the chrysalis, letting its crumpled wings hang down. Slowly it begins to pump its wings up and down, forcing blood into the wing veins so they can expand and open to their full size.

Adult Stage

In the Adult Stage, the butterfly then begins the life cycle all over again. Its two primary goals are finding food and a mate. Depending on the type of butterfly, their life cycle can take one month to a whole year.

Just as a caterpillar is transformed into a beautiful butterfly, so too God has a purpose for our chronic illnesses and pain. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says,

16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things which are seen but to the things which are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (temporal), but the things that are unseen are eternal. (ESV)

Do Not Lose Heart

Paul instructs us, first of all, to not lose heart. Yes, living daily with chronic illness and pain is very difficult, and it’s easy to get discouraged, but we must persevere. God is bringing glory to Himself and preparing us to share in His glory in eternity even through our weaknesses and discouragements, just as He did through Paul’s ministry. Our outer man is decaying daily like the body of the caterpillar when it changes into a butterfly, but the good news is that our inner man is being renewed daily by the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit, and in this we can rejoice!  In this fallen world our bodies are vulnerable to many kinds of afflictions, but Paul contrasts our body’s outward decay to the unending inner vitality of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say that our “momentary, light affliction,” even if it’s lifelong, cannot compare to the “eternal weight of glory” to come. Our troubles are preparing a great reward for us as Believers (James 1:12). Our faith and obedience in suffering also please God and He will not forget (Romans 8:17-18; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

Transformation

So take heart, fellow Christian sufferers, and remember that like the slow transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, God is using our afflictions to conform us slowly into Christ’s image and prepare us for the glory that awaits us in our Heavenly Home. For then our sanctification will be complete and we will emerge victorious in our resurrected bodies just like a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

Praise God, we will be free from all affliction and pain forever (Rev. 21:4)!


Originally published at https://chronic-joy.org/becoming-beautiful-gods-time/

Comfort in Affliction

Hello friends! I originally thought I would be back blogging full-time by now but health issues continue to plague me. I ask for your patience and your prayers as I share two or three short posts—like this one—each week until I feel able to devote more time to my blog. The Lord continues to be my All in All as I cling more tightly to Him.

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, ESV

Purposes of Christ in Suffering

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Purposes of Christ in Suffering

By Dr. Joel R. Beeks

Christ intends to use suffering in the lives of His people to sanctify them and to prepare them for eternal glory.  Recognize how sanctified affliction is used to glorify God.  First of all, sanctified affliction humbles you (Deut. 8:2), teaches you what sin is (Zech. 12:10), and causes you to seek God (Hosea 5:15). Affliction vacuums away the fuel that feeds your pride.

Secondly, sanctified affliction serves to keep you in Christ’s communion, closely by His side, to conform you to Him, making you partakers of His suffering and image, righteousness and holiness (Heb. 12:10-11).

Thirdly, sanctified affliction serves to wean you from the world and to cause you to work by faith.  Perhaps affliction bites you so deeply because you are too little at home with the Word and ways of God and too much at home with the world.  In prosperity you often talk of living by other-worldly faith, but in adversity you live your talk.  Discover the truth of Robert Leighton’s words, ‘Affliction is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with.’

Recognize also that the end of all of His affliction, and ours, is eternal glory.  Think more of your coming crown and your eternal communion with God’s Triune saints and angles. ‘He that rides to be crowned, ‘John Trapp wrote, ‘will not think much of a rainy day.’

Consider Christ: His afflictions, power, presence, perseverance, prayers, goals, and end. Seek grace to live Christianly today through and in your afflictions and you shall soon discover with the apostle, ‘For me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21).

God Knows What You’re Going Through

If you’ve ever thought that God is not aware of your pains and frustrations, your fear or crying during sleepless nights, please take the time to read Franklin Graham’s account of what occurred during his recent trip to Myanmar. 

Franklin Graham:
Whatever You Are Going Through—
God Knows

Dear Friend,

A few weeks ago I traveled to Myanmar, a nation once known as Burma. We’ll be holding a Crusade there at the end of next year, and I met with pastors and members of the Crusade committee. This is a country that has been under military dictatorship for the last 50 years or so, and churches have been under severe restrictions.

Things are beginning to change now, and we are thankful that churches are gaining some freedom. People are hopeful. As you can imagine, there is a lot of planning and groundwork that needs to be done far in advance of the Crusade, and we would appreciate your prayers. This is the first time the churches in this area have cooperated for an evangelistic effort like this, and we are asking God to work in a mighty way.

Myanmar is a Buddhist country, and it has one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the world, the Shwedagon (or Golden) Pagoda. Thousands upon thousands of people go there to pray to the lifeless statues of Buddha. As I witnessed this in person, I thought of the story in the book of Daniel where King Belshazzar and the people “praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone.” Almighty God responded with handwriting on the wall, and Daniel was called to interpret the writing. He delivered God’s judgment upon King Belshazzar for worshiping gods “which do not see or hear or know” (Daniel 5:23, NKJV) and for failing to honor the God who gave them breath.

Read more here.

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Do Not Lose Heart


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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.
—2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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