Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

Sharing today from Penetrating the Darkness.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

What factors deepen and expand our ministry to hurting people?

Valid answers include a sound grasp of Bible knowledge, identification and exercise of our spiritual gift(s), and a willingness to sacrifice our convenience and time precisely when others most need help. But there’s one answer I’d put first: our own suffering.

Whether our affliction comes in the form of physical maladies, adverse circumstances outside of our control, or emotional anguish (such as major depression), our pain brims with the potential to serve others more effectively. The late pastor and author Ron Dunn went so far as to say, “Your greatest area of usefulness may stem from your greatest area of pain.”

Why is that the case?  Suffering that does not make us bitter makes us better. It breaks our hearts, increasing our empathy with others who hurt. We’re more likely to show compassion when we’ve “been there, done that.”

Allow me to illustrate.

Examples of Pain’s Potential to Expand Our Ministry

While strolling alone on a beach near his home, the forlorn pastor considered suicide. He thought to himself, “I can’t take any more hard knocks. I can’t imagine how things will get any better.”

A worried friend of the pastor showed up at the beach, knowing that’s where the pastor went when he needed to sort things out. The friend didn’t condemn his depressed companion for lack of faith, or dish out superficial solutions. Instead, he walked alongside him for a long time, listened as the pastor vented, told him he loved him and prayed for him.

The friend’s presence incarnated God’s love and instilled hope within the distraught pastor. Here’s how the pastor described the effect: “Within minutes, my life started coming together again. I started thinking clearly for a change. A ray of hope burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I began seeing solutions to some of the things harassing me, and believed again that God would help me.”

What prompted the compassionate response of the pastor’s friend?

His own past experience with pain.

The comforter had gone through a rough patch in his life a couple of years before. He knew firsthand how downcast a person of faith could feel, and had experienced the sustaining power of God’s Spirit. He remembered how God had mobilized people in the body of Christ to reach out to him when his own future seemed hopeless. The comforter’s own brokenness had kept him from a self-righteous, judgmental attitude toward his hurting friend. Instead of offering glib, snap-out-of-it advice, his listening posture and heartfelt prayer lifted the rocks off his friend’s chest.

*******

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in her teens. God chose not to heal her body. Yet over the decades, she has written best selling books offering a sound theology of suffering, interspersed with stories from her life of God’s sustenance. She has shared the gospel of Christ in speaking engagements all over the globe. She founded Joni and Friends, an organization that provides support and resources for disabled persons and their caregivers. Her organization also trains local church leaders on ways to care for the disabled within their own community. Her ministry to needy people isn’t huge in spite of her disability, but because of it. In her case, God has received more glory by redeeming her pain, rather than by eradicating it.

Read the rest here.

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/

Each Day Is More Impossible – Hope on the Long Road of Suffering

Today I’m sharing from Set Apart.

Each Day Is More Impossible-Hope on the Long Road of Suffering

By

It’s been eight weeks since I went in for my fifth ankle surgery, uncertain of whether it would restore my ability to walk. As I remain couchbound, waiting to see what walking ability I will be left with, I’ve been wrestling with doubts and fears over all the seemingly impossible circumstances that God continues to allow in my life.

I’m a mom to four young children and currently unable to walk; we’re a family suffering with Lyme Disease in a medical world that denies its existence; we’re parents navigating a type of special needs that doctors seem to have no answers for; and the only possible relief in sight seems to lie in treatments that we cannot afford. After eleven years of praying, seeking, and sacrificing for answers and healing — or anything that might bring relief — our earthly hope has dwindled. The longer we wait, the more impossible our circumstances become.

He Believed Against Hope

This week, as I’ve felt nearly paralyzed by the complex and layered trials in our life, I’ve found encouragement in a fellow believer who faced his own impossible circumstances with unwavering faith in the Lord.

After being promised he’d become a father of many nations, the child of promise had not come. Both he and Sarah were far beyond the age to bear children. It appeared hopeless to conceive, even as the Lord told him they would, but while he and his wife initially laughed, Abraham came to believe.

In hope he [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18–21)

Abraham didn’t weaken in faith when he considered the reality of what seemed impossible. He believed in the hope that God was fully able to do what he had promised. And he did.

Abraham’s experience reminded me that it’s not unlike God to allow his children to face situations that are hopeless from our perspective. It’s precisely through these impossible situations that God expands our view of him, exercises our trust in him, and most powerfully displays his glory. So, what can we learn from these verses about Abraham when we face our own impossible circumstances?

1. Know what God has (and hasn’t) promised.

Abraham’s faith was based on what God had promised, not what seemed possible. “In hope he [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told” (Romans 8:18). Though he didn’t see any way for that promise to come to pass in their old age, he believed that God would somehow be faithful.

We can’t base our hope on what we want God to do or what we think he will do, but what he has promised us in his word. If we don’t know what those promises are, however, we will be devastated if our hope of healing falls through, when the trials worsen after praying for relief, or when all earthly options seem to run out.

In order to know God’s promises, we have to be in his word. We need to be students of the Bible — praying, reading, meditating, and memorizing. We must be careful to read in context to make sure we don’t misunderstand God’s will and promises and feel bitterly disappointed when we don’t receive what he never promised.

As you read through the word, record all that God offers us in Christ. As you do, remember that his promises are given in light of eternity, not our own short-term understanding (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). And by faith, trust that God knows the best way and time for his promises to come to pass.

Read the rest here.

Trapped in My Own Mind – Three Lies Depression Loves

Today I’m sharing from Set Apart.

Trapped in My Own Mind –
Three Lies Depression Loves

By

I can’t live like this anymore!” I cried through sobs. “I just want to die!”

I sat on my bed and tried to make sense of what was going on inside. I was tired of the chronic pain, the frequent bouts of illness, and the weariness of dealing with my kids’ struggles. But what broke me was the torture of being a prisoner in my own mind. It took everything in me just to keep breathing, while part of me wished my breathing would just stop.

Oh, how I longed to be with Jesus — free from my aching body and broken mind. But I knew deep within me that my life was not my own and that the Lord must have a purpose for these days.

Constant Cloud

Zack Eswine captured my own inner reality — the constant cloud of depression — in his book Spurgeon’s Sorrows,

Painful circumstances . . . put on their muddy boots and stand thick, full weighted and heavy upon our tired chests. It is almost like anxiety tying rope around the ankles and hands of our breath. Tied to a chair, with the lights out, we sit swallowing in panic the dark air.

These kinds of circumstances . . . steal the gifts of divine love too, as if all of God’s love letters and picture albums are burning up in a fire just outside the door, a fire which we are helpless to stop. We sit there, helpless in the dark of divine absence, tied to this chair, present only to ash and wheeze, while all we hold dear seems lost forever. We even wonder if we’ve brought this all on ourselves. It’s our fault. God is against us. (18)

Depression can cloud our view of God, weigh down our spirits, distort reality, and tempt us to question all that we’ve known to be true. Sometimes, our depression is due to circumstances that have pounded us, wave upon wave, until we can no longer hold our heads above the water. Other times, it comes as a result of illness, as Charles Spurgeon writes, “You may be without any real reason for grief, and yet may be among the most unhappy of men because, for the time, your body has conquered your soul” (“The Saddest Cry from the Cross”).

In Good Company

If you have experienced this kind of darkness, you are in good company. Job, after initially responding with faith in the immediate aftermath of his loss, suddenly found himself walking in the valley of despair as his suffering continued:

“When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.” (Job 7:13–16)

I thank God that he gives us a glimpse into the darkest days of Job’s life. Job’s story assures us that we aren’t alone in our battle with despair, and it offers us perspective when we struggle to feel God’s presence on our darkest days. Whether we are battling depression or trying to encourage someone who is, we must remember three truths in the face of depression’s lies.

1. Depression does not mean God is punishing you.

It’s easy to believe that our despair is a sign of God’s displeasure. Though at times we may feel the heavy hand of God upon us in order to draw us into repentance (Psalm 32:3–4), depression often fills our minds with lies, tempting us to believe that our feelings are an accurate reflection of our relationship with Christ.

Read the rest here.

Through All The Seasons. . . God Is Loving and Powerful

Today I’m sharing an article by Dr. David Jeremiah that was published recently on FaithGateway.

Through All the Seasons…
God is Loving and Powerful

By Dr. David Jeremiah

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 — Why has this passage endured the ages as one of the oldest philosophical poems in our literary canon? It’s certainly among the most pensive passages of God’s Word, a beautiful meditation that casts a near-hypnotic spell over readers of any generation.

The author was the wisest and wealthiest man who ever lived, and this book is a chronicle of his lifelong quest for true happiness and joy. Solomon tried wealth, wisdom, work, and wild living. At the end of his wide-ranging experiments, he concluded that everything was an empty exercise in vanity. It was like trying to capture the wind in his hands.

As we come to the third chapter, we find Solomon facing an even bigger challenge, a “problem with God.”

I know all about the “problem with God.”

I would not have chosen cancer as a path to spiritual growth, nor would I wish such fear and pain on anyone. On the other hand, I do not see my illness as a random event, some miscellaneous accident of health. And I do not believe there was a moment when God was absent from the physical, emotional, and spiritual crisis I endured.

In fact, I found Him everywhere during that time. I found Him as never before. I glimpsed His face among the doctors and nurses who cared for me so skillfully. I saw Him there in shining power among the family of my church, and intimately among the family circle of my wife and children. He met me in the private chapel of my soul, where with each passing day I felt deeper in His grace and comfort. I found my Lord more present and more powerful.

Knowing there must be pain and suffering for us all, I dearly wish everyone could travel the road I did. I wish every human soul could see the face of God in the fear and turmoil. 

So many walk a very different path; they experience only His absence.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, when his own three-year-old son contracted a rare disease that took his life at a young age, penned his conclusions about God and suffering in order to provide answers to others in similar circumstances.

Kushner’s conclusion was a popularization of an ancient theological conundrum:

How can God be both perfectly good and perfectly powerful? The suffering in the world suggests that if He is God, He is not good; or that if He is good, He is not God. In other words, there must be something lacking in either His love or His strength, or He would cure every little pain.

Rabbi Kushner worked through the old enigma. He concluded that God is all-loving but not all-powerful. He cares deeply about the people He created, but after creating the world He backed away and allowed it to run without His interference.

Solomon had a different view entirely. He concludes that God is sovereign and in control, regardless of the imponderables that remain. Solomon sees God as being present with us but not helpful enough. The king wants to know why God does not improve the standard of life, do something about the aging process, show more favoritism to His children, and perhaps discontinue the program of human pain.

In his poem, there are fourteen negative statements and fourteen positive ones, and they fall into three separate categories. The first describes the influence of time on our bodies, the second focuses on our souls, and the last deals with our spirits.

And Solomon’s main thought? Well, it doesn’t take a Hebrew scholar to notice that the word time occurs twenty-nine times in these verses.

Time and Your Physical Life

To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, And a time to die;

A time to plant,

And a time to pluck what is planted;

A time to kill,

And a time to heal;

A time to break down,

And a time to build up.

Solomon begins his contemplation with a sobering observation: birth and death both have their appointed times.

When my grandson, Ryland, was born, I flew to Baltimore for the event. As I peered through the nursery window at this beautiful new citizen of the world, it struck me that only a corridor away, some other citizen was being dispatched. Some family had gathered for the agony of farewell. It is not a lengthy walk between the nursery and the intensive care unit. We spend our own time making that trek between entrance and exit, womb and tomb.

Meanwhile, there is a time to plant and a time to harvest. Solomon refers to the food supply because he knows that God sets the boundaries of the seasons. God has built certain rhythms into His world. The steady repetition of the seasons provides comfort and a workable cadence to life.

We are a bit discomforted to read that there is a time to kill as well as a time to heal. Yet our bodies are in the process of dying every moment. Scientists tell us that every seven years we replenish all the cells within our bodies. There is an ongoing maintenance department in the human machine that is constantly changing out the old for the new. And it is governed by time.

Cancer cells, infection cells, or simply worn-out cells must be killed — so even killing has its time, and we are grateful. There must be a time to kill so we might also have a time to heal.

And what of “a time to break down, and a time to build up”? We build up in our early years, and we start breaking down as we get older — painful but true. How old is old? I was enjoying a birthday when David Todd, my six-year-old grandson, crunched the numbers on my age. He said, “If Poppy was a dog’s age, he’d be dead!” He was right.

There is a time for breaking down, but God is there. He is as powerful as He is loving, and you have the opportunity to experience His power all the more effectively and vividly when you turn to Him in the breakdowns of life.

Read the rest here.

Counting on Mercy in Suffering

Sharing today from from UnlockingTheBible.org.

Counting on Mercy in Suffering

By Lianna Davis

From the pits of grief and suffering, the human heart and soul can yearn to know the cause of earthly pain. Did a particular sin bring this suffering upon me, or did I need discipline?

Tender answers might pour into the soul from Scripture—Job was a noble man who suffered and grieved (Job 1:8). And the man born blind in John’s gospel was not provided by Jesus with a personal sin corresponding to his pain (John 9:2-3). We cannot always draw straight lines between cause and effect for our individual suffering (Isaiah 55:9). In How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, D. A. Carson writes,

It is the uncertainty of reading what is going on that sometimes breeds pain. Is the particular blow I am facing God’s way of telling me to change something? Or is it a form of discipline designed to toughen me or soften me to make me more useful? Or is it part of the heritage of all sons and daughters of Adam who live this side of the parousia, unrelated to discipline but part of God’s mysterious providence in a fallen world? But must we always decide? If a little self-examination shows us how to improve, we ought to improve. But there are times when all that the Christian can responsibly do is to trust his heavenly Father in the midst of the darkness and pain. (Carson 66)

“Must we always decide?” We can heed Carson to welcome needed growth in obedience that “a little self-examination” uncovers. Yet, he also warns that our inability to understand the full purposes of God behind our suffering can cause us sorrow on top of sorrow.

Draw Near to the Merciful Savior

While we sit in the mysteries of God’s providence, there is a promise we can be certain of. It’s a theme Carson repeats throughout his book: “From the biblical perspective, it is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Carson 44).

As I grow to have a higher and higher view of God being God—creating and owning me, being pure and dwelling in unapproachable light, and deserving of my unwavering devotion and holy fear, I am increasingly unable to view any of my sins as insignificant or any of my fleshly contributions as meaningful. This principle Carson writes of has been crucial for me, especially in the seat of suffering.

Read the rest here.

Riding Lessons

Another great devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada.

1tim4-8-amp

For physical training is of some value,
but godliness has value for all things,
holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
—1 Timothy 4:8

Riding Lessons

By Joni Eareckson Tada

A friend and I were once joking about what kind of horses we’d like to be.  He mused, “I’d like to be a wild stallion, racing free across the plains, my mane and tail whipping in the wind.”  I smiled and countered, “Maybe, but a horse like that will never win any honors.  I would rather have the confines of a pasture and stall and be trained for dressage under bridle and bit.”

An unbridled, untrained horse lacks the restraints that guide and direct. The bit, martingale, tie-down, spur, and crop appear at first to the horse as irritants and hardships.  But such inconvenience and suffering school the horse to listen to the rider’s commands.  How hard it would be for an animal, without the aid of his master and his crop, to train himself up in the way he should go.  What’s more, the horse would be useless in the ring, without a hope of ever winning honors for his master.

It’s the same for humans.  Our natural bent is to enjoy what we think is freedom out there without constraints.  But as someone has said, freedom is not the right to do what we want to do, it is the power to do what we ought.  Hardship is our bit and bridle.  What’s more, our Master is an expert with the reins and the crop. Godliness involves training… without it, no honor can be given to our Master.

One of the key elements in good animal training is to break the will, but not the spirit.  In the same manner, we are never more “ourselves,” never more spiritually free than when our will is bent to God’s will.  Our spirit thrives on this kind of submission; what’s more, we are then well on our way to godliness.

God, thank You for seeing fit to saddle me with certain hardships.  You know what’s best.  You know how to train me for godliness.  I yield and obey…  I want to win You honors!


Copyright © 1998. More Precious Than Silver, by Joni Eareckson Tada. Published in Print by Zondervan, Grand Rapids. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version.