None of us can come to the highest maturity
without enduring the summer heat of trials.
—Charles H. Spurgeon
When I was young, I thought that following God and being a Christian would lead to a life that was kind of easy, filled only with happiness and free from pain and sorrow. Silly me. I’m not even sure where I got that idea, except maybe from teachings spouted by TV evangelists who espoused a prosperity “name it and claim it” doctrine that was popular when I first chose to follow Jesus. It tickles the ears, doesn’t it? It’s so appealing, this thought that if you are a true believer you are spared suffering and gifted only with a positive existence.
It is also completely contrary to what the Scriptures teach.
If Jesus was perfected through His suffering, who are we to think we won’t be perfected through the same means? (Hebrews 2:10).
Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus came that we might have life and life to the full (John 10:10), and it’s the joy of the Lord that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It’s just that this promised joy and life come to us in the midst of the easy and the hard, the triumphs and the travails.
The key, then, is to intentionally cultivate that joy in our hearts — to choose it — no matter what season we’re in, the easy or the hard.
And life is hard a lot of the time. This world we live in is not Eden. We are not in Heaven. Not yet. But, in the middle of this often difficult journey, God “has taken great measures to preserve our freedom of choice.”1 We have the freedom to choose to grow in joy or to retreat from it.
Said another way, life will inevitably be hard, and as maturing believers with our eyes set on Jesus, we will constantly be presented with opportunities to make choices that will either lead to a deeper joy or not. Here’s what I mean:
It’s hard to stand up against the group when they are going the wrong direction — spiritually or any other way. But it’s also hard on our consciences afterward if we don’t. That Jiminy Cricket won’t be quiet.
It’s hard to be kind to the mean, curmudgeonly neighbor. It’s hard as well to be convicted later of being unloving. It’s hard to not spend the money on the item we so desire.
It’s hard to save money. It’s also hard to be in debt.
It’s hard to have a loving but tough confrontational conversation with a friend. It’s also hard to not have one and then have offense and distance creep into that friendship.
Today I’m sharing from Answers in Genesis
A Physician’s Perspective
During the Easter season, we usually hear again the stories of the Passion Week and the Crucifixion—Jesus’s betrayal by Judas, His unfair trial, the road to Calvary, Jesus’s last words. We also sing about the Old Rugged Cross. But few look beyond these stories to consider what our Lord Jesus Christ actually endured during those hours on the cross. Unlike first-century Christians, for whom crucifixion was a familiar reality, most of us have a sanitized view of our Lord’s suffering.
The physical suffering that Jesus willingly endured was beyond horrific. To better understand the extent of His suffering is to get a glimpse of His love for us.
In the Garden
The suffering began soon after the Last Supper when Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing that the time of His death was near, Jesus prayed intently. According to Luke 22:44, “Being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Medical literature documents that bloody sweat, known as hematidrosis, does occur. This condition is seen in rare instances of extreme emotional stress. The resulting blood loss is not severe, but it does cause the skin to be exquisitely tender, making what was to come even more painful.
During His Trials
After these hours of emotional distress in the garden, Jesus was betrayed and arrested. His captors mocked and beat Him after He faced the Sanhedrin and the Roman authorities. He was ultimately sentenced to crucifixion on a cross.
Before sentencing Jesus to death, Pilate attempted to appease the Jews by having Him beaten. John 19:1 notes, “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.” However, this brief description does not communicate the brutal nature of what was to follow.
Scourging was a particularly vicious form of punishment. The victim was stripped of his clothes, and his hands were raised above his head and tied to a post. Then one or two soldiers would repeatedly beat the victim with a whip, usually made of several leather strips with jagged pieces of iron or sheep bone tied onto them.
One blow after another was delivered across the shoulders, back, and buttocks. Initial blows ripped gashes into His already tender skin, and those that followed dug deeper into our Savior’s tissues, tearing muscles and blood vessels. The subsequent blood loss further weakened Him. Torn and exposed nerves on the back caused indescribable pain.
This brutal scourging was only the beginning of Jesus’s suffering. After being untied from the blood-stained scourging post, the soldiers placed a scarlet robe on Him. Each breath, each movement of His body, caused the robe to rub against His torn flesh. Then a crown of thorns was placed on His head. As the trained Roman soldiers beat Him, these thorns drove deeper into His head, causing profuse bleeding and intense pain. Later, the scarlet robe was torn from His back, reopening the deep wounds.
How horrible was Jesus’s suffering at this point? Isaiah 52:14 says, “Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” Jesus had been so severely beaten, He no longer looked like a human being.
During my recent blog break, I spent a lot of time in the Word and in prayer. I started this blog in 2011 and the Lord has enabled me to continue, with similar breaks along the way. I have tried and discarded different blogging schedules, finally settling on my current twice-weekly one because it works best for me.
I’ve written before about the various health issues I live with, which often take over my life. 2019 started with 24/7 migraines which were amazingly worse than I could remember. A friend told us about a chiropractic method we had never heard of before, a more holistic approach to treating pain through specific spinal adjustments which are more gentle than the traditional adjustments I have tried in the past.
I’ve been into this now for almost three months and am extremely happy with the results. I still have migraines with fluctuating barometric pressure, but these migraines are ocular in nature rather than extremely painful. Now the only way I can tell I’m having a migraine is that my vision gets a little blurry and I have some nausea. I am also experiencing benefits in how my body processes/perceives daily pain by learning new breathing techniques and other gentle exercises to keep my body in better alignment.
So that’s my current health state, which I am constantly praising our Lord for as a huge answer to prayer! I am still going to keep my twice-weekly blogging schedule though because I am sure that the more my health issues get resolved, the more I will be able to do here at home. I am also looking forward to being able to do some traveling again, including going riding more often with Rick just for the sheer joy of it.
While thinking about my most recent blog break, it reminded me of a year-long hiatus from writing that I took about 15 years ago. I had no idea how that year would involve a huge amount of trust in Jesus, and in the process, He taught me much about how faithful and trustworthy He is. Here’s my story about that time.
Faithful is He who calls you
and He also will bring it to pass.
—1 Thessalonians 5:24
I’ve written many times about leaning on the Lord with faith and trust. Today I’d like to focus on how faith plays such a huge part in trusting and believing in the Lord’s timing.
By the way, “faith” (a noun) and “believe” (a verb) are both translated from the same Greek word. If you claim to have faith in God, then believing in Him is to put that faith into action. In other words, our faith leads to believing that what God says is true and more important than what we see or feel with our frail and easily persuaded human minds. God worked in my heart in a mighty way to show me how a believing faith can help me through everything in my life.
I don’t know about you but just when I feel comfortable with the way my life is going, that’s when I know God will start to shake things up a bit. I like to say He is moving me from one comfort zone to the next.
One of the examples of this in my life happened about 15 years ago. After several years of writing, my well of imagination seemed to have run dry. I had unexpectedly lost my desire to write.
Those who know me best suggested that I was probably experiencing writer’s block, but I learned that God simply had other plans for me. In the midst of my quiet times with Him, I felt Him telling me to stop everything writing-related for a time and focus on Him as I rested my exhausted body and mind.
As difficult as it was to understand this, I knew God was asking me to put into action what I believe to be true:
God is more than worthy of my faith and trust.
My writing hiatus came to an abrupt end about a year later when a writing assignment dropped into my inbox that I knew had to be from the Lord. I had sent my resume to a publisher the previous year and then forgotten about it. Now, this same publisher offered me an assignment that was tailor-made for my style of writing.
But there was a problem: not only was the deadline a mere three weeks away, but I needed to research and write while battling severe daily migraines.
The migraine issue was not a new thing, but I just cannot think clearly when in the midst of one of these nausea-creating, light- and sound-bothering, hair-hurting migraines hits me. And it was happening on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, I struggled through this assignment day after day, sometimes praying through my tears. And—day after day—God provided me with the ideas I needed plus the necessary strength to get this enormous amount of writing done in such a short period of time.
The finished book was a compilation of prayers written by several authors, including me. By the grace of God and by believing that He would faithfully help me complete this assignment on time, I met my deadline of composing 31 prayer devotionals.
You read that right: 31 devotionals in 3 weeks!
In great pain, I toiled through the writing of every single one of those devotionals but God was faithful in giving me the sufficient amount of strength I needed exactly when I needed it most. From time to time I’ve shared some of the devotionals here that I contributed to that book titled, Anytime Prayers for Everyday People, and I’ll continue that every so often.
Beloved, are you facing something in your life that seems too much for you to handle? Maybe—like I did—you think there is nothing you can contribute because of your circumstances or illness or limited energy.
If you take away anything from what I went through, it should be this:
When God wants us to do something for Him, He does not expect us to do it on our own. He just wants us to have faith and believe that He will walk with us through it.
Remember, He is the Great Enabler and will always grant us exactly the amount of strength and stamina we need to finish whatever He calls us to do!
by Joni Eareckson Tada
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings,
because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Some people are never going to be happy.
I’m not being cynical, because the very folks about whom I’m speaking would agree. They would be the first to say that they are in a dead-end marriage, that they see no end to the constant irritation of their supervisor at work, that they will never lose those ugly twenty-five pounds. Life, to them, seems to be a never-ending drudgery of the same, sad routine.
Are you this way? Does happiness, like a butterfly, almost flutter within reach but just when you think you have grasped it… it’s gone? Or perhaps you feel your marriage is okay, and your job is acceptable. Yet you feel as though something’s missing. Perhaps you think this is real happiness.
Well, life is hard. For some, it is downright hard. Unhappiness seems to be here to stay. But it doesn’t have to be this way, because the answer is not to get rid of unhappiness but to find a new definition for it.
My friend Elisabeth Elliot has suggested that we redefine happiness as duty and honor, sacrifice and faithfulness, commitment and service. Happiness is fleeting and elusive, but joy is an overflow of the perseverance and hope that comes from demonstrating faithful sacrifice and committed service.
Lord of Joy, will You help me redefine happiness in my life? You promise joy in the midst of our suffering, so please let me know Your joy today as I persevere in faithful service and as I demonstrate true commitment in my tasks. Give me Your smile, let me feel Your peace dancing in my heart. That, for me, will be true joy.
Taken from Diamonds in the Dust. Copyright © 1993 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.
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.