I Can Trust A God Who Has Suffered

It can be tough for me to trust politicians, especially when they try to relate to normal, everyday folks like myself. When Mitt Romney was campaigning against Barack Obama, one of the knocks on him was that he was fabulously rich. Could a fabulously rich guy really relate to the struggles of a middle-class family in Alabama or a low-income family in Detroit? Could a dude who jetted around in a private jet relate to folks who have to take public transportation? When Bill Clinton told an AIDS activist, “I feel your pain,” it was hard to take him seriously. Could Bill Clinton really relate to the pain of those afflicted by AIDS?

Simply put, it’s hard to trust a person who hasn’t experienced hardship. Hardship and suffering teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way. Although it sounds terribly cliche, there really is such a thing as the school of hard knocks. The reason so many people loved Ulysses S. Grant was because he was a soldier who knew first hand the trials and terrors of war. One of the reasons people loved Abraham Lincoln was that he was a man of the people. He came from a poor, backwoods family, and he understood suffering and deprivation.

A person who has suffered understands the unique challenges and trials and pain that accompany suffering. We can trust the leadership of a person who has suffered.

These realities make Hebrews 2:18 a precious verse. Speaking of Jesus, it says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Our God is not an isolated, insular, always comfortable God. Our God suffered.

Jesus suffered in ways we can’t even begin to fathom. He was rejected and mocked. He was called an illegitimate bastard. His own brothers made jokes about him. He experienced the sickness and suffering and sadness which permeate all of life. He had friends die. He worked until he was so exhausted that he fell asleep in the back of a boat. He experienced the full fury of Satan’s temptations. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He did not have a comfortable, easy, pain-free life.

Because Jesus suffered and was tempted, he is perfectly equipped to help me when I am suffering or being tempted. Jesus knows what suffering feels like, he knows exactly what I need in order to honor God in the midst of my suffering, and he has all the power necessary to sustain me in the midst of my suffering. In my grief Jesus can supply me with grace. In my pain Jesus can supply me with perseverance. Jesus is the wonderful physician who has experienced sickness himself. He is the wonderful healer who knows first hand what pain feels like.

It’s hard to trust someone who has never suffered. Jesus has suffered, which makes him perfectly suited to help me. I can trust a God who has suffered.

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Stop Comparing Your Trials

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How many times have you looked at someone else?s suffering and thought, ?How on earth do they keep going? I wouldn?t survive a day in that job, or with those disabilities, or with that many kids!? Then, after marveling at their endurance, you look at your own life and feel like the most miserable, sniveling excuse for a Christian ever to disgrace the faith.

Okay, perhaps you don?t wallow in despair quite that much. But you?ve probably had that type of internal dialogue. Another person?s trials make yours seem like child?s play. They have severe physical handicaps; you just have trouble sleeping through the night. Your newborn doesn?t want to keep to a sleep schedule, but she?s homeschooling six kids and helping her husband run the family business. You struggle to care well for a flock of fifty souls, he pastors a booming congregation, speaks at conferences, writes books, AND coaches his son?s baseball team. In short, you?re a wimp and he (or she) is Captain Awesome. And the end result is that, on top of your particular trial, you now feel pathetic for even struggling.

Can you relate? To cap off the whole dilemma, the appropriately high value we Christians place on humility makes us think there?s something useful, even godly, about this kind of comparison. But here?s the problem: comparing your trials to someone else?s cuts you off from the comfort God wants to give you in your trial. If God was our schoolmaster instead of our father, if comfort was dispensed on the basis of merit, not grace ? then yes, we might have reason to think we escape God?s notice until our sufferings pile up to Grade A level. But God isn?t like that. To each one of us he can say, ?I have searched you and known you,? (Psalm 139:1). To you these words apply: ?And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you? (1 Peter 5:10).

I know what you?re thinking ? but they really do face more than I do! And yes, that?s true ? and it?s true for every single person. No matter what we go through, someone out there has faced something that?s more difficult, more intense, more challenging. But that doesn?t change God?s compassion for you in your trial. The God who reveals himself as boundless in compassion and mercy walks with each one of us in our trials, tailor matching the comfort receive to the need of the moment. Looking at someone else?s trials tempts us to look away from God and to act as though, because our trials are so small by comparison, maybe we shouldn?t even bother crying out to God for help in our struggle.

So let me make a recommendation: stop comparing your trials. Instead, respond with honesty and humility to God in whatever you are facing. Ask for mercy ? God waits to pour it out on you, even if you?re tempted to feel like a loser for even asking!

?Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him? (Isaiah 30:18).

Photo by Emilio Labrador

So Who You Gonna Trust?

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
?In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.? (Isaiah 30:15)

In Isaiah?s day, Judah feared Assyria. Rather than turning to God they turned to Egypt for help and protection.

You can hardly blame them. Assyria was a real threat – they were evil, violent and hated Judah. And Egypt was there ready to help. They could call on a real nation with weapons and horses and chariots who would be right there to take on their enemies. God was – well he was invisible. He might be there, he might not. He might help, he might not. He might hear our prayers…if he is real, that is. So who do we rely on? A God who might be there or a nation who?s right there, polishing their chariots, strapping on their swords?

We may shake our heads at Judah?s foolishness, but so often we do the same thing.

Rather than trusting in God, we trust our own wits. We desperately look around us for some earthly means of relief or escape. Or we simply give in to worry. Our minds scramble from one possible solution to another – ?Let?s see, if this happens, I can do that. And if this other thing happens I can take this detour. But what if it?s door #3? What will I do then??…and on and on go our frantic thoughts.

It’s hard to trust. ?It’s hard to put your life in somebody else’s hands. ?Years ago some friends and I climbed a small cliff then rappelled down. ?It was my first time to rappel, and my friend tied a rope around a tree and instructed me to hold the rope, lean backwards over the cliff, and launch myself into the air. ?I have to admit, I was scared. ?I realized at that moment that my safety was completely dependent on my friend’s ability to tie a knot. ?Did I trust him?

God told Judah that trusting in Egypt wouldn?t save them. He said ?Here?s how to be saved: Return to me – repent – and rest in me. It is in quieting your soul and trusting in me that you will find your strength.?

And that?s what God tells us: Repent of trusting other things. Repent of worrying and fretting. Repent of unbelief. And rest in Jesus. Come to him. Cast your cares on him because he cares for you. You don?t need much faith – Jesus can work with a mustard seed?s worth. Tell Jesus you believe, and ask him to help your unbelief.

And trust him. Pray, then tell him you trust him. Ask, then thank him that he will be faithful. Thank him for hearing your prayers. Thank him that he has assured you the prayer of the upright is powerful and effective. And wait. And pray some more. Pray on the drive to work. Pray any time an anxious thought shows its ugly face.

So who are you going to trust – Egypt or the living God?? Horses and chariots or the Commander of the hosts of heaven? Your own ability to figure it out, or the One who upholds the universe with his word?

If you have looked to other things besides Jesus for relief, return to him. In quietness and trust is your strength.

The Safest Place To Be In A Battle

Yesterday morning a man shared this word with our church: “If God has called you into a battle, then the middle of the battle is the safest place to be, because that’s where God is.”

Wow. What a great word! Usually when I’m in the middle of a battle I would rather be anywhere else BUT there. ?Have you ever felt like running away? I have at times. ?In fact I told my wife recently that sometimes I feel like it would be a relief to change my name, move to another town and be a coffee Barista. ?Of course I would never do that. ?I would drive a hotdog truck.

But that wouldn’t be the solution. The best place to be is right where God has called me, no matter how hard it is, because that’s where God is.

Reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 43:2:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

God doesn’t say that when we pass through the waters he will be watching over us, or thinking about us or observing us. When God calls us into fire and flood, he promises to be WITH us.

Reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3:23-25:

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. ?Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” ?He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

I love this ? old King Neb is scratching his head saying I thought we threw three men in there. Why do I see four? ?You see four because when God calls you into the fire, that’s the safest place to be because that’s where God is.

And when the time comes when God calls each of us to walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, he will be with us there.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. ?Psalm 23:4

What battle has God called you into today? Don’t forget he is with you – and wherever God is is the safest place to be.

You’ve Really Only Got Two Options Here

As you walk through each minute of each day you really only have two options:

OPTION #1 -?Keep your eyes fixed on your circumstances. Your difficult coworker, your sickness, your tight budget, your child who isn’t doing well spiritually, your strained relationship with your spouse.

When Peter walked on the water, he took his eyes off of Jesus and immediately began to sink. His faith in Jesus was overwhelmed by what he could see with his eyes. By the circumstances that surrounded him.

OPTION #2 -?Keep your gaze fixed on the Lord.

  • Those who look to him are radiant,?and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Psalm 34:5)
  • Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!?Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8)
  • Many are the afflictions of the righteous,?but the LORD delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)
  • You keep him in perfect peace?whose mind is stayed on you,?because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
  • Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.?(Philippians 4:5-7)

Today, our peace and joy and gladness hinge on where we fix our gaze. Lord, fix our gaze on you.

Waiting Patiently When the Story Goes Dark

There are times in our lives when it seems like everything has gone dark. Bleak. Black. Hopeless. The forces of good are being overrun, and the forces of Mordor are triumphing. Helm’s Deep is about to fall. The White Tower is in danger of being taken. We can’t see the way out, and we can’t see how any good will ever come out of the situation. When a child wanders from the Lord it feels dark. When debilitating migraines take hold, it seems dark. When we can’t make the mortgage payment, it seems black. When our marriage is struggling, despair sets in.

Where is God??Why isn’t he coming through? Has he abandoned me? What will happen to me and to my family?

It’s in the dark moments that we need to turn our eyes away from our circumstances and look to the one who is writing the story.?

The Bible is full of bleak, black, helpless, hopeless moments. At age 75 God promised that he would make Abraham into a great nation. For twenty-five years Abraham waited, watching his body shrivel and shrink, watching the fulfillment of the promise become less and less likely. How many times during those twenty-five years did Abraham feel in the dark? How many times did he feel hopeless? But finally, at the age of one-hundred, God gave him a son. God came through. He was faithful.

Joseph had divinely inspired dreams in which he saw his family bowing down before him. Light. Then Joseph was sold into slavery. Dark. The Lord blessed everything he did in the house of Potiphar. Light. Potiphar’s wife had Joseph thrown into prison. Dark. Joseph correctly interprets the dreams of the official cupbearer and baker. Light. Joseph languishes in prison for two more years before he is called to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Dark. Joseph is made second in command in Egypt. Light.

The point is, God often takes us through the darkness. He does this so that we might learn to trust him with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding. God wants us to know that he is our shepherd. He leads us beside still waters, and he leads us through the valley of death. He wants us to learn to trust him in both places. Often God lets our circumstances get so extreme that our only hope is God himself.

When our story gets dark we must look to the Author of our story. The story may seem bleak, but we can be absolutely sure that the Author is good.?

Are you in the dark right now? Look up to the Author of your story.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:38-39 ESV)

When God Takes You Through The Desert

God leads every believer into the desert at one time or another.

Well, maybe not every believer. ?I can’t give you a Bible verse that says that. ?But in over 30 years of pastoring, I’d say God leads most believers into the desert at one time or another.

Moses spent 40 years in the desert before God raised him up to lead Israel out of Egypt. As soon as God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt he took them into the desert. David did a lot of desert time hiding out from Saul before God made him king. ?And the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert after his baptism for 40 days.

Lots of circumstances can be “deserts.”

A prolonged sickness can be a desert. Moving to a new place or joining a new church where you don’t know anyone can be one. ?Being stuck in a miserable or boring job instead of the fulfilling career you had hoped for can be a desert. ?A rebellious child or an unbelieving spouse can be a desert.

When we’re in the desert it can feel like God’s not doing anything. ?Or he’s set us aside. ?But God is always at work. He uses desert experiences in many ways, as we see in Dt 8:2-6:

Deserts humble us

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you (v2)

Deserts reveal what is in our hearts

Testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (v2)

Deserts teach us to live by God’s word

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (v3)

Deserts teach us that God can provide for us in any circumstance.

Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. ?(v4)

Deserts teach us to fear and obey God

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. ?So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. (v5-6)

When Moses, Israel, David, and Jesus were in the desert God was preparing them for something greater. ?If you’re in the desert right now, know that God is at work in your life. Don’t despair. Trust God. ?He’s doing great things in you.

Is Anybody Home?

Sometimes when the storms of life strike with fury it can seem like God has turned on his answering machine and dozed off.

We can doubt if he hears our prayers. Does God really know how bad we have it? We may think Hey, we’re suffering down here – is there anybody up there?

The Israelites probably felt like that. They groaned under the whip of Egyptian thugs and cried out to God for rescue. But they received no answer. The heavens must have seemed like brass. Could God see them suffering? Was he off running the universe with no time for them? Was anybody home?

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel?and God knew. Exodus 2:23-25

This passage tells us 4 things to remember in our trials.

First of all, God heard.

Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to him. He heard their prayers. He wasn’t tuned out, listening to his iPod. He wasn’t distant and uninterested, but nearby and attentive. Not only did God hear their cries, he heard their groaning. What a wonderful God we have – he hears not only our prayers, but our sighs and inarticulate groans. Just as a father hears the groans of his suffering child and has compassion, so does God hear our groans with pity. We should never think God doesn’t listen to our prayers. The God who heard Jonah’s cry from the whale’s belly and Israel’s cry in Egyptian slavery hears us. The Lord who collects our tears in his bottle hears our every whispered request.

Secondly, God remembered.

He remembered his covenant. Not that God had forgotten it. But he remembered his covenant with intent to act upon it. God remembers his covenant that he made with his children through Christ. He remembers his promises to never stop doing good to us. He recalls his promise to work all things for our good. He remembers his promise to never leave us nor forsake us. If Christ has saved you, never ever think that God has forgotten you.

Thirdly, God saw.

He saw the Egyptian bullies beating his children. If I saw someone picking on one of my kids, I’d be on it like a hawk on a field mouse. Nothing in all creation is hidden from his gaze. God has his eye on your suffering and has compassion on you. He’s not asleep. He sees the sparrows in your back yard. How much more does he see you, the apple of his eye, his child through Christ.

Lastly, God knew.

He knew what was happening. And he knew what he was going to do. He knew he would bring Egypt to its knees and deliver Israel with a mighty hand. God looks at you and knows. He knows what you’re facing in infinite detail. And he knows exactly how he’s going to help you. He knows the second your troubles began and the second he will stop them.

God hears, remembers, sees and knows. Cry out to him today. He’s waiting to help.

photo by fractalznet

Faith Like Gold

…though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

God uses trials to accomplish many things, things we can’t even see or fathom, in the life of the Christian. These helpful verses in 1 Peter tell us two, wonderful things that God accomplishes through suffering.

Our Faith is Tested

Trials prove the genuineness of your faith in Jesus Christ. When a trial descends upon you like a storm, and hammers you, and throws you, and rips at your soul, that is a test of your faith. And when at the end of that trial you are still standing firm, rooted in the grace of God, that proves the absolute reality of your faith in Christ. Your faith isn’t a fairy tale or a phase of life. Your faith is a real faith, given to you by God and sustained by God through trials. It’s been through the blast furnace of trials and has come out more precious than gold.

If you’re enduring a trial right now, stand fast. To know with certainty that your faith is the real deal, not some sham, is an incredibly precious thing, more precious than gold. Trials test our faith and prove the reality of our faith.

God is Honored

On the final day when Christ returns and is revealed for all to see, your faith will result in praise, honor, and glory. This praise will first and foremost be directed to the Lord. We’ll say, “Lord you did it! You sustained me to the end, even when I thought I would never make it. You tested me and you kept me through the testing. Glory to God!”

And shockingly, your faith will also result in you receiving praise from God himself. You’ll hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” When you hear those words, every trial you ever endured will have been worth it. All the endurance and the testing and the times when it felt like you were hanging on for dear life, will have been totally worth it.

If you’re being tested by trials, hold firm to Christ. Your faith is being proven true, and your reward is coming soon.

Question: How else has God used suffering for good in your life?

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