2020 has started out to be a year of tremendous difficulties, afflictions, and grief. And in many ways we all have been affected. But the next time you’re tempted to go on Social Media and whine…ask yourself this question. Am I attention-seeking, and eliciting participants in my personal pity-party…or am I like Paul who made his friends aware of the hardships he was enduring in order to show them where his trust rested? For in the next verse, Paul points out that this happened that, “we might not rely on ourselves but on God…” Enduring pain, bearing up under persecution, and experiencing grief are all part of the human experience…no one is immune. But it’s how we react to it that makes the real difference. It’s called suffering well. Of placing our reliance on God rather than man…and of pointing to Him as the one we depend on…so that all the glory goes to Him, not us.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but we are not only called to suffer for the sake of Christ, but suffer well. Now man’s way of suffering is to demand why, blame others or turn our backs on God. But suffering well for Christ starts with changing our perspective, by looking at our suffering through God’s eyes not ours. And when we do this, we can then see the purpose, practice obedience, and persevere victoriously through the suffering. The Apostle Paul’s theology of suffering well was this: it produced joy in seeing the Gospel Message advanced, it exalted Christ, and it increased our faith.
One of the realities of life is that we will lose people close to us. And as we get older and older it happens more often. We look around, and all our beloved friends and family are gone…and left in their place is this huge void. This Scripture actually reminded me of the first line of an old Simon and Garfunkel song, “Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again…” And if you read this entire Psalm, you’ll recognize that dark place as grieving and loss. But within this darkness there’s also the hope of God, and the Writer of this Psalm knows this is where he needs to be.
We are not “acquainted with grief” in the same way Jesus Christ was. When illness, injury, or affliction strikes us…we suck it up, endure, and just live through it, waiting for it to end. But Jesus faced sorrow head-on…knowing intimately what it was to suffer. He very plainly explained to His disciples in Luke 18:31-33 how He would be mocked, insulted, spit on, flogged, and killed…personally taking on and experiencing all the pent-up evil of this world. We taste suffering and sorrow…but Jesus is intimate with them.
When we cry out to the Lord in the time of some critical or chronic need…what do we want? We want the situation to change. Whatever it is has us controlled, restrained, or limited in some way, and we want God to come to our aid. Psalm 118:5 tells us, “In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered me by setting me free.” In Job 36:16 this idea is repeated that God, in my distress, will set my feet in a spacious place. Now the need may or may not miraculously disappear…but God promises that our minds can be set free from the emotional anguish and misery that have us hemmed in… when we call on Him.
For many of you today this Scripture may be difficult to accept. That’s because today you’re right smack-dab in the middle of trials, suffering, loss, injury, or sickness…and the idea that any light and momentary trouble is achieving in you eternal glory that far outweighs any trouble you’re going through is just a little too hard to take. (II Corinthians 4:17) Or that you should be rejoicing that you can participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. (I Peter 4:13) In this verse God is not discounting your suffering…your loss…the traumatic experience you’re going through right now. Rather, He understands and He’s giving you the grace and endurance to persevere through it.
In these verses Jeremiah is dejected and overwhelmed by the suffering he is witnessing in Jerusalem. In his head he was acknowledging God’s sovereignty…but he was still confused and disheartened by all the destruction around him. We’re the same way in the middle of trials. We know that God is there and in control…but when we’re overcome by it all, it’s hard to remain rational. Jeremiah was honestly laying all his feelings, concerns and complaints before his Heavenly Father, knowing that God would listen and not judge. And today we too have that same opportunity to speak candidly and openly to God without fear of retribution.
Jacob had worked for his father-in-law, Laban, for 20 difficult years. But despite all the wrongful things done to him, Jacob knew God was watching over and defending him. We sometimes feel like God doesn’t see the injustices inflicted upon us…or the suffering we’ve endured at the hands of others. But He does, for God is with us not only in everything we do…but He also sees all the injustices that have been done to us. We just need to remember that the battle is His, and He will defend and vindicate us.
Over the course of my career as a nurse I have witnessed death first hand. I have comforted countless families as they maneuver through the uncharted territory of fear, sorrow, and unspeakable anguish. But I’ve also realized that it doesn’t get any easier with a lot of experience. Death of a loved one is a heart crushing encounter full of very personal suffering. And a few weeks ago, I still found myself asking, “Why Lord?”, when a young wife and mother was taken from her two small boys and husband on Christmas Eve. But it’s then, I must remind myself that just because my prayers weren’t answered like I wanted, doesn’t mean that God somehow made a mistake.