Comfort to the Suffering

Man praying on stepsThe Bible is a book about suffering. If anyone wants to tell you differently, they are aren’t reading the whole thing. In fact, it should be a comfort that to one of the biggest world problems the Bible has so much to say. Not only does it address the problem of suffering from sin (ours, others against us, and the overall sin condition) and provide the only solution, it addresses undue suffering. The type of suffering you don’t deserve, didn’t expect and is straight up unfair. The suffering that comes from doing good.

And the Bible has a lot to say for the Christian that suffers. I am hoping that these points would comfort the wounded heart, breath life back into the dead soul and remind us of the nature of God and his comfort:

1. We will suffer

This is unavoidable. When we follow Jesus, we will suffer.  1 Peter says,

“Do not be surprised at the fiery trail when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (4:12-14).

Don’t be surprised. It’s going to happen. God’s words both created the universe and cut through bone and marrow to men’s hearts. They are so powerful, if wielded well, God’s words are assured to accomplish what they were intended to do. Whether that is to call God’s sheep to Himself, or causing shame to the unbelievers who run back into the darkness to hide from truth. There is no grey. For those who despise the name of Jesus, they will bring strife, just as they did to Jesus.  Jews hated Jesus, (and the following apostles) because Jesus was taking their glory, confronting their desire to be god. Lead by Satan, murder rose up in their hearts to eliminate the source of conviction and truth. If we are also messengers of that truth, we can expect the same result: Salvation and Confrontation. Is it strange that we would be like Christ?

2. Suffering will bring Jesus’ glory just as Jesus’ suffering brought about God’s glory 

Our suffering, we can be assured, brings glory to God if brought about for his name, according to his will.

“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

We can rejoice in the future glory our endurance through suffering will bring Jesus’ name. And that God’s Spirit will rest on you.  The glory of God is shown through being insulted for Jesus’ name. Not solely success. That’s pretty backwards and pretty amazing.

And we can look to our “living hope”; our “imperishable inheritance” that is kept in heaven for us, to keep faith until Jesus is revealed to us and calls us home.

“To be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  1 Peter 1:3-7

3. When we suffer for God’s name, we are instructed to entrust ourselves to a faithful God

Peter says Jesus continued to entrust himself to “him who judges justly”. When faced with suffering and the cross, Jesus knew God was the Avenger & Judge of the undeserved suffering he was going to endure and saw it fit for him to suffer. He was the one who was truly just and knew what was ultimately good. Therefore, he entrusted himself to that Judge, and gave himself completely to his will.

“When he (Jesus) was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”    1 Peter 2:23

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good”  1 Peter 4:19

Later in 1 Peter, we, the believers, are implored to follow in Jesus’ footstep and entrust ourselves to our “faithful Creator” as we suffer. We must entrust. I think entrusting is as much an action as a belief. We entrust – in Greek (paratithemi) meaning to place before or commit into one’s charge – our souls to a faithful God. We say in our hearts, “Even though this path might bring suffering, I will trust. I will go. You are good. You are worth it. You are enough.”

4. God is the ultimate Comforter to those who suffer

hand-of-god

Although suffering was a part of the plan for our redemption and sanctification, it was not for us to endure alone.  But he proclaims himself as our Comforter:

“You who are my Comforter in sorrow my heart is faint within me.” Jeremiah 8:18

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus..” 2 Cor 7:6

“I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mere mortals, human beings who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker,” Isa. 51:12-13a

When you suffer, no matter how you might feel, God always wants to comfort you. God is the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions. Wow. You heard that – ALL afflictions. So not only does God forgive us so that we can forgive others, he comforts us when we are suffering so we can comfort  sufferers! And there is no affliction he does not want to cover with his comfort. No pain he has turned a blind eye to. No situation he deems you should endure without comfort. This is our promise. He will comfort us in them all.

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God IS truly Good

I doubt God’s goodness more often than I want to admit.

I believe that God is good but I live expecting the worst. Recently there have been circumstances God has surprised me by them not working out the way I thought. They were better. And given God’s nature to be good, steadfast, faithful and all together perfect, I should expect Him to have more positive and life-giving outcomes of things He is involved in, including the things in my life.

Then why, given what I know that about God, why do I expect so little? Why is it more comfortable to not expect much?

I think because I also know depravity of man. I have felt it’s sting, been under it’s wrath. I let the pain of suffering weight in too heavily into the argument. Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s all I hear. But when I allow the reality of evil in the world to be bigger than the steadfast, righteous and good God I worship, the King over the world, I am degrading His glory. I am stripping him of what he deserves: All my faith, all my worship and all my trust. Cause God wins. At times it might not feel it, at times I feel stuck in the mud or endlessly wandering the desert valley, but in the end He wins. And he already won and I am supposed to live in the knowledge of that. I think this is why God says:

“But let him who boasts, boast in this – that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

So I want to repent of this preparation. The readying myself for situations in preparation for the worst. I trust too heavily in my instinct and ability to read people and to protect myself from harm. But God, even the pain and the discipline you bring me under when I enter your presence, I see the end. I see you as good, and therefore the pain as good to me. I cannot believe you, without experiencing your goodness. Help me not run from your discipline, or hide from your reprove, for to me I would rather stay under the Hand of God than to run into the unknown where God is not.

But sometimes, you don’t choose suffering to grow me. Sometimes you choose joy! I will rejoice in that! You are so much better than I give you credit for. You are incredible. No situation or struggle you bring me through is thoughtless or without purpose. But you also choose to bless, grow, breathe life into dead bodies, break bonds and set captives free. You care about my good and the good of your children. I don’t need to prepare. I don’t need to self protect. I need to lean. Lean into the Spirit…. Lean into You. You knew that blessing would remind me that I can trust you. You can handle this – You have got this perfectly figured out. You do not need my help. You want my heart and soul.

So I am just freaking thankful. Thankful that God loves me enough to remind me of his goodness. That although his plans include suffering, his goodness and power is ever present and I can continually trust.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10

“All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” Psalm 25:10

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 36:7

“No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11

Surrender & Brokenness – Jeremiah

I have been confronted by the theme lately of complete surrender and complete brokenness. It’s like God is whispering to me, reminding me of what I had unknowingly lost track of in the dust of suffering. The last six months have been like surgery. God has been taking a knife to heart and digging out the pieces he doesn’t want there anymore, in hopes I would cling to Him, completely. I am left without many options to cling to besides Him…. although my broken, desperate and wandering heart tries to find them.

I think to solidify this in my heart and to bring some type of comfort to my broken soul, God directed me to read Jeremiah. Jeremiah is known as the Weeping Prophet. Sometimes I laugh – Sometimes my rebellion wants to yell “Really, God?” Cant I read John or Psalms? But He always knows how to take care of me. He always cares and He is always good.

In the first chapter, what God calls Jeremiah to do shook me. Most people quote the verses about how God knew Jeremiah “before he was formed in the womb” but if you read on this is what He says:  

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. “Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord. Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:7-10 NASB)

What strikes me about this is God called him to be a prophet. This was no choice of Jeremiah’s. It was also not his age, experience or rank that qualified him but God who commanded him to go and to do.

What did God call him to? To pluck up and break down. To destroy and overthrow, to build and plant through the words God places in his mouth. He would be a mouth piece to a rebellious, unrepentant Israel. What a weighty call. What a heavy burden. For a man who loved Israel, he would now go through horrible rejection, reproach, persecution from his beloved nation, even to  the point of despairing of his own life, to obey and be the mouth piece of God (Jer. 15:15b)

Is this what you picture calling to be? When Christians talked about their “calls”, I have never heard anyone even come close to discussing anything remotely close to what Jeremiah experienced. I don’t know if it is the result of the American church or our own sin that entices us to believe the direction and will God has for our lives will always be coupled with ease, comfort and we will be rescued from harm. This is not the calling of any of our forefathers of the faith. Certainly not what God commanded Jeremiah to do.

The promise here is no different than in other parts of scripture – God will be with you… to deliver you. Deliverance does not mean escape from rejection, physical strife, loneliness or possible eventual death. So what does deliverance mean here?

When God called Jeremiah here, there really isn’t much of a choice. To turn away would awaken God’s wrath, that Jeremiah was fully aware of. Jeremiah did not, like many of us, doubt God’s power to move. This made his obedience less of a choice, and more of a necessity. And where else could he go, where God was not? What could he do but follow God. For those who have been captured with the affections and fear of their Maker, there really isn’t anywhere else to go. Even if the path is taking you where you never wanted to go. And asking to do what you never wanted to do.

At one point in Jeremiah the actual translation of how he felt about his call was “seduction” and “rape” in Jeremiah 20:7a. God has seduced him, then overpowered him to do his will. What hard imagery is this? What harsh imagery to reconcile with a good God … But is it?

Why would all of this be a comfort to me amidst suffering? When you have been placed in unlikely of situations, where all feels lost and despaired, to know God can interact with people he loves like he does with Jeremiah is a comfort. To know his love can actually look at moments like hate. His love sent his Son to die for all mankind. God’s love for Israel sent Jeremiah to call them to repent, knowing full well Jeremiah would suffer. God’s love for his Church sent the first disciples to preach the gospel to the world, and to eventually be killed. God’s love sends missionaries to desolate places, to harsh lives.

Why do people like Jeremiah, Paul, Jesus, you and I choose to follow God, even if it’s most likely we will go through refining fire, and maybe through moments of such despair you wish you were dead?

This is the only answer that makes sense to me – God, Himself, becomes better than life. The eternal becomes greater than the finite. God breaks into our lives and shakes us so deeply to our core by his love that we can no longer live for self alone. Gospel Wakefulness takes great efforts to describe this phenomenon. When this “phenomenon” happens, you begin to follow God joyfully … blindly. When God brings you to an unknown, unforsakable place, your flesh might squirm with the fears of what it might entail, but you have no where else to go. You have met Love, Himself. You know too well where all other paths in life will take you. You can not turn back. You cannot return. To do so would be walk away from God.

He promises us: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18)

So I welcome whatever following God looks like in my life because I know whatever it is, my life will not be in vain. I have everything in God, Himself. And no matter what I know the goodness, glory and work of God in me is worth the temporary suffering. I cannot say that about any other place in this life. Nothing compares to eternity. Nothing compares to God’s work. Nothing compares to God, Himself, loving, working and living inside of me.

I want to leave you with this song by Sara Groves that paints the tension between wanting to follow God but dealing with the frustration of where it is taking you and having to reconcile that it is still where you want to be.

Painting Pictures of Egypt

Sara Groves

I don’t want to leave here
I don’t want to stay
It feels like pinching to me either way
The places I long for the most
Are the places where I’ve been
They are calling after me like a long lost friend

It’s not about losing faith
It’s not about trust
It’s all about comfortable
When you move so much
The place I was wasn’t perfect
But I had found a way to live
It wasn’t milk or honey
But then neither is this

CHORUS

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacked
The future seems so hard
And I want to go back
But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I”ve learned
And those roads closed off to me
While my back was turned

The past is so tangible
I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy to discard
I was dying for some freedom
But now I hesitate to go
Caught between the promise
And the things I know

If it comes too quick
I may not recognize it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?
If it comes too quick
I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?