Such was the cry of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as He prepared to die a tortuous death on the cross at Calvary: before His glorious resurrection and what we have come to celebrate as Easter.
The sins of the world hung in the balance that day, separating us from the love of the Father in heaven. Until the time of Christ a Jew was required to bring sacrifices to atone for his or her sins and that of the family. Bringing sacrifices, keeping the Sabbath, and a plethora of Jewish holidays dominated religious life. These rituals and following the rule of law (including the Ten Commandments) was the only way to get to heaven before the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then God’s Word teaches us that He came to save the world if we but repented and believed in His saving grace, His death and resurrection. He became the Passover lamb that was slain. Gifts of eternal life, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, fellowship with other believers and more follows for those who come forward. But it’s not all rosy living the Christian walk . . .
Yes, there is much good in the world, much happiness in this life. And then there is the bad stuff too. The reason for the bad stuff is an important topic yet it goes in another direction than my discussion today. Let’s just say that evil is here and it will always be here until Jesus Christ comes again. When bad stuff happens, someone suffers. Our Lord knew what suffering felt like as He was ridiculed, whipped within inches of His life, and sentenced to a horrific death for something he did not do. He came into the world willingly from the eternal realm out of love for us. Conversely, we rarely come to our suffering in the world willingly. Our suffering comes as a consequence of living in a fallen, imperfect world as sinners. Further, our suffering isn’t always fair. Sometimes it comes when we are close to God, working hard, doing good, loving others, and making the most out of our finite lives. Many times it just doesn’t make sense.
I just finished listening to a gentle message by the late Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa entitled, “Prayer of a Troubled Heart.” Pastor Smith developed this topic better than I can so I would encourage you to listen to the audio sermon if the subject is on your mind these days. I was comforted by his instruction that our suffering can be God working out eternal purposes in our earthly lives for our eternal glory. If we could somehow change God’s plan for our lives we would be obstructing God’s eternal purposes. “Even from the pain and suffering, eternal good is going to come.” We can point to the life of the apostle Paul who endured physical infirmity and still carried or “deposited” the Gospel message to countless peoples throughout the known world of his time.
12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 2 Timothy 1
The apostle Paul encourages us to trust, to have faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ no matter what our “light and momentary” affliction might be. In light of all eternity, our time of illness is short indeed.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4
Relying on the scriptures brings the power of God into our weary hearts and minds. We find stories of triumph over trials that encourage us. Hebrews 11 describes several pillars of faith, empowered by God to endure, overcome, and bring glory to God as they saw His plan unfolding before their eyes. Joseph was sold into slavery, imprisoned in a dungeon, mocked then ended up saving the nation of Israel from starvation as others recognized his Godly character and abilities. There are many more men and women from whose example we can learn as well.
Drawing from the scriptures Pastor Smith guides us first to pray about the things troubling our souls. Second, we are to “reason” that God really does love me and is wiser than I am. I am not to base my understanding of His love for me on my circumstances but on who He is. The events of my life work out His eternal purposes for both me and those around me according to His Divine plans for good, for His glory. And third, I am to commit myself unto the will of the Father knowing that:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
This is difficult to do! If it’s too difficult then I must first ask myself: in whose strength am I trying to get through the suffering? Do I keep asking the Lord to do this or that for me versus asking Him to help me? Reveal His will for me? Encourage me with His grace? Strengthen me to endure? Submit to His will knowing that His good is coming? I must put on my eternal glasses even if I cannot see anything beyond my situation. I need to ask Him to increase my faith and He will do it!
This insight came together after another and extremely wretched evening. Only once before have I completely collapsed without warning at the kitchen table requiring my husband to catch me from falling. Moments after he carried me to bed I cried the most guttural tears of my entire life. The most violent convulsions I have ever experienced followed. Steve prayed then cried too. It seemed to me like I was “weeping and gnashing (my) teeth” as the Bible describes for those in hell. It took a long time to recover. I still do not know why all this suffering is here for me and Steve. I do know how I am to handle it, however. That insight came earlier in the evening.
Unfortunately I never was able to join the home group discussion in my own home tonight. After welcoming our brothers and sisters in Christ and setting aside the goodies they brought for later, I attempted to walk to my seat in the living room. I was aware that my speech had become strained already. Then all of a sudden I felt sick: the pre-tic set of symptoms ramped up quickly indicating that what was coming next would not be good. I whispered into Steve’s ear from behind where he was sitting on the sectional that I wasn’t feeling well and scooted off to our bedroom. As my head was hitting the pillow the seizure attacks began! They were bad. They persisted with vocalizations that risked alarming our guests down the hall. Soon I heard a guitar playing and people singing. The worship had begun and the sounds would cover my episode. Thank you Lord.
I had hoped that the music would also quiet my tender frame in torment. Not so. The episode quieted into tic attacks and I was able to breathe more easily. In my spirit I cried out to the Lord to stop the episode. I feared many scenarios that could happen next in which others would end up horrified, witnessing some aspect of the seizures. Our master bathroom toilet was out of commission for repairs requiring all of us to use the bathroom in the hallway between where I was in bed and the living room. If I collapsed and was unable to walk, Steve would have to physically assist me to the bathroom partially in view of where everyone was sitting. I would first need to scream to alert him beyond the closed Master bedroom door. Nothing would be pleasant about the fact that I really needed to use the bathroom down the hall from me . . .
It’s as if the Lord was sitting right next to me in that bed at that moment. It’s as if I could see the slight scowl on His face as He “looked” me directly in the eye and wondered why I was telling Him what to do again. Had He not been with me in prior episodes? Had He not used this illness to reach thousands of people around the world with the Gospel through this blog? Had He not gifted me to write and create in ways that brought joy to my heart even in the middle of the night? Had He not provided for both Steve’s and my needs these past 2 1/2 years? Helped me become an Advanced Master Gardener? Strengthened Steve to win his first national kayaking award? Yes, He had worked in both of our lives incredibly despite the extreme suffering.
No one in their right mind wants to suffer. I don’t like this wretched illness and long for it to be over. Yet if I miss the teaching moments that come along the way then this suffering will be no more than an endurance race with no prize, no glory, no hope, no real encouragement for others who will come after me. The lesson I needed to learn this evening was to simply ask for the Lord’s HELP and let HIM do the rest. He knows why this episode was timed during the heart of our home group meeting and I do not. I need to trust Him on this one as I have during so many times of need in the past. His answers, His timing, His purposes have encouraged me more times than I can describe here in addition to numerous other people watching the events unfold. As Pastor Smith describes in his message: I do not want to obstruct God’s eternal purposes that will be for my good and His glory!
I must persevere in faith no matter what the cost. He will strengthen my faith. I must ask my Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ for help then wait on His leading, His answers. Jesus Christ did this very act of submission before the Father when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane knowing that His torture and death were imminent:
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26
The God of the universe, living among us as a man yet fully God, submitted to the will of the Father, the purpose for which He was born into the world. He cried out for the Father to save him from that hour in crisis, for help. Most importantly He then submitted to the will of the Father and the world changed forever because of it. I will live a life eternally with my Jesus because He died on that cross for me. My time of suffering is not too much to bear with His help to live the life to which I am called. Sure it feels like hell. My faith transcends my broken frame and will bring an eternal reward that goes beyond my temporary affliction. With this I can go on.
What say you, Gentle Reader? He loves you too you know . . . Might you call on Him too? It just might rock your world in a good way. No kidding.