Reflections on Trials and Pain
Written April 2010
I've been going through some difficult times recently, and for a while I was quite content to wallow in my sorrows. But then God graciously brought it to my attention that during this difficult time, I was not being faithful in seeking him. Not simply in prayer and other spiritual disciplines, but in actively seeking his hand in hard times. So, after some soul-searching, I have found contentment in his faithfulness. This is not to say that my pain is gone, or that I can suddenly be instantly happy, but that I have found a peace in my soul knowing that I can trust God, and that he is working through me for my benefit, and ultimately for his glory.
My trials teach me to rely more fully on God - Not in the F.R.O.G. sense - you know, those pithy little acronyms, "Fully Rely On God." While there's nothing wrong or unbiblical about this phrase, we must be careful not to reduce our trust in God to short phrases that can often cause us to dismiss rather that reflect on our situation.
While in trials I must find contentment in the Word - "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28). Often, we quote this verse to ourselves and others as a comfort that someday we will look back and see the hand of God that has been at work in the narrative of life. But it should not be limited to that - while I can see the hand of God the past, I must also be active in searching for the good work of God even in the moment of our trials - what good is he working in me at this very moment, and on this very day? He good work must not be reduced to something in the distant past or future. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (He. 4:12). It is not so much that God will work out everything for my benefit - but that he is working for my benefit.
So this begs the question - How is God working in me today? Often pain forces us to a point of decision - will I let my heart be hardened, torn, bitter, wounded, and bounded? Or will I chose to let God soften my heart by giving me kindness, repair my heart by granting me rest in him, sweeten my heart by overfilling me with joy in all circumstances, heal my heart with love, and free my heart with forgiveness?
God is working in me to increase your dependence on him for his sufficiency. Often the things I claim to believe I don't really life out in my lives. My pastor, Rich Powell preached a great sermon on this some time ago which I believe was titled, "Living as a practical atheist." I may claim (and think I believe!) that truely all I need is Christ, but I can live in a manner that shows my absolute dependence on other things or people. In the midst of my loss, my pain, my confusion, I cry out, "God! I can't live without this!" And God replies,
"Yes, you can.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
The incredible thing about this verse (2 Corinthians 12:9) is that is goes so directly against the ideas of this world. Anyone who listens to popular music can see this. Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown's duet, "No Air" is a prime example of a catchy song propogating the message that the lifegiver is, well, not God (Tell me how I'm supposed to breathe with no air/Can't live, can't breathe with no air/That's how I feel whenever you ain't there/No air, no air). But God's grace is sufficient - God's grace is my "air". Even Rascal Flatts inspirational song "Stand" subtlely goes against the Biblical model of the right response to weakness - "You get mad, you get strong/Wipe your hands, shake it off/Then you stand". Yes, it does look like power is made perfect in weakness, but whose power? Am I stronger? Or is the power of God stronger within me?
God is teaching me that I don't need to understand to trust - Maybe, I think, if I just understood what was going on, I could see what God was doing and then I could trust him. It may seem simplistic, but God puts us through situations that we don't understand (including circumstances, and the motives of others) so we can learn to be content even when we don't understand - which means: 1) not obsessing over the fact that we don't get it, or 2) being preoccupied with figuring things out, when perhaps God wants us to focus on something else (like what He's teaching me). Both of these things represent a poor use of the resources He has given me - my time, and my mental and emotional capabilities.
One of the difficulties I'm sure everyone faces (I know I have have) when it comes to dealing with hardships is the issue of forgiveness.
The bottom line comes down to this: My ability to forgive others is reflective of my understanding of how great a deed God did when he forgave me through the sacrifice Christ on the cross. Again, my ability to forgive others is reflective of my understanding of how great a deed God did when he forgave me through the sacrifice Christ on the cross. There is no one in the world who has been wronged more than God, and yet he faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9).
"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt. 6:14-15).
When the Bible says "Forgive, or you will not be forgiven," it does not mean that if I am an otherwise decent Christian who just won't let go of a few grudges I will lose my salvation (that would be salvation by works). What it means is that if I claim to know Christ, but refuse to forgive others, I don't actually know the God I claim, because I don't understand salvation. This is made clear in 1 John 2:9-10: "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble". How much better would it be for my soul to be a great sinner, forgiven by a great savior, that to be a holy hypocrite who knows not the God I claim?
That being said, the ability to forgive goes against the flesh, and is therefore not necessarily an easy thing to do. However, when we are forgiven by God, he gives us the ability to forgive others. It is important to ask God to grant you a heart that forgives others, both on a general basis and specifically for various situations.
Forgiveness also places retribution, or vengeance, in the hand of God. - I do not need to (and should not) act, whether in word or deed, or even thought, to repay a wrong done to us. Today I heard the song "I Can Only Imagine." While it is not one of my favorites, it brought to mind the idea that the imagination too, is a gift of God that needs to be brought under the control of the Spirit. My thoughts and imaginations should not dwell on and be distracted by possibilities of revenge - satisfying the flesh while convincing myself that I have done nothing wrong. The things I dream about and the ideas I toy with are reflective of the state of my heart. It is written that to hate your brother is to be a murderer (1 John 3:15), and to lust is to commit adultery in the heart (Matt. 5:28).
I would even extend this as far as to say that our hearts should desire mercy for the people who have wronged us. Proverbs 24:17 exhorts us, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles." Our hearts should desire mercy for the person who has wronged you - How could we A) be so selfish as to desire to withhold from others the thing that we have done nothing to deserve ourselves, and/or B) be so proud as to think that we are so special that God's mercy should only be extended to us and the people we think should have it?
Forgiveness is inextricable tied to love - it begins with, is wrought through, completed, and consummated in love.
- But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).
- Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Romans 12:14).
- When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it (1 Corinthians 4:12b).
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).
- Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
There are also some benefits of forgiveness. Inability to forgive is most certainly a sin, but when we forgive we are released by the power of Christ from the captivity of that sin and the separation from God that it entails. "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:16-18). We also have the opportunity to repair relationships with others. Corrie Ten Boom, accurately stated, "Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you."
Forgiveness does not seek personal refuge, but reconciliation. Love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, keeps no record of wrongs. As I was looking for a verse online, I came across this statement: "Until real forgiveness takes place, the offense is "in our faces" as regards that person, and it is the same with God. The sin comes between us, and cannot be "forgotten" until dealt with. If and when we enter into true forgiveness, we can then regard the person without the "offense" looming first and foremost between us." I think that statement accurately sums up the practical application of what it means that "Love keeps no record of wrongs."
Those a really just a few thoughts of mine that have been comforting to me as I deal with some difficulties right now. Whatever the trial we face, it is certain that our hearts will be restless until we find rest in Him.
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD. (Ps. 27:13-14)