By S.C. Shaw
Before we start, it is important to point out that the bible is speaking to confessing, professing, proclaiming followers of Christ. People who have submitted their life to Jesus and are seeking to know Him more and to make Him known to everyone, are the people the Bible is mainly talking to. If this is not you than this isn’t going to make sense to you because it doesn’t even apply to you until you make the decision to follow Christ. And it is a decision you must make before you can experience the true love of God.
I say this because of the continual concerns I hear coming from non-believers targeted at God and I must clarify this point. God is under no obligation to answer the prayers of the unrepentant. He’s not obligated to answer anyone’s prayers, but He does anyway, for His children. Why am I talking about prayer in a blog about suffering? Because when people suffer, they tend to feel helpless and or hopeless. This is when the majority start depending on God or at least a god of their own understanding.
What is prayer? Is it strictly and only when you get down on your knees, close your eyes, put your hands together, bow your head and start asking God for stuff, or complain about things? No! This form of prayer isn’t really seen in the Bible either. Prayer in simply talking with God but with the point of aligning your heart and mind with His. Prayer is everything from exalting (very high regard; think or speak very highly of), exulting (expressing joy or extreme happiness), petition (requesting), praise (acknowledgment of goodness and honor), adoration (deep love and respect) and much more. I like to remember the way Jesus taught us to pray.
Matt 6:5-14 “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
I have a blog where I break down this whole prayer. You can read that here.
Breaking this prayer down is important because it brings much into proper perspective before we start asking the wrong questions.
But let’s get started:
I am writing this because we cannot let the circumstances in our life or in the world dictate what we (the Christian) think we know about God. God transcends all understanding and puts our most wise to shame. God defines all good things. We don’t impute our definitions on Him. We change our understanding to fit who He is and what He tells us in His Word. This is why any good pastor, or any good Christian will tell you to read the Bible. This isn’t a religious thing, this is the very Word of God and if we don’t know it, we don’t know God. The Bible is truth and is powerful. If we don’t know God, how He has chosen to reveal Himself in His Word then we will fall for every lie we hear.
When hard times, trials or suffering comes into our life, we look at God with anger, or we turn our eyes away from Him completely. When we read God’s Word, we see that the people who follow Him go through the most suffering. Jesus Himself was called the “Suffering Servant” and “Man of sorrows”. That’s not a title I would volunteer for. But our hope and future are not found in this world. We are to strengthen our eternal perspective and set our eyes on things above. Our life with Christ is the goal. This life is simply to get us ready to enjoy Him forever and to make Him known. Any other perspective is 2nd best and most the time weak or false.
I am a musician, worship leader and pastor. I love teaching and stretching people’s understanding of who God is and what our proper response to Him is. I am very picky about the songs we sing in a congregational setting. I think the westernized church needs a lot of help in this area. The worship songs I write are usually unpopular topics for your contemporary worship songs. I wrote a song called “Weeping prophet”. The song lyrics are from the book of Jeremiah. But the highlight of the song is my friend’s sermon that I interwove into the song. I made a transcript of the parts I used from the sermon for the song because what my friend draws out from the scriptures is powerful and needs to be shared as much as possible. Why? Because if we don’t understand that we (the Christian) are going against the grain of the world when we follow Jesus and that means a very tough life if you are faithful. But that’s not to be discouraging. We have the author of life and the creator of all things inside us, all around us and ruling from His Throne in heaven. His peace and joy are incomparable to all the pleasures this world has to offer combined, believe me because I’ve experienced them. As Paul so correctly writes in Philippians 3:8-11” Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Do I have that kind of utter dependance and love to know God more? I pray that I do more each day.
Let us dig in:
Sermon Parts by Derick Zeulner
Where is Gods response? We wonder will suffering then have the last word? Will despair be triumphant in the life of a man dedicated to obeying God? God says in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I set you apart, I appointed you a prophet to the nations. But, why is He not acting? If we don’t have a theology of suffering, if suffering doesn’t fit into our idea of what Christianity is, then we’ll say, “better had I died in my mother’s womb” Job 3:11.
Ephesians 1:4 “for He”, God, “chose us in Him” Christ, “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight”. Chosen to be happy did it say? Chosen to be comfortable, chosen to walk on easy street? No, God has chosen you to be holy. Set apart for Him without blemish or stain of sin. And He is working that out in your life right now. He is able to use the pain, sin and suffering of this world, that even the works of the enemy to accomplish His task. It’s not your happiness, but your holiness. So that you might be able to dwell with God eternally. He has the end goal in mind. He knows what He’s working towards. And it’s in that way the He will be most glorified. Paul, writing from prison expresses that the church, in Ephesians he says, “It is able to manifest Gods glory to world, particularly brightly because of how we handle suffering, and handle the troubles of the world.” But how? How can we be sure? How can we be sure that God is able to take oppression and suffering and turn into our good and His glory? Because we have the cross. Jesus Himself is the best example of this. He understood His calling. In the upper room He says, “I will not speak with you much longer”, He’s saying I don’t have a lot of time. “For the prince of the world” we call him Satan, “is coming”. “Don’t worry he has no hold on me” He can’t handle me. “But the world must learn that I love the Father, and I do exactly what my Father has commanded me”. Perfect God who took on humanity so that He might show perfect obedience, take on our sin and punishment that we deserve, conquer the power of sin and death by rising again. And yet God used it for the greatest good possible. The redemption and justification of His people. Your redemption, my redemption, which results in Gods greatest glory.
Those are some beautiful and powerful truths. We rest in Christ because Christ is enough. Not just enough to die and satisfy God’s holy wrath on sin, take away the sins of those who follow Him and return to judge evil one day. But He is also enough for our lives here and for eternity. If that sounds too foreign to you then that’s the problem. Not to be legalistic or cast guilt, but this is the place we need to be to be able to take on the world and its myriad of problems. When you see God for who He is more and more, this all starts to make sense because He is beautiful, He is what we were created for. When we live for the purpose intended by God, we will be most satisfied and ready to live this life to the fullest. Namely, to glorify Him in everything we do. And that is only because He is our fullest.
Verses like this one in Ecclesiastes, has given much comfort to those who are unsure about God’s plan or uncertain about a future that looks dark. Ecclesiastes 3:11” He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.”
No matter what, we know God is planning all things for good for His children. Whether we get to see that beauty in this life or the next. We can trust Him who is sovereign (in control and has planned everything from start to finish) over all things. For those who will not trust, then God has words for this too. In Job, God helps change the perspective of Job as Job is complaining to God. Here are some highlights from chapter 38.
Job 38 Selected verses:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great! Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth? “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?
And Job responds in a proper way.
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”
But God doesn’t just leave us in our time of need. God has offered His children peace beyond understating. He has given us His Spirit. We have all the peace, joy and security within us that holds witness and strengthens us when we call upon Him. In Matthew 11 we get to see God’s desire to help in our rest. Not as in a lazy slothful kind of nothingness. But a rest from the burdens of the world. The faithful Christian is swimming upstream. Swimming the opposite way of the world is what we are called to do. But that gets very difficult and tiring. But He is with us every step of the way. Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We get to draw from His strength. We get to rest with full confidence and peace that we are living in the way we were meant to live. We get to rest in knowing that God is delighting in our good fruit. Only in Him is there true rest, peace and joy.
So, no matter what you have gone through, are going through or what is to come, God has got you. And by “you” I am talking to God’s children. If you have not yet repented and submitted your life to Him then you are left to your own strength and devices and are still under the wrath of God. This isn’t a fear tactic or dooms day warning. But a solemn call to respond to this great love with which Christ has shown us. There is fewer things more dangerous than people headed for eternal punishment with a false assurance of God’s love for them. God is clear about the unrepentant person in His Word and it is nothing good now nor in the future. But He has provided the way to forgiveness, to Him and to an eternity in heaven. But you must respond, and that response leads to a life that looks almost nothing like your current one. You are dead in your sin, but Christ offers life in Him. So, answer that call and follow Jesus today so this message of hope applies to you.
For the struggling faithful Christian, I have two words.
First, we must recognize the inevitable consequences of our sin. If you are suffering because of your own sin, then that isn’t God’s problem. You are forgiven, but there are natural ways in which our decisions must play out. There are natural consequences to our decisions. Get through it, still within the power of God but get through it and draw from the Holy Spirit and do better. Second, if you are suffering for being faithful to God, find joy in this. We see Paul continually being beaten and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. And he speaks of the joy of suffering more than anyone. Let us stay the course and persevere because not one minute is outside of God’s control and what He is working for our good and His glory will last for eternity. The world will be destroyed but God will build a new and perfect one, free from all pain, sadness and suffering.
I know that tough times are tough. But take it one day at a time and know that God is working out something good for you and for others in this tough time. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? You die. So what? Then you get to go to your real home in paradise, face to face with the glorious God who loves you for eternity! See, so pray with hope, cry with hope and rejoice in the hope that God has declared in you and for you for His glory! Amen!
Please don’t let my word be the final word on this. Pick up the Bible, read Gospel saturated books by good authors, read good commentaries on the Bible, pick up Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, read the 1689 London Baptist confession of faith and learn from a man’s lifetime of study and meditation on the Word of God. Most of all, trust in Jesus Christ and know what He has given us is whole, perfect and is for our good and His glory. Love you all!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.