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ARE YOU HURTING?
There's stability and comfort for you in the promises of God.
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all" (Ps. 34:18, 19).
We all go through difficult circumstances from time to time and we feel pain. If it weren't for the love and understanding of family and friends when times get touch, many of our burdens would be too heavy to bear. Thank God for people who care about us. We should see them as provisions from the Lord.
Yet, beyond the sympathetic help we receive from loved ones, something within us cries out for an explanation. Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? What if…? Where do I go from here?
Inevitably, we want to know how to relate our suffering to our belief in God. We look for some indication of His presence. We search our hearts, suspecting that we are being punished. We wonder what we have done to deserve this.
So, if you are going through struggles or know someone who is, let us share some simple but solid truths from the Bible that God may use to bless you. They are His promises to you, offers of His grace.
BELIEVING IN GOD'S GOODNESS
Though we sometimes feel forgotten by God or unworthy of His blessing or we question His protection, it is wonderful to discover and know that God is good and that He cares for us. Would you like to know what God thinks of you and what He has planned for you? Then read this:
I know the plants I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to give you hope and a future (Jer. 29:22).
Since God is love, He wants what is best for us. Since He is wise, He knows what is best for us. Since He is powerful, He can do what is best for us. The biggest problem may be that we don't accept His opinion about what is best for us.
SEEING GOD'S MODEL
The difficulties we go through are not necessarily a sign of God's disapproval. Look at the life of Jesus. The Father spoke from heaven and said of Him, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). Yet, suffering became an important part of His life.
Although he was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey him the source of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:8-9).
Is it possible that the only man who never sinned had to learn obedience? Yes. Does that mean He disobeyed? No! He said He always obeyed the Father, but the demands placed upon Him became increasingly difficult to bear. His obedience cost Him more and more, until it culminated in His supreme act of love at Calvary.
Yet, the hardships and trials He suffered were not only used by God to strengthen Him so He could endure the cross; they prepared Him to understand us and help us in our sufferings.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:15, 16).
UNDERSTANDING GOD'S PURPOSE
If we are familiar with the Bible, we try to see how it relates to our circumstances. Many of us have been pointed to a beautiful verse that has been offered to millions of sufferers:
And we know God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
A proper understanding of these truths has brought great comfort and hope to countless numbers of aching hearts, but misunderstanding of its message brings frustration and confusion.
For example, some read, "God causes all things." If we see God as the cause of all things, we make Him the creator of tragedies, disasters and atrocities. Personally, I have found it helpful (and I think biblical) to see that God does not cause all things. Rather, He can cause good to come from anything that happens to us. He can even make Satan's attacks work for good.
Others look for immediate compensation for any loss they suffer. They may think, for example, "If I have a car accident, God wants to give me a new and better car." While it is exciting when God wants to give me a new and better car." While it is exciting when God does turn a loss into a gain, it is important that we see beyond the loss or gain and get a glimpse of His highest purpose, which appears in the next verse:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His son that He might be the first born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29).
Our suffering must be understood in the context of God's ultimate purpose for us: conformity to the image of Jesus.
FOLLOWING GOD'S DIRECTIONS
Then, beyond knowing that He's working toward His ultimate purpose for us, we need to follow the clear instructions given to James:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials; knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind (1:2-6).
When we are distressed it is good to have clear, simple instructions to follow.
This passage is full of them:
- Rejoice. "Consider it all joy." Difficult as it may be to praise the Lord in the midst of struggle, we find strength and freedom as we praise Him because of (or in spite of) our problems. This is the time to remember, "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (I Thess. 5:18).
- Understand. "Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." There are two ways of asking, "Why did this happen to me?" One is to wonder what we have done; the other is to ask what we can do. Instead of asking, "What did I do to deserve this?" we can remind ourselves that God I s working in us to strengthen us and to fulfill His purposes.
- Endure. We need to reaffirm our commitment to follow Christ and remain firmly rooted in God. His Word promises, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:16). If He doesn't plan to give up, why should we?
- Ask. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God." Although our knowledge of God's Word is our greatest ally in times of discouragement, when under pressure, we can lose our ability to reason clearly. So we need to have God's truth reinforced by the Holy Spirit. Our Father invites us to ask for wisdom and He promises to give it.
- Believe. "But let him ask in faith without any doubting…" Life's trials produce stress that can put us on an emotional roller coaster up one moment, down the next struggling to keep on balance. James tells us to believe God and to reject doubtful thoughts. Although our emotions may vary, a consistent refusal to doubt will provide us with the stability we need to see us through our trial until it is finished. Faith is not the absence of doubtful thoughts; it is the refusal to accept them. It is the determination to believe and obey God no matter how we feel.
PREPARING FOR GREATER RESPONSIBILITIES
Many of us are called to difficult tasks, and we need to do some spiritual "muscle-building" to prepare us for greater responsibilities. The difficulties God allows are the equipment He uses to mold our character.
Some time ago I experienced a series of difficult situations that left me quite discouraged. I complained to the Lord and asked Him to give me a scripture verse to help me. He led me to a passage where Jeremiah the prophet had been complaining about similar circumstances.
"If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?" (Jer. 12:5).
I had sought comfort from the Lord, but you can imagine, the first reading of the text left me feeling rebuked. But as I read it again and again, I realized that the pressures, problems and people involved were being used by the Lord to prepare me for greater responsibilities.
How I praise Him that He was with me in all of the difficulties and that He brought me through them all. I realize that greater trials may come, but now I can confess confidently with the Psalmist: "The Lord will accomplish that which concerns me" (Ps. 138:8).
SEEING GOD AT WORK IN YOUR LIFE
He is working to perfect you, too. As you thank Him and cooperate with Him, He will comfort you, giving you discernment as to what He is doing in your life.
I know that I have not exhausted the subject of suffering. Perhaps I have not even come close to revealing the cause of the difficulty you are doing through, but if I have not left any other message, I want to leave this one: You can commit your difficulties to the Lord. He is worthy of all your trust. It is He who said:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).
If your burden seems too heavy to bear, remember God's promise: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (I Pet. 5:7).
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- George Foster and his wife Dolly were missionaries to Brazil for 25 years in several roles: pastor, publisher, writer, and National Director of Bethany Fellowship Missions. Presently George and Dolly oversee mission outreach in Europe and South America. George's writings have been published in several languages. George Foster's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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