I know some of you are struggling with your faith. At times your prayers seem stale, your faith trembling and your vision blurred. The strength and stability you have always relied on are becoming precarious and you are not sure you can remain devoted.
Our problem is that sometimes we only receive a mere glimpse of the mystery of our Lord’s majesty. We wake up each morning realizing our need for a faith that is proved to be worth more than gold. We face times when we seem to be wandering through a dark valley, without seeing the path we are on. We have been suffering in some way, and begin to question why and whether there is a redeeming purpose in it all. In our times of trouble, how are we supposed to respond?
We can try to explain our problems by appealing to the logic of good orthodox theology. However, in the end, our appeals for an explanation become almost irreverent and lead to our own explanation and understanding. What we need to do is consult our Father and seek His wisdom and insight.
Now don’t misunderstand me, hopefully by now, you know how much I depend on the Truth found in the Scriptures. How I agree with Eugene Peterson that “every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful to live God’s way. It is through the Word that we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (II Timothy 3:16-17). Too often we grab a passage as if it is a talisman against pain:
“You made Elyon your home.
No harm will come to you.
No sickness will come near your house” (Psalm 91:9-10)
Huh? And here you are dealing with “harm” or “sickness.”So, what does it mean? As much as we love to read passages like Psalm 91, but there are other Psalms that state that harm does come to God’s people. As one writer tells us, “This is a statement of exact, minute providence, not a charm against adversity.” Every moment, our Father is providing for us. If He didn’t we wouldn’t be sitting here discussing all this. Yahweh’s people are surrounded by walls of protection. Nothing can truly harm us in the places that matter. However, this isn’t a guarantee that we will never experience any pain. Rather, it is a promise that everything that does come, including our trials, is part of our Father’s detailed care. Our Father will keep us safe, and he will keep us to the end.
The truth is that He doesn’t promise certain limits to suffering. He doesn’t guarantee personal happiness. He doesn’t guarantee our escape from pain. His people are often crushed beyond measure: the Bible makes that abundantly clear. Take a look at some of the guarantees Scriptures do give us:
- Suffering will come, but we will also share in Christ’s glory (1 Peter 4:12-13).
- All that happens will be for our good, to make us more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-30).
- Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love (Rom 8:38-39).
- He won’t let us be tempted – that is, tested – beyond what we can bear, but will provide a way for us to endure it (1 Cor 10:13).
- He will give us all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3)
- In our weakness, he will give us strength (2 Cor 12:9-10 cf 2 Cor 4:7-12; Phil 4:11-13; Col 1:11-14).
That last one piqued my attention. If our Father does give us strength, why are there times when we feel weak? It is not freedom from being weak that we receive, but rather, we receive strength in weakness – the strength to keep obeying and serving even when we are tired and overwhelmed and don’t feel like we can go on. If He makes us strong, everyone will see our strength, and we will become full of pride. But when He allows me to endure even when we are weak, people will see that the strength is from Him and that I am made humble and dependent. He gets the glory, not me.
Paul fully understood this truth. When he begged his God to take away the thorn in his flesh, he was told, “’My Grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.’ So I will brag even more about my weaknesses in order that Christ’s power will live in me” (II Corinthians 12:9). The point isn’t that Paul rose above his pain: the point is that he was still weak, but Christ gave him the strength to stand firm and to press on. Paul was no triumphant victor over his suffering: he was a man who feared and trembled, who was whipped and stoned and hungry, who was imprisoned and deserted by his friends (I Corinthians 2:3; II Corinthians 11:23-29; II Timothy 4:16). Regarding his time in Asia, Paul wrote,
Brothers and sisters, we don’t want you to be ignorant about the suffering we experienced . . . We even wondered if we could go on living . . . we suffered so that we would stop trusting ourselves and learn to trust God, who brings the dead back to life. (II Corinthians 1:8-9)
Paul personally experienced this. He also knew exactly where his strength came from! And as for me, I would unreservedly prefer my Father’s power. I love feeling strong. But be careful what you ask for. Here is Paul’s prayer for power:
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:9)
What? The strength to endure patiently sure doesn’t sound all that powerful. Who would choose the quality of patient endurance? I cannot believe that anyone would prefer to have patient endurance during their trial, instead of victory during their trial! That is certainly the most common request for prayer!
Everyone wants the success story, the inspirational tale of goals achieved and obstacles overcome! We tell those stories to our children, they are printed in the “Chicken Soup” books. Yet, patient endurance is what our God values most. Just grab a concordance and do a word search to see how often it is mentioned in the Bible (e.g. II Corinthians 1:6; Colossians 1:11; II Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 12:3; I Peter 2:19-20; Revelation 2:3, 13:10). He demanded it of Moses and Job and Jeremiah. He demanded it of Stephen and Peter and John. He demands it out of our persecuted brothers and sisters. He demands it of us.
So what’s the secret? Where can we get endurance, this quality that is so valuable? How does our Father produce it in us? Well, as hesitate as I might be to say it, it is done through suffering (James 1:2-4). It is by standing firm, that we learn to stand. It is by enduring, that we learn to endure. Our spiritual muscles grow stronger through use. No, it never feels like it at the time, but later, we realize how easily we respond to difficulties. We face our trials with a much greater degree of patience, perseverance, and yes, even hope.
So, during your most difficult circumstances, don’t pray for a guarantee of happiness, but the strength to endure. The strength to go on when it feels as though you can’t take another step. The strength to trust when you are filled with doubt and fear. The strength to stand firm when everything in you is crying out to surrender. The strength to bear your responsibilities cheerfully and without any bitterness or grumbling resignation. The strength to persevere in the faith to the end. The strength to rejoice, even as you mourn. The strength to seek your Father’s face, and to find your security in Him — and Him alone!
Along with the Psalmist you will cry out:
I will say of the Lord, “You are my refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust with great confidence, and on whom I rely!” (Psalm 91:2)
(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list: Mail List)
I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.