A message on suffering. This message was made possible by my experiences of suffering, but just as one cannot take credit for a song or book that encouraged one’s soul, likewise I can’t take credit for the comfort our heavenly Father has given me.
WET CHECKS & RED EYES. Stuff happens. So God ordered his prophet Isaiah to “Comfort, comfort my people…”(1) Some of Isaiah’s comforting words were prophecy about a future great healer and prophet, their Messiah, who would bring lasting comfort to God’s people. When he came, one of the few people who recognized the Messiah was Simon Peter, who could not imagine that the man who was healing people and raising the dead could be allowed by God to be tortured to death. (If Peter had perused the Hebrew scriptures, he would have noted that Elisha healed & raised dead people, yet also suffered & died.(2)) Peter was totally dumbfounded & discouraged when Yahshua was arrested!
TRUST IN THE LORD v. FEAR OF MAN. Trusting God and fearing man are opposites. Peter went from one to the other. But given time, Peter sorted it out, & came back much stronger. You can see that in a letter written about 30 years later in Rome, which was written w/ Silvanus’ literary help & the Spirit’s inspiration. The letter, called 1 Peter, was addressed to the Christians suffering in Asia Minor (as well as Christians in general) as crazy Nero was ruling the empire at the time. This short letter of Peter’s repeatedly uses terms translated into forms of “suffering” 16x in the KJV & RSV, and 17x in the New English. Some verses deal with suffering, for instance: “tested by fire”(3) and some with our living hope (4) and some verses deal with both(!): “the sufferings of Christ & the subsequent glory”(5). So stuff happens, but it is not for forever, and it can be redeemed into good stuff! What really catches my attention is that Peter, the man who was dumbfounded & discouraged, upset & traumatized by Yahshua’s arrest, torture & crucifixion, is afterwards able to advise others of faith; “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you…”(6) Along the same lines, the young man who was closest to Yahshua, his beloved disciple John, wrote something similar: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” (7) Both Peter & John teach us that we will participate in the sufferings of Christ. Yet, we are not to forget, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”(8)
PERSONAL TRAGEDY IN THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH. Life catches us off guard with unfair suffering. Real life is the pain of circumstances, encounters & perceptions. Can we keep going? I have been there myself, and know that it can take years to regain one’s balance. If we want to prolong the negative process we can dwell on “what if…”, and “if only…”, and “I wish it hadn’t happened…”. I noticed that inmates who were not willing to accept the fact that they were in prison and move on from that fact, got stuck in dysfunctional thinking. We have to find ways to move on. One can’t let a single negative tragedy define one’s life. That event will continue its negative grip on you until you release it and move on. It is a single event…not your entire life. For instance, a defeat is not the entire war. The first few battles of the Civil War: Ft. Sumpter, Ball’s Bluff, & Bull Run were Confederate victories. The first campaigns of WW 2 were overwhelming German & Japanese victories. You can have power over an event by not letting it control you. If you think you have no control & no hope, you create self-fulfilling prophecy.
LIFE IS NOT FAIR. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was that life is not fair. Hollywood movies with their story book endings have led many people to think there will be a happy ending to each story. Suffering creates doubts about life & God. How many times have I heard people complain, “Where was God??” First, we should not blame God for someone else’s sin!! As God’s prophet said, “No one can…say to Him: ‘What have you done?’ “(9) Second, it is a false expectation to think that salvation in Christ means a life of good fortune and no trouble…the Word teaches otherwise. Third, nothing can separate us from the love of God. (10) Fourth, God knows how to take tragedy and redeem it. Over and over again, I have witnessed ROM 8:28 prove true…that all things work together for good to those who love God!! Yes, they do. Fifth, we are taught that when in trouble we should realize that our ways are not God’s ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts, and that we can ask in trouble: “Teach me thy way”(11) & “Not my will but thine”(12).
THY WORD IS A LIGHT & GUIDES US TO PEACE.(13) The psalmist was having a bad day: “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen Thou me according unto Thy Word.” (14) And that brings me to the Psalms of God. Various Psalms have really encouraged me during times of trial and tragedy. I will mention only a few good ones. Psalm 27:3 echoes my thoughts: “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living: Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, & He shall strengthen thine heart…” The key thoughts for me are holding onto the goodness of the Lord, not allowing the World to terrify us, and waiting for the Lord to bring something good out of the tragedy. Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.” This verse was reassuring because when problems have hit, at times people have asked, “What sins were you doing?” or “What big mistakes were you doing?” Hey stuff happens! And happens to the righteous also! Christ wept when his friend Lazarus died.(15) Everyone gets torn by tragedy. Psalm 50:15 is a great one: “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Or another put another way, “I want you to trust me in your times of trouble, so I can rescue you, & you can give me glory.” Call for help when you are in trouble, heavenly Father will help you, and your life & this process will glorify Him.
AN EXAMPLE FROM HISTORY. Practically no one has suffered as much as Susannah Wesley (1669-1742) did, a woman of faith who mothered John & Charles Wesley. She repeatedly took up her cross and followed Christ, and focused on doing His will and not her own. Ten of her 19 children died before they were two. Her husband was a minister, but he suffered greatly from the members of his congregations. The members of one put him unjustly in prison. Later, after he got out, another congregation had members who set the roof of his house on fire. In this case, Susannah felt God had miraculously saved John from being burned alive from the fire. I am just giving a few of her tragedies. Susannah never wallowed in self-pity. She kept moving on. She had to raise her large family by herself in poverty, but she frequently fervently prayed and she was good at making her children obey her. She wrote and spoke about how her enormous troubles had been blessings from God. In fact, when the fire that almost took John was over, a single page remained of their Bible with the verse on it: “Sell all thou hast. Take up your cross, & follow me.” She carried her cross for years, & for her devotion, her sons became great men of God.
AN EXAMPLE OF HOW WE CAN SET OURSELVES UP FOR TROUBLE. What we plant, we harvest. In the 13th century, an Egyptian Christian in Cairo named John of Phanijoit converted to Islam. He then realized how morally filthy he had become, and told people, “I am a polluted man. May my Lord…purify me with his sword…” Had this Copt not converted, he may not have been martyred, but once having converted to Islam, the Muslims put him to death when he went back to being a Christian. One last thought, John had a reputation with everyone, even his captors who put him to death, of being a righteous, good sincere person. So the truth of 2 TIM 4:18 is a general truth, it does not mean that a Christian can never be persecuted: “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” I expect to meet John of Phanijoit in the heavenly Kingdom, but giving his life to Christ did not protect him from the evils of Muslim persecution. There are special crowns for His martyrs. And we all should be always ready to meet the Lord, as all men are destined to die,(16) & none of us know the exact time. EVERY DAY of health is a gift & blessing from our heavenly Father.
GREAT COMFORT. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” 2 COR 4:8-9
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire…” I PTR 1:6
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.” PS 138:7
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” GAL 6:9
Brothers & sisters, let us not be weary in well doing, we shall harvest good in due season if we faint not.
(1) ISA 40:1 (2) 2 KGS 4:17-37, 13:20-21, 13:14 (3) 1 PTR 1:7 (4) 1 PTR 1:3 (5) 1 PTR 1:11 (6) 1 PTR 4:12 (7) 1 JN 3:13 (8) ROM 8:31b (9) DAN 4:35 (10) ROM 8:35, 39 (11) PS 27:11 (12) LK 22:42 (13) LK 1:70, 79 (14) PS 119:28 (15) JN 11:36 (16) HEB 9:27