Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanking God in Suffering

Dear Friends,

As I begin to count my blessing each year in anticipation of Thanksgiving, I am careful to put my suffering – more importantly, what I have learned from it – at the top of my list. Yes, you heard right. I am thankful for my suffering, not just in spite of it. 

Often, we want to question God’s goodness when we endure difficulties or disabilities, diseases, death, or destruction. We ask “Where is God in all of this?” In years past, I have raised that question myself many times.

When tragic circumstances arise, I remember something I’ve learned over the years. God doesn’t sit up in heaven and say, “Into each life a little rain must fall,” and then aim a hose in earth’s general direction to see who gets the wettest. Instead, He screens the trials that come our way, building spiritual fences between us and the enemy’s onslaught. His filter is guided by His wisdom and compassion, and He allows through only what is ultimately for our good.

Now you may be wondering how God is able to accomplish this. Well, welcome to the world of finite beings trying to understand an infinite God. The fact is, God permits all sorts of things He doesn’t approve of.  We don’t like to hear that, but think of the alternative. Would we rather have a God who took a hands-off policy toward the evil that seems to run rampant in the world? I don’t think so. If we did, we’d be a lot worse off.  Evil would come barreling at us uncontrolled.  That would be hell on earth. It’s why we can thank God that He curbs evil and suffering.

Decades in a wheelchair have not made me an expert, by any means. There are still many mornings I don’t want to get up and face my wheelchair. “I can’t do this,” I moan, “I have no resources to face another day dealing with paralysis.” But that’s when I remember God has resources to spare. “Lord, you have the strength I lack,” I plead. “I can’t do this, but you can.  Please help me make it through this day with your strength and your patience and joy.” And He does.

Those who start their mornings on automatic cruise control, without needing God, are the truly handicapped ones. James 4:6 says that “God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.”  Who are the humble? Just people like you and me who recognize our desperate need of our Savior. And thankfully, He gives strength to all who cry to Him for help.

We live in scary times when the lines between the forces of good and evil have never seemed so clear. The world, battered and bruised as it is, has never before seemed so fragile, so unstable.  Even our personal world feels unstable. Suffering seems to be pandemic with record numbers of people in counseling for depression or in therapy for dependency on pain-relievers.And sometimes in this craziness, God feels so distant.

But is He? Could He be allowing these desperate times to force us to seek Him more earnestly?  Forty-six years ago when God answered “no” to my prayers for physical healing, He was answering “yes” to a better, deeper healing. His “no” answer made me reach out urgently for his nearness and presence. My suffering taught me so much about myself and has bound me to other believers who deal with pain and affliction. The day-to-day suffering that never goes away has forced me to depend on His grace, strengthened my commitment to Him and purged sin from my life. Times of difficulty have deepened my prayer life, refined my faith, and stretched my hope.  Most of all, I have gleaned a deeper appreciation for the sufferings that my Savior endured to secure my salvation.  And there is nothing sweeter than finding yourself “in the fellowship of sharing Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).

So, each year around this time, I make a point to thank God, not in spite of my suffering, but for it.  I thank Him for the better choice, the wiser answer, and the harder yet richer path.  I thank Him for showing me that there are more important things in life than walking.


Happy Thanksgiving!


Joni Eareckson Tada


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Do You Have Questions for God?

Dear Friends,

If I have questions for God, they need to be the right ones, and I need have no doubt whatsoever that God will answer me and tell me what I need to know and do in order to tap into His power to endure.  What I will certainly need to learn is to trust Him more and not less, to stop depending on my feelings, and to develop my faith.  And what I must ask the Lord is, “What do I say to others who question me about my misfortunes?” If I ask God these sorts of questions, I can have every assurance that He will answer me.

It’s quite all right to ask God any question under the sun, but there are questions we need to ask in order to get the answers to proceed with our lives.  If we can dare to ask God to help us ask Him the hard questions, He will direct us to some things that will maximize the blessings suffering can bring to us.  For example, we can ask him, “How can this trouble you have permitted make me more like you?” instead of “Why aren’t you removing this trouble?” God listens to every word we say, and we mustn’t doubt His eager attention.

But if I doubt He’s even there, that He’s listening, or that He is interested in making a wise person out of me in the middle of the mess, then I will be “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man,” says James, “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:7-8).

It’s easy to feel as if our little craft of faith is being tossed about like a cork in the storm, isn’t it?  Job felt just like that. Yet, when the storm was at its height, God spoke to Job above the sound of the tempest and asked him why he had a problem with the problem!

Chapters 38 through 42 of Job are glorious chapters.  After an uncanny silence, Job at last hears the voice he has been longing to hear. After seeing nothing – he sees God! And, hearing and seeing, he worships in a way he has never worshipped before.  He lays his questions down at the feet of the Lord and kneels there, stunned in wondering abandonment. “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,” he cries (Job 42:5).

Ruth Bell Graham was a wonderful poet. I love to read her work. One of her poems particularly caught my eye:

I lay my “whys”
before Your cross
in worship kneeling,
my mind too numb
for thought,
my heart beyond
all feeling.

And worshipping,
realize that I
in knowing You
don’t need a “why.”


Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine




  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Chasing Your Doubts Away

Dear Friends,

Most of us know the story about Peter’s walking on the water.  When he and some other disciples were on the Sea of Galilee and a storm arose, they were terrified.  They were seasoned enough sailors to recognize that they were in severe danger.  Their fear, however, was heightened when they saw what they supposed to be a ghost, walking on the water toward them.

Jesus (for it was He, and no apparition) calmed their fears.  Peter was so encouraged that he decided to leave the boat and walk on the water himself.  But he began to watch the winds and waves instead of watching Jesus.  As the disciple began to sink into the sea, Jesus said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31).

I remember facing a storm of separation. We had been invited to emigrate to America in order to serve Elmbrook Church.  I had to tell my recently widowed mother.  I remember driving very slowly down to Liverpool in order to break the news to her.  I cried all the way there, stammered through my information, hugged my beloved “Peggy,” and cried all the way home again.

On the way down, all I could hear were the winds, and all I could see were the waves.  I knew Jesus was there, encouraging me, but I could hardly see Him through my tears.  It was hard enough to try to cope with the storm of my own emotions at such a time, but I knew that my news would bring a tempest down on my own mother’s head – one she could well do without at that particular time.

As I drove home again, I thanked the Lord for helping me to tell her and for letting her see the deep pain our parting would bring to me.  I had honestly feared I could not do this to her – that I couldn’t find the words – that she and I, together, would sink in the tempest of our grief.  I thought of Jesus’ words to Peter:  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  What had I doubted?  I had doubted I could tell her, doubted we could survive the pain of parting, doubted that God could bring us both to acceptance and peace.  I had even doubted he would get in the boat with us and still the storm in our hearts.  On that long drive home up the English motorway, I could still hear the wind, and my eyes kept wandering to the waves; but now I sensed His arm under my elbow, guiding my feet over all I had been sinking under.  Some partings have to be, but one parting never has to be. Nothing can part me from Jesus!

James addresses this subject of doubt in his letter to the believers of his day, who were facing many trials.  “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  Then James says that if any of you don’t understand what is happening and why the test is testing you – if you lack wisdom – you should ask God the right questions, and He will give you the right answers.  Such a person should ask questions like “How on earth can I consider this trial ‘pure joy,’ Lord?”  or “Is this test doing what you want it to do in my life, Father – namely, develop my character and grow endurance so that I can be a mature believer and walk through the storm?” (James 1:2-5)


Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine




Monday, November 4, 2013

Feeling God with Your Faith

Dear Friends,

A friend of mine has just died of cancer.  Shortly after she was diagnosed, I spent a day with her.  She was such a wonderful lady.  She was emotional and relational in personality.  She kept saying, “Jill, I can’t feel him near me anymore.  All my life I’ve been able to feel him near me, but now, just when I need him the most, he’s not there!”

At this point, my friend found out that, like Job, she had a clear choice.  As Warren Wiersbe says, she “could ‘curse God and die’ or ‘trust God and grow’!”  Grow how?  Grow in the area of her faith.  She was to learn that when she couldn’t feel God with her feelings, she could feel him with her faith – and that felt different!  The “feelings” of faith are feelings of knowledge –or “knowingness.”  The Holy Spirit, after all, doesn’t come into our lives to do His deepest work in the shallowest part of us – our emotions.  But rather He comes into our lives to do His deepest work in the deepest part of us – our knowings.

And that’s the test that suffering brings.  God doesn’t test our feelings for Him, but rather our faith in Him. He tests our trust!

At the end of Psalm 139, David prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart:  test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  He knows that God knows everything about Him. After all, God has created him – knitting him intricately together in his mother’s womb. He believes that God sees his thoughts even before he, David, gets around to thinking them! So he opens up his life before God, acknowledging that God knows everything, and asks God to show him if there is any “offensive way” in him. “You can see my anxious thoughts, Oh God,” he says.  “Do these offend you?”  Why would our anxious thoughts offend God?  Perhaps because God expects us to trust Him with our anxieties.

God doesn’t worry – but if He did, He would possibly worry about our worrying!  He wants us to stop being anxious.  He has promised to supply our needs.  When our feelings grow anxious, our faith can calm our fears.  We have a decision to make.  God wanted Job to say, “I know you are there – even though, at this time, my feelings deny your very existence.  I feel so desolate.”  Our feelings about God can get in the way of our knowledge of Him. We can begin to believe He isn’t there at all, simply because we can’t sense His presence.

Yet, if by faith we can affirm what we know deep down in our souls, this will calm many of our frantic fears and bring the tranquility of order to our confusion.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor

Just Between Us Magazine