In our North American culture we strive for such pretty lives, that when something goes wrong, when life isn’t perfect, we can’t seem to handle the outcomes. Even though we live in a day with the most advanced medicine and technology, we still wish for perfect, uninterrupted lives. Even medicine and the internet can’t stop suffering at our deepest human level.
It doesn’t matter who you are, we will in some way hit walls that hold us back. Gord Downie, from the Tragically Hip tells his story (via the Strombo show) about his wife being diagnosed with Cancer. Hearing this reminds us that even if you have a street named after you in a Canadian city, suffering and struggles are inevitable.
The biggest questions we have in life come from the unfortunate and unplanned circumstances in our lives. We wonder how we can get through difficult times or how we are to approach suffering? We also wonder where God is in the middle of if all.
I’m going to assume that in the middle of our struggles, whatever they are, we eventually ask 2 questions: WHY & WHERE?
We ask WHY did this happen to me? Did I bring it on or did it just happen? Did God give this pain to me or is he simply using it to teach me a lesson? Great question that most times can’t be answered fully. God even told Job, ‘you wouldn’t understand’.
The WHY question, as unanswerable as it seems, leads us to possibly a better question, that would be ‘WHAT?’. What can I learn from this mess in my life? What can I learn from the last 6 months of hell? Can this sickness teach me anything about me or life or purpose or faith? Who will I become after a divorce or a lost job.
The scriptures show us that we can embrace the tough things in life and actually let them teach us something. In Matthew 5, Jesus, on the side of hill, is teaching about faith and the kingdom of God. In his opening remarks he lists what have been called, The Beatitudes. Think about this, Jesus says ‘Blessed are…’ the poor, the hungry, the persecuted, etc. He says that those who suffer are blessed. How can that be? There’s no way that I can be ‘better’ because of my struggles?
Eugene Peterson says that “our faith is developed out of the most
difficult aspects of our existence, not the easiest.”
Erwin McManus, “our struggles and suffering give us the context to tell
the greatest story of our lives.”
This resonates well with James 1:2-4 where we read…
trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing
of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let
perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking
This verse is much easier to apply to other’s trials than to our own. We don’t want to consider our pain a joy, but the truth is that our trials and pain do teach us, they do test us, they do help us become the people God desires us to be.
When your trouble hits, and it will, before you simply begin asking for it to be removed, instead ask God to teach you something through it. It’s in the middle of our most difficult times that we are stretched into the best versions of ourselves. God may not remove the pain from you instantly, but he sure does give you what you need to walk through it. Walking might be the best metaphor for us to think about here. The scriptures show us that with God, we can walk through the fire, through the waters, through the storms – walking through is better than being pulled out because it’s in our ‘walking through’ that we become better followers of Jesus and consequently, better humans.
We also ask the WHERE question, and rightfully so. Where is God in all of this? Is he close or does he leave at the first sign of pain? The writers of the Psalms seemed to ask this question often – where are you God?
If there is one truth that makes all of faith make sense, it’s this, God is with us. This isn’t just a Christmas/Advent theme, it is the message of hope found in the gospels and the rest of scripture. God is in the middle of our struggle, whatever that struggle may be.
Hebrews 13:5-6 is a strong reminder of this. The writer is quoting Deuteronomy 31 & Psalm 18. Let these words ring true for you in your struggle…
walk off and leave you,” we can boldly quote,
God is there, ready to help;
fearless no matter what.
or what can get to me?
in suffering? Can there be gratitude in all circumstances? YES.
aware that God is right beside us, in the middle of it, helping us walk through
it, with him, making us better, building us stronger, reassuring us of his
presence and his love. Even using us to encourage others through it all.
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small(er) group questions
How have you answered the WHY question during tough times?
What do you think about this CS Lewis quote,
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Take some time to talk about what James 1 says…
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
How important is God’s presence in all of this? Hebrews 13 says God will never leave or forsake us. Can you talk about how he’s been with you in the middle of your struggles?
Think about this verse as you close up your conversation…
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.