Tag Archives: Suffering

Just the right time


Time is an odd phenomenon, isn’t it? We measure time in minutes, hours, days and years. Yet there parts of our life that seem to counteract time. No doubt you’ve watched a bad movie that seemed to drag on forever and also watched a more interesting one of the same length that seemed to fly by. Times of exhilaration often seem to go by too quickly. Times of suffering may seem unbearably long. Yet years later the time may have seemed to decrease. The passing of time offers perspective to see things more clearly – to those who look for it.


When you consider the battles you’re facing, is it the intensity of the struggle or how long it lasts that makes it so hard? In my situation with the ongoing weakness of Leukemia (weakness being it’s own form of pain) and the ongoing nerve pain, I realize it’s both. The intensity of pain (or sorrow) is one thing for sure. You can tolerate some pain that makes you uncomfortable or makes you sad. But with intense physical pain, depression, or inconsolable grief, you can’t ignore the crippling effect when it takes command of your entire life.


On the other hand, the increasing length of the unrelentless suffering has a cumulative affect. Imagine running a mile and having 10 pounds added to your body every 100 yards. You’d be crippled by the time you reached the end, IF you reached it. And the longer the suffering, the easier it is for our perspective to be one of despair and hopelessness. The psalmist asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1) You feel alone and helpless.


But remember dear friend, God always shows up “at just the right time” to rescue us. (Romans 5:6) Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come.” It didn’t seem like just the right time to Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus so they sent word asking Jesus to come when Lazarus was sick. But by the time Jesus finally arrived, Lazarus had died and was buried. Mary fell at Jesus’ feet pleading, “If only you had been here (earlier) my brother would not have died.” Maybe you’ve asked the same thing of God, “Where were you in my darkest hour, when I needed you most?” Still, Jesus was there at the right time to demonstrate his authority to raise Lazarus from the dead.


Perhaps we forget that Jesus is already right here with us right now, living within us, suffering with us, ready to speak peace and hope to our soul. Perhaps “Just the right time” means when we have finally come to the end of ourselves, powerless to continue in our own efforts, when the time had fully come for us to look to God alone as our refuge and strength, and not to our own wiles and senses. Perhaps just the right time is when we fully come to understand:

When Jesus is all we have, Jesus is all we need.


Have you come to that place of surrender and peaceful contentment with longing for nothing more than a deeper relationship with Jesus? Have you realized the truth of the old hymn:

“O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.”


God showed up at just the right time to rescue us. I wonder if this is just the right time to finally turn everything over to him. Is there something you haven’t fully surrendered to God?  Maybe this is just the right time to seek the healer even more than the healing.


More than a game


Imagine you just got a new job. You’re filled with excitement about the prospects that are ahead of you. You’re anxious to receive your “marching orders.” You wonder how your talents and abilities will be used and to what end goal. You open the letter with your job assignment and read these words:

  • Be strong.
  • Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier.
  • Don’t get sidetracked. Serve your commanding officer.
  • Compete according to the rules given you.
  • Remember your orders and wait for further instruction.


You start to wonder what kind of a job you’ve been given. But there’s no backing out. Despite what others say, you know this is your true calling. And you are ready to live according to the call on your life for the one purpose that really matters.


In some sense, these are the instructions given to Timothy from his mentor, Paul in 2 Timothy 2. It’s not a call to easy living but a call to suffering, to endure hard battles so others might be rescued from the darkness. It’s your reason for living. It’s a call to live as if you’d died to everything convenient and trivial and to live a life of real faith.


The call? It’s to be a Christian, a fully devoted follower of Jesus. Not just someone who said a prayer and lives it up until it’s time for heaven. No, your job description inherently involves some degree of suffering. Did you know that every single book of the New Testament speaks to the role of suffering when following Jesus? If you were to cut it out from the bible’s description of a real Christian, you’re bible would be in tatters. You won’t read it in the popular Christian books. You likely won’t hear much of it from the pulpits. But it’s the message of 2 Timothy 2 and it’s a common thread woven into the entire story of God’s Word. The truth is, every life (Christian or not) bears the scars of suffering. But for the Christian, the suffering comes with strength to endure. If your eyes are open, if you’re serious about following the call of God on your life as a Christian, sooner or later you will encounter this part of your job description.


The warning and the call is twofold: flee from evil and pursue faith, love, and peace. Flee from a wasted life spent pursuing everything that doesn’t last. Pursue the life that is daily marked by an enduring faith, an abundant love, and a peace that transcends the circumstances around you. Paul says your job is to warn others against meaningless quarreling and godless chatter that spreads “like gangrene” and “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Your job is to keep your spiritual senses about you. Moment by moment, you’re to be constantly vigilant in your stand for truth, not distracted but rather keenly focused on the goal.


Suffering is not without reward. You know that. So does the good soldier, the runner of the race, and the farmer who plants his crops. Every worthwhile goal that seeks a reward comes at some cost, some degree of “suffering.” But the end is worth it.  The end is a firm faith, an abundant love, and a peace that transcends all understanding. Cancer can destroy a body but it doesn’t have to destroy a life.  Paul’s message wasn’t just for young Timothy. It’s for you and me. It’s a call to follow Jesus throughout our day, to live for him, rejoice in him, and when necessary, to suffer with him. . . nothing else draws us closer to God. It’s a reminder that to not get sidetracked from our real life purpose or be taken captive by the enemy.


It’s a reminder that life is not a game. It’s a calling to live with the purpose and passion that God placed upon our lives when we said we wanted to follow him.



Why does God allow tragedy?


April 19, 1995. Twenty years ago today, a senseless act of evil took the live of 168 people as a bomb ripped through the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. Many cried out “Why?” And even today we cry out “Why, God?” when tragedy strikes our own lives. Why does God allow tragedy in our lives?


Reflect on some of the key points that Billy Graham made in answer to this question when he spoke at a statewide prayer service twenty years ago.


I appreciate reverend Graham’s honesty is first saying, “I don’t know ‘why’. I only know there are lessons to learn.” One of those lessons is that life is a mystery. We don’t understand all things. Job didn’t understand why he lost his wife and family, his good health, and all his possessions. His wife’s advice to him was “Curse God and die!” But in the face of tragedy and intense ongoing pain, Job remained faithful. He believed that despite his circumstances that God was a loving and good God.


Another lesson of tragedy is a reminder that evil remains in the world – for a time. It is the essence of the dEVIL’s name. In the face of evil, you and I have two choices: 1) We can become bitter and angry at God or 2) We can turn to Him in trust Him, even when we don’t have the answer to all our questions. It is the essence of our faith, to believe when we cannot see clearly.


A third lesson of suffering is that it brings together the real community of God. Job missed this. Maybe you’ve missed this as your own tragic circumstances have left you isolated. But suffering produces an environment that invites community to flourish. It invites each of us to BE that community. We saw this as a nation, if if only short-lived, following the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. We see it today in community-wide disasters. People come together, not because they can solve a problem, but as a reminder that God cares for us. He promises that those who mourn will be comforted. His compassions never fail. His mercies are new every morning.


We should be comforted that even Jesus asked, “Why?” He cried out in agony, “Why, God have you forsaken me?” And His answer was quick in coming. The message of Easter is that hope follows tragedy. There is hope for your suffering, hope for your pain, and hope for your despair. We are minded in tragedy that life is brief and uncertain. None of us know which moment will be our last. But the hope remains for those who love God that His comfort, compassion, love, and forgiveness are available to us today even in the face of tragedy.


If you haven’t surrendered the control of your life to Jesus, what better time than today – while time remains?


Watch the 8 minute video of Billy Graham’s 1995 message here:



Recovering a sense of future


When life comes crashing down, either suddenly or over the crushing weight of burdens carried too long, our vision becomes clouded and it’s hard to imagine a better future, or even any future at all. But recovering a sense of future is necessary to transition from surviving to thriving… to living well today. Despite the pain, sorrow, and disappointment that darkens our world right now, we need to recover a hope for the future.


Robert was one of the NYC firemen who responded to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. But experiencing that tragedy didn’t prepare him for the crisis he experienced when diagnosed with crippling MDS four years later. Losing his job to disability and surviving a stem cell transplant, he had to redefine how he saw himself, the limited control he still had in his life, his sense of purpose and meaning, and his sense of the future.


“I’m still dealing with GVHD, as well as weight gain and mood swings from steroids. The hardest part is not being able to keep commitments because I never know how I will feel from one day to the next. It’s hard to accomplish tasks I set for myself. On the positive side, I’m getting better. My fear about getting sick has decreased. I don’t need blood transfusions anymore and I don’t worry about blood tests. And even though I miss working, it’s a relief to not have to worry about returning to work and wondering if I’d be able to perform my duties.”


“There was never a time when I didn’t look to the future. I worked toward short-term goals, like getting my central line removed, controlling my GVHD, and being able to quit taking steroids. Some days, I might be struggling with fatigue or just feeling down, but…once I’m on my feet I am able to keep going. Sometimes it’s hard to accept the changes I’ve been through, but I’m still getting better and adjusting to my ‘new normal.’ The main thing is that I’m here for my family and to see my kids grow up, and that gives me something to look forward to.”


Boy can I empathize with Robert! It’s like he is reading a page from my Leukemia journal. Keeping an eye on the future, without losing your focus on living well today, is a crucial element to making a successful transition from just surviving a tragic circumstance to living a thriving life. And our future is not just tomorrow or next week or even the years to come. Our greatest hope for the future is found in spending all eternity with God and reuniting with loved ones who have gone before us. Living with the future of heaven in mind is a great motivator for living well today!


Some thoughts to ponder as you consider the future:

Am I learning to better accept uncertainties in life?

How can I better adapt to uninvited change in my life?

What practical steps can I take to live fully today while planning for tomorrow?


If you struggle with the uncertainties that come with change or the thought of an unknown future, talk about your concerns with a trusted friend. Include God in your honest conversations. Recovering a hopeful sense of future helps you live purposefully and well today.


The crowns of heaven


To be honest, I grew up without much interest in the crowns of heaven. It seemed plenty good to me that God would mercifully provide me with any place in His kingdom. It’s far more than I deserve. But the bible tells us there’s something worth striving for beyond enduring this race. Whether the five crowns awarded in heaven to believers are literal crowns or another form of honor, they are rewards God intends for us to seek and they warrant our attention:


The Imperishable Crown (1 Corinthians 9.24-25) goes to those who run their race in a manner to actually win it. Their lives are marked by rigors of discipline and perseverance, not idle comfort. While most toil all their lives for things that become obsolete, break and rust, the imperishable crown goes to those who labor for the prize of heaven that does not decay but instead lasts forever. Pursue the prize that never fades!


The Crown of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19) goes to those who continue to rejoice in God – all the time. That’s a hard teaching for those in the midst on ongoing suffering. But our greatest rejoicing is not in whether our circumstance is either ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Our rejoicing is in the presence of God and His goodness in and through all things that work together. We rejoice because our Lord sees us where we are. He blesses us with His grace and comfort, His strength and love. The crown of rejoicing speaks to God’s presence in your life now and also when He will wipe away all tears, sorrow, and pain – forever!


The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8) is awarded to those who love Jesus and look forward to His return. Jesus says the ones who love Him, obey Him. They pull away from the things of the world and express their faith by loving others in His name. We cannot earn righteousness. We inherit it by humbling ourselves and putting on His righteousness while we endure life’s troubles.


The Crown of Glory (1 Peter 5:4) goes to those who long for the return of Jesus, who regard God’s glory as greater than life itself. Remember how Stephen was able to see the glory of heaven even as he was being stoned? Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8.18) Do you long for that glory to be fully revealed more than the things of this world?


The Crown of Life (Revelation 2:10) is for those endure suffering for the sake of the kingdom. “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” In the biblical sense, ‘life’ is not just eating and breathing; it’s having a right relationship with God, living ‘abundantly’ with Jesus even in trials. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) As you experience pain, sorrow, disappointment, and suffering of all kinds, look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12.2). The crown of life awaits you.


In each case, the crowns go to the faithful who not only endure this life but run as to get the prize worth pursuing. Isn’t that what you really desire?



Hope overflows





“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13



This a great verse of personal comfort, isn’t it? It freely offers what we all want: joy, peace, hope. But it is not just about you or me. It is set in the context of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, showing us how to experience a transformed life through faith in the Son of God, how to live victoriously in a troubled world, and how to live in peace and understanding with others.


Joy, peace, hope, power – all things we strongly desire. But none of these priceless gifts come from our own efforts. They freely come FROM God and the Holy Spirit WHEN we trust in Him. When we worry and fret they escape us. But when we put our daily trust in God, we are filled with God’s joy and peace, and the Holy Spirit is able to grow our hope so much that it OVERFLOWS.  God doesn’t bring us to trust in Him only so we can take refuge in His shelter. He doesn’t draw us to Him solely for our personal comfort. God’s greater intent is that our hope will overflow.


Where does hope go when it overflows in our life? It overflows into the circumstances of our life, and washes our pain and suffering. It spills onto our cancer and our despair over our children. It flows through our work. Hope floods our financial worries, drowns our doubts, and quenches our fiery thirsts. It flushes our disappointments into the deepest sea. Hope is a light that cannot be contained in a lamp but overflows into darkness. It illuminates our path filling us with understanding. The power of the Holy Spirit makes our hope to splash onto those around us and flow around the world in ways we never imagined because real hope is not just for us; real hope expands our world vision and impact.


How full is your cup of hope? If it is filled more with despair and fear than the joy, peace, and hope you desire, empty it at the feet of Jesus. Ask His Holy Spirit to fill it up again today with power to trust in The God of Hope.


As your trust grows, His hope overflows.


You can live an abundant life today and every day, by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring you overflowing hope.



God is love


God is love. 1 John 4:8


Love is not God’s only attribute. He is also holy, just, righteous, all-powerful, wise, and everlasting. But one attribute of God that speaks clearly to us over the ages of time is that our unchanging and timeless God is love.


Love is not just what God does; love is who God IS.


The best known verse in the bible begins, “For God so loved the world, He gave…” Love is inherently forgiving and for giving. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13) This is the picture of how God loves you and me.


Is God love in the middle of your deepest sorrows? Our darkest moments certainly test our faith. What comes out when life squeezes us reveals what is truly inside us. There is no room for pious religion when you are squeezed. In those moments God wants us to be real about our brokenness, our sorrow, and our disappointment. He also wants us to know this truth: None of this has any authority or power over His presence in us. Though my struggles again and again toss me to the ground like a ragamuffin doll, though I feel crushed under their weight, they are no match for Jesus in me who loves me, no matter how I feel.


How big is your God? How we view God does not change who He is, but it does change how we perceive our circumstances. Look at the heroes of God, how they are honest about their struggles with life and with God.


Rich Mullins was a short-lived Christian musician who gave us such inspiring songs like, “Sing Your Praise to The Lord,” “(Our God Is An)Awesome God,” and “Hold Me Jesus.” Yet he struggled greatly. I like how one writer described him: “A lover of God and a rebel in the church, Rich refused to let his struggles and his own darkness tear him away from a God he was determined to love.” (Or from a God determined to love him!) “Rich desired most of all to live a life of honest and reckless faith.”


The truth is God loves you, regardless of how you feel or what circumstances beset you. I hope when the darkness surrounds you that you will be able to sing, “Hold me Jesus – be my prince of peace.” Experience the light of His love as you say to God, “And still I will love you.”


“I would rather live on the verge of falling and let my security be in the all-sufficiency of the grace of God.”
– Rich Mullins



Beauty everywhere



White Fireworks – Thayerapy Gardens


“Beauty is everywhere when you know where to look for it.”

– Alice Herz-Sommer, 1903-2014

Beloved Pianist and Holocaust Survivor


Do you believe beauty is everywhere if you know where to look for it? If you lost loved ones to the Holocaust and were imprisoned yourself, would that still be your view?


It seems that few if any escape the prison that suffering brings. Be it for a day or a lifetime, torturous or merely a nagging interruption to a joyful life, be it physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual – we all come to know some degree of suffering and pain, for some a sorrow that enshrouds their entire world. It can become a darkness where little light seems to penetrate. But a holocaust survivor says she finds beauty everywhere. Another shares, “When you come out of Hell, you realize there are only a few important things in life: life itself, relationships, and faith.”


Actually, when it comes down to brass tacks, what choice do we have in the crucible of pain, sorrow, and suffering? We can’t escape it. It will demand we attend to it. But do we have to be crushed by it? Is there a way to transcend its vise grip on us? Can we choose to rise above it, to find our “more than a conqueror” spirit we are promised? Can we choose, like Job, to praise God while we scrape away the boils of pain that wrack our bodies and souls?


I don’t know of anyone who can do this in their own power, most certainly not me! In the midst of cancer I told God six times, “I give up. Take me home. I’m done with this.” I am convinced that my pain was small compared to what others’ endure and yet it was real enough for me. And each of those times, He held me patiently and lovingly, reminding me that His grace is indeed sufficient, even if I don’t sense it. We don’t have to sense God’s love for it to be real any more than a child who defies you even as you love them dearly.


I’ve decided to believe God at His Word even though I’m too feeble to understand it. His supernatural power within us continues to sustain us, no matter what this life throws at us. It is a calming peace that transcends all understanding. It might not calm the storm raging within us. But it is able to calm us in the middle of the storm. I don’t think it is a heroic act to believe this. I think it is a choice of faith if not desperation that in the midst of the darkness, His light will shine and reveal beauty yet to be found. What other choice would you make?


“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10


And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7



Ice Bucket Challenge



You’ve no doubt seen numerous photos and videos of people taking the “ice bucket challenge,” a social media-spun phenomenon intended to support victims of ALS. The videos have been so common place, and with so much attention on “look at what I am doing” it would be easy to dismiss them. And we might see fewer of these videos if it actually shocked their pocketbook to give a sacrificial donation to a worthy nonprofit as much as it shocked their physical body.


Even though I twinge a bit at the “look at me” approach of social media, I really like the idea of people taking a stand for something good and challenging others to do the same. Maybe it is an example of Jesus saying, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16


If you take the ice bucket challenge and donate to ALS, I hope you will write a note to encourage them to stop harvesting embryonic stem cells from unborn fetuses as part of their research. Better yet, I hope you will send your generous donation to an organization that values ALL life and use your social media to increase the awareness of and sensitivity to the needs of those who endure great suffering of all kinds – like “the other bucket challenge” to provide clean water to those who have none.


As a media phenomenon the IBC will run its course. What will happen then? What about all the other people around you who also suffer. Will you take the challenge to support them?


Whether you have been excited by the ice bucket challenge or not, let’s take an even more important challenge every single day. Take the challenge to let your light shine, purposefully and intentionally, even in the social media. But more especially in your daily life and every day actions.


Preach the gospel to all the world  – and use words if you have to.

Resting and wrestling



John Piper writes: “There is a restful side to the Christian life. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” Jesus said in Matthew 11:28. “Be anxious for nothing . . . let your requests be made known to God . . . and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). There is rest and peace in the Christian soul.


But there is also wrestling. Jesus said in Luke 13:24, “Strive <wrestle/struggle> to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” At the end of his life, Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” Keeping the faith is a fight to be fought and a race to be run.”


We’ve written quite a bit about the resting side of the Christian life. Unless you are facing mighty challenges yourself, who wants to pursue the kind of suffering that comes from a wrestling life? But the two are interrelated. We wrestle with our response to life challenges with the goal of finding rest. And, as we’ve commented before, we find rest in these trials because Christ-in-us has already won the battle and assured our victory, IF (and this is a very strong IF):


IF you are willing to believe God at His Word, even when it flies in the face of your present circumstances.


IF you believe that God is sovereign and He has a provident plan for your life.


IF you believe that you are an alien and foreigner in this land we call earth; that your real home is heaven.


IF you believe that you are a spiritual being with a temporary earthly shell, not merely a physical being with some small spiritual component.


IF you believe that God’s loving discipline is even better for us than the parental discipline of our childhood.


We wrestle with each of these tenets when we face difficulties and temptations. God knows that our wrestling makes us tired and can lead us to lose heart. He knows our wrestling can lead to a dangerous sense of despair. And so he reminds us:
“Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3-4)


If you are wrestling with pain, suffering, sorrow, unpleasant work or home life, there is good news. There comes from wrestling a sense of rest IF we believe what God has in store for us as His children.


“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” ( v 7,11)


Maybe you need to wrestle harder. If so, rest in the confidence that Jesus-in-you has already secured the victory. Believe it.