Tag Archives: Suffering


The sound of a circling airplane brings euphoria to those lost at sea.  The expectation of coming rescue brings new hope and the energy to struggle on.  When we struggle with strong temptation or other kinds of suffering, life can seem like being lost at sea.  The disciple named Peter knew all about that.  He wrote words of powerful encouragement for those who suffer and struggle as they attempt to live out their faith.  He knew how tough such a struggle seems and how often and easily we fail.  In 1 Peter 5:6-10 he gives important strategies to employ during the struggle (click HERE to review those).  And he ends that section by saying this: Help is on the way.  He wrote:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.   (1 Peter 5:10)

The most important word is easily overlooked.  It is “Himself!”  God is going to do what is needed – Himself.   How cruel it would be for the circling plane to drop a message to the folks floundering below that said, “You can do it!  Try harder!”  And yet, so many of us have heard that, “try harder” message from our religious leaders.  But Peter knew this truth:  What I cannot do, God will do.  Himself.

He will restore us to good operating condition.  Think of the restorations you’ve seen on TV or YouTube. A piece of rusty junk is transformed into a beautiful roadster, gleaming as it did right off the showroom floor.  God Himself will restore us.

You’ll no doubt think, “No way, this can’t be true…”   That’s why God Himself will confirm His work in you. He will let you test it and see for yourself that it is real, even as the restoration is being gradually accomplished.

Not only that, but He will strengthen those areas of weakness in you that have caused so much trouble, equipping you to face the continued temptations and dangers of real life.

Ultimately, God will establish you.  When footers are poured under new foundations, their function is to establish the stability of the building.  Their job is to keep the building steady in the midst of all the forces that try to move it.

Help is coming.  But why has it been delayed?  Peter wrote, “after you have suffered awhile”   In verse 6, he wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…”  God knows what we are enduring and when is the proper time to end it.  Like a coach or trainer, He allows us to suffer temporarily as part of how He works to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. Remember: “He cares for you” (v. 7), and hold on to His promise of rescue.

A circling plane cannot rescue shipwrecked sailors.  It functions as a promise that help is coming.  That promise, that hope, makes all the difference.  1 Peter 5:10 serves us like that as well.

What Does God Think?

Do you order stuff online?  If you do, you trust the process – you place your order and truly expect to see it on your doorstep in a few days.  If not, you probably have suspicions.  Maybe you started to place an order, got everything filled out online and then thought, “I don’t know about this…” and failed to push the “submit” button.  You didn’t trust it completely.  Consequently, nothing is left at your door.

The same principle is true when it comes to asking God what He thinks.  Maybe you are considering a new job.  Or, “Is this the guy for me?”  Should you volunteer for some cause?  Is that what God wants?  When you pray about it, essentially what you are asking is,”God, please tell me what You think.”  If you pray that question but don’t really expect God to answer, you won’t receive it if He does.  It’s kind of like not pushing the “submit” button.  Your request is tentative.  You are not sure the process will work.  But, if you are fully convinced God wants you to know what He thinks, and is eager to share it with you, then your request is wholeheartedly sent off with the full expectation of an answer.  God says, a prayer like that will get answered.  James, talking about getting wisdom in times of trial, shares the principle:

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.  (James 1:5-8)

Look carefully at what that says. The problem is not that God won’t tell you what He thinks.  It’s that you can’t be sure you have really heard from Him.  Your mind goes back and forth on it, wondering if what you heard was really from Him.  But when you are convinced God will show you, He does and you trust it.

Because God’s wisdom is frequently contrary to the ideas of the world, it takes real faith to hear what God thinks.  Hearing what God thinks requires setting aside the ways of the world, listening and trusting.  Do that, and when God speaks you will know.

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2)




“We’re in a tight spot!”  The barn where they were hiding was on fire. Cops with machine guns were perforating the place and George Clooney, in his role in “O Brother Where Art Thou?”,  looked like he was having the time of his life, thrilled to be in a “tight spot.”   Appealing, that.  Like skiers who enjoy the black slopes, whooping with excitement, even when they wipe out.  They are doing better than those who agonize over every turn with grim anxiety.

I got thinking about the look in George Clooney’s eye when I read this simple verse from 1 Thessalonians:

Rejoice always…”  (1Thessalonians 5:16)

In our day, that reads like mental pablum, advice from a timid Sunday School teacher who can’t handle life.  But the guy that wrote that advice had been in more than a few tight spots.  He’d been beaten, starved, shipwrecked, imprisoned and pursued by mobs of vicious killers.  And, he was writing to people facing violent persecution.  Paul had a gleam in his eye on the black slopes.  He knew the power of enjoying the thrill of the hills and spills, no matter what.

But it’s not that he was a reckless adrenalin junkie.  Paul knew God had sent him into those tight spots because they were ripe with opportunity.  He knew God knew.  When tempted to complain and feel sorry for himself, he knew how much better it was to rejoice.

Next time you are in a tight spot, call to mind the look in George Clooney’s eye, and the powerful advice from Paul.  Rejoice.  Always.

Daddy (Dad, Part II)

God is our Father. Jesus said so.  He taught us to address Him in prayer as “Our Father.”  He modeled that relationship, almost always calling God His Father.  Except once.  One time, as it is recorded in the Gospels, Jesus called God by a different Name.  He called Him “Daddy” (literally, the Aramaic, “Abba”).  The one time He switched from “Father” to “Daddy” was in His time of deepest struggle and need, in Gethsemane, on the night before His arrest and crucifixion.  

 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  –  (Mark 14:36)
There is a lesson here.  In our own times of deep distress, even in those times when you feel God would not be inclined to draw near and listen, remember Who He is.  Not only your Father but also your Daddy. Let your lowest moments of struggle become your deepest moments of childlike intimacy.  Imitate Jesus in how He honestly cried out to “Daddy,” saying, in effect, “I really don’t want to do this; isn’t there some other way?”  And also, “I know you are my Daddy and would not assign anything to me that was not the best.”

Who’s your Daddy?

Say What?

He knew English from textbooks when he got here as an exchange student, but his first exposure to how English was actually spoken was in my college fraternity house.  It was startling but not surprising, therefore, when he was invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and asked for someone to pass him the @#$%*^ potatoes.  After a moment of shocked silence, the friend’s mother said, “Well, you heard him, pass the @#$%*^ potatoes!”

If you don’t know the slang expressions and idioms, you can easily get the wrong idea.  Why do we say, “What’s up?”  Here is some potential confusion from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

” Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NIV)

Huh?  Christ didn’t quite suffer enough?  Paul had to help Him out?  No. Jesus did everything necessary to completely and permanently pay for all the sins of anyone who is willing to accept His gift.  He has prepaid for you to receive complete forgiveness forever.  So why did Paul say there was something lacking in His suffering?  He used a common idiom to say, “I’m glad to do whatever is necessary to help the church, even if it means I will suffer for it like Jesus did.”

Jesus delegated the work of spreading His good news to His followers, who had discovered personally how wonderful it is.  He knew the assignment would come with suffering.  For whatever reason, people frequently get angry when you tell them about Jesus.  Go figure.  That’s why Jesus prayed for His followers, saying:

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4 – His atoning sacrifice was complete.)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (John 17:14 – They would suffer)

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18 – Nevertheless, the plan is for them to tell people about Jesus)

Paul understood these realities, and that followers of Jesus would be witnesses to Him.  His attitude was, “Whatever it takes, I’m glad to do it.”  But it wasn’t that Paul was a masochist.  It was how amazing the message was, and how cool it was to see people catch on.   There is something about Jesus that most people have missed, something mind-blowing!  Knowing that, whatever it takes, even suffering, was worth it.  But what is that nugget?  What part of the message made it so worthwhile?

Stay tuned; we’ll get to that next time.


Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

A Greeting and Blessing

When someone is hurting and you do not know what to say, there are two good words that work pretty well.  They were commonly used as greetings in Bible letters but were filled with sincerity and deep meaning.  I’m talking about “grace” and “peace.”

Like this: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” (Colossians 1:2b, and more than a dozen other places)

The first word, grace, is a prayer that God would bestow upon you, by His grace, all the things that in your heart would really help. The second word, peace, is a continuation of that prayer, that God’s grace will have its full effect on your inner being.

The problem with knowing what to say when someone is suffering is we don’t really know exactly what will help.   If we say, “I know how you feel,” it is frequently received by the person who is suffering as yet another wound.  They silently protest, “How could anyone possibly know how I feel when I can hardly work it out myself?”.  But God truly knows  and also how to help.  By His grace He can restore peace.  The heaviness of heart is lifted. Anxious thoughts are soothed away.  Sorrow is held and gentled.  Fear is replaced with hope. And all this by God’s perfect grace and peace.

So, try saying, ” Grace and peace to you from God.” And mean it.


Swarms of vicious, rabid mice were attacking my son, nibbling at his legs.  Screaming in terror, he couldn’t hear my voice as I told him to remove his 3-D glasses.  He kept freaking out.  I shouted at him: “Take off your glasses!”  When he finally heard me, registered that it was my voice, believed me and then tentatively reached up to remove his glasses, the mice instantly retreated into the confines of the movie screen at the Walt Disney theater.  But for awhile there, he was too terrified to listen, much less obey.

The same principle is in play when we are stressed out or suffering and ask God for wisdom (See: Wise Up).  God gives wisdom, generously and without finding fault.  But if we are too distracted by our fears to listen, it does no good.  That’s why James added this next part to his teaching on asking for and receiving God’s wisdom:

“But when he asks [God for wisdom], he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:6-8 – with my added explanation in brackets)

We’ve all experienced the paralysis of indecision, when our minds resemble squirrels caught in the middle of the road.  Doubt can stop you dead in your tracks.  Satan’s first strategy in the Garden of Eden was to inject doubt between the humans and God.

” …He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”” (Genesis 3:1b)

When you ask Him for wisdom, you could doubt that God would answer, doubt His wisdom is true, or doubt that it is really God Who you have heard.  Any one of those doubts would interfere with your ability to hear His voice and apply His wisdom.  The solution for that is practice – practice before you really are in a desperate need.  If you get in the habit of asking God for wisdom, listening for His response, and following what He tells you, soon you will be able to recognize His voice and distinguish it from all the other voices.  With practice, you will learn to trust and follow what He tells you.

You will be very glad you practiced, the next time you get attacked by mice…

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

The Suffering Paradox

Tough times are good times.  That’s because tough times make us tougher. That truth, known by farmers, construction workers, soldiers and athletes, has been largely ignored in a culture in which obesity is a growing threat (no pun intended).  But it’s not just about building muscles.  It’s more about building steadfastness, the willingness to keep going in the midst of suffering.  Here’s how Jesus’ brother James said it:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Notice that this spiritual toughness is developed by “trials of many kinds,” as a result of the “testing of your faith.”  When everything is going smoothly, much of our faith is theoretical.  Tough times are opportunities to check out what you really believe, to put faith to the test and see if it holds.

Elmer’s glue used to run a commercial in which the ends of two planks were overlapped and glued together to form a diving board.  It took faith for the guy who first went out on the end of that thing to bounce up and down on it.  You can imagine that his first moves were rather tentative.  But as he discovered its strength, as his faith in the glue increased, he became more willing to put some weight into it.  As we face trials in life and are forced to “bounce up and down” on what we have been taught to believe about God.  As we do so, we discover for ourselves that He is faithful.  The tougher our trials, the tougher our faith.

James says this increased faith-toughness builds perseverance and maturity.  Perhaps the example of this truth that is gaining the most attention right now is the story of Louis Zamperini, in the film, “Unbroken.”  But, as inspiring as that story may be, people won’t develop perseverance from watching the movie.  They develop perseverance by testing their faith in tough times.

That’s why tough times are good times.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Bring it On

Maybe you have asked, “If Jesus saves, why doesn’t He save me?”   Maybe you have just lost your job or your home.  Maybe you have just received some awful news from your doctor.  Maybe you just saw your picture on the post office wall.  We find ourselves in deep trouble and call out to Jesus, “Save me!”  Sometimes He does and sometimes He does not.  Why not?

John the Baptist must have been wondering that same question.  John was a prophet who was faithfully and fearlessly serving God.  Not only that, he was Jesus’ cousin!  If Jesus had the power to break John out of jail, why didn’t He do so?  Jesus knew that John would be executed in prison and yet did nothing to free him.  Why not?  Why let John suffer and die?

it wasn’t that Jesus didn’t think John deserved it.  He told His disciples:

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; …” (Matthew 11:11a)

But as good as John was, and as close as they were, there was something more important than John’s comfort and safety in play.  Jesus continued:

“… yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. [John the Baptist] (Matthew 11:11b)

The worst person who is in the Kingdom of Heaven is better than the best person who is not.  What did Jesus mean by that?

Here’s an analogy: The worst, piece of junk flip-phone that has service is better than the latest and fastest Google android mega-screen monster that does not.  Phones can be powered up and have all kinds of cool graphics and games, but it they don’t have “bars,” they are dead.  That’s because phones are designed to communicate by means of the invisible cell signal.

We humans were designed by God to communicate with Him, receiving and sending information, by means of His invisible Spirit in our souls.  Without that Spirit, even though we are physically alive, we are spiritually dead.  No “bars.”  Since Adam and Eve rebelled against God and lost “all the bars of their Spirit service,” all of their descendants have been born dead, disconnected from the Spirit – even John the Baptist.  Jesus’ primary mission was to give us the Spirit and bring us back to life.   Everything else was secondary.  He said,

“…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b)

Jesus must have known that leaving John in prison would advance the cause of giving people real life in the Spirit.  That eternal goal was far more important than John’s immediate comfort or freedom.  If John could have known how his suffering would be used in that cause, he would have accepted it willingly.  Joyfully.

I am convinced that God did not waste John’s suffering and that He does not waste your suffering either.  I am convinced that if we knew how God uses our suffering to bring people to full life, we would be glad to be used by Him.  It’s not that we want to suffer.  We urgently pray and ask God to rescue us from it.  But as we pray to our Savior and King, we line ourselves up with what He knows is best.  “Thy will be done.  Bring it on!”

When You Doubt What You Believe

If Jesus is really the Son of God, why does He let me suffer?  Ever ask that question?  If so, you are in good company.  Even John the Baptist asked that question.  He had been called to prepare the way for Jesus and publicly identified Jesus as the Savior.  John must have imagined that he would be an important figure in Jesus’ band of brothers.  And yet, John was falsely arrested and stuck in prison.   John had doubts, and sent his disciples to double check on Jesus:

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2-3)

Instead of answering John directly,

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”” (Matthew 11:4-6)

In effect, Jesus told John, “I cannot tell you the answer; you must evaluate the evidence and decide what you believe about Me.”  Jesus says the same thing to each of us.  Our relationship with Jesus is not about having the right answer for the quiz, it’s about what we truly believe.  Belief is not formed by someone telling us the answer.  Belief is our personal conviction about the truth of the answer.  And our belief is dynamic, it is challenged and strengthened by the ebb and flow of life.  It is normal for us to consider our doubts as we develop our belief.  Real belief is not afraid to consider doubt.  It is strengthened as we grapple with doubt.

Jesus knew that John believed.  But He also knew that suffering challenges belief.  And so, Jesus encouraged John to hang on: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”  In effect, “Hang in there, John, hold on to your faith.  Even though suffering challenges your faith, your faith is what will lead you through this suffering.”

Here’s how Peter explained the dynamics of suffering and faith:

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT)

 If you are suffering and doubting, hang on; you will be blessed.  But maybe you are still wondering why Jesus left John in prison to die, or why He allows you to suffer what you are going through.  Stay tuned; we’ll take that up next…