God is Near

Still, to this day, all over the world there is a thinking that God is distant and cannot be accessed. Even within our churches and faith gatherings we have found that most folks believe God must be coerced or convinced to draw near to us.

Of course, at CCIM we have no such understanding. At Capturing Courage International Ministries we have one foot on earth and one foot in the heavenlies and we are bridging folks to God.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Because of thousands of years of religion and idol worship and of witchcraft there remain many fragments of false thinking about God.

The world must know that God is with us!

Capturing Courage International Ministries begins with this.

One of our favourite testimonies comes from one of our teaching days when a young pastor shared, “I have learned to touch the heart of God.” 

Would you partner with us at CCIM to bring “God is with you! God is for you! God has not abandoned you!”, to pastors around the world?

Partner With Us Here

“We Found the True Gospel Restored in the Church through the teaching that you Lovingly Sent to us, that Clings to the Whole Truth Handed Down by the Prophets & Apostles. The Gospel Teaching you sent Touched our Hearts and Encouraged me more to Remain Faithful to GOD and Diligent to works.” Pastor E., Philippines

 

Chapter 28: Love

Chapter 28:  Love

I write these God’s Hearts as the Holy Spirit leads me.  I don’t have an agenda of topics chosen months in advance, I simply write in accord with the Lord’s leading.  And these last few weeks I’ve been brought back to the central truth of God’s love for us and am compelled to pass that on. 

It feels to me that the Lord wants to remind all of us that while we are working and serving alongside the Lord in His kingdom that we must not forget how much we are loved.

The heart of God’s love for us is beautifully expressed in Zephaniah,

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

Just this one verse alone reveals a depth of the heart of our Lord in regards to each one of us.

1.  God is in your midst

2.  He is the mighty one who saves

3.  He rejoices over you with gladness

4.  He quiets you with his love

5.  He exults and sings over you

Lets review these one by one.

  1. God in our midst means that we are not alone

Though the weight of our work and of life itself may press down on us we can know that God is with us. 

Immanuel means ‘God with us’ and is one of the names given to Jesus.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 ESV

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV

God with us means that God is working through us.  As we rest in the presence and work of Jesus Christ he works through us.  We take comfort in this.  The work is not all ours to do.  Rather we enter into dependance on God and as we invite Jesus Christ into our lives we agree with Him and when we agree with the Lord life takes on new satisfaction.

2.  The mighty one who saves indicates a continuous present tense

God has saved us.  God is saving us.  God will save us.  We experience the truth and presence of God in our past, present, and future.

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21 ESV

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” Titus 3:5 ESV

The love of Father God foreknew us and prepared a way for us. Jesus Christ his Son entered into our present tense and died a sinless death so that you and I might live.  Our Holy Spirit remains with us leading and guiding us each and every day.

This work of God never ends.  It goes on in our lives and in the lives of every human being on planet earth. God is continually drawing all people unto himself in love and kindness and understanding.  This we can count on.  This we rest in.

No longer do we need to force God upon each other.  No longer must we micro-manage those around us.  No longer must we fear.  God is active in all our lives even when we cannot perceive Him.

Because of this we can come to a place of greater understanding alongside our fellow human beings.  We are released to just be people alongside people for Jesus is the one working in all our lives.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29 ESV

3.  He rejoices over you with gladness 

God’s heart over us works to dispel the lies and condemnations within us.  Remember the utter joy of a child born to you?  This is the same joy (but bigger yet) that God experiences in regards to you each and every minute of every day.

I ask:  How might His joy about you change how you view yourself, God, and this life you are living?

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17 ESV

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” Psalm 16:9 ESV

Life alongside God brings us to deeper understanding of our lives.  We realize that there is another reality to living than just this earthly experience and our earthly struggles.

We learn alongside God that even though there are difficulties God is in the midst.

4.  He quiets us with His love is the exact result of God in our midst

We cannot stay stressed when we are aware of the presence of God.  In His presence our anxiety, our worry, our concerns fall to the side. We are quieted in our inner person.

“For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.” Psalm 33:21 ESV

“He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” Psalm 107:29 ESV

While we make our plans and do the work of our lives it takes on a new ease as we allow the Lord’s quieting over us.  We do the same work but our hearts don’t worry the same.  We carry on the same tasks but we are more relaxed and okay with God’s leading.  We do not rush to control or fix things like we once did. God quiets us and we enter into His rest.

5. He exults and sings over you and he exults and sings over each one

In this love of the Lord we realize that he loves everyone to the same extent that he loves us.  And as we realize this we begin to take greater care with those around us.  We realize that we must treat others as the great loves of God that they are.

As we experience God’s love and exulting and singing over us we bring this same spirit and manner over others.  We learn too to rejoice in our fellow human beings.  We begin to see the beauty of mankind all around us.

God’s singing over us changes how we perceive each other.  We, all of us, every single person, is precious to God, and we dare not use and abuse them.  It is God’s love that alerts us to this.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,” 1 Thessalonians 3:12 ESV

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:35 ESV

We are reminded today that though we work to understand God more, though we work to bring justice where there is injustice, though we work to teach and guide and lead those depending on us, though we strive to accomplish much good in the countries in which we live, we remember that love and our manner alongside God and others is the most important thing of all.

We remember that how we treat each other matters first and foremost.  We remember that God loves us with a deep and abiding love and we are reminded to slow down, to take notice of our fellow human beings, to acknowledge each other in kindness and understanding.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 

1 Corinthians 13 ESV

Prayer

“God we come before you today dependant on you to grow your love in us.  We cannot love as you love unless you change our hearts from the inside out.  Please give us your love.  We wait on you for this and we thank you for the work you will be doing within us.  We praise you Lord.  Thank you.” 

Application

  • Today, spend some time worshipping and thanking the Lord for his great love for you. 
  • Remain in the presence of God
  • Be silent before Him 
  • Ask to know His love more

Summary  – love 

We are not alone.  John 1:14

God delights over us.  Zephaniah 3:17

He saved us, is saving us, and continues to save us.  Matthew 11:29 

God makes us glad.  Psalm 33:21

We love others because of God’s great love for us.  John 13:35

Chapter 15: In Weakness

Chapter 15: In Weakness

It is hard being a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For within the role is the dynamic of all of God and then all of who we are.

All of God are the miracles and the signs and the wonders.

All of us are the aches and pains and the loss and the sorrow that we each personally have.

We preach healing and we experience sickness ourselves.

We declare healthy lives and we struggle with estranged relationships.

We teach and lead others to Christ and then can barely find him for ourselves.

I am reminded of Elijah in the book of 1 Kings chapters 18 & 19.

Elijah was a mighty man of God.  He walked in obedience and risked his life time and again to bring the word of the Lord.

For instance, in 1 Kings 18 we find him battling it out with the priests of Baal with a mighty result,

“Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust.  It even licked up all the water in the trench!”  1 Kings 18:38 NLT 

A great work of the Lord to be followed by another miracle (Read 1 Kings 18:41-44) and then special strength,

“Then the Lord gave special strength to Elijah.  He tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to the entrance of Jezreel.” 1 Kings 18:46 NLT

All of this simply shows the Holy Spirit pouring through Elijah.  As God and Elijah worked as one, mighty miracles took place and a great witness of the Lord’s power was established.

And then that particular work was over and Elijah went off into the wilderness and we read,

“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”  1 Kings 19:4b NLT

After the great works of the Lord Elijah finds himself despondent and oh so very human. 

He is dejected and tired, to the point of wanting the Lord to take him.

Don’t we all feel this in our persons?  After a work of God pouring through us we are simply reminded of our humanity and the frailty of our hearts and minds and lives.

Praying healing over a crowd, speaking God’s heart to your congregation, visiting the sick and the down-trodden, all this and more carries a mark of God upon it, and when the work ceases for a time we must simply rest.

I suggest that the exhaustion after God’s work is simply very normal.  It is something we can in fact expect, always remembering that in that exhausted place the Lord cares for us.

“Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree.  But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!”  He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water!  So he ate and drank and lay down again. 

Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said,  “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”

So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.  There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.”  1 Kings 19:5-9 NLT

Ministering the Lord to others is not about us being larger than life.  It is about the extraordinary of God stirring through our very ordinary lives.

If we expect to be extraordinary, we will be disappointed and disillusioned.

No, rather it is our God who is extraordinary.  And in fact, when we feel very human, we can be sure we have just encountered our living God.

For it is the contrast of us and God that reminds us of our weakness.

The good news is that where we know we are weak there the Lord is strong indeed.

Time and again we find in the Bible promises and hope for those who are weak:

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” Isaiah 40:29 NLT

Paul himself said this, “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said,  “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”  So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT 

In all this we come to find that there is nothing to fear in weakness.

We find that our humanity and the frailty of being human is exactly what God wants to harness for his Kingdom.

When we know our weakness, when we feel our humanity, that is when we depend on God more than ever before, and that is when there is more room for God to work.

And through it all, the hardships, the deprivations, and the sacrifice we find as the Psalmist did,

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.”  Psalm 73:26 NLT 

Be strong in the Lord today, as you bring him your weakness.  Allow the Spirit to inhabit all of your life and simply be blessed today.

Application

The only thing, and most powerful thing, to do with our weaknesses is to dedicate them to the Lord, for his glory, and unto the Kingdom of God through us. 

  • Take some time to come to prayer and bring your weaknesses to God. 
  • Confess where you have been upset and angry about your weakness. 
  • Name the difficulty accompanied with your weakness. 
  • Tell God how you feel about your weakness. 
  • Then, commit your weakness to the glory of God, dedicate your weakness to his purposes. 

Prayer 

“God, today I come in the name and the blood of my Lord Jesus Christ. Father, you know this weakness that I have, you know how I have struggled with this, and you know the purposes you have through it. Today I commit even my weakness to your glory and honour and to your plans and purposes. I declare that my weakness will contain the strength of the Lord, in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen”

Summary – In Weakness

In our weakness God proves strong.  Psalm 73:26

We serve the Lord and he does the work through us.  Philippians 2:13

God takes our ordinary and makes it extraordinary.  John 14:12

The work belongs to the Lord, we are conduits of Him.  John 5:30

Chapter 11. Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

Capturing God’s Heart Volume #11 

We are all overwhelmed at one time or another.  Life has many dynamics to it, and we are often stretched beyond what we think we can do and beyond who we are.

And this is certainly true in ministry, where others are looking to us for answers and solutions and wisdom. In those times we are vulnerable to discouragement.

But I’ve discovered six principles that have helped to frame the challenges of our days and I want to share them with you.

1.  Lead with Generosity

History has shown that those who position themselves to bless others are leaders in the land. This is an opportunity that is open to any one of us at any time.

“They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor.  But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.”  

2 Corinthians 8:2 NLT

Generosity comes from the outflow of our relationship with the Lord and is based on who He is rather than our circumstances. (footnote #1)

Generosity is a hearts attitude that seeks to bless others.  It is a way of being in the world that is a blessing that honours and pours over others.

How might you lead in generosity today?

2.  Confess Fear

There are many things to be afraid of and many times we are frightened and shrinking back in fear.

Being afraid and fearful is normal.  There are so many verses in the Bible about ‘do not fear’ that we see fear to be a pretty normal problem for all of us in our humanity.

Yet just as many times we find these words, “Do not fear”, and in John we find Jesus saying this,

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.”  John 14:27 NLT 

The way to access the peace of Jesus Christ is to simply confess our fear, “God I am afraid.”

Rather than trying to not be afraid, “I will not be afraid, I will not be afraid, I will not…” which never works by the way (we cannot talk ourselves out of fear), open honesty about our fear secures us in the covering of God and submits our reality to him.

When we are afraid we simply confess, “God I am afraid” and the peace of Christ can takes its place in our lives. (footnote #2)

3. One Day at a Time

We can only live one day at a time, and it is important to discipline our minds and hearts to remain in that ‘one day at a time’.  In Proverbs we find good advice about staying in today and not living forward into tomorrow with pride,

“Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring.” Proverbs 27:1 NLT 

And in Matthew we find the same kind of advice but this time about worry,

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today’s trouble is enough for today” Matthew 6:34 NLT

Both of these verses tell us to simply live in today.  The tasks for today are enough for today.  The blessings of today are enough for today.  And all we need for today we have today.

The grace for tomorrow we do not have yet, for it is not yet tomorrow.

We simply live in today – One day at a time.

4.  Do with What We Have

While it is easy to think that we need this or must have more of that thing etc, we can in fact move forward with the present reality and resources more than we believe.

While there are certainly times of preparation and waiting on the timing of God, when it comes time to move forward or to stretch into that next thing, we do so regardless of what we think might be missing.

‘Doing with what we have’ works two ways.

One, we put to rest the reasoning that we cannot do such and such until we have this or that. We simply get on with the work regardless.

And two, we experience today in all its fullness.  What we need we have, and what we have we fully utilize.  No longer do we live out in the future when such and such will come to be.

Rather we find gratefulness and fulfillment in the here and now. (footnote #3)

Doing with what we have is the secret to joy and contentment in the here and now. And we find this truth,

“And God will generously provide all you need.  Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”  2 Corinthians 9:8  NLT

5.  Be Poured Out

The needs of hearts and souls around us are many.  Oftentimes we are insufficient for them, but in the knowledge of God and of who he is, and because we have found him in our own lives, we can follow His lead and give of ourselves.

“So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.” Ephesians 1:6  NLT 

Because of God’s pouring into us, we can pour into others.  Much like a healthy stream of water that comes from one place and goes to another, the act of being poured out ensures that there is a flowing spring of the spirit through our beings.

We take in the grace of God and we pour it out to others. (footnote #4)

6.  It’s Not Our Work

We come to see that as we minister to others that it is not our work.  We simply show up, and the Spirit works through us.

We therefore do not need allow overwhelm to stop us, or fear to hold us back.  Rather, we can boldly love and speak and minister because it is really the work of God that makes the difference.  We simply offer our lives to God’s touch. He does the rest. (footnote #5)

“There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord.  God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.”  

1 Corinthian 12:5-6 NLT 

  1. Lead in Generosity
  2. Confess Fear
  3. One Day at a Time
  4. Do with What we Have
  5. Be Poured Out
  6. It’s Not Our Work 

These provide a framework that gives strength to our days and direction for how we might be in the world.

The influence of our lives has little to do with us, and it has everything to do with God. 

As we live out of who God is, rather than our circumstances, we will find strength and encouragement in our days.  God bless each of you mightily, may you know him a little better today.

Application

1.  Set aside some time to come before the Lord.

2.  Invite the Holy Spirit’s revelation.

3.  For each of these six principles ask the Lord how to apply each in your own life: 

A.  Lead in Generosity,  B.  Confess Fear,  C.  One Day at a Time,  

D.  Do with What we Have,  E.  Be Poured Out,  F.  It’s Not Our Work

Prayer

“God we come before you in the name and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We enter into your kindness and your glory.  Thank you for inviting us to participate in your kingdom here on earth.  Teach us to walk well with you. 

God I want to move only at your direction and guidance.  I want you to be my guide.  I leave behind my own best ideas and I welcome your voice to show me how to live each day, how to interact with the people I am serving, and how to honour you in all my dealings.”

Summary – overwhelmed

The joy of the Lord overflows in generosity.   2 Corinthians 8:2

God’s peace washes away our fear.   John 14:27

Live in Today and we leave tomorrow with God.  Proverbs 27:1 

We live in the sufficiency of God, today is enough.  1 Timothy 6:6

Give of your heart generously to others.  Proverbs 11:25

Remember that we are not the Christ.  John 1:19-28

 

Footnotes: 

  1. I recall the time in my life that I had only a tiny bit of food in my home. I had been through much difficulty and I was having trouble feeding my children. We moved into a new neighbourhood and the children on our street were coming over to play and get to know my children. Previously, before the trouble in my life, I would have been eager and glad to have shared our food with these children as they came to visit. But since the trouble and because we had so little food I was hesitant and even afraid to share the little we had. My heart had become pinched and narrow and I was losing my ability to be generous. Yet, I realized one day that I had a decision to make. I could share our one apple with the children because I knew God would take care of us, or I could keep the apple and not share it because I only had a little bit of food after all. I decided to be generous based on who God is and not on my circumstances. As I look back on that time I realize that it was a critical decision point in my life. Would I be generous based on my circumstances or based on the God that I served? I am certain that each of us are faced with these kinds of decisions all the time. I ask you, do you lead in generosity based on your circumstances or on who you know God to be?
  2. I learned to confess my fear this way from the Holy Spirit. One night I was asleep in my bed and a demon came and took my head in my hands and turned it so forcefully that my body turned over as well and I became unable to move. Immediately, the Holy Spirit said to me these three things, 1. Confess your fear, 2. Say Jesus, 3. Tell it to go in the name of Jesus Christ. I did these things as best I could at the time and the demon left me. Ever since, whenever I realize I am afraid, I simply speak out these words, “Jesus I am afraid.” I don’t try to pretend that I am not afraid and I don’t try to be unafraid on my own, rather, I give my fear to Jesus. In this way the fear is brought into the light and it loses it’s authority to affect us. Confessing our fear, simply saying it out loud that we are afraid, brings us into the light of God and we immediately feel the peace of God soaking into our hearts and minds. 
  3. To ground ourselves into each day it is important to stop what we are doing and to give thanks for the things immediately around us, the state of our heart in that moment, and the physical reality of our bodies. For instance, “I am thankful to be in Uganda as I write this. The day is cool and I have my sweater on — it feels good on my arms. The birds are singing and I am able to rest a moment. Thank you Lord.”
  4. When the Lord first began asking me to be poured out I was terrified. I thought he was telling me to become completely empty, and yet I found that this is not what he meant. God knows the principle that as we are generous with ourselves, as we pour out to others an expansive heart, compassion, listening, and kindness, that he is the one who fills us with these things. As we give out of our souls he pours into our souls. But his pouring in doesn’t work unless we are pouring out. We must become the river of the Lord’s living water. Once we begin to take risks to give  of our lives in a way that seems too much for us, we will find that God pours into us and all is fine. He supplies what we need as we give out as he asks of us.
  5. There is an organization in Los Angeles, California that feeds the people living on the streets. They make and distribute meals to some 600 men and women 4-5 days a week. They have been doing this for years. I spoke with the man in charge of this operation some years ago. I was realizing that with all that we do, even with our own great sacrifices and service to others, that it is never really enough. There is always more that can be done. And so I asked this man, “How do you continue on when all that you are doing is still not enough?” And he answered me this, “Do you recall where the priests and levites came to John the Baptist in prison inquiring into who he was, and John told them, ‘I am not the Christ’. Well, this is what I remember, I am not the Christ.” As we are in service within the Kingdom of God we must remember that we are not the Christ. We do what we can. We respond to the call of God upon our lives. We serve and we sacrifice as the Lord leads us. But then, we leave the rest up to God. For we are not the Christ.

 

A Theology of Suffering

Today we share one of our chapters from CCIM College:

Chapter 63:  A Theology of Suffering

“For the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service.  Whether he tries to enter a dislocated world, relate to a convulsive generation, or speak to a dying man, his service will not be perceived as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he speaks.  Thus nothing can be written about ministry without a deeper understanding of the ways in which the minister can make his own wounds available as a source of healing.”  Henri Nouwen  

In plain words:  Each person must recognize the suffering of others as our very own suffering.  We must minister from a familiarity of sorrow, loss, brokenness, and despair in order to gather with others in a common human way.  Our service will not be real to others until we come in the same vulnerability as the ones we serve.  As we are aware of our wounds, Jesus can use these to touch and heal others.

As this diagram shows, our theology about pain and suffering can land in wild extremes.  We may have come to believe that pain is ‘the way’ of God; that we are not ‘with God’ unless we are experiencing pain and suffering.  In contrast to this, we may have come to believe that pain and suffering would never be part of our experience once we trust in Jesus; we may believe we are not ‘with God’ if we are suffering.

theology of suffering diagram

If we do not have a wise theology of pain and suffering we may believe for instance that in our suffering God does not love us or that we are not worthy of his love.  This is a lie from the pit of hell.

On the other extreme, we may fall into a belief that God gives us pain on purpose and that suffering is our calling in life.  We may have come to believe ‘all things happen for a reason’ as a way to accept and become complacent about pain.  This too is a lie.

While God can use suffering he does not need suffering to grow and mature us.  Even though we suffer we can know that God still does love us.  Suffering does not disqualify us from his love.  As we turn to God in our suffering we find strength, just as we would find strength in God turning to him when we are not suffering, (suffering is not the key to strength, turning to God is).

It is important to note that there is no value in pain.  Pain does not carry anything worthwhile.  The only solution to pain and suffering is to draw close to God.  Close into the Lord we find comfort and strength and peace that is beyond what we can find on our own, Philippians 4:7.  God delights to draw near to us in our pain and suffering.

The suffering we experience may be due to a number of things.  These might include:

  1. Suffering comes because we live in a broken world
  2. Suffering can be a result of sin in our lives
  3. Suffering can be participation with the work of the Lord
  4. We may experience suffering as we come into holiness

We will look at these one by one:

1.  We Live in a Broken World 

We suffer because we live in a broken world.  When mankind gave over the authority of earth to Satan many bad things spiralled into place and we will not be completely free of this until Christ returns to establish the new heaven and the new earth.

We must keep this in mind.  Our human brain wants to bring meaning to everything.  We want to understand and name this and that and consequently we sometimes make wrong conclusions.  Sometimes we accuse others of sin when really their trouble is because we live in a broken world.  Sometimes this is all we can say.  Often in fact, this is all we can say.

There are unaccountable difficulties and the people experiencing those difficulties are not to be shunned or rejected or gossiped about or judged because of their difficulties.  It is weak and immature people who condemn others for their trouble.  It is the pagans who reject others for their suffering — the children of God don’t do this.  It is the enemy who would attack others when they are down.  God does not do this and neither should we.

Rather, we allow for suffering in our understanding of this world and we purpose to come alongside those who are suffering.  Just as Jesus came as a friend in suffering so we can be this same way to others.

It is a tragedy for instance, that in some parts of the world the crippled and lame are condemned and avoided, rejected and despised simply because their body does not work like ours.  This is wrong.  This is of the enemy.  When we participate in rejection and condemnation of others we are doing Satan’s job.

Consider the following passage:

“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born bling? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” John 9:1-3 NLT 

Jesus cut right through the false thinking that assumed there was sin involved in the man blind from birth.  Jesus halted hearts of condemnation that would hold a persons disability against them.  It is Satan that would have us hurting those already hurt, that would have us rejecting those already struggling with life, that would have us condemning those less able.  God does not do this.

A lot of our suffering is simply because we live in a broken world.

2.  We suffer when we sin 

We suffer when we sin.  God does not just fix things for us.  Even with the covering of Christ there is still a natural outworking and justice process of restoration, a coming out of sin and into the light of God for each and every one of us.  Sin always brings suffering to those we sin against and to our own lives.

Often (not all the time as we just discussed), but often, our suffering is a consequence of our sin.  This must be worked out.  We must come to the Lord confessing, repenting, bringing our sin to the cross of Christ.  As we do this we begin to mature in character, humility, sober self awareness, with growth in our integrity, and right-living in this world.

This we enter into.  We welcome the maturity that comes of confessing our sins and realizing the suffering we have caused ourselves and others.

The Psalmist said, “Finally I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt.  I said to myself,  ‘I will confess my sins to the LORD.’  And you forgave me!  All my guilt is gone.”  Psalms 32:5 NLT 

“As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,” 1 Peter 1:15 ESV 

“There are six things the Lord hates — no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family” 

Proverbs 6:16-19 NLT 

When we violate the goodness of God with our sin we will suffer.

* VERY IMPORTANT:  We recognize and come into the chastisement of the Lord for ourselves.  We do not use this to condemn or judge or hate or reject others.  This is always for you and I personally.  It is not a theology that now allows us to destroy another’s life because we have judged that they have not been holy.

Let us speak plainly.  Where religion has gone bad is this exact thing.  We know we are to be holy (this is good) but then we turn it on others, condemning them, reviling them, cursing them, (this is bad), when we do this we are not living the heart of our Father unto this world, (this would be our new sin).

In our flesh and in our ego we are very glad to call-out others as sinners.  Yet, this snarling kind of attitude against others is NOT the spirit of our Lord but rather of the enemy.

So, look at your own sin, deal with your own sin.  Ask God to show you YOUR heart.  You are not qualified to look at another’s heart and to give correct judgment, only God is qualified to do this.

Do not use Biblical and Godly truths to attack others.  Become a better person than this.

3.  Suffering can be participation with the work of the Lord 

As part of the work of our Lord we are often called to suffer with, to come in empathy, to weep, to sorrow, and to suffer alongside others.   We lament and we labor, willingly and gladly.  Suffering as a response to a broken world is worship, it is holy, it is the work of our Lord.  Suffering with others is to co-labor with Christ.

Suffering that is participatory in the work for the gospel becomes a privilege and an immense honour.  Our hearts and minds come to understand and say,  “If this (whatever it may be) can lead others to the grace and love of God then yes, yes indeed, I am glad to suffer this way!” 

It is the difference of this, for instance:

Scenario A – We see someone crippled from birth.  We call it sin.  We reject that family, the mother, the child.  We call them bad and wrong for we believe that God has punished them.  We tell others to avoid them, to reject then also.  We stay far away from them.  We condemn them.  We spread rumours about them.  We talk bad about any who might help them.

Contrast this with another way of response:

Scenario B – We see someone crippled from birth.  We realize how terrible this is for both the child and the mother.  We draw close.  We see what we can do to help.  We support them in any way we can.  We bring food when we pass by, and we stop in to see what we might get them from town.  We help them, we welcome them, we pray for them, we love them.

Which scenario,  A or B, is a godly response?  Which scenario would honour our Lord?

Which scenario expresses the love of God?  The answer is, Scenario B.

“By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:35 ESV 

God is calling us to come alongside each other and this may mean suffering with those who are suffering. As we come alongside those on the fringes of society, the outcasts and those rejected, we open ourselves up to suffering too, to rejection and to condemnation.  But this is the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is as we draw close to those suffering the most that we prove we know the love of The Father.

Here is another example:

Scenario A – There is a girl in our village who has been raped.  We call her bad and wrong.  We reject her, we condemn her, we despise her.  We find out she is pregnant.  We increase our rejection and our condemnation and we despise her even more.  When she has the baby we reject him, we despise him, we condemn him, we refuse him.  The girl has to leave the village because of the hatred of the villagers.

Contrast this with another way of responding:

Scenario B – There is a girl in our village who has been raped.  We do what is in our power to ensure that the man who raped her is brought to justice of some kind.  We bring emotional support to the girl.  We validate and affirm that rape should have never happened to her and we are so very sorry.  We learn that she is pregnant from this rape.

Our hearts ache for her.  We realize how hard it will be for her to raise her child and in this hateful world how hard it will be to find a man who will love her and marry her in the future.  But we come alongside, we share our food so the baby inside her can grow strong and well.  And when she gives birth to the child we celebrate with her because babies are always a gift from God.  We stand in support of her and both she and her child grow in the love and knowledge of God and community.  *

* (These two examples represent and sum up the primary mindsets of rejection and condemnation by which the majority of this world is kept in poverty.  We cannot expect the blessing of the Lord if we are carrying on in the spirit of satan.  Until we learn to love others, to receive them, to help them, to care for those who need our care, we will not have space in our hearts to receive the love of God for ourselves. The world over, men and women carry on the assignments of the enemy and call it godly – this must stop.)

Does Scenario A or B represent the heart of God in this world?  The answer is, Scenario B.

To create impact and healing and bring justice to this world will depend on people who are willing to enter into the mess and suffer as they act out the heart of God in this world.  If our suffering is for the sake of the gospel we can then be sure that this suffering is participating with Christ.  In this way, it does a work of the Lord on this earth.

In the most extreme cases of suffering, as a direct result of persecution and when people go to their deaths for the sake of the gospel, we can be sure that the world takes notice.  The world may realize that there is something very real about Jesus and about love and a life that can stare down death (or mockery, misunderstanding, rejection, and the condemnation of others).  If we are called to suffer for the gospel we can do so by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”  Matthew 16:24 NLT

God is right there with us.  We may be called to suffer, not as a badge of honour or something to brag about, but as a deep understanding that if we are suffering for the gospel then we can be brave and courageous.

And the grace of God is there as we need it.  In our moments of need the presence of the Lord surrounds us with peace that passes understanding.  The bible never promises all things good in God.  In fact, there is a deep warning that the gospel may require you to participate in the sufferings of Christ. *

* (But make no mistake, this does not mean that God ordains evil.)

4.  the Suffering of coming into holiness 

And finally, there is suffering as we submit our whole hears and lives to God.  As our sinful ways are removed we experience this as suffering.  As we are stripped of pride, broken of ego, cleansed of ill-motives, healed of sin, we think we are suffering.  Consider that a child with a badly broken arm must suffer a re-breaking if he is to have full use of the arm.  This kind of suffering is that of a child in the hands of a loving father who sees and understands much more than the child.  So are we in the hands of our Lord.  God takes much care with our lives but sometimes it feels like suffering.

Coming out of sin and into holiness feels like suffering.  Our selfish ways are exposed.  Our pride is taken down.  Our false motives are brought to light.  To participate in the gospel we are called to be made holy, to have the fire of God burn the dross  away.

Circumcision of our hearts is first understood and experienced as suffering,  Deuteronomy 30:6;  Deuteronomy 10:16.  We love our sin.  We love our hatreds.  We love our rebellion and our self pity and our greed.  Yet, the gospel demands that we suffer the removal of these things from the landscapes of our heart, our thinking and our lives.

There are things our natural humanity want that must be put to death as we choose to follow God.  There will be losses and hurts and sacrifices as we walk with God.

God sometimes asks us to lay down our own best ideas, our plans, our wisdoms.  We may even be called to lay down our needs to look good to others, to understand all things, to make sense of everything, to prove we are right, and more — we put these things down in service to the King of Kings.

We come to understand that our lives do not belong to us, but that we are invited into a great work alongside our Lord Jesus Christ.

“He was despised and forsaken of men,  a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;  and like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we did not esteem him.  Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried;  Yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3-12 NASB

At the end of the day, whether we are suffering or not, our focus is to be Jesus and with our trust resting solid in him.  Turned to Jesus we are made strong and whole and healthy from the inside out.  We don’t need suffering for this, just a heart that loves and seeks the Lord no matter what.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.  Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”  Jeremiah 17:7-8

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart;  I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 ESV

In Isaiah we find a summary of the suffering of Jesus who loves us:

“3  He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.  We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.  He was despised, and we did not care. 4   Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!  5   But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.  6   All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.  7   He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word.  He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.  8   Unjustly condemned, he was led away.  No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream.  But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.  9   He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone.  But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.  10  But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief.   Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants.  He will enjoy a long life,  and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.  11  When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,  he will be satisfied.  And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.  12  I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death.  He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.” Isaiah 53:3-12 NLT

Prayer:

“God we come before you today in the name and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thank you Lord for your sacrifice of suffering on our behalf.  Thank you that you hold back the worst of evil that may come against us.  Thank you for bringing comfort and peace to our lives even when things are not going well.  May we learn to turn to you in all things.  Jesus, be our wisdom as we go through life. 

God we ask that you would purify our thinking about suffering.  May we not claim suffering and pain as authored by you.  May we not blame you for our troubles or hardship but may we turn to you even when things are going badly.  May we remain in our knowledge of you as good, as kind, and as loving, even when we do not understand the difficulties all around us.  

Then, give us grace and bigger understanding so that we may come in compassion to all people in their suffering.  Remove from us sins of condemnation and blame.  Gives gifts of lament and shared grief as we walk life alongside our friends and family and all we know as they go through hard times.  May we be a light within the darkness of this world.  We love you.  Amen” 

Application: 

Take your entire life and dedicate it to the Lord for his glory and honour and your delight and future.  The enemy would twist up your suffering for his means, but we can give our suffering to the Lord which takes it out of the enemies hands and declares it for the glory of the Lord.  Suffering changes as we do this.  May God heal us and do a work to remove the attacks of the enemy to us through suffering.

It can be good to suffer in the work of Christ as participation with him, it is not good to suffer because the enemy is working against us.  We want to claim all and any suffering as belonging to God, for then, even in the midst of suffering we are kept and carried by the grace of the Lord.

“God, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I stand before you once more, again claiming that my life, all the good and the bad and the ugly is given to you for your glory.  I reserve and preserve my life 100% for your glory and honour.  I give you all the praise God.  Amen and amen.” 

Summary – A Theology of Suffering: 

We live in a broken world (that causes suffering)   John 9:1-3

We suffer when we sin   Proverbs 6:16-19

Suffering can be participation with Christ    Matthew 16:24

God strengthens us in our suffering     Jeremiah 17:7-8

God understands suffering     Isaiah 53:3-12