Thursday, May 1, 2014

Suffering and Mercy

As we go through the fires and trials of our life, we often try to make sense of why bad things happen, or why our suffering continues on and on (it seems) without respite.  We try to make sense of it according to our human logic:  Why did God allow this to happen to me and why does it continue…”  Pain is viewed as something bad to be avoided, and our prayers are often for deliverance from it.  This is a natural human response and there is no condemnation for desiring to be free from pain.  How are we to make sense of seemingly senseless situations?  Doesn’t God want to bless us and help us live the victorious Christian life?

Does it occur to us that suffering itself can be an instrument of God’s mercy – that it is God’s love at work in us?  What kind of people would we be if we could always get what we want and have it our way?  I don’t know about you, but my character needs developed and refined; and (unfortunately!) having a life without suffering doesn't do it for me.  I’ve even tried praying this way before:  “Lord, if only I did not have to deal with this situation, if only you would remove this thorn from my life, then I could serve you so much better.”  But, we deceive ourselves.  The very barrier, or thorn in the flesh, that I think is keeping me from doing God’s will, may very well be the very tool that He wants to use to shape me into the image of Christ.  He is more interested in who I am than in what I do; and that is True Love.

For those of you who are struggling with some difficult situation (probably all of us), I would like to encourage you with a letter written by Brother Lawrence, the 17th century French monk who is famous for his classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God.  I had tried reading this book several times over the past ten years and never could get into it.  But a couple weeks ago, while looking for something to read before going to sleep, I noticed this book again.  The following letter, written by Bro. Lawrence to a friend, caught my attention and spoke to my heart, so I thought to share it with you as well.

Eleventh Letter
     “I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains, but I pray God earnestly that He would give you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases.  Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross.  He will loose you when He thinks fit.  Happy those who suffer with Him.  Accustom yourself to suffer in that manner, and seek from Him the strength to endure as much, as long, as He shall judge to be necessary for you.  The men of the world do not comprehend these truths, nor is it to be wondered at, since they suffer like what they are, and not like Christians.  They consider sickness as a pain to nature and not as a favor from God; and seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress.  But those who consider sickness as coming from the hand of God, as the effect of His mercy, and the means which He employs for their salvation – such commonly find in it great sweetness and sensible consolation.
     I wish you could convince yourself that God is often (in some sense) nearer to us, and more effectually present with us, in sickness than in health.  Rely upon no other physician; for, according to my apprehension, He reserves your cure to Himself.  Put, then, all your trust in Him, and you will soon find the effects of it in your recovery, which we often retard by putting greater confidence in physic than in God.
     Whatever remedies you make use of, they will succeed only so far as He permits.  When pains come from God, He only can cure them.  He often sends diseases of the body to cure those of the soul.  Comfort yourself with the sovereign Physician both of the soul and body.
     Be satisfied with the condition in which God places you; however happy you may think me, I envy you.  Pains and sufferings would be a paradise to me while I should suffer with my God, and the greatest pleasures would be hell to me if I could relish them without Him.  All my consolation would be to suffer something for His sake.
     I must, in a little time, go to God.  What comforts me in this life is that I now see Him by faith; and I see Him in such a manner as might make me say sometimes, I believe no more, but I see.  I feel what faith teaches us, and in that assurance and that practice of faith I will live and die with Him.
     Continue, then, always with God; it is the only support and comfort for your affliction.  I shall beseech Him to be with you.  I present my service.
                I am,
                Yours …..”

I think it is normal, and even acceptable to God, for us to pray for healing from sickness and deliverance from hardships.  He is our heavenly Father who cares for us greatly.  It is right for us to seek the wisdom we need to overcome our problems.  God can, and does, relieve us sometimes from our trials because of His great mercy.  But, when we cry out for mercy, and it doesn’t come in the form that we desire, then we need to trust that He is still merciful.  When we've done all that we know to do and the problem's still there, then it's time to ask Him what He wants to teach us, and how He wants to change us.  Despite what my flesh wants, the truth is that I am more in need of healing from my soul sickness more than I am in need of the healing of my body.  As I read through Bro. Lawrence’s letter, I was reminded of these verses from 2 Corinthians chapter 4.

     “But we have this treasure in clay vessels, so that the extraordinary character of the power may be of God and not of us; in everything being oppressed, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; cast down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, so that also the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body. For we who are living are always handed over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifest in our body…..
     Therefore we do not despair, but even if our outward man is being destroyed, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is working out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are for a season, but the things which are not seen last forever.”

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Brother Nathan

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