Enduring Suffering and Hardship

In 1989, I suffered a sudden and complete loss of hearing.  Prior to this moment I had, of course, envisioned certain plans for my life.  But God stepped in and changed my life.  In fact, He did so with such suddenness that it was as if He had hit me with a stun gun.  

God sometimes surprises us in unexpected or unforeseen ways.   God’s purpose in doing so may be to bring about our surrender to His will.  In my own case, as a result of the dramatic change in the course of my life I consecrated my life to Him and have since been strengthened in my desire to lead a consistent Christian life knowing that He has a perfect will and plan for me.

It is through times of suffering and hardship and through patiently enduring difficulties, that God teaches us priceless lessons in life.

In a sense, life may be compared to a lawn chair, liable to buckle and collapse without forewarning.  But physical limitations need not limit the spirit.  Struck down does not mean destroyed.  It gets dark when a train enters a tunnel but that is no reason to throw away your ticket and jump off.  Instead you sit still and trust the engineer (Corrie Ten Boom).  In the same manner, I decided to press ahead in my life in spite of the odds against me.  It is important to remember to not lose heart even when circumstances seem to be at their worst.  

Never waste time by standing in line to complain.  Instead, recognize that God often prepares people through an extended period of waiting to shape their character and give them a greater depth of knowledge in the Scripture.  Joseph was a man who could have been very bitter.  He had been the object of his brothers’ hostility as well as suffered numerous other injustices.  But Joseph did not yield to complaining because he saw God’s hand in his circumstances.  Even Joseph’s years in prison were a time of training for his eventual rule over the nation.  God overruled the evil intent of Josephs’ brothers for his good (Genesis 50:20).

A pertinent thought was found scratched into the brick wall of a prison cell in the Tower of London.  It read, “It is not adversity that kills, but the impatience with which we bear the adversity.” Face the reality and recognize that because God has allowed this trial to come into my life, He must have some good purpose in it.   Perhaps, for the moment, I don’t know what that purpose is, but one day it will be known to me.  In the meantime, it develops strong Christian character in my life.

It is through times of suffering and hardship and through patiently enduring difficulties, that God teaches us priceless lessons in life.  At the end of the course, one may say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71, KJV).  Nathaniel Hawthorne, the novelist, has stated, “Happiness in life is like a butterfly, which when pursued is always beyond our grasp. But if you sit down quietly, it may alight upon you.”  God is always available and has the best plan for us. This does not mean that we will be spared from pain, suffering, and hardship. But it does mean that God will see us through to a glorious end.

There will be many ups and down in our Christian life.  One day may find us delighting in a mountaintop experience while the next finds us sloughing through the valley of tears.  Nevertheless when we pass that valley of difficulty, in the midst of sorrow, we may transform tragedies into triumphs and use the misfortune as a stepping stone to reach even greater heights.  We call it a “Fortune of Misfortune”.  The American poet James Russell Lowell said, “Mishaps are knives that either serve or cut us as we grasp by the blade or by the handle.”

The trials which God permits to arise in our lives are designed to bring out the best in us.  Never be despondent or discouraged.  No problem is too great for our Lord to solve.  As the pilgrimage progresses, instead of growing weaker we go from strength to strength.  The old man will perish but the inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).

The Christian life is a long journey.  Do not wait for great strength before starting out because immobility will weaken you further.  Do not wait for perfect vision before venturing forth but rather walk towards the light.  God will first empty us before the refilling takes place.

The Bible records accounts of how a servant of the Lord would enjoy a mountaintop experience but then the Lord would allow that same man to suffer a thorn in the flesh.  God blessed Jacob but afterwards he was left with a limp which remained with him for the rest of his life.  Spiritual victory and triumph often come through physical frailty and spiritual strength through physical weakness.

God’s unhurried purpose is to strengthen and mature us through pressure.  “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Psalm 4:1).  The Bible does not always give specific answers to the innumerable problems that arise in our life.  God’s Word does, however, provide general principles applicable to problems as they arise day by day.  It is for this reason that wisdom is needed.  Spiritual wisdom is the practical application of our Lord’s teaching to everyday situations.  

Do not wait for great strength before starting out because immobility will weaken you further.  Do not wait for perfect vision before venturing forth but rather walk towards the light.

In my own life, I at first found myself trying to hide my weakness and problem from others.  At length, I was forced to acknowledge it.  Finally, I came to grips with my changed life and was able to embrace it as a positive blessing in my life.   

Sometimes problems in life are removed when we have learned our lessons from them. As soon as the refiner sees his reflection in the metal, he turns off the heat.  “For He hath torn, and He will heal us, He hath smitten, and He will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).   

At times, the trial in life may actually be a chastening act of love from the Lord so that we return to Him.  The Bible says, “I wound and I heal” (Deuteronomy 32:39).  Many of us fail to consider this possible aspect of God’s intervention in our lives.

A period of apprenticeship is necessary to become a good steward of God.  Trials bring about the compassion and the faithfulness to be a skilled minister of God.  Importantly, perseverance and steadfastness are developed as well.

Often our helplessness is an opportunity for the Lord to help us. God will not allow us to be tested beyond what we are able.  God has promised a way of escape. But the Lord is not in a hurry.  God does everything beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).  Therefore, be brave in distress and valiant in affliction and endure all difficulties for the sake of the elect and we shall also reign with Him.

C. M. John – Renew In Knowledge Core Team Member

C. M. John is an evangelist and elder at Kundara Brethren Assembly in Kerala, India. He is the author of several Christian books. 

Living with Joy in a Broken World

It is the season for Christmas carols. Perhaps one of the most well-known and familiar is Joy to the World. Written by Isaac Watts, the hymn is based on Psalm 98 with excerpts from Genesis 3:17-18.

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Yet what many may not recognize is this popular hymn celebrates Christ’s second coming as much as His first. It looks forward to the time when Jesus will reign the whole earth. The third stanza stands out from the rest.

No more let sins and sorrows grow.
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found

We live in a broken world where the curse of sin reaches to every corner and heart of this world. One only has to read the newspapers or watch the news or look into his own home to see the effects the curse brought into this world by the fall of man. The perfect world created by God the Father was broken by the sin of Adam and now all of creation groans under the bondage of sin. (Ro. 8)

Christ entered this broken world in order to free mankind from the burden of sin and death. For all who believe, there is freedom and hope and the promise that this earth is not permanent. There is a day coming when the perfect garden will be restored and all who know Christ as Savior will live with Him in the new heaven and new earth. (Rev. 21-22)

Yet how are believers to live in the in between? How are believing Christians who know these truths and sing these beautiful Christmas carols to live in the midst of brokenness and pain? Holidays are supposed to be filled with love and full of joy. Yet for those hurting and grieving, holidays can be times filled with pain and sadness.

Where does the person turn when life is hard? Living between the two advents of Christ, knowing He has come and He will come, how does one live with joy in the midst of sorrow? Many books have been written, many songs composed, many sermons preached addressing the pain of the holidays. The intention of this article is to set forth some principles that may be helpful in living with joy in a broken world and with a broken heart.

Principle #1 is Finding Joy. This world promises happiness. The constitution of the United States declares the pursuit of happiness to be one of three unalienable rights given to all human beings by their Creator. This pursuit of happiness is supposedly protected by the government. Yet one does not need to live long in order to recognize how fleeting happiness is. One can be happy with one’s job only to be unhappy a month later. One can be happy with one’s spouse, only to be unhappy a year later. One can be happy with one’s home, or car or diet and then unhappy all within a day. Happiness is elusive because it is a feeling.

Joy, however, is more than a feeling. Joy is a state of mind and for the believer joy is found in the person of Jesus Christ. ‘Joy to the World’ as Isaac Watts wrote has come because Jesus Christ has been born. Believers can know joy in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances. Joy is found in knowing and trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Choosing joy means to be purposeful and deliberate. It is not hoping the day will be good or that nothing will trigger a painful memory of the one who has gone. It is taking captive thoughts that are negative and spirally downward.

The loss of a child is perhaps the most painful of losses. To bury a child is to go against the natural events of a life. People marry, have children, grow old and their children take care of them in their old age. Eventually, the children bury their parents. That is the logical sequence of events. The death of a child reverses that order. For parents who have planned their child’s funeral and burial there is a sense that everything has gone awry.

Our family is living in the midst of such loss. Two years ago our 21-year-old son was hit by a drunk driver while crossing a street in College Station, Texas. Sustaining severe brain trauma, our family made the heartbreaking decision to take him off life support and let him go on to his forever home.

Yet in the midst of searing pain and loss, knowing Jesus brings comfort and even joy. There is the promise that this world is not home. There is a promise that Christ has overcome death and so too will believers. There is joy in knowing the suffering is not forever yet glory and heaven are. This leads to the second principle.

Principle #2 is Choosing Joy. One can know these truths yet life is still hard. The holidays bring to surface the pain that for the most part can be contained. There is a person for whom one wants to buy Christmas presents and plan meals for and that person is gone. There is the devastation of looking at a stocking that will not be filled. There is the heartache that things are not as they should be.

So how does one live knowing joy and yet still grieving? It is a choice. Just as one deliberately chooses what to wear or where to drive, those grieving must deliberately choose joy. It is choosing to believe the promises of God’s Word. It is intentionally memorizing Scriptures filled with promises of joy. Jesus told his disciples as they grieved his impending departure ‘Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice and no one will take away your joy’ John 16:22 (NIV).

Choosing joy means to be purposeful and deliberate. It is not hoping the day will be good or that nothing will trigger a painful memory of the one who has gone. It is taking captive thoughts that are negative and spirally downward. It is choosing to look past the pain of this world to the promises of the next. It is an eternal perspective that allows one to live with joy even with a broken heart. It is reading God’s Word and holding onto the truths found there. This is helped by the last principle.

Principle #3 is Spreading Joy. It is living out the advice of Proverbs 3:27. ‘Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act’. Simple acts of kindness and mercy shown during the holiday season will brighten the lives of others and bring joy to the one spreading it.

Take the time to buy presents for those not on the regular Christmas list. Spread joy by being a ‘Secret Santa’ to a family who may also be hurting. Giving the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ to someone anonymously is another way to spread joy. There is a sweet joy in giving to someone else for the pleasure of giving expecting nothing in return. It is the purest form of giving. Writing notes of encouragement to others who have faced loss can also brighten the day for the receiver as well as the giver. Spreading joy can be contagious. It has the concept of paying something positive forward. When the person receiving the gifts or notes is moved to do so for another, the idea of contagious joy has caught on.

One can know joy. One can intentionally choose joy and one can spread joy. The holidays can be embraced even through tears. Whatever pain and suffering this broken world presents, the apostle Paul reminded believers they would not be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. (Ro. 8) When believers suffer great loss and pain yet keep their eyes on Christ and choose joy, God is glorified.

Kimberly Kennedy – Guest Contributor

Kimberly and her husband have four children, one of whom is already in his forever home. She teaches God’s Word through BSF International.

The God-Walkers

A few brave souls are God-walkers. They walk with the Almighty. Should you ever meet one, you’ll never be the same.

Enoch was a God-walker. The Bible says, “Enoch walked with God three hundred years.”1 The same is true of every God-walker. They’re in it for the long haul. This distinguishes them from wannabes, who take a few steps and then turn back. God-walkers stay the course. It doesn’t matter how tough it gets. They keep on walking.

This was the case with Noah. The Bible says, “Noah walked with God.”2 He did so in a world much like our own. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”3 It didn’t stop Noah. He walked with God when no one else did.

God-walkers are God-like, for step by step they are “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”4 That’s what makes them so different from other people. They live separated, holy lives, for they follow the God who said, “Be holy, because I am holy.”5

God-walkers aren’t perfect, mind you. Sometimes they stumble. Sometimes they fall. King David was such a man. God said, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.”6 Not long after, David fell flat on his face. He took another man’s wife and had him killed. God sent a prophet to rebuke David, saying, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?”7 David repented, confessed his sin, got up, and started walking again. Read the Psalms, and you will know that David was a God-walker.

Elijah was also a God-walker. Kings feared him. After one of his greatest victory, however, Elijah fell apart. “I have had enough,” he told God. “Take my life.”8 God encouraged Elijah in “a gentle whisper.”9 Like David, Elijah got up and started walking.

God-walkers are God-like, for step by step they are “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”

Occasionally, God-walkers get spirited away. That’s what happened to Elijah. One day, a chariot swooped down from heaven, scooped him up, and he was gone. The same thing happened to Enoch. The Bible says, “Enoch walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away.”10 The Bible says Enoch “obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.”11 Someday, Christ is going to come in the clouds and whisk all God-walkers up into heaven. These are men and women of whom “the world was not worthy.”12

Of course, the only perfect God-walker was the Lord Jesus. God declared Him such, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight.”13 His walk with the Father was like none other, such that He could say, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me.”14 At the end of His life, His final steps on earth completed, God took Him up. “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”15

Are there God-walkers on earth today? There are, but don’t expect one to come up to you and say, “Hey, look at me. I’m a God-walker.” Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”16

So, how might you spot a God-walker? Look for someone like Jesus, someone who walks “in the same manner as he walked,”17 and who touches others the way he did. Jesus promises the person who believes in Him that “rivers of living water”18 shall flow “from his innermost being.”19 Find a person like that, and you’ve found a God-walker.

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was such a person. For 55 years, she served in India, helping girls and young women escape sexual slavery. Read Carmichael’s poetry, and you will know that she walked with God.

Jim Elliot (1930-1956) was also a God-walker. He was martyred at age 28 while trying to tell primitive tribal people in Ecuador about the Lord. I had a friend who met him briefly and said there was nothing special about him. After Elliot’s death, my friend read his published diary. Then he knew. Jim Elliot had walked with God.

Maybe someday you’ll meet a God-walker. Should you be so privileged, you will be changed forever.

Maybe someday you’ll be a God-walker. Why not? Has not Jesus invited all of us to walk with Him, saying, “Follow me”20? Is this not what God desires most from us? The prophet Micah writes:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?21

James G. McCarthy – Guest Contributor

James G. McCarthy is an instructor in the Discipleship Intern Training Program (theditp.com) and the author of several books on the Christian faith, including The Gospel According to Rome.

1. Genesis 5:22 NASB; 2. Genesis 6:9 NASB; 3. Genesis 6:5 NIV; 4. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB; 5. 1 Peter 1:16 NIV; 6. Acts 13:22 NASB; 7. 2 Samuel 12:9 NIV; 8. 1 Kings 18:4 NASB; 9. 1 Kings 19:12 NIV; 10. Genesis 5:24 NET; 11. Hebrews 11:5 NASB; 12. Hebrews 11:37 NASB; 13. Matthew 3:17 NWT (J. N. Darby); 14. John 14:11 NASB; 15. Acts 1:9 NASB; 16. Matthew 23:12 NASB; 17. 1 John 2:6 NASB; 18. John 7:38 NASB; 19. John 7:38 NASB; 20. John 1:43 NASB; 21. Micah 6:8 NKJ