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Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

The book of Lamentations consists of 5 poems of lament, or expressions of sorrow and mourning that come from great suffering. The context for the book as a whole is the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/586 BC by the Babylonians. This judgment of God for Israel’s unfaithfulness was long foretold, but here having been experienced, the full impact of the grief and pain are expressed. It’s possible, but not certain, that the prophet Jeremiah wrote this book, which is why it shows just up after the book of Jeremiah in our Bibles.

Our text, in chapter 3, is the first part of the the third poem. This whole poem is an acrostic where every 3 lines of text begin with the 22 successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This passage contains an amazing expression of hope for the future, from a person who knows suffering and hopelessness, which can help us to know how to think more clearly about our own hope for the future, no matter what our context might be. Let’s begin with the writer’s –

Great suffering and hopelessness

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.

God’s judgment is described as affliction, wrath and darkness. And it is relentless.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.

These verses speak to his lack of health, his suffering and how he is like someone who is in Sheol, the realm of the dead, which is a place of darkness.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.

There is no way out from his suffering and God is not answering his prayers.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.

He is like a person mauled and torn apart by a wild animal, like the target for an archer. 

13 He drove into my kidneys
the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
he has sated me with wormwood.

He is full of arrows, he is shamed and full of bitterness. Wormwood is a plant with a bitter taste.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

He has no peace, he can’t remember what happiness is, and his endurance is gone. This is a person who knows what hopelessness feels like, as he says in v. 18, my hope has perished. Then the poem goes on to talk about –

Finding hope again

 19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.

21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

He gives a brief prayer for God to remember his suffering, because he can only remember it and be overwhelmed by it. But v. 21 begins in a different direction. This is where he remembers who God is, and this gives him hope.

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Remembering who God is, gives him hope. Specifically two qualities are mentioned:

  • “steadfast love” – which can be translated as kindness, faithful love or great love.
  • “mercies” or compassion. It is the love that a parent has for a child.

And then God’s “faithfulness” in giving this steadfast love and mercy is highlighted:

  • God’s steadfast love “never ceases”
  • God’s mercies “never come to an end”
  • “They are new every morning”

This is his portion or allotment in life. God’s ever renewed love. He has lost everything else – his city and home were destroyed and no doubt he had family who were killed. And yet this is enough. As v.24 says, “’The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

A word of hope for us

Now I can say with great confidence that I have not suffered as much as the writer of this poem has. And I thank God for that. But precisely because he has suffered so much, he has the ability to speak to us. For if he can find hope in God in his circumstances, surely we can as well.

Whether we are being disciplined for our sins, as was the case here with Jerusalem, or God is just letting us go through hard times to train us and build our character, or we are experiencing good times God’s steadfast love and mercy and his faithfulness in giving these is what sustains us. It is the basis of our hope for the future.

This is the text I first shared with you when I came 9 years ago; my first sermon as your pastor. I told you that our hope in that time of transition was not in me, or in you, or in our circumstances, but only in God. And so I end by saying the same thing to you today.

As your pastor I now commend you into the hands of our God who faithfully gives you his steadfast love and mercies day by day. And I encourage you to have a strong hope for the future, because of who God is.

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Well, there’s nothing to celebrate in the two announcements we’ve just heard. It’s all sadness upon sadness. Yes, we have been through a really hard time.

The title this morning is, “Why, God?” Why do you allow us to go through such difficulties? Asking God why in times of trial is a biblical practice. Here are some examples from the book of Psalms:

  • I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me?” – Psalm 42:9
  • Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? – Psalm 10:1
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? – Psalm 22:1
  • Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction . . . ? – Psalm 44:24

God allows us to go through really hard times as individuals and as congregations. So difficult that it seems like God is far away, while we suffer and struggle. But I want to encourage you this morning, by reminding you of five things about the God we serve.

1. God loves us

To be more specific, God loves Cedar Street. Paul says in Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Paul’s point is that if God has already given us his Son to die on the cross to show his love for us, we can be sure that his love to us is secure and will continue. If he has already given that which is most precious to him, he will for sure show us his love in lesser situations.

And just because we are going through hard times doesn’t change this. Paul goes on to say in Romans 8:35, 37 – Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Brothers and sisters, don’t fear. God loves us in the midst of our trials.

2. God knows all about our situation

God has not been caught unaware by any of this.

It may seem like God is far away, as the Psalmists say, because of our troubles. But God knows every detail of what is going on, and every detail of all the pain that has been experienced by each one of us. The psalmist writes in Psalm 56 about his trials, talking about his enemies – 5All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps . . .” He has some serious problems.

But then he goes on to say to God, 8You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” God knows all about it. In the same way, God knows all of our sleeplessness, all of our tears, all of our distress. They are in his book. There is a careful record of our pain and suffering.

Sisters and brothers, don’t be afraid. God knows what we are going through.

3. God is in control

Let me read some excerpts from Isaiah 44:6-8 – Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel . . . “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? . . . Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?”

God has a plan from of old. That’s why he can declare what is yet to come. And it includes each one of us in this congregation.

Don’t think that God is scrambling or that God has to scrap his purpose and plan for us. God knew we would be here today, going through what we are going through. And God is so great that he can even use the actions of those who oppose him or our own failures to accomplish his plans. You can’t thwart God, you can only decide if you want to be a part of what he is doing and be blessed, or not.

I believe that going through our recent difficulties has conditioned us and put us in a place to be able to receive what God wants for us.

Don’t be overwhelmed. God has a purpose and a plan in all this.

4. God always works for our good

A part of God’s plan is that he uses our pain and suffering; he redeems it so that good can come of it. Paul says in Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

God’s heart and purpose is that good can come of our trials, for us and others.

Don’t be afraid. God can bring something amazing out of all this.

5. God is able to handle things

Jesus said in Mark 10:27 – “All things are possible with God.”

When we are in a trial, it’s hard to see this. All we see is the bad. We want to say, “yes, God you can accomplish anything, but look at this and look at that.” But God is able to accomplish all that God purposes. And so we should pray, “God we know you can do it. Bring forth your will.”

  • Can not the one who created all things out of nothing bless and help us?
  • Can not the one who brought a group of slaves out of the empire of Egypt save us?
  • Can not the one who raised Jesus from the dead bring new life to us?

In all of this I am encouraging you not to fear. Or to say it positively, Have faith in God!

We can’t always answer the question why God lets us go through things. But we can answer the question of who; who our God is. We serve a God:

  • who loves us
  • who knows all about our pain
  • who is in control and has a plan
  • who always works for our good
  • and who is able to accomplish his will

And so because of who God is, we can move forward in faith.

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We are in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 today. It seems especially appropriate to share on this passage and its message, given that a number of our congregation are going through some real times of testing and hardship right now. Let’s look at this Scripture and see what God has to say to us this morning.

“3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

5For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, producing in you an endurance of the same sufferings which we also suffer. 7Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

8For we do not want you to be ignorant, sisters and brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”

Let’s break this down into four points.

1. Paul talks a lot about going through hard times in these verses

The word “affliction” shows up four times. It means “trouble that inflicts distress” due to the outward circumstances of life. It can also be translated “trouble” or “tribulation.” It also refers to “inward experiences of distress.” The pain that we have because of our difficulties.

The word “sufferings” occurs four times, once as a verb. It means “that which is suffered or endured.” It can be translated, “to be in pain.”

In these verses Paul is referring specifically to suffering because of his ministry – suffering lack and being persecuted. In v. 5 he talks about how “we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings” as he and Timothy fulfill their calling to preach the gospel. Later in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 we get a taste of what Paul is talking about: imprisonments, beatings, near death encounters, including being stoned; being shipwrecked, adrift at sea, exposed to dangers as he traveled, exposed to the cold; often hungry and thirsty.

But also v. 4 broadens the scope of what’s being talked about in these verses to include “any affliction.”

In our verses, he is giving thanks to God for a specific deliverance. v. 8 mentions  “the affliction we experienced in Asia,” that is, in the Roman province of Asia in what would be Western Turkey today. We don’t know specifically what he’s talking about, but probably the Corinthians do.

This is what we know. In v. 9 he says, “we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” And in v. 10 he called it a “deadly peril.” He thought for sure he and Timothy were going to die. The result was that “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (v. 8). Now notice he was not just burdened, he was “utterly burdened,” weighed down, or crushed. So much so that he had no strength to deal with it and had no hope of living. So this was really intense testing he was in.

And certainly sometimes we feel “utterly burdened beyond our strength” by the circumstances of life that we are in. So much so that we think we aren’t going to make it. That is, we too can have despair; we can give up hope. This is a part of the inward pain that such suffering and affliction bring to us. This is what trials can do to us.

2. But also these verses say a lot about God’s mercy and comfort

v. 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” This whole passage is blessing God for God’s mercy and comfort.

The title that Paul gives to God, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,” doesn’t just point to God as being merciful and comforting, but to God as the source of our mercy and comfort.

God’s mercy is seen in that God delivered Paul from his trial. He didn’t die. God’s comfort has to do with God’s help in the midst of his trial.

The word “comfort” here can also be translated “encouragement,” or “consolation.” In its verbal form it means to give strength, to give hope; to lift another’s spirits; to ease their pain and sorrow. And this is a real theme in vs. 3-7. The root word shows up 10 times.

Paul is saying that he has experienced this from God. God comforted him in his desperate trial. In v. 4 he speaks of him “who comforts us in all our affliction” and talks about being “comforted by God.” He experienced God encouraging him and giving him strength. He experienced God’s presence and love which allayed some of the pain he was going through.

He also teaches us in v. 5 that God’s grace is sufficient to our need. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so though Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” He is saying that if we have many afflictions, we can have a corresponding measure of comfort as well.

Well, just as God comforted Paul, God will comfort us in our sufferings too. God is there with us and for us in our hard times. God can encourage us, let us know that he loves us, strengthen us and hold us up, so that we endure (v. 6). And so, like Paul, we should look to God to do just this.

Paul also makes the point in the verses that –

3. God can use our sufferings for good

He can redeem our afflictions. This shows up in two ways in our passage:

1) Paul talks about how, because he has suffered and been comforted by God, he can now give comfort to others who suffer. v. 4 – God “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Suffering equips us to minister to others; to help and bless others who are enduring suffering. And through such comfort we strengthen them to endure, as Paul says in v. 6.

2) He talks about how God used his trial to help him grow in his faith. Specifically to teach him to rely fully on God. v. 9 – “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

His situation was beyond anything that he could take are of, and since it involved him dying he had to look to the one who can raise the dead. Death isn’t fixable by human means, only by God. He has to learn in a new way what full reliance on God meant.

Now, none of us like to go through trials.

  • But it is true that often, we minister most effectively when we are in the midst of trials or have gone through deep waters. As here we are enabled to minister comfort to others.
  • And it is true that often, we grow in our faith the most when we are in trials. As here we are taught to rely on God more fully.

And so although we pray to be spared trials, we also pray to be effective ministers to others and to grow in our faith. Although we pray to be spared testing, we also pray, your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done.

So we don’t want trials, but we have to trust God to sort through all this in terms of what is truly best for us from the perspective of our faith and of eternity, and what will bring glory to his name and advance his kingdom purposes.

We also learn in this passage –

4. How to respond to those who are suffering

1) Like Paul, we can comfort others with the comfort God has given us in our times of suffering. Again, v. 4, God “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

We can share how God has been faithful to us. We can encourage them to hang in there; to look to God for help. We can ask what practical things we can do to ease their burden. But most of all we can simply be present and express our love. Love is more powerful than evil or whatever evil we find ourselves going through. Love is what truly comfort and heals.

And God uses us when we do these things, to give his comfort to people in need.

2) Like Paul asks the Corinthians to do, we can pray for others, for deliverance from trials, both now and in the future.

v. 11 says, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Paul is speaking of future ordeals he will no doubt go through. And by the help of their prayers he wants God’s deliverance from these. This is what he means by “the blessing granted to us.”

Now, Paul was not always delivered. According to tradition he was eventually killed by Emperor Nero. So this praying is subject to God’s will, of course. But nevertheless he asks for prayers for deliverance so that he can continue on with the ministry that God has given to him. And we can pray the same for those who are going through hard times.

William Higgins

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See below for the literary structure of this Psalm.

This Psalm is full of sorrow and pain, but also faith. The inscription connects it to David. It says, “A Maskil of David, (perhaps a musical or liturgical term) when he was in the cave. A Prayer.” Although it’s not clear that these inscriptions are original to the text, this one does give us a helpful setting for reading this as a prayer of David in a very difficult situation.

Setting

Taking our cue from the heading, “when he was in the cave,” there are two instances where Scripture speaks of David being in a cave – the cave of Adullam and at Engedi. The first is the more likely setting. Let’s look at this.

  • With the help of Jonathan, David now knows for sure that Saul has determined to kill him. So he fled. (1 Samuel 20).
  • He stopped at the village of Nob and got some food and a weapon (Goliath’s sword) from the priest there. He was begging for bread. He didn’t have anything. He was literally running for his life. (1 Samuel 21:1-9).
  • He then went to Philistia; into enemy territory where Saul couldn’t reach him. But because of his reputation as an Israelite warrior, his life was in danger there also. In fact, he went to the city where Goliath was from carrying Goliath’s sword. So he feigned insanity. He started drooling and scratching at the door and then  fled. (1 Samuel 21:10-15).

1 Samuel 22:1 then says, “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam.”  He’s basically alone. Although the priest at Nob said, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” (1 Samuel 21:2) apparently he had a few young men with him (1 Samuel 21:4-5, maybe four since he asked for five loaves of bread. Also Mark 2:25-26.)  Perhaps these were David’s personal attendants.

Adullam was in the no-man’s land between Israel and Philistia, who were always at war. There are several caves here.

Psalm 142

– begins with David noting his desperate prayers. “1With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. 2I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.”

This is no casual prayer. He is distressed. This comes out in the words used for prayer in v. 1. He is crying out, he is pleading for mercy. This is intense prayer. And this also comes out in the words used for what he is praying about. He is pouring out his “complaint” – his concerns or even grievances. He is telling his “troubles” – his adversity, anguish and affliction.

He is clearly speaking to God. Twice he says, “to the Lord” and twice “before him.”

“3When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” He is overwhelmed. He’s got nothing left; no strength left within. As he says in v. 6, “I am brought very low.” You can certainly see why this is so as we think of what’s going on in David’s life at this time.

And he’s saying to God, you know what I am going through! Well, even though God knows what’s happening, he lays out all his problems anyway.

“In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.” “They” are described in v. 6 as persecutors who are too strong for him. As we noted, Saul is trying to find and kill David, and all the resources of the kingdom are being brought to bear on this task.

The phrase “hidden a trap” conjures up hunting language. Saul is hunting him down to kill him. To get a measure of how much danger he was in Saul had all the priests at Nob killed along with their families simply because one of them helped David. (1 Samuel 22:6-23). His life is in serious danger.

“4Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me.” David speaks of looking to the right because this is where a witness for the defense would stand (Psalm 109:31) or one’s protector would be (Psalm 16:8; 110:5). He is saying that no one is standing up for him.

“No refuge remains to me.” He has nowhere to go to find shelter. Saul rejected him and is trying to kill him. And the Philistines didn’t give him a safe haven. All he has is a cave.

“No one cares for my soul.” He is without anyone to support him. Perhaps he even had sent out his servants to tell his family and friends where he was, since they came to him here later (1 Samuel 22:1-4). This was also before those who would become his mighty men gathered to him here (2 Samuel 23:13). So He was truly alone.

His prayers. “5I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” Although he is cut off from Israel, and Philistia has rejected him and he is in the no-man’s land of Adullam – God has not rejected him.

  • God is his refuge, his place of shelter; God has taken him in; God has taken him under his care to protect him.
  • And God is his portion. He is like the Levites who were not given a portion of land in Israel, but were supported by God. So David has no place, having been driven out of Israel. But God will provide for him.

“6Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low!” He’s saying, “Listen!!! This is urgent! I can’t hang in there too much longer. I’m at the bottom. You have to answer soon.”

Next, he gets more specific. “Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!” This refers to Saul and his men. This is the core of his problem.

“7Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!” Death and Sheol (Hades) are often pictured as a prison. And he was also stuck in the prison of the cave he was in. And his cave, which was dark and underground, would have reminded him of Sheol. It’s like he’s on death’s door.

He promises that if God helps him, he will give thanks to God.

Finally, he ends with an expression of faith. “7The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.” He is confident that God is going to act for him and deliver him. He will no longer be in danger and thus he will no longer be alone.

This was fulfilled in part, fairly soon. His family and others gathered to him at Adullam, including what would become his army (1 Samuel 22:1-2; 2 Samuel 23:13). Later it was completely fulfilled when Saul was defeated. [David talks about this in 2 Samuel 22 in a way that echoes some of the language of this Psalm]

Let’s look at some –

Lessons from this Psalm

1. Tell God about your troubles. Even though David understands that God knows what’s going on in his life (v. 3), he still tells him all about it in prayer.

In a similar way Jesus tells us, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). But tells us this precisely in the midst of teaching us to pray.

So like David, we need to pour out our hearts to God. We need to tell God about our pain and sorrow. We need to let our tears flow before the Lord. We need to unburden ourselves because we can’t carry the weight. Even though he knows, tell God all about your needs.

2. God allows us to go through very difficult trials. God let David go to his breaking point. David said, “my spirit faints within me” (v. 3) and he said, “I am brought very low” (v. 6).

In David’s case, his life was in danger by an army and a king. These were his circumstances. And even though it is unlikely that any of us are running for our lives, God allows us to go through really difficult times, where we feel alone and threatened, where we are in a dark place, with no one standing up for us or caring about us. We too can be brought so low that our spirit faints within. We too can come to our breaking point where we are barely hanging on. God allows this.

3. God can be our refuge and portion. May it never be that we truly have no one to care for us. But if we find ourselves in an extreme situation like this – we learn from this Psalm that God can protect us and provide for us, just as he did with David.

The literary structure of Psalm 142

A. His prayers

1 With my voice/ I cry out/ to the LORD;

with my voice/ I plead for mercy/ to the LORD.

2 I pour out/ my complaint/ before him;

I tell/ my trouble/ before him.

3 When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!

B. His problem

In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. 4 Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.

A1. His prayers

5 I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” 6 Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!

B1. The solution

The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.

 ————————————

  • A and A1 both use the word “cry” and the name Yahweh (LORD). Both are about his prayers.
  • B and B1 deal with the problem and then the answer.
  • A contains two sets of three parallels – vs. 1 and 2.
  • A and B are connected by “path”  and “way”
  • B and A1 are connected by “no refuge” and “refuge”

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Today I want to share with you briefly some words of encouragement regarding going through times of testing, trials and tribulations. We seem to have a lot of this in our congregation right now. And then I want to give you a chance at the end to come forward for prayer for God to strengthen and encourage you. First,

 Some thoughts on trials

Sometimes God spares us from difficult situations. This is what we pray for when we pray in the Lords’ prayer, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). We are praying for God’s protection; for God to shield us.

If you are praying this, as I encourage you to do regularly, who knows what all you have been spared? The other week I was about to pull out into an intersection after the light turned green and someone barreled through the red light. If I had gone normally I would have been hit hard. But I hesitated. Is this connected to my praying this? It is likely.

And I believe that we will be surprised on the final day when all that God has kept us from is made known. I also believe that we should give thanks even now for all that God has not let us go through!

If in these cases God allows us to go around difficult situations, we look next at how sometimes God allows us to go through trials.

  • Jesus says in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation.”
  • And he says in Matthew 6:34, talking about the stresses of everyday life, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Each day has more than enough trials in it.

When God allows us to go through trials it may be that after a time God will deliver us. That is to say, God will step in and give us relief, bring us out of the difficult situation, and let us have a more normal life once again, with just our regular problems.

God is certainly able to deliver us from any trial we may find ourselves in. As God himself says, “Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). Absolutely not! God can deliver us from any situation.

Here’s an example: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. You know the story. They refused the king’s order to bow to an idol and so they were condemned to be thrown into a great fiery furnace.

The king said, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (3:15). They said, our God is able, but even if he doesn’t we still won’t bow to an idol (3:17-18). And so the king was angry and they were thrown in.

But they didn’t burn! And someone else was in the furnace walking with them. And so the king called them to come out. And they had no marks from the flame; no signs of burning. God delivered them. And the king said, “there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (3:29).

But also, when God allows us to go through trials, it may be that God will not deliver us. In this case, the difficult situation will remain with us long term, or for our whole life. It might be an illness, a disability, a situation of family brokenness that you can’t fix, or perhaps depression or anxiety.

Here’s an example from Paul. He talks about how “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. But God said no. Three time he prayed and God said no. Paul continued on throughout his life with this difficulty, whatever it was, with no relief.

We also have to include here the reality that not only are we not delivered, but that our trial may bring our life in this world to an end.

Think of Jesus. He prayed in Gethsemane to be spared testing. Mark tells us he prayed, “if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (Mark 14:35). And he prayed “remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). Both of these are variants of the last request of the Lord’s prayer.

But God said no. Three times he prayed and God said no. He had to go through it. He went through this trial even unto death.

Since God does indeed allow us to go through all kinds of trial, let’s end with –

Some words to remember in our times of trial

– to strengthen and encourage us.

God walks with us in these situations. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” – Psalm 46:1. God is present with us and helps us in our difficult situations. God also tells us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” – Hebrews 13:5. He doesn’t say, I will see you on the other side. He is with us no matter how hard it is. God says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

God protects us in the midst of the trial. Not only does Isaiah 43:2 say, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” it goes on to say, “When you pass . . . through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

The imagery of deep waters and fire speak to times of difficult and dangerous testing and tribulation. And the promise for those who walk with God is that God watches over us and does not allow us to be overwhelmed – by whatever we go through.

God will give us the strength we need. As God said to Paul concerning his thorn, so it is true with us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” – 2 Corinthians 12:9. God’s grace is sufficient for you. His power will give you what you need to move forward in your time of weakness.

And then finally, through God we always have the victory. We have victory when God delivers us from our trial in this life. But even if we are not delivered we have victory!

Think of Paul and his thorn. What did he say about all of his problems? “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” – 2 Corinthians 4:17. Now that Paul is with God, God has now delivered him from his thorn. And what Paul is teaching us is that what we will endure in this life is temporary and it cannot be compared to the glory that is to come.

Think of Jesus. Yes, he died. But he was delivered from death itself. He experienced an even greater deliverance. And because of Jesus, even if we die, we don’t die! Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” – John 11:25-26.

Whether God delivers us in this life or in the next, we have the victory through him. Praise be to his name!

William Higgins

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Last week we began to look at the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” from the story of Cain and Abel. And we saw how even though Cain asked it to try to avoid any responsibility for his brother, the question actually has to be answered with a “yes.” Cain did have a responsibility to his brother. And as well, we all have responsibilities to our brothers and sisters, and neighbors.

We also spent a good deal of time looking at Scriptures that show that we are to care for and help our neighbor – especially those who are weak and in need.

Well today, I want us to look at a specific example of suffering and need, one that has been on my daughter’s heart for several years now. And then we will look at some ways to respond.

Marie: Darfur comprises the three westernmost regions of Sudan, the largest country in Africa. 99% of the population is Muslim and most speak Arabic. They are mostly rural farmers. The people of Darfur have been marginalized since Sudanese independence in 1956 when power was given to the northern Arab elites. They deliberately tried to keep Darfuris out of school. There were no hospitals, roads, schools or economic systems in place. They had no political representation, and were left poverty-stricken.

Omar al-Bashir, the dictator of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for 7 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and 3 counts of genocide and extermination.

In 2003 rebel groups from Darfur attacked the capital, Khartoum. After some successful attacks in spring of 2003 the government responded by killing the Darfuris. They hired an Arab militia called the Janjaweed which literally translates to “devils on horseback.” The government gives them uniforms, money, arms, plunder, livestock, land and impunity. They even let criminals out of jail and pay them to burn villages and slaughter their fellow  countrymen.

There are many different forms of oppression there. They suffer starvation because their crops and livestock are burned. The government poisons their water supplies by stuffing dead bodies down their wells. The government denies access to humanitarian aid and even kicked out 13 of the major groups last spring. The militias and the government adhere to a scorched-earth policy in Darfur. Women and girls are forced to get water and firewood for cooking, but then face the risk of being raped. If the men go, they will be killed so the “better alternative” is having the women go since they only get raped. Government planes bomb their own peoples’ villages. Then once the survivors flee to a refugee camp, they are bombed there as well. The Darfuris suffer abductions, torture and murder. Facial mutilations are also common by other terrorist militias that haunt Darfur.

The dead are estimated to be between 400,000 and 600,000 and 2.7 million people have been displaced thus far. These results are devastating especially considering that Darfur only has a population of 6 million.

Now there are so many situations in the world and, no doubt, others of you would focus on a different one, because God has put that on your heart. But this gives us an example to work with. And I think it will help us to see what we can do with a tragedy that is far away from us. You know, when it’s in your neighborhood you can just roll up your sleeves and get to work. But so often the need is an ocean away.

There are certainly ways to work at this through earthly political mechanisms. That is, trying to get the United States government, the United Nations or the African Union to act to address Darfur. But this isn’t what I want to talk about. If you want to learn more about this you can find ample resources on the internet.

My purpose is to help us see what we can do precisely as Christians, with the resources of the kingdom of God to help those in Darfur; to be our brother and sister’s keeper.

1. Pray for God to act

We know that, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” – Psalm 103:6. And “The Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.” – Psalm 140:12.

And so we should call on God to be true to his nature and intervene to bring the suffering to an end. Remembering that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16.

Here are some things to pray for in Darfur:

1. For the evildoers, both individuals and governmental powers, to be put down; that is to lose their power to harm and kill.

2. For resources to meet the material needs of those who are suffering and the refugees.

3. For peace and healing for the many who are broken and traumatized by this war. Even if the war were to end today the effects would go on for decades. And there will be great need for work at healing.

2. Help to relieve suffering

Now, God might well call some of us to go and help with the situation in Darfur. To be there in person. But apart from this, any of us can give resources from here to be shared in Darfur and with the refugees.

And Jesus teaches us to give to those with needs. He said, “give to the needy” – Matthew 6:2; and “give to the poor” – Luke 12:33.

Jesus also told the story of the Good Samaritan who helped one who was not like him. The people of Darfur are different than us.  And he told us to “go and do likewise” – Luke 10:37. The people of Darfur are different than us. They are Muslim and speak Arabic.

Paul says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone . . ..” – Galatians 6:10. And in context he is saying, don’t just help fellow believers, also help others.

If you would like to give toward this need, you can give to Christian Aid, a British interdenominational Christian aid organization, which does work in Darfur. (Freepost, London, SE1 7YY; or online at christianaid.org.uk/give).

3. Speak out in the name of the Lord

This particular tragedy is not the result of a natural disaster or an accident. The suffering in Darfur has come from the hands of humans. And so there is an element of human sin that needs to be addressed in our response and which must stop for the suffering to stop.

Now when I say speak out, I’m not referring to politics. I am talking about representing God’s point of view on what is going on in Darfur. We speak in the name of the Lord to name the evil that is being done; to call for repentance, and to warn of God’s judgment on sin.

It is not right or Christian to know of and to watch great evil happen while saying nothing. This is a way for you to make your voice heard as a representative of the kingdom of God.

The prophets did this, for instance Amos speaking to rulers in his day. And  Jesus did this speaking to the authoritative teachers and the leadership of Jerusalem – Matthew 23:13-36. And we should also speak up when there is need.

I have written a letter to send to the government of Sudan, and I am going to sign my name to it. If you would like to add your name, just let me know.

“To the Government of Sudan – Hear the words of the one, true God: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4.

Hear the cry of those who suffer in Darfur – innocents including women and children. So many have been terrorized. So many have died. So many are refugees. God calls you to change your heart and bring this to an end!

But know this, if you do not hear their cries, God does. And God will incline his ear “to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” Psalm 10:18.

And God hears the blood of the innocent as it cries out against you even now. And God will not forget what has happened. “For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” Psalm 9:12.

Will you hear what God says? Then weep for your evil deeds. Humble yourself before the Lord. Lift up those who are bowed down, and bring healing to those you have broken.”

Finally, and more radically, there is –

4. Intercessory suffering

We talked about this in the Sunday School class on loving enemies, but let me say a few words about this.

It goes like this. When you suffer oppression, instead of returning evil for evil, endure it and call on God to act for you. And God will act to bring justice. This is biblical nonresistance, as I understand it (or cruciform holy war).

We see God acting to bring justice in the story of Cain and Abel. Even though Abel suffered death, God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” – Genesis 4:10. And then God judged Cain.

We also see this in Jesus’ words in Luke 18:7-8. “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”

And you can do this on behalf of others, this is the intercessory part, by going to suffer with them and calling on God to act.

This is what Jesus did for us. Jesus came and suffered with us without returning evil for evil. Rather, he called on God to act for him. And both spiritual and political powers were brought down:

  • Satan was cast out of heaven – Revelation 12:9
  • And the authorities that killed Jesus were judged in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, as he predicted -Matthew 23:32-24:2.

Alright these are some specifically Christian ways to respond. And I certainly encourage you to respond as the Lord leads you.

William Higgins, Marie Higgins

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“To the Government of Sudan – Hear the words of the one, true God: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4.

Hear the cry of those who suffer in Darfur – innocents including women and children. So many have been terrorized. So many have died. So many are refugees. God calls you to change your heart and bring this to an end!

But know this, if you do not hear their cries, God does. And God will incline his ear “to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” Psalm 10:18.

And God hears the blood of the innocent as it cries out against you even now. And God will not forget what has happened. “For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” Psalm 9:12.

Will you hear what God says? Then weep for your evil deeds. Humble yourself before the Lord. Lift up those who are bowed down, and bring healing to those you have broken.”

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