The Benefits of Weakness and Suffering

No one likes illness, suffering, or pain, yet the results of these things can have eternal value. It has been said that if dependence upon God is the objective, then weakness is an advantage. Weakness and suffering have tremendous advantage for our salvation and sanctification. The sixteenth-century theologian, Theodore Beza attributed his conversion to a severe illness and the consequent fear of death:

He approached me through a sickness so severe that I despaired of my life. Seeing his terrible judgment before me, I could not think what to do with my wretched life. Finally, after endless suffering of body and soul, God showed pity upon His miserable lost servant and consoled me so that I could not doubt His mercy. With a thousand tears, I renounced my former self, implored His forgiveness, renewed my oath to serve His true church, and in sum gave myself wholly over to Him. So the vision of death threatening my soul awakened in me the desire for a true and everlasting life. So sickness was for me the beginning of true health (letter to Melchior Wolmar, May 12, 1560).

In a similar vein, the apostle Paul spoke of the benefit of weakness and suffering in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

If we love eternal things more than our temporary comfort and convenience, we will be willing, like Paul, to suffer for our own good and the glory of God. This is what God has been teaching me today!

Putting out the Fleece, Part 6: Listen to your Friends

So, you’re facing a major life decision, and you’re nearly at the fork in the road. Time for contemplating is past, and the decision must be made. Your options seem equally attractive. Either could arguably be a choice with which God will be pleased.

You are trusting God’s good heart toward you (guidance principle #1 we discussed several weeks ago). You are resting in God’s sovereignty (principle #2). You have been working hard at becoming the kind of person God can guide through growth in Christlikeness (principle #3). You are living a life marked by obedience, walking in the light you’ve already been shown from the Scriptures (principle #4).

Yet still you’re unsure. Now what? Well, there is another resource God has placed in your life, one you may have overlooked. That resource is the wise counsel of your family, your friends and fellow believers.

Notice, I said wise counsel. Not every friend is wise, and not all counsel is wise, so this requires discernment. I’m talking about listening to the friends who, like you, are working hard at becoming God’s kind of person. They are searching the Scriptures daily. When they talk, the Bible comes out. They, like you, are deeply committed to making choices which glorify God and move toward God’s ultimate goal for us (Rom. 8:29).

Study the “one another” texts in the New Testament, and you’ll come away impressed with how involved believers should be in one another’s lives. We are to counsel one another (Rom. 15:14), to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), to exhort one another (Heb. 10:24-25), and to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).

God’s people shouldn’t make major life decisions in the privacy of their closet, even if their Bible is open! God has given us to each other, and we need each other. So thank God for your wise friends, actively seek their perspective, and listen to them. They are just one of the resources through which God will make plain the path ahead of you.

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Prov. 15:22

“Where there is no guidance a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Prov. 11:14

“Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.” Prov. 20:18

Putting Out the Fleece, Part 5: Walk in the Light You Already Have

The hour is late. The night is dark. You are many miles from your home and eager to get there. You climb in your car and turn the key, relieved to hear the engine roar to life. You switch on the headlights, and you have a problem. 

The lights are working, but they only illuminate the next few hundred feet of the road that takes you home! The remaining miles between you and home are still blanketed in darkness. How will you make it home without winding up in a ditch?

You begin to drive, and something wonderful happens. Once you travel across the clearly illuminated stretch of road, you can now see the next stretch. And then the next. And the next. You drive in the light you have, across what you can clearly see, until at last the lights fall on the welcome sight of your driveway. You made it!

That silly scenario illustrates an important principle for discerning God’s will in our lives:

Principle #4 – Walk in the light you already have.

John’s Gospel (chapter 7) describes a skirmish in the ongoing battle between Jesus and the Jewish religious elite. The people are debating whether Jesus is the Messiah or an imposter. They can’t figure out how He could teach with such power when He had not formally studied in their schools. In so many words, they are asking, “How can we know whether Jesus is from God? How can we know whether we should commit our lives to follow Jesus?” (v. 12-15)

Jesus answered them, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” In other words, do what you already know to do if you want God to show you what to do next! He continued, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law.”

God has clearly revealed His will in the Scripture. He wants us to become like His Son, the Lord Jesus (Rom. 8:29). You are to be becoming God’s kind of husband/father, God’s kind of wife/mother, God’s kind of employee, etc. The Bible is filled with instruction for exactly what God expects in each of these areas.

So, the question to ask myself as I’m trying to figure out the future is a question about the present. Are there any areas of known disobedience to God’s clear commands in my life right now? If so, I need to stop worrying about the future and drive in the light I have. Get busy becoming obedient to whatever that next step is that God has shown you.

Putting Out the Fleece, Part 4: Becoming the kind of person God can lead

During my teen years, I received some useful advice from a dear friend in response to my anxious queries about the subject of finding God’s will. “If you’re concerned about finding God’s will, why not see what the Bible has to say about it?”

I was unsure how I could find information in the Bible regarding where to go to school, what vocation to pursue, whom to marry, or any of the other hundreds of questions I had regarding the will of God. At my friend’s urging, I used a concordance and found passages where the phrase, “the will of God,” or something similar, occurred.

Here are a few of the texts I came across:

    * 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

    * 1 Thess. 4:3-4  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his body in holiness and honor. . .”

    * 1 Thess. 5:16-18  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

You’ll no doubt notice right away the same “disconnect” I noticed. We want to know more information about choices we have to make. God wants us to focus on character. According to just these few verses above, God’s “will” is that I be saved, sexually pure, and learn to joyfully, prayerfully trust Him in every circumstance.

So, here is the third simple principle for discerning God’s will that I’ll add to the two previously discussed:

Principle #3 – Concern yourself with becoming whom God wants you to be, and He’ll take care of the “where, with whom, doing what,” in His good time.

You see, as we work hard at becoming God’s kind of person (loving what He loves, turning away from what displeases Him), we will intuitively make the kind of choices that are in harmony with His plans for us. As we internalize His written Word, we share more of His heart.

Augustine probably did not exaggerate when he advised, “Love God with all your heart, and do whatever you want.” As we become progressively more like Christ, our “wants” are His “wants.”

Putting Out the Fleece, Part 3: Can you miss God’s will?

The opening line of a familiar table grace for children is a good place to jump off this week: “God is great, God is good…”.

In the last post we discussed God’s good heart toward His children. That’s a comfort to be sure – but what if my thick head can’t discern what His good heart is leading me toward? This principle focuses on God’s greatness, which thankfully is able to overcome my denseness!

Principle #2: Rest in God’s Sovereignty

It’s a familiar old anxiety that has plagued me from college days. Many of life’s decisions are perplexing, with multiple options each looking attractive. You pray. You confess your sin. You search your heart’s motives. You ask for counsel. You weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option comparatively. You want nothing more than to know and do God’s will.

But still, YOU must make a choice. Careful now. What if you didn’t pray enough? What if you left a sin off your confession list? What if your counselor was having a bad day? What if, what if, what if. . .? And what if you left off an important “what if”?!

Do you notice where all the focus is here? On YOU and your ability to discern. Really, this kind of anxiety is evidence of self-reliance. Let’s get our mind off our inabilities for a minute and onto the greatness of our God. The prophet Daniel’s prayer should do it:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.

He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings;

He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;

He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness;

and the light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:20-22)

Just think of it. The God who loves you unconditionally in Christ is the omnipotent sovereign of the universe. If He is controlling little things like earthly dynasties and pagan rulers, it’s likely He’s up to the challenge of guiding His children through life.

The next time you’re bordering on a panic attack over some decision, just rest in God’s super-ability to guide you safely toward His ultimate goal for you – that of being transformed into the image of His Son (cf. Phil. 1:6).

New Testament Use of the Old Testament

No subject is perhaps more important for the understanding of the Christian faith than the New Testament use of the Old.  Considering the one thousand or more quotations and/or allusions to the OT in the New, this topic represents one of the most complex and challenging areas of biblical studies. Indeed, Jesus and the NT writers apply the OT in diverse, fascinating, and, at times, remarkably innovative ways. For example, why does Matthew 2:18 view Jeremiah 31:15 as a prophecy of Herod’s slaying of innocent babies, while Jeremiah’s words obviously relate to the Babylonian invasion of Judea? How could Matthew interpret Hosea’s prophecy, “Out of Egypt I have called my son,” as applying to Jesus, when the OT prophet clearly understood this as speaking of Israel?  Moreover, does the NT writers’ use of the OT evidence a fundamental continuity or discontinuity between the two Testaments and what are the practical implications for teaching and preaching?

For answers to these and related questions, come join Dr. Huss for an engaging journey through the Scriptures as we consider how Jesus and the NT writers understood and applied the OT Scriptures.

NT775/NT775TM New Testament Use of the Old Testament taught by Dr. Al Huss will be offered July 18-22, 2011. Class size is limited, so interested students are encouraged to sign up quickly before the class fills up. See the full Summer 2011 Schedule as well as the Registration form for more information and details.

Suffering and Self-Pity, Part 2: Rooting Out Self-Pity

If anyone ever had a reason to pity-himself, it was the Apostle Paul. His fall from premier Pharisee in Israel to persecuted apostle is fantastic. His sufferings are recounted in 2 Corinthians 11, and they are as significant as any Christian in all of church history. He suffered physical, spiritual and mental abuse from others, extreme discomfort for long periods of time adrift in the ocean and in prison, hunger, thirst, insecurity, and exhausting toil. His life seemed to be a series of seasons of intense suffering, interrupted occasionally by relief.

So, is Paul’s description of his sufferings a case of self-pity? Not at all. The Corinthian church was challenging Paul’s apostolic authority, so to demonstrate his legitimate right to admonish them, he recounted his sufferings. In the chapter 12, Paul further demonstrates his proper attitude toward suffering regarding the infamous “thorn in the flesh.” After pleading with God to deliver him from it, Paul accepted God’s answer that the suffering remain and that he would rely on the grace of God to sustain him. If God’s power was perfected in Paul’s suffering, then Paul was content to suffer. Here is the suffering soul delivered from the demand for relief!

And Paul didn’t do this grudgingly. He bore it “gladly” because his suffering brought God glory. There is no scent of self-pity here. There is only joy and gladness in the midst of suffering, because he valued God’s glory so much. Paul didn’t want people to feel sorry for him, because he saw suffering as something glorious—not in its present experience, but in its eternal outcome. Earlier in the epistle, Paul says that it was the eternal weight of glory that made the present suffering bearable:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Paul would not seek sympathy beyond what was appropriate. He would not grimace a little more or wear a long face all the time. He modeled Jesus’ command to those who were suffering the deprivation of fasting (Matt. 6:16-18). He would not wear a gloomy face, but in effect “washed his face and anointed his head,” symbolism for the joy of celebration.

Paul’s example reminds us that our natural response to suffering must be overcome by the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ. By recognizing that God allowed his own Son to suffer incomparably for our eternal glory, we can, like Peter, rejoice in that we share in the sufferings of Christ when we ourselves suffer. This frees us from the feeling that God is not just or does not care that we suffer. The fact that he gave his Son shows us the lengths that God will go to ensure our eternal glory and freedom from suffering.

Now you may be thinking, “I believe that intellectually, but I don’t feel it.” I hear you loud and clear. Being able to write these things does not mean I always practice them. The time I had to go to the emergency room at 11:00 at night for a crisis with my newly transplanted kidney, I was in the depths of frustration and despair. All these truths ran from my mind like people from a burning building. It was my wife who pulled me out of the pit of despair with these reassurances. She reminded me of God’s sovereignty, the worth of his glory and his sustaining grace to get us through. Exactly what I needed to hear.

So what do we do when we don’t feel the truth that we believe? It is through the training of our responses to suffering that we teach ourselves to speak the truth to ourselves, instead of listening to our doubts. Or as the Scottish pastor Sinclair Ferguson says, we must learn to talk to ourselves, and not to listen to ourselves. In other words, the more we tell ourselves the truth of God, the less we’ll be inclined to believe our thoughts of self-pity. Our self-centered suffering will be transformed into God-glorifying endurance.

So how do you know if you have fallen into self-pity in the midst of suffering? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I believe that my suffering is worse than everybody else’s?
  • Do I play up my suffering to gain more sympathy?
  • Do I post my suffering on Facebook before I pray to God for strength and relief?
  • Do I always talk about my suffering when someone asks how I’m doing?
  • Do I sympathize with and minister to others as much as I like others to sympathize with and minister to me?
  • Am I able to put on a brave and joyful face even when I don’t feel like it?
  • Do I speak of God’s blessings in my life as much as I do my suffering?

These questions should help us to root out self-pity and replace it with God-glorifying endurance.

 

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