Amazing how suffering and glory run together as I read 1 Peter 5:1-10. Some thoughts that fit well with life right now.
Love the juxtaposition of the words, “witness of the sufferings” and “partaker in the glory.” How closely suffering and glory seem to be related in Scripture–for the Lord Jesus and for me as His follower and as one of the leaders in his church. Shepherding–willingly, not because I have to or should do so, not domineering but being an example, with humility not with pride. Surely there is suffering in the midst of the shepherding–my experience teaches me this and because when my shepherd appears he comes in glory and with glory for me, glory that comes after the suffering. Taking advantage of the suffering, my enemy wants to devour me with discouragement and despair, yet I have one who cares for me in the midst of the struggle and promises me after the suffering, eternal glory will come—He himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, establish–words that give me life, hope and reassurance I am not alone in the battle. Thank you Lord.
Two questions to get you going:
How hard is it for you to admit that you are struggling (1 to 10)
How easy it is for you to wait? (1 to 10)
If it is difficult for you to admit that you struggle or hard for you to wait, then Psalm 130 may be for you!
Psalm 130 teaches us two things–we should be honest about our struggles and we should wait! Eugene Peterson writes about the two great realities of Psalm 130: suffering is real and God is real. “Suffering is a mark or our existential authenticity; God is proof of our essential and eternal humanity. We accept suffering; we believe in God.” 145
Verses 1 and 2 allow us to admit to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Reflect on the first phrase, out of the depths and examine Psalm 69:1-2 and 14-15 to get a better feel for the imagery here. More from Peterson:
We can face, acknowledge, and live through suffering because “we know it can never be ultimate, it can never constitute the bottom line. God is at the foundation and God is at the boundaries. God seeks the hurt, maimed, wandering, and lost. God woos the rebellious and confused.” Peterson 144
Question: What is currently overwhelming you? In what way are you suffering? Or the people with whom you serve?
The good thing about being overwhelmed—you become real and you don’t have to hide or deny. When we deny pain and suffering, we deny ourselves an encounter with reality. (Idea from Ivan Illich)
Verses 3 and 4 tells us that forgiveness is available. “The fact of forgiveness is not in doubt.” Peterson describes God as the forgiving God:
God is “One who forgives sin, who comes to those who wait and hope for him, who is characterized by steadfast love and plenteous redemption, . . . God makes a difference. God acts positively toward his people. God is not indifferent. He is not rejecting. He is not ambivalent or dilatory. He does not act arbitrarily, in fits and starts. He is not stingy, providing only for bare survival.” Peterson 143
Remember the following:
- No culpability, no sin
- If God kept a record, kept track of? Who could stand? Expected answer–NO ONE!
- The word guard or shamar is also used in v6–what is happening here?
- Now With Yahweh—forgiveness v4
- Fear follows forgiveness—reverence and implied relationship come with true fear of God
Verses 5 and 6 tells us what we are to do: We are to wait!
7 times the Psalmist tells us to wait
- I wait
- My soul waits
- In his word I wait (hope—yachal)
- My soul waits
- watchman (wait) for the morning,
- watchmen (wait) for the morning
Peterson helps us to understand what it means (and does not mean) to wait:
“Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying.” 147
“And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time.” 147
Verses 7 and 8 tells us why we can wait in two simple phrases
- With God—hesed—love, faithfulness, covenant keeping
- With God—abundant redemption—restoration
We wait. . .
He will redeem and restore
He will remove our sin, the guilt of our sin and even the consequences of our sin
Our suffering has boundaries and these boundaries are established by God!
Peterson writes, Psalm 130 does “not exhort us to put up with suffering; it does not explain it or explain it away. It is rather a powerful demonstration that our place in the depths is not out of bounds from God. . . We are persuaded that God’s way with us is redemption and that redemption, not the suffering is ultimate.” 148
What struggles do you need to admit today?
What will waiting on God mean for you today?
- not sending that email or text message?
- keep showing up?
- not responding in kind?
- letting go of something you have been holding onto?
- being quiet and allowing God to show you that he cares, he forgives and that he will redeem your situation. Remember, there are boundaries that he has established.
When William Stunz died on March 15, he left behind a tremendous gift–a much needed legacy in how to live in the face of death and suffering. A year ago I made a post about a must-read interview Timothy Dalrymple had with Stunz. Following Stunz’s recent death, Dalrymple describes the three gifts, that according to Stunz, God gives to those who suffer. Powerful words. Please share them freely.
1. God redeems, working through the curses of our lives to bring about blessing.
“It’s enough to know that I do not, and we do not, suffer pointlessly. Our God delights in taking the worst things in life and using them to produce the best things in life.”
2. Second, God restores, returning to us a portion of the dignity our afflictions have stolen from us.
“It’s part of this world’s deep magic that when the One Man, who is so supremely beautiful that his existence defines beauty—when that one man took on himself all the worst ugliness this world has to offer, he changed forever what it means to live in the midst of that ugliness, to live in the midst of pain and loss and hardship. My disease may be ugly . . . But I am not, and thanks be to God for that. I no longer need to wear those foul clothes that cancer spun for me. God the Son gave me cleaner clothes to wear, clothes I did not buy and do not deserve. He elevates all he touches, and he has touched ultimate suffering and he has also touched me.”
3. Third, God remembers, holding us in his heart even in the worst of our sufferings.
“Standing with us in the midst of those curses is the God who longs to redeem and restore and remember and wrap you in his arms. And if there is one thing I have learned in the midst of cancer and chronic pain, it is this: God is larger and stronger and more powerful than the worst disease.”
Does God ever commend our ability to let wrong happen? Well, according to Mary Demuth, that may be the case as she cites 1 Corinthians 6:7, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?’”
“The truth is, most of us are uncomfortable with sadness, as individuals and as churches. We want to fix people and help them to feel better, and we are far less patient than God is with the process he uses to bring healing.” That is what Nancy Guthrie says in an interview someone sent to me recently.
A few more quotes from Guthrie:
“For a church to be a safe place for sad people does not merely mean that we offer comfort and acceptance. Sometimes it means that we gently but boldly challenge misbeliefs or misunderstandings of Scripture.”
“While we make room for people to be sad, we want to walk with people in expectation that God will indeed do a work of healing in their lives so that they do not stay stuck in their sadness, but emerge from it strengthened in their confidence in God, deepened in their understanding of the Scriptures, and equipped to serve others.”
Guthrie says, “Grieving people have four primary needs that the church has a key role in addressing:
- They have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.
- They have significant questions that need to be addressed in light of Scripture.
- They have broken relationships that need to be healed and normalized.
- They have a deep desire to discover some meaning and purpose in their loss.”
Related to Guthrie’s article is one by Ajith Fernando, “To Serve is to Suffer” in which he writes, “We call our churches and Christian organizations “families,” but families are very inefficient organizations. In a healthy family, everything stops when a member has big needs. We are often not willing to extend this commitment to Christian body life.”
Fernando’s article is hard hitting for those wanting to serve but who do not want to suffer! More from Fernando,
“When people leave a church because they do not fit the program, it communicates a deadly message: that our commitment is to the work and not to the person, that our unity is primarily in the work and not in Christ and the gospel. The sad result is that Christians do not have the security of a community that will stay by them no matter what happens. They become shallow individuals, never having true fellowship and moving from group to group. Churches committed to programs can grow numerically, but they don’t nurture biblical Christians who understand the implications of belonging to the body of Christ.”
Here is a quote that is particularly painful for me to read,
“I get the strong feeling that many in the West think struggling with tiredness from overwork is evidence of disobedience to God. My contention is that it is wrong if one gets sick from overwork through drivenness and insecurity. But we may have to endure tiredness when we, like Paul, are servants of people.”
In response to Fernando’s article and shortly before her husband died, Libby Little wrote A Small Version of the Grand Narrative in which she concluded, “May the fruitful door of opportunity to embrace suffering in service, or at least embrace those who are suffering, remain open for the sake of God’s kingdom.”
More from my friend John who lost his wife to cancer earlier this year.
While in Asia, I spoke one day on what good news is. I shared that the problem with suffering is the pain. The beauty of suffering is seeing Jesus Christ formed in me. The temptation is to retreat from or with the pain into isolation and denial – hiding, burying the feeling and pain or to “medicate” the pain with busyness or some other distraction (fill-in the blank with most any destructive habit). The pathway to seeing Christ formed is in embracing the pain as the instrument of God’s hand to shape, sharpen and polish the image of Jesus in my life. Knowing Him, His presence, His comfort and His glory is my hope. Would you pray that I would do that consistently?
You might expect the above statement to come from a health and wealth proponent but it comes from a man who is soon to die; who has lived with severe chronic pain and cancer the last few years. Following are excerpts from an interview Timothy Dalrymple had with William Stuntz. One of the most compelling pieces I have ever read. Thanks to my dear wife. Headings are mine but the rest is excerpted from an interview with Stuntz.
God is eager to bless
My experience of cancer especially is that God is just so eager to bless. I find blessing all over the place, not in the cancer itself but all around it. It would almost be easier to answer what blessings I have not found.
Since my cancer diagnosis, I have experienced more friendship from more people than at any other time in my life. I’ve experienced not just a quality of medical care but a kind of medical care, humane medical care delivered by humane and decent people, that seems Christ-like to me. I don’t know the religious convictions of all the people who have treated me, but I certainly believe that they are used by God in ways that are really quite extraordinary to bring blessing to people who are in circumstances that lead them to hunger for blessing. I do hunger for blessing in the midst of these medical conditions, but I regularly find that hunger satisfied.
Life has become more concrete
Chronic pain and cancer both make life more concrete. In times of good health, when our bodies are doing everything we want and expect them to do, there is a tendency to think of spiritual life as something that is anything but concrete. That’s not possible, I find, in my present circumstances. My medical conditions, independently and together, are inescapable. Perhaps that’s the key feature. They are there all the time. There is no time when I am not aware of them. I hurt all the time. I’m exhausted all the time. There is no escaping either of those states of affairs. I simply never feel like I used to feel virtually all the time.
I am more than but not less than a cancer patient
I want to be more than a cancer patient and chronic pain patient. But I cannot be less than a cancer patient and a chronic pain patient. Those are large parts of my life. They are part of who I am. Although I would love to have my pain and my cancer removed tomorrow, that would not be an easy thing. I would have to learn how to be somebody else.
NOT Believing in the God of Disappointment
What I am displeased with is my own living of life. I feel an acute sense that I ought to have done better with the circumstances I was given. This is one of the reasons why it cut me so deeply when people suggested that suffering is God’s discipline — because I find it so very, very easy to believe in a God who is profoundly disappointed in me.
It seems utterly natural to believe in the Disappointed God, because I myself am disappointed. He must be even more disappointed, I think, because his standards are so much higher than mine. How could he not be disappointed? That makes complete sense to me.
It’s the other God, the God who does not experience that kind of disappointment, the God who sees me the way that Prodigal Son’s father saw him — that is the harder God for me to believe in. It takes work for me to believe in that God.
God longing for me is unspeakably sweet
“You will call and I will answer. You will long for the creature your hands have made” (Job 14:15).
I find those lines very powerful. The concept that God longs for the likes of me is so unspeakably sweet. I almost cannot bear to say them aloud. They are achingly sweet for me to hear.
There are many passages I love, but that one in particular has grabbed hold of me. Job’s hope, it turns out, is more realistic than his despair.
Science has discovered yet again something that Christians have known for a long time. Suffering strengthens faith! Check out the book of Acts and the growth of the church after the persecution began. Thanks to World Mag
Finding a few minutes here and there to read in the Fall/Winter 2008 issue of Conversations–the issue is on “Discernment.”
Read a helpful article in which Gary Moon interviews Kim Engelmann about her new book Running in Circles.
The discussion is about the difference between redemptive suffering and destructive suffering. She calls redemptive suffering “Potter’s-wheel suffering” and destructive suffering “Hamster-wheel suffering.” Apparently her book is about how to discern which wheel a person in in.
She says hamster-wheel suffering is
- Goes nowhere.
In contrast, in potter’s-wheel suffering,
- God’s hand is involved.
- The Potter, not the clay is in charge of moving the wheel.
- We get off a different shape than when we got on.
It’s a book that I think I need to pick up.