Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

            A few hours ago a friend and I were musing about the difficulties we’ve experienced in our lives over the past year. “I wonder if God is taking a nap,” may have been uttered. Both of us have been through our fair share of suffering, but if it was a contest I’d have to say she is the winner, hands down. So in a lot of ways I remind myself that as bad as I think my situation is, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be (don’t we all try to make ourselves feel better with that statement?). Our conversation sort of ended with a, “Well, life sucks, time to go take a shower now.”

            As I’ve been doing a lot lately, I stood in the shower after our talk and stared at the wall, thinking, praying, complaining, questioning…and finally I just had to ask, “Why does it have to be like this, God? I mean, why does it have to take thirty years for someone to find out they’ve been married to a monster? Why has it taken me over a year of suffering without any answers or diagnosis? Why, if we have to suffer, can’t it just be quick? Why couldn’t she have found out about her spouse a year into her marriage? Why couldn’t I have gotten a diagnosis last year when this all started instead of being turned away time and again by doctor after doctor? Why, why, why?”

            Of course I know better than to ask “why,” but for some reason I chose to go that route with God anyways. And as it happens when things like this are going on, God has been strangely silent during my prayer times. But this time (maybe He’d heard enough whining?) He chose to speak to me. He said, “What if it’s not about you?” And that was it. He allowed me to stew on that one for a while. So I stood there staring at the walls, having just received a verbal crack upside the heart with a truth so simple yet so profound I couldn’t even respond.

            Then I thought of Job, how he probably suffered more than any human being in the history of humanity (besides Jesus), and how he never had the privilege of knowing the “why” behind his tragedy. Not that he didn’t ask, but God never answered him specifically (at least, not on this side of heaven). And then I think of how many people throughout the course of time have been helped because of Job’s story. How many people have suffered and turned to the pages of that book to find the answer to their “why” only to stumble across chapters 38-42, and realize they probably won’t ever know their “why” either, but somehow gaining a measure of hope from his story.

            Then I think of how much my friend has suffered, and I consider how much my spiritual life has grown just through knowing her, and as a result of watching her suffer. Maybe, just maybe, my suffering isn’t about me at all. You know, we say it all the time (and I hate hearing it, honestly) that “God is just teaching me a lesson right now, I’m trying to listen to what He’s saying” as if God is some cosmic sadist getting some sort of pleasure out of causing us pain, just to teach us a lesson. That is not the God I know from the Bible, my God isn’t a sadist. My God came to give me life to the full (John 10:10), not cause me misery in order to teach me something. But, that doesn’t mean pain or suffering isn’t a part of the process of life, in general. And who am I to presume to know the plans and purposes of God, anyways? How do I know what God is doing in someone else’s life as a result of my suffering? The truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you. We don’t know who is watching us or being ministered to through our pain. We don’t have a clue as to what God is up to about 99% of the time. We only know what we wish He were up to, or what we expect Him to be up to, and most of the time (at least in my experience) he rarely delivers as expected (I find He delivers far better than expected).

            I sit here and think of all the people who have influenced me in my life, and many of those people suffered a great deal. A lot of what God taught me had to do with watching them respond to their circumstances. And all of this gives me pause. Because if my suffering isn’t even about me, that means God is using me for some greater purpose in someone else’s life, even if I’ll never know who, what, or why. Who am I to be used by God? All of a sudden my “why” turns into an “Oh, thank you, God, for choosing me!” Not that I am happy about suffering (who is?) but knowing all of this actually has nothing to do with me gives me some measure of peace within the ugly process of hurting.

            Throughout the past few weeks God has brought a verse to mind repeatedly, and it’s worth noting here, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” Ephesians 5:16, NLT. The reality is we are all going to suffer. Some of us will experience great loss. Some of us will die younger than we had thought. Some of us will be considered “Modern day Jobs” by our friends. Some of us won’t really suffer much at all. But one thing we all have in common is that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already beginning the process of losing time and dying. So as William Wallace shares in the movie Braveheart, “All men die, not every man truly lives.”

            Within the process of suffering a pathway to true living exists, through embracing the pain (not with a giddy, happy, la-la kind of feeling, but in an embrace of surrender) and trusting that God is choosing to use us in His master plan in ways we won’t be able to comprehend. That maybe this journey we’re on isn’t even about us, it’s about Him and seeing how intricately he fits the pieces of our puzzles together to bring ultimate life abundant to us and others, all for His glory. Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”

            Then again, maybe none of what I’m saying here makes sense to anyone but me. I don’t know. I just know that at least in my suffering, I am gaining a bit of relief in knowing it’s not about me at all. And I’m finding a way to be thankful in it, even excited about it, because I know God is working something incredible out. And whether I know what it is on this side of heaven or on the other, I will understand it eventually, and when the final picture is brought together, I know I’ll be smiling as Jesus looks at me and says, “It hurt, but it was worth it, don’t you think?” Yeah, it is, Jesus, it is.

Advertisements

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian

No one is exempt from suffering, whether physically, emotionally, or relationally. It matters not if a person is a Christian—everyone experiences suffering to some degree. No doubt suffering has been written about, studied, debated, and discussed for generations. Over time one may begin to wonder if there can possibly be anything new to say about it.  But Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian does exactly that. This may be one of the most important books a Christian could read in today’s publishing market. My view on suffering was challenged throughout this book, and by the end of it, I found myself deeply affected in a spiritually transforming way.

Glorious Ruin discusses at length two key issues: The Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross. Throughout the text Tchividjian explains the origins of both, as well as key differences between the two.

Glorious Ruin is brimming with powerful truth which provokes pause and careful contemplation in the reader. With brutal honesty, the belief system of the majority of modern Christians is challenged to go well beyond what is generally understood about suffering. Tchividjian also challenges the ideologies permeating from the Prosperity Gospel, Scientism, and Nihilism as well as skillfully working through the New Age “self-transformation” movement. He exposes the fallacy of Karma, and how most every Christian is tainted with the idea that “what goes around comes around”–whether they realize it or not.

“We communicate that God exists for our benefit, happiness, self-fulfillment, and personal transformation. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, and God isn’t necessarily opposed to them, but God in Christ cannot be reduced to a means to our selfish ends. He is the end Himself!” (pg. 47)

Christ cannot be reduced to a means to our selfish ends. He is the end Himself! <<<< Click to Tweet!

A tremendous amount of detail goes into studying the effects of moralizing and minimalizing suffering, namely within the Church community. We may think we are not guilty of such attitudes, but this book challenges thinking and promotes deep introspection on such issues. If we’re honest, we’ll admit we are at least tempted to rationalize suffering, or explain it, using the word of God. We tend to, at least subconsciously, feel the need to defend God’s allowance of certain tragedies. Glorious Ruin is not another book to offer reasons why a person suffers, it simply points to the Gospel repeatedly as not needing a defense or an explanation.

“The Gospel is not ultimately a defense from pain and suffering; rather, it is the message of God’s rescue through pain.” (pg. 38)

Unlike many Christian resources currently available, it’s clear Glorious Ruin was not written to promote a certain doctrine or theology, but focuses solely on the Gospel as it is written in the Bible, especially through the life and words of Jesus.

“What God pressed deeply into me is that there is no true, lasting hope outside of Him. Specifically, there is no true, lasting hope outside of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about an explanation of what happened on Calvary—I’m talking about Calvary itself.” (pg. 150)

Perhaps one of the most poignant messages of the entire book deals with our inherent need to have things explained. Our natural tendencies are predisposed to asking the Why and How of our circumstances. The following quote hit home for me, personally.

“Explanations…are a substitute for trust, a red herring at best. God is interested in something much more powerful than anything information could ever produce. He is interested in faith.” (pg. 152)

I like to keep my personal “opinions” out of book reviews, keeping to the factual content of the book and letting the reader decide if its right for them, but this case proved impossible for me. I cannot withhold the deep impact this book had on my life and how the truth it contains applies to every living soul on the planet. If you think you know everything about suffering already, I plead with you to read this book. If you live a comfortable life, relatively free of what you consider suffering, I plead with you to read this book anyways—if not for yourself, for the people who walk in to your life who have suffered in ways you may not be able to relate to.

One thing you will not find in Glorious Ruin is an attempt to trivialize pain, or compare one person’s experience to another. Tchividjian rightly acknowledges that we all suffer in unique ways and God has a plan to set us free through that suffering, no matter what its form. Simply put, Glorious Ruin is a must-read Christian resource.

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian is published through David C. Cook and is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2012.

(I received this book for review purposes only and was not required to give a positive review.)

Tullian Tchividjian is the Senior Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. Tchividjian is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored many books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

Calculated

“Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.” Psalm 119:72 NLT

Calculated

How interesting. I find myself sitting to write and here I am talking about wealth and riches and what really matters in life when my husband has barely worked for the past two weeks. I just finished a prayer, “Jesus, I am trusting You to get us through this, and I know whatever you have in store will be great. I thank you for it in advance,” then I opened my notes and laughed, “Yes, Jesus, Your word IS more valuable than gold!”

Sometimes you need to have your material securities stripped down in order to figure that out.

It’s not always so cut and dry. God isn’t necessarily waiting to take all that you love away from you to teach you some sort of lesson on valuing his word more, or setting your sights on eternity more. Sometimes it is just life. Will we accept pleasantries from God and not the uncomfortable? We must accept it if we truly trust him, because with trust comes understanding that all things work for our greatest good.

Brokenness

Financial Ruin

Sickness

Losses

Pain

God is up to something, he is calculating our every circumstance to work out in our best interest. Unfortunately for us, we cannot see the big picture.

God does.

The Psalmist learned his most valuable possession was the knowledge of God’s character, and that was found in his word. What else brings us peace, joy, and the greatest gift of all, salvation? The word of God! This is the “good news”, this is the “greatest news”!

Sometimes it seems easier to say the Bible is valuable when we sit in relative financial obscurity. Certainly it is valuable, for it is all some of us have! But the Psalmist, he was a man of wealth, worldly wealth and riches, and of all people most uniquely qualified to give a value to the word of God.

He put a price tag on it: priceless.

All of our lives we will suffer losses. We will go through ups and downs, times of gains and decreases, but one thing remains sure, and that is the precious, priceless word of God.

Taking a risk and investing your life in knowing the character of God is a calculated move that will pay off over the course of your entire life as you learn who he is; you will learn to trust him and live a more joyous life in him. There are so many unknowns in this world, but the word of God is a sure thing. Invest in it, and have an eternal treasure you can take to the grave (and beyond!) Knowing the heart of God is something you will not regret.

Have you experienced something today that you don’t understand? Is not fair? Confuses you? Are you tired of wondering why it is so “easy” for some to “cast their cares upon God” while you’re struggling to get what is going on in your daily life? God doesn’t promise us understanding, but he does promise us wealth beyond comprehension. That wealth is in knowing him. Sound too easy? Open the word, find out who God is, where he is, what he is up to, and find out for yourself if that peace he offers isn’t more priceless than millions of silver and gold. I can tell you from my own experience it most definitely IS.

When the money is gone, when the health is gone, when the job is gone, when the niceness of your coworkers (or family) is gone, you will have the entirety of God’s promises in your heart and at your lips.

It truly is a wealth of choice.

Prayer

Jesus, as I bring to you my cares, worries, anxieties, and doubts today, I trade them for the riches you offer me freely. Peace, joy, contentment, purpose, mercy, and everlasting life to name just a few! Thank you for what you are working out in my life, for the things I understand and the things I don’t understand. I choose to trust you in every situation knowing you are in control. Change my heart that I may love you more every day; consume me with the wealth of your word!

Affliction: My Teacher

 “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Psalm 119:71 (NIV)

Affliction: My Teacher

“I never knew the meaning of God’s word until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of my best teachers.” –Martin Luther

It has been said that Psalm 119:71 is the Old Testament equivalent of Romans 8:28 which tells us, “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Affliction often catapults us into God’s word to find comfort, understanding, answers, to make sense of our circumstances, or to find wisdom to make the next major decision. Without that painful affliction we would not have experienced that faith deepening moment with which God spoke clarity into our hearts. I would venture to say that affliction may even be one of our greatest teachers-often bringing us closer to Christ than any other situation could. In fact, our sanctification often comes through our deepest pains. We need to be at a place of trust where we can say with joy and confidence, “It was good for me to be afflicted!”

No one looks forward to pain or affliction, and certainly we don’t ask that God shower afflictions on us in order to draw us closer to Him, but we can be certain that when we do experience painful circumstances that God is most definitely working them in a systematically ordered way for our greatest good, that we might better learn His decrees. Ask God to open your heart to the character he wants to build in you, and the blessing he wants to bestow on you or others through your trials. You may never fully understand, but you can find rest in trusting His Divine wisdom.