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Ouch! This Hurts

May 15, 2014
run-over-by-a-bull

Life making you feel this way?

We all have difficult seasons in our lives.  If you haven’t, trust me, you’re not immune and it is coming for you.  It won’t come when you want it to.  It won’t come when you expect it to.  It won’t even come when it’s convenient.  In fact, whatever the storm, whenever the storm, it will be contrary to all of those − it will be completely ill-timed and test the character in its deepest part of you.

It’s not whether you’ll go through trials or not. You WILL. So instead of whining, griping, and complaining … how you respond TO the trials, how you react TO the suffering, how you behave WITHIN the fire is paramount. What is God trying to teach you?

Remember whatever we endure, not of our own stupidity, is intended to bring Him glory. Our own failures of character and/or moral deficiencies bring on bouts of correction and discipline designed to bring us back in line and strengthen us for future works that He’s prepared us for – for His glory. These are works that He prepared, past tense, before the foundations of the world for YOU – works designed specifically for YOU.

But when the temptations, trials, struggles, and wars rage all around you – whether financial, physical, emotional, intellectual, relational – He is with you in the midst of those storms. He is availing His strength, His grace, His peace, His hope, to you. He is availing Himself to you for you and in you in those moments – all for His glory.

How do you respond? How do you react when the enemy seems to slip behind the front line and inflict pain and torment in your life? Most begin with the denial that a loving God would allow this to happen. “This can’t be happening.” “I’ve been going to church.” “I’ve been doing what He wants.” We start going through the list of “do’s and don’ts” to see how we line up against them – as if our works earn God’s favor. It couldn’t when we were unsaved, and it doesn’t when walking out our salvation. So that first reaction is completely improper and yet so hard for us to shake from our core thought patterns.

I’m not quite sure if it’s human nature or American arrogance to believe things should always go our way.  And when they don’t, we kick, scream, demand, command, and quote scripture to rebuke the winds, command the demons, and demand God give us justice.  Our society tends to always expect perfection towards us while we give excuses and justify our poor behavior, lazy work habits, and snippy, sarcastic remarks.  We hide behind (anti) social media, criticize, manipulate, dominate, and castrate ideas that are contrary to what we hold to be self evidently true.  The key word in all of that is ‘self’.

Most people, myself included, move past disbelief because the problems don’t disappear when you deny they exist.  Instead, they grow.  Realizing denial isn’t working, we quickly move to anger and frustration.  Those are often dealt with hostile attitudes, fighting, criticizing, outbursts of anger, playing the blame-game before moving into the demands for justice, fairness, equality, oh, and let’s not forget,  retribution.  You see it’s not bad enough that we’re being treated unfairly,we believe they (whomever ‘they’ are) should ‘get theirs’!

None of those approaches work effectively.  Oh, they may partly work or temporarily assuage the situation.  The results are generally not permanent and they tend to worsen as time moves on.  But is any of that, any of it, honoring God?  Remember, He’s with you through it all.  And while you’ve tried every trick in the book, you’ve yet to go to the Creator of heaven and earth and ask Him why.  When you do, you may not get an answer or at least not the answer you want.

Maybe He’s not trying to teach you anything.  Maybe’s He’s preparing you.  If I went to the gym and the trainer teaches me the correct way to use the weight machines, I don’t need further training.  I’ve moved beyond that to the ‘regular workout’ routine. And continuing to do the workout routine on a regular basis builds strength. So when I do come across a situation where that strength is necessary, I have the ability because of the weeks, months, and years of training for that purpose.  With that mind-set, maybe God is putting you through boot camp.

For the sake of this post, let’s assume this isn’t a boot camp situation. You’re not in this to build spiritual muscle, but rather its fiery trial that you’re facing.  How do you respond?  Let’s take a look at the word and see what we can glean.

James 1:2-4 — Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (NLT)

Hmm.  Count it joy.  Wait … GREAT joy.  Is that how you’ve approached it?  Probably not, but you can see the results.  So the trials bring maturity.  They bring a perfecting of our heart (attitudes).  Uh-oh.  There’s the rub.  The trials are to change our attitudes?  That means how we respond is vitally important. But James has more to say:

James 1:812 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (NLT)

God will bless us for PATIENTLY enduring.  I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include grumbling, mumbling, and putting on our mad-face.  What it means is when they occur, know that God is doing something in us to change us until we’re more usable.

Maybe James was wrong.  Maybe that’s not what Jesus really meant.

John 16:32-33 — 32 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT)

Jesus was talking to His disciples, but the words apply to us, too.  Here on earth we’re going to have trials and sorrows.  He knew that there was a cost to being His disciple.  Too often churches try to paint a rosy picture – that all our problems will come to an end when we give our hearts to Jesus.  That’s not true.  What we get is usually a more difficult life, but along with that we get forgiveness, love, mercy, grace, hope, adoption as His children, and a future home where all of sin’s sting will be far removed.

You see the key is to realize this life, this temporary home, is not eternal.  It’s temporary.  Eternity is a breath away from us and in that place every tear will be dried, every heart ache will be replaced with immense joy forever and ever.

Jesus also said this:

John 15:18-2118 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. 21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.

Maybe the trial you’re facing isn’t from men, but from illness or “bad luck”.  We live in a fallen world.  A sinful world.  A world that is broken in every sense of the word.  Cancer should not exist, but it does.  Heart ache should not exist, but it is prevalent.  Accidents shouldn’t take place, but they do.  Babies aren’t supposed to die.  Loved ones aren’t supposed to suffer.  And yet we all face them daily.

So how are we supposed to react when we’re being hit on every front?  How are we to respond when our lives are in turmoil?  What should we do when all hell seems to have broken loose in us or our family?  The answer is simple and complex.  Easy to answer, difficult to put into practice.  Here’s the answer, then we’ll look at the complexity of it.

Isaiah 26:3You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you,all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (NLT)

The ‘You’ is referring to God.  He will keep you in peace when you trust Him and when our thoughts are towards Him. Simple answer, but actually putting this to practice is difficult.  Why?  Because we tend to think we can think our way out of our problems.  We try to resolve things on our own.  Our nature is to hang on to it tightly, making whatever the issue is, part of us.  We’re not just struggling financially, we’re poor.  We’re not just struggling with our health, we’re cancer victims.  We’re not just struggling with our sexuality, we’re addicted.  Instead of identifying with Christ and turning towards Him we put on this shame and make it part of who we are.  I’m reminded of two verses during the course of this discussion.

Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart;do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do,and he will show you which path to take. (NLT)

And …

Matthew 11:30 — 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

God wants us to let go of everything and hide completely in Him.  Allowing God to be our all in all; giving Him complete control of every area of our lives.  We can’t depend on what we think because our thinking is already broken by sin.  Our judgment is faulty.  Giving up our ideas to reason through our problems and trusting Him in the midst of them is where we’ll find peace.  There will be times God will speak to our heart and say, “Do this” or “Say this” to your struggles.  He’ll give us the words and the ways to deal with it.  Or maybe He won’t, but He’ll give you His peace that passes or surpasses natural understanding.

It all comes down to our identity with Christ and learning to completely clothe or identify ourselves in Him.  Anything less will result in frustration and futility with questions of “why me”?  When we choose to hide entirely in Him, He’ll provide the peace in the midst of our storms.  He’ll give you the strength to endure them.  He’ll supply the grace and the mercy you need at the time of your need.  And all we have to do, all we have to do, is trust Him.

We want all the glories of an ease-filled Christian life.  But we’ve confused this life with heaven.  The life that is ahead of us on the other side of eternity is where we’ll find true and unending joy.  To think we’ll find it here is utterly ridiculous.  We’re in the enemies territory and the devil hates God.  But while we’re here, behind the enemy lines, in his territory, we’re to exemplify His love, testify of His goodness (read: preach the gospel), and be faithful.  And, in the process, rescue as many POWs as we can in spite of any opposition we may face.

This all leads to my final thoughts on the struggles we face.  In the years that followed the earthly life of Jesus, those who trusted Him with their lives often found tremendous trials.  Persecution was a reality of choosing to identify yourself in Christ.  It still goes on today around our world.  In America, we have it pretty easy.  We think we’re being persecuted only because we don’t know what true persecution is.

Many are called to lay down their life for their faith.  You can read in the book of Hebrews how people were stoned or sawed in half for their faith.  Think about that.  We think we know what pain is, but there are those who thrive on doling out pain for their own pleasure.  I’m pretty sure being sawed in half around 100 A.D. didn’t include anesthesia, or a high powered razor-sharp saw to speed up the process.  If giving your life to Christ meant knowing you would face death – a painful death at that, would you?  Just how deep is your faith?  Those that give their lives for Him know what it truly means to completely trust in Him.  Do you?

— Pastor Rick

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