Thursday, December 19, 2013

When it's Your Turn to Suffer

Today is the fourth day in our 50th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Job 4-7; Revelation 11; Psalm 99*.

I know a pastor who faithfully tended her flock, comforting the sorrowing and caring for the wounded.  She was full of wisdom and grace, binding up the brokenhearted and lifting the needy from the trash heap.  She declared freedom to the prisoners and justice for the oppressed.  She provided for those who grieved, bestowing on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61).  

Until it was her turn to suffer.

When tragedy struck her family, it rocked her world.  

Those who care for others are not exempt from personal apocalypses themselves.  We need encouragement just like anybody else.  When Job began to wallow in his suffering, he needed his friend Eliphaz to offer support.  The Temanite had these words for Job:

Think how you have instructed many,

    how you have strengthened feeble hands.
Your words have supported those who stumbled;
    you have strengthened faltering knees.
But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
    it strikes you, and you are dismayed... 

Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
    so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he also binds up;
    he injures, but his hands also heal.

(Job 4:3-5; 5:17-18)

Even the strongest believers, those who have strengthened many others, need to be cared for now and then.  Perhaps you've been a caretaker for many, but now it's your turn to suffer.  What can you do when doubt clouds your vision and threatens your faith?  What can you do to regain your balance in life?  Psalm 99 gives a recipe for jump-starting a stalled faith.

First, remind yourself who God is.  

...He sits enthroned between the cherubim (v. 1)...

Great is the Lord in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations (v. 2).

The King is mighty, he loves justice
    you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
    what is just and right (v. 4).

God is holy.  God is great.  God is enthroned and exalted.  God loves justice and equity and does what's just and right.  When you've been through times of suffering, it helps to remind yourself who God is.  Because sometimes (usually) we don't see the big picture.  We only see a small part of what God is doing.  We see our suffering over here, but don't see what God is accomplishing through it over there.  Reminding yourself who the Lord is helps you regain perspective and trust in our good God.

Next, remember what God has done.

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,

    Samuel was among those who called on his name;
they called on the Lord
    and he answered them.

He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
    they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.

Lord our God,

    you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
    though you punished their misdeeds.
(vv. 6-8)

Countless times in God's Word, we read about people of faith who called on God, and the Lord rescued them.  But it isn't just in the Bible that God has shown Himself faithful.  No doubt, you can recall instances in your own life and in the lives of your loved ones, when God has demonstrated His deliverance.  By remembering what God has done for His people in the past, you reassure yourself that He will be with you in this present suffering, and will carry you into the future.

Finally, rhapsodize about God Himself.  

Let them praise your great and awesome name

    he is holy (v. 3).

Exalt the Lord our God

    and worship at his footstool;
    he is holy (v. 5).

Exalt the Lord our God

    and worship at his holy mountain,
    for the Lord our God is holy (v. 9).

When you're suffering, you might not feel like praising God.  Worshiping may be the last thing on your mind.  But do it anyway.  In Job 1:20, we read that after he suffered so much destruction, Job got up and tore his robe, shaving his head in grief.  Then he fell to the ground in worship.  It was in worship that he gained the perspective that he needed, and the strength to withstand the temptation to curse God for his pain.

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship  and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

    and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Worship lifts you above the circumstance and sets your feet on God's territory rather than on your own battleground.  Our problem when we suffer is that we linger too long in our own pain, and run too rarely to the Lord who brings relief.  

Perhaps you've always seen yourself as the strong one, able to take care of everybody else when they struggle.  You've observed suffering from the sidelines, and you've been able to detach yourself from other people's pain as you tend to their needs.  But maybe now it's your turn to suffer.  What will you do?  When tragedy strikes, will it rock your world?  Or will you it force you to remind yourself who God is, remember what God has done, and rhapsodize about God Himself?  I pray that you can avoid suffering altogether, but if you do suffer, I hope you'll run to God rather than away from Him.  Because it's only when you run toward Him that you can receive the healing that you need.

*Today's scriptures are taken from the NIV. 

No comments: