Monday, September 8, 2008

Do you love trouble?

What a stupid question - right? Who loves trouble? Who in their right mind wants hardship? Well, not many people go looking for suffering but I can tell you this. Those in a close relationship with Jesus know that when trouble comes calling, a profound experience of wonder and gratefulness is not far behind.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, in fact I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.”

This is the apostle Paul describing the results of being repeatedly in prison, being flogged, and being exposed to death again and again. Five times he received the forty lashes minus one. Three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned and left for dead. Three times he was shipwrecked and spent a night and a day in the open sea. He was constantly on the move. He was in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from his own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city and in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false brothers. Ultimately Paul was beheaded for attesting to the fact that Jesus was crucified, was buried and rose again from the dead. But through it all, because and only because he was in an intimate, healed and forgiven relationship with Jesus, Paul could say that any physical and emotional harm that life / others afflicted on him was more than offset by spiritual peace and security that God provides in spite of life's troubles.

“I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.”

Is that not weird? What kind of a goof enjoys insults, and difficulties and threats going on their life? I’ll tell you who. Someone who, based on loads of experience knows that going through the valley of the shadow of death brings one directly into contact with the presence of one’s Creator, a presence that is as palpable as the blanket that you pull on at night. I remember when our baby died. Our world was so rocked that we were almost wobbly when we walked. We had gone 22 years without a conception. We had quit trying. We'd moved on. We'd adopted a couple kids who were at that time in grade nine and eleven. And then, out of the blue, there was the little blue line. What a ride! What a gift! What joy! What an awesome, loving, merciful God we serve! The glow that was on my wife's face was something that I'd never seen before. She had never, in her whole live felt as physically and emotionally healthy as she did while she was pregnant.

Something was not right from the very beginning. Sarah died at seven weeks. Numb and disoriented, the next couple weeks were to us like a blur as friends drifted in and out of our home. We were never left alone for two full weeks. There were such awesome people in our lives at that time. Beyond that however, Wendy and I sensed God’s presence in such a tangible sense that the air in our living room was thick, thick, thick. I remember saying that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the depression on the couch where He had been sitting; it was that real. An Older Testament writer might have said, “The hand of the Lord was heavy upon us.”

I can't describe how tremendously God grew us in our relationship with Him during the next year. There is a saying that goes, “In this life you are going to suffer. The only question is, will you suffer with Jesus in your life or without Him.” What we, who are in a healed relationship with Jesus find is that from beginning to end, from A to Z, through joy and through sorrow we experience unbroken care and a renewal of strength from our Lord, Protector and Saviour.
This assurance is based on fact.
This assurance is based on experience.
This assurance is based on a relationship.
This experience is based on repeated demonstrations of a love that outweighs any possible negatives that come from all that life can throw at us.

When God says, “No evil will befall you,” or “Even though you are killed, not a hair on your head will be harmed,” it means that the part of life that’s important, the only part of life that’s important cannot be touched by the events of life. I remember once, about 30 years into my arthritis and being so incredibly crippled up and being in so much pain. Wendy would have to help me get dressed in the morning and undressed at night. She would help me stand up from the table and I had all sorts of braces and lifts and handles added to the house. During one examination, my doctor told Wendy what a stoic personality I am. I didn’t say anything in reply, but I could have and perhaps should have said that my attitude toward the trials of life had absolutely nothing to do with stoicism. Far from it. My attitude, my courage if you want to call it that comes from one and only one unfailing source of joy and strength. That of course is my Creator, Saviour and Lord.

I know beyond a shadow of doubt that when God allows trouble to come into my life, it is only because He has something far better for me on the other side of that particular tragedy. Put another way, I know with confidence that freedom from that particular tragedy would not be as good for me as going through the tragedy along with the presence and guidance of my Lord Jesus. Unfortunately, most of us spend so much time trying to squirm out of our troubles that we miss all the learning that we’re meant to attain in the midst of the trouble.

And so I too have come to rejoice I my infirmities, my trials, my hardships because in my weakness, and frailties, God is able to make me fearless and strong.

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