Some of you reading this will know quite well what it means to suffer, many of us have come from very dark places before we came to the knowledge of God. Some of us have even known what it’s like to suffer as a Christian. As we learn who we are in Christ, life’s circumstances seem to create the opportunity to suffer quite often, really. It is a normal human experience and this is no different when you become a Christian. A topic such as this is a highly personal one because we all experience its pain, but I believe that as new creations…
if our perspective can shift, the suffering in our lives will be a much more bearable experience and even a glorious one.
As you read throughout the entire Bible you will see plenty of suffering from practically the beginning, as mankind didn’t make it through Genesis 3 until suffering entered the world through sin and death. This seems to be something we all experience for ourselves early in life as well. We all understand what it is like to feel rejected, fearful, resentful, jealous, angry and hurt. We have all experienced the suffering of being sick, of hurting ourselves or seeing our loved ones hurt. Many of us have experienced death to some degree or another – if not we all will, and even when death takes one who might have been suffering, which led to death, we are still left with a sense of emptiness and a longing for a day where there will be no more suffering. And this is where Jesus comes in for many of us, and I was no different. Reading through the gospels and seeing his mercy and compassion on hurting people, one of my favorite things he said is: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)
Jesus is the solution for the suffering in the world as we see demonstrated through his life, but more importantly through his death and resurrection. We have experienced this hope, we have found meaning for our lives and all of our suffering in Christ – whether that is past, present or future. Theologically, we can argue that God doesn’t cause all the trouble in the world, or that he is causing us to suffer for his glory. Personally, I don’t believe he is. I believe we are experiencing this suffering because of a lack of God’s will in the world. Jesus tells us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems clear that God is grieved by our suffering, so much so that he entered into it as a man and suffered the most that we might find freedom and bring about a new creation that will one day be fully established. So if Jesus came almost 2000 years ago, why are we still suffering?
We see the life of Jesus and the way he came “proclaiming the kingdom of God,” and after three years he was crucified. This was no different in the early church, and even today in many places in the world. The gospel is going forward and it will not be stopped, but whenever light is shined the darkness does not like it. In our western culture today we are blessed to be able to practice our faith, but that is obviously not so in all places of God’s world. As new creations, we get to partner with God in bringing reconciliation and restoration to this world, and that means there will be suffering as we continue to advance.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? Romans 8:22-24
And this is the main point I want to make. Like a woman giving childbirth, she groans to give birth to her child. And like us, the more we know the ways of God, it will be like a groaning within ourselves and a longing to see God’s creation fully manifested in His glory. To see all things made new and an end of suffering. I remember when I first met Jesus it was like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or winning the lottery and nobody wanted to share Him with me. I would tell my friends and family, “let me be your burning bush, God is real!” and still they didn’t have eyes to see. I would tell them about the awesome things I was learning, about the supernatural things going on in my life, but still no desire or change. After about a few months of this struggle, I remember hearing from Jesus when I was at a point of feeling hopeless, “how can the people I love so much and who have seen me change so clearly not believe?” and I heard Him say, “follow me and they will start to follow.”
It took many years of loving Christians pouring into me and blessing and serving me that birthed the faith in my life. It was seeing them struggle with life and “suffering well” that planted seeds in my life that made me cry out to God years after I witnessed their lives, I wanted the hope they carried. Just because we are new creations and know the Lord, doesn’t mean life doesn’t still happen. The world is still not in a place where it was created to be, but we have hope. Hope that remains -hope and an answer to the evil in the world.
When we make up our minds that we will “suffer well” for the sake of the kingdom, that isn’t resigning our life to a life of suffering, or believing that God is causing us suffering. It is a point that we see past the problem and we know that God can use all things to bring about good, but many times we have to partner with him in doing so. Peter talks about suffering in his first letter.
- 1 Peter 3:13-18 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
- 1 Peter 4:19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
- 1 Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
These verses can be intimidating to some, or make God out to be the one who is causing us suffering, but that is not the point. The point Peter is making is that we will suffer for doing good. Jesus did, the apostles did, and many of the saints in our day are continually suffering because of their dedication to following in the ways of Jesus. It is an unavoidable situation because we do not yet see all things in subjection to him and we want to. We long the day when the whole world will praise His name, and we know that by suffering for doing good it changes things. The Apostle Paul was one of the biggest thugs out to get Christians before he met Jesus and look at what happened to him. In the book of Acts, chapter 7, Stephen was preaching the truth and was stoned for it. During the execution he cried out “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” (Acts 7:60) Two chapters later Saul was radically delivered and had his name changed to Paul and he went on to write much of the N.T.
Many of us will never experience this type of persecution, but we can still bless those that persecute us. We can still love those who don’t want to love us back. We can still give up our right to be offended by those who trouble us and love the hell out of people. Doing good like this will change the world around us, and as the body of Christ this is what we suffer for.
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Luke 6:34-36
Written by: Andrew Strobel
I’m the type of person that likes to have all the answers. I like to understand… how things work, why things happen, and how things in life fit together. I’ve always been curious and I usually ask lots of questions. Sometimes this can work in my favor and sometimes it gets annoying. Just ask my husband 😉 But I think that the Lord gifted me with a strong desire for learning. I was always an excellent student and now as I’m in the “real world” of adult life, I strive to be the best employee and worker I can be. I always go above and beyond, striving to exceed expectations and be the detailed and thorough person that I am.
When I was 14 years old, I lost my dad to a battle with ALS. It was devastating, to say the least, and threw me in a loop of unanswered questions. I needed to understand why this happened, but my 14-year-old brain couldn’t rationalize how a wonderful, Christian father and husband would be taken from this Earth. He did all the right things. He played piano at the church I had been going to for 14 years. He was a loving and caring father, husband, teacher, brother, son and friend. He was the spiritual pillar of our family, leading and guiding us to be stronger believers and God-seekers. WHY would he be taken away so early? It really bothered me that I couldn’t figure this out, and to be honest, it changed my view of God for years to come.
Everybody kept telling me, “Everything happens for a reason” and “God works in mysterious ways,” but none of that BS ever helps. Has anyone ever been comforted by someone telling you that everything happens for a reason? Well I haven’t! So probably around the age of 18-20, I began trying to fill in the gaps myself. I started wondering why God would do this…
Was God trying to teach me a lesson?
Maybe He took my dad away to get my attention?
Maybe that was the only way I would have gotten closer to God was if my dad was taken away.
Maybe I would have drifted away from God had my life went on like normal. If God hadn’t taken him, I wouldn’t have been the strong Christian I am now because nothing would have pushed me towards God.
Maybe there was nothing left for my dad to do on this Earth anymore?
And so, that is what I started telling myself… that this was a lesson for me and that God was trying to get my attention. This was my view of God.
Fast forward to about two years ago: I got introduced to better covenant theology through the Bible school that my husband is enrolled in. I started learning about the God of the Old Testament and how the apparent differences between Him and Jesus weren’t what I had always been taught. I started connecting the dots to many things I had wondered about in my early years of Sunday school. I knew God wasn’t a mean God, but I couldn’t explain why. When confronted with questions about the God of the Old Testament in all his rage, killing sprees, and malice, I couldn’t answer. But through new teachings, my mind started to be renewed with fresh and contextual biblical understanding and interpretation. Mind you, I grew up in a non-denominational, un-spirit-filled church for 22+ years and through which laid the foundation for 99% of my theological and spiritual understanding. So many teachings were completely new to me and thus I’m still trying to unlearn a lot and relay ground work for a new foundation.
In the midst of these last two years, many times my thoughts have returned back to my childhood and my dad. The Lord has gently showed me how I have misunderstood many things about my past and many things about Him. My understanding of God’s character has probably seen the most transformation. Understanding the truth about the God of the Old Testament has freed me of so many things. The Bible is truly a love story and now I get it! I finally understand the full picture of God – not just the “New Testament” Jesus. God has always been for me and for my family, just like He was always for his people, Israel. He had perfect plans for them from day one. He wasn’t a punisher by nature. In the same way, He loved my dad very much and it was never his plan or desire for him to be stripped of this Earth early. It was never his desire for me to go through so much pain and heartache. ALS was never his plan or desire. He wouldn’t have tried “to get my attention” by taking away somebody that I love. That’s not how a good Father treats his child.
On a bigger scale, I have heard that the church is in a season of understanding and encountering God the Father, and this couldn’t be more true for my life right now as well. I’m getting to know and better understand God as my father. I’m not a parent yet, so I think even more revelation will come in that season of my life, but I am gaining deeper understanding about the relationship between a parent and child.
Over the last two years, I’ve started allowing God to fill in the gaps for me instead of trying to do it myself. I know that I might never fully understand why my dad died until I’m in heaven, but I can easily understand God’s heart towards me.
One of my favorite verses is 1 Peter 1:6-8.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious that gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Our faith is more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire. We aren’t promised a perfect life without trials, but we can hold steadfast to the hope of heaven! I can rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory knowing my Father is a perfect Father and loves me more than any earthly father could. Now, this is comforting!
I encourage you to allow God to fill in the gaps of your life. Allow your understanding of God’s character to penetrate your daily thoughts – especially the ups and downs that life brings. Give God the credit He deserves by acknowledging him as the God of the Bible – the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – and not just the God of the New Testament. Help others to understand this God too!
Written by: Kelsie Ebel
When I was a kid I remember a light brown Chevy pickup backing into our driveway. It was dark and the flood light of our garage lit up the spot where my dad’s couch was going to get loaded into the back of the truck. Or was it my mom’s couch? It was THEIR couch. “There he goes; daddy’s moving out,” I said to myself.
I don’t remember anything else about that night; I was four. The night was dark and that flood light was more like a spot light on the stage of what would turn out to be a nonchalant tragedy of sorts. The only thing that existed that night was my dad leaving the house and going somewhere else. I didn’t go with him. I did wonder where he was going though. Where was he going to live? What does it look like? Is it far away? Will I get to see him? What you can’t see as a kid, you fill in the blanks, like the unspoken backstories of books you read or were read to as a youngster. We all have our own versions of those backstories even though we all may see the same things happening.
As we look back at our upbringing there are moments that shape us and impact us to such a degree without us even knowing it. What was your upbringing like? Is it kind of the same or totally different? No matter what it is I’m confident of this: No matter what, there’s something that left a dent, or a scar, rather.
We take inventory on our hearts and wonder where the joy is or why are we not happy with life or the course of our career and/or relationships. We may come to a realization of the damages that were never addressed. I feel like I grew into a 23-year-old boy and then began a journey into becoming a man and here I am 12 years later as a father and leader and husband and friend to many. Yet, crashing to this revelation that we as children may grow up, we all remain children.
We remain people with experiences that have impacted us. Moments have shaped and influenced our decisions and what we believe about ourselves. The truth is, even though I love my dad and I know that my dad loved me, I didn’t experience the fullness of that love and I still long for it.
Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV) says,
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
This is the call of Abram. What Abram needed to do was to draw close to the Father, but he wouldn’t do that while he remained a citizen and a member of his history. God desired to do something brand new in his life and to flow blessings TO him and THROUGH him, but it wouldn’t happen until he would draw near to the Father and have a close and trusting relationship with him.
For years, we can miss what heaven is doing by keeping our identity as an orphan, an un-fathered little kid that never had their dad’s full heart. Perhaps we have lived out failed expectations or unmet needs from our relationships, or lack thereof. Our Glorious Dad wants to draw you into His house and let heaven invade everything you do. We need to leave our father’s house and enter into our Father’s House.
If you live your life constantly trying to validate who you are based on your past or upbringing and the role and identity your family has put on you, then you will never experience heaven’s assignment for your life.
I grew up angry inside, fake on the outside, and constantly breaking the rules and offending authorities to gain laughs and popularity. Through all of my efforts, that didn’t make me powerful, it made me a clown. I lived a life that was starving for acknowledgement and acceptance. I wanted someone to approve of me, but I took the counterfeits, however they came.
Now as you sit there reading this, what is the damage you have tried to mend? Join me in this prayer: “Holy Spirit, show me what went wrong. Reveal to me the lie that I have believed about myself. Show me how you see me and what you are inviting me into. Reveal to me heaven’s assignment on my life. I choose to move out of my old identity and into yours. Amen.”
Written by: Jordan Mudrock
Ever try to take a big winter jacket off without unzipping it? You can struggle and struggle, pulling, pushing, and straining, but you will probably just end up red-faced and frustrated and a little embarrassed if anyone was watching. But, if you just unzip the big jacket it just slides right off, no problem. Why? Because that’s the way it was designed.
Many times, Christians who are trying to get free from an area of sin in their life look like someone trying to get a big heavy winter jacket off without unzipping it. They can struggle and struggle fighting, pushing and pulling, but many times they just end up red-faced, frustrated, and ashamed.
The problem is that the dominion of sin isn’t conquered through will power; it’s conquered through Jesus and his grace. Before the big heavy jacket of sin’s dominion can be removed, we must first unzip the condemnation off of someone’s life. Freedom from condemnation comes FIRST, then freedom from the dominion of sin follows. Just like the zipper on the big heavy winter jacket must first be unzipped, then the jacket easily comes off.
So it is with sin. Jesus took the punishment for our sin. He bore the shame and he was condemned on the cross for us. Now that we are in him there is NOW NO CONDEMNATION! When you remove the condemnation, you remove the power of sin to cling to you. But only Jesus and his grace can unzip that heavy burden of sin and shame and call that beautiful new creation forth that YOU really are in him.
As a Christian, you’re going to make mistakes, but don’t let the devil put you in a strait jacket of condemnation NO! Keep your eyes on Jesus and his finished work and enjoy his wonderful grace and live life free from the dominion of sin. YOU are the righteousness of God. YOU are forgiven. YOU are loved. TAKE THE JACKET OFF!
Written by: Jeremiah Johnson
As a father, nothing, and I mean nothing, is more annoying than listening to my kids fight and bicker with each other. It literally drives me insane. Anyone else feel this way?
But why? Why does this make me so crazy? As parents we often find ourselves saying and doing crazy things as a result of our kids fighting. The other day I just stood there yelling unintelligible words [I think it was the word STOP mixed with the word NOW = SOW!] as my 7 year old boys were talking down to my 2 year old daughter. The argument was essentially a battle of 7 year old logic versus 2 year old logic, which as a parent would actually be funny if it wasn’t so annoying and accompanied by the hell-raising whining noises coming from their mouths. My boys had their Pokemon cards in neat little stacks, and my two year old daughter felt the need to swat them down. Cue the hell-raising whining noises followed by yelling and pushing with a sobbing 2 year old as a cherry on top, unable to figure out why her brothers don’t like card swatting.
I got to thinking about that yesterday and came up with some ideas about why it makes me so crazy…
I believe it bugs me so much because they are my children and there is no easy way out of the situation. It requires me to get involved and problem-solve. It makes me feel like a failure as their father. I don’t want to have to get involved. I want them to just know how to get along based on the lessons I provided them in the past. After all they are my children, not my slaves – I shouldn’t need to command them around. I feel like I shouldn’t need to give them rules to live by – they should just know by now, shouldn’t they?
Maybe not. They are just kids after all. I guess that’s what parenting is all about – showing them the right way and praying that it will eventually make sense to them – that eventually by the time they leave the confines of my protection that my desires for their good – for their best lives – will finally become their desires.
“The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.” – Galatians 4:2
As parents we make the rules because without them our “heirs” will die. They just don’t get it – as my wife Susie keeps reminding me, their little minds don’t yet have the capacity to understand right and wrong – the knowledge of good and evil. They must be told. It must be demonstrated for them.
That’s why it bugs me so much. I want them to get it. Like, now.
Don’t get me wrong, my kids are growing up far too quickly – before my very eyes. But sometimes I want them to learn faster. I want them to remain children but operate with my will and desires so they stop fighting with each other and start helping each other. Sometimes I wish I could just impart my will & desires – my Spirit – within them so they would “get it,” yet still remain my little children, intimate with me, under my roof, under my care – yet with my spirit of wisdom so they walk alongside me as sons instead of behind me like slaves.
“And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” For the Helper, the Holy Spirit. He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to.” – Galatians 4:7; John 14:26
I think all our fighting and bickering frustrated God too. I think it frustrated Him to the point of death. It frustrated Him for the same reason it frustrates us. After all, we are made in His likeness. Relational. Loving. Nurturing – with all the joy and frustrations that go along with it. He will never leave us or forsake us, but we sure grieve Him from time to time.
We all pay a steep price for our children – for them to “get it”. Thousands of hours requiring truckloads of patience. Buckets of blood, sweat and tears are the prerequisite for even a chance at success.
The joy of parenting is watching as our kids finally start to get it. It warms our heart like beaming rays of sunshine as they willingly cling to the essence – the spirit – of what we taught them.
Without. Being. Told.
I watch on as my 7 year old son encourages my two year old daughter as she colors her picture, or as my two sons give up their favorite things for the sake of the other. As they get older and older my rules and commands will begin to fall off their souls like training wheels off a bike. Not because they aren’t good rules, but because they have accepted and trusted in my wisdom which has taught them how to ride the bike.
That’s my child.
When they come of age they will leave my rules behind completely and be free – relying instead on the deposit of wisdom I’ve placed within them rather than the confines of my rules – rules which I hate having to enforce.
God is like that too.
Rules are not needed where His Spirit exists. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). We still may fall down from time to time, and those times may serve as reminders about why the rules once existed. But rather than try to put training wheels on a mountain bike, we must get back up and keep riding the bike in freedom, not only because our Father told us to, but because we simply like being with Him where He is – in complete freedom.
God doesn’t want slaves and servants, He wants sons and daughters. He wants to share all that He is and all that He has with those who seek His own heart – with those who take ownership and responsibility in His estate.
Without. Being. Told.
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant doesn’t know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.” – Jesus