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The Value in Suffering

The son of one of the nouveau riche, Francis of Assisi, was raised as a spoiled and privileged young man. Imprisoned for a year for being on the losing side of a war with a rival city, his friends noticed a change. He found a little abandoned church and spent whole days there praying. He renounced his inheritance and all claims on his family. 

From “The Inconvenient Elder” by Fred Smith

Dear God, I read Fred Smith’s blog this morning and, while this wasn’t the point of his peace at all, something struck me. It was a follow-up thought to a conversation I had with a friend yesterday. Suffering is an important tool that you use to teach us and help us grow.

In Francis’s case, I knew that he had renounced his family’s wealth out of devotion to you, but I didn’t know that his transformation included a year in prison. Apparently, he got arrested being part of a military expedition (prisoner of war?) and this changed his life. In his older life, I’m sure he regretted his participation in the military expedition, but I also wonder if he was ultimately grateful for the fruit of that suffering. It changed his life.

Isn’t it funny? We all know that the only way we grow is through struggle and yet we do everything we can to avoid it personally, and our temptation is to interfere with our children’s lives so that they will avoid it too. I’m as guilty as anyone. Maybe not as much in my personal life, but certainly at work. I like to build a very comfortable, low-stress environment, sometimes at the expense of expanding our services. I talk a good game, but does my reality reflect what I say I believe?

Father, make me sensitive to any action you’re calling me to. Maybe it will mean struggle for me. Maybe you’re calling our nonprofit to grow and serve more, but my fear keeps it small. Maybe I let my ego and desire to get the approval of others keep me from pushing the envelope. I’m sorry. Give me your vision and the courage to follow it. And please bless my path, not for my comfort, but so that others will be served from you working in my life.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Emails to God – What’s With All Of The Suffering Verses? (1 Peter 4:12-19)

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Dear God, I know I sound like a broken record on this, but I seem to keep coming across verses that remind me that suffering is not outside of your plan for me. It’s funny because I think I know that, but then you apparently keep bringing these passages to me so it makes me wonder if I still haven’t gotten it.

So, yes, I’ve been going through some trials lately, both at home and at work. Compared to what other people experience in life, however, I am hard-pressed to classify it as real suffering. And I’m certainly not suffering for your name or anything like that—I’m just going through normal life stuff. But I guess the question is, do I feel sorry for myself and angry with you for my suffering, or do I just accept it as part of the journey and move forward. I thought I was doing the latter, but perhaps I am doing the former more than I know.

Father, all I ask for myself is that you give me your wisdom, discernment, and peace. Whatever else you need to do to or through me to accomplish your will, so be it. You are my God. I am your servant. I already have it better than I deserve.

 

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Emails to God – Suffering for the Lord (Luke 1:26-38)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Dear God, it seems to me that Mary was put in a really tough position here. I realize that she has been revered since her death, but her earthly life was not easy. It seems to me that there are a lot of instances in the Bible when you feel like the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. Noah’s call was not an easy one to follow. Nor was Moses’. Generations of Israelites suffered in slavery. Ruth suffered until she married Boaz (which eventually produced David’s lineage). The apostles lived difficult lives. Even Jesus lived a challenging life and suffered a terrible death. And then there are Mary and Joseph. They were poor, faced being ostracized from their community, traveled during pregnancy, gave birth in a manger, ran from Herod in the middle of the night to Egypt, relocated a couple of times after that, etc. It wasn’t an easy call.

In looking at these stories I wonder why we, as American Christians, sometimes feel like our suffering should be mitigated or minimized. I think we have created this idea of a God who wants each of us, individually, to be cozy in our homes. I know that thought is certainly appealing to me. But is it consistent with what we read in the Bible? Did our heroes live easy lives. Even David had to fight wars and face insurrection from his children. Your prophets were rejected. Stephen was stoned.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I need to be careful about what exactly it is I expect from you and our relationship. I need to be careful about not expecting to be able to look back on my life and evaluating its success based on whether or not it looks good on the surface (e.g., did I have a good career, did I make a lot of money, did I live a long time, did I retire well (and young), did I live in comfort, did my family live free of disease, etc.). You haven’t promised me any of these things, and I have no right to expect them from you. And if you do give me these things then my first question should be, God, what is it you want me to do with this blessing?

Father, I confess to you that there are times when I start to worry about my career and wonder if I should be accomplishing more (and making more money). I wonder if I am starting to get to an age where I will be too old to get that one great job that will set me up for retirement. As my children near the end of high school I start to wonder about my legacy through them and how I will be perceived as a parent through their accomplishments. These are all sins because they take my eyes off of you and turn them to myself. They take my eyes off of today and turn them to tomorrow. They ignore the idea that my suffering might be for the good of so many more. So I will start the way Mary started. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

 

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Emails to God – 6 Levels of Faith (Mastering the New Testament: Job)

Mastering the Old Testament – Job (written by David McKenna)

Dear God, okay, I am going to do things a little differently for a while. I am on vacation and I feel compelled to spend some time really digging into the book of Job. Frankly, it has always daunted me a little because its structure is too complicated to just journal through like I normally do. This is literature, and it is to be contemplated and studied as such.

So, much like I did in high school when I had to read something that I feared would overwhelm me, I am using a commentary to help me. It is from Word’s Communicator’s Commentary Series, and all I have read so far is the Introduction, but it is great. There was one part of the Introduction that I want to pray through this morning because I think it will lay the groundwork for the rest of the book.

I am just going to shamelessly quote about half of a page here:

Obviously, faith is not static. Compatible with other theories of human development, a person either grows, plateaus, or regresses in faith as the circumstances of age, experience, and events change. [James] Fowler [from his book The Stages of Faith] has also devised a helpful scale of faith development with six sequential stages:

  1. Intuitive-projective faith is associated with a child’s faith, based upon fantasy and imagination.
  2. Mythical-literal faith is the family faith of the early school years, which is sustained by moral rules and either/or thinking.
  3. Synthetic-conventional faith is an adolescent faith that conforms to the tradition of the community and creates the “kind” of person of faith whom it models or rejects.
  4. Individuative-reflective faith is the faith of the young adult who is capable of critical thinking, independent reflection, and dialectical reasoning.
  5. Conjunctive faith is a mid-life and old-age faith that integrates self-identity with a comprehensive world view to see the order, coherence, and meaning of life in order to serve and be served.
  6. Universalizing faith is the rare faith of a world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life.

Wow, there is a lot of meat here, and I feel like I need to dig into each one and be able to understand and recall each one frontwards and backwards in order to move through the rest of this book. So let me at least try to start by writing a definition for each one in my own words.

  1. Intuitive-projective faith is something that you believe without facts or knowledge. Your intuition tells you it is true, whether it is nor not. Santa Claus is an example of this. So are the Bible stories like the burning bush, the walls ofJericho, etc. You hear it and no real explanation is necessary because you aren’t in to thinking about things critically yet.
  2. Mythical-literal faith is what you pick up from your family’s structure. It includes your family’s values (what foods you eat, how much TV and what kinds of TV you watch. It’s pretty black and white. There is little room for grey area. There is always a right and a wrong answer, and your family structure helps to define those right and wrong answers.
  3. Synthetic-conventional faith is a little more mature than Mythical-literal in that it takes into account the social norms of the surrounding community, but there still isn’t an independent interpretation of beliefs the group has. For example, is homosexuality a sin or not? One can let their community form this opinion for them instead of studying, contemplating, and putting together their own opinions and beliefs on the issue.
  4. Individuative-reflective faith is the beginning of independent thought—hence, “individuative”. This person is starting to critically analyze some of their own long-held beliefs. For example, “Is scripture truly inerrant, or are there inconsistencies with which I must deal?”
  5. Conjunctive faith involves having to know yourself and then adding life experience and knowledge of the world to that so that it can inform your faith. Individuative-reflective faith can still be idealistic because it is often ignorant of experience. Conjunctive faith is the coming together of all aspects of the human experience.
  6. Universalizing faith is where it all comes together into a life that is, on the one had, at peace, and, on the other hand, driven by faith in God and hearing His call regardless of the personal circumstances.

So knowing those levels of faith, I will hopefully be a little more prepared to experience Job’s faith walk along with the faith walks of his wife and friends. Where are each of them at any given time? Where am I in my life right now? Have I reached #6. Am I still at #3? I guess that’s what the writer of Job wanted me to figure out.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Job

 

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