Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Syriac Orthodox, Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Quad Centum (Issue 400) Souvenir Edition

Volume 7 No. 400 March 1, 2017

Chapter 12: Trials n Suffering

God Loves to Work in Our Weakness

All throughout the Bible, we see that God loves to draw attention to himself and grow the trust of his people by working despite and through their weaknesses and limitations. Consider barren Sarah and Rachel, bumbling Moses, Gideon's small band, the young virgin Mary, and blue-collar Peter, among others. Jesus himself, the Lamb who was slain, ultimately demonstrates that it is meek sheep who conquer and win the world. ...

Redemptive Suffering

It was not in the plan of God that suffering and death be a part of human existence. That they became the lot of the human race was not God's doing, but man's. God made man in His own likeness and image, desiring to share with him His own infinite happiness and goodness. ...

What We Can Learn About Suffering in The Story of Joseph, The Patriarch?

In our suffering, we learn that our lives are not about us. Joseph was not purified and prepared for this moment simply for his own sake, but even more, for the sake of others. God has led Joseph, often through terrible suffering to prepare him to help save others. ...

Living in Hard Times

What do you do when your world caves in?
How does a Christian respond when hard times come?
What can we do to keep our faith strong?
All of us face those questions because we all go through deep trials eventually. When that happens, everything we believe will be put on the firing line. ...

God Shouts to Us in Our Pain

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. ...

Jesus Wept: 2 Simple Words with Incredible Depth

Just these few reasons for Jesus' weeping at Lazarus' tomb give us a glimpse into how God views our suffering and death. His reasons for not sparing us these things are righteous and glorious. But in them he is full of compassion (Psalms 103:13), he hates the calamity sin brings, and he himself has suffered more than we ever will ever know in order to pay the full cost of our eternal resurrection. ...

Leave The Worries to Jesus

Isn't our relationship with Christ a lot like that, sometimes? I feel like I have worried and fretted about so many things, only to realize in retrospect that God was trying to tell me, "Baby, let me take care of that for you." ...

In Suffering: The Secret of Joy

There is a distinct difference between happiness and joy. Seek to build up a habit of seeking joy, rather than happiness, in your life. That way, the next time you face a trying circumstance, you will still find yourself on a solid foundation. ...

 Chapter 12: Trials n Suffering

God Loves to Work in Our Weakness

by Prof. Travis Myers

Although I ended cancer treatment in March, I am still very tired and limited in what I can accomplish as a full-time professor and in my many relationships with friends, relatives, and neighbors.

My experience of weakness has been admittedly frustrating at times, but it has also been, by God's good and gracious design, very beneficial for me and others. God is pleased to use our various kinds of weakness and limitation to remind us of important truths and refine our trust in him.

1. Weakness reminds us that our very life depends on God.

Weakness reminds us that our lives are but a vapor, that all flesh is like grass. We are reminded that God provides each and every breath to our lungs and beat of the heart. He has numbered our days (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16). He is the Creator who upholds all things, even our puny little magnificent lives, by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). We cannot take for granted even the mere fact of our lives.

This reminder bears the fruit of gratitude and humility.

Too often, when things are going well, we are tempted to forget how dependent we are upon God for anything and everything (Deuteronomy 6:10–12). Savings accounts, good salaries, ministry success, healthy bodies, or a charming personality can become the horses and chariots in which we put our trust (Psalm 20:7). When our weakness reminds us that we depend on God and his providence for life and breath, we find joy simply in knowing that we live by his good pleasure.

2. Weakness reminds us that God will give us new bodies.

Our aches and pains and inabilities point us to our future perfected body and soul. Feeling like you have one foot in the grave reminds you that you have one foot, already, in glory. Our longing for the resurrection is increased by weakness.

As J.I. Packer writes, "Our new body . . . will match and perfectly express our perfected new heart, that is, our renewed moral and spiritual nature and character." Our present weakness increases our yearning for the day when Christ gives us a new body that "will never deteriorate, but will keep its newness for all eternity." The Christian hope, says Packer, "is understood not in the weak sense of optimistic whistling in the dark, but in the strong sense of certainty about what is coming because God himself has promised it."

This reminder bears the fruit of hopefulness and endurance in faith.

Romans 5:1–5 says those who have learned to rejoice in their sufferings will endure through trials, trusting God and growing in Christlikeness. That is because they look back to God's reconciling mercy at the cross and forward to their full and final deliverance at Christ's return. Romans 8:25 says that those who hope for the setting right of all creation, by the Spirit at work in them, wait for that inheritance with patience.

3. Weakness reminds us that we deserve wrath, but receive grace.

All of creation, ourselves included, suffers corruption, pain, and weakness because of the sin of our first parents (Romans 8:18–21). And each of us individually has earned the just wrath of God for our own multitude of sins (Romans 3:23), let alone a little suffering in this life. We don't deserve a weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17), but a weight of wrath.

Yet this world and our lives abound with so many good gifts from God. And we Christians have the best gift, Christ, who is our life and our eternal treasure. We have been spared God's righteous wrath, redeemed, forgiven by God, reconciled to him, justified, adopted into his family. What mercy!

This reminder bears the fruit of sympathy and kindness.

The weak, being reminded of God's tender mercy and forbearance toward them, are assisted by the Spirit to better embody Ephesians 4:32–5:2: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

4. Weakness refines our trust in God's wise and loving providence.

We learn obedience to God as we experience that nothing can separate us from his Spirit. God never leaves us nor forsakes us (Joshua 1:9; Hebrews 13:5), no matter how difficult things become. We learn that he knows exactly what he is doing at all times, what he is up to through our trials, even when we can't comprehend it.

So we grumble a little less about our given lot. We learn a bit more consistency in submission to our Savior and Lord, no matter what he brings our way. Our stiff necks grow a bit more flexible. We grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18).

In Finishing Our Course with Joy, Packer defines spiritual maturity like this: "Spiritual maturity is a deep, well-tested relationship to our triune God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and a quality of relationship with both believers and unbelievers that embraces concern, sympathy, warmth, care, wisdom, insight, discernment, and understanding."

This lesson bears the fruit of neither thinking more highly, nor less, of others than we ought.

There are various kinds of weak believers: the sick, disabled, elderly, poor, those not intellectually gifted, those with unimpressive occupations, the socially marginalized (to whom little opportunity is given and from whom little is expected). Some of the most sympathetic, caring, and wise people I have been privileged to meet and know fit one or more of those descriptions. Their relationship with God has been tested and their character refined.

Our weakness reminds us that the marks of spiritual maturity are not the abilities lauded by the world, like productivity or being a great public speaker. God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and what is weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). So let us move toward such people not merely to serve them but to learn from them. Study God at work in their lives. Look through their limitations to Christ inside. Listen to them gladly testify to God's goodness, grace, and glory.

The Weak Will Conquer the World

All throughout the Bible, we see that God loves to draw attention to himself and grow the trust of his people by working despite and through their weaknesses and limitations. Consider barren Sarah and Rachel, bumbling Moses, Gideon's small band, the young virgin Mary, and blue-collar Peter, among others. Jesus himself, the Lamb who was slain, ultimately demonstrates that it is meek sheep who conquer and win the world.

The great - and ironic - wisdom of the cross is that God chooses the foolish, weak, low, and despised to shame the strong and shut the mouths of the proud. God uses our weaknesses to remind us of important gospel truths and to refine our trust in him.

About The Author:

Travis Myers is Assistant Professor of church history and mission studies at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He's also a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Global Christianity published by Training Leaders International. He and his wife, Susan, served as missionary faculty members at the Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary.

Redemptive Suffering

by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

It was not in the plan of God that suffering and death be a part of human existence. That they became the lot of the human race was not God's doing, but man's. God made man in His own likeness and image, desiring to share with him His own infinite happiness and goodness. He endowed man with special gifts that made him immune from all suffering, and free of the necessity of undergoing death. These gifts, however, were not essential to human nature and could be lost.

God endowed man with free-will, in order that man would have to freely choose God above all things before entering into the beatitude of heaven. But, as we know, it was man's free will that upset what God had planned, for our first parents rebelled against the restriction placed on their freedom, wishing to decide for themselves what they could do or not do. As a result, they not only were not admitted into heaven, but they lost for themselves and their descendants those gifts that made them immune from suffering and death.


Because of his sin Adam was utterly displeasing to God, and because of the loss of grace he was unable to do anything that would win God's favor. God could have left mankind in that helpless state of eternal separation from Himself; or He could simply have pardoned man, restoring all the gifts he had lost. But God would accept neither of those solutions.

In His mercy He sent His only begotten Son to become a member of the human race to offer, on behalf of mankind, the infinite reparation that divine justice demanded. The divine Word took on a human body and soul in order that He could suffer to pay the penalty that a just God demanded in expiation for the sins of the world. Because He was man, He could pay the debt on the part of the human race; and because He was God, the reparation He offered was infinite.


Christ could have offered sufficient reparation without the Passion, for His every deliberate act was one of infinite love, sufficient to redeem the whole of mankind. But the Father willed the way of the Passion, the way of suffering. St. Thomas Aquinas explains why: (III, 46,3) (III, 48,1, ad 2)

The Passion made God's love for us so much more manifest, suffering so much on our behalf. "You have been bought at a great price" (1 Cor. 6:20). "Greater love than this no man has . . ." (Jn. 15:13). By His passion man is stirred to love God in return, and in this love of God lies man's perfection.

It helps man to realize the enormous evil of sin, when God would go to such length to make reparation for it.

It helps us to see more clearly the justice of God, Who willed the death of His own Son to repair for sin; and the mercy of God in the way He applies to sinners the merits of Christ's sufferings.

It gives such a wonderful example of humility and obedience, those indispensable virtues in loving God. Through PRIDE and DISOBEDIENCE Adam refused God the love and homage due Him. Through HUMILITY and OBEDIENCE Christ offered His Father the love and submission due Him.

It shows clearly the immense love of Jesus for His Father, Whom He obeyed "even to the death of the Cross" (Phil. 2:8). When Christ went forth to the Passion, He told the apostles that He did so "that the world may know that I love the Father" (Jn.14:31).

The Passion of Christ was especially valuable in teaching the necessity of suffering if fallen man (having the use of reason) is to attain his eternal salvation.

Additional scriptural passages clearly testify to the need of the Passion in fulfillment of the divine plan:

"The Son of man must be lifted up, that whosoever believes in Him may not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:14).

"Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?" (Jn. 18:11)

"Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so enter into His glory?" (Lk. 24:26)

To His disciples before the Ascension: "Recall those words I spoke to you when I was still with you; everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms had to be fulfilled . . . .Thus it is written that the Messiah must suffer and rise again from the dead" (Lk.24:44,46).


By the sufferings in His human nature during the Passion by which mankind was redeemed, Christ gave to all suffering experienced in the members of His Mystical Body a redeeming power when accepted and offered up in union with His Passion. As Pope John Paul II wrote:

"In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ" (Salvifici Doloris). Speaking on one occasion to a group of infirm persons suffering from various illnesses and handicaps, the present Holy Father recalled the great mercy of Christ in the many times He miraculously cured the lame, the blind, the deaf, the leprous, etc.; and how to save the newly-weds embarrassment, He miraculously changed water into wine. But, he said, there is here an even greater miracle, a greater mercy - when He gives to human suffering a supernatural value.

All the miracles mentioned were changes on the purely natural level; that is, the gift given in each miracle was some benefit of the natural order. But when He transforms human suffering giving it a supernatural value, a supernatural power, that is a far greater gift, a far greater miracle. But it is a gift so little appreciated, for it is known only in the light of faith; and the faith of many is weak. How many opportunities for spiritual growth and for helping others are wasted in complaining about the crosses of life.


St. Paul was so filled with the idea of the redemptive power of suffering that he exclaimed: "I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church" (Col. 1:24).

Those words of St. Paul are a puzzle to some, for they seem to imply that something is lacking in the Passion of Christ. St. Paul is speaking here of the Mystical Body of Christ, made up of Christ, the Head, and all souls in the state of grace who are the members of His Body. It is in the members of His Body that something is lacking. Shortly before He died Christ exclaimed: "It is consummated!" He says in effect: "All is accomplished that I came to do. By My painful obedience to the Father I offered infinite reparation for the sins of mankind, and merited the restoration of grace for the whole human race."

There is no grace that comes to any human that was not merited by Him. He had no need of any other in redeeming the human race. But Jesus willed that the mystery of His Passion continue on in us, so that we may be associated with Him in the work of redemption. Jesus could have accomplished this alone, but He willed to need us in order to apply the infinite merits of His Passion to souls. Pope Pius XII spoke of this in his encyclical on the Mystical Body:

"In carrying out the work of redemption Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because He is indigent or weak, but rather because He so willed it for the greater glory of His spotless Spouse. Dying on the Cross, He left to the Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Towards this she (the Church) contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this task of sanctification with His Church, but he wants it, in a way, to be due to her action. What a deep mystery . . . that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body offer for that intention, and on the assistance of pastors of souls and of the faithful, especially fathers and mothers of families, which they must offer to our divine Savior as though they were His associates."

Think of it. By accepting willingly and without complaint the little inconveniences, irritations, frustrations, delays, setbacks, etc. which God in His Providence allows to come our way, we can pay in part the debt that we, or others, have incurred by our sins. Because God is just, He demands that the debt of suffering be paid,, but because He is merciful, He allows one person to "fill up what is lacking" in another member of the Mystical Body which is the Church. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, "by the cooperation of Christ's satisfaction, much lighter penalty suffices than one that is proportionate to the sin" (III, 49,3, ad 2).


The Cross was the instrument chosen by God for the redemption of mankind. That is why Our Savior refers to the hardships and fatigue and trials of daily life as the "cross" that we must embrace if we are to be His disciples. Accepting them in union with the passion of Christ gives them a redeeming power, a redeeming value, a share in the fruits of His Passion. The "cross" can include everything that goes against the grain, and that can be an endless list. To mention a few examples: physical pain, mental anguish, disappointments, depression, humiliations, delays, sickness, poverty, set-backs in business, loneliness, being misunderstood or falsely accused, hardships and fatigue of daily routine, sadness at death of family member or friend, the difficult sacrifices in fulfilling God's commandments and the duties in our state in life, etc. All these entail suffering, and are part of the penalty of sin of our fallen nature.

We naturally try to eliminate all forms of suffering from our life, but insofar as they are beyond our power to control, they are part of God's providence. God foresees them, allows them, and can bring good out of them if we trust in Him. Suffering in some form or other is the lot of every human, saint as well as sinner. But since our attitude toward them can make them profitable or unprofitable (even increase our misery), it is important to see them in the light of the Gospel, in the light of God's providence. That is because suffering can get one down, or it can bring one closer to God. It can make one resentful and bitter - even blaming God for his lot, or it can make one more conscious of God's providence at work. It can make one turn in on himself in self-pity, or it can help one to open out upon the world in apostolic and redemptive action.

That suffering is not something good in itself, is clear from the great number of Christian institutions (hospitals, sanitariums, etc.) established to alleviate human suffering. While the ills and hardships and setbacks of life can be instrumental in spiritual growth, in themselves they are something evil. Christians are not forbidden to seek the comforts of life, or to enjoy lawful amusements, or to seek remedies from pain. The Church does not glorify suffering for its own sake; but it does glorify God by the loving acceptance of suffering when the fulfillment of His will entails it.


We have already mentioned the Holy Father's frequent comments on the salvific value of suffering when addressing the sick and disabled. He wrote at length on that topic in his Apostolic Letter "Salvifici Doloris" in which he remarked:

"Christ does not speak in the abstract . . . . He says: "FOLLOW ME! Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through My suffering . . . through My Cross. . . ."

"Without the vision of faith one has a sense of the uselessness of suffering.

This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but makes him feel a burden to others . . . and useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty the suffering person 'completes what is lacking in Christ's afflictions'; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of revelation he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service."


In the divine plan Mary was destined to share in a unique way in the redemptive mission of her Son, and therefore in His suffering. She received an early confirmation of this at the words of Simeon that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart. On Calvary Mary's suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view, but which was supernaturally fruitful for the redemption of the world. As the application of the fruits of the redemption will continue until the end of the world, so will the unique role of Mary in the distribution of those graces. Pope John Paul II speaks of this in relation to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God:

"The Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of His holy Mother, the first and most exalted of all the redeemed. As though by a continuation of that motherhood which by the power of the Holy Spirit had given Him life, the dying Christ conferred upon the ever Virgin Mary a new kind of motherhood - spiritual and universal - towards all human beings, so that every individual, during the pilgrimage of faith, might remain together with her, closely united to Him unto the Cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of the Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of the Cross" (ibid.).


In spite of Jesus' willing acceptance of the Passion, and His insistence that His followers must embrace the "crosses" of life, His human nature shrank from pain just as ours does. We see that in the Garden of Gethsemani; yet He willingly accepted it when commanded by His heavenly Father. "I seek not my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (Jn.5:30). The same should be the goal of His followers. Those sincerely seeking to grow closer to Christ know that it must be by way of the cross. Each day brings many little opportunities to submit willingly to various kinds of self-giving that go against the grain. Like Christ, we too can pray in certain painful situations, "let this chalice pass from me" as long as we are willing to add "nevertheless, not my will but yours be done" (Lk. 22:42).


What We Can Learn About Suffering in The Story of Joseph, The Patriarch?

by Msgr. Charles Pope

One of the greatest and most painful of mysteries is the problem of suffering and the broader problem of evil in the world. I was meditating with my Sunday School parents this past weekend on the Old Testament Patriarch Joseph. That story is rich with lessons about family struggles, envy, jealousy, pride, mercy and forgiveness. But the story also has a lot to say about suffering and the way that God can use it to bring blessings.

Lets take a moment and consider the problem of suffering and see what Joseph's life has to teach us. But first we ought to begin with some background.

I. Prequel

God had set forth a vision for us; let's call it "Plan A" also known as paradise. But of course that plan came at the "price" of a an intimate relationship with God the Father. Man would not be at the center; God would be.

God also asked Adam and Eve to trust him in an important matter. And that matter was both symbolized and focused on a tree called "The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil."

The word "knowledge" is key here. In scripture, to "know" almost never means simple intellectual knowing. Rather, it means to know something by experience. In effect, the title of the tree teaches that God did not want Adam and Eve to know what was good and evil by experience. Rather, he wished them simply to trust Him to be their teacher, to be their Father who would guide them in these matters.

But as we know, Adam and Eve gave way to the temptation of the devil yielded to pride. They insisted on "knowing" good, and, more problematically, evil by experience. In effect, their decision amounted to saying,

"I will not be told what to do. I will decide what I want to do and I will decide whether it is right or wrong. I will conduct experiments in this way for myself because I do not trust God to act in my interest, or to teach me accurately."

The Catechism says Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. This is what man's first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. (# 397)

Thus, they would not trust God to teach them what was good and not. They insisted on knowing and deciding for themselves. Adam and Eve wanted a "better deal" than paradise. So welcome to the better deal.

We live now in Paradise Lost, a world where the imperial autonomous self creates a kind of hellish existence often marked with great suffering and, ultimately, death. In wanting to know, that is experience, evil we sadly got what we wanted: sin and evil, sorrow and death as our daily fare. And this is the first Biblical explanation of the problem of evil.

But why was the tree there in the first place? Simply put, it had to be. Without choice, there can be no freedom, and without freedom, there can be no love. God wants his human children to be lovers, not slaves or instinct-driven animals but rather, children who can freely choose to love God or not. God is very serious about our freedom. Our "yes" is of no real meaning if our capacity to say "no" is not also very real.

II. Prescription

What then is God to do? If He simply canceled our choice, or the consequences associated with it, could we really say that he is serious about our freedom? No. So working within the parameters of our decision, a decision that included the experiencing of evil, suffering and death, God chose to make those consequences the very path of our healing and salvation if we will walk with him in these.

Thus Christ came and endured the full fury of evil and suffering unleashed by that ancient tree in the garden, and He now mounts another tree of the cross in a place called "the skull."

Now suffering and death provide a way back. And by his suffering and death Jesus sets us free and, still respectful of the choice we have made, Jesus bids us to follow him in the way of the cross.

So, as we've seen, God has entered our broken world, and made this brokenness a pathway by God's grace. Suffering often produces glory and refines us so that we are pure gold. Through suffering, grants us wisdom and helps us to learn new skills, new insights.

III. Picture

Perhaps the story of saint of Joseph in the Old Testament helps illustrate a lot of this. While are many layers to the story, both personal and communal, it is clear that God often allows great injustice and suffering, only to produce great glory and healing on account of it. Lets weave the story with some basic teachings about suffering.

A. Structures of Sin bring suffering

The story of Joseph begins in the dysfunctionality of Jacob's household. Jacob had two wives (Leah and Rachel) and 12 sons in different combinations with them and their maids (Zilpah and Bilhah). Now polygamy, and adultery is not God's plan! And, to be out of God's will is always to ask for trouble. And having sons by four different women produces no end of internecine conflicts. Sure enough Jacobs sons all vie for power and have divided loyalties because they have different mothers.

And in this matter we see that a lot of suffering is ushered in by human sinfulness. When we are out of God's will we invite trouble. Sadly, the trouble does not affect merely the sinners, it also affects many others.

Thus the sons of Jacob have been born into a mess, and into what moralists describe as the "structures of sin." In these broken situations of structural sin, sin and suffering multiply.

And it is often the children who suffer. They themselves, inheriting a mess begin to act badly an disdainfully. Suffering and evil grow rapidly in these settings.

In the world today, it is probably not an exaggeration that 80% of our suffering would go away at once, if we all kept the Commandments. But sadly we do not repent, individually or collectively.

And thus the first answer to why there is suffering, is sin. Original Sin ended paradise, and individual sin brings dysfunction and a host of social ills and the sins that go with it. And while this does not explain all suffering (e.g. natural disasters etc) is does explain a lot of suffering.

Thus we see Joseph is about to suffer on account of a structurally sinful situation brought about by Jacob and his wives and mistresses and contributed to all the members of the household. It's not his fault but he will suffer.

B. Suffering can bring purification and humility

Though the brothers of Joseph all fought among themselves, all of them agreed on one thing, Jacob's youngest son Joseph had to go. Jacob's favorite wife was Rachel and when she finally had a son, Joseph, he became Jacob's favorite son. Jacob doted on him, praised him, and even gave him a beautiful coat that enraged his brothers with jealousy. They were also enraged and envious because Joseph had many gifts. He was a natural leader, and had the special gift to be able to interpret dreams. Joseph had the kind of self-esteem that perhaps too boldly celebrated his own gifts. Among the dreams that he had and articulated was if he would one day rule over his brothers. This was altogether too much for them. Even Jacob at the school Joseph for speaking in this manner.

Here we see a possible flaw or character defect in Joseph. It is hard to know if Joseph actually crossed the line. His dreams after all, were true. He was a gifted young man and would one day rule his brothers. Some one once said, "It's not boasting if its true."

And while this has some validity, it is possible for us to conclude that Joseph was awfully self assured and may have lacked the kind of humility that required purification.

Surely as a young man he also had a lot to learn, and suffering has a way of both purifying us and granting us humility and wisdom. If Joseph is going to be a great leader, he like Moses, needs some time in the desert of suffering. And thus we sense God permitting trials for him to prepare him for wise, effective and compassionate leadership.

And so too for us. Trials and sufferings prepare us for greater things and purify us of pride and self-reliance. Woe to the man who has not suffered, who is unbroken. Thus God permits us trials and difficulties that help us hone our skills, know our limits, grow in wisdom and develop compassion and trust.

C. Suffering Opens Doors

On account of all of this is brothers plotted to kill him. But figuring they could make money on the deal, they instead sold him to the Ishmaelites as a slave. He ends up in Egypt, in the house of Potiphar. His natural leadership skills earned him quick promotions and he soon came to manage the household of this very wealthy man.

It is true that Joseph has had a disaster befall him. He was sold into slavery. It is hard to imagine a worse fate. Yet strangely God permits it to open a door. Now on his way off to Egypt in chains it would hard to convince Joseph that his life was anything but a disaster. Yet, God was up to something good.

And within months Joseph was in a good spot, working for a wealthy man as a trusted adviser and manager. As we shall see, more will be required for Joseph to be prepared for his ultimate work.

But for now, the lesson is clear enough, God permits some sufferings to get us to move to the next stage. He closes one door to open another. There is pain in the closing of the door to the familiar, but there is greater joy beyond in the door He opens.

How about for you? What doors has God closed in your life, only to open something better? At the time a door closes we may suffer, and wonder if God cares. But later we see what God was doing. For the new door opens to things far greater.

D. Suffering helps summon courage

In a tragic way, sorrow was again to come to Joseph. For Potiphar's wife took a liking to Joseph and sought to seduce him. Joseph refused her advances out of fear of God, and respect for Potiphar. But in her scorn she falsely accused Joseph of having made advances on her, and Joseph lands in jail! More misery, more suffering, and on account of the sins of others, not his own! Joseph is suffering for doing what is right!

One of the great virtues that we must all have, and see developed, is the virtue of courage. In a world steeped in sin, it takes great courage to resist the tide.

But courage, like any virtue cannot simply be developed in the abstract. Rather, it is developed and refined quite often in the crucible of opposition and persecution.

And thus we see how God helps Joseph develop his courage and trust by permitting this trial. Jesus would say many centuries later, In this world you shall have tribulation, but have confidence, I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33) He also said, Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs (Matt 5:10).

As for Joseph, so also for us. If we are going to make it through this sinful world with our soul intact, we are going to need a lot of courage. The Lord often develops his courage in the crucible, asking us to trust him that we will be vindicated, whether in this world or the next.

E. Suffering builds trust

Joseph just happened to meet to prisoners from Pharaoh's household, the Cup-bearer, and the Baker. In prison, they experience Joseph's ability to interpret dreams, and observe his natural leadership skills. In accordance with a prophecy given by Joseph, the cup-bearer was restored to Pharaoh's service who then reported Joseph's skills to Pharaoh who just happened to be having dreams that troubled him.

God humbles us, only to exalt us. As Joseph has already learned, God can make a way out of no way. He can do anything but fail, and he writes straight with crooked lines.

Sure enough, in jail Joseph has his trust confirmed. Through his connections in jail, of all places, he will rise to become the prime minister of all Egypt. Having come through the crucible, Joseph is now ready for the main work that God has for him.

Consider how in your life, God's providence has prepared you for something that an earlier stage in your life you couldn't handle. Surely he prepared you in many ways; but among those ways was the way of humility and suffering. Setbacks or failures have a way of teaching us and preparing us for some of the greatest things that we enjoy. And in our struggles we learn the essential truth and we must come to trust and depend on God who knows what we need, what is best for us, and who knows how to prepare us for the works he expects of us.

F. Suffering produces wisdom.

Joseph is brought to Pharaoh and he so powerfully interprets Pharaoh's dreams, not only as to their meaning, but even as to a 14-year plan that will lead them through a looming crisis. Pharaoh was impressed, and Joseph is appointed to the equivalent of prime minister of all Egypt.

Joseph is able to interpret Pharaoh's dream. But he doesn't simply interpret what it means, he also sets forth a wise plan. He explains to Pharaoh that the next fourteen years will have its ups and downs. Where might Joseph have learned this truth? Of course we know, in the crucible of his own life.

There's a great wisdom in grasping that what is seen and experienced in this world is transitory. And thus we do well to listen to the Lord's wisdom which is eternal.

Centuries later, the Lord spoke a parable of the certain wealthy man who had a great harvest and thought he was forever set. Lord called him a fool for thinking this way. Our abundance is not meant to be hoarded for ourselves. Excess food is not to be stored for myself, but rather stored in the stomachs of the poor and the hungry.

And thus Joseph, has been prepared for this moment by God, and he's no fool. He has learned God's wisdom and direction. Whatever abundance occurs in the next seven years must be set aside for those who will be hungry in the years that follow.

His wisdom is no accident, no mere hunch. It has come from the crucible of suffering. Suffering does that, it helps us become wise, get our priorities straight, and in this case, understand that our wealth depends on the Commonwealth. We cannot live merely for ourselves. That is foolishness, we are called to live for others.

What wisdom has God taught you through suffering? How has suffering helped you to get your priorities straight; to see the passing quality of life in this world, and to set your sights on the world it is to come and on the judgment awaits you? On the day of judgment will God call you a fool or a wise person? And if you are wise how did you get there?

G. In our suffering, we learn that our lives are not about us.

Joseph had predicted seven years of plenty, to be followed by seven years of famine. Hence, under Joseph's direction during the years of plenty, grain was stored in abundance. So abundant was the harvest that with the grain stored, not only was Egypt saved from the famine, but also many neighboring lands. In a twist, Joseph's brothers come to Egypt seeking food. And he is able to save the very brothers who thought to kill him. To his anxious brothers, who recognizing him fear for their lives, Joseph reassured them by saying you intended for evil, but God intended for good.

Yes, in our suffering, we learn that our lives are not about us. Joseph was not purified and prepared for this moment simply for his own sake, but even more, for the sake of others. God has led Joseph, often through terrible suffering to prepare him to help save others.

God did not simply prepare him to be a big cheese. God did not prepared him for glorious leadership for his own sake, but for the sake of others.

One of the lessons that we learn in Joseph's story is that our life is interconnected with many other members of the Body of Christ, all of whom are precious and important to God.

God had to put Joseph through a lot to prepare him for his role of helping others. We are not called to live only for our self. God loves us individually, he also loves others through us; and he loves them enough that sometimes he is willing to make us wait, for their sake, or to cause us to suffer in order to groom us to help them. And the same is true of them toward us. All of us have received from the sacrifices of others, and are called to make sacrifices for others.

It is a hard truth, but true nonetheless, that God sometimes asks us to accept suffering for the sake of others, even as we are blessed by the sufferings of others who made many sacrifices for the things we enjoy.

This is the communal dimension of suffering. How is God prepared you through sufferings today to be able to help others?

Biblical stories have a wonderful way of teaching truth, and about our own life. And thus the Patriarch Joseph speaks to us from antiquity, and the pages of God's holy Word. And somehow, I can hear Joseph saying that God can make a way out of no way. Somehow I hear him calling us to courage in our sufferings, and to perspective. Somehow I can hear him singing an old gospel hymn "God never fails. He abides in me, give me the victory for God never fails!"

Video I

Video II

Living in Hard Times

By Dr. Ray Pritchard

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-8

What do you do when your world caves in?
How does a Christian respond when hard times come?
What can we do to keep our faith strong?

All of us face those questions because we all go through deep trials eventually. When that happens, everything we believe will be put on the firing line.

Many years ago I learned an important truth from my friend Jim Warren. One day I joined him on Moody Radio for Primetime America, the program he hosted each weekday afternoon. While we were preparing for the broadcast, he told me, "Ray, I heard something today that really helped me. When hard times come, be a student, not a victim." Over 20 years have passed since that day, and I still regard that simple sentence as one of the most profound things I have ever heard.

Some people go through life as professional victims, always talking about how they have been mistreated. But perpetual victimhood dooms you to a life of self-centered misery because you learn nothing from your trials.

What a difference it makes to be a student and not a victim:

A victim says, "Why did this happen to me?"
A student says, "What can I learn from this?"

A victim blames other people for his problems.
A student asks, "How much of this did I bring on myself?"

A victim looks at everyone else and cries out, "Life isn't fair."
A student looks at life and says, "What happened to me could have happened to anyone."

A victim believes his hard times have come because God is trying to punish him.
A student understands that God allows hard times in order to help him grow.

A victim would rather complain than find a solution.
A student has no time to complain because he is busy making the best of his situation.

A victim feels so sorry for himself that he has no time for others.
A student focuses on helping others so that he has no time to feel sorry for himself.

A victim begs God to remove the problems of life so that he might be happy.
A student has learned through the problems of life that God alone is the source of all true happiness.

That's the true Christian position. We believe so much in the sovereignty of God that when hard times come, we know that God is at work for our good and his glory.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:1-8 Paul writes to some new believers who suddenly found themselves in great difficulty. They were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Our text shows how Paul reassured them. From this passage I want to share with you five truths about hard times.

#1: Our Trials Are Unsettling

"So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials" (vv. 1-3a).

Note two key words in the last phrase. The Greek word for "unsettled" actually means to "wag the tail." It has the idea of being shaken by circumstances so that you fall away from the right path in life. The word "trial" comes from a Greek word that has the idea of being "under the thumb" because of pressure from above. Many of you know from experience the unrelenting pressure from circumstances that keeps you awake at night and saps your strength during the day.

As I survey the New Testament teaching regarding trials, two truths stand out. First, trials are the common lot of every Christian. No one is exempt, no one gets a trouble-free ride to heaven. If you don't need this sermon today, put it in your back pocket because you will definitely need it tomorrow!

Second, your particular trial doesn't matter as much as how you respond to it. That's a revolutionary thought to some people. Often we focus intently on the details of our difficulties as if the difficulty itself were the most important thing in the world. It may seem so at the time, but it's not really true. God is much more concerned with how you respond than with the trial itself.

Why? Because most of the time you don't have a choice about the bad things that happen to you. Usually they just happen without any rhyme or reason. But you can control how you respond - in faith or unbelief, in humility or arrogance, in forgiveness or in anger, in hope or in despair.

Our trials often come with very little warning. A few days ago we interviewed Nabeel Qureshi on American Family Radio about his new book No God But One: Allah or Jesus?. Raised in a Muslim family, Nabeel became a Christian after reading the New Testament and encountering the claims of Christ. (He told his conversion story in the bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.) For the last few years, he has served as a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. During our interview with him, he sounded very strong and confident in all his answers. That was on Thursday. The following Tuesday he announced that he has been diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer and the prognosis is grim. But that's how life is sometimes. One day you are announcing a new book; a few days later you are fighting for your life.

James 1:2 reminds us to "Count it all joy" when you encounter various trials. That's not possible as long as you focus on the trial itself. But if you shift your focus to God, then you can find joy even in the worst moments of life.

#2: Our Trials Are Appointed

"You know quite well that we were destined for them" (v. 3b).

The phrase "we were destined" comes from a verb that means "to put or to place." It's a very strong way of saying "these hard times were placed here by God." They didn't happen by accident. In fact, this is the opposite of chance or circumstance.

Consider these words by Roy Zuck: "For the child of God, there are no accidents, only incidents."

That may be the best one-sentence summary of Romans 8:28 I've ever seen.

No accidents!

Incidents - yes.
Troubles - yes.
Heartache - yes.
Difficulty - yes.
Disappointment - yes.
Loss - yes.
Failure - yes.

But accidents? No!

There are no accidents with God, only incidents that are appointed by him for our good and his glory.

As Tony Evans has pointed out, everything that happens in the world is either caused by God or allowed by God, and there is no third category. Nothing ever "just happens" and nothing is caused by someone or something outside of God's control. That means there is no such thing as chance or fate or luck.

With that important understanding, we pass on to the third great truth regarding hard times.

#3: Our Trials Are Necessary

"In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know" (v. 4).

Some people may regard this as a negative, but to me it is a positive. I personally have much more confidence in someone who expects trouble and prepares for it than in someone who goes through life singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses." The truth is, every rose has its thorns, and the sooner we understand that the happier we will be.

Romans 5:3-4 spells out how this process works: "We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope." We all want hope, but we don't want affliction. If you want hope to flood your heart, it starts with affliction that leads to endurance that produces proven character that results in the Holy Spirit filling us with hope.

Let me return for a moment to Nabeel Qureshi. When he announced his cancer in a Facebook post, he went on to give this testimony:

In the past few days my spirits have soared and sank as I pursue the Lord's will and consider what the future might look like, but never once have I doubted this: that Jesus is Lord, His blood has paid my ransom, and by His wounds I am healed. I have firm faith that my soul is saved by the grace and mercy of the Triune God, and not by any accomplishment or merit of my own. I am so thankful that I am a child of the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sealed in the Spirit. No, in the midst of the storm, I do not have to worry about my salvation, and for that I praise you, God.

This is the sort of faith that Paul has in mind in Romans 5. I don't know what the future holds for Nabeel, but as I pray for his healing, I also pray that his faith might remain strong.

We need to remember that trials are not entirely negative. They may in fact be a sign that we are in the will of God. Thomas Constable has a very helpful word at this point:

When trouble comes, Christians often react by doubting that they are where God wants them to be; they often think that they have done something wrong and that God must be displeased with them. Even some mature Christians react this way, as evidenced by Paul's words of reassurance to Timothy many years later. "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). Yet storms often come to believers to make them able to stand firm, rather than to blow them away (cf. 2 Cor. 4:15-16). (From the Bible Knowledge Commentary).

There is a fourth truth we need to remember when hard times come.

#4: Our Trials Are Dangerous

"For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless" (v. 5).

Satan tempts us to fall away during our trials. Paul knew that was a possibility, which is why he was so worried about these young Thessalonian believers.

How does the devil tempt us in hard times? I can think of three obvious answers to that question. First, he tempts us to doubt God's goodness. He whispers in our ear that God has forgotten us, that he doesn't care, and that he isn't good. Second, he tempts us to retaliate against others with anger and resentment. This is one of his favorite tools when the hard times involve problems with friends and family members. Third, he tempts us to give in to despair and discouragement. Perhaps we're sick and feel as if we'll never get better again. Or perhaps we've just gone through a divorce and we feel rejected and alone. Perhaps we've lost a job and feel that we're not qualified to do anything.

All these things lead to the ultimate act of desperation where we give up our faith in God altogether. That's what Paul feared for the Thessalonians. He worried that under pressure these new Christians would crumble and give up on God. Hard times eventually wear us down. Little by little we lose the joy we once had. Under pressure we begin to give in to bad habits, wrong attitudes, and then we begin the long slide in the wrong direction.

A woman sat in my office and told me a very sad story. She was raised as a Christian and at one time had a strong faith in Jesus Christ. But during a period of loneliness, she fell in with a bad crowd and began to dabble in sin. A little here and a little there and eventually she began to experiment with drugs. Her addiction led her to terrible extremes in order to finance her drug habit. But when she is high, she begins to talk about God. In my office we quoted Bible verses together. She wants to be free but the pain of coming off heroin is so great that she cannot face it. At one point I told her that if she didn't make the decision to come clean, it wouldn't be long before I spoke at her funeral. Then I challenged her to become a woman of truth because the truth will set her free. My parting words were the words of Jesus, "Go and sin no more." She smiled and thanked me and said she needed to go and get some heroin or she wouldn't make it through the day. Then she walked out of my office.

Her story demonstrates that simply having Bible knowledge cannot save you from the consequences of wrong decisions. What happened to her can happen to any of us if we respond wrongly to hard times. Let no one condemn her, but instead let us consider our own lives and realize how vulnerable we are to Satan's attacks.

#5: Our Trials Are Productive

"But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you" (v. 6).

Here Paul plainly says that we can overcome our trials by faith. What kind of faith does he have in mind?

Faith in God's Character - that he is good and makes no mistake.
Faith in God's Word - that it is true no matter what happens to us.
Faith in God's Purpose - that he is conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.
Faith in God's Promise - that he will never leave us or forsake us.
Faith in God's Presence - that he is with us in the darkest moments of life.
Faith in God's Power - that he can deliver us from every temptation.

There is one other kind of faith that will help us in hard times. That is the shared faith of God's people. So many believers struggle because they try to handle their problems alone. But God never intended that you should walk through the lonely valley by yourself. I received a note from someone who found her way back to God after a long time in the wilderness:

Dear Pastor Ray,

I felt I should tell you a little bit of a story in hopes it might help someone else.

Whenever I tell others about my rough road back to Christ from non-Christian relationships, the one question I am always asked is, "What would have helped make my road back a little easier?" My answer is, during my time of spiritual loneliness, if I had had a sister in Christ seek me out and tell me, "I've been there, I love you, and I can help you find your way back to Jesus," perhaps I could have been spared a lot more pain than having to discover the answers on my own.

She then adds this P.S. "Jesus is never tolerant of sin, but always willing to forgive it. If my experience can help someone else, feel free to use this information."

I am glad to share it because it is truly encouraging. It reminds us again that we grow stronger as we lean on each other. If you're having a hard time keeping your head above water, tell someone else. Don't fight the battle alone. Let the Lord minister to you through the resources of the body of Christ.

Verses 7-8 reveal another way in which our trials are productive: "Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord." Here is the final truth about hard times you need to know. We never suffer alone. Our friends watch to see how we will respond to tragedy. They want to know if what we say we believe is really enough for us in the hard times. And further in the distance, others watch what we go through. Many of them are unbelievers who wonder if Christ is real. They don't know, they aren't sure, maybe they've read the Bible, maybe they haven't, but they're watching how we respond to mistreatment, malicious accusations, sickness, the loss of a job, the end of our marriage, a career setback, or a financial collapse. From the shadows they watch us as we suffer to see if what we have is real or not.

In this case, the great Apostle himself drew strength from the courage of these new believers. Although he had come to minister to them, by standing firm in hard times they were ministering to him. Paul is saying, "I can face my trials because I see how well you are facing yours."

I Wouldn't Take Away the Pain

Many people reading this message are going through hard times right now. I wish it were not so, but it is true. In the last few days, I've heard about prodigal children, aging parents, worries about the future, divorce, breast cancer, an infant with a serious medical condition, children far from God, Christians dealing with doubt, others with fear, and still others dealing with lingering bitterness.

As I thought about the matter, I concluded that even if I had the power (which I don't), I wouldn't take the pain away or make the hard times disappear. God has ordained that your trials are part of his plan to make you like Jesus. There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. Were I to take away the pain, I might move too soon and block God's work in your life. Because I see things from a human perspective, I might actually hurt you instead of help you even though my motives would be good.

"He knows the way that I take. When he has tried me, I will come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). You can have an easy life, or you can have a deep faith. You can't have both. There is no gold without the fiery furnace.

Our hard times are designed to bring us closer to the Lord. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Let us therefore endure our trials with grace and courage, knowing that in the end the clouds will part and the sun will shine again.

Fear not, Christian friend. We have a great God who loves us more than we know. Look to Jesus and you will find the strength you need. When your trials are over, you will come forth as gold.

Copyright © 2016 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

God Shouts to Us in Our Pain

by Daniel Ritchie

I was born without arms.

That is the best way to summarize my story. I stepped into suffering at birth. My physical body is a billboard for my pain. This has brought mocking, cruel jokes, stares, and the constant feeling that I am not like anyone else that I meet.

I have never been able to hide. Many people can bury their pain, but my heartache is written all over my two empty sleeves. Those sleeves tell a story without my mouth ever saying a word. My pain almost swallowed me. But Christ showed me how much greater he was than my empty sleeves.

I used to think that being born without arms was the most horrible thing that could happen to a person. In Christ, he has helped me say that the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me is also the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I am thankful for my pain. All of the frustration that has come with it has reaped a bounty that I never could have produced on my own. God stepped in and carried me along in my weakness, letting me taste his strength, grace, and love in new ways. In my pain, he has magnified so many of his attributes.

God's Megaphone

I have always been drawn to C.S. Lewis and his perspective on pain. Lewis had tasted pain in ways that few can relate to. He lost his mother at an early age, saw his dad emotionally abandon him, suffered from a respiratory illness as a teenager, fought and was wounded in World War I, and finally had to bury his beloved wife. Through all of this, Lewis wrote about all of his heartache in his work The Problem of Pain. In this work, Lewis penned one of his most famous lines:

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

We are most keenly aware of God's character in our suffering. It is when our self-sufficiency is peeled away that we see how weak we really are. It is in that moment of weakness that, as God tells Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” It is in our pain that God has us taste his power most intimately.

I see the reality of Lewis's statement clearly in my own life. God has shouted to me through my pain and reminded me of his truth. As the mocking words of men fell on my heart like an avalanche, God showed me that it is only his words that bring life (Psalm 119:25). It was in my brokenness that I saw God's true strength as he carried me along. It was in seeing my shattered identity as a disabled boy that I could see the beauty of being a blood-bought son (Romans 8:15). God used my hurt so that he could clearly write the lessons of his grace on my heart and set my affections on him (Psalm 119:67).

Use God's Megaphone to Speak to a Dying World

One of the most interesting realities of suffering is that our personal pain also speaks to those around us. Our pain becomes God's megaphone to a watching world. The world gravitates to the cancer patient who has hope and peace. Bystanders are astounded over the parents who cling to the Good Father as they bury their own child. My friends are taken back when I can shrug off hateful words of my disability and turn my focus to what God says about me.

Our pain gives us a platform. The question becomes then, what am I saying to the world in the midst of my pain? Do I let my faith become the product of my circumstances or is God still good even if my circumstances are not? The scope of his character and grace do not change when suffering comes. As I trust God, even in my heartache, I let my life speak of a hope that extends well beyond what we can see or touch.

Rejoice in Trials

We have the difficult call of 1 Peter 1:6–7 where we are commanded to rejoice when we are grieved by various trials. Why are we rejoicing? “So that the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Our willingness to suffer joyfully for the glory of God carries a testimony that none of us could ever express. We point to a glorious God who offers treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy (Matthew 6:19–20).

As we suffer and trust, we receive unique comfort from the Father. In our pain, we know God is still reigning, whether we taste comfort or affliction. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3–6,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

Christ comforts us so that we might share his comfort with a hurting world. Our pain produces a ministry of comfort that we can walk in. His grace to us is meant to be displayed and not hidden by our silence. As our pain shouts to a hurting world, may our lives always sing of the fact that God is glorious even when our circumstances are not.

About The Author:

Daniel Ritchie is the student pastor at Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville, North Carolina.


Jesus Wept: 2 Simple Words with Incredible Depth

by Jon Bloom

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: "Jesus wept." But for all its grammatical simplicity, it's packed with unfathomable complexity.

Jesus wept after speaking with Lazarus' grieving sisters, Martha and Mary, and seeing all the mourners. That seems natural enough. Most of us would have wept too.

Except that Jesus had come to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew that in a few short minutes all this weeping would turn to astonished joy, and then tearful laughter, and then worship. He had come to Bethany to bring these mourners the best news they could have imagined.

So one would think that Jesus would be a confident, joyful calm in that storm of sorrow. But he was "greatly troubled" (John 11:33) and he wept. Why?

One reason is simply the deep compassion that Jesus felt for those who were suffering. It is true that by not speaking healing from a distance like he did for the centurion's servant (Matthew 8:13) or by his delay in coming (John 11:6) he had let Lazarus die. He had really good and merciful and glorious reasons for doing that. But this did not mean Jesus took the suffering it caused lightly. "For he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men" (Lamentations 3:33). Even though Jesus always chooses what will ultimately bring his Father the most glory (John 11:4)—and sometimes, as in Lazarus' case, it requires affliction and grief—he does not take delight in the affliction and grief itself. No, Jesus is sympathetic (Hebrews 4:15). And as "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15), in Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus we get a glimpse of how the Father feels over the affliction and grief his children experience.

Another reason Jesus wept was over the calamity of sin. As God the Son who had come into the world to destroy the devil's works (1 John 3:8), Jesus was about to deliver death its deathblow (1 Corinthians 15:26). But sin grieves God deeply and so do the wages of sin: death (Romans 6:23). And ever since the fall of Adam and Eve he had endured sin's horrific destruction. Death had consumed almost every human being he had created [Enoch and Elijah are the only exceptions in the biblical record.]. It had taken Lazarus, and it would take him again before it was all over. Tears of anger and longing were mixed with Jesus' tears of grief.

A third reason for weeping was the cost that he was about to pay to purchase not only Lazarus' short-term resurrection, but his everlasting life. The cross was just days away and no one really knew the inner distress (Luke 12:50) Jesus was experiencing. No one really understood yet what he was about to do. Lazarus' resurrection that day would look free and be experienced by Lazarus and everyone else as a gift of grace. But oh, it was not free. Jesus was going to die a horrific death to purchase it. And the most horrific part was not crucifixion, as unimaginable as that alone would have been. He was dreading his Father's wrath. Jesus, who had never known sin, was about to become Lazarus' sin, and the sin of all who had or would believe in him, so that in him they would all become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was looking to the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). But the reality of what lay between was weighing heavily.

A fourth possible reason for Jesus' tears was that he knew that raising Lazarus would actually cause the religious leaders to finally take action to put him to death (John 11:45-53). In this account, most of us probably marvel at Jesus' incredible trust that his Father would answer him. We have such little faith. If Jesus had any struggle that day would not have been whether his Father would answer, but what would result when his Father answered. Calling Lazarus out of the tomb would have taken a different kind of resolve for Jesus than we might have imagined. Giving Lazarus life was sealing Jesus' own death.

Just these few reasons for Jesus' weeping at Lazarus' tomb give us a glimpse into how God views our suffering and death. His reasons for not sparing us these things are righteous and glorious. But in them he is full of compassion (Psalms 103:13), he hates the calamity sin brings, and he himself has suffered more than we ever will ever know in order to pay the full cost of our eternal resurrection.

©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Leave The Worries to Jesus

by Debbie Holloway, Family Editor

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest
(Matthew 11:28).

I recently had a bit of a three-ring-circus to deal with trying to pay a toll. Our lovely Richmond, VA is indeed a beautiful city, but we sure do have some tolls. In fact, depending on where you're going and from where you're coming, you may have to pay 3 or 4 tolls in one trip. That happened to me a few weeks ago. As I left the office (right in the middle of the city) and headed southside to visit a friend, I realized too late that I didn't have enough cash to pay the final toll. With a sigh, I asked for a receipt from the toll booth and went on my way.

I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say I talked to far too many people on the phone, hand-delivered my toll payment in some city office, and still got a "Toll Violation" notice in the mail. This resulted in mild deflation of my spirits. My family said, "Debbie, don't worry. Just call them and explain." I tried to, but was informed that not only was there no record of my payment, but that I would be forced to pay an extra \$13 (on a 70 cent toll!) for a vague "Administration" fee.

Come on, I kept thinking. I'm just trying to live my life and pay my toll.

In one last valiant move to get some help, I walked back to the aforementioned office on my lunch break the next afternoon. As it so happened, a high ranking administrator happened to be there right when I was. As I explained the situation, he made a copy of my toll notice and immediately got someone on the phone.

"I can dismiss this for you," he said.

"What do I need to do?" I asked, skeptical. "Who do I need to call and follow up with?"

"Nope. Nothing," he said. "Here's my card. If you get another notice, just call me."

I left the office that day with a spring in my step and a burden off my shoulders. I was no longer going to be hounded by the toll agencies!

"See, we told you," my family said. "You shouldn't have worried."

Isn't our relationship with Christ a lot like that, sometimes? I feel like I have worried and fretted about so many things, only to realize in retrospect that God was trying to tell me, "Baby, let me take care of that for you."

Jesus told his disciples,

"Look at the birds of the air: they neither reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
 (Matthew 6:26)

Intersecting Faith and Life

When you're dealing with a frustration, no matter how small, remember that God is asking you to stop worrying and let him carry you.

Further Reading

Philippians 1:6
Matthew 5:1-12

Source: - The Devotional

In Suffering: The Secret of Joy

by Grace Taylor

If you read through very many of VOM's newsletters, there are sometimes heartbreaking stories - ones that can be difficult to read because of the pain these dear Christians had to endure. Oftentimes though, there will also be pictures of these Christians smiling or they make statements that almost make them seem happy.

This poses a question: How is it possible to be happy in the midst of suffering?

I would argue that it may not be possible to be happy in the midst of suffering. I recently found out that the English word happy comes from the word "happenstance," meaning what is currently happening. Essentially, being "happy" is dictated by whatever happens to be happening at that time - happenstance.

Instead, I would argue that what we see in the faces of our brothers and sisters and what we hear them speak of comes from joy, not happiness. Joy, unlike happiness, is not something dictated by circumstances. In fact, it is not necessarily an emotion. Joy comes from being in fellowship with Jesus Christ. Our brothers and sisters who seem strong in the face of persecution use their joy as their source of strength, like we see in Nehemiah 8:10, "...The joy of the Lord is your strength." Therefore, when you lose your joy, you can also lose your strength, but when you find your joy in Christ, you find your strength.

This does not mean that there will never be times of grieving or loss; we were created to feel things deeply. Jesus wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus (John 11:35) and withdrew to a solitary place upon hearing that his cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded (Matthew 14:13). But even the worst of circumstances do not have the power to steal our joy when we are grounded in the power and saving grace of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul says in 2 Cor. 7:4, "In all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds."

Imagine if the scripture in James 1:2-3 read this way: "Consider it pure happiness, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds." That would be ridiculous and impossible. But instead, it states, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for we know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance."

There is a distinct difference between happiness and joy. Seek to build up a habit of seeking joy, rather than happiness, in your life. That way, the next time you face a trying circumstance, you will still find yourself on a solid foundation.


Are your days ever dictated by happiness instead of joy? What can you do to pursue joy instead of emotions that can be fickle?

About The Author:

Grace Taylor serves on the staff of VOM. She was first introduced to the ministry of VOM by her parents and grandparents, who received the VOM newsletter, and through the VOM book Jesus Freaks. She has served in 12 different countries and is passionate about helping expand God's Kingdom throughout the nations of the world.

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs' Persecution Blog


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