Kara’s Collection: Grace in Suffering

From an article originally posted March 27, 2014…

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you able.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you.
— Isa 43:2-3,5

Why is the God with us such a hard concept to embrace? I would say it is strength that keeps God at a distance from us. Then when strength is taken, removed, shaken—then we beg for God to be with us. Until then, we keep him at a safe distance, because we simply don’t want to be interrupted, questioned, or asked much of in our daily living. We want God in our lives, but simply when we are asked to walk through a fire, in desperation, in brokenness.

Here is my question to you and to myself: Do we see the weakness of strength? Can you see it in yourself, your strength is the very thing that is keeping you in control of today? Strength. Strength. The thing I want, the hope for more days, more energy, more go, more doing—but what of that strength. As the energy for facing another day is handed to me, do I kindly grab at it and say, Thank you very much Jesus—I’ve got it from here, let’s meet again when the hard days come.

I have been praying about this in my own life. The vending machine Jesus we have made him into to equip us for us. We are the center, the middle, the focal point of our daily living and frankly, our worship. And if this is how we live, why would we live surprised when Jesus loves us enough to shake us from ourselves. Wouldn’t that be loving? Wouldn’t that be a kindness? The sovereignty of God in suffering is a kindness to keep us utterly dependent in a way our strength simply fails us. We can tout that God has given the strength, but it’s the rare person that knows how to live submitted to Jesus in the midst of strength.

I have been asking for Jesus to grow in me a hunger, a deep hunger, for the things of him in moments of reprieve. There are many of you out there that are in a season of rest, a season of bounty, a season free from too much brokenness. How, in that season, do you live submitted and growing in faith? Not that we should all be waiting for a shoe to drop, but what if this season of rest is a time to prepare your heart for a hard season to come?

Suffering is the place where what our hearts really believe is tested. Suffering is the place that puts heat on the places we have given our strength to in our living. Suffering often comes to the strong and is met with bitter anger. It isn’t the suffering that causes the anger but the taking of strength. Honestly, in the bottom of treatment, I was not crying out for the suffering to stop, but more for the strength to return. If I’m totally honest that is my prayer now. Not for fewer days of suffering, but more days of strength. And yet, I see such weakness in my own strength.

Patient endurance of suffering, when onlookers know that the sufferers are Christians, can reveal the power of God. Paul puts it even more vividly: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus (suffering), so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2Cor 4:10). (Tim Keller, The Reason for Suffering)

We love strength, we pet it, we live for it, and when it is gone we question the goodness of God. But, as I have seen in my own story, the taking of strength is grace—huge grace to draw me to Jesus. And now, as I face a different treatment, a hope of improvement, and a small ability to go and do—how will I use that strength?

I have been praying for a hunger in my well days for scripture. I have been praying for a desire to deepen my understanding of the things of God. I have been praying against my own felt apathy and laziness in growth in grace. I have been praying that my heart would hunger for things that deepen me, grow me, and bring me to a place of great love. And when the suffering comes again, that my heart would be ready to receive. To say, thank you Jesus for entrusting me with this new hard. Help me to be faithful in it. Help me to reflect your goodness in letting me partner with you in suffering. Help me be a reflection of grace, the good story. Thank you for taking my strength and showing me something new in weakness.

So, dear reader, where do you find yourself today? Are you strong and alone, moving about your day from strength to strength? Would you join me in a prayer of asking for a deep hunger for God’s word and love in this season of plenty? Are you suffering? Are you bitter in receiving the hard that has been entrusted to you? Are you begging for your strength to return? Or do you see the goodness in hard, and receive with joy the hard and see the opportunity to share Jesus in the midst of it? Over all these struggles there is much grace. It takes courage to admit to the weakness of strength, as well as courage to admit bitterness in weakness. Jesus is such a gentleman—waiting, waiting to meet us in both places.