Friday, May 6, 2016

Maintaining Hope in the Midst of Suffering

The Longleat Maze, in Warminster, Wiltshire, England, is the longest hedge maze in the world. It is constructed from more than 16,000 English yews and it stretches for close to 1.7 miles. It is part of 8,000 acres that have belonged to various Marquesses of Bath since the 16th century. It would be understandable to become lost in The Longleat Maze, being misdirected and confused while seeking to navigate twisting turning continuous pathways throughout the maze. 

When someone is living with the burden of ongoing painful suffering, it can be like trying to find your way through a vast “life maze,” with a labyrinth of pathways to choose from. This is especially so when suffering has shadowed their lives for many years. Finding their way through stacks of medical bills, a conflicting medical diagnosis, and keeping up with their responsibilities in their life, can be overwhelming and exhausting. It makes it hard to maintain hope in the midst of suffering.  

Hope in the Midst of Suffering

The psalmist gives us the key to maintain hope in the midst of suffering. We are to make a commitment to leading our thoughts, rather than having our thoughts lead us. We are to choose to focus upon the truth of God’s Word, and then own that truth in whatever set of circumstances you are facing. 

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:5

An unchecked negative spin in the morning can literally ruin a whole day if not corralled and harnessed in the mind. It would be easy to quip, “Hope is the only bee that makes honey without flowers,” but a change in attitude is no easy thing, even with a string of positive motivational quotes, gleaned from books, seminars or a collection of CD’s from a popular writer or seminar leader.

Our attitude is where our real day begins. Like a dark brooding cloud, negative pessimistic thinking will stalk our steps and block out the sun, and bring on the cold winter rains of gloom and despair to every meeting, class, and personal encounter that we experience that day. One writer once penned: 

“He that lives in hope, dances without music.” George Herbert

An Inspiring thought, but it is so difficult to consistently practice. Why is that? It is because changing our behavior is directly tied to managing our thinking.  When the mind is focused on wrong attitudes and beliefs about what we need to be happy, our behavior will follow seemingly unchecked.   

When Hope is weakened by Doubts

The “If Only,” “What if,” and “Why can’t I,” type of thinking patterns will eventually lead us to experience roller coaster emotions of discouragement, disappointment and despair. There is a strategic spiritual warfare directed at each of us, and focuses on deeply rooted beliefs that affect us continuously.  The goal is to influence thinking that takes our focus off of Christ as our motivation, and shifts it to ways to figure out how to solve our problems, apart from a focus to glorify God. That hits right at the very core of what really erodes our hope in the midst of suffering. 

"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." II Corinthians 10:4-5 

The issue of Hope and the Faith of Job

This is certainly exampled in the life of Job. He understood the truth that in order to find true meaning in life, God must reign supreme in all things. Job was considered by the peers of his day to be an upright and blameless man. The experiences of Job teach us that happiness and security is not found in having a life devoid of hardship, trails and suffering. At some level, Job understood that truth on a conceptual level, like most of us, but when life turned upside down for Job, he discovered that to apply that truth to his own experience, in the crucible of suffering, was a whole different matter.

There are clear promises found woven into the fabric of Job’s book that are very comforting, especially when our circumstances are difficult to cope with. 

 “Christian hope does not promise successful days to the rich and the strong, but resurrection and life to those who must exist in the shadows of death. Success is no name of God, righteousness is.” Jurgen Mottmann

To the embattled sufferer, a life of ease had slipped by many years ago. In that midnight hour, where angels draw near to witness tearful whispers to a faithful God whose focus is solely upon worship. In the stillness, gnarled wizened hands reach heavenward to give glory to Him that sits upon the Throne of Heaven. It is a rare scene it seems, for many who suffer relentless pain and sorrow, grudgingly hold God on trial each day. He is to perform at the bidding of His followers, lest they withdraw from Him and close their hearts, should the answer to their prayer not be evidenced. 

The Psalmist knew what it was to see no evidence to his prayers, yet he persevered steadfastly, for he waited upon God, trusting only His word, not the fruit of his praying. Such faith and maturity has its roots in suffering and hardship, with a focus upon glorifying God as a primary motivation, above even their sorrow and pain.  

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5

Job saw no evidence that he should Hope for anything

As Job however, looked across the chaos of his life and concluded that he could see no tangible evidence to give him hope, let alone a good night’s sleep, he questioned:

“Where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?” Job 17:15

He concluded that the more he prayed for his circumstances to change, the worse his circumstances became. 

“Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Job 30:26

Ever felt that way? We all have from time to time……quite a bit of the time? Job experienced the collapse of his fortune, the loss of his land, community status, the loss of his children, experienced the disdain and respect wife, and even his abandonment by dearest friends. Especially in this dispensation, it would be only natural think that his tragic circumstances must be the result of Job’s own sin, and the consequential judgment of God upon him. (The Deut. 28 Principle). 

A friend named Eiliaphaz concluded to Job that facts are facts: Job must be reaping the judgment of God for the unrighteous deeds that he must have done.

"Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? 8 As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” Job 4:7-8 

From a human perspective, Eiliaphaz simply demonstrated logical evidenced based thinking. How many sufferers throughout time have had spiritual leaders, family, and friends surmise that sin must be at the core of an illness, disability or disease? Sufferers have been devastated by such a limited view of illness in the life of a person of faith.

In the New Testament, there is a classic example of such a philosophy of illness and disease on the part of religious leaders. R.C. Sproul wrote of this account

“In the ninth chapter of John, the Pharisees say to Jesus, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his sin or the sins of his parents?” Jesus said, “Neither one.” We can’t come to the conclusion that an individual’s suffering in this world is in direct proportion to that individual’s sin. That was what Job’s friends did when they came to him and tormented him by saying, “Boy, Job, you’re really suffering a lot. This must be an indication that you’re the most miserable sinner of all.” But the Bible says that we can’t use such a formula. The fact is, if there were no sin in the world, there would be no suffering. God allows suffering as part of his judgment, but he also uses it for our redemption—to shape our character and build up our faith.” R.C. Sproul

The Principle of Sowing and Reaping

It is very painful when friends and family hold you as the author of your own misery.  In your heart you do not know what has brought such hardship and calamity into your once stable life. Who can honestly fault the conclusions of others when a person’s life crumbles into a continuous whirlwind of trouble, suffering and loss? In truth, what we sow in life is what we reap in life. This is a resounding theme of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.

“The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.” Proverbs 11:18

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:6-8

How then do we understand let alone explain to another, why bad things happen to seemingly good people? It just doesn’t make sense. Is it what some new age thinkers quip as “Bad Karma?” Could it be the aligning of the stars in an astrological sign the predicates how, when, who, and why, our day turns out this way or that? Is it fate, good or bad genes, family ancestral curses, bio-genetic DNA predetermined traits and a predisposition to become an addict, have ADHD or any myriad of DSM IV and Axis 5 criteria that bring calamity or blessing into our lives? That is not what God’s Word teaches.

Biblical Hope and the Sovereignty of God

Job was able hold onto the truth that God alone is Sovereign. He alone is all knowing, all powerful and always present. Not a leaf falls to the ground without God knowing. Not a star falls from the sky that He did not foreknow. Scientists, mathematicians, and astronomers have sought to determine how many stars there are in the heavens. Recently, NASA reported,

“So far, astronomers have found more than 500 solar systems and are discovering new ones every year. Given how many they have found in our own neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy, scientists estimate that there may be tens of billions of solar systems in our galaxy, perhaps even as many as 100 billion.”

Thinking of God’s Omniscient, Omnipotent creative process, Genesis records:

“God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.” Genesis 1:16. Did you get that?

“He made the stars also…..” As if to magically reveal His majestic greatness in creating the stars to showcase His creation. To give to each of us just a glimpse of His glory.

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.” Psalm 19: 1-6

The writers of the Scriptures poured out His thoughts on parchment as they penned:

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” Psalm 147:4

“Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26

Nasa astronomers and scientists were quoted previously as estimating, “…that there may be tens of billions of solar systems in our galaxy, perhaps even as many as 100 billion.”

Let’s break this down with the most accurate mathematical algorithm according to Robert Kaplinsky Consulting:

“The estimate for the number of stars in the universe, written in decimal notation, is 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  That is more than 40 billion, 40 trillion, or 40 quadrillion.  Apparently it is 40 sextillion.  I am sure a bunch of middle school boys and girls will be very mature about stating that number.  Thankfully they will probably not get that far and instead say something like:

  • “four zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero”
  • “four with twenty-two zeros after it”
  • “forty thousand million million million”

Take a few moments and think about the times of late when you have perhaps felt defeated, despondent and hopeless. The weight and anxiety of suffering and hardship can shadow our view of God’s Sovereignty and dim our hopes into darkness. 

The God who “…made the stars also…” and “He calls them all by name,” promised Job “You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.19 You will lie down, with no one (and nothing) to make you afraid.” Job 11:17-19.

All of creation revolves around the truth that God is Sovereign, and yet He is sometimes silent. For those who in some way are suffering, it isn’t His Sovereignty that they often struggle with as much as His silence. 

We are awakening to that marvelous truth, that Christ is not in the heavens only, nor the atmosphere only, but Christ is in you. –John G. Lake

Job affirmed that God was Sovereign over all things

In the midst of his troubles, while Job struggled with the why of his suffering, he did not struggle with God’s Sovereignty over all of creation, especially over his own life.  He consistently leaned hard into God’s character, His nature, and His attributes, and he tenaciously clung to the Scriptural truth that God is just, merciful, righteous, and holy. 

“Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 ‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:1-2

Job lifted his eyes from his circumstances, and the murmuring counsel of others, and concluded that he must maintain his confidence, and trust in God, regardless of his circumstances, and allow His will to done even when life didn’t seem fair. While he wrestled many times with his own bewilderment concerning the trials and tribulations that had befallen him, he still echoed the words of the psalmist,

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” Psalm 31:24

We can also be so burdened with our past failures, and the challenges of our present suffering, that we can become paralyzed in despair. We can remain in that state sometimes for years. Just as if a literal stroke had taken place in our bodies, our spiritual self can become atrophied and weakened to a place where a subtle carnality, and hopeless patterns of thinking replaces a once vibrant faith. 

Another trap is to begin to forecast the future and predict how it will turn out. Our hopes become fixed plans that we must see happen to make life work for us. Our erroneous foolish prediction is given power, plans are made and steps are taken and it gradually becomes a pathway upon which we embark. The surface thought is that God is certainly in this endeavor and is leading to help us get out of this dilemma, and we expect God to bless it with success. 

“If I can just get more ____________________ then things will take a turn for the better and life will change for me because _____________________ and I will be _____________________ and life will finally be happy and good again.”

God must be Sovereign in our Hopes

Unless we see God as Sovereign in all things, we become the author of our own strategies, and get ourselves into situations that can bring additional heartache into our lives. Unknowingly, we establish a belief to avoid a certain direction that was His will, thereby redirecting ourselves toward something that God had never intended for us. One thing that suffering and hardship does is that it slows down the speed with which we can mess up our lives. It can be God’s braking system, to slowly bring our plans to a screeching grinding halt. We may call it a shattered dream, but God may see it as a strategic means to keep us on the pathway of doing His will and not our own. 

We each need to be born again, and become a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12, 3:16). He became our substitutionary sacrifice for all of our sins (Romans 6:23). We can be forgiven for our past failures and sin, through the grace and mercy of God, who gave His Son for us so as to redemption (II Cor. 5:17-21; I John 1:9-10; 2:1-2). 

There will be thinking errors that we have learned in the past especially those that are rooted in some very painful circumstances. Those beliefs go deep, and will need to become transformed by the Word of God, so that the Truth of Scripture negates the erroneous lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil (Heb. 4:12).

“He is intangible and invisible. But His work is more powerful than the most ferocious wind. The Spirit brings order out of chaos and beauty out of ugliness. He can transform a sin-blistered man into a paragon of virtue. The Spirit changes people. The Author of life is also the Transformer of life.” R. C. Sproul

God wants us to become passionate about our enjoyment of communion with Him, regardless of what is happening in our life. He desires us to bask under His sweet care, trusting His faithfulness, and His Word, to show us how to reveal Christ in and through our daily walk. In the grip of sufferings most painful hour, God wants us to lie quiet and still under His hand and have no will but His.

Pathway Principles:

  •      If you were to find yourself lost in a huge maze, what would you do to find your way back out again? What would you need before entering the maze?

  •     What should one do when experiencing a time of feeling overwhelmed by suffering or heavy trials?

  •    How does the following verse apply to someone who is discouraged in the midst of unrelenting suffering?

“You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:7

Write a prayer to our Heavenly Father asking Him to help you to see your circumstances not as punishment or a lack of His blessing, but as a means to allow Him to do a deeper work in and through your life.

Take a few moments to watch and listen to this inspiring song by Jeremy Camp, "There will be a Day."

 New Book by John Krohn on Suffering

Suffering:Refining the Hidden Heart  by John Krohn PhD  $9.95

There is within each of us a hidden heart. A place secreted away deep beneath that part of us that we do not allow others to see or to become acquainted with. Throughout our growing up years, we discover that complete and vulnerable openness, exposes a person to hurt, abuse and rejection. So little by little we learn to hide within ourselves. Hiding ourselves from others is a natural protective decision making process that we develop as a child. We learn at a very early age through negative experiences and interactions with others, that being vulnerable is not safe. In time we learn to wear a variety of masks to convey to others an aspect of ourselves that we wish another to see depending upon their threat value. 

We can create so many masks that in time, we discover that for the most part we have inadvertently become hidden from ourselves. In reality, to our great loss we discover later in life that we are hiding from God, because we know that there is an indivisible wall between who we are, and who God is, and between our fallen nature and His holiness. Only God can see past the masks that we have created to protect ourselves, and through suffering, He can refine the hidden heart in each of our lives. 


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