Is their holiness and glory to God through grief, pain and suffering? Lately, God has been putting some things on my heart on this topic that I wanted to share.
I have enjoyed reading and listening to John Piper about suffering. He has written a book on the subject and speaks about how we should view suffering. Through those readings, blogs, videos many thoughts came together for me. I have posted the link here. For those that are in a difficult place in your life, I would encourage you to listen. You can also visit his website, Desiring God,www.desiringgod.org , and search for his sermons on suffering.
Mr. Piper points out that it’s easy to believe in Christ when life is great, blessings, home, family, career are at the pinnacle. But it is in the depth of our difficulties in this life, loss of job, foreclosure, illness, divorce, death of a loved one(s) when you stand on the threshold and ask yourself: Do I really want to exemplify what God showed us about suffering in the scripture? How should I face those moments of suffering and darkness? And more importantly how is the glory of God displayed in our difficulties?
In our culture, we don’t like to suffer at all. We try to make it go away by the use of drugs, alcohol, food, excessive shopping and other destructive activities to “feel better” because we don’t want to feel the emotional pain. So we self-medicate. And yet, the example of Christ gives us a very different view. It is through his intense suffering that gave us our salvation. I have always wondered why did Jesus die such a brutal death at the moment in history on a cross. Not that I have all the answers, but this thing I know…..because he suffered and willingly went to the cross to die, generations have had to answer the question, the same question that Christ asked of Peter: “Who do you say I am?” That question demands an answer from all of us, and because Jesus did not come in a time of sports cars, fancy clothes, and other material items modeling that the life of the Christian is “easy street”…..it has caused me to pray and reflect over the course of this journey. The Son of God, chose to enter at a time of no internet, radio or TV. No facebook, no twitter, no social media of his minute by minute activities, miracles or parables. He very well could have……but he came at a time where people struggled every day……to work, to eat, to survive. And then there was the path to the cross. The beatings, the crown of thorns, the humiliation of being stripped and nailed to a cross to hang with common criminals. He would then take on the sins of the world and be separated from his Father in Heaven. The God who created the universe, did this, because of his love. There are times I am overcome with emotions when I ponder the significance of the cross. And it is this example of amazing love that have caused the cross to transform so many lives.
I have described this grief journey, this process, as “leaning in”. I stand feet planted and lean in to face the head winds. My feet are planted on the rock of salvation and the grace and love of a Savior. I can therefore testify to the following:
- I have never experienced the sweetness, tenderness, closeness and intimacy to God as I have over the last 11 months. Many of those moments have come during worship and singing. The Bible tells us that there is a lot of worship in heaven and I can only imagine what a Chris Tomlin, Third Day, Mercy Me, Hillsong, Matt Redman non-stop worship fest must be like! But I know in heaven, Lizz, Fischer, Ben and Hayes worship. We were created to worship. So, when I lift my hands, close my eyes and lift my hands to the sky…..I feel Jesus, holding me in this amazing closeness. And because of that I feel close to Lizz and I imagine at that moment she is with me worshipping our King.
- Secondly, as an Anglican where communion is a center point of the worship, I have come to appreciate communion like never before. Through the mystery of faith we are joined with other believers as one body with Christ. These moments I feel extremely close to Jesus and feel close to Lizz knowing that she lives with him.
- And then there is God’s grace…..his amazing and sufficient grace. I have learned more about His grace on this journey. Learning to give grace to others that perhaps say insensitive, hurtful things, and asking others to extend that same grace to me in my moments when I need it the most. In those early days of August 2012, I would pray for God’s grace to help me minute by minute, hour by hour until the pain and sorrow would pass to take my next breath. As a wise pastor told me, lean on God……his Grace IS SUFFICIENT…..and it is the ONLY thing that is. That is probably one of the most important truths I have learned as I walk this road.
- God has been so patient with me through this journey. I have never felt that I was inadequate for my sense of loss. He has been faithful to where I am at the moment. I have felt his presence when I cry, just as we hold our own children to comfort them when they cry. I have also felt his presence telling me that it’s going to be OK…..just wait and see!
And what about His glory? Since the day we heard about Lizz and the boys leaving us, Romans 8:28 has been my prayer. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I want God to use this event so he would be exalted, his name would be glorified, and through me others would see Him, and lives changed. I want others to come to know the Christ that I have leaned upon. And very frequently, I hear stories, some I hope to share over the next few weeks about how Lizz and the boys have changed their lives. And so, through something as tragic as this, God is glorified, Christ is embraced.
Based on my readings, in God’s economy, he sent his son to suffer, to hurt, to be in pain not only for our salvation but that he could be glorified. Again, it’s easy to follow something when it’s not difficult. How effective is that witness? But when life is at a place where you heart beats like a brick, you are not sure how you will get through the day, and you raise your hands in praise, God is glorified! This process has taught me to not be afraid of the pain. To learn that there is hope in the midst of the pain and suffering. In the words of Mother Teresa: “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” Oh how I have felt those kisses and the closeness of our sweet Lord.
So following Christ means that we will suffer. The Bible tells us we WILL suffer. No “we might” suffer…..it says we will suffer. But the difference between me and an unbeliever in this situation is that I have hope because of his suffering. Oh what amazing incredible hope! In Romans 5:3-4 it says:
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Isn’t it interesting that over and over again the apostle Paul wondered about God’s plan during his imprisonments, his beatings, the shipwrecks and broken plans. Why would God thwart his activities again and again? I believe that the answer is that God was using all those obstacles, insurmountable problems for his purpose and his glory (Romans 8:28). All the while increasing the hope and holiness of his people and using that as a testimony to those that do not know him. And only God knows how to do that!
So, as God continues to heal my broken heart, and my family learns to go on without Lizz and the boys in this life. I grieve with hope. This earthly place is NOT my home. I no longer fear death and will look forward to having them greet me when it is my time to be “called up yonder”. And I continue to pray for God to use me as he sees fit to help tell her story in hope that more will come to fall in love with Jesus and know the peace, hope and grace that has sustained us.
So, when life deals you what you think you cannot bear……. Lean in. Stand. Do not fear. Because he knows what tomorrow holds and as the Casting Crowns song says he is already there! Standing at the end of my life. He suffered more than I can imagine and is there to receive you, hold you, and cry with you. God will use these times in our lives, and the world will be amazed that we would praise Him in such a storm, it is those moments when the lost find God.
My prayer is to embrace the grief, embrace the suffering, because in those times of grief and suffering he promises to use it for HIS GLORY, and I don’t want to waste an opportunity for that!
Lastly, this journey has been a testament to prayer. For all of you that have covered me and my family in prayer, we have been sustained and rested in the peace that only God can provide through those prayers. I am going to ask that you fervently begin the prayers again as we start the month of July and prepare for the 1 year anniversary of Lizz and the boys home going.
To Him, ALL PRAISE, GLORY and HONOR!
2 Corinthians 1:8-11
8 We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,* about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.
1 Peter 1:6-7
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.