I Can Trust A God Who Has Suffered

It can be tough for me to trust politicians, especially when they try to relate to normal, everyday folks like myself. When Mitt Romney was campaigning against Barack Obama, one of the knocks on him was that he was fabulously rich. Could a fabulously rich guy really relate to the struggles of a middle-class family in Alabama or a low-income family in Detroit? Could a dude who jetted around in a private jet relate to folks who have to take public transportation? When Bill Clinton told an AIDS activist, “I feel your pain,” it was hard to take him seriously. Could Bill Clinton really relate to the pain of those afflicted by AIDS?

Simply put, it’s hard to trust a person who hasn’t experienced hardship. Hardship and suffering teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way. Although it sounds terribly cliche, there really is such a thing as the school of hard knocks. The reason so many people loved Ulysses S. Grant was because he was a soldier who knew first hand the trials and terrors of war. One of the reasons people loved Abraham Lincoln was that he was a man of the people. He came from a poor, backwoods family, and he understood suffering and deprivation.

A person who has suffered understands the unique challenges and trials and pain that accompany suffering. We can trust the leadership of a person who has suffered.

These realities make Hebrews 2:18 a precious verse. Speaking of Jesus, it says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Our God is not an isolated, insular, always comfortable God. Our God suffered.

Jesus suffered in ways we can’t even begin to fathom. He was rejected and mocked. He was called an illegitimate bastard. His own brothers made jokes about him. He experienced the sickness and suffering and sadness which permeate all of life. He had friends die. He worked until he was so exhausted that he fell asleep in the back of a boat. He experienced the full fury of Satan’s temptations. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He did not have a comfortable, easy, pain-free life.

Because Jesus suffered and was tempted, he is perfectly equipped to help me when I am suffering or being tempted. Jesus knows what suffering feels like, he knows exactly what I need in order to honor God in the midst of my suffering, and he has all the power necessary to sustain me in the midst of my suffering. In my grief Jesus can supply me with grace. In my pain Jesus can supply me with perseverance. Jesus is the wonderful physician who has experienced sickness himself. He is the wonderful healer who knows first hand what pain feels like.

It’s hard to trust someone who has never suffered. Jesus has suffered, which makes him perfectly suited to help me. I can trust a God who has suffered.

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Stop Comparing Your Trials

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How many times have you looked at someone else’s suffering and thought, “How on earth do they keep going? I wouldn’t survive a day in that job, or with those disabilities, or with that many kids!” Then, after marveling at their endurance, you look at your own life and feel like the most miserable, sniveling excuse for a Christian ever to disgrace the faith.

Okay, perhaps you don’t wallow in despair quite that much. But you’ve probably had that type of internal dialogue. Another person’s trials make yours seem like child’s play. They have severe physical handicaps; you just have trouble sleeping through the night. Your newborn doesn’t want to keep to a sleep schedule, but she’s homeschooling six kids and helping her husband run the family business. You struggle to care well for a flock of fifty souls, he pastors a booming congregation, speaks at conferences, writes books, AND coaches his son’s baseball team. In short, you’re a wimp and he (or she) is Captain Awesome. And the end result is that, on top of your particular trial, you now feel pathetic for even struggling.

Can you relate? To cap off the whole dilemma, the appropriately high value we Christians place on humility makes us think there’s something useful, even godly, about this kind of comparison. But here’s the problem: comparing your trials to someone else’s cuts you off from the comfort God wants to give you in your trial. If God was our schoolmaster instead of our father, if comfort was dispensed on the basis of merit, not grace – then yes, we might have reason to think we escape God’s notice until our sufferings pile up to Grade A level. But God isn’t like that. To each one of us he can say, “I have searched you and known you,” (Psalm 139:1). To you these words apply: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

I know what you’re thinking – but they really do face more than I do! And yes, that’s true – and it’s true for every single person. No matter what we go through, someone out there has faced something that’s more difficult, more intense, more challenging. But that doesn’t change God’s compassion for you in your trial. The God who reveals himself as boundless in compassion and mercy walks with each one of us in our trials, tailor matching the comfort receive to the need of the moment. Looking at someone else’s trials tempts us to look away from God and to act as though, because our trials are so small by comparison, maybe we shouldn’t even bother crying out to God for help in our struggle.

So let me make a recommendation: stop comparing your trials. Instead, respond with honesty and humility to God in whatever you are facing. Ask for mercy – God waits to pour it out on you, even if you’re tempted to feel like a loser for even asking!

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18).

Photo by Emilio Labrador

So Who You Gonna Trust?

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

In Isaiah’s day, Judah feared Assyria. Rather than turning to God they turned to Egypt for help and protection.

You can hardly blame them. Assyria was a real threat – they were evil, violent and hated Judah. And Egypt was there ready to help. They could call on a real nation with weapons and horses and chariots who would be right there to take on their enemies. God was – well he was invisible. He might be there, he might not. He might help, he might not. He might hear our prayers…if he is real, that is. So who do we rely on? A God who might be there or a nation who’s right there, polishing their chariots, strapping on their swords?

We may shake our heads at Judah’s foolishness, but so often we do the same thing.

Rather than trusting in God, we trust our own wits. We desperately look around us for some earthly means of relief or escape. Or we simply give in to worry. Our minds scramble from one possible solution to another – “Let’s see, if this happens, I can do that. And if this other thing happens I can take this detour. But what if it’s door #3? What will I do then?”…and on and on go our frantic thoughts.

It’s hard to trust.  It’s hard to put your life in somebody else’s hands.  Years ago some friends and I climbed a small cliff then rappelled down.  It was my first time to rappel, and my friend tied a rope around a tree and instructed me to hold the rope, lean backwards over the cliff, and launch myself into the air.  I have to admit, I was scared.  I realized at that moment that my safety was completely dependent on my friend’s ability to tie a knot.  Did I trust him?

God told Judah that trusting in Egypt wouldn’t save them. He said “Here’s how to be saved: Return to me – repent – and rest in me. It is in quieting your soul and trusting in me that you will find your strength.”

And that’s what God tells us: Repent of trusting other things. Repent of worrying and fretting. Repent of unbelief. And rest in Jesus. Come to him. Cast your cares on him because he cares for you. You don’t need much faith – Jesus can work with a mustard seed’s worth. Tell Jesus you believe, and ask him to help your unbelief.

And trust him. Pray, then tell him you trust him. Ask, then thank him that he will be faithful. Thank him for hearing your prayers. Thank him that he has assured you the prayer of the upright is powerful and effective. And wait. And pray some more. Pray on the drive to work. Pray any time an anxious thought shows its ugly face.

So who are you going to trust – Egypt or the living God?  Horses and chariots or the Commander of the hosts of heaven? Your own ability to figure it out, or the One who upholds the universe with his word?

If you have looked to other things besides Jesus for relief, return to him. In quietness and trust is your strength.

The Safest Place To Be In A Battle

Yesterday morning a man shared this word with our church: “If God has called you into a battle, then the middle of the battle is the safest place to be, because that’s where God is.”

Wow. What a great word! Usually when I’m in the middle of a battle I would rather be anywhere else BUT there.  Have you ever felt like running away? I have at times.  In fact I told my wife recently that sometimes I feel like it would be a relief to change my name, move to another town and be a coffee Barista.  Of course I would never do that.  I would drive a hotdog truck.

But that wouldn’t be the solution. The best place to be is right where God has called me, no matter how hard it is, because that’s where God is.

Reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 43:2:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

God doesn’t say that when we pass through the waters he will be watching over us, or thinking about us or observing us. When God calls us into fire and flood, he promises to be WITH us.

Reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3:23-25:

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.  Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”  He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

I love this – old King Neb is scratching his head saying I thought we threw three men in there. Why do I see four?  You see four because when God calls you into the fire, that’s the safest place to be because that’s where God is.

And when the time comes when God calls each of us to walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, he will be with us there.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4

What battle has God called you into today? Don’t forget he is with you – and wherever God is is the safest place to be.

You’ve Really Only Got Two Options Here

As you walk through each minute of each day you really only have two options:

OPTION #1 – Keep your eyes fixed on your circumstances. Your difficult coworker, your sickness, your tight budget, your child who isn’t doing well spiritually, your strained relationship with your spouse.

When Peter walked on the water, he took his eyes off of Jesus and immediately began to sink. His faith in Jesus was overwhelmed by what he could see with his eyes. By the circumstances that surrounded him.

OPTION #2 – Keep your gaze fixed on the Lord.

  • Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Psalm 34:5)
  • Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8)
  • Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)
  • You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
  • Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7)

Today, our peace and joy and gladness hinge on where we fix our gaze. Lord, fix our gaze on you.