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May/June Issue 2004 - Volume 23 Number 3
“If You Should Suffer”
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.’” 1 Peter 3:14
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12
Sometimes it is very easy for those of us who are healthy to give advice to those who are suffering with bad health. We know all the answers and dispense our wisdom freely. Of course, we have had no experience with health problems and that is precisely why we know all the answers! There is an old American Indian proverb that says, “Don’t criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” Most of the time we had rather talk than walk. Usually those who are suffering just need to know that we care; they don’t need our advice; they just need a call, a visit, a card, a word of encouragement. With the encouragement of friends the suffering soul may persevere in teaching the rest of us how to snatch triumph from the jaws of tragedy.
Physical suffering is not the only kind of suffering we are called upon to endure. In fact, the physical problems may be easier to handle than the mental anguish or spiritual distress that invades our lives. A broken arm may heal much quicker than a broken relationship. Children fight and fuss on the playground, but most of the time the argument is brief and they go back to their playing. But as we grow older we learn the subtleties of prolonged fussing. We master the fine art of a grudge. We can store unkind feelings inside us for years that boil out in little fits of resentment and big fits of rage. A broken arm is usually the result of an accident, but what is the source of rage? We must conclude that some suffering is thrust upon us for no apparent reason, but some suffering is self-inflicted. Thus some suffering brings honor and nobility while other suffering is simply a disgrace.
There is a difference in the suffering of Job and the suffering of Cain. At the beginning of Job’s troubles he answers with these noble words, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). A little later some of Job’s friends come by to comfort him. They sit silently with him for a week, but then they begin dispensing their wisdom. Before things are finished Job is locked in arguments with them and his noble words are turned to foolish ones: “Oh, that I had one to hear me! Here is my mark. Oh, that the Almighty would answer me, that my Prosecutor had written a book! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, and bind it on me like a crown; I would declare to Him the number of my steps; like a prince I would approach Him” (Job 31:35-37). Job’s troubles were thrust upon him at first and he was not to blame for what happened. Initially he responds with faith in the goodness of God. After a few rounds of his friends’ advice, Job begins defending himself and eventually challenges God. Job was handling his physical problems with faith in God. His mental anguish resulted from his arguments with his friends, and he progressed to a shaky spiritual state in which he began questioning God. Thankfully Job responded to God’s reproof.
Cain’s suffering was all the result of his own choices. He began with an unsatisfactory worship experience that left him angry with God. He refused to respond to God’s reproof and the most obvious place to focus his anger was on his brother Abel. Even after Cain had murdered his brother, God seems to offer him an invitation to tell the truth and find healing as he asks, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain’s response only leads to further alienation and anguish, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain’s suffering is self-inflicted from the beginning. There is nothing noble in his suffering. There is only shame and disgrace. The last we see of Cain he is headed east of Eden to the land of Nod, a land of aimless wandering. The last words we hear from his lips are all about his own plight; they are in essence a complaint: “Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14). Poor me, nobody likes me. And why? What have I done?
There are other examples of suffering in the Bible, and in all of them we can learn lessons to help us in dealing with our own share of suffering. Not all suffering is self-inflicted. We live in a fallen world in which bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Satan would like to use our suffering to bring out the worst in us. He encourages us to find others to blame for our suffering, just as Cain blamed his brother Abel. Satan wants us to concentrate on the injustices, disappointments and shortcomings all around us. He wants us to see no purpose in our suffering.
God offers us an opportunity to turn some of our suffering into stepping-stones. When we suffer for righteousness’ sake, there is glory and honor. God wants us to confess our self-inflicted suffering and let Him help us to overcome it. When we suffer for selfishness’ sake, there is dishonor and spiritual death. We must endure the suffering for righteousness’ sake, and we must abandon the suffering for selfishness’ sake.
There is great comfort available to sufferers who can find a purpose for their sorrows. James tells us that the temptations that come our way can bear the fruit of patience (James 1:3). God used the suffering of Job to silence the accusations of the Devil (Job 1:9-12; 2:2-7). Jesus said that the blindness suffered by one man could be used to glorify God (John 9:1-3). Paul noted that his suffering brought him into fellowship with Jesus: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” (Philippians 3:10). Jesus teaches us that He prunes the branches in order that they may bear much fruit (John 15:1-5). Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. The pruning process includes many of the things that we suffer for righteousness’ sake. The difficulties that we encounter in life also are a part of the chastening of the Lord as the writer of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 12:5-9). It is a wonderful encouragement to us when we accept our suffering as a part of God’s purpose and plan for our eternal welfare.
The idea of viewing our suffering for righteousness’ sake as a part of our fellowship with Christ is Biblical. When we begin to identify with Christ those who are suffering, our whole approach to ministering to the needy can be transformed. Jesus said that when we visit the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the poor that we are ministering to Him. What a difference it makes when we see Jesus in the face of the sick, the hungry and the poor. It isn’t just poor old grandpa that is suffering; it is Jesus that is suffering in grandpa. We aren’t just ministering to grandpa; we are ministering to Jesus.
I received the following story through email sent to me. How we respond to difficulties in life molds our character.
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me, what do you see?"
"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.
She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they got soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma.
The daughter then asked, "What's the point, mother?"
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity-boiling water-but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.
The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.
"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"
Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?
Don't tell God how big your storm is. Tell the storm how big your God is!!
We can transform our tragedies into triumph. The soul who entrusts his suffering to the Lord will find comfort and hope. One poet has said:
Our God works to transform us
Till life on earth is done;
He uses trials and testings
To make us like His Son.
We conclude with the inspired writing of James 1:2-4:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
“Don’t Be Too Busy for a Friend”
One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.
Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.
It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.
That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" she heard whispered. "I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!" and, "I didn't know others liked me so much!" were most of the comments.
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.
Several years later, one of the students was killed in Viet Nam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.
The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.
As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. She nodded, "Yes." Then he said, "Mark talked about you a lot."
After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.
"We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it."
Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him.
"Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."
All of Mark's former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home."
Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album."
"I have mine too," Marilyn said, "It's in my diary."
Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued, "I think we all saved our lists."
That's when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.
The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one-day will be.
So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.
Remember, you reap what you sow. What you put into the lives of others comes back into your own.
Received via email
Marion Ramey – 1/22/04
“Living the Good Life”
Scrubby McDougal was under the big willow tree down at Lake Stillwater last Saturday afternoon, and having caught enough fish for his supper he was quietly snoozing in the shade when his wealthy, younger brother, Trump, rolled up in his black Cadillac.
Trump began to criticize his older brother for not being more ambitious. He pointed a judgmental finger and said, “Scrub, you're never going to get anywhere in life if you don't quit wasting so much time. Why, right now you should at least be fishing instead of sleeping."
“I got enough fish already." Scrubby meekly replied.
“Well then, catch more and sell them. If you work hard at it, advertise and market your services, you could make enough money to live the good life. Don't you want to live the good life?"
Scrubby grinned that toothless grin of his, pulled his hat back down over his eyes and said, “Brother, that's what I'm doing now!"
You know...I reckon he's right.
Stocky Barnes was getting concerned. He has been “pleasantly plump” for years but has always insisted that he is not overweight, just “undertall.” However, in recent months he has made several trips to Penny's Patch It Up Shop to let out his overalls.
When others mention ways to solve the problem, Stocky tells them that it must be a medical condition, genetic predisposition, fat in the water supply, or the fact that he is surrounded by people that are just too skinny. Ol' man Lister suggested that Stocky go to the doctor to see if there really was a medical problem.
Well, Stocky's suspicions were confirmed when the doctor came in and said, “Stocky, your weight problem will be solved when we treat your condition. It's called Noah's Syndrome."
Stocky said, “Aha! I knew it was a medical problem. What is the cure for Noah's Syndrome, Doc?"
The doctor said, “It's simple, really. When you sit down to eat, stop taking two of everything!"
You know...I reckon he's right.