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in Life

Endure Suffering

Live Long Enough & You'll Experience Suffering

I personally tend to never stray far from considering the topic of suffering. This may seem morbid, but the truth is that Jesus tells us that there will be suffering in this life for those who follow him (Luke 9:23). The other reality of suffering is that, due to living in a fallen and broken world, suffering is not a matter of "if" but "when". Live long enough and you'll experience suffering, whether it's your own suffering or a loved one’s. So, when it comes to the topic of suffering, my experience has been that it is far better to have a good theological foundation underneath you before you experience it, rather than trying to get a hold of one in the midst of it.

The "Gold" in Hebrews 12:3-17

There are several passages that I go back to when considering the topic of suffering. Hebrews 12:3-17 is one of those passages. There is some real gold to unearth in this passage. The encouragement of this passage can be summarized simply as, “endure suffering.” Now, maybe you are going through some serious suffering right now and that encouragement seems like an impossibility. If that’s you, let me encourage you, there’s truth, love, comfort, and power here, not platitudes and pat on the back. What’s more, we are not going to be called to endure through suffering without God also providing us with His empowering grace to do so. This passage has God’s grace in abundance. Let’s take a brief look at four ways this passage encourages and equips us on how we are to endure suffering:

  • Consider Jesus(vv3-4): Suffering is best understood in the shadow of the cross, where Jesus—the Innocent One—endured the worst of sufferings in our place. We should consider Jesus because it reminds us that:
    • Our greatest problem is already solved: Before faith in Jesus, we rightly stood condemned to eternal suffering, but Christ took the punishment we deserved for our sin. While we will suffer here on earth, sometimes terribly, we have already been delivered from our biggest problem. Not only that, but even in our darkest moments, we can cling to and rest in the hope of heaven, where God will wipe away every tear from our eye and redeem every painful broken thing that has ever happened to us, and death and pain will be no more. (Rev. 21:4-5)
    • We have a sympathetic and powerful Savior: Jesus is no stranger to suffering. Not only in death, but also in life, He endured continual struggles and suffering. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Even as the sinless God-Man, we saw the real-ness of His humanity and the depth of His suffering as He pleaded with God in the Garden of Gethsemane for there to be another way to save His people (but in the end, He said “Not My will, but Your will be done”). And this same God-Man, who endured much worse suffering than we will ever face, lives inside of us, empowering us to endure, just like He did (Galatians 2:20).
  • Rest in the Father’s Embrace (v5): We are not mere strangers who God has taken pity on. God addresses us as sons and daughters. With everything that follows in the passage, God reminds us that we hold a special place in His heart. He does not encourage us simply as a teacher or instructor, He tells us these things as our perfect, all-loving Heavenly Father. Once His enemies, God has adopted us into His family and calls us His very own. We are loved and embraced and called His sons and daughters.
  • Embrace the Father’s Discipline (v.5-11): And just like we receive His loving Fatherly embrace, we also receive His loving Fatherly discipline. Whether our suffering was a direct result of our own actions or not, the powerful truth here is that our Heavenly Father uses our suffering to discipline us – to refine us and make us more like Christ. The text says that the Father disciplines those whom He loves, and His discipline gives evidence that we are His sons and daughters. And while there has never been a child who enjoyed discipline in the moment, we can also look back at our earthly parents and see how their imperfect, yet loving discipline molded us into better people. Likewise, and in a perfect and loving way, God uses our suffering to mold us into the image of Christ which is the very best thing that could ever happen to us. If we look back at the suffering in our lives, we can often see how this is true – how God used our pain to form us more into the image of His son, Jesus. As we see in verse 11, all discipline (suffering) will seem painful rather than pleasant when we are in the midst of it, butit will eventually result in "the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those that have been trained by it." While we may never fully understand exactly God was doing through the suffering, we can rest in the truth that God wasusing it for our good. There is no such thing as meaningless suffering for a believer.
  • Become Active Participants in Endurance (vv.12-17): So far, this passage has emphasized what God has already done for us, and how He continues to empower us, but we also have a responsibility to join in here. While it can be tempting to wallow in our suffering, feeling helpless and powerless, God commands us to do the opposite. “Lift [up] your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet”. This would be cruel encouragement if God was not empowering us to do what He is telling us to do and if He had not put us in a community of believers who are to come alongside of us with encouragement to press on, but He is and He has. You see, this is a gracious call to reform our lives that is a result (“therefore”) of knowing with certainty that God is working all things together for our good. This encouragement applies to our call to endure in general, but then the author of Hebrews provides additional, specific encouragement by commanding us to pursue peace with others and holiness.

    Since interpersonal conflict—a common source of suffering—always involves two imperfect people, God is reminding us that we need to understand, accept, and work on how we contribute to the conflict, rather than focusing on how this is, “all their fault”. After all, God uses suffering to discipline us, so the focus of our attention should be on battling our sin in the situation and how God is trying to make us more like Christ through this circumstance. Maybe we are returning evil for evil, instead of following Christ’s example. Maybe we are not willing to wait on God’s justice. Maybe we have forgotten how much we have been forgiven and so withhold forgiveness like the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). We are also told to guard against the "root of bitterness", sexual immorality, and a godless attitude (taking matters into our own hands because things are not going the way we want them to).

So how about you? Which one of these things can you tend to forget? How do you normally try to cope with and endure suffering? Hebrews 12:3-17 is so helpful, and I praise God for preserving it in our Bibles! I pray that reviewing Scripture like this is an encouragement to ensure surfing. Most of all, I pray that our Heavenly Father will give us more and more grace to endure suffering!

in Life

Self-pity is Sin

Sin is Sin

Several years ago I read a book by Jerry Bridges entitled, Respectable Sins. In it, Bridges says,

“On the whole, we appear to be more concerned about the sins of society than we are the sins of the saints. In fact, we often indulge in what I call the ‘respectable’ or even ‘acceptable’ sins without any sense of sin. Our gossip or unkind words about a brother or sister in Christ roll off our tongues without any awareness of wrongdoing. We harbor hurts over wrongs long past, without any effort to forgive as God has forgiven us. We look down our religious noses at ‘sinners’ in society without any sense of a humble ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ spirit.”

Sin is sin. Even the "the acceptable sins of the saints"–the sins that we tolerate in our lives–are serious in God's eyes. Our religious pride, our critical attitudes, our irritability, our unkind speech about others, our impatience and anger, and even our anxiety (see Phi. 4:6). All of these are serious in the sight of God.

This book was timely in my life. It really blew me away by helping me see my own besetting sins and helped me come to a better, deeper grasp of my sin.

Self-pity, A Downplayed Sin

More often, it's those "respectable sins" that are our biggest problems. Like a lion ready to pounce, our "respectable sins" can lie just below the surface of our conviction because we've minimized and suppressed the sinfulness of our sin.

One of those “respectable sins” that is often minimized is self-pity. I agree with Justin Taylor when he says, "It seems like a neglected and respectable sin that has been downplayed".

Self-pity can be described as the propensity to feel sorry for yourself because you believe you are not getting what you deserve. One Biblical Counselor, says it like this, "Self-pity assumes that you deserve good treatment from God and other people. It assumes this because it decrees that you are good, and you are entitled to good. Self-pity exposes self-centeredness." Ouch.

The Root of Self-pity, Pride

Let's be clear, self-pity is sin, and its root is pride. In his book Desiring God (302), John Piper made a helpful comparison of boasting and self-pity: "Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, 'I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.' Self-pity says, 'I deserve admiration because I have suffered so much.' Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. Boasting sounds self-sufficient. Self-pity sounds self-sacrificing. The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be so needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego. It doesn't come from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride."

Jesus Never Gave Way to Self-pity

I have chosen to sin in self-pity before, and I'm sure I will again. I’m also sure that it’s not a big stretch to say that you have, too. Here is the good news for folks like us, though: Jesus never gave way to self-pity. It's not that He didn’t have the opportunity to, it's just that He never did. Don’t believe me? 1 Peter 2:22-23 says:

“[Jesus] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”

I don't know about you, but if I had been in Jesus’ shoes, I would definitely be struggling with self-pity. But the passage doesn't stop there.

“He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)

Jesus, Himself, took on our sin, including that of self-pity, as if it was He who had sinned in self-pity. Why?! So that those who would put their trust in Him would die to sin and live to righteousness! Are you struggling with self-pity? Let me encourage you to stop, right now, and repent for this sin before God. God through the Holy Spirit wants to help you look to Jesus and be reminded that He, the One who committed no sin, took on the penalty for your sin of self-pity; Jesus died for your sins, every last one of them, so that you could stand right before Holy God and then subsequently be empowered by the Holy Spirit to leave behind self-pity and live in a manner pleasing to God. I know that this is easier said than done when you're in the midst of a self-pity kick, but take heart, God is at work in you...He's for you, not against you. And in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, God is empowering you to put off the old ways of thinking and doing, including self-pity, and to put on the new ways that are righteous, good, and pleasing in His sight.

in Life

Trouble, Meet God.

Suffering is a Fact of Life

Suffering is a fact of life in this broken and fallen world. The truth is, if you haven’t already, you will experience suffering, trouble, or trials in this life. A wise man once wrote, "All we have to do is live long enough, and we will suffer."* Early on in our marriage, Lauren and I experienced about a year’s span of significant trials. We were in the middle of a church transition, going from one church where we had many thriving relationships, to one where we found it difficult to make connections. I was jobless for about 9 – 10 months. My grandmother (my last living grandparent and the one I was the closest with) passed away. My brother had a severe accident from which he became a quadriplegic. Then, on top of everything, Lauren and I went through three heartbreaking miscarriages.

Your story is probably different than mine. Maybe, in fact, you’re in the middle of your valley right now, feeling like you’re drowning in the sorrow, pain, and heartache. But there is some good news for suffers like you and me. God has made significant promises to folks like us. Let me share with you one such promise that has been a "rock" under my feet.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
(Psalm 46:1)

God is Very Present to Suffers

Even in the deepest, darkest moments of our suffering, our God is not far off from us. Instead, through the beautiful mercy of the Gospel, God is very present during our suffering. The Gospel makes God's closeness to sufferers like you and me possible. If you have, by grace, trusted in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, then you have been permanently brought near to God. He is very present with you, now and always, no matter what you’re going through.

3 Attributes of God for Sufferers to Hold on to

This verse reminds us of three attributes about our Present God that He graciously wants us to know when we are suffering. Our Heavenly Father wants these specific characteristics to inform, correct, and instruct our thinking about who He is in relation to us when we are experiencing times of trouble.

  1. God is our very present refuge. If you are like me, when trouble comes, I sadly often respond by fleeing to the TV in hopes that it will give me peace, rest, and comfort (see: distraction tactics). And while this always offers the tantalizing promise of refuge, it never really delivers. Psalm 46:1 reminds us that the only real, lasting peace, rest, and comfort will be found in God. He is our sanctuary. He is our very present shelter and asylum in times of trouble. We are to flee to Him to take refuge in His Word and in His presence. So, what about you? Where do you tend to flee when trouble comes? Food? Entertainment? Work? A relationship? This verse is a sweet reminder to us that God has not left us in times of trouble, but is our very present shelter. We can hide, as it were, in the arms of our loving Heavenly Father and receive comfort and care from He who is our refuge.
  2. God is our very present strength. This verse reminds us that real strength is found, and promised, in our very present God. Maybe you're in such deep suffering that you feel like you just can't go on. Or maybe you feel battered and bruised - weak and helpless. The question is, where do you instinctively tend to look for strength to make it through? Do you tend to turn inward to find strength? Or do you wait in hopeless despair, convinced that you can’t take any more? It can sadly still be almost instinctual to turn elsewhere for the strength we need - or to simply give up in despair - but our God is near to us in our trouble. And it is through His grace where we will find the strength to persevere through intense suffering. When we are weak, God is strong. And His strength is sufficient for us.
  3. God is our very present help. Psalm 46:1 reminds us that when trouble tempts us to feel helpless, we have an ever-present help in our God. In times of trouble, this is often a promise that God reminds His people of (e.g. Isaiah 41:13). You and I need help. This is not a result of the Fall, but a result of Creation. We were designed to need help; first and foremost from God, but also from each other. Sadly though, in times of trouble, it seems we can either feel thoroughly helpless, and as a result, not seek help, or we can tend to seek help in all the wrong places. Where do you tend to turn for help in times of trouble? God wants to remind us that He has both not left us in our time of need and that He is also our very present help. Your Heavenly Father is ever faithful and in Christ He wants to give you the help you need when you're in trouble.

There is a gracious result that these truths are to have on us in times of trouble. We see this, starting in verse 2, "Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling." (Psalm 46:2-3) In times of trouble, it can sure feel like our whole world is off its axis and the earth underneath our feet is shaking. Trouble can be a dreadful and fearful experience. But the gracious result of living in the good of the truths we've talked about, is that we will not fear, even when it seems like everything is going wrong. God is our very present refuge, strength, and help in times of trouble!

Let me end by encouraging you to keep a verse like Psalm 46:1 in your arsenal. Write this verse down and put it where you’ll see it often. Memorize it. God put this verse, and verses like it, in our Bibles so that we could be reminded of these great truths when trouble comes.

pg. 16 How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, Second Edition; DA Carson

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