You can read the previous posts in this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy! …
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.
(Psalm 130:1-2, 5)
There’s something about certain Christian books on suffering that bugs me. I’m just going to come out and say it. The writer tells you how suffering deepened his feelings of closeness to God. How a sense of God’s presence never really left her. They imply, and sometimes even promise, you’ll feel the same. I’ve finished paragraphs like that with tears running down my cheeks, longing for what I’m reading about, angry at God for failing to deliver, wondering what’s missing in me. (more…)
You can read the previous posts in this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
I know what I want. I told God so today. I’d like a guarantee that things are going to get better. We’ve reached the end of this particular time of suffering. Happiness is on the other side of the door, knocking. But the days go by, and, yes, things do get better – my son learns to manage his condition, my sorrow and bewilderment retreat – but life is still draining and difficult. Tears are never far away. We’re not yet in the land where leaves heal sorrow (Rev 22:1-4).
Maybe I’ll find the guarantee I want in the Bible. (more…)
One of the things I admire about my mother is that she gets involved in other people’s lives.
Now that she doesn’t have children at home, and is working less, on her way to retirement, she could use her extra time for herself. Instead, she uses much of it for others.
She helps out at the local primary school. She looks after an elderly lady in a local nursing home. She cares for her brothers and sisters. She visits the sick.
She’s like those older women – the Bible calls them “widows” (which my mum is not, but I think it’s a similar stage of life) – who use their time and energy to serve (1 Tim 5:9-10; Acts 9:36-42). I hope to be like her one day.
Here’s a story that encouraged me to get involved too.
If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s forgetting. Your name. What I did on the weekend. The experiences of last year. Gone, every one.
I used to read Christian books and forget them. In one sense, that’s no big deal: we all forget, and it doesn’t mean we haven’t learned anything. But I also wasn’t absorbing what I read: crystallizing the key points, tasting the sweet, going away informed and transformed. That takes a different kind of reading. (more…)
Sorry this post has taken a while. Sometimes you’re too close to something to be able to write about it. By God’s grace, here it is. (You can read my previous posts here: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
flickr: mark sebastian
I’ve been listening to my fears. I’ve been imagining dire possibilities. Every medical article, every story of hardship, every description of suffering, seems a pointer to our future, a list of what-might-be. There are times when I lie face down on the carpet, sick to the gut, held down by a blank, black dread. I knew that I would cry, but fear? It seems a strange accompaniment to sorrow.
For I know that the Lord is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 135:5,6)
I write this post with a heavy heart, because we are neck-deep in this particular season of suffering. It’s not showing any signs of letting up, at least for now. It’s only bearable because God no longer seems like a stranger.
Of all the effects of suffering, this is one of the most disquieting: the God I meet in suffering is different from the God I thought I knew. It’s as if you turn to a friend and catch an expression on their face that you never expected to see there. Your wife of twenty years does something so completely out of character that you wonder if you really know her. Your father turns out to be fundamentally different to the man you loved and respected all these years. (more…)
I’m no Job. The words I used to sing so blithely, with such theoretical appreciation of their beauty, such bland conviction that I’d sing them whatever came—“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21)—don’t, apparently, spring to my lips when suffering comes. My lips are sealed, silent. (more…)
I published yesterday’s post a little precipitously – one of those moments when you click on the “Publish” button and realise what you’ve done a little too late. So I am going to do what you must never do, and change yesterday’s post, adding an extra point that has been running around my head over the last few days. Here it is: (more…)
Flickr: Prayer by Chris Yarza
Late last year, our ministry team looked at 1 Timothy 3 and 4. We noticed how, smack bang in the middle of these chapters on Christian leadership, is “the mystery of godliness”: that is, Christ our Saviour (1 Tim 3:16 cf 4:10). In other words, to be faithful in pastoral ministry, you have to keep your eyes on Jesus. You have to fight to keep your eyes on Jesus.
And what a fight you will have on your hands. (more…)
This is part 2 in a series on suffering, in which I reflect on some Bible passages and how God is keeping his word in my life as he uses suffering to transform me. Here’s the first thing God has been teaching me.
1. Suffering reminds us that we are part of this fallen world
Flickr: ulisse albiati
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:22-23)
Deep down, in some hidden part of me, I think I’m exempt. I’m convinced that life isn’t meant to be this hard. That God owes me healing. That he owes my son relief. That the fact that I pray, “Heal my son!”, and he wakes up sick, calls God’s goodness into question.
I am astonished! dismayed! horrified! that God hasn’t stepped in and taken this away. (more…)
flickr: Sadness by SashaW
Suffering. You don’t know it till it’s grabbed you by the neck and held you down for weeks, months, even years.
It drives out every subterfuge and scours out every illusion. It chases you into every corner and steals every illusion of control. It empties you of every vanity and robs you of every trace of self-reliance.
If you’re stubborn like me, this takes some time. (more…)
What I’ve written here is not all that can be said about suffering: far from it. But I’ve published it, somewhat hesitantly, because I think suffering will drive all of us to this point sooner or later.
flickr: Pink Sherbet Photography
I sit there stony-faced, staring out the windscreen, driving in automatic, lips pressed together. I’ve had enough. I don’t want it any more: this struggle and these doubts and these unanswered prayers. I’ve had enough. It’s been a long week – a long year! – and there’s nothing left. I’ve had enough.
My 12-year-old son sits next to me. (more…)
I’m reading the Bible through, chronologically this time. I’ve just got to Leviticus: the shoal that’s wrecked a million Bible reading plans (at least, it did mine when I was a teenager). Once again, as I read this hard part of God’s word, it seeps into my skin and reshapes my insides.
There’s something beautiful about Leviticus. Sometimes, like those 3D pictures, you have to blur your eyes to see it. As you persevere through the bewildering details (split hooves? a sore with white hairs in it? two materials woven into one?) you begin to sense the outlines. Laws that protect life and relationships. Laws that forbid detestable practices and depraved worship. Laws that uphold justice and provide for the poor.
There’s also something terrifying about Leviticus. (more…)
It’s nearly Christmas. My children read stories about lambs and donkeys visiting a baby, but the story I’m up to my Bible reading plan shows the season in a different light…
Rembrandt: The sacrifice of Isaac (detail)
How strange Genesis 22 has always seemed to me. Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? What kind of Father asks another father to kill his child? Did Sarah know what was going to happen as her husband and son left that day? What psychological scars did Isaac carry into adulthood? (A very modern question, I know.)
What did it cost Abraham to take each step on that three-day journey? (more…)
illustration by Pauline Baynes
I stood under my favourite oak trees today and stared upwards, heavy dark branches and deep green leaves reaching into the blue of the sky. For a moment I was far from here, in the Enchanted Wood or Narnia or Middle Earth. (more…)