darkness

When In the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

In my last blog, “Beyond the Now of Suffering” I talked about how to rejoice when you feel your world is crumbling or has been profoundly shattered. It is only in Christ that we may have any joy at all under such circumstances and it is a joy that looks in hope towards the future. But, as I stressed, in the midst of our heartache we are never alone in our grief and suffering—God in Christ by the Spirit is present in the midst of it, weeping and aching with us.

God does not want us to deny or ignore or try to fantasize away our suffering. God does not ask us to pretend tragedy did not happen or that loss will not or did not occur. Nor does he ask us to have a “stiff upper lip” and just brave it out, pretending that everything is okay. Living in denial, emotional numbness or in a sense of false spirituality is not healthy, nor is it godly.

There are many examples from the human life of Jesus that express his compassion and willingness to share in another person’s grief and suffering. He did not deny the real grief of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. In fact, he wept with them. Yes, he pointed them beyond his death to the hope of the resurrection, but he also shared in their grief and did not minimize it in any way. This is the heart of compassion and understanding that God has given us in Christ.

I am reminded of the story of when Jesus was traveling to the city of Nain. He met a funeral procession on his way. The mourners were weeping over the death of the only son of a widow. In that culture, this was a real tragedy because, not only did she lose someone very dear to her, but now she would be forced to find some way to provide for herself whether through begging or some worse occupation. She was really at a place where there was no hope or future for her. The text says that when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her. He was filled with compassion.

Jesus does the same for each of us today. Just as Jesus faces our suffering today with a heart of compassion, he comes alongside us as well to ease our burdens and to find a way to help us through our tragedies and difficulties to a new place. He may, in our case, not raise the dead as he did in hers, but he will bring our dead and dying circumstances and situations in time to a place of new life. Meanwhile he ministers to us in many ways.

Jesus ministers to us through the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. When we turn to Christ in our struggles and suffering, we are blessed with the real comfort and peace that comes through the ministering presence of God through the Spirit. I have had widows tell me how they have experienced the nearness of God in a profound way after the death of their spouse. They have been comforted and encouraged in a real way through his ministry and grace. This is something we can ask God to do for those we know who are suffering or going through a time of darkness.

Jesus also ministers to us through his body, the universal church of God. We are surrounded by people of faith, whether from our church or not, who offer us consolation, encouragement, support and real, human assistance. The people of God are the physical “hands and feet” of Jesus for us in the midst of our tragedy and struggle. It is important for us as believers to be sensitive to the needs of those in the midst of crisis and not to belittle or minimize or spiritualize away their suffering. God meant for us instead to express Jesus’ heart of compassion and comfort toward them in the midst of it. God meant for us to be “place-sharers” in their lives—to be present with them as they go through it—not trying to fix it or them, but just being for them the real presence of God in the Spirit in that moment.

Finally, Jesus ministers to us through his Word, whether through the Scriptures, the spoken word and through “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Many a person has been revived at a point of crisis through hearing a song on the radio, receiving a card in the mail, being given a note of encouragement, or by listening to an inspired message. These are all real tangible gifts we can extend to others in their time of need or assist others in being able to receive.

God finds ways to bring us real help and strength in the midst of our human existence which includes suffering, struggle and difficulty. He does not leave us to muddle through somehow on our own. Nor should we expect others to do so either. If we have any heart of compassion at all, we should be finding ways to ease the suffering of others, not adding to it by our insensitivity or by ignoring it or minimizing it. For as members of the body of Christ, we do not suffer alone; when one person suffers, we all suffer.

Holy God, thank you for the wonder of your great compassion and tenderness for us in the midst of suffering and tragedy. We praise you that nothing in our lives escapes your notice. Thank you for the real ministry of your Holy Spirit, of the body of Christ and of the Word of God when we are in need. Remind us now of ways in which we might bless the lives of others who are suffering this week in a real way. Encourage and strengthen each of us who are in the midst of tragedy and loss right now in a real way so that we might bear these things we are facing that are difficult and painful to bear. We are grateful that we never have to walk through these things alone—you are always with us. Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit, we need you now, more than ever—please send your comfort, your peace and your grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12:24b-27

Beyond the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

I sat with a friend one day as she told me the sad story of her husband’s tragic accident. He lingered for several agonizing days and then passed on. It was heartbreaking. I was sorry to lose his friendship as well as to watch her grieve the loss of her dearest friend. In the midst of this horrific event, how could we rejoice?

The only joy we can find in such times is in our knowledge that we may look forward to spending eternity with this dear one because of what Jesus Christ did for us. We look forward to a wonderful future spent in the presence of the Triune God, enveloped in and included in the triune life and love of Father, Son and Spirit. Next to this eternity of joy, peace, and heartwarming meaningful occupation in God’s presence, our time of struggle becomes extremely brief and almost insignificant. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is why Paul repeatedly calls us to keep our minds and hearts on heavenly things rather than on earthly things. It is our focus on the heavenly things that gives our struggles and trials meaning.

It is a given that we will struggle in this life and may even have to suffer extreme trials. It is a given that at some point we will have to experience grief and sorrow. It is the nature of the human condition.

But our human condition is the reason why Christ came. God saw us in our pain and suffering, and in the person of the Word, he came and joined us. He became human in the person of Jesus Christ, living like us, grieving with us and dying our death for us. The answer to human suffering is found in God’s choice, made in his divine freedom, to take on and transform human flesh by living as a human being, dying, rising and ascending to heaven, taking our transformed humanity with him into the love and life of himself.

God, who is love, revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God taught us, in Jesus Christ, that true love is forgiving, self-offering, and self-sacrificing, humble and serving in nature. Jesus, in rising from the grave, transformed our humanity, making us new in him and drawing us into the very presence of the triune God for all eternity. There is no suffering, grief or sorrow we experience in this life he will not share in. He feels it keenly himself.

So in the transient suffering of this life we are not alone. We can rejoice that Jesus Christ shares in it with us and that by his Spirit he strengthens us and carries us through these dark times. And in the end the whole purpose of all that we have suffered and gone through will be revealed in him when we are transformed into his likeness as glorified human beings and spend eternity in joyful unity with the triune God, sharing in his love and life forever.

Dear God, thank you that we are not alone in our suffering and trials. Thank you for being with us, in us and for us through them all in Christ by your Spirit. Thank you for giving us an eternal, living hope to carry us beyond them to a glorious future with you. Grant us the grace to endure and to be transformed by your gracious efforts in our trials and suffering into your glorious and radiant sons and daughters who will love and serve you faithfully forever. We pray in your name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,…” 1 Peter 1:6 (NASB)

Light in Our Darkness

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by Linda Rex

I recall one winter when my children and I were playing Monopoly in the living room and the lights went out. Normally I would not have been concerned. We would just get the candles out and keep going. But the weather was frigid and ice was accumulating on the trees and bushes outside. No power meant we would be very cold since we use propane to heat the house and the blower would not be working to force the heat into the rooms.

We did finish our Monopoly game by candlelight, but when bedtime came, there was still no power. The house grew colder. The darkness seemed darker somehow, with the clouds and storm, and no lights on inside or out. Bundled up in blankets and warm clothing, we huddled in our beds for the night.

During those winter months, when the days were growing longer but the gray skies and cold weather lingered, I was reminded of the darkness spoken about in Isaiah. The people of Israel had continued to break God’s heart with their unfaithfulness and disobedience. So he sent them away from their homeland into captivity. For many centuries there was no prophetic word from God. It was a time of deep darkness for the nation of Israel and the other nations Israel had been sent to as God’s representative.

It was in these days of darkness and despair that God entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ. John, in his gospel, speaks of Jesus as being the Light of the world (John 1:4) even though the world did not comprehend who he was and what he was doing here on earth. Throughout his human life, Jesus healed people, cast out evil spirits and fed large numbers of people. He spoke words of truth that challenged accepted world views. He taught his disciples a new way of life, of loving their enemies and doing good to those who persecuted them. The result of Jesus’ good deeds and compassionate love was an untimely, gruesome death on the cross.

But the Light had already begun to shine and the grave could not and would not stop him. Jesus rose from the grave and his resurrection impacted the world in such a way that it has never been the same since. In the centuries that followed as Christianity began to spread throughout the world, Jesus’ followers began to shine light into dark places wherever they went. Where there was despair, suffering, loss and hunger, there came hospitals, orphanages, and schools. Jesus’ followers were human and faulty—they had shortcomings. But the truth is that Jesus’ eternal light entered the world, and from then on the world has never been the same.

Not only does the Light of Jesus bring a new way of living and interacting with other people throughout the world we live in. But when we trust in Jesus, we also have the hope of that Light shining in us and through us for all eternity. We embrace the hope of shining brightly like stars with Christ in glory. Jesus, our Light, and the Light of the world, has come and the world, as with us, will never be the same again.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you.” Isa. 60:1-2

When Winter Lingers

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by Linda Rex

When I walked into the business office one day, I was greeted by a wonderful floral fragrance. On the desk sat a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The lilies in the bouquet were filling the room with their pleasant scent.

We often associate lilies with Easter or with the passing of a loved one. Lilies remind us in times of death that there is always the hope of new life in Jesus. Lilies begin to bloom in the spring, and are often associated with the seasonal renewal of life. The winter season is when lilies go dormant, drawing their energy back into their bulbs. The cold soil hides the life of the lily until the warm spring sun awakens the bulb again to new life.

During the winter of our lives as our bodies begin to give way to stress and strain, we may feel that we are like the dormant lilies. We may feel lifeless and dull. We may have lost our energy and desire to do much of anything anymore. The aches and pains may overwhelm our desire to get up and face the day. Our loneliness or sadness may feel like a weight upon our soul. Like the lilies, we may withdraw into the cold bulb of our hearts or our room and wish to be just left alone.

God says in these times he will be like the dew to us so that we will blossom like a lily. To find renewal, an ability to keep going in the tough times, the strength to carry on one more day, we go to Jesus. He understands our suffering and our struggles because he bore them in person, in human flesh, just as we do. He will listen to our heart’s cry when we cannot pray, and comfort our spirits when we are overcome with sorrow.

Jesus is the sunlight that melts away the coldness of sorrow and loneliness. He is the friend who is closer than a brother. He comes near and warms us with his love and grace. When we turn to him and bask in the sunlight of his love, we find renewal and strength to face each new day. In the light of his presence, we find encouragement and comfort. In Christ, we find within ourselves the strength and wisdom to share his Light with others so they might be encouraged and comforted as well. Like the spring lilies we will blossom, and the fresh fragrance of God’s love will begin to spread to all those around us.

Lord, thank you for the beautiful lilies of the field. They remind us of your great love that is endless and faithful. Thank you, that in Christ, we may find the comfort, strength and encouragement that enables us to begin again each new day. Please grant that today we like the lilies of the field, will blossom and share the fragrance of your love with all those about us. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

“I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily.” Ho 14:5 (NIV)

Countercultural Faith

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by Linda Rex

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15

Sometimes we may find ourselves asking the question, “What is God’s will in this situation?” There are many verses that talk about the will of God. In this particular instance, Peter is talking about the will of God in the midst of a pagan anti-Christian culture with an oppressive government.

The people of that time lived under Nero and other Roman caesars, who took pleasure in the persecution and destruction of Christians. Peter himself would eventually experience a martyr’s death. This was a difficult, and no doubt, fearful time in which to live. Many of the issues Christians faced in those days are similar to ones Christians face in their world today.

Peter wrote that the way to silence those who know nothing about God and the way of life Jesus taught his disciples was to live in love with fellow Christians and others in the community in the face of suffering, rejection and death. What got the attention of the people of the day was the love and affection of the Christians. They had formed communities in which those in need were cared for and relationships were built. Not only that, but they reached out to those who were not Christians and showed them love and compassion even when it meant putting their lives at risk.

The Christians may have been ridiculed by their neighbors and community members for their funky observances like eating the body and blood of a dead guy (participating in communion), but the criticism was often silenced by the love and compassion these people witnessed these Christians sharing in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. It was the “doing good” and the non-violent response to martyrdom and suffering that eventually silenced the persecutors and paved the way for the Roman empire to embrace Christendom.

As we go about our daily lives and experience troubles and trials as Christians, it would be good for us to keep in mind the impact we have on others by our words, actions, and attitudes. We are preaching the gospel in the way we “do good” in our daily lives. As we reflect to the world around us the grace and love and truth of Jesus Christ, we pave the way for God to ultimately silence those who oppose him by transforming their hearts by faith. This is the path toward accomplishing the will of God–giving his Spirit full expression in and through us in the midst of a broken and hurting humanity who are ignorant of or live in opposition to God’s love and grace and truth in Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord of Life, please grant us the vision to see beyond our daily trials to understand the impact we can have on the world around us by living upright, godly, loving lives no matter what we may face or suffer. Help us to fully reflect the wonder of your love and grace in Jesus as we go about our daily business. You have worked mightly through your people to change the world. Please work mightly thorough us as well. Grant us the strength, wisdom and courage to bear whatever suffering or sorrow this may require and to do whatever you may ask of us. For Christ’s sake and by your great power. Amen.