Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Thankful for Suffering

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thankful for Suffering

This past Sunday I was given roughly 2 hours preparation notice that I would be preaching the morning services due to the pastor being suddenly ill. Although not thrilled about the lack of time to adequately prepare, I was grateful for the blessing to stand behind the pulpit and speak God's Word to his people.

Although the prospect of pulling a sermon out of the "list" that I have preached before was inviting and would have been understandable under the circumstances, the fact that Thanksgiving week was approaching, I wanted to present a fresh and new message for the people. I turned to Daniel chapter 3.

We find ourselves in a holiday week of "Thanksgiving" where we remind ourselves of the many blessings we have from God. We "count our blessings" as the hymn says and point out the things that we have cause to be thankful for. Our salvation, our health, our family and a wonderful God usually tops the lists, and for good reason. Certainly we should thank God for those incredible gifts he grants us, gifts that He is certainly in no way obligated to grant.

But we are not too quick to count our suffering as a thankful part of our lives. In fact, it seems that this holiday can be turned into more of a "forgetting the hurt" than it really is remembering the good. If we want to take seriously the command to be thankful "in all circumstances", then we must take a step beyond the simple notion of forgetting the difficult parts. We must move beyond a forced smile that tries its best to cover the real hurt, a smile that will not last in the evil day. No matter how good we are at faking being thankful, at some point it will collapse. And it will collapse hard.

The famous text that finds Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego near the flames of the fiery furnace is typically best remembered for the great faith of the three men. Their unwavering faith, even in the midst of an almost certain death, brought about the protection from God. But it is the words of these guys in verse 18 of chapter three that should cause our minds to ponder. After being asked what kind of god would protect these men from the king, they respond in verse 17 that their God is "able" and "will" protect them. The "able" shows the power of God, the mighty hand of the one true God who can do anything, where the nations of the world are like a "drop in the bucket." (Isaiah 40). Then, still in verse 17, they demonstrate their faith in that capable God by saying with certainty that God will rescue them from death.

It is in verse 17 that most of us remain in our daily lives. We rely on the powerful God who will make things better. Period. But verse 18 brings a whole new dimension to the situation. Shadrah, Meshach and Abendego go on to say in verse 18 that "Even if He does not. . ." They were going to worship God and only God even if He did not protect them. They did not base their worship and trust in God only on the fact they He could protect them and thereby should protect them. They based their worship on the fact that He is God.

How strange it is that we as believers will all acknowledge that we are thankful for the cross of Jesus Christ. We thank God daily, as we should, that He loved us so much to send His only son to die. Without the cross, there would be no resurrection. Without the resurrection, there would be no salvation. So, we are thankful for the cross of Jesus. Our prayers, although we don't intend this, go something like this: "Thank you for pouring your wrath on Your only son. Thank you for his passion, his suffering and his humiliation. Thank you for his death. Your only son. And also thank you for keeping me from any harm."

We thank God for Christ's death because we can see and know his eternal purposes for that evil act. God was not flippant about what was happening to his son, rather, he was bringing about the redemptive plan for all humankind. This same God is not flippant about our lives either. We must grief and cry and hurt through our suffering with the understanding that God is using this for His eternal good and purposes, and therefore we are to rejoice with thanksgiving for the suffering we are forced to endure. The act of being formed into the image of Jesus Christ is sometimes painful. That is what the overly used Romans 8:28 verse is all about. The "good" is not that we are fine and dandy without any pain. The "good" is that we are becoming more like Jesus.

We are never going to enjoy our pain and hurt. We are never going to want more of it, and we shouldn't. Be we should remember the one and only God is worthy to be worshipped and thanked not just because of all the evil he prevents, but also because of the suffering we will endure.


Anonymous Tim Kuehn said...

IMPO, how bad one "suffers" is partly a function of your perspective on what's happening to you.

If you take a "why me?" or "it's not fair" attitude, you'll do worse than if you ask "What could God be accomplishing through this?"

Sometimes there's things for you to learn that can't be learned any other way. Other times it could be to deepen your faith when He works things out in the end. In cases like Job's - it could be to demonstrate His power to others through your actions.

God's promises are more certain than the chair you're sitting on. When He says all things _will_ work out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, you can count on it. The answer or "good" part may be a while in coming, or not even be recognizable, but it will come. For His _is_ faithful to accomplish and keep His promises.

November 29, 2006 11:04 AM  

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