ďThe temptation is to face difficulties from a common sense standpoint.
The saint is hilarious when he is crushed with difficulties
Because the thing is so ludicrously impossible to anyone but God.Ē
Letters from the Fire1
I am writing to you from a place of suffering. Perhaps many of you have discovered
as I have, that being in this position can be incredibly frustrating and demoralizing.
It is a place that most people want to escape or avoid. Yet, times of suffering also hold the potential for spiritual growth spurts. It is my hope that this letter provides you the reader with encouragement, direction, and especially movement towards God.
When faced with suffering, I have stubbornly tried to make sense of my circumstances by using them like tea leaves, hoping to read through them what God was trying to say to me. Iíve done this for a long time, coming from a Calvinistic perspective Ė that nothing happened by accident, and circumstances were Godís way of communicating with me. Unfortunately the results I arrived at often left me more confused and discouraged. As the suffering continued, my desperation to make sense of things grew, and I became more depressed and despondent. As I searched for answers in books I never found what my heart longed for. Perhaps the problem was I needed more than generalities. I needed to hear from God personally regarding my own circumstances. If I gleaned anything, it was the understanding that God was suffering with me. The problem was long term suffering often leaves you feeling distant from God no matter how intimate your relationship with Him is.
My thoughts often turned to David, who faced horrendous, heart crushing circumstances in I Samuel 30:1-8 (Amplified). While he was away preparing to engage in battle, Davidís town Ziklag had been raided, burned down, and the people captured. To top it off, upon his return, his own soldiers were so distraught by what had happened they were making plans to stone him. To me if anyone deserved to have a pity party, it was David. But David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord his God. And then he did something curious, considering the circumstances he faced. David made the decision to inquire of the Lord. It was the pattern of his life. The Lord answered, ďPursue; for you shall surely overtake them, and without fail recover all.Ē Now here we have the clear juxtaposition of two different realities Ė Davidís present grim circumstances (he didnít even know if his family was still alive) vs. Godís reality (which always seems to carry a note of impossibility Ė how can David possibly get everything back?). David showed throughout his life a distinct predilection for pursuing Godís reality instead of his own. Our culture emphasizes the importance of empirical knowledge Ė that which we can experience with our senses or study through science and research. As Christians, does our culture predispose us to trust the reality of our circumstances more than Godís reality? Do we really bother to find out what Godís reality is? Are we not prone to arrive at erroneous conclusions and judgments about God and his character based on our circumstances, while never investing in discovering Godís reality? Is it not arrogant to assume that just because we canít see God working that he isnít doing something? How many times have you pointed an accusatory finger at God only to find out later you had prematurely judged him?
You can find many other instances in the Bible where Godís reality is set against the circumstantial realities of his people. In II Kings 6:24-7:1 (New American Standard), the siege of Samaria is causing such a terrible famine that two mothers have ended up consuming a child. The king says, ďBehold this evil is from the Lord; why should I wait for the Lord any longer?Ē Elisha answers, ďListen to the word of the Lord; thus says the Lord, ďTomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.Ē
Another thing that strikes me regarding I Samuel 30:1-8 is how different the two realities are. One is a reality of hopelessness and despair. The other is a reality of hope. It reveals Godís heart for David. We rarely see the heart of God without pressing into Him. Imagine stopping at the reality of Davidís circumstances. He would have never recovered his family and property. He would have never known that God wanted to help him. Perhaps his faith in God would have been diminished.
Now, entering into Godís reality means pressing into Him and having the courage to allow Him to deal with our pain, disappointments, and our messy humanity.
It involves waiting on him until he touches us from the other side (where he is). To enter Godís reality also means having our eyes washed with a heart of gratefulness. Suffering, (especially long term suffering), leaves one susceptible to depression. Depression darkens the mind and often fosters ungratefulness. When I speak of gratefulness here,
I am not necessarily speaking of making a list of things you are grateful for, although you could do that. Rather, I am speaking of practicing the presence of God by developing a grateful heart. If the Israelites had meditated on all the things God had done for them, they would have become more grateful. Their gratefulness would have lead to faith and hope when they again faced troubling circumstances. How many times has God delivered us, but rather than taking the time to be grateful we quickly move on to the next problem, and get fixated on the next crisis situation? We are just as guilty as the Israelites were. Take the time to meditate on the things that God has done for you. Slowly unwrap them as gifts. Gratefulness accomplishes several things:
1) it clears your spiritual vision and enables you to better track with God and with what he is doing, 2) it opens you up to new possibilities; perhaps even impossibilities that God wants to do in your life, 3) it works as an effective anti-depressant and increases your faith, and 4) it deepens your relationship with God and makes you more sensitive to his presence. Remember the only thing the fire did to Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego was to burn the ropes that bound them. Similarly, suffering has the potential to free us up so we can experience the reality of God and his healing presence in fresh, new ways.