Thursday, January 26, 2006

Suffering (continued...)

At the beginning of Acts 12 persecutions had broke out against the early Christians. If you remember from last week, James was killed and Peter imprisoned. Surprisingly though, Peter was about to be miraculously rescued from his captors. An angel of the Lord came and released him in the night (v. 7-10). Good news indeed for the disciples (so good they didn’t even believe it, v. 15). And to add to this amazing turn of events, King Herod was struck down by an angel of the Lord and the Word of God continued to increase and spread. It’s hard to believe God could use the suffering the early Church experienced at the beginning of Acts 12 to birth good.

Amazing as this might sound, God can cause good to come out of bad. He can take a hopeless situation and turn it completely around. Not fully convinced? Look at what resulted from humanity bringing evil, suffering, pain, and death into the world, God gave His One Son, Jesus Christ. And through His Son's sacrifice on a cross, He restored a broken relationship between Himself and humanity (available to all who confess Jesus as Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead.). I want to talk this week about the ways God can pull good from bad or how He can use suffering in our life to help us become more like Him.

How God uses suffering in our lives to help us become more like Him.
One of the many things I admire about the early Christians in the book of Acts is their reaction during suffering. Luke writes in Acts 12:5 after Peter was thrown into prison that “the Church was earnestly praying for him.” They turned to God. Earlier they had faced a similar situation and knew calling out to God in prayer was their only hope (Acts 4:23-24). That right there is probably one of the greatest goods to come out of suffering, people turning to God. What an example we set for others when suffering only strengthens our relationship with Jesus Christ. Something to think about the next time hard times come around.

Another way God uses suffering in our lives is, to strengthen us spiritually. If we never suffered, like an athlete who neglected training and exercise, our spiritual lives would become weak, lazy, and never taste victory. Spiritual growth occurs when suffering pushes us beyond our human limits and we realize our finite human condition and powerlessness. Then we learn what it means to totally trust in God’s perfect sacrifice (Jesus Christ) and His empowering Holy Spirit. Again, this trails back to turning to God amidst suffering.

Scary as this is to say, I see suffering as essential to the life of every believer. In our spiritual lives suffering functions like a proof to an algebraic equation, telling the truth about our relationship with God. If we have a solid or shaky relationship with Jesus Christ, suffering will show it. Think of friendship. How do you know you have true friends? Is it because they stick with you when times are good and nothing bad is happening? No way! You call them true friends because they stick with you through thick and thin. And when something bad does happen, do you blame them? More than likely you don’t (unless they caused that something bad to happen!). You rely on them and turn to them for help. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that with God during suffering?

So I say all of this to say, suffering, if we allow it can bring us closer to God. I have no doubts that suffering can do quite the opposite too. I’m not na├»ve; I know things happen sometimes (i.e. death of a loved one, murder, suicide) and there is no explanation as to why and God seems further away than ever. But, I believe we make the choice on which way we want it to lead us. Goes back to God giving us free will (right to choose). The best example given on how to respond to evil, suffering, pain, and death is found in Jesus Christ. Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John and you’ll discover the author of our salvation (Jesus) was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10).

- What are your thoughts on this?
- What good do you see in suffering?
- Any experiences you would like share about suffering and how it helped
(or hurt) your relationship with God?
- Do you agree or disagree with any of this?

P.S. Next week. Something in or from Acts 13. Unless by unanimous requests you want to continue talking about suffering. Let me know.

6 comments:

SlimDuck said...

Bravo man. Great post. BUT, here is where the true test comes. Should you pray that God would have you suffer? (By the way, it is a loaded question)

Duck

Icthusfishie said...

Wonderful teaching Tim! I'll have to come back later to read it more in depth. Thanks for teaching on this!

Jenny

Christy said...

Tim, I do agree that suffering can be used by God to bring us closer to Him. Just about everything can be used in our lives to bring us closer to Him. I must admit that, although at the end of a tough situation I can see that God was with me the whole time, I don't like going through the tough time. It was a great article! Keep them coming!!!

Tim Sheets said...

Thanks for commenting!

Slimduck, I see where you're trying to get me to go and I'm not willing to go there. I'm sticking to my guns that God doesn't will us to suffer, but suffering is a part of our lives since we live in a fallen world. Good news is God can use suffering to mold us and shape us after Him.

I would agree that suffering almost blinds us to God's presence and help, we get too focused on the temporary. Paul modeled a wonderful example all through the book of Acts as to how we should respond to suffering--continue preaching Jesus Christ and keep your focus and eyes on Him! Good example! Hard to follow.

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Gustin said...

Timmy

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I just type some interesting thoughts about the bible and life in general, so check it out and let me know what you think. I will be a regular attender to your blog.
Here is my thought on your Suffering. Should you pray that God would have you suffer? Or is that a loaded question for another time?

Cecily-Sue said...

Tim, i totally agree with you. God does pull good things from a bad situation. I dont think He makes us suffer but He lets it come upon us. He knows all and knows what we can and can not handle He's not going to allow a situation that we are not going to be able to handle with His help. If I wouldnt have suffered I would not be a christian, and if others would not have suffered they wouldnt not be able to help reach those who are suffering. I think we need to pray in our time of need and He will help the situation.