My Journey to Joy

October 5, 2011

Count It All Joy

Filed under: Shared Findings — aunthoddy @ 5:00 AM
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 We often hear the stories of Job and Paul and Silas and those who go through unimaginable troubles, yet seem to only be more secure in their trust in God. How can you reconcile this with scriptures that tout God as our Refuge and Strength, our Ever-present Help in time of trouble? Scriptures talk of God’s love and how he would not withhold any good thing from his children. But in day-to-day life we are bombarded
with troubles and trials. Most of the time we receive troubles that are small, but annoying. A flat tire for no apparent reason, the alarm mysteriously not going off in the morning, the power going out just before a large gathering at your home, we simply try to ignore these small facts that at the surface seem to completely discount God’s word. Some people try to explain them away by saying that God could have been helping us to avoid another worse situation in our lives. This all seems to somewhat make sense, but there comes a day in everyone’s life when the pat answers and clichés simply cannot stand up against the situation. Being falsely accused and loosing an entire career as a pastor, cancer, the unexpected death of a child, financial ruin due to no cause of your own.

We are so caught up in the cause-effect explanation of life that we search for a simple immediate reason for bad events. We start thinking of things like “God is teaching me a lesson, but eventually I will learn whatever He is teaching me and then He will press the blessing button and life will go on as before.” Or “God will turn this situation around for His glory and I will be a hero or quasi-martyr for my trouble in the end.” We hold on to our “faith” that God will give us that happy ending here on earth, but after a while we realize that the happy ending sometimes will never come here on earth. You start to look around and the very foundations you built your faith around start to waiver and crumble when you realize that many times there is no happy ending. There are those that try to compare this life with heaven, but if there does not appear to be a definite reason for the pain then that logic is very hollow. At the end of the cancer comes death. Your honesty at your job puts you at a disadvantage and person after person gets the “big promotion” in front of you and this goes on for your entire career as you struggle to make ends meet. You re-read Job and realize that God did give him 10x his initial wealth, but the family members he lost and the cutting remarks that his “friends” said left permanent scars on his life which would never be erased. Sometimes there is obvious immediate benefit to the struggle, but often there is just pure question. There is no mention in the Bible that Job’s suffering benefitted anything. God gave him more blessing afterword, but what was the real benefit from the suffering itself?

Were Job and Paul simply idealists who refused to take a long and hard look at reality? Was the reality of the matter that God caused them needless suffering?  Did they have their heads in the sand? God didn’t give Job a “promise” to hold onto like we so often do. He didn’t send an angel down to comfort Job. There is no mention at all that God even explained to Job why he had done this at all.

What about Hosea, who God told to marry a prostitute and live in absolute misery as a sign that Israel had sinned? Things kept going from bad to worse through his life.  The startling thing is that his suffering was due to the fact that God was using him as an example for the wrong done by others. Hosea did not “deserve” the life of pain that God had given him.

The last few months of my life had been more than simply an emotional roller-coaster. God has torn the very foundation of my soul apart piece by piece. It was one thing after another that God was throwing at me. A lot of the little fuzzy clichés I had learned in Sunday School and quite a few of the opinions of the great preachers of the past that made up my view of God were disproved over and over. I felt as thought I had been betrayed.

We constantly hear those sermons about God’s love. We hear the amazing stories of how God takes a homeless person off the street and blesses them with family and money. But after a while we start to ask God why the ones who had practically spit in His face their whole lives are suddenly given so much while someone like myself who has followed his commands nearly from childhood is given a “raw deal.” We don’t hear sermon illustrations about the ones who have a decent life, but when they turn their lives over to God go through the bitterest of situations one after the other. We don’t hear about a teenager in Islam being tortured to death for his faith, and God’s love and protection in the same sermon. Why are there no obvious answers to these problem?

Bitterness. I could feel it slowly creeping into my very being after having these troubles working through my mind for days and weeks. I could feel the effects of it in my daily tasks. I would immediately think cynical thoughts every time someone would give a pat answer to some deep theological question. I would listen in Sunday School and realize that some questions were taboo. The subject was always changed or someone would make a joke. Sometimes pat answers would be given, but there has to be more. Sometimes I would look online at answers to some of these questions and would get very long and confusing chains of reasoning that were speculation at best. I simply wasn’t satisfied. Some of the characters in the Bible had direct and literal communication with God. Why would the answers to these questions not be answered? Have we lost the answer down through history? The fact is, sometimes when life doesn’t happen “by the book” we simply don’t have answers.

When someone is a druggy all their life and gets saved and they still have health problems we are all ok when God doesn’t heal their physical problems that were caused from the drugs. When someone gets life in prison for murder even after they are saved we don’t question it. “They brought it on themselves,” we say. Or when an innocent person is killed by a drunk driver – We say, “The sin of the drunk is what caused this.” The whole cause-effect thing is still in play. But what do we say when someone who was innocent is held in prison for 10 years? We all have no answer. We simply skirt around the issue with phrases like “God’s plan is too large for us to understand.” When a child has an illness from birth and doesn’t even live to see their 1st birthday we hear people saying “They’re in heaven now.” But no one knows why God would bring a child into the world only to suffer tremendously it’s entire life and then die with not a single moment of joy at all. Where is the “love” we heard about in that? Where is the “God will not withhold any good thing” in it?

When we take “real life” and stand it up right next to those promises we hold so dear the contrast is overwhelming. The basis of our faith in a caring loving God crumbles into dust. If God is so loving then why does he sometimes bring constant suffering of those who have done no wrong? Why does God send natural disasters to kill thousands including children and babies? Why did God order the killing of thousands of innocent women and children and animals in the Bible? We hear speculation about disease or genetic mutations that God was eliminating, but God is all-powerful. He could speak a word and cure these problems. The fact is – God sometimes chooses suffering.

I finally had to break away from my false view of God that I had so long held to. I had to accept that suffering is sometimes God’s will. Not in a cause-effect type situation or as direct punishment, but as pure independent decision from God. If you read Job carefully you start to see the fact that God actually started the whole discussion about Job with Satan. Satan came to God, but never mentioned Job until God seemed to flaunt Job in front of him. It almost appears that God is daring Satan to try to mess with Job. The scripture states that Job was the most upright man on earth at that time. Job was not just a stranger to God – some nameless pawn. Job was God’s best.

I also notice that Satan tells God to remove Job’s blessings. The implications of this are profound. This was God’s decision to make – not Satan’s. God wasn’t negotiating here or trying to work out a deal. God had 100% of the power in this situation. By telling God to do this Satan admits that he had no power and God would have to be the one to do anything against Job. God gave Job’s possessions to Satan to do with as he wished. By giving Satan control He was effectively doing this to Job himself. There is no saying that God didn’t realize what all Satan would do. God knew exactly what was going to happen in every detail. God also didn’t have to see if Job would curse him – he already knew what Job would do. God also did not have to prove anything to Satan. The whole situation already shows that God had complete control and so there was no need to impress or put Satan in his place. Satan already knew he was subject to God’s control. So why did God do it? He didn’t have to prove anything to Satan. Was it to prove something to other Christians who read the Bible? Is it really motivating to know that God’s closest servants can experience absolute ruin at the hand of God over a casual bet? Does it really help Him gain the love and faith of His followers to tell them that suffering can come from Him when you are following His will to the letter?

These questions were at the front of my life now as I became more and more aware that I did not truly understand God and His will. I had built my understanding of God around the pleasant parts of scripture. I had taken to heart the warm fuzzy scriptures and embedded them in my faith, but ignored the parts about taking up your cross. Unfortunately, the scriptures I had memorized were taken badly out of context.

I was riding home from work one day sitting in traffic. In my mind I was praying and seeking God, however, looking back I realize that all I was doing was complaining to God. I was telling God how difficult he had made it for me. I was pointing out how much he had blessed some and how little he had blessed me in the same areas. As I was pouring out my heart to God a startling thought came to me and interrupted my concerns completely. The thought was this – “Who do you work for?” Clearly God was bringing this thought to my mind as it had nothing to do with my prayers and it didn’t really even make sense to me. The God elaborated, “When your boss came to you today to ask you to do a difficult task you didn’t complain to him. In fact you actually celebrated the fact that your boss knew you were more capable than the others on the team.”

I was stunned. My mind started going back through that day. Then I starting going back even further across my entire life. I saw times that I had been dismayed at life events that I didn’t understand – rough parts in the road of my life. In some of those times I had erroneously thought that I must have missed God’s will. Or perhaps he was punishing me for some sin I committed earlier in life. I assumed that God would not bring hardships unless it was a punishment.

Suddenly, my perspective had shifted. It was like God had suddenly opened my eyes. The verse about God never giving you more than you could handle actually made sense when it was in perspective. I started to compare life with my job. I have constantly had more and more responsibility added to me at work and I had celebrated the added experience and opportunity to prove my abilities. Many times this did not involve any additional compensation of any kind, but overall I have been compensated for my work. When I was selected for a promotion out of 30 or more applicants I had not gone home in dismay when I found out that I would have more stress and more responsibility every day now. I didn’t go to my employer crying asking why I sometimes would have to work later hours to get the additional tasks done. I had actually rejoiced! I had been found worthy of the task.

God had suddenly shifted my view in an instant. Now I could plainly see why Paul and Silas were singing praise in prison with every expectation that they would be killed in the morning. They realized that they were God’s “elite” – God’s “special ops delta team.” God had given them a task that God knew only they were fit to carry out.

God then opened my eyes even further. I realized that this whole time I had forgotten that the scripture talks about the Christian life as a war. Those songs are more than some cute little ditties. We really are Soldiers of the Cross. Life isn’t about comfort or stillness. It is a battle of good and evil which rages night and day. During a war soldiers are not all given games to play and luxury to live in with lots of food and comfort. They are not sent into bunkers and locked down to wait until they can sneak out. No! Soldiers are there to confront the enemy. It also makes sense that the soldiers who are the best and brightest are given the hardest missions of all. Their tasks sometimes include things that are nearly impossible or may require the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes soldiers know going into some missions that they will not return. War requires loss of life. It requires sacrifice and total commitment.

God showed me right there in my truck that he has a mission for me in his war against evil. He has a mission for all of us. Some Christians are weak and simply cannot endure what others can so they are given mundane tasks for his kingdom. Others are placed as guards protecting from attacks on the homeland. Some are put on the front lines engaging the enemy. Some are a supply team bringing encouragement to those who are on the front lines. However, God reserves his very best for the very hardest and most critical missions. Some of God’s work requires absolute sacrifice – not just for a temporary time, but a life commitment. God puts some behind enemy lines where the risks and sacrifices are greatest.

Some children are raised by abusive parents in broken homes – so that they can fight the enemy at it’s core. Some people are reduced to paupers in order to live among those who need him most. Some people experience hurt beyond belief so that they can go in where Satan has broken the lives of others and offer healing. Most of these special missions are only for the toughest warriors and those with closest communication with God and understanding of his will. Each has his own orders and own battle to fight. For there to be success we cannot attempt to fight each other’s battles.

I suddenly realized that things are very rarely as they seem. God is not just all-powerful. He is all-knowing. He works not just with power, but with strategy. People’s lives are shaped and molded per his exact specifications and according to his perfect plan. We have our own free will and make our own decisions, but he is not so small a God that he has not taken this into account. He is not so haphazard a God to simply be reactionary – he has a proactive plan. As humans we always want to assume that we know the ultimate reason or plan, but we cannot comprehend the extent to which God has gone in orchestrating His ultimate plan. He has His elite spread throughout the world. He also has a contingency plan in case any single member fails to follow His will.  Some of the battles are fought in ways that only those who are close can see. They are covert operations that few will ever even know about. These extremely difficult missions are only for God’s best of the best.  Those who engage in these missions are the ones upon whom God will personally place the medal of honor when they arrive in heaven.

So what has God called you to do? Are you unhappy that God has set a difficult task before you? Are you tired of His relentless training schedule? Have you toyed with the idea of defecting? Are you unhappy that God has given you a mission for only the elite members of his force? Just remember who you work and fight for! Count it all joy!



August 13, 2011

John Piper on Suffering

Filed under: Notable Quotables — aunthoddy @ 5:49 PM
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He knew that suffering, whether small discomforts or dreadful torture, would be the path in this age for making Him most visibly supreme.  That is why He calls us to this; He loves us.  And love does not mean making life easy.  It means making us able to enjoy making much of Him forever, no matter what it costs.  Whatever makes us more and more able to enjoy making much of God is a mercy.  For there is no greater joy than joy in the greatness of God.  And if we must suffer to see this and savor it most deeply, then suffering is a mercy.  ~John Piper

August 9, 2011

Songs for the Journey

Filed under: Songs for the Journey — aunthoddy @ 5:41 PM
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It Is Well With My Soul

“It is in the quiet crucible of your personal, private sufferings that your noblest dreams are born and God’s greatest gifts are given…”  ~Wintley Phipps

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