Suffering Puts Us on a Slippery Slope: Don’t Slide Down!

Maybe there’s more to suffering than we realize; David seemed to feel that it might just have a purpose… “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3, NKJV)

What Did Bono Say About Suffering?

This Psalm of David provided the lyrics for U2’s song “40”, and it gives us hope when we are in the midst of hard times. Being patient while suffering is not my best thing, and God’s timing does not always seem to be aligned with my need for instant gratification. Perhaps there’s something to consider about that… If you really think about it, impatience is essentially a selfish thing; it comes from elevating one’s needs or wants above all else. I see it on the roads every day as someone runs a stop sign or races up to pass people and cut into a merge lane.

suffering merge

It happens at almost every intersection as the people in front of me are so busy on their phones that they don’t see the light turn green and move forward, costing those of us behind them a chance to make the light. Their selfishness aggravates my impatience, which I then share with others, creating a chain of selfishness that just goes on and on. I realize that I am using something relatively trivial (impatience in traffic) as an example of suffering, but it is something we can all relate to.

But Wait There’s More

There are far more horrible pits to fall into, and there are certainly many circumstances in life that call out for God’s help. Even as I write this, I know it can seem glib and insensitive: after all, I’m not the one suffering, and it’s easy to give “spiritual” advice about it. So please, dear reader, accept what comfort you can from what follows, and use faith to take suffering to another place. It worked for David, and he faced many difficulties in his life–whether it was arrogant brothers who belittled him, a King who tried to murder him, being exiled and alone, dealing with private sin and public failure, or losing a child…

Every day people have to face bad news at work, in their relationships, or with their health, and situations can feel hopeless. Living in a Covid world has touched almost everyone with difficulty and tragedy. Depression is far more common these days, and suicide is up dramatically in the United States since 2000. Social distancing and isolation only make things worse.

In Psalm 40, David is saying that when we are in danger, when we are isolated, when we are stressed or insecure, we can turn our problems over to the Lord. I know that sounds like a simplistic answer, but exercising faith in God offers a positive alternative to hopelessness.

Is There A Different Possibility?

We may not have a choice about circumstances, but David points out that we can choose our response to them. I don’t want this to sound insensitive, but suffering and hopelessness can be selfish acts. If we focus only on ourselves and our circumstances, we embrace the negative and dismiss the possibility of God. It may be that He has something redemptive that can come out of even terrible circumstances. Romans 8:28 says that “All things work together for good for them that love God, who are called according to His purpose.” If that’s true, then perhaps God offers alternatives when circumstances knock us down.

We can either slide into the pit of selfishness or call out to the Lord. His word says He will hear us and elevate us; He will provide firm footing and clear direction. It is easy to get bitter in this life. Culture is capricious and shallow; Politics are driven by selfish agendas; people will disappoint you; even your own body will someday fail you. David says that in the midst of troubles, God put a new song in his mouth. Perhaps you also have troubles. Life has thrown you a curve ball. You are in a miry, suffocating pit where there seems to be no way out. Instead of slipping, stand…

Another Possibility

The Living God is ready to put a new song upon your lips, one that will strengthen you and confound everyone around you. It may even be that our suffering is intended to create some greater good. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Always sing in the midst of trouble. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” When you find your song in the midst of troubles, not only will you discover a firm foundation in a life full of shifting values and events, but others “will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.”

Being patient during difficulties sometimes seems impossible. But if there is an eternal life, and if the disappointments in this life could help someone else (anyone else!) trust in the Lord and attain that everlasting life, then perhaps they are not only disappointments after all…

A New Song

My days were wrapped in silence, filled with anguish, mired in pain;
The sunrise turned to grey as all the sunshine turned to rain.
My life became an effort just to live another day;
I slipped into a pit, surrounded, stuck in miry clay.
So since I couldn’t help myself, I called upon the Lord.
I listened to His message, and I stood upon His word.
His comfort gave me hope, and His assurance made me strong;
His spirit filled my hopeless heart and gave to me a song.
And so amidst the miry clay, no matter what life brings,
I’ll lift my eyes up to the Lord, and trust. And hope. And sing.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Stuck in a Negative Cycle? Try Getting On New One

Life hits us sometimes with a cycle of suffering. Something goes wrong, or little things pile up, and circumstances seem to come at us in waves. We experience pain, we suffer loss or hardship, life is just hard. The road gets rocky and it’s all we can do to just hang in there. In Romans, Paul says that God offers another cycle we can ride:

cycle stone

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5, NIV)

An Easy Cycle to Get On

Often when bad things happen, there is a cycle that goes like this: First, question WHY has this happened? WHY ME? Then DOUBT that God has your best interests at heart. Shake your fist at God, or ask Him to fix your circumstances and conclude He’s not interested. Then decide that this faith stuff is useless. Move on in bitter cynicism… it’s a cycle of pessimistic pain, isn’t it? When we respond to tragedy from an earthly point of view, it’s understandable that people end up bitter or even hopeless with nothing to live for.

cycle

There are many things that enter our lives and create scars, leaving regret or anger behind. Paul says that hoping in God’s glory is not one of them. Think about it: would it ever be a bad thing for us to reflect on the glory of God and how it relates to us?  Could stopping to think about your Creator have any impact on your life? Does God really ever do anything, and does He care about us?

The Hope of Glory

In fact, Paul asserts that there is no way our lives have not been affected by glory in every sense–past present, and future. We have been justified through our past adherence to faith, so that we NOW have peace with God and access into His grace. His grace seasons our everyday life with spiritual insights, forgiveness, and love.

God’s Grace offers us a different way to relate to life, and to God himself. And because of this radical new relationship with God, we can stand confidently in hope that He will take care of the future. It turns difficult circumstances into a choice: either THEY shape our perspective, or GOD does. Participating in God’s glory offers us the opportunity to exchange hardship for hope, and to live with a different view of a cycle of pain…

Try A Different Cycle

Mark Twain’s touching brief narrative “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It”, recounts the life story of Aunt Rachel, a former slave whose life had been filled with hardship and loss. Young Samuel Clemens only knew her as a joyful soul, and recorded this exchange before she told her story:

‘She would let off peal after peal of laughter, and then sit with her face in her hands and shake with throes of enjoyment which she could no longer get breath enough to express. At such a moment as this a thought occurred to me, and I said: –“Aunt Rachel, how is it that you ‘ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?” She stopped quaking. She paused, and there was a moment of silence. She turned her face over her shoulder toward me, and said, without even a smile in her voice: –“Misto C — , is you in ‘arnest?”

Aunt Rachel then told of her life as a slave, and of being separated from her mother and father, and eventually her husband and seven children. Her tale is heart-wrenching, full of life-changing pain that obviously touched the young Sam Clemens, who as Mark Twain recorded it for us in his narrative. Aunt Rachel describes life as a slave, full of heartbreak and sorrow.

But in spite of her hardships, Aunt Rachel lived in a state of joy, and recounted a story of redemption about her youngest son Henry that enabled her to have a different perspective about “trouble”. Her gratitude for goodness and her appreciation for redemption allowed her to experience joy in the midst of sorrow.

What Aunt Rachel Knew

Our suffering in this present world, when appropriated by faith and reshaped by perspective, bears fruit that remains, and Paul (certainly no stranger to suffering) offers a broader view. IF we can hope in the glory of God, then adverse circumstances produce perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character begets hope. God validates that hope with love, a cycle of productive pain that allows for character building instead of cynicism. It’s a much better cycle than the other one, don’t you think?

Your Life Story

Sometimes life will knock you down. You’ll find yourself retreating,
As things come in relentless waves, just beating, beating, beating…
Paul declared that suffering provides a chance to boast,
And when we’re at our least sufficient, God is at His most.
Lifting up our hearts to God can really change our story,
So we can find His peace, and apprehend the hope of glory.

When things occur that outstrip our ability to cope,
Persevere and pray, and call upon the God of Hope.
Circumstance and sin can’t win as long as you allow Him in,
And He will change the hard refrain of pain into your gain.
If you’re hopeless, take a step to God in faith, because
Events can never shape your outlook any more than God does.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread