When Despair Creeps In

weaknessIf I am being completely honest and transparent with you, I’m struggling.  I’m wrestling with the mental affects of chronic pain.  Now, chronic pain can be labeled in different ways and is usually reserved for pain that has no real end in sight.  Hopefully, that is not the definition for me.

I have been dealing with some form of pain in my left shoulder for over a year.  It’s a very life-altering thing that has changed how I do life in significant ways.  I am hopeful that there is an end in sight as I am recovering from surgery performed one month ago tomorrow.  In light of that, I have hope for normalcy.

That being said, I’m still dealing with some significant pain.  I write that not for pity, but with a mind for those who are dealing with pain much more severe than mine and with little hope for relief in the near future.  I know something of the mental anguish that is involved with extensive physical pain.  I understand a little of the twinges of depression that try and creep in.  I feel the despair that lurks around the edge that maybe this will never go away. It’s very real.  It’s very challenging.

Any time we have challenges like this in our lives, it causes one or two things to happen.  One, we get angry.  We give into despair and begin a downward spiral of sadness, anger, rage and self-destruction.  In short, we run away from God.  We don’t understand why He would allow this in our lives.  We can’t get our minds around a loving God who would allow such suffering with no relief in a way no earthly father would, if he could stop it.  Yet, the suffering continues.

A second possible response sees things differently.  Though he hurts the same, he runs in a different direction.  He runs to the God of all comfort in the midst of pain.  He holds onto God’s promise that was made to Paul during his suffering: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul’s reply, appropriately, is, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)

This second response is the one I am holding onto.  I understand that bad things that happen in my life are not for my punishment (that was taken care of by Christ on the cross).  Instead, as John Piper put it, they are for my purification.  I am made strong through suffering.  I am made more Christlike in tough times, because that is where I learn to rely on His strength rather than my own.  I feel weak.  I know God is strong.  That’s the glory of the Gospel…the glory of the cross.

I work my shoulder everyday.  I go to physical therapy faithfully.  I pray for healing regularly.  I believe it will come.  I am content, though, knowing that in my weakness, He WILL BE strong!

Hold on!

When Life Gets Tough

troubleLife is tough.  Everybody knows that.  There is no way for us to get away from the troubles and difficulties that we all have to face.  Sometimes, it’s little more than the inconveniences of traffic, dealing with an overbearing boss, or misplacing a wallet.  Other times, it’s infinitely worse.  Those are events in life that seem to define our lives from that point on:  financial ruin, discovery of a malignant tumor or the sudden death of a loved one.

How do we deal with these life-altering challenges in life?

Well, put simply, we can despair.  We can assume all is lost and crawl into the fetal position and give up…or we can hope.  We can find out what God says about the subject in His Word and determine to trust Him.  Obviously, some won’t and they will pursue their own coping techniques and they may experience some level of comfort, but for me, I trust in the God who is there; the God who brings life out of death. The God who I have seen give grace and strength in some of the most desperate of times.

Jesus’ half brother, James, who initially was not a believer in Christ but later became totally sold out to Him after He saw Jesus resurrected and eventually led the Church in Jerusalem, has some challenging instruction in the first chapter of his letter:

 Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

First of all, he’s talking about joy, not happiness.  Happiness is circumstantial whereas joy is not.  I can maintain joy, for example, at the death of a loved one who has trusted in Christ and gets to experience life beyond death, though I am not happy about their absence from my life.

So, James is basically saying (according to the new, international Price version!), “Look, if you have trusted in Christ, keep the big picture in mind here.  All sorts of difficulties are coming your way because of sin in the world.  You can’t get around it.  Yet, because of what my brother and Lord, Jesus, did on the cross, even the bad stuff is making you stronger and complete.  You don’t have to like it, but embrace the glorious truth and grow through it!”

That, I can embrace.  I can hold onto the truth that WHEN (not if) trials come.  I may weep.  I may struggle with the challenges.  I may need people to hold me and to comfort me.  However, I can know that God is good and He is in control.  I can know that He will provide grace and strength through it.  In short, I can stand!

What are some ways you have experienced God working through challenges to bring about good in your life?

Related passages: Romans 8:28, Joshua 1:9, 1 Peter 4:12-13, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, John 16:33, 1 Peter 1:3-7, Ephesians 6:10-11, Romans 5:1-11

If you would like to watch the related message from our current series, FaithWorks: Living the Letter of James, you can visit the video archive of The Gathering, Chattanooga.  Also, check to see if the video has been posted on this blog.

 

 

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