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By Vaneetha Rendall Risner — 1 year ago
In a season that focuses on gifts, I often overlook one of the most priceless ones. It’s a gift I’ve dreaded, refused, and longed to give back, but it has been invaluable in shaping me and drawing me to Jesus. It’s the unwelcome gift of suffering.
Suffering does not seem like a good gift. Job’s friends saw it as punishment for an unrighteous life. Most people, including me, avoid it whenever possible. Even thinking about it can fill me with a sense of fear.
Yet the Bible shows us that suffering is an intentional gift. Though we are never told to seek it out, we can know, if we are in Christ, that God gives us suffering for our good.
Comfort Can Make Us Forget
God used the wilderness to shape the wandering children of Israel, so they would learn to trust him for all their needs and live by his word (Deuteronomy 8:3). In the wilderness, God’s presence was unmistakable; his direction, clear. He provided for the Israelites what they could not provide for themselves and fulfilled all his promises to them (Joshua 23:14).
God wanted his people to remember how he delivered them in those difficult days — he knew how important the wilderness was to their faith. He wanted them to remember his tender care, and he knew that when they were prosperous, they would be tempted to forget him. They would assume they could provide for themselves and would turn away. So he says through Moses,
Take care lest you forget the Lord your God . . . lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God . . . who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:11–17)
In essence, God told them that in times of plenty and abundance, they needed to reflect on past times of struggle and remember how he met them in it. The great and terrifying wilderness with its fiery serpents and thirsty ground was the place they learned of his faithfulness and provision.
This is the opposite perspective of the world, which urges us to look back and focus on the good times and to work for future success and comfort. But God knows the gifts of success and comfort are temporal, only to be enjoyed while we have them. Apart from God, they don’t foster lasting joy and often lead to bitterness when they are taken away.
Where Great Prayers Were Prayed
God never promised to give us thriving ministries, perfect marriages, obedient children, healthy bodies, comfortable bank accounts, or protection from painful trials. But he has promised to be with us in trouble, which can be a greater blessing than the absence of trouble.
“God has promised to be with us in trouble, which is a far greater blessing than the absence of trouble.”
His presence feels nearer. His embrace tighter. And when the trial is removed, we have a deeper faith, rooted in God’s character and love. Just looking back at God’s faithfulness in trials anchors us. The memory of the presence of God in our pain is enough to make us love Jesus more, long for heaven, and fall to our knees in gratitude.
Joseph Parker, a British pastor in the mid-1800s, speaks of the value of the great and terrible wilderness. He says, “The ‘great and terrible wilderness’ was the place where our great prayers were prayed. . . . You do not know what you said in that long night of wilderness and solitude; the words were taken down; if you could read them now, you would be surprised at their depth, richness, and unction. You owe your very life to the wilderness which made you afraid” (The People’s Bible, 80).
Suffering Deepened My Faith
I owe the depth of my faith and my love for Christ to the wilderness that made me afraid. I learned to lament, to press into God, to depend on him completely in the wilderness. I don’t remember what I cried out to God in the dark, but I do remember that God answered with himself.
“I owe the depth of my faith and my love for Christ to the wilderness that made me afraid.”
Friends were around me, but no one could touch the deepest parts of my pain. I couldn’t even articulate how I felt. The emotions often seemed bigger than I was. It was in crying out, in throwing myself on his mercy, and in praying desperate prayers, that I met God most intimately. He knows that our experience of him and his unmistakable provision in suffering can mark and ground our faith. If we truly are comforted by God in our pain, we likely will never forget it.
That is why suffering is a gift. Not the suffering itself, but the turning to God in suffering, because that is where we encounter him. The greater the pain, the closer God comes. And the closer he comes, the more joy he offers. In his presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11), and he offers joy for those he chooses to bring near (Psalm 65:4). This otherworldly, counterintuitive, overflowing joy assures us that heaven is real, God is good, and glory awaits.
Tearing Wrapping Paper
I have come to see that this life is like wrapping paper and ribbons. We want our lives to look beautiful, and we spend most of our energy making sure they are. This wrapping is what we can see and touch and experience, both the tangible and the intangible. It includes our families, our friends, our homes, our accomplishments, our physical appearance, our money, our gifts — all the pursuits we spend time on, appreciate, and invest in. God wants us to enjoy these gifts which are from him, though none is permanent or indestructible.
Suffering tears that wrapping paper, and the process permanently changes us. Life as we knew it may never be restored, and we appropriately mourn what we’ve lost. We look at the torn paper longingly, wishing that we could at least tape it back together. We look at other people’s intact paper and shiny ribbons and wonder why only ours have been damaged, sometimes almost shredded. It doesn’t seem fair. We’re tempted to wonder what we’ve done wrong.
But as we sit with our torn paper, we begin to realize that the paper wasn’t an end in itself. It was only temporary, never meant to last forever, like our earthly tents, which are not our permanent dwellings. We know we will deal with pain and loss until our true home in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1–4).
While the paper was once our focus, when it rips, we notice that there is something more. We see that the paper, whether beautiful or plain, was just there to enfold a gift. The gift is the item of supreme value, and the torn paper enables us, perhaps for the first time, to notice it. Even a glimpse of the gift is breathtaking. While the wrapping paper had an important purpose, it fades when we see the unparalleled beauty of the gift. The gift is God himself — the only treasure that will last.
Gift of Suffering
We’ll delight in Christ endlessly in heaven, and encountering his beauty and comfort on earth gives us a small foretaste of that eternal happiness. For me, experiencing God in my suffering is the closest I’ve come to pure joy.
Suffering has taken my eyes off the temporary and fixed them on the eternal. My faith is not theoretical, not a set of doctrines and principles that others have adopted; it is personal and real. As my outer nature is wasting away and my paper has ripped, I have glimpsed a weight of glory beyond all comparison.
So this Christmas, if your paper is ragged and torn, don’t despair. Look carefully to find the gift of supreme value, that can never be taken away and will last throughout eternity. It is the matchless gift of our Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
By Rachel Jankovic — 1 year ago
I have been a homemaker for over eighteen years now, and I feel confident saying it is a difficult and demanding job. What is more, it is a job with a massive PR problem. “It’s a soul-crushing grind!” some say. Others ask, “Do you work?”
Public opinion on the nature of homemaking has not been subtle. For a generation at least, homemaking has been spoken of as a prison-like existence that stifles a woman’s gifts — as though homemakers have less ambition than others, less ability, less scope, less understanding. This propaganda effort has been radically effective, shaping the imagination of many women who find themselves at home for one reason or another. It takes little effort to see our calling and the work therein through the lens of resentment.
Lately, there has been some pushback to the public opinion that homemaking is a life of boredom and ease, but it has been of the worst kind: long-faced social-media posts bemoaning how no one appreciates your work; TikTok videos telling everyone that because your family failed to notice the work you did, you feel invalidated as a person. This too is the fruit of worldly propaganda — and it too will have devastating effects.
Homes in the Great War
Homemakers often find ourselves without support — not physical support, the absence of which is so loudly reflected on, but rather the spiritual support of understanding why this field of work is glorious, worthy, essential, God-honoring, and strategic. We need an understanding of the value of the home that is strong enough to endure the tumultuous cultural winds around us. We need to see clearly how we are serving God in and with our work.
“The Christian home is an essential work of the Christian resistance.”
The Christian home is an essential work of the Christian resistance. In any war, it is customary to target your enemy’s supply lines, manufacturing plants, and headquarters. In our spiritual war, the Christian home is all of those things. Why then would it surprise us that the enemy would like to see the home destroyed? Why are we surprised by the obstacles we face — by the threefold resistance of the world, the flesh, and the devil?
We have been cleverly fooled into thinking that the obstacles we face at home are due to the work being unimportant, insignificant, unappreciated, or mindless. We should have noticed that anything under such attack from both without and within must be desperately important.
Beautiful or Embarrassing?
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house,Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. (Psalm 128:3–4)
Scripture is the basis for my commitment to being a homemaker, and if I never saw any other reason to love it, never saw the fruit, never understood the importance of the role, that should still be enough. Paul lays out the importance of older women teaching younger women to be “self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:5). And Proverbs 31 describes a glorious picture of the woman who is clothed in strength and dignity as she gives herself to the needs of her household.
At this point, some readers may have rolled their eyes because I mentioned Titus 2 and Proverbs 31 in the same embarrassingly uncool paragraph. Why is that? Could it be because you have been trained to despise passages like these? Could it be that you have listened to countless people explaining them away? Could it be that you have taken in enough worldly propaganda that you feel free to look down on the tone of the word of God and those who embrace it?
I am asking you to consider that perhaps you have been played. You have been had. You have welcomed the lies of the world into your home and given them authority in your life. To say, “Women, be self-controlled, pure homemakers who love your husbands and children” is to speak a biblical, God-fearing statement. I am asking you now to listen to your own heart’s response to that. Is your heart bridling? Is it angry? Are you ready to post angry comments on my ignorant or backward ways? Well, think about what you are doing — it’s not me you are despising, but the words of God. What does your response say about where your heart is?
Harvest of Homemaking
I say that raw obedience to God’s word is enough, and in a sense it should be. But it is far from all that we are given. When I read those sorrowful monologues about the mental load, about how much it all weighs on the poor woman, about how unfair it all is, about how husbands should be responsible for far more housekeeping, all I can see is that women are suffering from the horrible pairing of trying to do the Lord’s work with the attitude of those who hate him. There will be no joy of obedience there. There will be no fruit of free giving there. There will be no strength and laughter and dignity there, because there is a thick fog of accusation, discontent, and envy.
“The end of all our small daily plantings may be a harvest of staggering beauty.”
I have come to realize through the years that the countless tasks I do that no one notices still shape our home and the people in it. Every meal I lay on the table is a small picture of the feeding of the five thousand. My meager offering, broken in the hands of Jesus, will feed generations of children. This home — the flavors and the smells and the atmosphere of love — will by God’s grace shape people who will go on to be the mothers and fathers of thousands. Is there any other work I could be doing that would be this exponentially fruitful or influential? A hundred years from now, I hope there are people who do not know my name or remember me, but nevertheless carry about with them seeds of faithful living that were first planted in the soil of this home.
Do you have the burden of a million duties on your mind? Ask the Lord to establish the work of your hands. He makes valuable all that is done in him, so ask him to do so with your messy duties. Rejoice in him as you offer yourself as a living sacrifice — a sacrifice that cooks and cleans and blows noses and folds clothes and lays a table and looks after the ways of your household. He is shaping something of great beauty and strength that is far beyond our own capacity to imagine. May God give us all eyes to see it, and hearts to imagine it. The end of all our small daily plantings may be a harvest of staggering beauty.
By Greg Morse — 12 months ago
Our generation is disconnected, not merely from one another but from the past. How many of us know our great-grandfathers’ names? Our great-great-grandfathers? We perch ourselves on the highest branch in the family tree and tend to be unconcerned with that below. Our gaze is upwards. Functionally, we are the great-grandsons and granddaughters of no one — physically or spiritually. We wander the world, rootless.
Because of it, we struggle with more sin than we should, have smaller faith than we might, blow in the cultural winds more than we would, and shrink back before opposition more than we ought. We do not keep before us of what people we come, and this hinders our endurance traveling home.
Or so thought the author of Hebrews.
To a church that started off so well but now limped dangerously along, he rides his horse up and down the frontline with a foreign war cry to Western ears: “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39).
Bloodline as Battle Cry
Instead of writing, “You got this!” Hebrews roots them in a family history of those who, by faith, had already done it. The “Hall of Faith” is not a list of demigods who did what we cannot. They are forefathers and foremothers, painfully human and made strong in God, and their stories are recorded to motivate us toward the same perseverance.
Hebrews asks us if we remember how, by faith, Noah prepared the ark, or Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice to God, or Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going — and implies, You, in reliance upon the same God, can do likewise. Or, do you recall Sarah, who believed God’s word and conceived a child, or Moses, who by faith esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt? This is your lineage — these are your people. You, if you are a Christian, are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who live by unseen realities and preserve their souls.
He concludes the brief tour of theirs and our spiritual family history,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
Because these are our family members, because they surround us as we run, let us lay aside weights and sin and run with endurance looking to Jesus. Do you read the Old Testament this way?
Family of Faithful Witnesses
Such an experience should greet us every time we open our Bibles, whether in front or in back. Sixty-six books, Old and New, introduce us to spiritual fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters who stumbled as we do, but who finally conquered by faith as we hope to. We turn page after page and watch how they finished their race, how they kept the faith, how they overcame temptation, repented their failings, trusted, hoped for, and hungered for God in their trials and sufferings. Their lives captured in Scripture to encourage us — their spiritual descendants — to run, without reserve, as the King’s people to the King himself. In other words, we press on today because of both whom we come from and whom lies before us.
Do we think of the redeemed men and women this way? Job, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, David, Elijah, Rehab, Ruth, Jeremiah, Joshua, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, Gideon, Hezekiah, Josiah — as family. If you serve the Living God, your God is the God of John, Paul, Andrew, Mary, Barnabas, the thief on the cross, Peter, Lazarus, the man born blind, Apollos, Timothy, Thomas, Pricilla and Aquilla, the formerly demon-possessed girl, the Philippian jailer, Cornelius, Philemon, Jude, James, Elizabeth — and on and on — each with different examples of Christ’s power to keep us by resilient faith.
We join this family of audacious ancestors through union to our brother, Jesus. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7), and, “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). Even if we suffer the loss of earthly ties because of allegiances to Christ, each of us has inherited a hundredfold — mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers along with eternal life in Christ (Matthew 19:29). For so goes the promise to our father Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. . . . So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5).
Not of Those Who Shrink Back
Do not miss that this spiritual family is a holy family; like Father, like sons. Our family believes and lives and acts from belief in God and his promises. And this, the author of Hebrews thinks, is vital for us to consider.
So do you struggle with the glittering things of this world? Reintroduce yourself to your great uncle, Moses, who considered the reproaches of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:26).
Does a Potiphar’s wife tempt you to an adulterous affair? Count yourself a descendant of Joseph who, by faith, fled, exclaiming, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).
Do you feel God calling you to the great unknown? Remember Abraham. Do the promises of God feel inconceivable? Remember the story of Sarah. Do you feel pressure from an ungodly family to forsake Christ? Consider Rehab who, by faith, received the Israelite spies (Hebrews 11:31).
Does your confidence waver concerning whether God can overcome this present darkness? Consider afresh that kingdoms bowed, mouths of lions shut, justice reigned, fires quenched, children resurrected, swords broke, that the weak through faith were made strong, the fainting grew valiant, foreign armies fled, and leave instructions with Joseph that your bones` be buried in a land yet unconquered (Hebrews 11:22, 33–35).
And do you fear persecution might one day overwhelm your faith? Don’t forget your family members “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). These wandered the world as outcasts, waded through mocking, whippings, imprisonment, and brutal deaths, by faith, awaiting the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 11:35–38).
Are you growing tired or neglectful or sluggish of hearing? God does not leave you to yourself as a lone twig to figure it out. He gives you a tree of Lebanon to belong to. Relearn your great grandfathers’ and grandmothers’ names. As you look fully to Christ, remember that “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”