How Much Suffering is Too Much?

Enough. Have you ever said that to God?

Enough suffering, Lord. I’ve had more than my fair share of trouble. When is it going to stop?

Remember the trials and tribulations of Job? His near-perfect life was disrupted by trouble. Lots and lots of trouble. He lost his children, his wealth, and his health in a swift series of events that seemingly defied explanation.

Many of us know someone like Job. Someone who has experienced extraordinary suffering. I have a friend who lost his father, brother, and wife, all within five months. Another friend and her husband have been unemployed for several years and suffer from several debilitating illnesses. Still another friend has breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy in the hope that surgery will be a later option. (Right about now you may be wondering if it’s safe to be my friend!)

I recently learned of another person who received bad news. Joni Eareckson Tada has breast cancer…again.

What did you think when you read those words? Did the word enough spring to mind? After all, Joni has been a quadriplegic for more than fifty years. Instead of hiding in a corner or throwing herself a life-long pity party, she became an author, speaker, and founder of Joni and Friends, an international ministry that shares the hope of the gospel and offers practical help to those impacted by disability.

She is an advocate for those with disabilities and the author of forty-eight at least 48 books. She is also an artist, having learned to paint with a brush between her teeth. Joni does all this and more from her wheelchair.

And after battling Stage 3 breast cancer in 2010, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again two months ago.

Why breast cancer? Why now? Rather than ask these kinds of questions, Joni viewed her cancer through a different lens. She has often said that “our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God.” This diagnosis is no different.

When she was first diagnosed eight years ago, Joni noted with her characteristic sense of humor, “Although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God whatever He deems fit for me – even if it is from His left hand (better from His left hand, than no hand at all, right?!).”

Joni did not ask why because she was already sure of the answer. She went on to say, “Yes, it’s alarming, but rest assured that Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope, and strengthen our witness to others…”

She added, “For years I have hoped that my quadriplegia might encourage people struggling with cancer… now I have a chance to truly empathize and journey alongside, affirming that God’s grace is always sufficient for whatever the disease or disability.”

After receiving this repeat diagnosis, Joni said, “What good is it if we only trust the Lord when we understand His ways? That only guarantees a life filled with doubts.”

It’s easy for us to quote Scripture when life is pleasant. But when we’re confronted with a dreaded diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or a financial loss, can we say with Joni, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6)?

When confronted with suffering, often our first inclination is to ask, Why? Perhaps a better question to ask is, Why not? We live in a sin-sick world. God never promised us a life free from trouble. However, we can choose how we will respond to the uncertainties and difficulties of life.

I love how Joni puts it: “Faith isn’t the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It’s simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step.”

What next step is God calling you to take today in faith?


Thankful for the Assurance of Heaven

In honor of Thanksgiving, I considered writing a post about all the things for which I’m thankful. Then I considered writing a post about all the things for which others should be thankful.

But I decided to get ultra-personal.

Those who know me personally know my husband graduated to heaven this past summer. What you may not know is that his last 2 years of life were spent radically different from the decades that preceded them…both physically and spiritually.

This is a bittersweet holiday for me. My first without Russ. Yet I’m incredibly thankful to know he is now with his Savior.

How can I have such assurance? The Bible tells us of heaven. Still, it’s one thing to read about heaven, but it’s another to know it’s true in the face of a terminal illness.

Here’s a link to the testimony Russ shared last May – a testimony shared with the knowledge that his death was a month or two away.

Listen for yourself and then you decide whether my assurance is justified.

Russell Pennington Testimony

 

After you hear it, you’ll know what I know…heaven is real and as the Bible promises, we can, indeed, have the assurance of that destination if we know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And there’s nothing better to be thankful for than that.


Oaks From Acorns Grow

Oaks from Acorns Grow

Remember the song, “Tall Oaks from Acorns Grow”? It’s a cute children’s song—one I hadn’t thought of in decades…until I began catching up on long overdue yardwork.

For the past 2 years, circumstances have caused me to neglect our yard. Shrubs grew wild and leggy. Weeds invaded where flowers should have bloomed. Two years of growth in a state where the growing season is year-round.

The solution to tackling this task is much like the answer to the riddle about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. So in recent weeks I’ve trimmed a bit, weeded a lot, pruned the plants I want to keep, and cut out the unwanted vegetation. Even with all that work, I’ve barely made a dent in our abundant Florida growth.

Oaks from Acorns GrowBut before discouragement could set in, I realized that in recent days I’ve been crunching acorns underfoot. And the children’s song came to mind.

We can joke about clichés, but the truth is, the large oak I labored under did indeed start as a tiny acorn. Planted in fertile soil, it simply did what it was created to do: hold its ground and grow.

As I work in the dirt, reflecting on oaks and acorns, I’m reminded that even though it might seem as if my situation is burying me, God is using it to plant me instead.

Oaks from Acorns GrowStill, I need to remember…

The darkness can be frightening, but His light shines brightest in the dark.

The duration and weight of our circumstances may be painful, but the combination of time and pressure drives us to the One who is our Refuge.

And the sense of loneliness in the face of our trials helps us appreciate the intimacy of our relationship with the One who created us, saved us, and indwells us with His Holy Spirit.

Thinking about acorns and oaks also reminds me of the passage in Isaiah 61:1-3:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (NIV).

This prophetic passage pointed to the Messiah—Jesus Christ, the anointed One who would come hundreds of years later to God’s chosen people as their Savior and Lord. It speaks to people who are hurting.

Those who feel buried in dark circumstances.

People in mourning and despair.

People who have been waiting so long that they’ve almost given up hope.

Yet this passage refers to God’s people as “oaks.” Plantings of the Lord for His glory.

Are you feeling discouraged today? In dark despair? Are you convinced your circumstances will bury you because you don’t have the strength to persevere?

Consider yourself planted instead. And know God does not abandon His children, regardless of their situation. Run to Him when you’re lonely. Welcome the light of His presence to dispel the darkness. Trust His perfect timing.

And remember…oaks from acorns grow.


Are You Mad at God?

Mad at God

Life happens…although not always the way we want it to.

Sometimes we’re surprised by amazing events beyond our wildest expectations. Other times, we’re blindsided by our worst nightmares come true.

When that happens, do you get mad at God?

After all, He’s sovereign, right? He’s in control.

God is omniscient. Nothing surprises Him.

And He is omnipotent—He is all-powerful.

So if something horrible is heading toward one of His children and He doesn’t stop it, shouldn’t we be mad at Him?

And if we should not be mad at God, why not?

If you’re a Christian—a child of God according to John 1:12—isn’t God supposed to be loving and merciful and compassionate to you?

Yes, God is love. He is merciful and compassionate. But where did we ever get the idea that we should be protected from suffering?

We live in a broken, sin-sick world. A world that needs a Savior. And that Savior suffered to bring us a restored relationship with the Father. So if Jesus suffered, why do we think we should be exempt?

Perspective

When we do experience suffering, perspective makes all the difference.

If I think I don’t deserve suffering, my perspective is governed by comfort and convenience. If I understand life is not about me, but rather glorifying the God who loves me, then my focus changes. It will be less about running from suffering and more about using that suffering as a means to point others to the God who loves them, too.

It’s not easy. But God never promised it would be. Still, it all comes back to perspective.

When my husband was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, I attended a workshop on suffering. The presenter, a gentleman by the name of Mike Gaynor, told the story of how his son, who had Downs Syndrome, was killed in a car accident. A reporter wanted to interview him, but he declined the interview. Her response? “I understand. You’re probably mad at God right now.”

But he could not leave her with that impression, so he said:

“Mad at God? How could I be mad at the God who just ushered my son into the glories of heaven, giving him a completely healed body and placing my son in His presence for all eternity? Mad at God? No!”

My Choice

And so, now that my husband’s earthly life painfully ended due to pancreatic cancer, I have a choice. I could be mad at God. Or I could say:

“Mad at God? How could I be mad at the God who just ushered my husband into the glories of heaven, giving him a completely healed body—no more cancer, no more pain—and placing my husband in His Presence for all eternity? Mad at God? No!”

That’s the perspective I choose. It’s not all about me. It never was.

Am I sad? Yes.

Do I miss him? Absolutely.

But God can use even my sadness for His glory…

  • For with the comfort He comforts me, I can comfort others, because I’ve walked the path they walk (II Corinthians1:3-4).
  • And with the peace He provides, those around me can see the presence of the Holy Spirit is real, in a way they would never notice if suffering were absent from my life (Philippians 4:7).
  • Even as I grieve, I grieve not as one who has no hope. So I’m able to affirm the assurance of heaven through faith in Jesus Christ to those who desperately need that hope (I Thessalonians 4:13).
  • Finally, if I never experienced suffering, how would I ever experience God as my Refuge, Provider, and heavenly Father?

Are you struggling with pain and suffering or perhaps watching a loved one suffer? Instead of being mad at God, consider changing your perspective. Start with a personal relationship with the God who loves you more than you’ll even know. Your life will never be the same.


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