Prayers Answered ... With Suffering

I close the magazine, unable to read another word about lynchings and tortures meted out to believers across the world. I sip steamy coffee, wondering how long Christian prisoners have been without food and drink. I watch Maple leaves flutter in sunlight. Have those prisoners seen daylight this week? I sip sweet coffee and shed no tears. I imagine Jesus spitting out lukewarm water...   "Lord, forgive me for my indifference. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Stamp eternity in both my eyes...Give me a heart for others.

For a year or two I've made these pleas. I'm beginning to recognize God's response...

Awareness of Suffering

The more I cry out to have a heart for others, the more darkness I see. Abroad, the faithful are gruesomely tortured and routinely abused or neglected. Here at home, all kinds of sin, illness and spiritual defeat keep many (including me) self-focused, distracted from God's purpose, and defeated.

Our enemy is stronger than all of us. This place wreaks of death, and evil seems to pervade every thing and place. It looks hopeless.

This growing awareness of the evil of this world alerts me to the desperate, immediate need for God. I am increasingly thankful for salvation, the more darkness I see. I am also intensely motivated to share this knowledge - this freedom - with 'whoever has ears'.

The work of God is that this heart is breaking. I am increasingly disturbed by the number of people dying without Christ. This travesty, at times, chokes me with grief.

It seems that joy and sorrow are inseparable somehow - how could we know one without the other? And, it seems, the more sorrow I experience, the deeper joy I may also have. In the poetic words of Khalil Gibran,

"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?" 

(see whole piece here

I am thankful for and celebrate this grief as evidence of a changing heart - one moving from indifference to passion. God is carving out apathy to make room for His amazing love!

(I just realized this moment, that the joy I can contain as a result is also an answer to my plea to walk in joy...)

The Experience of Suffering

Compared to many, I have not suffered. I don't dismiss the rejection, isolation and slavery to fear that I did experience, but it has not been a life of hardship either. Comforts have always been at my fingertips, and I've never lost a close loved one to death. Life - and faith - have been more-or-less comfortable - until this last year.

Contemplation of some big faith questions began last summer. These bothersome issues bubbled vaguely beyond the reach of conscious thought. ... perhaps because they seemed unanswerable. Then, in fall, things started to fall apart. Each situation swirled in its own stew of frustrations and heartbreak. In this chaos, those ugly questions suddenly demanded answers. (Read about that wrestling here.)

But here's the awesome work God is doing:

- My faith is being / has been tested. I sense a strength rising now as I find my footing in Truth. I'm getting well acquainted with the foundations of my faith - it is built on solid rock. Numerous verses come to mind that make more sense in this storm.  'a house built on solid bedrock....' (Matthew 7:25), 'The Lord is a shelter in times of trouble' (Psalm 9:9) 'when trouble comes your way, consider it... joy' (James 1:2)

- I'm free to love those who wrestle and fall away; for those who ask these difficult questions and conclude that belief in God is foolishness. I've tended to avoid those who don't believe, because I didn't understand how they could choose that. I was also fearful of falling into that same sin. (Gal 6:1)
  Now, standing at the edge of that same choice - wrestling with those same questions - I empathize. I am not afraid. My faith has been shaken and stands because it is built on a solid foundation that no man can shake.   Instead of running away, I'm drawn to them. I'm free to love them because I know I am loved and safe.

- I have more compassion for those who suffer. Without experiencing pain, we tend to judge those who hurt. The poor judge the rich, and the rich look down on the poor. Unless we walk in some different shoes for awhile, we can't empathize. Suddenly I have more of an ear for people who walk the road of cancer, who are discouraged or wrestling with their faith.

-God is glorified - even by my tested faith! As I struggle and work this out, people read, hear and see it happen. They see God's hand in it. Even yesterday I participated in a conversation I could have never had before. Instead of being enraged and indignant that an Atheist would call my God deplorable names, I felt for him. I was free to have a dialogue which was not heated or defensive (though it could easily go there), and I know God used that - for the Atheist and the many who heard the conversation. God will accomplish His will with everything that happens. (Isaiah 55:11) Even - and perhaps especially - our suffering. That is unspeakable joyful!

Today I count this pain as joy. Not because it's fun, but because I'm being shaped in the image of my Heavenly Father. I'm being trained in perhaps the most effective way.


Renae said...

Wow, you touched on the very spiritual struggles I have been facing and put it into words so beautifully.

The Unknowngnome said...

I am blessed reading your writings. I send you love and encouragement in your times of pain and I rejoice with you in your joy.

Ro 5:20 ...but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more

From The Heart Online said...

Thanks Renae :) I'd love to hear about your journey...

@ Unknowngnome - your encouragement is deeply appreciated. You're so right - grace abounds. I just read this morning, Jesus' question about who loves more - the one forgiven much or little? More to rejoice over :))


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