God’s Ministry in Suffering

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”               2 Corinthians 12:7

Sometimes it is difficult to remember that God has a purpose in our suffering. Even when we do remember this truth, it doesn’t make us hurt any less. Keeping an eternal perspective, however, does lead to contentment in all circumstances. A heart fixed on Jesus will result in unexplainable joy, gratitude, and peace wherever life takes us.

We do have examples in the Bible of men and women who managed to focus their eyes and hearts heavenward in the midst of terrible suffering. One of the ways I believe they were able to shift their gaze from the temporary to the eternal was by choosing to see God’s ministry in their suffering. God is not obligated to answer all of our questions. However, often if we earnestly seek Him, He will reveal a deeper purpose for suffering.

You don’t have to read the New Testament long before you see God’s incredible favor and blessing on the Apostle Paul. His writings contain some of the most incredible revelations about Jesus Christ that have ever or will ever exist. But God knew that it would be easy for Paul to become arrogant and prideful in his ministry, so He allowed and refused to remove a tormenting “thorn” in Paul’s life. Paul wrote that he asked God to remove his suffering three times. But God had a greater plan and left it there.

King Hezekiah is another example of someone who came to understand God’s ministry in suffering. In Isaiah 38, he became very sick. In this case, God answered Hezekiah’s prayers for healing and added 15 more years to his life. Hezekiah said that it was for his benefit that he suffered as he did, and that a result of the anguish of his soul, he would walk humbly for the rest of his life.

Both of these men were greatly esteemed by God…and it seems their suffering is connected to their ministry. Scripture teaches that God exalts the humble, and that pride comes before destruction. The suffering in both of their lives led to greater humility and dependency on God. Temporary suffering in exchange for eternal glory – that is God’s ministry to you during suffering. But you must choose to see His greater plan.

Father, I am thankful that Your work in me is not limited to this life. Even when things don’t seem to make sense now, I can trust that Your plan is greater than my mind can conceive. Help me to remember this when I suffer. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Sticky Fingers

 

“And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me. God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’” Genesis 41:15-16

It feels good to be recognized, doesn’t it? We all crave affirmation, appreciation and even praise. Some of us are even driven by it. Is this a bad thing? Not always, but it can be.

As a Christian, our purpose in this life is to exalt and glorify the name of Jesus Christ. Our lives have been ransomed from sin and death by His precious blood that was shed on the cross. It’s no longer about you. It’s no longer about me. We belong to Him. We live for Him. Salvation is not merely a ticket to heaven. It is a new life on earth…a life lived selflessly and solely for His purpose and glory.

After being forgotten and unfairly imprisoned for more than two years, Joseph finally got his chance. And what a chance it was! His audience was one of the most powerful men on the planet – the Pharaoh of Egypt. He had heard about Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams; and the Pharaoh needed his help. It was the perfect opportunity to clear his name…to right the wrongs done to him…to defend his own reputation and honor.

But Joseph didn’t at all seem concerned with himself, did he? He pointed Pharaoh’s attention away from himself and to His God. Egyptians did not worship God. They did not believe in Joseph’s God. It was a huge risk to say it was not him, but God who could interpret the dream. But it was a risk that Joseph was willing to take. Even after all he had been through, Joseph trusted God. He understood his purpose and trusted God’s plan.

When others exalt you, do you humble yourself in order to glorify Christ? Or, do you have sticky fingers with God’s glory? It is so easy to try and keep a little bit of glory for ourselves by taking credit for that which only He could have done through us. You’ve heard it said, “Give credit where credit is due.” God deserves the glory for anything good in His children. And like Joseph we must choose, despite the risk, to magnify His Name instead of our own.

Father, My desire is that You would receive glory and honor through my life. Please help me to always point others to You, and not to me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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God Has Spoken

“Against You, only You, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are right in Your verdict and justified when You judge.” Psalm 51:4

One of the most effective tools against hypocrisy is to remember that all sin is against God and God only. While our sins do affect other people, and the sins of others can affect us, God is the only righteous judge; therefore all sin is against Him. This Holy God – in His infinite wisdom and mercy – has chosen to pour out the punishment for sin against Him onto His blameless Son. The magnitude of this truth and the depths of this love should create humility, not pride or arrogance.

The next time you find yourself struggling with judgmental or critical thoughts, feelings and attitudes towards another person, just take a moment to ponder the cross. Let your mind dwell on the truth that there is only One worthy to judge. He sees all sin, and His ways are higher and better than ours. If anyone has ever had the right to be critical and judgmental, it is Him, for there has never been a plank in His holy eye. He clearly sees to the heart of us all. And despite the wickedness found there, He has chosen mercy.

The Righteous Judge has spoken in His Son. He desires repentance. He takes no pleasure in the sin of others. He desires that none would perish without Jesus. Who are we, sinners saved by this amazing grace, to think or act any differently? The Judge has spoken. He doesn’t ignore sin nor condemn sinners. His message is forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation.

Father, Please keep me ever mindful that all sin is against You. I pray that all sin, both mine and others’ will grieve my heart because it is against You. You, LORD, are the only righteous Judge. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Community

“…And not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25

Community. It’s a buzzword among many churches today. But it is not a new concept. Jesus’ own life showed us the importance of community. Even the Son of God chose to live His life surrounded by a small group of trusted friends. He poured His life into these followers, establishing a model for all who would come after Him.

It is no coincidence that Jesus lived this way. He knew that His followers would desperately need each other if they were going to live biblically. Surrender, selflessness, faith, obedience, suffering, joy and thanks in all circumstances, loving your enemies, persecution…it is a life of self-death. And it is hard. Jesus recognized and experienced the struggle personally; and He needed not only the Father, but also His friends. He begged them to pray for Him as He cried out to the Father before His death. As His life was ending, He entrusted His beloved mother to “the one He loved,” John. He showed us how to lean on one another.

His prayer to the Father in John 17 further shows us His heart for unity in His Body. He begs that His followers would be one, even as He and the Father are one. This is how we will experience the fullness of His joy. So what does God mean when He says, “and all the more as you see the Day approaching” in Hebrews 10:25? The “Day” refers Christ’s second coming. There’s an old saying that goes, “It’s gonna get a whole lot worse before it gets better.” The same is true for life on earth for believers. The closer we get to the Day of Christ, the more depraved the world around us grows.

This depravity makes it hard to be a light…costly, even. It will continue to grow more challenging to stand for Christ and to be His witnesses. This is why the author of Hebrews exhorts believers to continue meeting together and encouraging one another. Some were giving up on it, trying to do it alone. That is a dangerous way to live. Some are still insisting that they “don’t need a church to be a Christian.” This is, at best, an unwise way to live. Look at Christ’s example. Look at what God says in His Word. There is no biblical precedent for Christianity without being connected to His Body.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for the gift of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Please help me to love and serve them faithfully. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Motivated to Serve

“Only fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24

One of the greatest ways to experience the joy of Christ is to serve someone in need. Nothing takes your mind off of your own problems more quickly than giving to others. The reality is, no matter how bad things get, there is always someone out there who is worse off than you are. Trials and hardship can leave us feeling worn down, depressed, weary and even angry. During these times, the last thing we may feel like doing is serving another person…but maybe that is the perfect time to do so.

Our motivation to serve others is not so that we can feel better. Rather, our motivation should be always and only Christ and His glory. When we consider Jesus – what He suffered, endured, and joyfully gave up – we are compelled to share in His sufferings if only in some small way. There is no room for self at the foot of the cross. There is no place for self-pity in front of the empty tomb. Jesus drew His last breath loving and giving to others. He gave His mother to His beloved friend. He gave His forgiveness to His enemies. He gave pardon to the thief. He gave up His Spirit for our salvation.

How can we keep such a great Savior to ourselves? How can we allow temporary circumstances to overshadow the eternal gift He has given to us? It is always the right time to share the love of Christ with others. As long as we are willing to be used, He will use us. Some of your most effective ministry on this earth may happen when others see you persevere faithfully through trials. You may never know the impact your life has had on those who are watching you.

So, let us consider the great things God has done for us. May we always be ready and willing to reach out to others who do not know our gracious Father. Nothing pleases Him more than a tattered, broken, surrendered heart.

Father, You have done more for me than I ever could have ever asked or imagined. Your goodness and mercy are all the reason I need to give my life away for Your sake. When I am facing hard times, I confess that I often turn inward, oblivious to the work You are doing all around me. Please help me to see the needs around me, Lord. Use me to show Your love to those who need it today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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