Suffering (And How Paul Never Prayed For The Persecution To Go Away)

Pain Suffering Christian

It’s What’s Inside

San Francisco Giants Pitcher Dave Dravecky

Dave Dravecky pitched for the San Francisco Giants until a cancerous desmoid tumor in his pitching arm required surgery. They removed half of his deltoid muscle and froze his humerus bone to try to kill all the cancer cells. On August 10 in 1989, after a long and grueling period of rehab, he came back to the majors and pitched eight innings against the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched brilliantly and he won 4 to 3. After the game he told the media, “It’s a miracle.” But just five days later, in the sixth inning against Montreal, during his first pitch to Tim Raines, his humerus bone snapped in two. The sound of it was so loud it could be heard throughout the stadium.

The cancer was back. And he not only lost his career as a baseball player but he lost his arm. When he was interviewed about it he said this:

“Nobody ever promised that life is going to be fair. Everybody’s going to have adversity. The only way to handle it is to take our eyes off ourselves and put them on the Lord.”

After all that pain and toil and work and sweat and grief, after all that Dravecky failed. Yet look how he responded. How is that possible? How could anyone respond to that kind of adversity that way?

What’s Inside

The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear? (Proverbs 18:14)

A wounded spirit, as I understand it in the Bible, occurs when a person’s passion for life is squashed (the English Standard Version actually uses the word crushed). A depressed person could be an example of this. A suicidal person would be at the extreme end of this spectrum. And here in Proverbs 18 we see one of many places in the Bible where God’s perspective on suffering is different than the typical understanding of most Americans and many others throughout the world. We think our happiness is mostly dependent on our circumstances. If I have the right job, if I have the right woman, if I get the promotion, if I’m healthy, if I can make enough money, then… I’ll be happy.

But God says, your happiness is mostly dependent on your spirit. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity…” It’s what’s inside of you that sustains you. So even if you’re sick, or any other problem occurs–and for every one of us serious problems will occur–it’s what’s inside of you that sustains you. What’s inside is what makes the difference.

How Paul Never Prayed For The Persecution To Go Away

Ever notice that when Paul wrote to the persecuted churches he never prayed for the trouble to go away? Isn’t that curious? So often that’s not how I pray. When I pray for people, I often pray for someone’s solution, or success, or health, or prosperity. But that’s not what Paul did. So what did he pray for then? He was always praying for God to strengthen the inner man. For example, in Ephesians 3:16 he said his prayer is “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man…”

Paul prayed for God’s Holy Spirit to come inside of each person who made up the church in Ephesus, to strengthen each of them in a way that would glorify Christ in their current circumstances.

So it’s what’s inside that makes the difference. You can have the best possible external circumstances: money, and health, and love, but if your spirit is crushed, you’ll be depressed and unhappy.

On the other hand if you’re suffering, but you’re strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner man, as Paul prayed it would be for the Ephesians, God’s light can shine through you, God’s Spirit can live through you, and you can move forward with a passion for life.

You And Two Other Examples

Joseph is one example of this. We see God’s Spirit at work in Joseph while he went through much more than you or I will probably ever have to go through. (see previous post: How Joseph’s Dad Failed It, And How Joseph Nailed It)

Job is another example. God’s Spirit in Job is why Job has been an inspiration to people in suffering for thousands of years.

And then there’s you.

You can be another example.

Pray, like Paul prayed,

“…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man…” Ephesians 3:16

And pray to God persistently, like the woman before the unrighteous judge prayed. (Luke 18:1-8)

Pray.

What’s Next

So besides praying what else can I do to stay strong in spirit during my suffering? And what causes a crushed spirit to begin with anyway? Some say it’s psychological. Some say it’s biochemical. Some say it’s emotional. Some say it’s spiritual. But what does the Bible say? I was surprised. It’s much more complicated than I thought it would be.

We’ll answer these questions next week and in the weeks to come.

References:

Tim Keller teaches this better than I ever could. You can hear his original teaching here: The Wounded Spirit

Skip Heitzig, Christians in the Crucible of Pain, Connection Communications, 2012

Image via Bhope34 – Creative Commons

A Tale Of 2 Sufferings (How Joseph’s dad failed it, and how Joseph nailed it.)

pain suffering Christian

Alex at 7,500 ft. (2,285 m..) above sea level. (3,500 ft. above ground level)

A Tale Of Two Sufferings

I never saw this perspective before, but have you ever considered the difference between how Jacob handled his suffering, as compared to how his son Joseph handled what was arguably even worse suffering? I heard this last Sunday from a 20-something.

Joseph Betrayed

So Joseph’s seventeen, and he has it made. He’s his father’s favorite. He lives in a wealthy family. And he is given special revelation from God in the form of dreams, dreams of his brothers bowing down to him. But without warning, Continue reading

After A 13 Year Old Girl Was Murdered, This Is What Her Parents Did

Pain Suffering Christian

Pain

Pain and Suffering

We’ve been exploring the topic of pain and suffering and one of the worst kinds of pain and suffering is the kind caused by the loss of a child. The following is a quote from Wilma Derkson who lost her daughter at the age of 13. (You can learn more about the Derksens and their remarkable response to their daughter’s murder in this TED Talk video: TEDxManitoba – Wilma Derksen: When Polarity in Forgiveness Happens)

Losing A Child

For six and a half weeks we didn’t know what had happened to Candace. She just disappeared into thin air.  But everyone knows that when a 13-year-old girl goes missing then something is terribly wrong.  She was a child in a woman’s body, that moment of vulnerability when one minute they’re a child and the next a woman.

Eventually Candace’s body was found in a shack not far from our home – her hands and feet had been tied. Someone had forced her there but we lived with the mystery of not knowing who had done this for the next 22 years.

The day her body was found all our friends came to visit bringing warm food with them. There was so much love in the house that it helped us get through.  Then at around 10.30 that evening, when most people had left, there was a knock on the door and this stranger stood there. He told us, “I’m the parent of a murdered child too.” He was saying we now belonged to an exclusive club that no one wants to belong to. We invited him to the kitchen table and for the next two hours he told us in vivid detail everything he’d lost – his health, his relationships, his concentration, his ability to work. He’d even lost all memory of his daughter because now he could only think of the murder, the trauma and the hate that followed. –Wilma Derksen

Losing 10 Children Continue reading

An Open Letter To Those In Pain and Suffering

Christian pain and suffering

Dear Friend In Pain,

I feel so sad and so sorry about what you’re going through right now. I can’t imagine what it’s like. I can guarantee you that what I’m sharing in this letter won’t take the pain away. And I want you to feel perfectly free not to read it. If you don’t I won’t take the least bit of offence. I only want to share with you what made the biggest difference for me when I went through my time of pain. Continue reading

The Control Freak And Jesus

Control Freak

There’s This Thirty-Something

There’s this thirty-something in my life who is always asking me these great questions about the Bible: provocative questions, hard questions, but very interesting questions. And it’s caused me to look at the Bible differently. I read and hear so much about how the Bible is restrictive. But this person with the questions has got me thinking about the freedom God has given us. Freedom to make our own choices. Have you ever considered what’s not illegal in the Old Testament? For instance, prostitution is not illegal in the Old Testament, and neither is polygamy. I’m not saying that either of those are good, I’m just saying neither of those is illegal in the civic code given to Israel in the Old Testament. People are free to engage in these activities without legal repercussions, though the spiritual ramifications and life consequences are still there.

God is radical when it comes to our freedom. He wants us to have the freedom to do what we want, even when it’s wrong. And it’s really made me look at my own ideas about what God wants me to do concerning the behavior of others. Because sometimes I want other people to do what I want them to do, and I can get frustrated when they don’t.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there. Maybe you want to spend money a certain way but your wife wants to do it her way. Or maybe you want more time to recreate with the guys, but she has other ideas. Or maybe it’s just deciding what to do for dinner (not that this question would ever result in a disagreement). Whatever it is, our perspective changes when we Continue reading

Jesus Christ Exiled From Most Christians

Take Jesus seriously

The title of this post is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer came from a family of geniuses. His father was a professor of psychiatry and neurology. His brother Karl Friedrich was a professor of physical chemistry and discovered the spin isomers of the hydrogen molecule.

In college Dietrich was known for disagreeing with his professors, most of whom didn’t accept the Bible as revelation from God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his family were German citizens but they opposed the Nazis. His brother Klaus was executed for Continue reading

Why Is That Christian So Appalling?

Why are Christians soToday I read about a Christian man who claims to have the ability to teleport, cure cancer, and repair avionics problems in flying airplanes–while he’s standing on the ground. He was eventually convicted of fraud for taking money from the relatives of deceased people with the promise that he would resurrect them. Wow. That’s a Christian for you. (At least I think he claims to be a Christian.)

There was this firefighter I worked with and I found him to be obnoxious–and he called himself a Christian. And I said to myself the words, “Man, how can this guy call himself a Christian.” (We’ll talk more about him a little later.) Maybe you’ve never encountered someone like the guy who says he can teleport, but I know you’ve experienced obnoxious Christians before. I know you have because I have. And I know you have because I’ve overheard people talking. People saying things like, “I just can’t believe she said that–and she’s a Christian!” Or, “Man that dude was obnoxious–and he’s a Christian!” Or, “That guy is such an idiot–and he calls himself a Christian!”

So why? Why do they behave that way, these Christians?

How Can He Call Himself A Christian?

When I read this one certain passage of scripture a certain part of me cries out: “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

It’s the passage where Continue reading

How He Loves Us

And we are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way…

He loves us

David Crowder, How He Loves Us

 

So You’re Hurting

Sad Man by Andy Bullock - Creative Commons

So you’re hurting. You’re struggling. Every day you wake up in the morning wondering how you’re going to make it through. It’s so bad sometimes you can feel it, physically. You get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, or that intense ache in your chest, or that lump in your throat. When you’re around others you fake it as best you can, but the faking gets more and more difficult every day this thing drags on. And you wonder how long you can hang on.

Been there.

Here’s what turned it around for me. Continue reading