Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You Were Born for This

I've been reading Randy Alcorn's If God is Good, a powerful study of the mystery of suffering in the world, and I literally keep a pen in my hand while reading so that I can jot down the numerous thoughts that are too good to forget. The book is a deep look into why suffering exists in the world and how a good God can allow it. Last night I came upon this line: This is one of the great paradoxes of suffering. Those who don't suffer much think suffering should keep people from God, while many who suffer a great deal turn to God, not from him.

The thought definitely set me back on my heels. I've always struggled to make James 1:2 a reality in my life: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. But that's easier said than done. Who really and truly welcomes trouble into their lives and calls it joy? James isn't the only one to write about the goodness of suffering. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:6-7: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Paul wrote about it too in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.

It's obvious that suffering has been a theme in Christianity since the beginning of the Church. But like the Pharisees of Jesus' time and Job's friends, Christians of the 21st century tend to equate suffering with sin. Those who suffer deserve it because of hidden sin; it's a punishment from God. Jesus refutes that idea in John 9:1-3 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him."

I can't begin to discuss the reason why there is suffering in the world. Alcorn takes 600 pages to do it, and do it well (my review will be up next week). But reading that those who suffer draw near to God while those who don't question Him makes me grateful for my suffering. If I had a choice between living in constant pain from my RA and loving God the way I do or living pain-free and not knowing him, I would choose to suffer. I can't imagine what my life would be without Him, because He has been my source of strength and hope through the darkest of days.

So if suffering/pain/trials will bring me closer to my Savior, bring them on. I will welcome them in and count them as joy, because each and every one will draw me nearer to my Lord. I read a quote once, and I wish I could find its author, that said, in essence, that there are two types of people: those who react to suffering by letting it get between them and God and those who allow it to push them closer to God. Which one are you?

You Were Born for This
by Bruce Wilkinson is a intriguing follow-up to the best-selling Prayer of Jabez. Wilkinson wants readers to know that the Age of Miracles didn't end with the New Testament. Miracles are happening every day all around us, and God wants us to be a part of them. He has countless more miracles He intends to create, but He wants to act through each of us. Wilkinson uses powerful tales of miracles he's been blessed to be a part of to illustrate the five points of being a Miracle Worker. Of course, he keeps the emphasis on God and the working of the Holy Spirit in us, but it is vital for us to open our eyes to the possibilities around us and make ourselves available to His call. Wilkinson paints a beautiful picture of a world in which we are all on a mission from God seeking to serve each other; it sounds a lot like Heaven on earth to me! The book is perfect for small group or personal study.

I'm giving away a copy of this fantastic book. If you want to win, just send me an email before 10 pm on Thursday, Sept. 17. I'll announce the winner here on Friday, Sept. 18. Good luck!