Once again, I am faced with the inability to sleep. I come home from my ladies discipleship group full of deep internal joy. I don't know if it's my love of talking with the ladies about what God is doing in our lives re-energizes me or if its the sugar laden coconut chai tea latte....either way I am awake with thoughts racing through my mind. My only solution is to get out of bed, walk downstairs, grab my laptop and bring it into bed and write as my very tired hubby snores quietly next to me.
Tonight I mentioned to the ladies that since my surgery two weeks ago, I am starting to feel like my old self again. My old self assured, "I'm in control" self and to be quite honest I don't like it.
I am not reading my Bible the way did when I was dealing with chronic pain. I find myself going throughout my day as if doing other things were more important than spending time in prayer or reading and staying current with the devotionals that I absolutely love. I told the ladies tonight that I hate the simple fact that I seem to cling closer to God when I am faced with some sort affliction. I want to cling to God not only in affliction, but in wellness too. I don't want to go into autopilot where God and reading/studying His Word is secondary.
In my attempt to sleep, and in my tossing and turning I become fully aware that God uses affliction to keep us tethered to him so that He can grow in us a deep trust in Him to help us stay tethered to him when we are not dealing with affliction.
When something in our body is not working as it should we are faced with the reality that our lives are fragile. When something in our relationships is not functioning as it should, we are faced with the reality that our relationships are fragile.
Affliction forces us to see how dependent we are on God and His provision for everything we have, whether it is health in our bodies or health in our relationships or anything in between.
Here is what I learned through affliction
1) God uses affliction to sanctify us for His glory.
When we first moved to our new city, I was excited. Maybe a tad overly excited. I even wrote a blog post about how I needed to remind myself to love the Giver of the gifts more than gifts. I wanted to jump into our new lives with gusto. I wanted to start serving our new church right away. I wanted to get my kids connected with other home school kids right away.
I wanted...I wanted....I wanted.
We had been in our new city a little over a month when I got sick. I immediately defaulted into these thoughts,
"wait a minute God....this is something that was not on my 'want' or my 'to do' list"
"Hello God, this sickness?....this affliction?...is not part of MY plan. What's going on here?"
Since God has been growing me towards a more reformed perspective to faith in what some people sometimes refer to as
Big God theology
Sovereignty of God theology
or even the very sticky label of New Calvinism, I was faced with the very tangible realization that God was going to use my affliction for something. I just did not know what that "something" was yet. Yeah....the timing was off (according to me)...but I had to trust God that He was and is perfectly sovereign over every aspect of my life...even my health or lack there of.
One thing I neglected to consider is that maybe...just maybe...that God wanted me to slow down. God knew that I was excited to be in a new town, with new people to meet, with a new church to serve.....but He was not ready for me to do that yet. He allowed affliction in my life to slow me down.
It was as though God was telling me through my affliction "I love you dear daughter of mine. I know you want to jump into serving and meeting new people and yes.... these are all very good things. However, it's not time for that right now. I will give you something to slow you down but it will not cause death. You need to look at some other things in your life that you have neglected. Trust me to show you what those things are".
Trust me when I say that it took me a LONG time, wrestling with the idea of God being in control of ALL things to have the courage to write the paragraph above. Even as I write the words that insinuate that God allowed affliction in my life, I know it will wrestle people's feathers or turn people off. My goal is not to do that....however, I do have to be completely honest with what God is showing me about Himself through the reading and studying of His Word. There are countless Bible references that lead readers to believe this fact. I will address this in future blog posts, but for right now....here is a simple verse to help.
Psalm 119:71 tells me that the psalmist who penned it understood the benefits of affliction. It says
"It is good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your statutes".
It it were not for my affliction, I would have become too busy with others too soon and not given any notice to the things that God wanted to show me about Himself and about myself. I give Him glory for that.
For further clarification on the topic of God being in control of ALL things, even sickness.....here are a couple of video clips to help you wrestle with this in your mind and in your heart. I don't expect anyone to hear them and come to an immediate conclusion because its hard stuff to accept. Staying in God's Word, mulling over what we discover as we read and asking God for insight is the only method that will help us grow.
Does God Cause All Sickness (short clip)
Why Was This Child Born Blind (full sermon)
2) God uses our affliction to expose the weak spots of faith in our spouses and in ourselves
After my second round of antibiotics and dealing with daily life sucking pain that did not go away, I was perplexed. I would pray to God and lie awake at night often asking Him to show me what I was supposed to learn from this because I was tired of the learning process and the pain that was involved. I approached Him as if I had a right to ask God to teach me what He needed to teach me using methods that were pleasant, not hard.
Comprehending how God put's up with me is beyond me but I am deeply and undoubtedly thankful that He does and will continue to do so.
I slowly started to discern that maybe my affliction was not only for me, but maybe for my husband as well.
As we were driving home one night I decided to enlighten my husband on what God was doing. In my stubborn, prideful, self righteous self, I told my husband,
"you know, this sickness is really for you. God wants you to be more patient with me so he is giving you a sick wife".
I know, I know....I cringe at the thought that I actually said that to him.
It's a miracle that my hubby did not stop the car and make me walk home.
Yes...I was frustrated that my hubby lacked the compassion gene but compassion was probably the lowest item on the priority list of things God was going to show my husband.
It took a huge argument, ( I wrote about it HERE ), one that we had to get another guy from our church involved in to mediate for us, where both my husband and I finally figured out what we were supposed to learn from my affliction.
It was through my affliction that my husband got a front row seat to what grace looks like. All of my husband's previous relationships, family and personal were based on conditional love. He had to perform in a certain way in order to be loved. The concept of unmerited grace, unconditional love was foreign to him.
However, when the "idea" of grace filled love dropped on him like a bomb, he realized that no matter what he did or did not do, I was not going to stop loving him. He realized that my love for him was not conditional. He realized that he could be nice or not be nice, be compassionate or not be compassionate, be patient or not be patient.....and that I was going to love him regardless.
I give God glory for giving me the strength to show unconditional love towards my husband only so that God could use that love to show my husband what unconditional love looks like from God. That "grace saturated, jaw dropping, unconditional God love" realization moved my husband so profoundly that he was able to finally be equipped to have compassion for me and my sickness.
Even though I asked God to help my husband have a tiny bit of compassion, God had a better plan for my husband. God used my affliction to show my husband what grace looks like and the compassion that I was seeking was simply a natural consequence of God's love and God's grace.
I am reminded of Isaiah 55:8-9 where it says
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I am also reminded that God's power is made evident in weakness or affliction. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes that he pleaded with God to take away a thorn in his flesh. It never says what exactly that thorn was, but I am confident that it must have felt like an affliction that bothered/pestered/overwhelmed him often, maybe even daily. We don't typically go to God in prayer when we get a splinter, but we will definitely go to God in prayer, and stay in prayer, when there is a heavy log pressing down on us emotionally, spiritually or physically. Paul tells us how God responds.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
God gets all the glory....and we reap the emotional and relational benefits of glorifying God in the midst of our affliction.
3) God uses our affliction to help our children trust Him more.
A few times at church, random people I barely knew would come up to me and ask me how I was doing health-wise. Once they told me that they were my son's Sunday school teacher and informed me that my son had asked for others to pray for me in his class, I was faced with the realization that my affliction weighed heavy on the hearts of my children. Instead of seeing my affliction as something to be scared of or ashamed of, my son took it as an opportunity to ask others...in front of his peers....to pray for me. That takes courage and boldness. I am thankful for a church that welcomes the prayer requests of their youngest members and adults who listen well.
I am also thankful that Jesus saw the kingdom benefit of children who come to him in faith without reservation.
In Mark 10 Jesus tells his disciples,
Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
When we teach our children to go to God in faith, we also teach them that the "going" means to go to God in prayer with all their requests and petitions. When we see the fruit of this "going" in our children, we know that our teaching is not in vain.
When our children see us, their parents, trusting and praising God in the middle of affliction, we enable them to see a broader picture of who God is. They will begin to see that God is not just for "healing" purposes, though at times, yes...God does heal our afflictions completely.
However, praising and trusting God while we endure affliction allows us to help them see that all things that come our way, wellness as well as affliction, is an opportunity to glorify God and praise Him for ALL of it.
Our children begin to have a better, fuller grasp that God is not just a pinata in the sky waiting to shower us with only things that are "fun" or seem outwardly good.
4) Look to Jesus as the only One who endured the ultimate affliction.
As we struggle with accepting the very hard truth that God is in control of all creation, even our affliction, for comfort, let's look to Jesus as the only one who endured affliction perfectly. He accepted His affliction because He sought the will of the Father in the face of his own fear and anxiety. He sought the will of the Father knowing it was hard. Luke 22: 42-43 tells us that Jesus sought the will of the Father even though he humbly asked if there could possibly be another way.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
In the midst of our affliction, lets look to Jesus when we feel that the anxiety that affliction tends to create in us will overwhelm us. We become fearful and worry beyond a scope that we feel we can not cope. Jesus was also overwhelmed with grief, anxiety and distress.
Mark 14:33-35 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
We read over and over again in God's word that Jesus was without sin however this passage tells us that he was not without distress. Is it possible to be distressed or apprehensive about submitting to the will of the Father?
In this passage, we see Jesus praying to the Father that the affliction he is about to endure be taken from him....IF..... it was the Father's will. He also re-submits his life to complete obedience to the Father's will, regardless of how hard or distressed, or anxiety ridden it was.
From what this passage infers, I would venture to say it is possible to be distressed about submitting to God's will. It's scary to not be in control of our own future or life events.
We must trust with a trust that is beyond our scope of trust. In our flesh, it's impossible. With God and with Christ's strength, it is very much possible.
Mathew 19:26 tells us
With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Even though Jesus was referring to salvation here, it is acceptable to apply the statement "with God all things are possible" to not only coming to salvation, but to our life IN salvation as well....namely our sanctification.
This gives us hope to not just accept any affliction that comes our way...but to cry out to our Father in heaven to take it from us....as Jesus did. However, ultimately, if our affliction is not taken from us, healed or removed, let us humbly accept the Father's will in our lives and suffer well....as did Jesus.
The ONLY possible way to do this....is to look to Jesus. He was and is the perfect suffer-er of affliction. He obeyed and submitted perfectly yet Jesus gives us permission to be distressed and troubled. Being distressed and troubled causes us to stay close and tethered to Jesus while praying without ceasing. Exactly as our lives ought to be anyway.
Let's not only repent when we find ourselves telling God how our lives ought to be but let's also look to Jesus as the perfect suffering servant of a Holy and Righteous God whose ways are not our way.
Isaiah 45:9-19 reminds us that our desire for God to bend to our will is nothing new. It says
Look at these people! They are arguing with the one who made them. Look at them argue with me. They are like pieces of clay from a broken pot. Clay does not say to the one molding it, ‘Man, what are you doing?’ Things that are made don’t have the power to question the one who makes them. A father gives life to his children, and they cannot ask, Why are you giving me life? They cannot question their mother and ask, ‘Why are you giving birth to me?
God uses affliction for our good and His glory. God is the perfect multi-tasker in that He uses affliction to sanctify the many aspects of our lives, not only in us, individually and personally, but God uses our affliction to sanctify our loved ones as well.
Since Jesus was not afraid to ask his Father to have the ultimate affliction be taken from him, he also humbled himself to accept whatever it was that God willed to happen. Jesus did not demand the Father to bend his will to Jesus merely because it was overwhelming and distressing....and anxiety producing.
Let's look to Jesus to give us the strength we need to endure. Let's look to Jesus to give us the ability to suffer well.
Hebrews 14:15-16 reminds us with such comforting and peace producing news.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Good news indeed!!!
The first question in the New City Catechism that we are using to help reinforce deeper truths to our children is this:
What is our ONLY hope in life and death?
The answer that I have taught and trained my kids to say is this:
That we are not our own but we belong to God.
Romans 14:7-8 reaffirms that.
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
The next time you find yourself afflicted with a physical ailment or broken relationship or anything in between I dare you to trust God enough with not only the good in your life, but your affliction as well. I dare you to trust God enough and in that trust it moves you to glorify Him in the middle of your affliction.
I dare you to declare with confidence, with boldness, with assurance that
I am not my own but I belong to God..... just as Jesus did.