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4 Reminders When God Seems Silent in Our Suffering

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

2019 did not start well. I wept with my New Zealand friends when mosques in Christchurch were attacked and almost 50 people lost their lives. Then I cried in disbelief when my sister nearly lost her home in terrible floods in a province in Papua, Indonesia, where hundreds of people lost their lives and thousands of people were rendered homeless.

My heart continues to break for the persecuted Christians and people of minority religions who face a constant threat of violence, rape, imprisonment and even death all over the world. Their stories are heartbreaking, and the needs seem overwhelming. If thousands of innocent people suffer at the hands of a crazed killer or a sudden change in the earth’s atmosphere, why does God seem to remain silent? How is that right or fair?

C.S. Lewis argued that the issue of suffering does not lie with who God is, but with who we are as beings created in His image. In The Problem of Pain, he explains, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”

The Bible clearly affirms God’s goodness—He is “compassionate and gracious . . . slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6); He “loves righteousness and justice” (Psalm 33:5); there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). But while God is good, we are not. God gives us choices, and the consequences of those choices can, unfortunately, end up affecting both good and bad people. Our sin has corrupted the world itself, and illness, accidents and natural disasters are consequences that every living creature is susceptible to.

What can we do to overcome the pain? How do we worship God in the storms of life? Here are four things I’ve discovered that help me to focus on God’s unchanging goodness:

 

1. Be real with God

I used to think that I had to come to God in prayer only after I’d figured things out on my own. But God asks us to call on His name when we need help. It’s when I share my anger and pain with Him that I’ve noticed a real change occurring in my heart.

My relationship with my own dad has helped me better understand how I can approach my heavenly father. My dad has always been there for me. When I share my struggles with him it helps draw us closer. This helps me see that if  I can be real with my earthly father, I need to be real with my heavenly Father, too.

The Bible has many examples of people being open with our heavenly Father. In one of his many psalms, King David urges us to pour out our hearts to God in all situations (Psalm 62:8). In 1 Samuel 1:15, Hannah cries to the Lord about the pain of her barrenness. We may not understand why painful things happen, but God wants us to share them with Him. We are His children, and He cares about our pain.

 

2. Recognize that trials can help us grow

It is a precious gift to be able to put our faith in Christ, but the Bible does not promise that our lives would then be easy. Paul even says that we will face greater trials when we follow Jesus, but that we are to count them all a blessing for the sake of the gospel (Romans 8:17). After all, pain and trials can serve to strengthen our character.

In my teenage years, I experienced chronic illness and bullying, and I believe that these experiences helped me develop a deep sense of empathy for others who are vulnerable and weakened. Looking back, I recognize that it was during some of the darkest times in my life that my relationship with Jesus has grown. Recognizing that I can’t do life on my own helped forge a deep sense of trust in God—that I can lean on Him and that He will guide me.

As Paul says, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

 

3. Look beyond our own pain and help others

As Christians, what should our response to acts of violence be? How should we respond to God when bad things happen to good people? Jesus calls us to love one another and to love our neighbors (John 13:34, Mark 12:31). But it doesn’t end there. We are even called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-46).

Responses to the New Zealand shootings from churches, politicians, and community groups are a good example of love in action. People prayed with their Muslim friends and showed them love regardless of their faith or culture. Similarly, when my sister’s town was flooded, she was brought to tears by the acts of loving-kindness the community showed for one another. Churches, schools, police officers, and community leaders banded together to care for those who needed help. Despite the fact that many of these people lost possessions and homes of their own, they looked beyond their own situation to see how they could be a force for good in someone else’s life.

These beautiful acts of grace challenge me to consider my own heart in greater detail, and to seek ways to love those around me even in times of difficulty.

 

4. Jesus understands and can comfort us in our pain

God understands suffering more than any of us ever will. Jesus was the suffering servant who endured mocking, shame, slander, pain, violence, and the weight of the world’s sins as He died on the cross for our redemption (Isaiah 53:3). It is a great comfort to know that the Creator of the universe not only hears us when we cry to Him, but knows our pain intimately. When we are hurting, He is hurting with us.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can in turn comfort others who are hurting. When I was grieving the loss of two young friends and struggling with my own health scare, I felt like giving up. I had no way to see through the darkness, so all I could do was cry out to God and give Him my pain. It wasn’t an instant fix, but I can honestly say that I felt “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” as I was held in the loving arms of God (Philippians 4:7). This peace enabled me to offer comfort in turn to a friend who had lost someone close to them.

 

Pain and suffering rarely make sense. When we’re in the midst of suffering, it can be easy to blame God or assume He doesn’t care. But don’t lose heart! We can tell God how we’re feeling. We can remember that He is always with us, through the good times and the bad. We can also be there to help others in their pain.

We know that God is good because He loves us so much that He suffered in our place. We may not always understand why some things happen, but it helps to know that God cares, and He is with us in our pain. Suffering will not last forever, and even if our pain stays with us for many years, we can still look forward to the hope of eternal glory with Christ, one that far outweighs any present suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17).

3 Ways to Worship God During Tough Times

Written By Hilary Charlet, USA

Last year was a tough one for me. It started off great—I went to my first-ever Christian conference in February, and it was amazing. Everything I heard and saw at the conference encouraged me, challenged me, and filled my heart with a deeper realization of God’s love for us. The theme of the conference was “Stepping Season.” Little did I know, I was about to enter into my own stepping season that would test everything I learned that weekend.

From the moment I left the conference to the months that followed, it seemed like anything and everything that could go wrong, did. There were weeks of hospital stays for my brother who had a blood clot in his arm and required surgery to remove a rib constraining his vein, strained relationships with people I care deeply about, as well as sleepless nights, heartbreak, tears, rejection, confusion . . . It seemed like it was never going to end.

I was able to smile when I was around others, but when I was on my own, I couldn’t keep it together. I was mad. I had questions. I didn’t understand. I was scared.

I was feeling a lot of emotions, and quite honestly, did not feel like worshipping through it. I just cried a lot at first and prayed that God would heal and comfort me. It was during that time that I learned to worship God in spite of my circumstances.

While I wouldn’t choose to go through it all again, the experiences of the past year taught me the power and faithfulness of God in even the darkest of times. Worship, I realized, was all the more important in difficult times. Here are three things I did that helped me worship Him:

 

1. Dig into His Word

I had spent time doing devotionals in the past, but now it was a daily necessity. Reading about God’s promises and faithfulness in the stories of the Bible gave me hope. Some of the people went through some really rough stuff, sometimes for years. Think of Joseph, for example—sold by his brothers and eventually sent to prison for two years (Genesis 37-41). Think of the seven years of famine (Genesis 41-45). Or the time the flood filled the Earth (Genesis 6-7). Yet God always remained faithful, even when it seemed hopeless. He would certainly remain faithful in my life.

Not only did I encounter God’s Word in my daily quiet time, but it seemed like wherever I turned, the verse Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”, would somehow surface, whether it was in a conversation with someone, reading something random, or even purchasing a t-shirt for a fundraiser.

Even though everything in my own life seemed so out of whack and crazy, this verse assured me that God would somehow use what I was going through for good in the future. Though it hurt at the time, the pain wouldn’t be for no reason at all. God was behind the scenes working, and though it might take time, it will all have a purpose.

Sometimes it’s difficult to open up my Bible and read a story about how good God is, especially when it doesn’t feel like it at the time. However, I am learning to cling tight to His promises. His plans are far greater than any we can imagine. He’s working everything together for our good.

 

2. Turn on your music

Sometimes positive, upbeat music is the last thing we want to hear when we are wallowing in our troubles. It’s worth turning them on anyway. “Mighty Warrior” by David Virgo got me through so many days last year. The lyrics, “Mighty Warrior, You will see that all things work for my good, things work for my good” in particular really spoke to me. It was only months down the road that I realized how the song had helped me declare God’s goodness and faithfulness over my life in spite of what I was going through.

“Walking on Water” by NEEDTOBREATHE was another song that got me through the hard times. During the weeks my brother was in the hospital, my sister-in-law and I heard that song consistently playing on the radio. The lyrics were just what I needed to hear. They reminded me that the Lord was working, and I just had to trust Him through the wind and waves.

Find songs that lift you up, that you can worship through. Put the songs on repeat. Crank it up. Jam out. Look for the truth the song proclaims, and repeat it to yourself until you believe it. Sure, worshipping God might be the last thing we feel like doing. But let’s do it anyway. Worshipping through the hard times brings us new strength and hope. It might be just what we need to get through the day.

 

3. Be honest with God about your emotions

In our hardest times, we need to turn to the Lord. He wants to be there for us, and He wants to listen. Let’s not hide anything from Him. After all, He already knows what we’re feeling, so why not just be raw and real with Him? If we’re angry, we can tell Him. If we’re confused, we can talk to Him about it. We don’t need to have it all together to go to Him. He wants us as we are. Every piece of us. He loves us, and He isn’t going to stop listening just because we’re mad or “yelling” at Him. He can handle it.

David the psalmist is a great example of this. In Psalm 42, for example, he cries out to God, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:9-10). David was discouraged and sad, and He wasn’t afraid to show it. We needn’t be afraid or feel bad about telling God our emotions either.

Let us take our true emotions and feelings to God, and may He fill us with His peace, joy, restoration, healing, and love. This won’t happen overnight—or maybe it will. For me, it’s still a daily process and something I have to choose day after day. Instead of covering up how I feel, I am learning that sharing my true emotions brings me peace unlike anything else.

 

It’s crazy to look back now at all that the ups and downs of last year, and it’s even crazier to say that I am thankful for it. I now call it my year of plowing—plowing deep and digging into a deeper relationship with God. A lot of things I had hoped for and prayed for have turned out differently, but they surpass what I originally had in mind. There are also still things I don’t understand, but I now have a different perspective on them. I have seen God’s faithfulness, and I trust and believe that He always works it for our good (Romans 8:28).

God might not be changing your circumstances how you would like Him to, but don’t lose hope. God is shaping you and molding you into the person He created you to be, and it’s going to be beautiful. No matter how dark things seems right now, hold tight and know that God loves you deeply. Let us keep worshipping Him, trusting that He will bring us through even the most difficult days.

Where Our Love Story Went Wrong

Photo taken by Asher Ong Photography

“What do you find the greatest joy in?”

I paused, thinking about what puts a smile on my face, what keeps me going every day, and what gives me the most happiness.

“I suppose I find the greatest joy . . . in you,” I said softly.

“Me too.”

***

This is the part of the love story where we smile at each other shyly, clasp our hands together, and wrap our arms around each other in love—blissful, romantic, head-in-the-clouds love.

This is the part of the story where it dawns upon us that we are living out The Love Story told and played out in every fable, song, book, and movie, sold to us with every sentence written and lyric sung and scene painted, over and over again until we’ve unknowingly bought into it a hundredfold over.

But this is also the part of our love story where it all goes wrong. Because the real Love Story is not meant to be this way, and the one we’re living out now is not meant to last.

***

I’ve been in a relationship with my fiancé, David, for two years now. And with every passing day, I fall a little deeper in love with him.

Yet there is always a danger of loving him so much that I come to love him more than my first and greatest Love: God. It is a very frightening thing to find myself crossing that line: when I choose to spend evenings out with him over a time of solitude with God, when my heart finds more pleasure in him than the Lord, when I am devoted to his needs and wants but not to knowing and obeying Him.

 

But why is it such a bad thing? What’s wrong with loving my future husband more than God?

It‘s dangerous. It lures me away from worshipping God to idolizing a mere man, full of foibles and flaws (Romans 1:25). Sometimes I find myself so in love with him that I forget that he is, after all, only human. And though he tries his best to love me rightly, he sometimes fails—and so do I. And that’s when we find ourselves disappointed, hurt, and upset with one another.

It’s sinful. It goes against God’s first commandment to us: that we do not have any other gods before God (Exodus 20:3). A god isn’t just a little wooden carving or altar in my house that I worship, but it’s what I elevate to the throne of my life, it’s whom I love, adore, and value more than anything and anyone else in this world.

And it’s grievous. It saddens God when I wander away from Him and into the arms of another lover—a good gift God Himself has given to me—but which I have twisted and abused in my selfishness. Being unfaithful to Him also hurts me in ways I can’t quite understand on an intellectual level, but which I experience on a deeper, instinctual level, when my spirit mourns along with the Holy Spirit.

Time and time again, I’ve been shown how loving him more than Him has consequences. But these consequences are meant to lead me to repentance and to discipline me for my own good (Hebrews 12:5-11). As my friend rightly puts it: “God isn’t going to give you someone just to watch them take the place that only He can.”

Loving my fiancé more than my Father has more often than not led to a mess of tangled hurts and alienating distance. Because when I elevate him to the status of my god, one whom I believe can meet all my needs and wants, to love and understand me unconditionally, and to be unwaveringly present with me in all circumstances—be it physical or emotional—I find that he falls short. It shouldn’t be a surprise, yet I can’t help but feel crestfallen, cheated almost. Because I believed a lie that I had told to myself.

 

Photo taken by Asher Ong Photography

 

How do we love our partner then, without idolizing him or her?

It was a bittersweet moment when the both of us confessed to one another that we found the greatest joy in each other’s arms. Bitter because we knew that our love could so easily stray into sinful and grievous idolatry if we were not careful; yet sweet, because we have found the one whom our soul loves and with whom we will join together in union  (Song of Songs 3:4, Genesis 2:1-24).

It was a bittersweet reminder that this kind of romantic love, as with every other love, is but a shadow of the greatest Love that has and will ever be: one that was embodied on the cross through the Son of God, who took on our sins and died in our place.

I’m learning that the only way for me to love David rightly, and for David to love me rightly, is for us to love God rightly (1 John 4:19). It means asking ourselves who God is to us; and if He is our God, then living a life of total worship to Him in response.

It means acknowledging Him as the King of our hearts, by prioritizing the growth of our relationship with our first Love, both individually and as a couple. Not just when we’re in church listening to sermons, or spending time with our families, but in every other private and intimate moment when we’re alone together too.

And just as how a Christ-centered relationship is based on the building blocks of commitment, interdependence and intimacy, so, too, our relationship with Christ should be based on commitment to Him, dependence on Him, and intimacy with Him. This means intentionally choosing to love God above each other, leaning upon Christ alone as our cornerstone, and drawing near to Him daily, in the everyday choices we make.

Since we came to the realization that we needed to put God first above each other, we’ve been including a portion of time to pray, give thanks, and meditate on His Word together when we meet on dates. We‘re also continuously cultivating the habit of praying for each other daily, asking for each other’s prayer requests, and encouraging each other with His Word.

At the end of the day, our love story is all about experiencing what the psalmist experienced when he wrote: “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you,” and that “in Your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:2, 11). It means prizing Him as my greatest treasure, and therefore enjoying Him as my greatest pleasure (Matthew 6:21). This is how we can, and are, making our love story right by His grace: by finding our greatest joy in Him alone, together.

 

When My Joys Don’t Line Up With God’s

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

“I feel bad that I’m not more serious,” frowned my friend Melissa*. Seeing my eyebrow raised questioningly, she continued, “You know, more serious about God.”

Now, Melissa is an active and outgoing Christian with strong friendships in her Bible study group and at church. She works in early childcare and finds babies adorable. In fact, Melissa loves cute things and fun events. “What do you mean?” I teased. “It’s not like your Facebook feed is all kitten videos, Korean hairstyles and photogenic edibles—oh, wait!”

She shot me a pained look, then continued, “Yeah, those are the things that make me smile. I don’t have the same enthusiasm for, like, Christian things. I try to pray and read the Bible, but I’m not the kind of person who posts Bible verses or articles about Jesus. I just feel guilty that I still find my hobbies, like searching for cute collectibles, a lot more fun. Is it wrong?”

 

A dangerous assumption

The simple answer to Melissa’s question is: no, it’s not wrong. But behind the question is an assumption that should be challenged. The idea that our interests and activities can be categorized into “Christian things” and “everything else” is false and creates a dangerous dichotomy, as if God has dominion only over our church services, ministries, Bible reading or prayer time. For if God is not also Lord of our leisure, entertainment, work, relationships, play, and even of our “me” time, then we cannot be said to belong to Him wholly.

Many of us live a double life in this sense; we set aside time for “Christian things,” and then feel as if we have earned some right to indulge in “everything else.” Having enjoyed ourselves with gusto, we then feel a guilty need to tip the scales once more in favor of “Christian things,” if only to earn ourselves some more indulgence time, and so on. I find myself sometimes slipping into this mindset too.

But guilt is a terrible motivator, and will over time erode our relationship with God, wrongly painting Him as a killjoy, a grim taskmaster. The idea that we could ever “earn” the right to do as we please is also potentially disastrous, a road that can lead us away from God altogether and after our own selfish pursuits. Isn’t there a better way to aspire to a full, balanced life?

 

Nothing is too small

We tend to think of the secular as divorced from the spiritual, but in reality the two are integrated—we each have only the one life, and it is to be lived for God. If we regard churchgoing and other overtly religious activities as more spiritual than, say, eating or sleeping, we restrict God’s lordship over our lives. Knowing Him should transform all aspects of our lives, so that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

I used to wrestle with that idea: how could tea-drinking, for instance, be in the name of Jesus? Reading verse 17 in context helps us out. Paul’s argument stems from the fact that God has rescued us, and we get to live in a whole new way because of Jesus (Colossians 3:1-3). Our appropriate response to this, as Paul emphasizes three times, is gratitude to God (vv. 15, 16, 17). To do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17) is to live with a constant awareness of our relationship with God.

Furthermore, to bear our Lord’s name reflects His lordship over us. As a result, all our activities rightfully belong to Jesus, and we merely manage our time and resources, thankful for the opportunities, thankful to be His. I will return later to this idea of resource management, or stewardship, but the implication here is that, being grateful to God for the “little things” we enjoy reflects our relationship with our Lord.

What does it look like when our “little things” are filled with an awareness of the Giver? Well, when I write, I am awed by the intricate workings of God’s world, and I ask Him constantly for the right words, at the right time, that my words might encourage my readers.

When my husband runs, he is genuinely immersed in his outdoors environment, loving the physical exertion and the mental clarity that a good run gives him, thankful to God for the weather and his health, and refreshed for his relationships and ministries. For the person who is mindful of God, even mundane, routine, necessary, or trivial tasks can be spiritual.

 

How then to choose?

But we should be careful about filling our calendar only with things that excite us, because these things in themselves cannot give us lasting joy. Instant gratification often keeps us going back to our little indulgences time and again—another hit, another dopamine surge, another high. But if all our life’s pursuits are as random and fleeting as our Instagram Stories, perhaps we are aiming too low and missing the mark?

As writer-theologian C. S. Lewis puts it in his sermon “The Weight of Glory”:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

How, then, do we choose the things that bring us closer to God, if we find them “dull” compared to the things we really feel like doing?

When I was four or so, I once complained that visiting my grandfather was boring. My dad told me that I could decide not to be bored! He then urged me to ask my Kong Kong about his life. I didn’t immediately understand or appreciate my father’s meaning. But the more often I visited, the better I got to know my grandfather, and eventually I began to love hearing about life in “the old days.” I also grew up, and the older me enjoyed his company just because I was outgrowing some of my toys and pastimes, and was ready to do more things with him, such as take long nature rambles, water the plants in his huge garden, or feed his many pets.

May I suggest that part of our Christian journey is to grow up in faith. This sometimes involves discipline to do things we don’t necessarily enjoy at first. But a far better, more long-term strategy is to cultivate a God-directed taste for pleasure. Many pursuits worth undertaking—for the joy of relating to and being close to God—may not initially “spark joy” in us because we generally cave in to instant rewards, and we so often fail to train ourselves to anticipate heaven instead. But as Colossians 3:1-2 puts it, being raised with Christ has changed our priorities, so that we should seek and set our eyes on the “things that are above” (ESV).

We can decide not to be bored; we can ask God to help us love and enjoy being with Him. If oneness with Him becomes our joy, as it is our Lord Jesus’, then our hobbies and entertainments will never entirely replace talking to and listening to God through His Word—which corrects false assumptions, drifting mindsets, and variable standards. The better we know God, the greater our enjoyment of the things that bring us closer to Him, which in turn helps us know Him even better, which gives us even more joy in serving Him, and so on!  

 

A matter of stewardship

We can’t live by instant gratification; we need a long view to end well. In Hebrews 12:1-3, the Christian life is described not as a sprint, but as a long-distance race requiring perseverance. We are asked to look to Jesus, who has gone ahead of us and who will see us through to the finish line.

We observe that Jesus’ joy in His relationship with God—the prospect of Their togetherness at last—fueled His earthly life and suffering. Because His heart always rejoiced in a oneness with God, His life’s energy was marshaled toward that purpose. Moreover, He has achieved it for us too; His death and victory on the cross have reconciled believers to God!

I love how pastor and writer-theologian Eugene Peterson paraphrases verse 2 in The Message:

Study how [Jesus ran]. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

When I wonder how much time to devote to my various hobbies, then, maybe the question I should be asking instead is this: does joy in my future union with God—“that exhilarating finish in and with God”—light and direct my present journey?

It’s a matter of stewardship, that is, managing our time and resources for an infinite joy that will be ours some day. That’s not to say we won’t or can’t enjoy the present and its many pleasures, but hopefully our lives don’t consist only of random, short-lived entertainments and avoidance of hardship! The idea of stewardship helps us recognize that we are always accountable to God for our choices because our lives have a long-term, God-directed purpose.

Melissa, don’t feel bad about enjoying your life. Instead, won’t you join me in taking inventory of the things that make us happy, thanking God and asking Him to help us use them for Him?

 

*Name has been changed for privacy.