Of late I've been experiencing some form of a challenging situation. Well I'm convinced that it can very well be grouped under the label suffering though I am certainly not suffering like the Apostle Paul did let alone to the point of shedding blood!!. Now let me list out what suffering does to us?
First of all it ousts us out of our (complacent or) comfortable zone.
Second it brings us pain
Third it ushers in restlessness, anxiety
Fourthly it casts doubts about our future
and you can name a few more.
But the greatest ramification, as far as I am concerned, that suffering may wreak is to distrust God Himself and to delude us to play God in our lives. We audaciously begin to wrest the prerogatives of God in our lives and we rule instead. We feverishly run about everywhere to everybody other than God to receive help to salvage us and the situation as well. If God is ever cited in such situations or we miraculously conjure up by ourselves the thought of God in that situation, sadly, our initial response is to question His motives on these situations.
With a brief on our initial response to suffering, let me move on to the real issue. More than the suffering itself the issue at stake is our understanding on suffering. In order to have a wholesome grasp on suffering, the only place that we can go to is the Scripture. We have ample examples from Scripture. We see Joseph unjustly languishing in prison. One Sunday evening when my pastor was casually sharing from his devotion time, he was saying that Joseph might have been confused about what was going on in his life. Yet he did not allow the circumstances dictate his course of action rather he trusted in God and stayed close to Him. One is reminded of 1 Peter 2:23 'When he (Jesus) was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly', when we think about how Joseph behaved especially with his brothers who were the real conspirators. While studying this verse as part of my Sunday School preparation, I spontaneously fell in love with this one phrase 'entrusted himself.' The word entrust literally means to give into the hands of another. It also means to give over into someone's power. I strongly believe each and everyone of us going through such torturous moments should ought to completely entrust ourselves into the hands of the righteous Judge. When this is done, we shall begin to experience an inconceivable peace in the midst of assailing situations. Our clouded minds shall also be cleared enough to see the perfect plans of God for those moments.
Suffering is a portion that God has ordained for each and every one of His called saints. Suffering is inescapable and indispensable in a Christian's life. We may really wish that it ended but we need a bit of caution and wisdom to really understand what we are wishing for. Suffering is God's classroom on spiritual maturity. Asking God to get suffering out of our lives is directly proportional to asking Him to stop transforming us into the image of His Son.
I'm reading a book called The Portrait of Paul by Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker. The first chapter titled 'The Joy of Paul's Ministry' deals a lot on Paul's dealing with his suffering. Here are some quotes:
'Joy, even in suffering, is a distinguishing mark of his character and ministry.'
'It is grounded in humility, for there can be no rejoicing in the heart of a man who thinks he deserves far better than what he receives.'
'Paul and Silas sit unjustly condemned, their bodies bruised and bleeding. They are unable to move or to discover a position that will lessen the agony. They are locked in a foul prison alongside others who probably deserved to be there. If ever men had reason to resent such unjust treatment, they did. But as we peer through the bars on that night, what do we find? “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” '
'Says G. Campbell Morgan, “Any man can sing when the prison doors are open, and he is set free. The Christian’s soul sings in prison.” The church father Tertullian is even blunter, asserting, “Nothing the limb feels in the stocks when the mind is in heaven.” Paul’s response under these rigors tells us volumes about this man and bids us follow him as he also followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).'
'We find Paul taking pleasure in his infirmities, not in the removing of them. The knowledge that when he is weak he is strong in Christ gives him great joy.'
'Paul’s abiding joy was not contingent upon his circumstances.'
'Are you ready to suffer? We do not ask you to invite or pursue suffering, but to remember that everyone who desires to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). If we are faithful, suffering will come.'
It will not be an exaggeration to say that Paul was literally enjoying his sufferings! And that is because he knows that Christ works for his good precisely in situations like those. One of the ways Paul recommends to have a deeper communion with God is to share in His sufferings (Phil 3:10)
My soul is languishing within. I know not what to do about my life. I am struggling to understand Your call for my life. "What is the purpose of my life?" I endlessly ask but not a faint answer! Life is but fleeting. But before my life ends I wish to have lived out the purpose that You have willed in my life. I dread the thought that I may fail to grasp the mission of my life before I pass away from this world. Day in and out my soul wearies in travailing to unravel Your plans for my life. Or am I so blind and benighted to comprehend Your incessant summons saying "Son, stand in the gap for Me!" Reveal it to me O God before I faint, before I become callous. Save this Gideon with resounding assurances of a thousand fleeces!
The cross as a symbol has been used and abused. Naive understanding of the cross has led people to consider it as an object infused with divine power or even as a good luck charm. Some strongly maintain that wearing a cross assures them of ultimate protection. Adding to this assortment of superstitious ideas on cross, movies have 'venerated' the seeming power of the cross to obliterate vampires when a priest brandishes one. In the Christendom chiefly, the cross is offered the utmost attention during the passion week as the object of one's relentless meditation. At the end of season, sadly though, the prominence of the Cross quickly fades out.
Contrary all these fanciful purporting, the cross can be understood as a metonymy for the atonement accomplished by Christ through His death.
Different verses or passages in the Bible testify to this. For instance, Jesus Himself reveals the purpose of His incarnation which is to give His life as a 'ransom for many'. In another place He says "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."
Psalm 85:10 says,
"Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other."
This verse succinctly talks about what happened on the cross. The Bible unflinchingly informs us that the entire humanity not only plunged into sin but also incurred the wrath of God due to that one act of disobedience by Adam, the representative of the whole human race. Man with his own ability is ever irredeemable. He can never begin to think about appeasing the wrath of God. God demanded an unblemished sacrifice that alone can propitiate His wrath. Now that the whole humanity comprising of people across all times are blemished with sin, not a single soul was, is or ever will be able to mend the severed relationship between God and men. God the Father in His loving will planned out before creation to send His only begotten Son to do what no man can. And that is precisely why there is a cross. Upon the cross is where God the Son was bruised by God the Father as the prophet Isaiah declares.
Now the blemishless nature of Christ warrants our brief attention. As mentioned He came down to earth to do what no man can but He did not just take the place of a mere blemishless man per se. Jesus on earth was not just a man who did not sin. He was much more than that. For instance hypothetically, a sinless human being (if any now!) would be the pre-fall Adam and yet he was peccable (able to sin), which simply means he was able to sin. That is precisely why he sinned and fell short of God's glory. At the same time he was 'able not to sin'. In Adam, as fallen beings, we all do not keep sinning every minute of our lives. In other words, we are simply not the devil personified. But Christ Jesus was both sinless and impeccable. Jesus in His humanity was 'able not to sin' (sinless) as well as 'not able to sin' (impeccable). Contrarily we humans are always peccable and never impeccable. We will never have the ability to not sin at all. Christ was never found with a single sin. He could never ever commit a sin simply because He is not able to sin. So this sinless and impeccable incarnation of the second Person of the Trinity was gruesomely crushed for my sins and yours. And that is the crux of the CROSS. (By the way, did you know that the origin of the word crux is cross?!)
The cross is where the righteousness of God (justice of God established through His wrath) and peace of God (made viable through the atoning death of Christ because He loved us) meet.
The cross is a symbol of Christ's perfect atoning death
The cross is a symbol of Christ's inscrutable impeccability and sinlessness
The cross is a symbol of God's terrifying wrath/justice/righteousness
The cross is a symbol of God's ineffable love
The cross is a symbol of incomprehensible peace between God and His children
The cross is a symbol of God's wisdom
The cross is a symbol of an eternal Kingdom
More than being flippantly treated as a a mere symbol, the Cross should be understood to possess an intrinsic profundity intended by God. The importance of the Cross should surpass the attention given just during the passion week.
How often have you felt that your mind is cluttered with a myriad thoughts. There are times when you desire to have a pristine thought pattern but suddenly experience a deluge of thoughts invading your mind.
Our lives are crammed with activities. Especially in a digital age like ours noise is ubiquitous. Noise has become such an intimate part of this generation that silence to many seems eerie. Gregariousness has become the motto and the plethora of social networks will testify to this fact. Besides the noise that is tangible to our senses, the real challenge is dealing with the noise that lurks in our minds. Thanks once again to our busy lives. We smother our minds with endless lists and information just about one day. Imagine the information for a week, a month and so on. All these information come back to haunt us with restlessness and anxiety.
Of late I've been stressed with a ruthless invasion of incongruous thoughts, distracting me in every way. I coerced myself to concentrate on God, Scriptures, books and the like. My efforts ditched me. I felt my mind strangled by this unanticipated conquest of this abstract force. What should one do about such a predicament?
I am not expected to express my prowess in subduing my mind to some vague esoteric force. But the superb antidote to this seemingly unrelenting problem is the Discipline of Silence and Solitude. Solitude is the act of secluding oneself so one can remain silent.
The Bible calls me to gently lay myself at the feet of the dear Lord.
Zephaniah 1:7 says,
 Be silent before the Lord GOD!
 Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD
David says in Psalm 62:1-2
 For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Above everything we have the superior example to emulate, our Lord Jesus Christ.
 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
In the midst of catering to a mobbish crowd, Jesus departed and constantly kept this Discipline of Silence and Solitude. His sweetest time on earth was whenever He spent time alone with His dear heavenly Father.
We are compelled by such an example. Unlike Jesus, we are redeemed from sin and we still are mired by the impurities that remain within. So this rendezvous with our Father will awaken our slumbering senses to the purposeful life that God has called us to. Our hearts will be suffused with the heavenly love of God. The invincible peace of the Almighty shall pervade the deep crevices of our hearts and shall dispel anxiety. This discipline helps us to be fixated on God. Also beware that this silence will uninhibitedly remind us of our sins. This discipline will also help us to lean on God even more. Myriads of spiritual benefits shall we reap if practiced regularly.
Of course we cannot always jaunt over to the marooned outskirts of our bustling cities to be all by ourselves. Donald Whitney suggests that instead of fruitlessly trying to escape a noisy ambiance,
"It's possible to provide that same kind of brief refreshment on occasion throughout your day. A moment at a traffic light, in an elevator, or in line at a drive-through can become a "minute retreat" when you consecrate it as a time of silence and solitude. You can use the time of prayer at a meal for a spiritual pause" (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life - Donald Whitney)
'Minute Retreat' is his counsel. To quickly smuggle those time intervals in our daily lives shall offer us a powerful gander of our eternal rest.
Of course it is practically impossible to constantly thrust in our minds the truth that God is watching us all the time! But that laxity cannot relieve us of the obligation to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our holy calling. But is He watching me, and all the time at that?
In order to answer this question we need to know something about God's nature, especially about His attribute of Omnipresence. We've all heard this word every now and then but what does it actually mean? And how will its understanding truly affect the way we live?
To begin with God's attributes can generally be understood in two ways. Communicable and Incommunicable.
The attribute that God communicates to us, say holiness as part of renewal process in sanctification can be understood as communicable. But there are attributes that are quintessential to Him. These are attributes that are unique to Him by virtue of His very being. And so these attributes can never be communicated to humanity. One such attribute is Immensity, a subset of God's Omnipresence.
Acts 17:28 says "In him we live and move and have our being" which means that God fills everything, everywhere. There is not a place in the whole space that is absent of His presence. This can be referred to as His general presence. By virtue of who He is (ie, ontologically), God is not limited by space. He is present everywhere without loss of His presence anywhere. So I can never escape His presence.
Apart from the universal presence of God, there is this unique presence of God among His children. This can also be understood as His covenantal presence. Scott Clark says that the difference between general and special presence is in degree.
God is not diffused (spread out) throughout creation but the creation itself is suffused (filled in) with His presence. David says in Psalm 139:7,8
"Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!"
What is he talking about but the immense presence of God. So yes, God is watching us all the time!
In some other part of the world, a grand conference on Biblical Inerrancy has just begun. This summit will expect a lot of pastors, laymen, and others to be a part of it. Why should they all flock to a conference which seems a bit bleak to some of us? What in the world is inerrancy?
The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy says in its summary statement:
1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.
2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.
3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.
5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
In recent years this old doctrine has been unnecessarily challenged to deny the Bible's authority and clarity. Well, anything that sets itself against the authority of God has its essence in Sin.
Some have argued that this doctrine is a recent invention of Princeton Theologian B.B.Warfield et al 1. Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology (TEDS), says "In answer to this question, it is important to remember that doctrines arise only when there is need for them. Doctrine develops when something implicit in the faith is denied; false teaching provokes an explicit rebuttal. This is as true of inerrancy as it is of the doctrines of the Trinity, or of justification by faith. The notion of the Bible's truthfulness was implicitly assumed throughout the history of the church" 2.
As students of Scripture we ought to vigilantly watch ourselves against teachings and sermons that are subtly infused with such an indoctrination. As the summary above states the Scripture is God-breathed, infallibly authoritative, Spirit-superintended, Spirit-illumined and so it is inerrant in all its teachings.
May God use His Word to teach, reprove, correct and train us in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16)
I am reading a book titled 'Boring' by Michael Kelley.
So far as I have read, I surely did find it to be a treat. This book is all set to confront our customary complaining at the mundaneness of life.
Think about it. What is life to many of us? Mr. Average Joe wakes up early in the morning with a jolt. Randomly helps his wife in the kitchen. Gets his kids ready for school. He whirs through the incorrigible traffic, drops his kids at school and his wife at her office. He works his heart out at his and scoots off to home, waiting to meet his family. He ends up spending good time with this family and does a couple of chores. And yet at bed in the dark, he gets lost in his probing thoughts. "Is there more to life than what I've been going through?" he wonders. For Mr. Average Joe knows too well that, that day is going to repeat itself tomorrow. With a heart that is sunk in desperation and dissatisfaction he drifts to sleep, a seeming respite from his incessantly nagging thoughts.
Michael Kelly offers a different answer to this boring(!) problem.
"What if God actually doesn’t want you to escape from the ordinary, but to find significance and meaning inside of it?"
He goes on...
"The question isn’t whether or not God is present and active; the question is just how aware we are of that presence and activity"
"In all those dirty diapers, bill payments, e-mails, and daily commutes, God is there. He is intimately involved in the small, seemingly insignificant areas of our lives."
"God operates through, not in spite of, these seemingly ordinary circumstances."
"The work of God is not constrained to the big and audacious. His divine fingers steadily weave together the tapestry of the mundane and ordinary too."
"Jesus is the Hebrew equivalent of being named “Joe.” There were probably four other kids in His class with the same name. Nothing special there. But that’s how God works."
He challenges and also offers a perspective on perspective!!
"We can easily say, with gusto even, “Yes! There is no such thing as ordinary!” but as soon as we say it, we will be confronted with an endless progression of the mundane. What changes isn’t so much the obligations and responsibilities of everyday life; those keep on coming as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow. What changes is the perspective with which we see those things."
Mr. Kelley quotes the prudent musing of the poet Elizabeth Browning, which to me too has become a favorite,
“earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit around and pick blackberries.”
He also quotes Chesterton,
"...perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.... God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them..."
He astutely says,
"We must, in a sense, fight to not fight to escape the ordinary. When we do, we’ll find the extraordinary lurking inside what has become ordinary to us."
Then he talks about the need for a Christian to be saturated with contentment. He says,
"The person of contentment isn’t constantly striving after something else." Whereas a person who strives after something he deems as 'better' is saturated with discontentment. According to Mr. Kelley chasing after something else betrays one's ignorance of appreciating the true value of what one already has in Christ and eventually ends up living a life that is irredeemably boring.
The lesson that I've personally learnt so far is 'to seek the extraordinary not in spite of but in the very ordinary, monotonous things of life'. Unfortunately our present-day Christianity has been indoctrinated with the crazy rush for the supernatural by despising the natural. Blessed is he who has eyes to see God in the very ordinary things of his life! May God help us to do so every other seemingly 'boring' day!