I’ve been sick since April 1. Well, in reality I’ve been sick since I was bitten by a tick as a child; I just didn’t know it. But the persistent cough with which I currently live began recently. I say this not to complain, but to set the stage for my recent ferreting through God’s Word for encouragement that I am not, in fact, alone in suffering. I realize that there are many, many people in the world who actually suffer from things like poverty and hunger and grief. To even discuss my particular type of physical suffering feels like a very “first world problem”, but in such suffering — the kind that produces years of pain and more questions than answers — there is a spiritual component I can’t ignore.
Since I do have underlying health issues, when an illness lingers my heart becomes quite fearful. Is this something more serious that it appears to be on the surface? It was last time. My heart and mind begin to turn inward. What must I do to control my symptoms? How can I fix this? Why am I sick(er) again? Most sadly, I begin to forget that the Lord is sovereign even over this. What did I do wrong that caused me to get sick? Did I forget to take a dose of something?
Most of the thoughts cycling through my head are, indeed, harmful, and eventually lead me to a place of self-sufficiency. The root? I’ve forgotten that God is in charge. I’ve forgotten that He is working for my good. Many times, I’ve begun to believe the lie that He might not love me as much as I once thought He did. In the deepest, darkest part of the pit, I might begin to wonder if He ever actually loved me at all. This is a dangerous place that, for me, requires the immediate intervention of another believer. I’ve only reached this point twice, but both times a friend was prompted by the Spirit to send me a particular Scripture that spoke of God’s love for me. Even in THAT, God loved me! What an amazing Heavenly Father we serve!
In my experience, there isn’t a lonelier feeling than to wonder if God has forgotten about you. It is in this state that I spent a Friday night weeping. Thankfully the Spirit prompted me to text many of my wonderful girlfriends, who responded with encouragement or Scripture. What a blessing these ladies are to me! Their wise reminders set my mind aright and allowed me the presence of mind to seek the Scriptures for further truth.
The Lord is helping me to understand that, sometimes, He has to take my hand and lead me through bouts of darkness to reveal the true brightness of His perfect light. Sometimes the contrast is necessary for me to learn: loneliness vs. perfect companionship; lie vs. Truth; despair vs. true joy; tangible vs. intangible; corruptible vs. incorruptible; marred by sin vs. perfect holiness. I am so amazed that my Father is endlessly patient and kind to show me ever more of His beautiful character. He is unveiling colors on the pre-painted canvas of my life, and the brightest, boldest hues are being found in suffering. What a blessing!
Now that I’m on the brighter side of the search for joy, I thought I would catalog the passages that recently spoke to me and refreshed my soul. I suppose this list is mostly for me, that I might return to it the next time I struggle to find joy in suffering. But I hope they encourage you, as well.
God is near.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?
My suffering isn’t for me.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Suffering is to the glory of God.
To display the power of Christ in our weakness . . .
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
To sanctify us . . .
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
To increase our dependence upon the Lord . . .
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9
To prompt us to find refuge in the Lord . . .
I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
Because of the resurrection we can look beyond our current suffering to a time of complete and permanent renewal in the presence of God.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Come, Lord Jesus!
Soli Deo gloria!