suffering because of faith

1

Category : Exodus, God, faith, fear, trust


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”  (John 1: 1-4)

Sometimes I find myself thinking that as long as you believe in God, you won’t have to suffer.  Yet that’s not the story the Bible presents.  The people closest to God are often the people who suffer the most for their faith.  Despite knowing this, it never really occurred to me that God might intentionally bring challenges into my life.  That he might be an “active” gardener.

I suppose it was just wishful thinking.

We view gardeners as someone who helps plants become stronger, more beautiful, and healthier.  But do you really think the plant feels that way when it’s getting cut apart?  Do you think the plant believes in the good intentions of the gardener?  Makes you have second thoughts about cutting your grass, doesn’t it?

I believe we’re like that plant.  The minute we start feeling “pruned” we start wondering why things are so miserable.  “Does God really want me to be suffering?” we ask.  “Does my life need to be like this?  Do I need to go through all this pain?”

Sometimes the answer is “yes” we must suffer.  Not because God wants us to be in pain.  But because there is no other way to get to our destination.  There is no other way to become stronger and healthier.  There is no other way to move out of our pride, our complacency, or our self-centeredness.

In order to prune a plant, a gardener must “hurt” the plant by pulling off dead leaves or rotting branches.  Even in medicine we do this.  A doctor will amputate a severely injured limb.  This isn’t because they want you to suffer, it’s because the only way you will survive is to lose a limb.

I believe God is sometimes that doctor.  Not all the time.  Just sometimes.  I think a lot of our suffering is our own fault.  If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when the last time you did something you knew was wrong.  How did that turn out for you?  I’m betting you regret it.  But I suppose that’s all for another conversation.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy when God starts pruning.  When Israel left Egypt they had an 11 day hike to the Promise Land.  It took them 40 years.  Now it’s possible that Moses just didn’t stop to ask for directions.  But it’s more likely that God chose to take Israel on a route because they needed to be pruned.  In fact, that’s exactly what God says – “If they (Israel) face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

God was allowing Israel to suffer  so they would be prepared to handle the challenges ahead of them.  He was making sure their faith was strong enough to overcome the challenges they would face.  Was it fun?  Not at all.  Was it necessary?  Absolutely.

My natural reaction is to run from pain.  I don’t like being uncomfortable.  So I certainly don’t like it when God is bringing obstacles into my life.  But I’m struck by the fact that I need to embrace these challenges.  How different would Israel’s journey have been if they had recognized what God was doing?  They never would have been tempted to build a golden calf, or complain for 40 years.  (And you think it’s bad with a kid sitting in the back seat saying “are we there yet?”  Imagine a 40 year car trip!)

Instead of running around looking for an exit strategy, I need to calm myself down and ask, “God what should I be learning?”  If I must suffer, then I want my suffering to be caused by my faith.  I want it to be brought about by a loving God who’s desire is to help me, not hurt me.

I am willing to sacrifice if it means knowing God better.

As spring approaches and the world starts turning green again, consider the hardship the plants go through each winter.  I challenge you to think about your own suffering as well – each time you see a budding bush or a blooming flower, ask God what needs to be pruned from your life to help you to bear more fruit.

have you prayed about it?

3

Category : God, faith, prayer, taking action

   

At any given moment we have an almost limitless amount of choices.  What do I wear today?  What should I have to eat?  Do I really want to go to the gym?  Who will I go out with tonight?  Do I even want to go out?

And those are just the superficial questions.  There are times when we’re faced with choices that will change our lives forever.  Do I cheat on my wife?  Do I steal from work?  Should I have an abortion?

Every moment of life presents us with choices.  It’s a great burden, but it’s also exciting.  Good decisions often lead to a life of wonderful experiences.  Bad choices can seemingly ruin our lives.  We read books about decision making.  We study things like “leadership” in schools and laboratories.  We measure a person’s genetics to see if they will make good decisions or bad.  We even have dartboards that make our choices for us.  Yet how often do we stop and ask God what he thinks about our choices?

Moses, David, and Jesus all had regular conversations with God.  They all asked him questions as they were making major decisions.  Moses asked for strength as he led the Israelites away from Egypt.  David asked for forgiveness because of his adultery.  And Jesus made sure God really wanted him to sacrifice his life for ours.

Each of those men faced major life decisions and turned to God for help.  To me that seems like a good model to follow.  I don’t want to get to Heaven only to find out I didn’t live my life to the fullest – just because I was afraid to ask God what I should do. 

Prayer is part of how we are to live as Christians.  It’s part of what separates us from this world, while also making us able to serve the needs in this world.  Paul tells us that prayer should be part of how we fight off the dangers of this world.  Why would he say that if he didn’t think it would make a difference in our lives? 

So in this third part of our phrases series, I have just one question: have you prayed about it?   

living in faith

Category : Deuteronomy, God, taking action

 

Imagine what it must have been like for Israel on the verge of entering the Promised Land.  They had been wondering in the wilderness for 40 years, and now God was just about to fulfill his promise.  But before they could enter the land, Moses had some final thoughts for them.  In that speech Moses laid out where they had come from, why they were there, and where they were going.  He wanted them to understand just how important the next part of their history would be.  It would have been an exciting time to have been an Israelite.

And in that speech Moses told the Israelites was to “Observe [the laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4: 6)

In that one sentence Moses really captures a lot about how to live a life of faith.

  • Wisdom is not simply knowledge but action – the Israelites not only had to know the law, but live it.
  • Talking about living a life of faith is entirely different than living a life of faith.
  • Following God is the surest way of “proving” that he exists – when our lives are filled with God, people can’t help but wonder why we’re so different!

People respond to God when they can see him in our lives.  It was true 4,000 years ago, and it’s still true today.

time to be free

Category : Exodus, God, bible, faith, taking action, trust

   

What would you do for your freedom?  This is exactly the question that Israel was facing.  Of course the answer was simple: follow God’s commandments.  It doesn’t seem like that much really.  God even gave Israel a straightforward ‘to do’ list. Their sole responsibility would be to follow a couple of rules about how they were to prepare the meal (Passover). (Exodus 12: 1-11)  If they did that they would live and escape Egypt.

As we know, they escaped.

You’d think that after seeing everything they saw, they would be forever grateful to the one who set them free.  But you’d be wrong.  By the second month they were already unhappy (Exodus 16:1-3).  As they say, the honeymoon didn’t last long.

We spend so much of our time wondering where God is.  But maybe that’s not really the issue.  Maybe we should wonder why we aren’t willing to do the things necessary to set ourselves free.  Maybe we should ask, “why am I not allowing God to set me free?”

the growth of meaninglessness

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Category : God, choice, faith, taking action

  

How do we know our lives matter?

That’s a question that seems to haunt me.  On the days that I feel most depressed are the days I question my value to the world the most.  Did I really make a difference?  Does my life really matter?

In a world filled with so much doubt, is it any wonder that we question if we matter?

The answer, of course, is that our lives do matter, and that we can make a difference.  God values each of us.  But we also have to want to make a difference.  We have to choose to embrace God.  We have to embrace curiosity, and be willing to take action.

That sort of sounds like work.  And it its. 

But that’s okay, because part of what God calls us to is to take action.  And sometimes action is difficult; we may not make the impact we want; we may not feel ourselves making radical changes for the kingdom.  Perhaps we should be doing more.  But as long as we’re moving towards God, we’re growing.  And as long as there’s growth, there’s meaning.

 

God is bigger than me

Category : God, miracles, trust

   

“Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest.” (Joshua 3: 15)

It may be obvious that God is bigger than me, but somehow I keep forgetting that fact. Instead, I spend much of my time trying to bring a problem to God that is “manageable.” I’m the Goldie Locks of prayers. I don’t want to give God a problem too big in case he can’t handle it. And I don’t want to give him a problem too small, because I should just suck it up and do that one on my own. Instead, I want a problem that’s just right. Something “do-able” for him, but too hard for me on my own.

Of course that’s not how God works at all

After Moses died Joshua was selected by God to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. His first act was to take them across the Jordan river. Of course God wasn’t content taking them across the Jordan at any time of the year. Instead he chose to cross the Jordan when it was at it’s most powerful.

God was showing both the Israelites and the Canaanites that what they considered powerful, he did not.  He showed them that what they considered a challenge, he did not. God didn’t want there to be any confusion about who was the one true God. To do this, God was willing to demonstrate his power.

The Canaanites worshiped the god Baal, who had achieved “head god” status precisely because he had beaten the sea-god and could control the water. By crossing the Jordan at the height of its power (and therefore Baal’s power) God was directly challenging that claim to god-hood!

But he was also sending a message to the Israelites. They were shown (once again) just what God could do. They were going to see a major miracle to prove (once again) that God is the God of the amazing, and that nothing was out of his reach.

I can only imagine how I would have responded if I were Joshua.  I would have been right there bargaining with God saying, “isn’t there a better time to do this?  Like, oh, I don’t know…maybe in the middle of a drought?!”  My natural reaction is to find a way to make the problems I face easier for God to solve.  But that’s not how God operates. God is constantly doing what we consider the “impossible.” In fact, you might consider him an expert in the impossible.  He doesn’t want us to be content with just a “normal” crossing, he wants us to know he’s still God when things are at their most difficult!  He wants us to know that our success doesn’t come from ourselves, but from our dependence on him.

God operates in this radical way. He’s not into expectation management.  You’ll never see God under-selling and over-delivering.  God always does the miraculous and amazing.  I hope that some day this lesson will actually stick in my brain, and I won’t try to limit God’s power just because I can’t see how he’s going to solve a problem.