Questioning

How to Cultivate Communal Comfort in Your Suffering

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Suffering powerfully highlights what has always been true—we were not created for independent living. Suffering reminds us that God’s grace doesn’t work to propel our independence but to deepen our vertical and horizontal dependence. The strong, independent, self-made person is a delusion. Everyone needs help and assistance. To fight community, to quest for self-sufficiency, is not only a denial of your spiritual need; it’s a denial of your humanity. Suffering is a messenger telling us that to be human is to be dependent.

My friend TobyMac so wonderfully captured with these words: “What does it look like to admit your need and open the door to God’s warehouse of provision?” Consider these seven steps.

1. Don’t Suffer in Heroic Isolation

There’s nothing noble about bearing down and suffering alone. In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster. Everyone has been designed by God for community. Healthy, godly living is deeply relational. Worshipfully submissive community with God and humble dependency on God’s people are vital to living well in the middle of the unplanned, the unwanted, and the unexpected.

The brothers and sisters around you have been placed in your life as instruments of grace, and as I’ve said before, they won’t be perfect instruments, they won’t always say and do the right things, but in the messiness of these relationships God delivers to us what only he can give.

In my own suffering I’ve had to fight with the temptation of self-imposed isolation. I know I need the presence and voices of others in my life who can say and do things for me that I could never do for myself, and I know that the relationship I have with these people is God’s gift of comfort, rescue, protection, and wisdom. Are you suffering in isolation?

2. Determine to Be Honest

The first step in seeking and celebrating the gift of the comfort of God’s people and experiencing how they can make the invisible grace of God visible in your life is to honestly communicate how you’re handling what you’re going through. Honest communication is not detailing the hardship you’re going through and letting all the people around you know how tough you have it. Complaining tends to drive people away and to attract you to other complainers, which is far from healthy and helpful. Rather, every sufferer needs to be humbly honest about the spiritual battle underneath the physical travail so that brothers and sisters around you can fight that spiritual battle with you.

And don’t worry about what people think of you. Remember, you don’t get your identity, peace, security, and rest of heart from them but from your Lord. No one in your life is capable of being your messiah; people are tools in the hands of your Messiah, Jesus. It would be impossible to fully communicate the depth of the comfort, strength, and counsel I have gotten at crucial moments of spiritual battle from the dear ones God has placed in my life. Are you humbly and honestly communicating to others about how you’re handling your hardship?

3. Let People Interrupt Your Private Conversation

You have incredible influence over you, because no one talks to you more than you do. The problem is that there are times when it’s very hard to say to ourselves what we need to hear. The travail of suffering is clearly one of those times. It’s hard then to give yourself the hope, comfort, confrontation, direction, wisdom, and God-awareness that every sufferer desperately needs.

So you need voices in your life besides your own. You need to invite wise and loving people to eavesdrop and interrupt your private conversation, providing in their words things you wouldn’t be able to say to yourself. And don’t take offense when they fail to agree with your assessments; you need these alternative voices. They’re not in your life to hurt your feelings but to give you what you won’t be able to give yourself, and that in itself is a sweet grace from the hand of God. Who have you invited to interrupt your private conversations?

4. Admit Your Weakness

Doing well in the middle of hardship is not about acting as if you’re strong. God’s reputation isn’t honored by our publicly faking what isn’t privately true. The grave danger to sufferers is not admission of weakness but delusions of strength. You see, if you tell yourself and others that you are strong, then you won’t seek and they won’t offer the enabling and strengthening grace that every sufferer needs. And remember, the most important form of weakness that we all face isn’t the physical weakness that accompanies so much of our suffering but the weakness of heart in the midst of it.

Determine to be honest about your weakness, and in so doing, invite others to be God’s tools of his empowering and transforming grace. When you suffer, you view weakness either as an enemy or as an opportunity to experience the new potential that is yours as God’s child. Is your habit to admit or deny weakness?

5. Confess Your Blindness

This side of eternity, since sin still lives inside us and blinds us, there are pockets of spiritual blindness in all of us. As you walk through your travail, there may be inaccuracies of belief, subtle but wrong desires, wrong attitudes, susceptibilities to temptation, wrong views of others, struggles with God, and evidences of hopelessness that you don’t see.

So in love, God has placed his children in your life to function as instruments of seeing. They offer to you insight that you wouldn’t have by yourself. Because they can see what you don’t, they can speak into issues in your life, and by so doing be not only instruments of seeing but also God’s agents of rescue and transformation.

It’s humbling but true of every sufferer that accuracy of personal insight is the result of community, because sin makes personal insight difficult. Since we all have areas where we fail to see what we need to see, we need to welcome those whom God has sent into our lives to correct and focus our vision. How open are you when those near you help you see things in yourself that you don’t see?

6. Seek Wise Counsel

It’s dangerous to make important life decisions in the midst of the tumultuous emotions and despondency of suffering. Often in the middle of hardship, it’s hard to see clearly, to think accurately, and to desire what’s best. The shock, grief, and dismay of suffering tend to rattle the heart and confuse the mind.

When you are suffering, you need to humbly invite wise and godly counselors into your life. I’m not talking here about professional help, although that’s good if necessary. I’m talking about identifying the wise and godly people already in your life who know you and your situation well, who can provide the clarity of advice, guidance, and direction that is very hard to provide for yourself.

Don’t be threatened by this; it’s something we all need, and wise sufferers welcome it and enjoy the harvest of good fruit that results. Have you invited wise and godly counselors into your life to help you decide what would be hard to decide on your own?

7. Remember That Your Suffering Doesn’t Belong to You

2 Corinthians 1:3–9 reminds us that our sufferings belong to the Lord. He will take hard and difficult things in your life and use them to produce good things in the lives of others. This is one of the unexpected miracles of his grace. When it seems that my life is anything but good, God picks it up and produces what’s very good in the life of another. Every sufferer needs to know that the comfort of community is a two-way street. Not only do you need the comfort of God’s people, but your suffering positions you to be a uniquely sympathetic and insightful tool of the same in the lives of others.

Your suffering has given you a toolbox of gospel skills that make you ready and equipped to answer God’s call to be an agent of his comfort in the lives of fellow sufferers. God calls you not to hoard your suffering but to offer it up to him to be used as needed in the lives of others. And there’s blessing in taking your eyes off yourself and placing them on others, because it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Have you hoarded your suffering, or seen it as a means for bringing to others the good things that you have received?

Yes, it’s true that the God of all comfort sends his ambassadors of comfort into your life. They’re sent to make God’s invisible presence, protection, strength, wisdom, love, and grace visible. So welcome his ambassadors. Be open to their insight and counsel. Confess your needs so that God’s helpers can minister to those needs. Live like you really do believe that your walk through hardship is a community project, and be ready for the good things God will do.


Content taken from Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn't Make Sense by Paul David Tripp, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Paul David Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization. He has been married for many years to Luella and they have four grown children. For more information and resources visit paultrippministries.org.

Help My Unbelief

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Have you experienced it before? The ever-irksome foe named Doubt darkens your door of faith, casting a shadow over everything you have believed for much of your life. Paralyzed by the fear of what this might do to your relationship with God, and to top it off, your reputation with those who have always identified you as “Christian,” this existential crisis brings you to your knees.

You wonder, How did I get here? I didn’t want this to happen. I thought I knew what I believed.

You may not readily admit it, but you’ve probably been there. Maybe you were hurt by someone you loved within the Church and thought following Christ was supposed to look different. Maybe you read some works of Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens and their arguments became compelling to you. Or maybe it was your inability to shake a recurring sin or a lack of feeling the presence of God in your life.

Whatever the case may be, that hideous Doubt has a way about him. He sneaks into your soul to try and woo you away from the everlasting source of hope and strength.

Doubt can be a discouraging and debilitating opponent in the Christian life. We don’t like to talk about it because it feels humiliating. It’s something we’re not proud of. It feels dirty to doubt.

WHEN DOUBT CAME TO MY DOOR

I remember my crisis moment. I was sitting in a stadium seat at a conference, stunned at what John Piper was unpacking in Scripture right before my eyes. That NIV with my name etched on the cover had been in my possession for years, but I had never noticed in it the things this preacher was saying.

I thought I knew who God was, but was he really this? I had professed Christ as my Lord and Savior, but is this what I meant by that? I had to do some serious searching in the days and months that followed to determine how I answered those questions.

This came at a time when I was fresh into college, and as you might have guessed, surrounded by new obstacles to faith: a philosophy professor who assigned me William James to read, and laughed out loud at my theological answers to real-world problems. A speech professor who flunked my speech defending Creationism as a viable explanation of the universe and gave an A to the girl in the class who presented a speech on evolution. Stump preachers setting up on campus to yell at the LGBT students. Varying campus ministries who put “doing life together” at the top of their values but made little room for gospel transformation. A roommate who said he was a Christian but could not have been classified as a “follower of Jesus.” And now this Piper guy wrecking my understanding of righteousness, the glory of God, and the atonement.

I had to answer for myself the question, “Who is this Son of Man?” (Jn. 12:34).

I decided to remove all the outside opinions and instead seek answers in the Word of God. I was determined to be illumined by the Spirit or find it all a ruse. I had to start from square one. “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight” (Acts 9:18).

THE SPIRITUAL GIANT WHO DOUBTED

There was another man who wrestled with Doubt, a man with a far more gifted mind and compassionate heart than my own. His name was Francis Schaeffer.

In his exploration into the life and thought of Schaeffer, William Edgar, a friend to Schaeffer himself, outlines the crisis moment of Schaeffer’s life. It was early 1951, and during a season of everyday walking and meditation, Francis said he had to rethink “the whole matter of Christianity.”

This was coming from a man who was well-versed in nearly every world religion, every philosophical system. He could tie anyone up in their own logical fallacies like he was tying his shoes. But he was also human like the rest of us.

I imagine Schaeffer going for a walk, crying out with me in my dorm room, and the father of the child in Mark 9, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” I find great comfort in the fact that Schaeffer doubted. If he had to work out his salvation with fear and trembling, what of me? It’s not something that is wrong with me but something that is wrong with us.

As sinful fallen humans we are often tempted to disbelieve the truths about God. We are prone to forget what we know to be true about the Gospel. I share a piece of my own story and of Schaeffer’s story to demonstrate that Doubt pays us all a visit at different times and in different degrees. Even a man as “qualified” and esteemed as Francis Schaeffer faced doubts. The important thing, though, is that he didn’t allow himself to stay in his doubt. He did what was necessary to seek answers and reach a conclusion.

The solution to a struggle with doubt is first to devote yourself to prayer. In the famous “help my unbelief” passage, Jesus seems to imply in Mark 9:29 that finding growth in faith is spearheaded by a commitment to prayer. If we truly believe that Christ is our intercessor and great high priest, and that the Spirit is working to illuminate the Word of God to us, then let's ask the Lord to reveal himself.

FIGHTING DOUBT WITH THE WORD

If you find yourself struggling with the lures of Doubt, remember these additional comforts.

Our doubt is not the fault of God, but the fault of sin. In Eden, God was present with humanity. His existence was undeniable. He was so near that it would have been impossible to doubt his presence. But since man was driven out from his presence due to sin (Gen. 3:24), we now see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). Sin, ultimately, is a rejection of (to borrow Schaeffer’s famous quip) “the God who is there” (see Rom. 1:19-20). Doubt happens not because God himself is doubtable, but because our minds need to be reminded of the light of the gospel.

Though we see in a mirror dimly now, there will come a day when we will see Christ face to face. Faith says, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Even a faith the size of a mustard seed can bring us hope in his coming (Mt. 17:20). Not only will our doubts be erased one day, but the doubts of all mankind will be as well. “Every knee will bow” is a wonderful refrain in Scripture (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). All doubts will cease to exist one day.

Jesus never doubted, but he was tempted to. How did he respond to Satan in those moments? With memorized Scripture. There is something to this practice, especially in waging war against doubt. Remembering and rehearsing Scripture to yourself proves to be a strong weapon in the war against doubt.

When we call upon the Lord to help us in our unbelief, we should not expect “magic 8-ball confirmation.” In other words, it may not be as clear-cut and discernible an “act of God” as we may hope, but this should not drive us into despair. It should only drive us further into communion with God, time spent reading his Word, conversation with other believers, prayer, fasting, journaling, and more. This is the make-up of faith.

Don't let Doubt isolate you from others, and most of all, from God. Leap into this glorious opportunity to grow your faith on the sword of the Spirit and the truth of Christ. Allow God to mold and shape you like clay as you seek him more through your doubts. Search for the truth in the Scriptures. His Word always has purpose and never returns void, even on you.


Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.

Discontent: Comparing What Is to What Could Have Been

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Sometimes I surprise myself with how surprised I am that things aren’t always what I want them to be. Not long ago, I realized I’d been griping a lot to my friends about how much it was costing me to heat my home in the winter months. I’m one of the only people in the history of the world to have central heat and air. It’s available to me at the push of a button anytime I get cold. But I don’t celebrate the fact that I can walk barefoot in subfreezing temperatures. I’m much more likely to complain about my bill doubling a couple of times a year.

It isn’t just a problem with my heat bill. My life is full of good things that aren’t perfect. That means it’s full of opportunities to prioritize the positive or the negative side of what I’m facing. I have three beautiful, healthy children who are sometimes unruly and always exhausting. I have a job I love that is often more difficult or time-consuming than I want it to be. I’m sure you have examples of your own you could add to my list.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

This tendency to notice what’s wrong more than what’s right is a symptom of a deeper problem. It’s a sign that, at least subconsciously, we’re surprised that the world doesn’t fit the pattern we’ve designed for it. It may be we’ve established a baseline expectation of comfort, convenience, or control that has no place in a world where the outer things are passing away.

In the modern West, our baseline expectation for what life should be is set higher than at any other time or place. But this new expectation has come with a high cost we may not notice as clearly as we should.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that our “culture of abundance” actually feeds our dissatisfaction with what we have.5 Every day we’re confronted with an overwhelming number of choices about how to structure our lives. But with all these options it’s tough not to imagine what could have been better if we’d made another choice—especially when we recognize the limitations of what we did choose for ourselves. We’re crippled and preoccupied by all the what-ifs.

Schwartz also highlights another unintended consequence of all this choice, one that’s even more to my point. Our vast array of choices feeds a sense that life ought to be fully customizable, seasoned perfectly to my tastes. My expectations about how satisfying my choices should be rise far beyond what’s truly possible. There’s no chance I’m not going to be let down.

Here’s how Schwartz put it in the TED Talk version of his argument:

Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that’s going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they’re good results. . . . The reason that everything was better back when everything was worse is that when everything was worse, it was actually possible for people to have experiences that were a pleasant surprise. Nowadays, the world we live in—we affluent, industrialized citizens, with perfection the expectation— the best you can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be. You will never be pleasantly surprised because your expectations, my expectations, have gone through the roof.6

SETTING REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

I don’t doubt that contentment has always been a struggle no matter when you’ve lived or where. But in the modern West we do face some unique and easily ignored obstacles to joy in the good things our lives afford us. Schwartz argues that as our quality of life has improved in so many ways, our baseline expectation has settled somewhere in the neighborhood of perfection. Best-case scenario, we get what we believe is normal, even owed to us. More likely, we feel disappointed.

Schwartz’s antidote to this modern disease is interesting. “The secret to happiness,” he concludes, “is low expectations.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? Lower your standard for how enjoyable or satisfying life should be, and you’ll be more satisfied with what life is. I believe there is a lot of wisdom in what Schwartz is saying, both about what feeds our discontent and also what it will take to move forward. We need a new baseline expectation for life in the world as it is.

But how do we find our way to more realistic expectations? Here is where I would add one further argument: the path to realistic expectations about life moves through honesty about death. Our detachment from death has carved out the space for our expectations to run wild. The forgotten truth is that even if I could structure every part of my life today exactly the way I want, I can’t stop death from stealing everything I have. I may face a range of choices about life that previous generations couldn’t imagine. But I cannot choose to be immortal. This limitation casts a shadow over every area of my life.

Our perpetual discontent is a sign that, as Augustine put it, we “seek the happy life in the region of death.”8 I don’t stop experiencing the effects of mortality just because I refuse to acknowledge its grip. It’s just that I’ll be surprised by those effects again and again. I’ll continue to believe life is as fully customizable as our consumer society has promised me. I’ll continue to be surprised when it’s not. And at some point I won’t just be surprised by the uncontrollable brokenness of the world; I’ll be devastated. If I complain about the cost of my heating bill in winter, what will I do with job loss, or type 1 diabetes, or the cancer diagnosis of a child?

So long as our expectations for a tailor-made world go unchecked, we will eventually be blindsided by suffering. And when we are blindsided, we will be tempted to reject the goodness of God that is the only source of true comfort.

Here’s what I mean: if my baseline expectation of the world is comfort, convenience, and control—if this is what I assume I’m owed from life—then when I suffer, I will likely blame God. In my frustration or disappointment or pain I may see a sign of his displeasure. Or maybe a sign of his neglect. But one way or another I’ll see my suffering as abnormal, and therefore a sign of God’s absence from my life. I won’t recognize that, in fact, the brokenness I’m experiencing is not a sign of his absence but a primary reason for his presence in Christ.

REMEMBERING DEATH, FINDING LIFE

We sometimes judge the plausibility of God’s promises to us in light of what we’re experiencing now. We are tempted to believe that if God is allowing us to suffer as we are, we can’t trust him to deliver on his promise of redemption, resurrection, and an eternal life of joy with him. We can view his promises as an upgrade to an already-comfortable life, icing on the cake of the pleasant ease that is our baseline expectation. But this is not how his promises come to us in Scripture, and viewed like this his promises will never make sense. If his promises are no more to us than icing on the cake of good lives now, then those promises will always seem irrelevant and otherworldly when we suffer.

But when we recognize death’s hold on us and everything we love, we won’t be surprised that life isn’t what we want it to be. Frustration, disappointment, dissatisfaction—these belong among the many faces of death, the pockets of darkness that make up death’s shadow. These experiences are normal, not surprising. Death-awareness resets my baseline expectation about life in the world.

This honesty about death then prepares me for what is truly surprising: that God the Son subjected himself to the limitations, brokenness, and death that are normal for us. That he would join me in my experience of the normal trials of life in the valley of the shadow of death. That he would do this precisely so that he can revolutionize what is normal.

The brokenness I experience—the frustration, disappointment, dissatisfaction, pain—is not a sign of God’s absence. It is the reason for his presence in Christ. This is why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He came because he knows we’re thirsty for more than what we’ve tasted so far (John 4:13–14). He knows that every meal has left us hungry. He came to provide living water, bread of life, full and free satisfaction for all who eat and drink from him (John 6:26–35).

When our eyes are fixed on the weight of this glory, we can experience dissatisfaction or disappointment without discontent. We can embrace what God has given us without preoccupation by what he hasn’t given. There’s nothing we can’t enjoy fully no matter how limited. And there’s nothing we can’t do without, no matter how sweet.


Content taken from Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope by Matthew McCullough, 2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Matthew McCullough (PhD, Vanderbilt University) serves as pastor of Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee, which he helped plant. He is the author of Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope and writes occasionally for 9Marks and the Gospel Coalition.

4 Ways to Foster Faithfulness in the Face of Futility

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The mammoth ship started sinking into the bone-chilling North Atlantic waters. Distress rockets exploded into the sky. You could hear the pandemonium and sheer terror over the buckling, twisting steel. Amidst the chaos, eight musicians began playing a serene, unearthly melody; “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” as rumor has it. They kept playing when it was their turn to get into a lifeboat. They played faithfully until their untimely end, the sweet, soft sounds echoing off the unforgiving waters.

This April marked 106 years since the Titanic sank into the Atlantic, killing well over 1,000 passengers. Those musicians have mystified historians for the past century. What was going on in their minds? How could they keep playing in the face of certain death?

FAITHFULNESS IN THE FACE OF FUTILITY?

In the account of their last hours, we see a picture of faithfulness in the midst of seeming futility. So many times, we find ourselves in dim and seemingly hopeless situations. We might not aboard a ship sinking into frozen waters, but our hearts sink from the loss of a loved one, a battle with cancer, or feeling the weight of our bodies getting older and falling apart. We might not face certain death, but we have witnessed the death of our dreams; the death of what we thought our lives should look like.

Our day-to-day circumstances can feel like waves threatening to drown us in sorrow. The tempest tempts us to look away from our Savior and down into the swirling abyss. Too often we let circumstances take the rudder of our ship, steering us forward instead of into God’s promises.

We are so often faithless. But the good news is that God is faithful in the midst of our faithlessness (2 Tim. 2:13). God is committed to his people and his promises. But how can we be faithful to God in the midst of turmoil and trouble? How can we have an unwavering, unflinching trust in him? God’s Word gives us four ways.

1. ASK AND SEEK

First, the Bible tells us to ask and seek for faithfulness. The Greek word for faithfulness in the Bible literally means “being full of faith.” It means being reliable, steadfast, unwavering, not wishy-washy or fickle. God imparts this gift of faith through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and through the hearing of God’s Word. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (RoM. 10:17).

If we are to be completely dependent on God to open our eyes of faith, our prayer should be, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We should spend time daily reading and preaching the gospel to ourselves because God works in hearts through his Word by the power of his Spirit. God’s Word is our light when we find ourselves in dark, distant waters. His Spirit will be our bravery when everything is falling apart.

2. REMEMBER AND REMIND

The second way the Bible tells us to foster faithfulness is simply by remembering. When we reflect on what God has done in our lives, we can say, "The Lord’s loving-kindnesses indeed never cease; for his compassions never fail; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23).

The tossing waves won’t be so threatening when we know our God is bigger than the oceans. Our circumstances will seem trivial in light of eternity. Let’s choose to remember how God has been faithful, and let those memories embolden us to keep playing a beautiful tune to the glory of God in the midst of trouble and travail.

Not only do we need to remind ourselves what God has done, but we need to remind others of his faithfulness. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13).

Telling others what God has done in our lives protects them from the enemy’s lies and from doubting God’s promises. We need to hear stories of God’s faithfulness daily, and so do our brothers and sisters. Like the eight musicians who played their way into their icy graves, we need others to stand with us, playing the song of God’s faithfulness into the long, cold night.

3. SURRENDER AND ABIDE

Third, the Bible tells us we can foster faithfulness by surrendering and abiding. The fruit of faithfulness is not the fruit of our works, but the result of the Spirit’s work in us. If you are in Christ, you are like clay in the potter’s hands. He is the one molding and shaping you in his image. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

When we abide, or remain in unbroken relationship with God, seeking to know him, to be like him, and to surrender to his work in our lives, we will bear the fruit of faithfulness in due time. But we can only do this by God’s keeping power.

We can take comfort that God is steadfast in his commitment to sustaining us. The Lord “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (1 Cor. 1:8-9).

4. REPENT AND OBEY

When the Titanic hit the gargantuan iceberg that doomed the “unsinkable ship,” most of the passengers were asleep because it was midnight. We too fall asleep. We get comfortable and lose the urgency in following Jesus. We give our allegiance to the idols of comfort, control, approval, or power.

Let’s heed this stark warning Jesus gave to the church in Sardis: “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (Rev. 3:2-3).

Jesus’ words here are startling and might even seem harsh. But when he called his people to follow him, he told them to take up their cross—to die to themselves—daily. Let’s search our hearts and ask the Lord to show us the sins we cling to. If we find we have been faithless, let’s repent and turn back to following Christ with all our might in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can know God’s grace is sufficient and his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). We can be confident that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Whichever comes first, Christ’s return or our last breath, let us be found faithful, by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s power. Let’s be on our guard, daily repenting from sin.

FINDING CALM AMONG THE STORM

As the Titanic disappeared into the dark waters, there was a faithfulness amidst the chaos and dread. Eight musicians played a lively tune as they met their earthly deaths.

In this world, we will have trials and tribulation but let’s be found living faithfully to the glory of God. May our lives be a startlingly beautiful, hopeful harmony resounding in the ears of the world around us.

When the storms of life come, let’s play our song all the louder, clinging to God’s promises. Let’s live lives that burn brighter by the day instead of sinking into the night. Let’s press forward by God’s grace power until we hear those sweet words from our Lord: “Well done, good, and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).


Delilah Pugsley is a wife, friend, sister, daughter and a Christ-follower serving in a church plant in Mid-Missouri. She writes on her blog https://www.graceinreallife.com, and you can reach her at delilahpugsley@gmail.com.

3 Tear-Wrought Lessons on Suffering

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If you haven’t experienced pain or sorrow or loss, you’re either young or dead. We’re all faced at some point with the fallenness of our world and brokenness of our own hearts. A parent buries a child, a family is ripped apart by divorce, a spouse is shattered by a diagnosis. It seems we might break under the weight of such pain.

When the pain gets so heavy we don’t think we can bear it, we ask the inevitable question, “Is this worth it?”

Paul has a startling answer to that question in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Is this some kind of Christian pep talk? No, Paul is not sharing a limp-wristed inducement, but tear-wrought lessons from his considerable suffering (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28). He shares three lessons we can all learn from as we face a world that’s not as it ought to be.

LESSON 1: SUFFERING HURTS

Paul first acknowledges suffering by calling it suffering. He doesn’t diminish the reality of sorrow and loss and sin. He calls it what it is—suffering. And sometimes considerable suffering, at that.

We often run from or ignore sorrow and disappointment. Or we try to somehow minimize it, numbing our pain. These coping methods won’t really help us cope at all, not in the long run, because we’re running to ourselves to fix our problems instead of running to God. But when we run to God and his Word with our pain, we discover a Father who acknowledges our pain and a Son who experienced it.

God knows our pain. He is not lounging in a La-Z-Boy in heaven while we’re struggling to keep our heads above water. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us “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.”

When we lose a loved one, when we cry until we can’t cry anymore, when we suffer abuse at the hands of others, when we endure chronic pain, we can run to a Savior who in every way knows what we’re experiencing and sympathizes with us.

Suffering hurts. And Jesus knows it. Run to him and listen as he validates your pain and acknowledges your suffering.

LESSON 2: GLORY HEALS

Paul’s second lesson is that our suffering—considerable as it is—is hardly worth comparing to the weightiness of the glory that is to be. Elsewhere he says that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Light affliction?! Is Paul invalidating his first lesson that our suffering is truly terrible? No. He’s saying that relative to eternal glory with Christ, our afflictions, no matter how unbearable, will seem momentary.

Paul says our glory will not only be eternal, but it will be weighty. This seems like a strange combination of words. We know suffering can be weighty, but glory?

Though it sounds foreign, when we think about the joys of a lifetime of marriage, of raising children from infancy to adulthood, or of deep and long-lasting friendships, the word weighty seems fitting. Or consider even a moment of happiness—when your new spouse says “I do,” or you hold your newborn or newly adopted child for the first time or enjoy a meaningful conversation with a close friend. Certainly words like fluffy, light, insignificant, or faint don’t describe these pleasures.

No, the joy we experience in such blessings is real, substantial, significant, and large. Real joy is weighty. And it is precisely the weightiness of such joys that make our grief so weighty. Yet it seems like the weight of pain always outweighs joy, doesn’t it? Can the weight of joy or glory really outweigh the heaviness of our trials, like Paul says?

If a glory this heavy seems impossible, consider this. The same God who provided the joy you’ve experienced with your spouse or parent or child or friendship is the same God who knows what eternal glory awaits you—and he says they can’t be compared! The glory that God has prepared for every one of his children is that heavy.

Eternal joy is greater than our suffering in length of time and in quality. Christian, catch God’s perspective. See that eternal joy is weightier than even our greatest sufferings here and now.

LESSON 3: FAITH HELPS

What is it that makes this eternal, heavenly glory so transcendently, seriously glorious? That it is centered on Christ (Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 John 3:2). Admittedly, to the skeptic, this may sound more anticlimactic than floating around on clouds and playing harps. But for anyone who has seriously considered the character of Jesus Christ, and especially for those who have found in Christ the only perfection that will satisfy a truly good God, this resonates. The joy of a consummated relationship with Christ is weightier than any suffering on earth will ever be.

The joy of heaven is not just that there will be "no more death or pain or tears." The joy of heaven is that there is no more sin to keep us from living with and being like Jesus Christ completely and forever. Unhindered and uninterrupted fellowship with Jesus is the greatest joy heaven has to offer.

Suffering will exist, for now, no matter what your worldview. But if you don’t believe in God, then you will just be looking for another solution to the suffering, another way through the suffering.

The eternal glory Paul speaks of will also happen no matter what we think about God. One day this world and our suffering will come to an end, and one day believers in Christ will be enabled to live with him forever. No one can keep this from happening.

Faith in Jesus Christ is not only the means of salvation; it is also the means by which we enjoy salvation’s promises and assurances even now. Faith is the umbilical cord that connects our infant-like perspective on suffering to the nourishment available from a God who knows what it’s like to suffer as we do.

Recognizing the bigness of God, and of his grace through Jesus Christ, will feed our souls in the midst of this momentary suffering by granting us assurance of a glory infinitely weightier than even the most crushing pain.

IS YOUR SUFFERING WORTH IT?

Is your pain and suffering worth it? Is your crippling anxiety and grief worth it?

Yes. Your suffering is truly suffering. Your pain is truly heavy. But if you’re in Christ, you have a Savior who has experienced everything you have and more. He knows exactly how you feel and precisely what you need. He knows your suffocating at the hands of suffering, and he wants you to set your eyes on the eternal weight of glory he’s preparing for you.

May the weighty joy of the Christian faith be yours, now and for all eternity.


Justin Huffman has pastored in the States for over 15 years, authored the “Daily Devotion” app (iTunes/Android) which now has over half a million downloads, and recently published a book with Day One: Grow: the Command to Ever-Expanding Joy. He has also written articles for For the ChurchServants of Grace, and Fathom Magazine. He blogs at justinhuffman.org.

Why the Resurrection is No April Fools' Prank

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It was only a matter of time before they were caught. You can’t hide 5,000 people believing in Christ. Peter and John, sore from spending the night in jail, were shoved into the presence of the rulers and scribes. The members of the high-priestly family stood. The crowd hushed.

“By what power or by what name did you do this?”

The question hung in the air. Everyone expects them to say, “Jesus”—but would they do so in the face of beatings, and maybe even death?

Peter rises to his feet, surveying the scene. Then it happens again—the promised Spirit fills him for the task at hand. Unsure of what he’s about to say, he opens his mouth in faith and declares,

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

These words were offensive then—and they’re offensive now.

AN EXCLUSIVE CLAIM 

Do you find Peter’s claim of exclusive salvation through Jesus Christ alone offensive? How could he make such a bold claim?

Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), a defected Jew turned court historian for Emperor Vespasian, is quoted in AD 324 by Eusebius, and speaks of “Jesus, a wise man” who was condemned to the cross and then “appeared to them alive again the third day.” Belief in this Jesus turned the Roman empire upside down in just a few years.

But it wasn’t merely belief in Jesus that propelled the movement; it was a belief in his life, death, and—most importantly—his resurrection from the dead that was the chief apologetic of the early church.

We see this exclusive claim of salvation in Christ over and again in the New Testament. In Acts 4:10, Peter made his claim for the exclusivity of Christ largely based on the resurrection of Christ: “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” Similarly, Paul on Mars Hill contended that “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

The apostles continually referenced the resurrection as their chief argument for the truth of Jesus’ claims.

A SIGNIFICANT CLAIM

Why is the resurrection of Christ so significant? Because Christianity stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14-17). The resurrection also reveals that  Christ has the power to raise us from the dead (John 11:25-26). Third, it confirms the validity of Christ’s teachings about his own deity.

Because a real man Jesus rose from the dead, he proved his own claim to divinity, sealed the salvation he promised to purchase, and now demands that we trust and submit to him.

Philosopher and broadcaster C.E.M. Joad was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all of history. He chose Jesus and said that he wanted to ask him the most important question in the world: “Did you, or did you not, rise from the dead?”

The resurrection, more than any religious claim, is investigable and therefore verifiable because it is a historical—not a philosophical—claim. And if it is true, it has universal implications.

The resurrection is the foundation of Christianity: if Jesus were dead, the church of Jesus would be speechless, powerless, and pointless. Yet we find in history that a handful of devastated Apostles frenzied the first century with the message that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. They gave their lives for this message—a message, we must not forget, they would know to be true or not.

These men—the ones who heard the hammers crush nine-inch nails through Jesus’ bones, saw the spear pierce his lifeless flesh, and watched the corpse of Christ be removed from the cross—were convinced of the resurrection. They weren’t giving their lives for some dogma, but for the man they knew and loved named Jesus, who they saw, touched, and talked with after his horrible and humiliating death.

A SPECIFIC CLAIM

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is recorded in all four gospels—the same divine, multi-faceted, unified truth is presented from different, harmonious perspectives. A summation of these accounts is found in the ancient Christian creed (probably from about 37 A.D.) in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

These gospel writers, as representatives of early Christianity, make clear their assertion: the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a predicted, bodily, historical event.

Jesus’ resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament, centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In the messianic Psalm 16, David speaks prophetically: “You will not abandon my soul … or let your holy one see corruption” (v. 10). In the New Testament, Jesus explained to his disciples before his death that he would rise from the dead: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21).

Jesus’ predictions were so well known that even his enemies were aware he planned to rise from the dead (see Matt. 27:63). Jesus’ resurrection was prophesied hundreds of years before his birth, and in the days immediately preceding his death.

Jesus’ resurrection was also a bodily resurrection. The New Testament makes it plain that Jesus literally and physically rose from the grave. Thomas was able to put his finger into Jesus’ nail-prints and feel the spear-wound in his side (John 20:27). Luke tells us that, when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his frightened disciples in a locked room, he invited them to handle his body, and then ate in front of them to assure them it was him and not just a spirit (24:36-43).

Christ’s resurrection was also historical. This was no April Fools' Day prank. As we’ve already seen, it is referenced by numerous Christian and non-Christian historical sources. Christianity is not based on a myth or fairytale.

AN INVESTIGABLE CLAIM

The evidence for the resurrection is plentiful. First, there is the empty tomb. If the tomb were full, no one would have believed the disciples’ testimony. The Jews would certainly have produced the body if they could have and silenced the apostles. However, they couldn’t, and subsequently, we see Christianity explode around the known world in (historically speaking) no time at all.

Second, the eyewitness testimony of the apostles (John 20:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18-21; Matt. 28:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:3-8) verifies Jesus’ resurrection. Three of these four witnesses died for their testimony, and all of them suffered for it.

Third, the Sabbath was changed to Sunday by devout Jews. The only reason such a ground-shift in a centuries-long tradition would occur is if something tremendous and extraordinary—a sign from God—had taken place.

Finally, consider the remarkable growth of the church. The early church—against great opposition, persecution, and rejection—grew by leaps and bounds in the first century. This can only be explained by some incontrovertible evidence, especially as many of their converts (e.g. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul) came from among their enemies.

Despite all of this, you may still be skeptical of—or indifferent to—the evidence for and implications of the resurrection of Jesus. The gospel writers, as am I, are sympathetic to the doubting or struggling investigator. In fact, the disciples themselves were slow to believe. But once they were convinced, they became irrepressibly inspired.

In the resurrected Christ, even the skeptic may find the confirmation he or she needs in order to turn to Jesus. Truly, there is salvation in no one else; his is the only name under heaven by which we must be saved.

The resurrected Jesus has the power to escape a sealed tomb and enter a locked room. If you are a skeptic, may he enter the locked room of your heart and bring you out of unbelief. And may you find yourself, like the Apostles and millions of others, irrepressibly inspired to tell others about the poor, wandering rabbi from Nazareth who came not to serve, but to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many—including you.


Justin Huffman has pastored in the States for over 15 years, authored the “Daily Devotion” app (iTunes/Android) which now has over half a million downloads, and recently published a book with Day One: Grow: the Command to Ever-Expanding Joy. He has also written articles for For the ChurchServants of Grace, and Fathom Magazine. He blogs at justinhuffman.org.