Suffering & Sanctification

22 Oct

(Facebook Post 9/8/15)

I recently read, FEARLESS, the story of Navy SEAL, Adam Brown, an Arkansas native. Adam wrote the following statement in his journal while deployed. In order to better understand the quote, you should know that Adam overcame an addiction to cocaine in order to become a SEAL.

“I’m not afraid of anything that might happen to me on this Earth because I know no matter what, nothing can take my spirit from me… How much it pains me…to think about not watching my boy excel in life, or giving my little baby girl away in marriage… Buddy, I’ll be there, you’ll feel me there when you steal your first base, smash someone on the football field, make all A’s. I’ll be there for all your achievements. But much more Buddy, I’ll be there for every failure. Remember, I know tears, I know pain and disappointment, and I will be there for you with every drop. You cannot disappoint me. I understand!”

What I like about this quote is not that he tells his son and daughter that he will be there for their big moments, but that he will be there for every failure. I think that’s what Jesus would tell us, “I’ll be there not just for the high points of your life but for every failure. (OK, I like to add in – “not to judge or criticize but to support and encourage”). I imagine Christ saying to us, just as Adam said to his children, “Remember, I know tears. I know pain and disappointment, and I will be there for you with every drop. YOU CANNOT DISAPPOINT ME. I UNDERSTAND!” (No shouting intended – just emphasizing the point).

I don’t know about the rest of you but I do a fair amount of self-criticizing for my failure to do this grieving thing, and every other misstep during life’s trials, well from a Christian perspective.

Today a good friend sent me the following excerpt from “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend:

“God is free from us. When he does something for us, he does it out of choice. He is not “under compulsion” or guilt or manipulation. He does things, like dying for us, because he wants to. We can rest in his pure love; he has no hidden resentment in what he does. His freedom allows him to love.

Many Bible characters ran into God’s freedom and learned to embrace it. Embracing his freedom and respecting his boundaries, they always deepened their relationship with God. Job had to come to accept the freedom of God to not rescue him when he wanted. Job expressed his anger and dissatisfaction with God, and God rewarded his honesty. But Job did not “make God bad,” in his own mind. In all of his complaining, he did not end his relationship with God. He didn’t understand God, but he allowed God to be himself and did not withdraw his love from him, even when he was very angry with him. This is a real relationship.

In the same way, Paul accepted the boundaries of God. When he planned trips that didn’t work out, Paul accepted the sovereignty of God. He asked God repeatedly for a certain kind of healing that God would not give him. God said, “No, I do not choose to love you in the way that you want right now. I choose to love you with my presence.” Paul did not reject God for setting that boundary.

Jesus was perfected through his suffering (Heb. 5:7-10). In the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked that his cup of suffering pass from him, but God said no. Jesus accepted God’s wishes, submitted to them, and through that “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9). If Jesus had not respected God’s boundaries and God’s no. we would all be lost.”

I especially like the part where it describes Job’s response to God’s sovereign plan. It seems as if we equate the fact that Job did not sin or blame God in response to all his trials as saying that he did not struggle with his losses or with God’s sovereign plan – and I guess I expect myself to do the same. But it’s not true. Job did struggle and he desperately wanted an audience with God to plead his case.

And Paul obviously didn’t simply shrug off his request for healing either or he would not have continued to pray for it. He came to terms with God’s decision not to heal him over time. The Bible doesn’t tell us how much time that took but we might consider that Paul may have experienced three seasons of praying for the thorn in his flesh to be removed instead of three individual prayers expressing his request for healing.

We would also do well to bear in mind that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. Maybe his dual deity/humanity allowed him to pray, “Thy will not mine be done”, in one nights time, in spite of his obvious anguish, whereas, we are being made holy and need to allow ourselves more time to come to the same place instead of beating ourselves up for failing to be holy while we are still living out daily the process of sanctification.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) Jesus is not looking down from above, shaking his head and uttering sounds of dismay as we struggle our way through our trials. He feels our pain, hurts with us in the struggle, but is not surprised by it, alarmed by it, or disgusted by it. He knew we would respond this way – knew it would take us time to come to terms with his sovereign plan and is far more likely to be heard muttering, “You hang in there, Janet. You hang in there __________, (insert your name here), because you will overcome this through my power in time as the Holy Spirit continues the work of sanctification within you. Keep your eyes on me, and quit worrying about what others think and quit beating yourself up. You are right on track and you bring glory to my name in the midst of your struggle, not just when you come out on the other side of it.” (At least that’s what I think and hope is happening amid the great cloud of witnesses in heaven who are encouraging us to keep fighting the good fight for our faith). That’s my story and I’m sticking with it – today anyway!

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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Books, Faith, Grief


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