Trusting God in Times of Suffering
How often do you feel battered and bruised by the unexpected storms of life? Do you ever feel that at times suffering and pain seem to be getting the upper hand? This is especially challenging if you happen to be in a position of church leadership. Pastors, deacons, youth ministers, and other church leaders are the ones who are supposed to have it all together. You feel the weight of setting a good example for those people who look up to you and listen to your advice, yet what do you do when you yourself feel overwhelmed, exhausted, about to go under?
We all know that the storms of life do not discriminate. Our age, our status, or our position in the church really has no bearing on who suffers and who doesn’t. One minute you’re surprised by joy; the next you’re overwhelmed by grief. The woman or man you love decides that they don’t love you back. You didn’t get that job that you were convinced God was setting in your path. The test results came back positive. Someone you love dies unexpectedly.
And because you have a visible position in your ministry often seems to suggest that you are required to handle such difficulty with strength and grace. You may think that the only outward signs you’re allowed to display are poise and tact. Well, it’s important not to forget one thing--one of the most beautiful gifts our Creator bestowed upon us was our intricate, complex, often puzzling human nature. We act human because we can’t help it. We get anxious, even fearful. We get tired and irritated because things aren’t going our way. We certainly don’t always feel like trusting God. In fact, we may do the opposite of trust. We fall victim to disbelief, questioning whether God even cares. Some of us even get lost, we plummet down the abyss of self-destruction.
God’s Word, however, has a remarkable response to combating those times when the worst of our human nature wrestles with our heart. The Bible tells us we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re confronted with tough times. Jesus himself went through horrible experiences; why should we, his followers, expect an easier path? Jesus promised us that even though we would face tribulation, we can take heart (John 16:33), for he has overcome.
When it comes to Scripture, Christians can rely on many things to give them encouragement and inspiration. But when it comes to how Christians deal with suffering, they can depend on one thing--the promises that God and Jesus offer in the Bible. God promises to be with us always. God guarantees to guide and strengthen us. God will never let us go.
When I began working on my book God’s Shelter For Your Storm, I asked a question that became my guiding principle for the book‘s structure:
What are the promises of God that we can stake our lives on?
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible contains more than 3,000 promises that serve as foundation stones in a shelter that can weather even the worst storm. As I wrote, I came to realize something that was breathtakingly beautiful:
Not only are God’s promises of shelter fulfilled in Christ, but God is our shelter. God is the cleft in the rock. Christ promises not that he will give us shelter, but that he will be our shelter.
Isn’t that amazing? To know God’s promises and to know that Christ will be our shelter means we can know we are loved, safe, and protected, even in the toughest circumstances of life. The writer of Psalm 121 understood that feeling of security and praised God for it:
The Lord will keep you from harm—
he will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
We can celebrate the shelter God promises and provides. When you’re right in the middle of the worst storm you’ve ever weathered, God will hold you until the storm is over.
The Promise of Peace
As you continue in your ministry and are faced with the difficulties that all believers encounter, rest assured that God’s promise of peace is a beautiful treasure. I’m intrigued by the story of the Gadarene/Gerasene demoniac from the Book of Mark. Here's a man who was so filled with self-hatred, burdened with a tempest of rage, shackled by perpetual unrest that he was forced to live in a cemetery. The only place he felt at home was among the dead. How heartbreaking! I imagine him running from himself at every second. I wonder if he still had momentary glimpses of memories of his healthy life, when he knew people loved him, when he felt secure and safe. Did it horrify him to see what he had become?
Sound familiar? How often do we enter that same place, where the land of the living isn‘t a place we want to occupy? We feel tormented, overwhelmed with self-hatred, longing for peace. While we may not understand the intricacies of demon possession, Jesus knew exactly what to do, and that was not to negotiate. Instead, he commanded the demons to stop tormenting the man and cast them out into a herd of swine.
And now, the man who no one had dared to approach because of his outward torment and rage could feel total peace for the first time in ages. All it took was encountering Jesus.
I’ve always been drawn to stories of brokenness. Jesus sees us in the tombs. He longs to take us to a better place. A place of peace. Peace can always be found at the feet of Christ.
The Promise of Love
In Romans 8:38, God not only promises us love, but relentless love. A love characterized by God’s unwavering pursuit and unshakable devotion. In fact, God pursued us to the point of becoming a human being. What an unspeakable gift that the omnipotent God would come to us as a helpless baby and eventually hang on a cross to show us love like no other. Jesus died to demonstrate that, for eternity, nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. Our circumstances. Our place in history. Our suffering or our occasionally not-so-selfless response to our own suffering never stands in the way of God’s unfailing love for us.
One particular character from the Book of Mark powerfully reveals the depth of God’s love for us: the unnamed woman with the “issue of blood.” Deemed unclean by religious law and ostracized by the culture of the day for twelve long years, the hemorrhaging woman was utterly alone, untouchable, a person without an advocate.
Imagine the risk this woman took knowing she was a pariah in her community. Thinking “All I need to do is touch his clothes, and I’ll be healed” (Mark 5:28), she made a life-changing decision and touched the hem of Jesus‘ robe. And Jesus healed her for no other reason other than his love for her. He wanted to give her so much more than she knew to ask for: she wanted to be healed in her body, but Jesus wanted her to be healed in her mind, spirit, and relationships, too.
I love this woman’s determination. She decided at that moment that her own life was worth saving. She made a radical choice to reject her own doubt, to fight the crowd, and to reach out to encounter God‘s love. She risked public outcry to touch the Lamb of God.
All of us have succumbed to doubt at times and questioned if God truly cares for us. That lie can be so subtle that we sometimes don’t even realize we’re buying into it. The solution to overcoming this lie is quite simple. Start today to replace every lie with God’s Word, with one of God’s promises from Scripture. You too can reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. Jesus is the eternal place of promise, the place where your miracle of love can happen.
Tell Christ your stories. Your stories of loss, suffering, and pain. Tell him the whole truth. What you’ll receive in return is a love that heals all, transforms all, and gives life to all.
Where There Is One Promise, There Are a Thousand More!
I’m so grateful that God’s peace, and love, life-transforming as they are, barely scratch the surface of all the promises that God has given us. Where there is one promise, there are a thousand more!
You, as a church leader, have a special responsibility. A wonderful thing to remember is that not only do pastors, deacons, youth ministers, and other church leaders get to receive God’s promises in their own lives, but they are also blessed with the calling to help others discover those same promises.
With that in mind, what a joy to share this final promise with the people you love and look after. Jesus promises to be our home. It is not simply that he has gone to prepare a place for us, but that his death and resurrection have made it possible for us to be there with him forever.
So, now, until you see Jesus face to face, may you find shelter in his glorious promises.
Sheila Walsh is a gifted Women of Faith speaker and author of inspirational books including the recent God's Shelter for Your Storm (Thomas Nelson, 2011). For more info on the book and inspiration for times of trial, visit www.sheilawalsh.com/shelter.