The Question

I’ve been reflecting on something for a few years now. It’s one of the most difficult things to explain when asked and yet somehow it seems pretty simple. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can adequately explain it, but wanted to throw a few thoughts out there. The question is this: If God allows suffering, and we sure know he does, how are we supposed to be happy and full of Joy, and free, when more-often-than-not our suffering is a tremendous burden weighing us down? If God promises to wipe our tears and turn our sorrow to dancing, how does that help us now?

The scriptures are full of human suffering and people crying out to God. In the Old Testament, the people looked to God for real help in their distress and received His consolation before they truly understood the promise of Eternity. In the New Testament, Jesus himself reassures, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” He knows the exact struggle of living, the human condition as it were. And He provides Himself as the antidote. I find this beautiful and reassuring and uplifting. I call upon this verse often and remember Jesus doesn’t want me dwelling on my sorrows or trials because there is real work to be done. He is here. He is Alive. He is present. He reveals Himself in a thousand ways, most especially in His body living here with me. The church militant, slogging through the muck with me, who by simple acts of faith and love, reveal Jesus. Just as Jesus reveals the Father to us, so does the body of Christ reveal the Head. I know He will make good on every promise! Still though, those promises seem a long way off. Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain until then? We could certainly choose to live as if it were, but that’s not our only choice. There is happiness, freedom, and Joy despite suffering, and I believe His promise begins right here and now.

In a very basic way, my kids called this to mind the other day. They were grievously upset, devastated really, when we had plans to go to the church fish fry and at the last minute I had to cancel. They had been looking forward to it all week long, making plans with their friends who were also going. They had certain toys to bring and share and had arranged where they would sit and ‘hang out’. At ages 6 and 8, this was big on their social calendar. I would fill pages if I described the day that ultimately ruined our plans, but suffice it to say, I did not cancel lightly. They cried and moped and in their little world, they suffered. They were mad and couldn’t fully understand. They tried to bargain and beg and my heart broke at their disappointment. I couldn’t even stay home to distract them with fun and games, but what did I do? I promised them something fun to look forward to. I promised them that it would all be ok. I knew with the wisdom of an adult and a parent that they wouldn’t truly be harmed by not going to the fish fry and hoped it wouldn’t take any time at all to do something else fun and be distracted. Sure enough, by the time I got home they had built a massive fort and played for hours with seemingly no memory of their earlier disappointment.

Similarly, I think this is one of the ways Jesus meant we should become like children. With utter trust and love they believed and accepted my promise. They took my advice to do something different and had fun anyway. Not the same perhaps, but they were fine.

At the most basic level, Jesus would never let us suffer unless He knew we would be ‘fine’. He’s promised that it will be better than we could have hoped and in the meantime He’s given us so much to do!

I think of His earthly parting with Peter. He knew how devastating His loss would be to his disciples. He probably understood that their grief, fear, and uncertainty might paralyze them for a time. He knew all they would ultimately face in this world full of troubles and in the face of it all, He asked just one question, “Peter, do you love me?”, so simple that it took no thought at all to answer, “Yes Lord.” “Then feed my sheep”, Jesus said, knowing that He would be making all things new. Peter couldn’t have truly understood, but with the faith and trust of a child He declared his life for Jesus. Three years of coming to know Jesus meant a radical transformation that culminated in one simple question and answer.

So back to my question: Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain? The people in the Old Testament did not buy into that and constantly looked to God as their refuge and hope. Jesus’ promises give me great Hope for my eternity, but if I’m simply waiting in agony for that time to come, then I think it’s fair to say I don’t really know Jesus at all. If I’m not letting Him transform me in a radical way by spending time with Him and getting to know Him, then how can He offer me consolation? Without the transformation, I miss the call inherent in all suffering. Only when he asks the question through the lens of my suffering does it have deep meaning. “Karen, do you love me”? I know the cost of the answer already and by His grace I give it without reservation. “Of course, I love you, Lord.” What else is there? I can wait for the promises of Heaven as long as you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life walking beside me right here and now.

“For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to ‘springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Rev 7:17)

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Berries

Still More Reflections from the Garden

I’ve come to a startling awareness about myself; one that by the grace of God I will remedy immediately.   I am not proud to admit that I have been a very selfish gardener.

I have asked God on many occasions to bless my efforts in the garden; that the harvest might be bountiful. Indeed it has been that, and so much more, as He continuously teaches me valuable lessons.  Many I’ve written about already in Reflections from the Garden, Evangelical Earthworms, Weeds and Fruit.

In the spring, when the majority of my garden was still newly planted, the strawberry patch from last year was in full swing.  Hundreds, or maybe even thousands of little green berries adorned the plants.  The little girls and I went out each morning in anticipation and excitement of juicy red berries.  They grew larger and started to turn pink and a few were a bit ahead of the curve and were on the verge of red and ripe.  We ran out on the appropriate morning to pick our very first ripe berries.  I couldn’t wait for the kids to savor one and together we would give glory and thanks to the Lord for His gifts and His bounty; except when we got there, the first few ripe berries were half chewed away by the birds….  Imagine the disappointment and downright anger!  I had planted and watered and weeded and nurtured and finally the first fruits were going to the birds!  Excuse me while I sound like my kids for a minute but, “It just wasn’t fair!!”

I decided the birds were not going to get the best of my strawberry crop and I covered the patch with a fine netting to keep them out.  I certainly got tangled up in that mess but it didn’t seem to deter the birds at all.  I ran to the internet to research all my bird-thwarting options and was ready for battle . The berries continued to ripen and the birds continued to eat some of them.  One day, however, I realized that there were more ripe berries than either we, or the birds could eat!  It was one of those moments of awareness that comes directly from above and the Lord spoke the following verse to my heart,

Mt 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet the heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?”

Gardens everywhere are helping God keep His Promise! I hadn’t thought of my garden as truly doing God’s work until that moment.  My garden is fruitful and surely not by my own inexperienced hand.  God has provided plenty to go around, enough for our family for weeks on end and enough for the birds in the neighborhood.  I have an abundance to share and am so thankful!

The bigger point, of course is that our Sovereign God has every detail of our lives and our world in His hands.  And while He is not ‘up there pulling strings’, His spirit is living and moving in the hearts of His faithful.  His sheep hear His voice and follow His commands and His perfect and holy will is accomplished, through us and in us.

It is usually easy to turn over our situations when we seemingly have no control over them.  When there is nowhere left to turn we turn to the Almighty and often, happily, discover that’s the very best place to go.  But what about the situations that, seemingly, are in our control?  A garden for example? Or the simple moments of our days?  What’s to gain by turning it over to God when we don’t really have to?

When we willingly place our trust in God’s providence we gain FREEDOM.  Freedom from the ways of the world, freedom from self-reliance and freedom from worry!  While every situation may not go exactly as it would if we did it our own way, we are truly free when the ways of the world cannot touch us and we have the confidence to know that whatever the outcome, it will be the very best one for our eternal salvation.

Gal 5:1”It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.”

When we place our Trust in God we become free to Trust in God.  That is; by an act of our conscious will we allow God to transform our hearts.

I suppose it is entirely possible that all the birds in my yard have spread the word about my delicious strawberries and will show up next year with a few thousand of their closest friends for a feast.  I would be disappointed to have no strawberries!  It would be hard to stomach and I would probably question God’s wisdom, or at the very least, my own in trusting Him.  I also have complete faith there would be a valuable lesson to learn from it. Turning my garden over to Him does not guarantee perfect success, at least not the success that I’m praying for.  But turning it over to Him does mean that I am freed from the yoke of selfishness and the burden of trying to protect what is not truly mine in the first place.  The bounty of my garden is for the Lord to do with as He sees fit; to feed His birds and His animals or His faithful little family living here.  He will work all things for the good of His creatures.

Most importantly perhaps is the lesson that by Trusting in the Sovereignty of God I am freed from relying on the trinity of self; Me, Myself and I.  Compared to Him, what can I possibly know anyway??  Jesus Himself invites us to give everything to Him because He knows, in ways we can’t possibly know, that it will be for our good if we do!

Mt 11:29-30 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Why would we want it any other way??

Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. They kingdom come, they will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. Amen