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Testings

By Rowland Croucher


The Christian Life Wasn't Mean To Be Easy!

The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. Psalm 37:39.

As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities. 2 Corinthians 6:4.

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance. Romans 5:3.

[He] consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 2 Corinthians 1:4.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair. 2 Corinthians 4:8.

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. 2 Corinthians 4:17.

I am overjoyed in all our affliction. 2 Corinthians 7:4.

For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. 1 Thessalonians 3:7.

In your distress... in time to come, you will return to the LORD your God and heed him. Deuteronomy 4:30. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him. God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8.

But [Lord] you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. Psalm 10:14.

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress. Psalm 31:9.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be

gracious to me, and hear my prayer. Psalm 4:1.

Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress. Psalm 25:17.

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9.

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Psalm 27:5.

When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2.

Do not fear, for I am with you. Isaiah 43:5.

In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Psalm 18:6.

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. Psalm 34:17.

Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55:22.

The Roman proconsul ordered: 'Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.'

Polycarp said: 'Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?' And when he had said these things and many besides he was inspired with courage and joy, and his face was full of grace, so that the proconsul was astonished... And with his hands put behind him and tied, he looked up to heaven and said: "Lord God Almighty, Father of the beloved and blessed Servant Jesus Christ,.. I bless you, because you have deemed me worthy of this day and hour, to take part in the number of martyrs... for resurrection to eternal life... May I be received as a rich and acceptable sacrifice For this and everything I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through Jesus Christ, your beloved Servant, through whom be glory to you with him and the Holy Spirit both now and unto the ages to come. Amen."

And when he had concluded the Amen and finished his prayer, the men lit the fire...

How does someone facing a painful death get to have this sort of faith? First, here's a truism so obvious that it is likely to be ignored or even denied: all of life is trouble. We in the West have been seduced into believing that, properly organized, we can buy our way out of trouble. The advertisers promise a trouble-free existence if we purchase their product. The insurers promise to cover any contingency, for a fee. We have government social welfare benefits on a scale unheard of in most of the world for most of history. Which is why, of course, that the suicide rate is climbing in affluent countries. We have been 'sold a dummy', and life is too catastrophic to endure when trouble comes.

On a visit to the U.S., the well-known German preacher Helmut Thielicke was asked the most important question facing Americans. He said Americans did not know how to deal with suffering. He thought they did not expect trouble to be part of life. 'Again and again, I have the feeling that suffering is regarded as something which is fundamentally inadmissible, disturbing, embarrassing and not to be endured.'

We are taught by our sick culture to indulge continually in what Albert Camus called 'nostalgia for other people's lives.' One of the few generalizations you can make about the greatest men and women of the Bible is that they all got into trouble. God must love his special people a lot to trust them with problems! An interesting text in the Psalms says, 'Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word' (119:67). Jesus promised his followers three things - constant trouble, and constant joy (because of his constant presence). The early Christian missionaries had this important piece of encouragement (!) for young converts: 'It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22).

The Greek word 'thlipsis', 'affliction', is used fifty-five times in the New Testament, referring to persecution, oppression, famine, judgment, or even the labor pains of childbirth. The early Christian leaders said trouble was not merely to be endured, but even welcomed! Thus St. Augustine thanks God, in the Confessions, for 'mercifully sprinkling my path with thorns'. Malcolm Muggeridge saw life as 'a very bright light and a very deep darkness, an inconceivable hope and blackest despair, an overwhelming love and abysmal desolation.' There are some things we come up against which we have to adjust to, because they will not adjust to us. Our handicap or problem can become the foundation for strength - and even happiness. What you do to life is much more important than what life does to you. The way out is always the way through, not around or away. The good news really does come by facing the bad news. It is possible 'to fail forward,' and sad indeed is the person who does not know this and thus allows the experiences of life to be wasted on him or her.

A young lady was just eighteen when she contracted a dreadful illness. To save her life, the doctor said he must amputate her feet. This he did, but the disease spread further, so he took off her legs to the knees. Later he amputated her thighs. Then it broke out again in her hands and arms: first one arm, then the other were taken off, right up to the shoulders. She was left with only her trunk. For fifteen years she lay there. The walls of her room were covered with Bible texts, all of them affirming God's gifts of love and peace and power. That woman mediated such grace from her room that hundreds of people were converted to faith in Christ through her letters.

How did she write? A carpenter friend fitted an instrument to her shoulder into which a pen could be inserted. We write with fingers, hand and arm: she had to use her whole body, but her writing became as beautiful as copperplate. She eventually collected fifteen hundred letters telling of people blessed by her. When asked how she did it she smiled and replied: 'Well, you know, Jesus said that those who believed in him, from within them would flow rivers of living water. I believed in him - that's all!'

Mozart died in abject poverty; Beethoven - of all people - started to go deaf at 28; Stevenson was writing novels while dying of consumption; Handel wrote The Messiah when he was broke; George Matheson, the Scottish preacher who wrote the great hymn 'O Love That Will Not Let Me Go' was blind; Lord Byron had a club foot; the philosopher Kant had an incurable disease; Wilberforce took opium for twenty years to deaden his pain; Helen Keller was blind and deaf...

So our prayer is not for easier lives, but to be stronger in faith, and hope and love. Remember trouble comes to those who don't deserve it - but so does love!

St. Theresa had problems, and once complained: 'Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few of them.' But why is there a 'St.' before her name? Because through her trouble she came to believe that 'everything is grace'. 'In his will, our peace' - T.S.Eliot calls this statement, from Dante, the profoundest line in all of human writing.

Well...?

Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others...

What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one... Since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.

Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning... Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve. It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn. As Benjamin Franklin said, 'Those things that hurt, instruct.' It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems. M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978, pp. 15, 17

There is no misfortune from which some good may not be derived. Spanish Proverb

I came across something that would be with me throughout my life. Oppositions break or solidify a person. I determined they would solidify me. I wouldn't bear things; I would use them. As a radiant woman said, 'My cheeks have been slapped so much they are quite rosy.'E. Stanley Jones, A Song of Ascents: A Spiritual Biography, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968, p. 48.

Hello trouble, (you --)

I've met with you before -

So now you're here again,

Bigger than ever, larger than life,

Ready to cause more and more strife

And break me if you can.

My hands are tied behind my back

My legs they are in chains,

My health is not what it used to be

I do have aches and pains,

My responsibilities loom large

And there are those who on me depend

Whom I wouldn't see hurt for the world -

So buzz off trouble. But if you're going to stay:

My brow you may crease, my shoulders you may bow,

My mind you may scar, my nerves you may break,

Mark you I said MAY;

But mark also if you stay

I shall surely grow and grow,

And my spirit, my soul, you cannot touch,

For they belong to God and me -

And no matter what you do or say

They always will be free.

Ken Walsh, Sometimes I Weep, London: SCM Press Ltd, 1973, p. 112

When I read of the barbarous ages of slaughter and carnage and brutality through which my long line of ancestors threaded its fearsome way, it is perfectly astounding to me that not one of them got stabbed or clubbed or shot until they had duly taken their places in that long genealogical list. When I think of the wars and famines and pestilences through which those forebears of mine came unscathed, I catch my breath.F W Boreham, The Tide Comes In, London: Epworth Press, 1958, p.15.

I repeat then: the secret of responding heroically to trouble is not something highly complicated; it lies in one's view of the relation of God to each and every event. If we separate the two, and see God off somewhere else as impotent and indifferent, this means we are left alone with our troubles and are thus inadequate and ultimately defeated. But if we take the biblical stance toward life, and see him everywhere, in each event, either intentionally or permissively but always creatively, then we can take heart and be assured that our trouble is not totally bad or beyond the possibility of working good. Our challenge then, in trouble, is to remember Who is also there and what this means, and to work at the job of increasing that awareness until it is perennial.John R Claypool, Learning to Use our Troubles, An unpublished sermon, January 21, 1979

The saints look at their lives, half full of joys and half full of sorrows as anyone's life is, and they see it as half full, while others see it as half empty. The saints are grateful for the full half. They 'count their blessings'. They know that their very existence is sheer gift, and so they know that great and joyful virtue of gratitude, so tragically neglected in our day. No one can understand life without being grateful for it. No one can wholly misunderstand life if they are grateful for it. Peter Kreeft, 'Seven Lessons from the Saints About Suffering', in John Wimber, (ed.), Equipping the Saints, Vol. 2 No. 1, Winter 1988, p. 6.

Lord, we cannot always see beyond our pain and sorrow to the triumph of faith! We think we have cause to complain when things go badly for us: when friends let us down, when neighbors hurt our feelings, when sickness and death deprive us of happiness. Help us to see clearly, how much greater is our cause for joy and hope through the love you pour into our hearts; help us to see that all these things that hurt us are the trials through which we triumph through the power of him who loved us; so that in good times and bad our lives may honor you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.Alan Gaunt, New Prayers for Worship, Leeds: John Paul the Preacher's Press, 1978, p. 5

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, though your people walk in the valley of darkness, no evil should they fear, for they follow in faith the call of the shepherd whom you have sent for their hope and strength. Attune our minds to the sound of his voice, lead our steps in the path he has shown, that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm and enjoy the light of your presence for ever. Daily Mass Book, Lent 1991-1992, Brisbane, The Liturgical Commission, p.170

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In everything we do, in our troubles, difficulties and hardships we show we are God's servants. By purity, patience and kindness, by the Spirit and by our love, and by our message of truth, we show ourselves for what we are. We may seem poor, but we make many rich; we seem to have nothing, but we possess all that there is to have...

If Christ's name is flung in our teeth we should count ourselves happy, because that glorious spirit, the Spirit of God, is resting upon us.

If we suffer, let it not be for murder, theft or sorcery, nor for infringing on the rights of others; but if we suffer as Christians we should feel no disgrace, but confess that name to the honor of God. It gives us a share in Christ's sufferings. That is cause for joy!

Giver of the present, hope for the future: save us from the time of trial. When prophets warn us of doom, of catastrophe and of suffering beyond belief, then, God, free us from our helplessness, and deliver us from evil. Save us from our arrogance and folly, for you are God who created the world; you have redeemed us and you are our salvation.

Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.

God of opportunity and change, praise to you for giving us life at this critical time. As our horizons extend, keep us loyal to our past; as our dangers increase, help us to prepare the future; keep us trusting and hopeful, ready to recognize your kingdom as it comes. Amen. A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland, Collins, 1989, pp. 116, 119, 133-135.

Allow the strength of God to sustain you,

The wisdom of God to instruct you,

The hand of God to protect you,

The shield of God to defend you,

The Spirit of God to lead you,

The Son of God to redeem you,

Until by the grace of God,

We see him face to face. Amen.

E. Lee Phillips, Prayers for Worship, Texas: Word Books, 1979, p. 136

A Benediction.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Romans 12:12. Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:10. The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! Psalm 20:1.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.