Mark Talbot, another contributor to Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, considers, “All the Good that is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do To Us.” Ponder the following thoughts and listen to his message.
“Paul reports afflictions so severe that he and those with him ‘despaired of life itself’ (2 Cor. 1:8; see vv. 8-11). Many of us have tasted such grief. I have known afflictions much worse than my paralyzing accident. I have had seasons of perplexity about God’s providence that have been so deep that sleep has fled from me. Yet these griefs have been God’s gifts. For only by such severe suffering has my loving Father broken me free of some of my deeper idolatries. In the nights’ watches, while others sleep, my wakeful heart must find its rest in him or it will find no rest at all.
‘Be gracious to me, O God,’ David prayed when the Philistines seized him at Gath, ‘for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid,’ he states,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?
‘All day long,’ David continues, ‘they twist my words;’
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife; they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life. (Ps. 56:1-6)
But God, David knows, has kept count of his nightly tossings; he has numbered his futile wanderings; he has kept track of all of David’s sorrows. He has put David’s tears in a bottle and written all of his anguish in his book. And David knows that the God who cares for him that much will never abandon him. ‘This I know,’ he declares, ‘that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?’ (Ps. 56:9b-11; my emphasis). David knows that God will keep his feet from sliding so that he may still walk before God ‘in the light of life’ (Ps. 56:13).”
I want to join Nicole in urging you to purchase Suffering and the Sovereignty of God edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor when it comes out in September. To increase your anticipation for this resource, and to encourage you in the midst of your trials, we will be quoting excerpts from the book each day for the remainder of the week.
Our first selection comes from one of our favorite authors and speakers, Joni Eareckson Tada (see Mom’s post “When I saw Joni Dance”), founder of Joni & Friends, author of When God Weeps, and herself a quadrapalegic. In Suffering and the Sovereignty of God she contributes a chapter entitled: “Hope…The Best of Things.” The following is a brief passage from the chapter. Also, I want to encourage you to listen to the message on which this chapter was based, given at the 2005 Desiring God National Conference. May Joni’s reliance upon God’s strength provoke us all to greater dependence upon Him.
Please know that I am no expert at this wheelchair thing. I’m no professional at being a quadriplegic. There are so many mornings when I wake up and I can hear my girlfriend come to the front door to help me get out of bed and get ready for the day. She goes to the kitchen, turns on the water, and starts brewing coffee. I know that in a few moments she’s going to come gliding into the bedroom, where she’ll greet me with a happy, “Good morning!” And I am lying there with my eyes closed, thinking, O God, I can’t do this. I am so tired. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to lunchtime. O God, I’m already thinking about how good it’s going to feel when I get back to bed tonight and put my head on this pillow.
I’m sure you have felt that way at some point. Maybe you feel that way every morning. But Psalm 10:17 says, “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear.” O God, I often pray in the morning, God, I cannot do this. I cannot do this thing called quadriplegia. I have no resources for this. I have no strength for this—but you do. You’ve got resources. You’ve got strength. I can’t do quadriplegia, but I can do all things through you as you strengthen me (Phil. 4:13). I have no smile for this woman who’s going to walk into my bedroom in a moment. She could be having coffee with another friend, but she’s chosen to come here to help me get up. O God, please may I borrow your smile?
As Mom observed yesterday, one of the kindest things we can do for those experiencing trials or suffering is to point them to books that reveal the comfort of our Savior. Or maybe we are the ones currently walking through “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” or sinking in the “Slough of Despond” or clawing our way up “The Hill of Difficulty.” So many of us have found the books Mom mentioned to be life preservers in trials both big and small.
Here at girltalk, we are pleased to announce that on September 7, 2006 we can add another invaluable resource to these “Selections for the Suffering.” Forthcoming from Crossway Books is a brand new title: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor.
You will be able to read about the “Grace of God and Suffering” by David Powlison, discover “Hope…The Best of Things” along with the ever-hopeful Joni Eareckson Tada, and see “The Hand of God in the Hurt Others Do To Us” with Mark Talbot. Of course, John Piper will set your sights high above your trials and on the glorious sovereignty of God. Each of these authors (and there are more!) write from a personal experience of suffering. But more importantly, they write from a personal experience of God in the midst of suffering.
As John Piper writes: “My prayer for this book is that God would stand forth…and show us his crucified and risen Son who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and waken in us the strongest faith in the supremacy of Christ, and the deepest comforts in suffering, and the sweetest fellowship with Jesus that we have ever known.”
So, mark your calendars for September 7 and be among the first to purchase this book. As for myself, I can’t wait to be instructed and comforted by these trial-tested, God-glorifying men and women.
I want to send a heart-felt “thank you” out to all of you who have prayed for me recently. I just returned from a weekend women’s conference in Charlotte, NC (I’ll fill you in on my time there in a couple of days) and tomorrow I am speaking at the first of three Titus 2 Tuesdays at Covenant Life Church. I continue to covet your prayers!
Among many memorable moments this past weekend, I spent time with a group of pastors’ wives at a luncheon. One of the questions these women asked was “how do we best help people walking through difficult and challenging circumstances?” It’s a question I receive often and one I never feel qualified to answer. What do you say to a person you are visiting in the hospital or do for a friend in a protracted family conflict? Just offering sympathy and quoting a verse can seem so inadequate.
There are many ways that we can and should extend care to individuals experiencing suffering. However, as I told these ladies, one simple way to serve them is by introducing them to wise, suffering-tested friends in the form of books.
Godly men and women who have spent time studying Scripture in depth on the topic of suffering, often experienced suffering themselves, and then written about it, are uniquely equipped to serve those in trial. They can walk with them, holding their hand if you will, through the questions, the struggles, and the pain—leading them ultimately to the Savior.
Several months back, following Hurricane Katrina, Nicole wrote a post recommending some resources on the topic of suffering. I’ve reposted it here by way of suggestion. To this list I would also add the book Janelle mentioned last week, Is God Really In Control? Trusting God in a World of Hurt? by Jerry Bridges.
Along with personal expressions of care and love, books such as these can truly be a great kindness to a suffering friend.
September 06, 2005
Preparing to Suffer
Whether or not we are suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina this week, author D.A. Carson points out that “The truth of the matter is that all we have to do is live long enough and we will suffer.” It’s not a question of “if” but merely of “when” we will suffer. Similarly, John Piper notes that: “We all will suffer; we all must suffer; and most American Christians are not prepared in mind or heart to believe or experience this.”
Just as the time to shore up the levies protecting the city of New Orleans was before the hurricane hit, so the ideal time for each of us to prepare for suffering is before its howling winds swirl around us.
So how do we prepare our minds and hearts to experience suffering? We must dig deep into God’s Word to shore up our spiritual foundations. And as an expression of His tender mercy, God has provided us with numerous helpful resources that expound His Word as it relates to suffering and applies these truths to our hearts. Here is our short list of the most excellent resources on this oft-neglected but desperately needed topic:
How Long O Lord: Reflections of Suffering and Evil
Besides my dad’s opinion that this is the best book on suffering available today, I’ll let a quote from this book by D.A. Carson serve as it’s endorsement “In the darkest night of the soul, Christians have something to hang onto that Job never knew. We know Christ crucified. Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross. ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Rom. 8:32).”
When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty
From a life of intense personal suffering as a parapalegic, Joni Eareckson Tada along with co-author Steve Estes take us to the foot of the cross to view our own sufferings in light of the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior.
The Journal of Biblical Counseling
From our good friends at “The Journal” come two articles: “Exalting Pain? Ignoring Pain? What do we do with Suffering?” by Edward T. Welch (Vol. 12, No. 3, Spring 1994) which you can order by calling 800-318-2186, and “Counseling with Suffering People” by John Piper (Vol. 21, No. 2, Winter 2003), available on their website.
Finally, my personal favorite…
Beside Still Waters
When I was in the hospital following complications from giving birth to Jack, my dad came and read me passages from this amazing book. I still read it often and try to give it to as many suffering people as I know. It’s a challenge to have to pick just one quote to share with you, but I want to close with this one. For although trials and suffering are inevitable, Charles Spurgeon has helped me to see that from a biblical perspective they are also a blessing, because—
“Trials greatly enlarge the soul. Thus I do not want, in my better mind, to escape great trials, since they involve great graces. If my strength shall be as my days (Deut. 33:25), then let my days be long and dark, for my strength will be mighty, God will be glorified, and I will be blessed. I earnestly urge every tested Christian to dwell on this truth, for it may be a great comfort. There is love, immortal and unchanging love, in heaven toward you, which will never grow cold. You will be helped. God will sooner cease to be than cease to be faithful. Be of good courage, for today He will strengthen your heart.”
Whether you are in the midst of suffering from Hurricane Katrina, or preparing to meet your own personal hurricane someday, may you be of good courage, and may God strengthen your heart!
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah.” (Psalm 68:19)
I’ve been suffering from various mild ailments for what seems like a month now. This is an especially busy week for me and I have been tempted to self-pity over my lack of strength.
This morning my husband prayed this verse for me. The note from my Reformation Study Bible sent me to Isaiah 46:1-4. Here the Lord contrasts the “bearing ability” of idols to that of the One True God:
“Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. ‘Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.’”
What is your burden today? They come in countless shapes and sizes—from clingy colds to crushing cares. But one thing’s for sure: our idols cannot bear their load. Leisure and escape don’t provide true rest. Sinful anger cannot relieve the pressure. Even friends are not strong enough to bear up under their full weight.
But have we forgotten? We have been borne by Christ since birth. He carried us from the womb and will not stop even when we are old and bent and gray. He alone has borne the full weight of our sin, and He alone can bear the burdens of life in a sinful world.
He doesn’t pop in once a week or every month to relieve us of our heavy load. Daily, everyday, today, He promises to bear us up. He will carry and he will save. Today. So big or small, let’s cast our burdens on Him. God is our salvation.
Yesterday, CJ received the following note from our dear friend and The Journal of Biblical Counseling editor, David Powlison:
I’ve just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. After some further tests, we’ll discuss treatment next Monday, and it seems likely I’ll be soon for surgery.
Perhaps you saw John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” that he recently posted. I’ve added a paragraph of my own to each of his 10 paragraphs, doubling it in length. It is in light of this that I hope for prayer, for healing, for growth in faith and love, and for this latest news to be spread! I pray especially for God to work the spiritual grace of ‘endurance,’ that holy, vibrant bearing up under weaknesses. A body whose fragilities continually reveal a lack of physical endurance and resilience provides a God-designed proving ground for me to learn the true inner endurance, that I too often lack, and that I long for the Spirit to teach me.
Feel free to share whatever of this note seems to you to be constructive. I value so much the love of the brethren.
You can download David Powlison’s annotated version of John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” here. May we all be instructed by these two men and their Godward response to suffering. As we thank God for John Piper’s successful surgery, let us pray for David’s impending treatment, and for complete healing for both their bodies and strength for their souls.
This morning I received a joyous email from Noel Piper, telling me that her husband John’s prostate cancer surgery yesterday was a success. The Pipers are truly grateful for everyone’s prayers, and we ask that you continue to pray for a full recovery. You can read an update on the surgery at the Desiring God Ministries website. But I also want to encourage each of you to carefully consider John Piper’s article “Don’t Waste Your Cancer,” written on the eve of his surgery. Whether or not you are experiencing a physical trial right now, we will all experience suffering at some time in our lives. As a wise pastor in the furnace of his own personal trial, John Piper counsels us how to think about pain in light of God’s Word, and instructs us how not to waste it.
A friend of my husband, Dr. Sam Storms, attended the recent Desiring God National Conference hosted by John Piper, that carried the theme: “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.” Dr. Storms wrote an article about Joni Eareckson Tada who was the Saturday night guest speaker for the conference. As many of you already know, Joni is a quadriplegic who was paralyzed 38 years ago in a diving accident. She has authored more than twenty books and speaks at conferences around the world.
Dr. Storms entitled his article, “I Saw Joni Dance” and I want to post several excerpts for you:
“[Joni] delivered a stunningly great message. That in itself isn’t news, for Joni has been speaking on this theme for many years and the clarity of her convictions remains strong and articulate….
But this past Saturday night I saw something that was as impressive if not more so, than anything I heard. The worship that night began with the rousing song, ‘We are Marching in the Light of God’…. But nothing could compare with what was happening on the right hand side of the stage.
Joni handles her wheelchair as deftly as any Nascar driver on a racetrack. No sooner had the music begun than Joni began to ‘dance.’ As much as a quadriplegic can dance, she danced. Joni has just enough movement and strength in her hands and shoulders to grip the controls on her chair and maneuver herself without the aid of others. Suddenly the chair began to move with the music. She thrust forward, then backwards, then forwards again, then backwards. Smoothly, and yet with obvious passion, she turned to the right, then the left, then the right again.
I can’t prove it, but my guess is that 2,500 pairs of eyes in that auditorium were fixed on the dancing quadriplegic! Suddenly, the forward and backward and side to side movements gave way to spinning. Well, as much as a paralyzed person can spin. Joni began to turn her chair in circles, first clockwise, then back again. If she ceased her movements, it was only so that she could lift her contorted hands as high as her paralysis would allow. It wasn’t very high, but who’s measuring!
How Joni moved and ‘danced’ is secondary. What’s amazing is THAT she did. What struck me, as I trust it struck others, was that a woman who has suffered so horribly and painfully and persistently for 38 years so loves her God and finds him so utterly worthy of her trust and hope that she WANTED to dance.
Joni shared in her message how she struggled spiritually in the early days and months after her accident. She wrestled with bitterness and self-pity and anger at God and longed to die rather than live in that condition. But here she was, 38 years later, celebrating God, enjoying God, honoring and glorifying God. Not simply in her mind or her spirit but with her body as best that body could worship.”
May God give us all a heart like Joni who “loves her God and finds him so utterly worthy of her trust and hope that she WANTED to dance.”
To learn more about Joni’s love for God and what she’s learned through suffering, I want to highly recommend her book, When God Weeps. You can also listen to her message from this conference online.
Yesterday in the church lobby, Sharon greeted me with the affectionate hug, warm smile, and cheery hello that is so characteristic of my sister-in-law. However, her typical greeting revealed nothing of her not-so-typical day. It was her wedding anniversary. Dave and Sharon Pyle would have celebrated 34 years of marriage. Yes, I meant to say, “would have celebrated,” because the truth is that Sharon commemorated the day without Dave. She lost him to cancer a little over 2 years ago.
When I asked her how she was doing, her response was: “I am doing okay,” with the emphasis on “okay.” But that wasn’t the whole of her answer. She immediately launched into a mini discourse of her experience of God’s grace despite her intense pain (again, so typical of Sharon). “Today was my first Sunday as a greeter,” she exclaimed. (She had recently signed up to serve on the greeting team at our church). She continued, “I see it as God’s kindness to assign me to greet others on a day that would potentially be extra difficult for me. I couldn’t have done it in my own strength, but God gave me strength!”
As I listened to Sharon, I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 58:10: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” Sharon experienced the joy that unseats darkness and gloom when we pour out our lives for others.
I was freshly challenged yesterday by my sister-in-law’s example. Because I know me—all too often when I feel depressed and gloomy, I give in to selfishness. But I want to be more like Sharon. I desire to look for ways to serve others even when it’s the very last thing I feel like doing. Now I agree with Sharon: this is only possible with God’s help. And God’s help has been richly, fully, and wonderfully provided through our Savior’s death on the cross. Because of His grace, I am forgiven of my selfishness and have power to sacrificially care for others.
P.S. Sharon, if you happen to read this today I want you to know: You are one of my heroes. Thank you for modeling true servanthood to me!
Today marks five years that Steve and I have been married. Throughout this week we have been reliving these past five years and marveling at the grace of God through many significant changes, challenges, and most of all—joys. By His grace, we love each other more today than we did five years ago.
Each year on our anniversary, I write Steve a letter, and he writes me a poem. On this special day I want to share one of them with you. Steve wrote this poem, “Eclipse,” for our anniversary two years ago, in September of 2003. But first, a little background.
In February of 2003, our son Jack was born via c-section. However, five days after his birth I was readmitted to the hospital in severe pain. After emergency surgery, it was determined that my colon had ruptured, a life-threatening development if not corrected in time.
I spent the following days in and out of the hospital, fighting off a serious infection and dealing with various unexplained complications. By June of that year I was healthy enough to have a second surgery to repair my colon. And by the time our third anniversary rolled around, I was finally beginning to feel “myself” again. The doctors still do not agree or fully understand what happened, but I am grateful to God to be alive today.
So will you indulge me for a moment? Steve—how can I thank you for your tender care: not only through this trial, but every day of our married life? Your humility, leadership, passionate love, and constant joy have made being married to you something better than I ever could have imagined. And so, I say again, “As you are mine, I am yours. I give away myself for you and dote upon the exchange.”
This poem was not originally written for public consumption. But I share it with you today to remind us all to be grateful for the loved ones God has given to us—whether spouse, parents, siblings, or friends. But most of all, to help us remember that no matter what trial we face, “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24)
Some emotions are so powerful they can only be expressed in metaphor.
For Nicole, on our 3rd Anniversary: September 16, 2003
A wedding, some rings, a marriage begun,
Bright were the rays of this rising Sun.
Days swept by, stars circled above
Found Earth and Sun growing in love.
A year gone by, one year became two
Sun warmer still and this love yet grew.
Two and a half years, barely the morning begun
Earth basking in the light of his love, his Sun.
The proof of their love soon came to be
A little Moon brought forth; the womb did flee.
Suddenly light flickers, and quickly it fades
Earth’s bright world thrust into gray shades.
The color is gone, only shapes remain
As Sun grows cold, her heat restrained.
This little Moon has begun his new orbit
But cannot replace, much as Earth loves it.
Moon, he shines, a wonder since birth
But grants not the same warmth to Earth.
The Sun, Earth’s love, the only source
To provide Earth’s heat in matter of course.
The eclipse - not total, yet still severe
Where has Sun gone? For her Earth peers.
What is happening? Earth questions, he wonders.
Will this bond be so quickly ripped asunder?
Will my Sun set premature?
Is Earth a lonely life meant to endure?
When will the day resume?
My light, my Sun, this flower, yet bloom?
This day together, is barely begun,
How can so quickly Earth lose his Sun?
Despair it beckons, and invites Earth to taste,
The bitter thought “this day is a waste.”
Anxiety calls, worry stands close
But finally Earth remembers what matters most
A closer companion than any other one,
The One who holds and keeps safe his Sun.
Stronger than Sun, and bigger than galaxy
He forms the bonds that hold safe Earth’s family.
He intervenes to end the eclipse,
The darkness recedes and loses its grip.
Until finally Earth’s Sun again burns bright,
And color and texture come back into sight.
Warm again, the chill darkness fled,
As Sun’s bright rays fall soft on Earth’s head.
Without Sun, Earth grows cold
And Moon shines not, it must be told.
But Sun is here, brighter than ever,
Yet to eclipse, Earth prays never.
And so Earth dances and Moon he laughs
At sight of Sun back on her path.
For now all is as should be,
My Sun has come back
To bring warmth to Me.