Beyond

Things are getting thrown at me over my head, beyond my strength. But there is another “beyond.”

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (ESV) 

I know that this seems negative and discouraging, but this is where God has me right now. This is where I am – burdened beyond. Weighed down, depressed, overcome. The word translated “beyond” in the above verse is huperballo and means “throwing beyond.” Things are getting thrown at me beyond, beyond my dunamis – my power, might, strength. When I read the definition of huperballo I envision an outfielder leaping up for a high fly ball but not being able to catch it. How many home runs it seems the enemy of our souls is making!  

And so, like Paul, I have despaired – this life beyond me, no way out, no exit strategy – like the sentence of death. Like trapped in a jail cell awaiting the execution. Utterly without resources, powerless. The only hope God. 

But then, God showed me another verse about another “beyond.” 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 

The peace of God also goes beyond our strength, it transcends. The word is huperecho. Again, huper means beyond or over my head, but in this case, echo means to hold. The peace of God holds me beyond my situation, beyond my despair and powerlessness to stop the onslaught. His peace is above, surpasses, rises above, is superior, has authority over beyond everything here on this earth. If I can grab on to this truth I will be “seated with him in heavenly places.” 

Paul said that this beyond-burden we bear is for a reason: to change our reliance, trust and confidence from ourselves to God. God, the way maker. God, our Peace. God who is above and beyond and over and guards our hearts and minds. If we are not anxious, but present our petitions and requests to God we are kept under guard by God’s transcending peace. But for that to happen I have to switch my reliance. I have to roll all my burdens over onto Him and totally trust. Why is that so hard?

“Abide in Me says Jesus. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer to Me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be, as it were, rooted and planted in Me. Do this and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you.” — J.C. Ryle 

Paul also said that he felt that he was under the sentence of death. But you know the One who has risen above, who is superior, who has all authority in heaven and earth, over and beyond us? Jesus – he has taken our sentence of death. 

Who is to condemn [pass down judgement against, sentence]? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34 

We can rely on God who raised up Jesus and will raise us up with him – beyond. He is interceding for us even now. Even though we are in despair, utterly burdened beyond; even though it’s twenty to nothing in the last inning; even though we feel the sentence of death in our souls, yet, we can know that he will bear us up. He will always hold us and never fail. We can rely on God.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7 (ESV)

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19 

You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely. Psalm 59:17 

Help me Lord to rely on, abide in, stick fast, cling to you always.  

Photo by Minda Haas Kuhlmann  https://flic.kr/p/2mcAUTU  

Not Suitable for Framing

This is where God has me, shaking everything that can be shaken and clearing off the rubble.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10 (ESV)i 

It has happened again. I received, all at once, a whole lot of blog posts and articles about the same subject. (God has to be real obvious with me.) But this time the subject was not a very popular one – suffering, and how it is necessary in the Christian walk, and how it builds our faith and forms us to be like Jesus.  

This is where God has me, shaking everything that can be shaken and clearing off the rubble. I think suffering “promotes us to the next level,” as J.D. Walt writes below, because it shakes our faith. It shakes off all the doubts about God’s character and topples the papier mâché idols we trust in and gets us down to the bedrock – where the real building can begin. 

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God …” [Acts 14:22]. Anyone out there seen this one on a bumper sticker lately? It seems to be the opposite of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” doesn’t it? While this may not be “suitable for framing” or cross-stitched pillow covers, it does offer the perfect and perfecting framework for real faith … Why is this? Why must we go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God? Because this is where the kingdom of God breaks in—places of loss, suffering, hardship, brokenness, and pain. For the followers of Jesus, when you are being broken down, it is a sign that the kingdom of God is breaking in. Hardships are a sign Jesus is about to promote you to the next level of entrustment in the kingdom of God. — J.D. Walt, Jesus is Changing My Life   

AW Tozer said this: “Faith is simply the bringing of our minds into accord with the truth. It is adjusting our expectations to the promises of God in complete assurance that the God of the whole earth cannot lie.  As long as we question the wisdom of any of God’s ways our faith is still tentative and uncertain. While we are able to understand, we are not quite believing. Faith enters when there is no supporting evidence to corroborate God’s word of promise and we must put our confidence blindly in the character of the One who made the promise.” — Blogged by One Pursuit, Faith Not Common Sense   

There will be more times in life than you can count that you will need God to do the impossible. Yet miracles of God require faith, and we tend to doubt. So even on the days when our faith is not demanded, we must continually build a foundation of faith through reading and believing God’s word. If we are living and breathing His word, His power is able to work in and through us. His word supernaturally works within us to bring us into His will and helps us walk in it. Don’t wait until you’re faced with the impossible; make all things possible by reading and believing God’s promises to you each and every moment of every day. — Blogged by God’s Glory, Faith Comes By Trusting in His Word   

“There is no university for a Christian, like that of sorrow and trial.” — Charles Spurgeonii 

The broken heart fills the valley, the oppressed soul levels the mountains, desperation smooths the rough passages. Human struggles refine the dross of life, and bitterness yields joy. Good news comes in the desert, because the desert is the only place you can hear it. — Suzanne Guthrie 

If we suffer, we shall also reign with him … 2 Timothy 2:12 (KJV) 

iBlogged by Beholding Him Ministries Hope for Today: After Suffering … 

iiSpurgeon, Charles H., The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 39: Sermons 2289-2341 

Not Abandoned

We were on vacation not long ago “up north.” One night I was up alone for hours trying to be quiet in the tiny camper while my husband slept. Couldn’t sleep and very depressed. Thinking about all that was going wrong. Sickness, financial troubles, family members leaving the faith. That is when I told God I felt abandoned. In the morning more devastating family news on Facebook. By the time we were eating breakfast I was bawling. Not a fun time.  

Packing up to go “enjoy” the day, my husband stepped in some doggie doodoo and it got tracked all over the camper. At least an hour was spent cleaning rugs and mats and shoes at the camp water pump. Then he banged his head real hard trying to wrangle things back in. Finally, on our way to the beach, a big heavy, wet floor mat that we thought could ride on the hood a few miles flew up and smacked the windshield while we were driving, covering it and scaring us and making us, shaken and blinded, pull over quickly to the side of the road.  

To top the morning off, when we got to the beach my husband cracked his elbow badly getting things out of the truck. At that we both just started laughing, and I felt God say, now THAT is what it would be like if I had abandoned you. 

Lord, thank you that we aren’t even aware of all that you do for us. Thank you that you watch over us continually, though we cannot see you. That, though bad things happen, you are there with us. That you carry us through it all. But, thank you most of all that Jesus endured abandonment for us on the cross that we might never – ever – be abandoned. 

At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Matthew 27:46 (NLT) 

The LORD will guard you from all evil; He will preserve your soul. The LORD will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:7-8 

… and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place. Deuteronomy 1:31 

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5 (NLT) 

Image by DVIDSHUB, from flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/13938506188

The Why of Suffering

There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

I started looking at this verse here Strange House Guest.  In that post I wrote about how we most often view suffering as a strange house guest. But here I would like to talk about the why. Why does there have to be suffering at all? 

The answer must lie in that middle part of the verse – the painful trial you are suffering. “Painful trial” is the Greek word purosis (πύρωσις), which means burning or smelting, “a figure drawn from a refiner’s fire.” It comes from the word that means “melted by fire and purged of dross,” refined. 

The word translated “suffering” is peirasmos (πειρασμός), which means adversity, affliction, and trouble, but also testing, trial, and proving. It is a suffering “sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness.”  

Peirasmos is the word used “of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand” (Luke 4:13). It comes from a word that means – I love this! – “to try whether a thing can be done.”  

Although he was a son, he learned obedience (attentive hearkening, compliance, or submission) from what he suffered Hebrews 5:8 

Jesus did not need refining as the perfect Son of God. He did not need to learn obedience or learn to hearken to God’s voice. He did it for us, to show us that it can be done, and how.  

One [Messiah] who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head. Micah 2:13 

“Learning and suffering and death are part of the life experience for all people, and God ensured that His own Son would be no exception. As God, Jesus did not need to learn anything, especially obedience; yet, at His incarnation, Jesus limited Himself to the human experience. He chose the weak position of having to learn and grow (Luke 2:52). Jesus “learned obedience” not in the sense that He was prone to disobedience and had to bring rebelliousness under control, but in the sense that He fully entered the human experience.” — gotquestions.orgi 

Paul called it a “fellowship of suffering.” Elisabeth Elliot called this fellowship a privilege: 

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”   

This is not our usual way of thinking, but it is God’s way, part of that one-track focus of his to save the world. It seems to me that if we are surprised by suffering it is because we are expecting everything to go our way. It is a kind of rebellion really. Looking to make our will be done, our little kingdom come. Rejecting the promise of trouble and suffering. Rejecting the Potter’s forming hands.  

But if we expect suffering and refining as his children – because that is what he promised – we begin to be surprised by joy. We begin looking for the blessings. Looking for the answer to prayer. Looking for the fragile life to poke up through our plowed hearts. Looking for the light shining through the broken places. Looking for the other part of the promise of suffering, because there will always be something beautiful included. There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere. 

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (NASB) 

“Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” — Henri Nouwen, Daily Meditation, “Be Surprised by Joy” 

Let us strive to be surprised, not by the suffering, but by joy. Let us pray that we may be the barren desert from which His life can spring up. Let us pour out the life that has been poured out into us. Jesus has gone before us; he has shown us the way. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering … 2 Timothy 4:6 

Photo copyright 2018 Derek Bair

Strange House Guest

It is comforting for me to know that when this strange house guest, suffering, walks in, Jesus walks in with him.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

This one of those verses that most of us would rather skip over. But recently I was drawn to look at the meaning of the Greek words closer. Very interesting, and strangely comforting too. 

The words translated “surprised” and “something strange” in the above verse are the Greek words xenizo (ξενίζω) and its root xenos (ξένος). Xenos means a foreigner or a stranger (it’s where we get the “xeno” part of the word xenophobia); it also means a guest. Xenizo means to be shocked, “to surprise or astonish by the strangeness and novelty of a thing.” But it also means to receive as a guest, to entertain, to be host, to lodge. 

It is like Peter is saying, “do not be shocked by the painful trial you are suffering as though a complete stranger had walked into your house looking for lodging.” I guess he is saying that suffering should not, or will not, be a stranger to us. Suffering was not a stranger to our Lord. 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with (acquainted with, knew) suffering. Isaiah 53:3a 

Jesus was intimately acquainted with suffering and, if we are following Him, we share in that acquaintance. 

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. Philippians 3:10 

It is comforting for me to know that when this strange house guest, suffering, walks in, Jesus walks in with him.  

The word translated “fellowship” above is koinonia. It also means association, community, communion, joint participation. It comes from the noun koinonos which means partner, associate, comrade, companion (how wonderful to be Jesus’ companion!).  

But what I love is that the very core root of both of these words is the Greek word for “with,” sun (σύν). It means with or together, companionship, beside. He is with us, beside us, our companion in our suffering. And that makes all the difference. That makes the impossible, possible. 

“It is precisely the presence and help of Christ in times of suffering that makes it possible for us to stand up under pressure … The only way to keep putting one foot in front of the other on this dark road is through union with Christ and with the promise of resurrection to light the way.” ― R.C. Sprouli 

Jesus has suffered for us, and he will suffer with us. He will never leave us or forsake us. 

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.  1 Corinthians 1:8-9 

But rejoice that you participate (come into communion or fellowship with, become a sharer, are made a partner) in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13 

One foot in front of the other, holding on tight to his hand. 

… that I may know Him 

i R.C. Sproul, Surprised by Suffering  https://www.ligonier.org/blog/suffering-well-union-christ/  

Image by Andrés Þór https://flic.kr/p/79jJCz

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