Abiding In Suffering
We love the things of this world more than we love God.
What does it mean to abide in Christ? As part of our study of John 15, we approached this questions in our last upper elementary school chapel. We considered many places where we struggle to abide with Jesus.
We fight against ourselves, others, society, nature, and sometimes even God himself. These struggles often distract us and pull us away from abiding in Him.
We examined the story of Joseph and how these areas of struggle impacted his ability to abide with God. Joseph struggled internally with pride. As he began to brag about his dreams, he created bitterness between himself and his brothers, which led to further struggle. His brothers threw him into a pit to die and then sold him as a slave. This journey eventually even landed him in prison. Later he was finally brought out and began to serve God's purpose to deliver his people. Throughout much of Joseph's life, his circumstances seemed to get worse and worse.
Would this have happened if he was abiding with God? Though it is not the one for which we hope, the answer is yes. This pattern is repeated in the stories of Job, King David, the prophets, and many others throughout scripture. In fact, Jesus promised that in this world, we will have trouble (John 16:33).
Two great statements in the story of Joseph provide some insight. First, in a well-known passage at the end of the story, Joseph told his brothers that they intended everything for evil, but God intended it for good. Joseph acknowledged God's control over all things.
God uses the good things as well as the hard things in your life for His good purposes. God is at work in our bleak circumstances, and we can be encouraged that there is nothing outside of God's control.
However, God's sovereignty is only part of the picture. A sovereign God is little more than a tyrant if he is not loving. If we put ourselves in Joseph’s place, we wonder if God was loving in the way He treated Joseph. The Bible answers us twice with what is perhaps the greatest statement in the story: God was with Joseph. Yes, when he was sold as a slave, God was with Joseph and caused him to prosper in all that he did. Even when he was thrown into prison, the Bible tells us God was with Joseph. The problem with this story from our human perspective is that God's presence in Joseph's life was accompanied by greater suffering.
Abiding in Suffering
How do we abide when the act of doing so will bring about even more suffering? The answer is simple but very difficult – difficult to accept, difficult to believe, yet simple to understand. The problem is that we love the things of this world more than we love God. If God takes away our family, then He is unjust. If God takes away our success, our simple pleasures, or our security, then He is not a good God. Even if He gives us Himself, we still focus on what we have lost and wonder if He loves us.
Is it not more loving for God to give us Himself? Young children seem to understand this concept intuitively. They always prefer to have their parents’ time and attention rather than a new toy from the store. Somehow the older we get the more we are distracted by the cares of the world. We see more of what we have lost than the evidence of God’s love.
Breaking the Pattern of Distraction
How do we break this pattern in our lives? 2 Peter 1:4 reminds us that God has given us exceedingly great and precious promises so that by them we may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world. He gives us promises that fullness of joy is found in His presence rather than in being popular among our friends. Pleasure is found in His provisions rather than in all the empty success and material possessions we could attain.
Abiding is walking with Him by trusting His promises as opposed to the promises of the world around us. It is trusting His word rather than what we see around us. It is choosing to trust in spite of our circumstances. Abiding is saying we would rather have His hand than all the comforts this world could provide.
Abiding is not something we can make ourselves do, but rather we are enabled to do it in increasing measure as we stay connected to Jesus. Read His word and his promises, and ask Him for help believing them. He will do great things in and through you.
What is your struggle in life just now? Ask him for a promise to help carry you through. Watch God reveal himself and experience what it means for him to say, “I am with you and will bless you.”