This blog post is going to be raw. It’s going to be deeply, profoundly real and I hope and pray that God speaks to you through it. (I should probably also warn you that this blog post is a lot longer than usual!)
Easter is a time of celebration. A time to rejoice in victory over death, that Jesus created a way for us to live eternally with Him! It’s a time to rejoice in the new beginnings God has set before us. It’s an exciting time where we can feel hopeful for Christ’s return and prepare for his coming by going out and making more disciples as he commanded (Matt 28:16-20 à The Great Commission).
However, when suffering through a tough situation, it can be very challenging to celebrate the new beginnings. In fact, one might even want to go back instead of starting new, and it is often difficult to not think about going back to the way things were. When suffering, often the questions we cry out to God are “Why? Why would this happen?” or “How? How could this happen so suddenly? Was there something I could have done to stop this?” Within these pondering thoughts, the last thing on our minds is to focus on a new beginning.
So when Easter rolls around and forces our minds to ponder the thought of a new beginning, the first response might be to laugh in the face of Easter, to scoff and say “you don’t know what I’ve been through, there’s nothing here that can even be turned around into a new beginning” or “I don’t want a new beginning, I want what I had when I was happy” – because let’s face it: sometimes we just don’t want a new beginning. We would rather stay in the past, in the hurt, because we are afraid that the healing will hurt more than the damage already done. Personally, I have guiltily hidden those thoughts at the back of my mind recently.
I’m not claiming I have all the answers to suffering; many have been through much more suffering than I have, and they don’t know the answers either. Everyone’s experience in suffering is different, and no one knows the answers. But one thing I do know: though we might not feel Him, God is there by our side. New York Times Bestselling Author Jill Kelly writes: “Suffering takes our focus off the temporal and irrelevant. It moves us to look beyond the veil of our circumstances into the heart of God and the great hope of heaven. Suffering also reminds us that life is not predictable and very seldom goes according to how we had hoped and planned” (Etched Upon My Heart, p. 76). Life hurts, life has disappointments, the result of the sinful world we live in. Kelly continues on to say “What we believe about God and His character will determine how we endure in the midst of our trials. If we trust that God is in control, working out the details of our lives and that nothing can thwart His perfect plan for us – then we can look beyond our circumstances to the hope that Christ graciously provides” (p. 76).
Provides how? And how exactly do you trust? It can be so hard sometimes. In all honesty, a song that has really captured the feelings in the depths of my being is “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott & The Scott Family (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAmh3yvmzXs ). Just yesterday, I poured my heart out to God, not really sure how I was going to get through. I’m facing a situation I never thought I would have to face to before, and something I’ve never experienced and am not sure how to deal with it. As you might know from my last blog, I’ve been reading through Isaiah, and you’re probably going to hate me for posting all of Isaiah 40, but it’s so good on so many levels, so read it and let me explain. Here it is:
Comfort for God’s People
40 Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,[c]
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A person too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot;
they look for a skilled worker
to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
I’ve bolded and italicized the parts that really spoke to me during my time of crying out to God. This passage is so powerful, and not only was it meant to comfort God’s people of Israel, it really comforts me as well, more than 2000 years later, which I think is really amazing! The chapter starts with emphasis on comforting God’s people, then moves to focusing on the hope of the coming of Jesus Christ. This passage points out the sovereignty of our Lord, his everlasting faithfulness to us as his servants, and his absolute flawlessness in providing restoration for his people – it is a living testimony to the very character of our mighty God! These verses also show that God truly does provide – whether He is providing us with comfort (vs. 1-2), protection (vs. 10-11), with strength (26, 29-31), with hope (vs. 3-5), restoration (vs. 1-2, 9-10) or a reminder that he is in control (vs. 4-8, 12-26, 28), , God provides for us and is there for us.
And with knowing that, how can we not trust Him? It’s difficult in the moment, but looking back on the blessings in life that God has provided for me that I don’t even deserve… how can I not trust an all-sovereign God who has so graciously provided for me in the past? How could I even think of saying “‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’?” (v. 27b). Like Natalie Grant sings “When did I forget that you’ve always been the King of the World?”, that God has always been in control and always will be? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQmysKhww_I )The path God has set out for each one of us different from another’s; that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a path for us – it simply means that each of us are different, so incredibly unique and precious to the One who made us.
Let’s go back to what Jill Kelly wrote: “What we believe about God and His character will determine how we endure in the midst of our trials. If we trust that God is in control, working out the details of our lives and that nothing can thwart His perfect plan for us – then we can look beyond our circumstances to the hope that Christ graciously provides” (p. 76). Doing what she suggests is not easy. It’s tough, and it requires an immense amount of patience, but waiting on God and His perfect timing honestly reaps the best rewards and blessings you could imagine! Take David for example, who wrote “I waited patiently for Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40: 1-2), or Sarah, who waited almost her whole life time to be able to have a child!! And her child brought many descendants, which the Lord promised (Genesis 17:17-18:15, 21:1-6). And there are so many other stories of triumph after long-suffering both in the Bible and in personal testimonies from the friends and family that surround us!
So be encouraged and have faith! God gives us a firm place to stand, and He carries out his promises. God strengthens, provides and fills us with his everlasting love in these times of trials and suffering. And in this Post-Easter time where we might feel tired, drained, resisting the new beginnings God offers us each day, let us throw away our bitter attitudes, our tendency to become angry with God in our time of questioning, and choose to see the small blessings in each day. “As graciously as I know how, I have tried to share what suffering has meant to me while enduring it. How it devastated me, changed me, and yet ultimately enriched my life. My joy truly has been the greatest when my cross was the heaviest, and I’m absolutely convinced it can be the same for you” (p. 76). What Kelly writes here reminds me of what James wrote to his fellow believers: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). Rejoice and take heart, knowing that even though this world brings troubles, Jesus has overcome the world! (John 16:33). Keeping that eternal perspective, let’s “press on toward the goal to win the prize which God as called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).