A few weeks ago, I attended my second women's retreat at Redeemer. It was held at a big, open, comfortable house smack on Folly Beach-the sort of house that says "yeah, we're loaded, but we're regular people." I admit, I had to make a concerted effort to pay attention and not just stare outside at the beautiful beach-and the few idiot tourists in bikinis. The wind was sharp and I was wishing I had a windbreaker instead of a soft cloth jacket. Perfect setting for our SPA theme.
S stands for Suffering. Christine Alele from Uganda taught in a style that reminded me of Mom's. She compared Job's, Jehoshaphat's and the late Bill Bright's (Campus Crusade) responses to adversity.
So what does suffering look like? Unfortunately, there is no way to quantify it. You know it when you feel it. Circumstances vary so wildly that it is unjust to say that one person has it much worse than another.
Does God trust us with suffering? God allows it-in fact, God set Job up. Suffering should be received like any other blessing.
What does Satan want from our suffering? To make us question God, to destroy God's character, and to convince us that God buys our love with toys and when the good times end, God doesn't love us anymore.
What sustains Job through the ordeal? The hope that God is good and the knowledge that God is sovereign. "I know that my Redeemer lives..." "Christ learned through suffering to be the obedient son..." "Through suffering we possess our faith..."
Can we prepare for suffering? We have to. Once we're in the middle of the storm, it's too late to decide what we believe about God. Suffering reveals the correctness (or not) of our theology.
When something big threatens, human instinct is to form an alliance with somebody, anybody, whether or not they or it are good for us. Instead, Jehoshaphat declares a national day of prayer and fasting. When we see trouble coming, it is important to set aside time to pray. In this circumstance, God promised to fight for Israel. Immediately, the nation praised God, even BEFORE the deliverance occurred.
Suffering calls us to teach others how to live and die. Dr. Bill Bright and his wife Vonette founded Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) in 1951. During the next 50 years, CCC grew to a full time staff of more than 26, 000 in 190 countries. In 1993, Dr. Bright was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As a result of a malfunction with the radiation treatment, five years later, he developed an incurable pulmonary fibrosis. In his last book, "The Journey Home, Finishing with Joy," Dr. Bright chronicles his journey from the doctor's office where he was told "this is worse than heart attack or cancer. You will slowly die by choking." His response was, "Thank you Lord Jesus. You called me for the past 50 years to teach your people how to live, now you are calling me to teach them how to die."
It is an indictment of modern Christians that we do not know the names and stories of contemporary saints the way we know our celebrities. We can learn from those who have trained their relationship with the Lord so that when suffering inevitably hits, we respond faithfully. We all are given separate gifts from the Giver, but God remains good and supreme.
More to come on the P and A of SPA as I get around to it.