What do you do when life doesn’t go your way? What do you think when an ordinary day or week or life turns into a nightmare? Let’s imagine, for the sake of illustration, that you’re living in circumstances that look like the part of a great American novel where the hero gets in trouble and the trouble is getting worse.
· You uncover a shameful truth about your spouse or one of your children.
· You face unexpected and overwhelming expenses at a time when your income it at its lowest.
· You get bad news from the doctor about yourself or a family member.
How will you think and behave at a time like this? What will determine how you will think and behave? Can you prepare yourself to respond biblically to such circumstances or must you wait and see what comes out?
Then there are the questions about God’s perspective. What kind of reaction does He expect of his children when they are suffering? Does He say, “It’s okay to be mad at me” or does He say, “Suck it up. It could be worse”?
Our trouble is that we tend to gravitate toward one of those extremes. Either we crumble under the pressure and enter a mindless, faithless despair or we become bitter and cold, steeling ourselves against further hurt by refusing to feel emotion.
Many in the Church have attempted to answer the problem of pain. Some say our pain is as much a surprise to God as it is to us. Others say you suffer because you do not have enough faith. Still others blame territorial or ancestral spirits.
The world has its own answers. We are told there are predictable stages of grief—that anyone outside the pattern is likely in denial. We are taught to pamper ourselves when we hurt, to take a break from responsibility until the hurt goes away. To suggest that there might be a wrong way to respond to suffering is to be labeled judgmental. Among people “in the know” there is no consensus of what “normal” is, so almost anything goes, which raises an interesting question: Is there a “normal” way to respond to suffering? Is there for a follower of Jesus Christ a pattern which, if lived out, makes you God’s kind of sufferer?
Without hesitation we must say, “Yes.
Mark 10:45 (ESV) records these words of Jesus: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What is your task as a follower of Christ who is suffering? It is to serve and to give. That is what Jesus did.
Take special care in noting all the people Jesus ministered to as he hung on the cross:
· To his tormentors
· To the repentant thief
· To the unrepentant thief
· To John
· To Mary
· To the people he died to save
Developing an “other-focus” in prosperous times will prepare you for lean times.
To his tormentors (“Father, forgive them…”), He served a healthy portion of grace. He could have had them destroyed by the angels under his command, but He prayed for them. Following His own counsel to “pray for your enemies,” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, ESV).
In our nation of religious freedom it may be hard for you to imagine someone having a murderous hatred for you because you are an outspoken Christian. It isn’t hard to imagine the rolling eyes and verbal jabs that come toward Christ’s evangelists.
To the repentant thief, He granted a pardon (Luke 23:43, ESV), saying, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in
When you are hurting it is often because of the sins of others. To refuse forgiveness to them when they honestly repent is to say that what Jesus did on the cross was an insufficient price. The words “I forgive you” are a ministry to a repentant sinner.
If you are hurting because of your own sin, you need to view yourself as guilty as the thief hanging next to Jesus.
To the unrepentant thief, He offered common grace. This ministry was not in what Jesus said or did but in His silence. That is, Jesus allowed the man to live even in the midst of his blasphemy. He was witness to the same things as the repentant thief, yet he persisted in unbelief. Luke 23:39 (ESV) records it this way: “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’”
Common grace is what God gives every man—even the worst among men—by allowing him life, sustenance and pleasure. You may have lived long enough to have had someone wrong you terribly. You cannot grant them full forgiveness without their repentance, but you can give up the right to become bitter. You can grace them by refusing to take revenge—even if they sorely deserve it.
To Mary, He ministered material provision. As the eldest son of Mary, Jesus took the responsibility to secure her a place to live. As Mary and John stood at the foot of the cross, He said (John 19:26, ESV), “Woman, behold, your son!”
As with everything else Jesus said and did at the cross, His focus here was on others. Facing unimaginable pain, He considered what His widowed mother would need to sustain her into old age.
To John (giving ministry is a ministry), He entrusted the care of His mother. John 19:7 (ESV) “‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
Suffering people might be tempted to give a job to everyone available to help themselves. Jesus commissioned John to carry out a task he would be unable to carry out.
To the people he died to save, He gave a completed work. He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He absorbed God’s wrath toward their sins. He purchased them from slavery to sin with His blood. He secured eternal life for them. He became sin so that they could be declared righteous in God’s sight. He washed their sins away.
This you cannot do. If you are one who has realized personally the washing away of sins, you can use the suffering of your master as a pattern for your own suffering, but you can add nothing to a work that perfectly satisfied the Father’s righteous demands. With these words of Jesus, yours is but to joyfully bask in the light of a completed work you had no part in.
If you are a stranger to this pleasure, yours is to see the unspeakable disparity between the holy Lamb of God and your helpless, guilty soul—to see yourself as an object of wrath. This is no exaggeration of the facts. Run to Him now for mercy.