He read a long series of verses from the New Testament and challenged us to listen for the clear, repeated response God's Word calls for in the midst of suffering. It wasn't much of a challenge, honestly. In the verses Pastor Craig surveyed, God commands the suffering Christian to endure.
"Endure!? What kind of help is that to a hurting person? That's not what we want to hear..."
Yet this is the invitation: God calls the suffering saint to endure. The primary Greek word translated into English as "endure" is hupomeno (HOO-paw-MEHN-oh), literally "to abide under."
In other words, stay put. Make yourself at home in the trial, which the speaker referred to as "an apartment of affliction." In my daily Bible reading in Jeremiah I've been hearing God through Jeremiah call the exiled Israelites to settle down in Babylon and seek to bless their oppressors through their presence. In the New Testament, the Philippian jailer and his family are converted to Christ through Paul's abiding in persecution in a worshipful way. His epistles also testify to his staying put under a thorn in the flesh, an unspecified illness that brought him to Galatia, and more than one additional imprisonment. Through all of these God was glorified as Paul endured.
To tell the truth, this is not my default response. In my flesh/self, my natural tendency is to find the emergency exit and use it. I don't like pain and suffering. If there is a way out I will take it.
In this regard, the particular affliction of physical illness is a gift to me. There is no exit. This journey is a long tunnel without doors or windows or loose ceiling tiles or air ducts I could turn into an escape route if I were a spy. The only way through is forward. With no way to wriggle out from under the trial, I must endure or perish.
The question then becomes, "How will I endure?" Whether this trial includes a way of escape or not, how will I abide under it well? How will I endure in faith, in a way that honors Christ?
Pastor Craig suggested 5 items of furniture we need in our apartment of affliction:
- Thank-you notes. Even in affliction, we are called to gratitude. For regular readers of Ann Voskamp's blog or Monday posts here, this needs little elaboration. Our preacher reminded us that even lifelong suffering is only temporary and does have an end. If nothing else we can thank God for this, for the hope of the resurrection, for Christ who "holds the lease" on our residence under trials.
- Welcome mat. The tendency during hard times, he said, is to put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign and withdraw from others. Actually, the hard times are when we most need the care and support of others. This is the biggest challenge of the five for my limited energy and full medical appointment schedule. Community demands time and a modicum of health. I am so very grateful for you who take advantage of the welcome mat here and for the welcome mats out at your online homes. I do find I value face-to-face visits with friends and family more now, and I especially treasure efforts to meet me at the point of my ability and limitations.
- Large hall mirror. Trials strip us of our usual coping mechanisms and masks and reveal our real selves. Wise people take advantage of the opportunity to assess that reflection and adjust (confess, grieve, repent, rejoice) accordingly.
- School desk. Difficulty provides an unparalleled opportunity to know God and His Word better. Many, many witnesses throughout Christian history and the Scriptures themselves testify that we learn much more from hard times than easy ones.
- La-Z-Boy recliner. Above all, rest and trust in Christ are essential furniture for one seeking to abide well in the apartment of affliction.
He concluded with this C. H. Spurgeon quote, located online in the midst of a John Piper paper delivered 16 years ago:
I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable....Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister's library.Spurgeon was no stranger to suffering, as the Piper piece makes clear. Neither was our guest preacher. These encouragements do not come from callous ignorance of the way of pain but from God's truth and His faithfulness to these men in the midst of their trials.
Beloved, if you find yourself sojourning in the apartment of affliction today, may God grant grace to abide under your trial, to abide well. May He furnish your temporary home with gratitude, loving community, a clearer glimpse of self (and grace!), deeper knowledge of Himself, and a place of deep rest in Christ. Above all, may He make known to you as only He can that you are not in this alone. Christ is with His children always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He will never, never, never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
Gratefully sharing today with Michelle at Graceful...
and with Jen at Finding Heaven...