Monday, August 29, 2011

Furnishing The Apartment of Affliction

Our church is in the midst of a pastoral transition, which in part means a steady stream of guest speakers. We are a little in danger of being spoiled by listening only to "greatest hits" sermons. Yesterday morning the pastor of a kindred church spoke on the topic, "Help for the Hurting," and his words lived up to the title.

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...


  1. Wow. What a powerful post. I do n't know what your physical illness is but I will be praying for you. Thanks for the reminder of the "furniture" we need. I reall enjoyed your writing. Blessings!

  2. Powerful, indeed. So many of us don't truly understand the blessing that suffering can be. For several years, we worked with some Chinese Christians who had been smuggled out of China after suffering all kinds of trials. They don't pray for persecution to end. They don't because they see it as a blessing from the Lord because of the fruit it bears in the lives of Believers there. Powerful post, dear one!

  3. I really, really love this Christina. So rich. Looking forward to sharing this with my friends on facebook.

  4. I am utterly thankful that rest was considered as one of the 5. I am learning that without rest it seems that none of the others are really possible, or perhaps not possible on the deeper levels. It takes time for me to consider in the moment of affliction what I could be thankful for. Introspection, this looking in the mirror, takes a mind that can focus on that which God is calling me to see.

    Such a deep, well-written post that has got me sitting here, just thinking...taking it all in.

  5. Thank you, Christina, for sharing this. What a rich "meal."

  6. Enduring. No fun. A little bit like your PT, but also just as effective in getting the results needed. I love your options: endure or die. Sheds a different perspective on enduring.

    PS - I meant no disrespect to Jeremiah. I was merely impressed with how much he was changed by God in the course of his career as God's prophet. I love how God sees what we may not see, or only believe to be our potential, as his finished work in us even before it actually is in time and space.

  7. wow...I am in need of a welcome mat. I get out of the apartment of affliction to go and do the work we were called here to do but I find myself being guarded and not really letting anyone in to know me and be a support to me. In the midst of fibromyalgia pain and grieving our life in Russia, and losing all our belongings in the move here to Belize I have just wanted to withdraw and lick my own wounds.

    Thank you for sharing this message with us.

  8. i doubt that enduring is anybody's default...and doesn't the afflicted person's enduring as God commands glorify God precisely inasmuch as it isn't that person's default?

    wonderful piece--inspiring, and somehow simultaneously deeply challenging and deeply comforting!!

  9. loved this so much. incredibly rich, as others have said and i echo. thank you. if you're up for it, drop me an email about your illness. i have been dealing with major health issues this year as well - i would love to pray 'in specific' for you.

  10. Wow, you packed a lot in here. I was particuarly drawn to this: "my natural tendency is to find the emergency exit and use it." Yup, that's me. When presented with "fight or flight" I usually choose flight. Your study of the word "endure" reminds me of a post I read several months ago on the word -- forebearance...which means something beyond patience, something more akin to "bucking up." I don't do it very well...but yet it's hard to avoid the fact that enduring and forebearance are a big part of Scriptural teachings.

    I like the five pieces of furniture a lot, too!

  11. I like the practical ideas here.


  12. I love his five points. Interesting that thank you notes were listed first, even before the welcome mat. I had a health scare a few weeks back ( all well now) and found myself forcing my prayers of thanks for what I could learn from this and praising His presence even in difficult moments. I know my heart wasn't in it but I still vocalized it and it did help. The thanks did lead to the welcome. Great post.

  13. My husband and I just started serving at Lake Cities (where Craig is the pastor). We saw the link to your blog on his facebook page. You did a great job summarizing it. It looks like you have a great ministry going on your blog as well. Praying for you guys in this transition
    God Bless you and your writing!
    Dallas, TX

  14. What a wonderful post! It sounds like you are getting some meaty meals I'm this transition.I'm going to have to stretch myself to use some of these tools when I am in the apt. of affliction, but that is a good thing (hard, but good). I love the story you left over at my place...imagine such a bookstore! So exotic.

    You really captured the imagination of this small-town girl. :)

  15. I'm going back to read some of your posts and, oh, I'm so glad I landed on this one. What truth here! I am grabbing hold of this idea to "abide under" suffering, to make myself at home because He's here and He's asked me to live here for a time. And those five things? Yes, yes, yes. I can testify to them in my own life. Thank you for putting them into words here. Grace to you, Friend, as you abide in the "gift of illness."


Thank you for sharing your day with me! Your presence here is a gift. *You* are a gift. Right now I am unable to reply to every comment, but please know I read and pray for each and every commenter. Grace and peace to you in Christ.