Three Ways God Uses Suffering in Our Lives

perseverance

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

The sufferings we endure are not meaningless within the hands of God. This is true regardless of whether we have brought the suffering upon ourselves or whether it has come upon us through the hands of others or our environment. When we put ourselves in the hands of God by faith, our sufferings are invested with another purpose. As the Apostle Paul outlines here in Romans 5, God takes us in the midst of our sufferings and shapes something valuable into our lives.

First, Paul writes, God shapes perseverance into our lives. This is the capacity to keep going, even in the midst of adverse circumstances. Perseverance does not just magically appear in our lives. It is something that we must develop, like a runner suffering through training until she can run a full marathon. While none of us desire suffering, when we submit our suffering to God we free Him to develop perseverance into our lives. Without perseverance, nothing else will come because we will continually push against our circumstances and against God. But as we grow in perseverance, God can have His way in developing us for His glorious purposes.

Along with perseverance, Paul tells us, God uses our sufferings to shape character into our lives. Character is not an abstract gift from God—just an idea about virtue—but is something tangibly confirmed in our lives through the furnace of our trials. If you want character without suffering, you are looking for something else; perhaps a good reputation. If you want character without perseverance, you really want something else; perhaps informational knowledge of what character is. But if we really want character, there is no other way than through the furnace of suffering. Character is developed through trying and testing, like a precious metal refined in the fire as the dross is burned away to reveal its highest quality. Our character is developed and revealed through the fires of suffering combined with our willingness to persevere.

Third, Paul tells us that hope follows character and perseverance when our suffering is given into the hands of God. Hope arises as we persevere amidst the fires of suffering in which character is shaped. Without hope we give up in life, as we know from those who lose a will to live in dire health circumstances or imprisonment. But with hope, we can find meaning in life and keep going. It is by clinging to God by faith amidst suffering that we begin to see that God is indeed doing something else as we bear up in the challenges of life. Contrary to what we perceive with our eyes, God is at work, and this revelation that God is at work brings hope into our lives. We walk by faith and not by sight, as Paul writes elsewhere (2 Corinthians 5:7), but it is hope that keeps us walking. When we yield our sufferings to God, letting Him shape Christlike character in us, hope simultaneously springs up as we realize God has not left us alone and is working in our lives.

All of this meaningful work of God amidst suffering is sustained not by sheer human willpower (although the will is significant), but by the Holy Spirit who is the bond of love tying us into the presence of God through Christ. God is at work, completing what He begins in us (Philippians 1:6). God is working within us with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). And so, even as Christ’s suffering was powerful significant, so, too, when we yield our sufferings to God they bring forth a harvest of righteousness for His glory.

A Prayer inspired by Hebrews 4:1-13

image 3 - Hebrews

Throughout our new series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I am writing prayers related to the text on which we are preaching each week. This prayer is drawn from Hebrews 4:1-13. The complete list of prayers inspired by Hebrews is included at the bottom of this post.

Lord, our current time is a time of weariness;
of endless reports of trauma, change, and death.
Worn out by such words, we confess that we need
a good word of great joy for all people this day.

Today, Lord, we turn to You to find true rest.
We admit that many places we look for rest
do not really provide what they promise to offer.
And so, Lord, we look to You for sabbath and peace.

Lord, we thank You that You are true to Your promises
and that the promise of rest is still open to us today.
We draw near in full humility before our need
but also in full confidence of Your provision.

Today, Lord, strengthen us to diligently obey You
that, walking in Your will and your way,
we might truly enter into the rest You provide
both for now and unto eternity.

All this we pray in Your name, Triune God—
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—
You who are truly at work and simultaneously at rest,
to whom be all honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.


Prayers from Hebrews:

Eastbrook at Home – May 24, 2020

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Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home as we continue our series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews.” This weekend we look at Hebrews 4 and what it means to enter into the rest of God.

Join in with a virtual small group on the sermon every Sunday at 11 AM. More info here.

Each Sunday beginning at 8 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts.

As we continue to tweak this experience, please let us know your experience by emailing us here. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo or the Eastbrook app.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 23 May 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


May20_20_AlwaysOn-1200x675“How to Cope with That ‘Always-On’ Feeling” – Many of us trying to navigate the already existing pressures of constant availability find those pressures increasing beyond our capacity in the current moment of the pandemic. “So, what are we to do? While we’re all experiencing greater job and family stress in this new normal, our recent research has found there are steps that employees can take to protect their well-being.” This article from The Harvard Business Review offers three suggestions for ways that employees can navigate this and take care of themselves.


President Trump

“Trump deems houses of worship ‘essential’ amid coronavirus pandemic” – One of the hottest debates is whether churches and other houses of worship are “essential” during the pandemic and now the President has weighed in. At the present moment, this has been left to governors to decide or, based on some states, local municipalities. Where I live in the city of Milwaukee, churches are still limited within guidelines for gatherings of 10 or less for the time being.


unity“Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You” – Given the heat that can be generated by the last discussion, let me encourage you to read this article by Brett McCracken. “For church leaders and elder boards everywhere, the last few months have presented a near-constant array of complex challenges related to shepherding a church during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest complex challenge is perhaps the trickiest yet: how to prudently resume in-person gatherings….n such a precarious and polarizing environment, how can churches move forward in beautiful unity (Ps. 133) rather than ugly division? It won’t be easy. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working to unify us in ways our flesh resists, the opportunity is there for us to be a countercultural model for the rest of the world.”


Ravi Zacharias“In Memoriam: Ravi Zacharias” – While many of you may already have heard, Ravi Zacharias passed away on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, after battling with cancer. I first encountered Zacharias’ work while at Wheaton College as an undergrad, both through his writing and his speaking. One of my mentors, Lyle Dorsett, assigned Zacharias’ books in classes on the ministry of evangelism. His books, particularly Jesus Among Other Gods, was pivotal in helping me frame my understanding of how the Christian faith made sense in relation to other faiths. A notable apologist for Christianity, Ravi spoke with intellectual clarity and pastoral concern within his ministry. There will be a global livestream memorial service to honor his life on YouTube and on Facebook on May 29 at 10 AM (CST).


Francis Collins Templeton Prize“NIH Director Francis Collins Wins $1.3M Templeton Prize” – In early April, I referenced the work of Francis Collins as a Christian scientist and the director of the National Institutes of Health. Just this past week Collins was awarded a $1.3M Templeton Prize with this description of his work: “In his scientific leadership, public speaking, and popular writing, including his bestselling 2006 book, The Language of God, Collins has demonstrated how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research. He endeavors to encourage religious communities to embrace the latest discoveries of genetics and the biomedical sciences as insights to enrich and enlarge their faith.


Acedia Evagrius Ponticus“The Noonday Demon in Our Distracted Age” – A few years back I read Kathleen Norris’s book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life based on a recommendation within another book I was reading. I confess I had no idea what “acedia” was but I really enjoyed the book and connected deeply with the thrust of the book. Then J. L. Aijian wrote this article based on the work of Evagrius Ponticus from the 4th century on the same topic and it caught my attention. He wrote: “The spirit of acedia drives the monk out of his cell, but the monk who possesses perseverance will ever cultivate stillness. A person afflicted with acedia proposes visiting the sick, but is fulfilling his own purpose. A monk given to acedia is quick to undertake a service, but considers his own satisfaction to be a precept.”


Wisconsin fall“Wisconsin: Images of the Badger State” – Every once in awhile it’s good to see the familiar through someone else’s eyes. While originally from the Mississippi River valley in Illinois, I have lived in Wisconsin since 2003. Here is a stunning and fun series of photos in The Atlantic from Wisconsin, offering a view into the unique culture and beautiful geography of a state I have come to love.


Music: Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come,” from Ain’t That Good News

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Significance of Jesus’ Ascension

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Edward Bolwell, ascension day, Acrylic Paint on MDF Board; 2017

Yesterday was Ascension Day, when celebrate the ascension of Jesus to the Father in heaven after His resurrection from death (Luke 24:49-51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:3-10). I believe the ascension is one of the most-neglected aspects of the life of Jesus with greater significance for our life with God as disciples of Jesus than we usually realize.

I wrote three posts in 2018 about the importance of the ascension for our faith because of Jesus’ reign as King, Jesus’ mediation eternally, and Jesus’ future return in glory, and would encourage you to join me in considering the significance of Jesus’ ascension.

Read them here:

In Memoriam: Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias

While many of you may already have heard, Ravi Zacharias passed away on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, after battling with cancer. I first encountered Zacharias’ work while at Wheaton College as an undergrad, both through his writing and his speaking. One of my mentors, Lyle Dorsett, assigned Zacharias’ books in classes on the ministry of evangelism. His books, particularly Jesus Among Other Gods, was pivotal in helping me frame my understanding of how the Christian faith made sense in relation to other faiths. A notable apologist for Christianity, Ravi spoke with intellectual clarity and pastoral concern within his ministry.

His daughter, Sarah Davis, who now serves as CEO of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), offers a moving tribute to her father, which includes this summary of Ravi’s life and heart:

It was his Savior, Jesus Christ, that my dad always wanted most to talk about. Even in his final days, until he lacked the energy and breath to speak, he turned every conversation to Jesus and what the Lord had done. He perpetually marveled that God took a seventeen-year-old skeptic, defeated in hopelessness and unbelief, and called him into a life of glorious hope and belief in the truth of Scripture—a message he would carry across the globe for 48 years.

You can also read the official obituary, as well as a brief biography at Christianity Today, which I extracted some key points from below. If Ravi Zacharias’ influenced your life in some way, it would be wonderful if you shared that story or anecdote in the comments for this blog post.

The popular author and Christian teacher was known for his work through Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), which focused on apologetic arguments for the existence of God and the reasonableness of Christianity.

He preached in more than 70 countries and authored more than 30 books in his 48-year career, teaching Christians to engage with skeptics and arguing that the Christian worldview has robust answers to humanity’s existential questions.

Zacharias was born in India and raised in an Anglican family. He recounted that his conversion to Christianity came while reading the Bible in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt as a teen. He immigrated to Canada at the age of 20.

Zacharias started his ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA). A graduate of Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University) and Trinity International University, he was commissioned as a national evangelist for the United States in 1977 and ordained in the CMA in 1980. He founded RZIM in 1984, and the organization has grown to about 200 employees in 16 offices around the world, with more than 70 traveling speakers.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (May 20, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In this update I focus on the life of Moses through the lens of Psalm 90:1-2:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

In a confusing time we can often feel confused about how to come to a place of peace, rest, or belonging. If we are trying to squeeze that out of our circumstances in these times we will never get there. However, if we put the anchor for our souls in the eternal God we will be on the right track.