Series: Called to Belong – A Series on the book of Romans
Teresa Goldstein | May 12, 2013, 10:00AM
No Audio Recorded.
The audio sermon for this Sunday was not recorded. What follows is the written manuscript, pertaining to suffering, based on Romans 5:3-5.
(Note: ACC purchased and presented the official copy of this video on Sunday Morning)
Last week Mike gave a powerful message on Romans 5: 3 – 5. In it he talked about thinking of our trials and suffering as God given help for our faith, so we should rejoice in it. And that when we are praying through these difficult times, we should pray for our faith to be strengthened, rather than for freedom from the tribulation.
I want to talk about this in a little more detail, because for some of us, especially mothers, we seem to have trials on a daily basis. This begs the question: How do you handle the setbacks, the disappointments, the abuses, the heartaches, the calamities, the bitter providences of your life? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel, that as a mother, our call is a call to suffer. When Jesus was trying to explain to His disciples the suffering they would experience and the joy that would follow he told them, (in John 16:21), “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”
As mothers we suffer at the beginning of our child’s life, we suffer in the middle, when they might make foolish decisions, and we suffer, if the worst happens and we lose our children, at the end. Simeon said to Mary, when they presented Jesus at the temple: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2: 34 – 35)
The word “suffer” means being subjected to or inflicted with pain from an outside influence. As we watch our children grow from infant through childhood, and beyond, it’s easy to make that correlation between suffering, motherhood, and pain from outside influences. But there’s more to trials and suffering than just raising children.
Most people would wince at the thought of suffering; it’s not something we really want to dwell on. Some folks go so far as to change the name to “wilderness time,” because it gives a better mental picture. Either way, it can be a time of trial and testing, but is that a bad thing?
Recently I heard a talk given by Christian author, Graham Cooke, in it he asks, “What if God gives us trials, takes us to the wilderness, because He loves us?” Moses killed the Egyptian and fled to Midian, basically the wilderness, where he met God, and was strengthened for the task that God put before him. Jesus was baptized by John, and then went into the wilderness for 40 days, and then was tempted by the devil. What do you think happened during that 40 day span? Was Jesus lamenting His fate, or was He growing stronger in His relationship with the Lord? He was able to withstand the tempter, and then angels came and attended Him.
Have you heard the Butterfly Story? “A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further.
So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If God allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. We could never fly!”
You see, everybody is ready and willing to experience the benefits of knowing Christ. But only a true follower can understand and experience the fellowship of His suffering. Jesus never says follow me and I will make your life a piece of cake. The reality is that the closer you get to Christ, the more the enemy wants to distract you. There will be times in your walk that will be challenging, tough, painful. During these times you might ask yourself, “Do I really want to know Him?” But at the place of suffering is where Christ calls us to intimacy. In the midst of our trials we often ask, “Why is this happening to me?” And, more often than not, the reason behind our trials is that God wants to take us to the next level of intimacy with Him as we trust Him and grow in Him. He wants us to fly, like the butterfly, not to spend our lives just crawling around on the ground.
Have you ever audited a course? When you audit a class you can take it without having to do the work, you can go to class, listen to the lectures, but there is no grade or reason to apply any of the knowledge. Auditing students simply listen and observe. Sometimes we choose to audit the Christian life. We might attend church or a small group, but we don’t put these lessons to use in our daily lives. We might profess to follow Christ and even go through the motions of obedience, but we don’t really know God or live in His power. We’re simply crawling around.
When we go through the wilderness, the only thing we can rely on is God. Our comfort and control are stripped away from us, and when we try to leave the wilderness through our own strength, we are left even more broken, because we can’t get out without help. But, when we let go of control, God will use our trials to draw us closer to Him and to help us know Him better.
I realize that I have not had to face a lot of the trials that many of you in this room have had. I know there are people who have suffered the loss of a child, or spouse, those who have endured the cancer diagnosis, or those who have been longtime caregivers for a loved one. It’s difficult to talk about suffering when your pain has not been as deep as those around you. Many of you have walked with Chris and me through our time this past year in the wilderness, and I thank you for that. Our wilderness journey with our oldest daughter was one that I tried to control. If I take the step to make it right, everything will fall into place, if I make the efforts at reconciling, she’ll have no choice but to do so, and many other I, decisions. It was only when I realized that I had to let God go before me, and wait on His timing that we were able to bring our relationship back to a place where we could discuss the past hurts, and then move on. I think God still has a purpose for that time, but for now, I will enjoy the renewed relationship with our daughter and her family.
Suffering grows us in our relationship with God. It helps us to rely on Him for strength, and rest in the knowledge that we don’t have to have all the answers, or be in control. We may not feel the happiness that the world says that we deserve, but, if we are willing to sacrifice that happiness for the deeper joy that comes from walking with God through our difficult times, we reap the greater benefit.
Time and time again the Scriptures show us that when we trust God in the difficult times, he turns those circumstances around for His glory. Think back to Joseph, when his brothers sold him into slavery, they didn’t think they would ever see him again, they hated him, and wanted to get rid of him. But what happened years later? God caused a famine to happen, and where did the brothers need to go for food? They had to go to Egypt, where Joseph had set aside enough food to feed not only the Egyptians, but the Israelites, too. And when Joseph reveals his true identity he tells his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)
So when we have trials, when we suffer, God can turn it around. James tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Sounds kind of like what Mike talked about last week. Paul puts it another way, (Romans 8:17-18) “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” When we suffer, we share with Christ’s suffering so that we might also share in His glory. That seems like something that makes it worthwhile, don’t you think?
I want to tell you about a group of people who are currently suffering, but looking forward to sharing in Christ’s glory. I went to a Women’s Retreat last weekend, and our speaker brought a video of people that she and her husband are working with in Nigeria. You see, it was brought to their attention that there was a Muslim faction in the country, the Fulani, that were going from village to village killing Christians, and burning their churches. Out of 84 churches in the northern part of Nigeria, 80 of them have been burned. The video interviewed five of the survivors from these attacks; one woman had been hit on the head with a rock and left for dead. The amazing thing about all of these believers was that when asked about their faith, all of them said that they would continue to follow Jesus because He was their hope and joy. I watched that video and felt that as a Christian in America, I have no idea what it means to suffer for my faith. If persecution comes, will I be ready?
Jesus suffered in the garden, He asked the Father to take the cup away, but then said, “Thy will be done.” When suffering and trials come your way, can you say that, or do you let your desire for comfort and control win out, and you let the cup pass?
We are going to end our time with Communion, and you have an opportunity to receive the cup that Jesus took. We will be changing our normal Communion practice, and instead of taking it in the seats, I’m going to ask that you come up front to receive it. There will be people that can bring trays to you, as well, just raise your hand. When you come up for Communion, the people with the trays will say to you, “Receive the cup of suffering that Jesus took for you.” Your answer to them is, “Jesus, I receive the cup of suffering you took for me.” It will probably be a little uncomfortable, but, as John said a few weeks ago, comfort and control are faith killers.
But before we begin, I want to read you a poem, written by Martha Snell Nicholson, and recited by Elisabeth Elliot at a memorial for a missionary wife and daughter that were killed when their plane was shot down over Peru. Before she read the poem she told the father, Jim, “You wonder what God is doing, and of course, we know that God never makes mistakes. He knows exactly what He is doing, and suffering is never for nothing. . . . He has given to you, Jim, the cup of suffering, and you can share that with the Lord Jesus who said, “The cup the Father has given to me, I have received.”
Before I begin, I want to let you know that a “mendicant” is a beggar:
I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne
And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”
He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.
I don’t know about you, but if it takes a thorn to pin aside the veil – if it takes disappointment and loss and heartache and trials and suffering – then, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our eternal joy seeing and savoring him, let it come. Will you pray with me?