Week 36: God Who Purposes Our Suffering

Monday: Genesis 37

Tuesday: Mark 9

Wednesday: Psalm 4

Thursday: Romans 8

Friday: Genesis 37, Mark 9, Psalm 4, Romans 8

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 37

Joseph – hated by his brothers, sold into slavery as a “good alternative” to being murdered. I can’t help but think of how easy it would have been for him to despair. Joseph has heard from the Lord in two different dreams that seem to suggest that his family will one day bow to him, but I would be willing to bet that it is pretty hard to  hold onto that promise as Joseph is chained and led away by slave traders to a foreign land. And Joseph may not have known it at the time, but as readers we know that it only gets worse. He will be chained, enslaved, and later even imprisoned long before what the Lord has spoken to him comes to pass.

It is clear that only God in His providence could use such terrible circumstances to bring about His good purposes and plan. But He will. Time and time again this is who God is, this is what He does. He will bring good, rich blessing to Joseph and eventually save his whole family (and thus the lineage of Jesus), out of Joseph’s suffering. God is active and working, even in our hardship and distress, even when the plan doesn’t look good. Even when we can’t see what He is doing.

When things seem to not make sense this week, when you cannot see how He is going to use your hardship, remind yourself of His promises. He is working all things for your good. He always fulfills His promises. We can always trust Him.

Tuesday, Mark 9

Jesus has started speaking often about the cross, His death, and resurrection. I wonder if He allows Peter, James, and John to come up the mountain with Him because He knows they are anxious and fearful, or if He knows they will need to look back on this after His death to more fully understand. God is always revealing himself to us if we choose to see Him.

I resonate so deeply with the heart of the possessed little boy’s father who cries out to Jesus, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.” As I think of God purposing everything, even suffering, I so want to look at the hardships in my life and in the lives of my friends and fully believe God will use it for good, that God will bring about His good purposes and my own sanctification through it. I cry out with the Father, “Lord, help me believe!”

What truths about God are you struggling to believe today?

I encourage you to name those things, and search for Scripture that specifically addresses those promises.

I am so encouraged that we can serve a Living God who is not upset with us when we are anxious, afraid, or struggling to believe but instead invites us to pray, “Lord! Help my unbelief!”

Wednesday, Psalm 4

What a gracious Father, who answers us when we call, who has mercy on us and hears our prayers.

Spend time with God in prayer today and rest in knowing that He hears you.

Thursday, Romans 8

Romans 8 has to be one of my all-time favorite chapters in the Bible (am I allowed to say that?) It is so full of rich promises that I have been sitting here staring at my screen, completely unable to summarize. Instead, I want to highlight some of these promises and invite us to memorize them, write them down, and pray them back to God this week. His word is so powerful, and I am so grateful for these truths –

  • There is no condemnation for those of us who believe in Christ Jesus
  • Jesus has set us free from sin and the eternal death that comes as a result!
  • Jesus took the sin we deserved, bore the punishment, and now we are free from punishment and inherit only eternal life with Him
  • The Spirit of God is living in us!
  • We are God’s children, and we are heirs of His Kingdom and eternal blessing!
  • Our present sufferings pale in comparison to the glory promised us in eternity
  • One day, this world will be completely liberated from suffering, completely redeemed
  • The Holy Spirit cries out to God for us, even when we don’t know what to pray
  • God works all things for our good
  • God predestined us – chose us in advance to do good work for His Kingdom
  • God justified us – made us righteous though on our own we are not
  • God will glorify us – we will live with Him forever in eternity
  • God gives us all that we need
  • NOTHING can separate us from the love of God! Hallelujah. 

Friday Reflections

As I sit here, my mind is wandering back to a morning a few years ago. Will you go back with me? 

It is the rainy season in Uganda. My friend and I slip and slide down the muddy hill to Masese where we weekly study the word with a group of women who have become so dear to us. Every Tuesday we come, joyful and overflowing, or broken and weary, or anything in between, and we don’t have to hide it because these women have become friends. We wear our babies on our hips and we wear each others’ burdens. We break bread together in each other’s homes and each week we crack open His word desperate for His filling, searching for His wisdom, inquiring together, “What do you have for us, God?”

It is beautiful, when I have eyes to see. It is beautiful, but my heart isn’t prepared for Masese today.

We sit in a circle in the dirt space between falling-apart slum buildings and I scuff the dirt under my sandals and let my mind wander as the women share prayer requests, each of them more devastating than the last. Last week, just two days after I held her baby in this very circle, our friend suddenly and unexpectedly died. We shake our heads in disbelief and we try to remember the good things she brought to this community without losing hope. As we continue to share, someone else’s mom is slowly dying of tuberculosis, someone else’s daughter was assaulted, and far too many people that everyone knows have fallen prey to alcoholism and addiction and we all know the way this so quickly destroys the lives around us. How do we not lose hope, I wonder. I let my mind wander because I am weary. I don’t want to engage in this kind of suffering again today. I live just a few minutes away from here but my life is still so different. My hard looks like teenagers with rolling eyes and fragile hearts that are crushed with a few wrong words or glances. My friends’ hard is rampant disease and rape and murder. I haven’t spent enough time with Jesus and today I just can’t seem to open my heart to that kind of hurt without despair.

I force myself to get down in the dirt and lay my hands on a sick friend and pray. My hand is wet and I realize that she is letting her tears fall, vulnerable, in front of me and in front of our Father. Her hurt is different from mine, but really, it is the same. We are the same. Both just as in need of a Savior as the other. Both willing Him, begging Him to come quickly. I ask Him to open my heart to right here and right now. I ask Him to make Himself known.

We sit in the dirt and let the tears fall. And despite my best efforts to harden myself to the suffering today, Faithful God breaks me, gives me eyes not just to see the pain but to know it intimately. These aren’t just people. These are my friends. These are people I know, people He knows. I know their names, their husbands, their children. He knows each hair on their heads and the deepest cries of our heart.

I allow myself to imagine us in the palm of His hand. I imagine his tenderness as He numbered those hairs, I imagine His hand cupping my face as a daddy cups the face of His daughter, and I imagine Him looking into these women’s eyes and smiling, delighted in His daughters. I close my eyes and in my mind I hear the voice of my husband as he sits on our bed and strums his guitar, “for mercy for comfort we wait on the Lord,” He sings.

Today I feel like we are just waiting. Today, hope is something we fight for.

A woman I don’t know very well walks by our circle. I have heard stories of her. She sits on the ground against the wall of the little dirt church we meet behind and stares vacantly. Nobody is really sure if she is disabled or if she has just been abused by so many men that she doesn’t talk anymore.

Another woman who I know well and love dearly stumbles down the hill and nuzzles her head into my shoulder. She lived with us years ago as she recovered from alcoholism and her child recovered from burns, but it is clear she’s been drinking as she tries to communicate with me through language barriers and slurred speech. My eyes look into hers, blood-shot red, and I plead with her. She is such a good mother, sober. I ask where her little girl is, trying to remind her that being home alone is how she got so injured last time, but she isn’t listening. She kisses my cheeks and stumbles away.

It is just days after they lowered our friend’s body into the ground. Just a week ago she sat in this circle with us and now we try to figure out who will check on her babies. The women look defeated. I feel defeated.

How do we find the hope of Jesus here? How do we proclaim that He is at work when we just can’t see it?

“Let us see you here, Lord,” I pray it desperately. He answers with Romans 2:8, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” These women, they persist. Against all the odds, when it would be easier to just give up and go ahead and call this place hopeless, they cling to their hope in Jesus and persist in doing good, they persist in seeking His glory.

I remember the words of Romans 8 – we consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

We hope for what we do not see. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose… We are more than conquerors because of all this sin? This death? This rampant addiction and disease and suffering? He conquered it for us, and He promises, He promises, that He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us will also give us all things that we need.

Not all things that we want. Not the life free from suffering that I am thinking back to today. But all things that we need. All things that will draw us to Himself. All things that will glorify His name.

And in His grace, nothing will ever separate us from His love. Thank you Jesus.

I trudge back up the hill, my mind still mulling over questions. God where are you in all of this mess? How will you use this for glory? As I ponder, my foot slips and lands in a mixture that is surely part alcohol and part human waste. I choose to call it mud and begin to sigh, of course. Two strong arms wrap around me from behind and Santina’s laughter fills my ears. She is laughing at me because she knows how distracted I was and of course, of course, I stepped in the hole. She pulls my arm and drags me to her home where she pulls off my shoes and scrubs them in a basin of soapy water. Water isn’t an easy thing to come by around here and I can’t believe she is using it on my sandals. She proceeds to wash my feet. She is washing my feet and I want to protest but I think of Jesus. Bent down, towel around His waist, arguing with Peter who just doesn’t understand. He whispers to me, “See? Do you see Me? I am at work here.”

My stubborn heart may not always want to believe it, but I know it is true. He is at work here. He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all – yes, indeed, He gives us all things we need and will use even messy, hard things to cause us to search harder for Him.

Maggie walks up the hill in front of me still giggling about my feet and my grumpy-ness. Maggie, who just months ago, I thought would die. Maggie who at 19-years-old held her 4-year-old and her dead newborn and bled and bled all alone in her house with no one to help her and no one to call family. Maggie who moved into our guest room as frail and sick as other women who died there. Maggie who lived. She walks up the hill, her arms full of necklaces that now provide for her and her little guy, both happy and healthy, and her heart full of God’s Word which she loves to share with others. “I am at work here,” He whispers, again and again. “Can you believe me? Can you believe my promises?”

Of course I do. I read the words again. I read that neither death or life or the angels or the demons or the present or the future or height or depth or anything in all creation would be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I read that all of it is purposeful. That we will conquer, because He has conquered.

For mercy, for comfort, we wait on the Lord. And He is at work here.

What is too hard today, friends? What is too messy?

It is hard to believe sometimes, but we can know God is good in that place. We’ve tasted and known His goodness, even in the impossibly hard places. Romans 2 says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.”

Persist in doing good, dear one. Persist in resting in and relying on Him. Peace that passes understanding is promised to us, and eternal life awaits us!

3 thoughts on “Week 36: God Who Purposes Our Suffering

  1. “hard things that caused us to look harder for Him” — So encouraged by your words today.

    Thank you for your obedience to God. Your faithfulness blesses.❤️‍🩹

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