10. School for Comforters

17 02 2018

Chapter 9: School for Comforters

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 10 of 13 posts)

I would venture to say, most of us have been on the receiving end of a “comforting word” that wasn’t exactly comforting. I have certainly done my own bit of coming-alongside, only to walk away asking myself, “Why did you say that?” having dispensed some kind of awkward comfort. In this chapter, Edith Schaeffer begins by letting us know that God Himself will teach us in the area of comfort (169). The way we learn is through our own experience of sorrow or trouble in which comfort was needed and given but there is another side to it: “We have to recognize our need for comfort before we will let ourselves be comforted” (169).

Schaeffer says “we cannot know how to comfort anyone if we have never been comforted ourselves in some way” (170) and I find that to be an interesting thing to think about. I agree! As I look at my own life, when I have connected with someone walking through a time of affliction, I think of what has been meaningful to me when I have been afflicted; the kind of comfort, the type of life-giving words, and I am able to better offer the same. Walking through affliction and being open to the comfort of others has helped me to say and do things that are more “real.”

Psalms 34 says (I love the KJV translation for this verse), “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all…the Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants, and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.” That is so beautiful. Our Lord is such an amazing counsellor and comfort! Schaeffer writes,

“There is a great difference between being comforted and being desolate. There is a difference as wide and deep as an ocean between our recognizing someone else’s need for comfort — because we have been comforted ourselves and can recognize the utter desolation of another’s moment of need — and our being cold and hard because we have never been comforted” (170).

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1 that we are comforted by Christ so that we can comfort those in any trouble “with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”  The Bible reminds us that God is the “Father of compassion” and it is our God who makes us able to have compassion. Our God is also known as the “God of all comfort” — “There is no variety of comfort needed that He does not know about” (171).

“This is the One who, if we are His children…will comfort us in all our troubles. How? First of all we need to run to Him, not away from Him. And we need to not kick and fight and blame Him for our being hurt. We must come, trusting Him and ready to listen to His Word, as we climb on His lap and let Him speak to us through His Word. We can talk to Him. He listens to us. We can pour all our troubles and tell Him all our fears and doubts, as well as our love and trust…” (172).

I liked this line: “We come exactly as we are and tell Him the truth about our needs. He is patient with us in our trouble about the trouble — as well as in the trouble itself…” (172). If you stop and think about this, it isn’t just the pain of the trouble that bothers us, it is the fact that we have trouble at all, and maybe that particular trouble baffles us that we should be walking through it. Our Father deals with us tenderly about it all!

The comfort we receive then flows out of us. Shaeffer writes, “real comfort cannot be silently contained inside a person. There is a spilling over that causes that comfort to help someone else, as an overflowing supply of water would help a thirsty neighbour…this is to be a constatly repeated experience, the need for comfort and the giving of comfort to others. We are meant to be using our imaginations as to how to go about this practically, day by day” (173).

When we pray for others, this comes out of this heart of compassion! Paul says that as a result of our prayers, “many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1):

“So prayer is one of the most important and continual parts of the variety of things we are to do in comforting each other in times of need. Prayer is not to be the only thing, but it seems to me that it is to be added to any other thing we do. It is something we can do when we are thousands of miles away from each other, which really makes a difference in the immediate situation” (173).

This chapter is titled the school for comforters, so we are learning about what it means to comfort others. We are opening our hands to comfort through our inevitable suffering. We will suffer and one of the GOOD byproducts is that we will also be comforted and learn how to comfort. In this chapter Schaeffer writes out a prayer for us,

“May I learn, dear Father, in today’s hard thing, that which You want to teach me, so that today’s school of comforters may have this pupil ready to put to use all that is being discovered” (183).

She writes,

“There is someone whose combination of needs will be what is closest to the things you are experiencing and through which you are finding that the Lord is sufficient in His comfort to keep you going. This is the present and immediate fulfillment of your present and immediate preparation. Comforting someone — with the comfort with which you and I have been comforted — speaks of specific situations and an immediate passing-on of the comfort” (183).

I love the last part of the chapter as Schaeffer talks about the role of a comforter to help people anticipate the “better day.”  I really believe that we do not recognize brokenness enough, call it what it is enough, and point to the day enough when all will be made new. Why has this hope faded into the background? Why are we not looking forward to when all things will be set right? This is one of my biggest comforts! To know this isn’t all there is and to allow myself that acknowledgement. Longing for what is to come does not mean we check out of the present, it actually is very freeing in the present to not pine away for what is not even possible here!

When I can acknowledge this world is a broken place, even the long journey seems less relevant than the final outcome. In my present situation two people close to my heart are not walking with Jesus. I desperately want them to because I want to share this in common. I want to have those deep conversations. I want to pray for them and be prayed for by them. I don’t want life to go by without that level of community. With each day that passes, I feel a tightness about another day gone. BUT…when I look at this from God’s view, our little life-times are a dot on the eternal timeline. Father, deliver them from evil so that we will have the long journey together, the eternal journey!

Shaeffer says there are “comforts to be talked about freely” (186), a conversation about what creation waits eagerly for, the day of liberation from our bondage to decay (Romans 8:17-25)…this thing we groan inwardly about on a daily basis, this hope we wait for patiently.

“What will it be like to have ‘the whole creation’ liberated?” (187)

“All of our talents as human beings will be freed from the hindrances and abnormalities brought about through the centuries following the Fall” (187).

As Schaeffer says, “it is a breathtaking restoration we contemplate” and it is this restoration we also bring into our comforting of others. Isaiah 51:11-16 says

“I, even I, am He who comforts you.
Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies
And of a son of man who is made [as destructible] as grass,
That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker,
Who stretched out the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth,
That you continually tremble with fear all day long because of the rage of the oppressor,
As he takes aim to destroy?
And where is the rage of the oppressor?

The [captive] exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his food be lacking. For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is His name. I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand…”

To be a comforter, we must be comforted ourselves by our God’s saturation of comfort He offers us. We must receive it and be a student of it. I don’t know how you feel, but I usually feel that my words fall short, they fall flat if they are just of myself, just out of my own ability to be optimistic. There is a much deeper comfort and it is to this Well we go with our cup and ask the Lord to fill it so we can quench the thirst of another.

— Teresa Klassen

P.S. Thank you Edith for yet another great chapter. Your understanding of comfort, comforts me.

 

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9. The Refining Process

31 01 2018

Chapter 8: The Refining Process

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 9 of 13 posts)

When we are going through hard things, there is a purpose to it that is greater than just getting to the other side of it. When we begin to see that God works right in the middle of our trouble and does not let it go to waste, we can pray, “Please let me come out of this closer to You, more mature as Your child, with a skimming off of some of the impurities which are spoiling the reflection of Your face as You look at me” (153). We are not on hold when we are walking through affliction. God says, “I have chosen You in the furnace of affliction” Isaiah 48:10-11.

People tend to shut doors not open them these times. We tend to hide away, drop out, and step back. But could it be that we could actually join in, be connected, and step up instead? Can we still be useful when we are in a time of trial– maybe even more useful — and find a strength in Christ we have never experienced before?  Instead of just thinking of ourselves and what is going wrong, suffering can turn into a time of great opportunity and generosity.

In good times and in hard times, “we are being prepared for something that the Lord is preparing for us. The reality of our growth has meaning in the time ahead. Sanctification is a slow process, but it is meant to be taking palce, no matter how slowly. We are not meant to be born again — and then never grow afterwards” (157).

Our tendency, as I mentioned, is to do the opposite. We tend to build walls of self protection. We tend to focus hard on what is going wrong and are consumed by it. And, our tendency is to begin to question God, walk in confusion, and get tangled in the great big “WHY?” Mark 4:16-17 addresses those who get offended:

These [is the seed] sown on rocky ground: As soon as they hear the word, they receive it with joy. But they have no root in themselves and do not endure. Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately they fall away.

When trouble comes in some people’s lives, “the result is a bitterness towards God, a walking away which shows itself in some form. Rather than running towards the strong tower, the rock they run away and reject what they claimed to believe” (157). God has never lied to us about this life. He has never promised us a walk lined with flower petals but has been perfectly honest that we are navigating a narrow, rocky, winding path; a narrow gate, dark valleys, and fire: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12-17).

Christ identified with us in our temptations and suffering, and the Bible also says so much about what comes of identifying with Christ in His suffering. He with us, us with Him. We are in it together!

“We are not simply “holding our own” as we bear difficulties, nor are we even only having victories in the heavenly battle, marvellous and fantastic though the truth may be. We are also in some special way sharing in the rejection which Christ suffered and – marvel of marvels – something is going on with in us, so that we are becoming more prepared for what is ahead, little by little, a tiny speck at a time” (159).

We can admit that we don’t understand things totally, but we should also be careful and recognize that our reactions and responses do matter: “Something is taking place in us right now which is astonishing as the refining of silver, the purifying of gold, the finishing of the final touches on a work of art! We are His workmanship in a very real way, and only He can know what is in store for us and when the final moment will arrive” (158).

When we enter into a time of trial/affliction/suffering we will react in one of two ways: obedience or disobedience. This is where temptation fits in. We will either run to Our Father, or temptation will win and we will move away from Him. Joseph is an excellent example of this, and Schaeffer explores his story showing us that what he experienced, people in our time, all over the world also experience:

“People in our moment of history in various parts of the world know what it is to be torn away from home, family and normal life and plunged into a time of terror (as Joseph was). They have even experienced it in the American Capital, let alone other principal cities of the world. We need not lack understanding of terrorism such as Joseph experienced” (161).

Consider that this was written in 1978 and where we are at with our experience of terrorism today! The story of Joseph and his reaction to terror are so relevant. There were so many times where he could have compromised, walked away from God, fallen hard into self-pity. There were so many times he could have become corrupt, taken revenge, and disobeyed. There were times of pain where he could have. But there was also a time of affluence where he could have. I thought this was an excellent point:

“Jospeh experienced almost too much in the area of temptation in an opposite direction. Although people do not often enough consider affluence or power as an ‘affliction’ there is so much temptation connected with wealth and influence that the prayer to ‘give me neither poverty nor riches’ is a prayer for more than just a balance in ‘things’. It is a cray for a balance of life which makes inward growth come more easily or continue without an abrupt halt” (162).

As always, God takes what could be only “bad” and uses it for good. This is our hope as we suffer. With Joseph, his brothers were partnering with the enemy for evil, but God turned it all around and helped Joseph feed and nourish them: “Egypt had made him neither arrogant and proud nor domineering or cruel” (162). Whether we are tempted in times when we are empty, or times when we have plenty, we have a choice as to who we will be and what we will do. The Bible calls us to look carefully at the examples written within and then choose well.

Edith Schaeffer says, the polishing process that happens when we are walking through painful things is not glamorous but in this refining time we can still care for others and this is a really important thing to think on when it comes to suffering being useful: “It is when we are having ‘the most severe trials’ that suddenly someone in the bed next to us in the hospital needs our attention in some practical way” (157) and it is there that we serve, not in our strength, but in our weakness. Of course there are limitations, but there is always something we can do when we are in the middle of our own severe trial or affliction.

As we walk through our own times of affliction and allow these things to refine us, it gives us a whole new perspective on how to walk alongside of others who are suffering. As we allow the refining work to happen it changes what we say and how we treat those who also suffer. We don’t quickly conclude,  “‘Oh you are being tried,’ as though we could know that God is doing something directly to that person…To those suffering a great loss, a death, who are ‘frantic with grief’ we cannot make judgements like that, conclusions” (159).

When we watch others suffer, we realize a battle is going on and “that we have no right to try to analyze for other people just what has taken place in the whole complicated series of events…we simply do not know what flow or factors brought about the accident, the illness, the fire, the earthquakes…our assurances as children of the Living God is that He is able to bring beauty from ashes…” (160).  We recognize from our own suffering,

“The whole abnormal, fallen world — abnormality of death, the separation from the body because of the Fall, the cause and effect of history, the actions of human beings and the effects of choice, the carelessness and cruelty of human beings, as well as Satan’s sphere of power — all these things are involved…” (160).

What we can confidently know is that Our Father “refines, purifies, proves, and causes to grow in us something very precious and lasting in our attitudes towards Him and in our actions to other human beings…He does not allow our affliction to be wasted” (160). So we can come alongside and pray for one another that Our Father would help us in our suffering, pain, frustration and that this period of time would not be wasted.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says,

For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Schaeffer responds, saying, “Right now we have our own particular piece of affliction, our own impossibility, our own last straw…today is the day, not tomorrow, but always today, to discover what it means to find a practical area in which to ask that the ‘melting heat’ will not be wasted” (166).

In a time when we are being polished, we can make decisions to not be tempted to surround ourselves with complaint. We can actually clean ourselves up and concentrate on what Our Father would ask us to do that day — even extending ourselves to others. It seems impossible that we could be of some use, but this is what God does, He makes us useful even in the most unlikely of times. You can substitute the word “unique” for “unlikely” and it changes the meaning of our suffering entirely, doesn’t it?

“Don’t miss the moments; don’t lets waste the brief time when the Master Silversmith bends over us to skim something off that is hindering us. Do thou for me, Lord, whatever You see needs doing in me, right now, before this moment becomes past history” (168).

— Teresa Klassen





8. Tribulation Worketh Patience

29 01 2018

Chapter 7: Tribulation Worketh Patience

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 8 of 13 posts)

When a person walks through a difficult season it affects everything. I see this in myself — in how I pace, in how I toss and turn, in my relief strategies, in how I do or don’t take care of myself, in how I anticipate the day ahead or reflect on the day ending.

“The whole person is also affected by the psychological, mental, emotional and moral condition. Tensions and worries brought about by our own mistakes (or other people’s mistakes or thoughtlessness), stress in the midst of indecision or deep concern for others or in the midst of our own anger or other people’s anger or jealousy or cruelty, and an endless variety of uncertainties and fears can affect each person physically too. Personality as a whole affected by the physical condition, and the physical condition is affected by the emotional condition. There is an amazing interweaving of the physical, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual unfolding or growing of a person throughout life” (128).

Walking through a time of affliction/tribulation/suffering brings us into an unknown that we don’t often know how to navigate clearly or even think about. We don’t often know what brought it on and we don’t know how it will end. In the middle of it we can feel confused and lost. If you look at how a child acts when they are uncertain, it is pretty close to how we still feel.

When a child faces the unknown they are filled with questions — they are bewildered! Edith Schaeffer describes how they want their parents to instinctively know what they feel because they lack the words to describe it. They want concrete answers for what is coming next, how it will feel, and how it will end. A parent walks with their child doing their best to impart confidence even when explanations are impossible at the moment. A parent tries to be one step ahead so the child does not feel lost.

As an adult, we still want this. As a follower of Christ, we actually have this!

“As a child of one family, we who have been born into the family of the great and marvellous God of the Universe, have a Heavenly Father who has given us sufficient communication. He has not spoken in short, broken, unconnected verses. His communication to us is a full and complete revelation of Himself (as complete as we can now understand), as well as guidance in times of stress. He has given us a memory of His work and care of our “relatives,” our brothers and sisters in His family. He has also given us a memory of our own experience of having Him as a Father of our own, whether that time be short or long” (129).

Our Father has written to us and has told us all about this life and about suffering. If we take the time to sit with Him, we will not hear that we ought to just bear down and grit our teeth as we suffer, Romans 5:3 says we will all walk through some kind of tribulation, but that it is not wasted time (God won’t let it be) and that it works something good in us as we live and walk with Jesus through it.

Just as our physical bodies grow, we are also meant to grow internally, spiritually. We are not to be adults on the outside and infants on the inside: “We are not static as personalities, nor are we static in spiritual and mental growth. Something is always taking place in the way of change. It is the change going on in us that concerns our Heavenly Father, even as the change going on in our children should concern those of us who are parents…” (130).

If we go back to the illustration of a child and a parent, we know that our child will fall down at times. We know they will see if “hot” really means “hot” on a stove. We know they will experience rejection, sadness, failure, and difficulties of all kinds. We know, even with all the love we give them, they will test us and maybe even reject our counsel but “our longing is that they will come back into communication with us. Thereby we can try to point out the place of departure and see if we can help in any way to get them onto the stream or path or track or way where they can take up where they got off the right course” (131).

When we raise children, we are trying to “work something into them” that will serve them well in life. In the same way, our Heavenly Father is trying to “work something” into us and it is something called patience. Isn’t that interesting? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “toughness”? No…patience. And this isn’t the kind of patience that means you can stand in a line without getting antsy. This isn’t the kind of patience that kept you calm when your child was pushing you to the edge. Both good things…but this kind of patience is the kind that puts all of its trust in God’s reliability and power and so does not sink into despair, anxiety, fear, anger, impulsiveness, and compromise.

This makes perfect sense if we let the Word of God speak. If we spend time with it and come to appreciate God’s story but “we can’t expect anything but more frustration if we have nothing more of the Word of God as a background or have not lived through the reality of having had patience grow in us and work in us” (130). There is something really profound that happens when we grow in patience which is a growing confidence that comes from KNOWING the love of God, especially in the middle of affliction.

Anyone who has been around the Bible for a while can quote John 3:16 without even thinking about it: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.”  Stop for a moment and think about this: “As we read we are not meant to think of theologians and their discussions but of the startling fact that the One who spoke these words was…the ‘only begotten Son’ Himself“” (132). He was speaking to Nicodemus, saying “I was given up” for you! I did this, so you could know the love I have so that even as the world falls apart, you won’t because I have you! In John 15:9 He goes on to say “continue in my love,” meaning don’t let go of that love during tribulation, because I went through tribulation for you. Tribulation is not when God abandons us. Tribulation is when we can understand the demonstration of God’s love in the sharpest way.

But this is where we have to stop ignoring our Bibles. We can’t know God if you don’t hear from Him. We can’t keep looking at Our Father from a distance and think that is a relationship. How in the world will we know what He offers us in troubled times if we are, deliberately, 100 feet away from Him?

“Without a a rich background of understanding of the gentleness, compassion, kindness, goodness and love of our Heavenly Father, the seed fertilized by tribulation will not begin to send down roots and put up shoots of the ‘plant of patience'” (132).

Patience, worked into us, allows us to stop, breathe, acknowledge the beautiful presence of God in the midst of ugly. Patience worked into us, when it is our practice, does not assume the worst about God but the best. In order for patience to be an outcome though, we have to be in a posture that is ready to receive:

“…the soil preparation needs to be an hour-by-hour, day-by-day digging into the Word of God. This preparation involves having as a part of our whole being a growing understanding of the love of God and of His marvellous kindness which surpasses any kindness we could imagine from our knowledge of human beings ourselves. We need to be trusting Him in an increasing manner so that our reactions and actions are slowly, slowly changing through the months and years. One of the points of discovery — akin to the discovery of the sprout of a most difficult seed to germinate in our physical gardens — is the discovery of patience starting to sprout” (132).

Ephesians 3:16-19 has a great line that stands out to me every time:

I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

I have an outer person, and an inner person. The inner person is the one that really matters because it controls what the outer one does and what the reputation of my person will be. The Holy Spirit is there to be in continuous fellowship with and communication with my inner person. Most of us know, very well, that our inner person differs from our outer one, and it is with that one who is more truthful Our Father sits with and teaches patience to know and trust Him. He speaks to us and reveals His nature as we read and re-read the Bible and sit with the Holy Spirit to understand what He is saying to us.

If our times of affliction do not turn into times of prayer, it won’t lead to any growth of patience at all and so it will all be wasted (138) (and that, my friend, should sound off warning bells in you. It certainly scares me). Instead of isolating ourselves from God and others, blanking out, numbing out, we need to RUN to God and ask for both His help and for good to come of this time that tests what and who we are. Edith says, “It seems to me that if there is noticeable progress to us as we grow, it would be the speed with which we would move into patience, further growth of character and hope” (140).

We need to be CAREFUL during times of testing, not only that we do not fall into bitterness and neglect. Not only that we do not ignore what God has for us, but the temptation to absorb false philosophies about suffering. Hunting for explanations can lead to a lot of lies — the ones we make up and the ones that “seem” to make sense

“We need not be drawn into Eastern religions, trying to train ourselves into thinking that everything is a dream (a nightmare) and that nothing really exists — nothing material or intellectual, either in the past or in the future. We have been told very plainly that everything is real and has ben real through generations — and that there is a very real future….the Word of God helps us to recognize the marks of reality in outlining the practical, day-by-day, tangible things we are going to have to face and deal with and live through” (140-141).

No Yoga position is going to work in us what God wants to work in us.  Distraction will leave us empty rather than victorious. Complaint will only leave us dark and resentful.

What we need is Truth, wisdom and guidance, and Our Father gives this to us:

“We then turn our minds to using the brief period of time we have in trying to live on the basis of what He has given us and to learn as much as possible in the midst of the living. Patience, perseverance, and endurance…present us with enough reason to not be wasteful of the short time we have. When are we going to be finished finding out all we can, before this time is over?” (141)

“We go back to the Bible and thank God that He has not given us a nebulous number of abstract ideas, but has fixed all that He has to tell us into history and the real world where it can be tasted, touched and felt, smelled, seen, and heard. Even the things we are told to consider important, such as patience and endurance and perseverance are not allowed to float in an abstract cloud obtainable only by those who can sit and meditate in some ‘holy’ position in a ‘pure’ spot. The very spelling out of affliction, persecution, and tribulation in terms of stones and whips (as well as people’s scorn in words) lifts the setting in which we find the reality of patience from an unattainable realm into the stuff of day-by-day life” (142)

When we sit with Our Father’s Words to us and keep a conversation going with His Spirit, He shows us His perspective, He tells us stories from the past and shows us how people handled difficulties (well or otherwise) and “this patient endurance is acceptable to God, commendable to God, because in some tiny way we are following the example which Christ gave us when He told us that we were to follow in His steps” (148).

When we walk through our own troubles as well as we can with God’s help, we are also able to weep with those who weep, as the Bible calls us to. The “weeping is needed, the weeping is right. The weeping is to be shared. the patience to be displayed is patience on the part of the stronger one toward the one that is more crushed” (134). Because we all have a shared experience with some kind of tribulation we come to understand, “there is no room for pride or for pious speculation as to what has brought on this particular tribulation…not one of us can tell another person the answer to Why?” (134). What we do help each other with us to ask help from our Lord to grow in patience.

There will always be the weaker person, the poor, the lame and the sick until Jesus comes back “Just as there will not be perfect physical health, no Christian will be perfect, and some will be weaker than others until Jesus comes back and we will all be changed” (135). The patience we learn from our own troubled times helps us to watch ourselves so that we don’t slip into a place of spiritual pride.

“As a wife or a husband, a child or a parent, when we are praying about the ‘faults’ of anyone close to us, we need to pause long enough to examine ourselves carefully and then ask for forgiveness and for greater sensitivity to our own ‘blind spots’. The sin of someone else can be your affliction or tribulation — or mine. But the reverse is also true. We each can be, by our own sin or faults — our stubbornness or insensitivities or selfishness — the affliction or tribulation of someone close to us” (137).

As I sit here, working on this post, the Holy Spirit keeps pointing out things I need to see. There are my own afflictions that He is using in my life to work patience. There are also other people’s afflictions that are doing the same thing. Other people’s afflictions are affecting me; some draw me in and I feel such empathy and some frustrate me. Some come to mind for whom I have little patience for and I am convicted about it; isn’t this another opportunity God is using to work something better in me? Isn’t there a pride in my impatience that I need to address?

Yes indeed.

  • Teresa Klassen




7. NOW and LATER

30 03 2017

Chapter 6: Cracked Teapots

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 7 of 13 posts)

The story of Lazarus is perfect. He is the “average person” going about life when he gets ill. His sisters call out for help, but help doesn’t come in time. Lazarus dies. Everyone is devastated. Jesus arrives, but too late. Everyone thinks, “If only He would have come earlier! Why didn’t He?” Jesus weeps too, seeing how troubled they all are. Then Jesus approaches the tomb and commands Lazarus to come out. Wonder of wonders…Lazarus is raised from the dead! It is an incredible miracle! More than anyone could have hoped for!

What happened next?

Lazarus died again.

There was probably a lot of living in between, but ultimately Lazarus died again. The “living” part was not permanent. Jesus didn’t cure Lazarus of death, in fact, Jesus didn’t cure Lazarus of life! Do you think Lazarus never got a cold again? Never suffered a wound? Never had a business deal go south? Never had an issue with a friend or neighbour?

In this chapter of the book Edith points out that we can be healed from one ailment but still not have perfect health and certainly not everlasting life. Our path, while living in a broken and suffering world, will never be smooth. We see this when we study God’s Word. We see this if we study the lives of our ancestors. We would see this if we looked around now with more honest eyes and we ought to see this in our own journey and not be surprised!  As Edith points out, you may  have a lovely home for one part of your life and be in a concentration camp the next (121). Don’t be tempted into thinking anything else.

As I read this chapter I thought about how we need to be careful about what we set ourselves up for in our “hopes and dreams.” We should not live lives of pessimism and fear, certainly not! But we also must not “put on God” the expectation that He will make our lives now what they can only be when we are finally with Him. We should never demand what we can not have in this life…

“The ‘house’ which is our body will be perfect one day, even as the ‘mansions’ which God is providing and preparing for us will also be perfect. However, perfection is not promised immediately after we become the children of the Lord in this life. Sometimes people take the verses in Isaiah 53:5 — ‘with his stripes we are healed’ — to mean that right now in this life the suffering which Jesus went through, as He was beaten and then died on the cross, will heal us of our diseases in this life. As we read the whole Bible, we come to understand that God is not making that promise. Therefore, He has not broken a promise when Christians suffer accidents to their bodies, become very ill, have crippling strokes or develop polio or heart disease. Indeed, the day is coming when our bodies will be perfect. Indeed, Jesus died to make this possible, and He rose again and walked about the earth for forty days in His resurrected body so that we could know what a resurrected body is like. We will be perfect, but not yet.” (121)

A while back I was talking with some friends about how Believers used to hope for heaven a lot more. In church gatherings hymns were sung, sermons were taught, people looked forward to a day when they could put down the burden of this world! What has happened to that conversation? What happened to looking forward to what’s next?

I think the conversation died when we decided that now was better than later. That is our mentality these days isn’t it? We have slipped into the age of entitlement and the message coming at us constantly is that we DESERVE everything our heart’s desire now: loads of happiness and the perfect Facebook timeline. We have the means now to have satisfaction in what we have, more than ever before, because we don’t even have to save up for it! We can put a life on credit and “have the dream” we can’t actually afford.

So we live and breathe the illusion that it is ours and that it is good. We have technology that allows us to get around without getting lost, constant entertainment to keep our minds buzzed, we can divorce our spouses and get a better one without anyone being at fault, our grocery stores have EVERYTHING from every part of the globe, we have mobility, and medicines, and in Canada soon we will have legalized Marijuana so that we can live in a fog and not even worry that we are

“…still living in the midst of the ongoing results of the spoiled world, with the abnormalities which have come after the Fall…” (122)

We honestly need to recalibrate. We need to stop this. We need to step back and take one hard look at our terrain. We need to strip off the lies of this world, the seduction of it, and live the Truth: this is not our home. This can never fulfill us. We can cram in every decaying thing we think we deserve between the beginning and the end and what will we have stored up? Will Jesus say, “Way to go! Those acquisitions are sure impressive!”

We should be aware we are waiting for a better “later” while we are in the “now” so we don’t think that “now” is where it’s all at. When we have that straight, the amazing thing is that Jesus actually offers us a better “now” no matter our present circumstances if we will follow His lead!

When we intentionally walk with Jesus, He will show us a more pure pleasure now.

  • We will see gifts from our Good Father that we never saw before, would not have recognized.
  • We will value relationships in such a new and freer way: less jealous, less comparative, less biased, less racist, less bordered, less fake, less judgemental, less competitive.
  • We will marvel at Creation when the Creator Himself points His work out to us.
  • We will age well with less hang-ups, less anxiety, less denial about it all.
  • We will serve well because we don’t need to be served.
  • We will have more peace and contentment.
  • We will do good things we never thought we would just because we are listening better and trusting more.
  • We will have the joy of participating in supernatural things, things that moth or rust cannot destroy.
  • We will have a worship for God in us that we don’t even need to work at, because we know Him so much more intimately.

And when we suffer it won’t be soul-destroying! We will feel a lot of things, but we won’t be put under by naive thinking and false expectations. We will hurt, but we won’t hurt without hope. We won’t grasp at the empty things of this world, wishing for what we don’t have, and we won’t despair! We will lock eyes with Christ and walk through it with Him to whatever end He wills and even in that we will see His faithfulness. We will experience what the Bible promises, an astounding truth: steadfast joy.

And because of all that we will pray in a new way and act on those prayers in a new way because we will be free from formulaic thinking! We won’t think 1+1 ought to be 2 in God’s economy, and why isn’t it?!? As if God is just going to jump and do what we ask in exactly the way we ask it because we are so wise in our own eyes! We will trust Him to do what is best! Is His best to heal us or remove some discomfort? Or to work out some good through us not being healed and to have us remain in a hard place knowing He is concerned about “now” but He is also very concerned about people’s “later.” When we are freed from the stranglehold of the world, know our view is limited and His grace and strength is sufficient, this becomes a viable question for us.

And another thing comes into focus that Jesus is blunt about: it is what He needs us to do in the “now.” Through our own lessons in affliction, suffering in others will come into focus for us and will call out to us to respond in a new way. Jesus already tells us that not everyone will receive a healing…

“Visiting the sick means that there will always be those who are sick. Feeding the hungry implies a personal involvement with someone who needs human and individual loving care, not just campaigning for a change of the political setup…” (123)

Both for the person suffering, and for the person extending compassion and care, the Will of God is being carried out when we are freed up to respond, carrying the “gifts of the Spirit” with us to help and encourage those in need. Who knows what God is up to in those situations? Maybe our role is just to help that person overcome against the Enemy who wants them to turn on God! While we do pray for a change in circumstances, for relief, for healing

“There is great danger that an emphasis on healing can make some people hardened or insensitive to the gentleness and thoughtfulness and imaginative care they are meant to be giving to someone.” (123)

Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Can’t you see yourself, loaded up with all of this and going out into the world to see where you might distribute it as a part of being a light, spurring one another on, and helping each other to be steady in our faith?

“We are to have no other opportunity of visiting Christ when He is sick. Does this hit us with a hard shock? He is not saying ‘Heal the sick.’ He is talking about visiting with the idea of bringing comfort and love…We should check up on ourselves sometime: “Have I sent the Lord a card or a letter or a bunch of flowers in His sickness this week?…Have I failed to care for the Lord in some person’s need when offered that opportunity?” (123)

When we begin to think of God’s PURPOSES in everything, the puzzle He is fitting together, we won’t see what God has done one time for someone, and expect it will be the way He will do it for us. Again, we can not see what He sees. As Edith says,

“We rejoice when we read or hear of what God has done directly in answer to His children, but we are not to demand a recurrence of an event in someone else’s life or of an exact combination of situations.” (121)

As Edith says over and over in this book, God is up to something, let’s follow Him.

So we will persist in prayer, becoming more and more familiar with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and we will not let any false thing embitter us against God’s ways. There is something we will know and that is

“Any answer to prayer that we have in the material realm is also temporal, and our situation can change. We do have a continuous unbroken thing — and that is our communication with the Living God and our access to His ear at any time.” (122)

The chapter refers to us as cracked pots, and this is what we are now, let’s be honest.  The Potter is holding us together until we get to our new place.  Until then, we must not “lose heart,” no matter what our present circumstances look like. No matter what happens, we will not be destroyed, we will not perish because of the powerful work of Christ for us and in us!

O Saviour, wondrously show us Your marvellous and amazing lovingkindness as we take refuge at Your right hand during all of the circumstances that rise up against us! (Psalm 17:7 paraphrase) 

And while we wait for later, let us fully engage with today because something is stored IN US  that changes everything about the now:

 

We have this TREASURE in jars of clay
TO SHOW that this
ALL-SURPASSING POWER is from GOD 
and not from us.
— 2 Corinthians 4:7

 

— Teresa Klassen





6. Be Stubborn

28 03 2017

Chapter 5: The Museum’s Other Section: Rectangle B

“Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 6 of 13 posts)

Usually writing comes easy for me. When I feel compelled to write about something, the words are there. This chapter, however, stumped me. I started to write and stopped writing more than six times with long gaps in between. The words weren’t there. Last night I told my daughter Alecia (who is reading this book also) that I just couldn’t seem to tackle chapter 5 and I didn’t know why. This morning I opened my Bible to Luke 18:1 and smiled at the gift God gave me in the very first verse: “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up…” This, dear friends, is the theme of today’s blog.

Jesus is with His disciples with a very specific lesson He wants them to learn, something that would be vitally important for the future. Crucial. We already know the point of the parable before He tells it, that’s how clear He wants to be. There is no wondering when it comes to this story: the lesson is DON’T GIVE UP PRAYING. Wondering: if I have prayed about something for quite a long time, and I don’t see a change in circumstances, should I give up? Luke 18:1, totally clear, DON’T GIVE UP PRAYING.

Jesus tells a story, because stories stick.

The story is about a woman, a widow, with a legal problem. I think it is important to pause here, because in that day a woman was seen as weak and inconsequential. A widow without family? Invisible.  Both of these things did not put this individual in a place of power or influence. She was a person who could be easily swept aside. A woman. A widow. She had a small voice. She was alone. She was without advocates. If she had family, her son or son-in-law would have been the one at court. but no one was there supporting to help her in her time of need.

The widow had a conflict with someone who was actively going against her. Can you imagine how helpless she must have felt? I am not sure I can even identify with how terrified she may have been. I wonder how much anxiety she was experiencing. I wonder how many people had said no to her when she tried to find help? She was in trouble and she knew it.

She had two choices:

  1. She could let her adversary have his way and accept the consequences
  2. She could make a scene.

I have an easy time picturing this woman, because I think my mom was that kind of gal. She was normally a very quiet person, but if she was in a corner of some kind and knew it wasn’t right — she could get very stubborn for justice. Mostly, she got very stubborn with prayer.

I love the widow’s line in the NIV “Grant me justice against my adversary!” What a battle cry! I will write that on my wall as a reminder of a great line to pray, especially since our actual adversary is not another human being, it’s the Enemy, Satan. It’s so clear and so strong!!

The judge can hear her in the background and mostly ignores her, but she is tenacious! She just won’t go away. She stubbornly won’t let the issue die. She means it! “Grant me justice against my adversary!”

At first the judge waves her off but she is there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Sabbath. She is outside his house on Sunday and back at the office Monday again with the same demand: “Grant me justice against my adversary!” She keeps the issue alive!

The judge’s secretary is getting stressed out by now, “That lady is here again.”

The judge growls, “Do you think I don’t have ears?”

The secretary is like, “How long can she keep doing this?”

It is a sobering question. The judge quietly considers the potential of this woman never, ever, ever going away. She will be there in the morning when he arrives, and she will be there when he goes home. She will show up at his dinner parties. She will be on the corner when he goes for a walk. She is going to shadow him and she is not going to shut up, EVER.

He shudders. What are his options? He couldn’t care less about her or her problem, but he does care about himself and his problems. His quality of life matters to him and so he does what it takes, and gives her what she wants and not because it is the right thing to do! He just wants some peace and quiet.

She wins. One way or the other, she wins.

Jesus acknowledges the man was not a good judge. He even says he was unjust — which he was because he wouldn’t look into her case. The law and what was right did not really matter to him at all. Even so, in the end this guy inadvertently doles out actual justice and the woman gets what she was after.

Now, stop everything and think.

If that shabby judge did something decent, how much more will a fully loving, fully engaged, completely concerned, deeply caring, totally good, present and active and righteous and holy God do for us? Read Scripture. We do not have the kind of God you have to plead with, cajole, trick or appease. He is already FOR us!

Jesus says,

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice and quickly…” (Luke 18:6-8)

There is more to that verse but I will stop there for now.

We can get hung up on how prayer works and even come to the place where we think there is no use in praying (“If God is all knowing…what’s the point?”). Schaeffer writes that this is “a turning away from what God has commanded — just because we lack an infinite understanding. We are meant to obey His commands and admonitions to ‘ask’ as much as we obey His other commands” (103).

Jesus invites our prayers, He doesn’t say “Make your best presentation and then leave it with me.” He knows we have so much inside of us, bursting in fact!  We have a desire to COMMUNICATE and He has a desire to COMMUNICATE, so much so that “communication with God was important enough for Jesus to die to make it possible” (103).

When the Bible says you don’t have because you don’t ask it is

“meant to prod us into moment by moment communication in the areas of spiritual and intellectual needs, psychological and emotional needs, physical needs, the need for help in our work of creativity, the need for guidance, the need for planting and tending a crop and harvesting it — in our local gardens and farms, as well as in the realm of teaching or answering questions in the ‘gardens which consist of people’. We are meant to be asking for strength to go on, not just once in a while but throughout all our days.” (104)

Do all of our prayers get answered quickly? Luke 18 uses that word. It depends what you think an answer ought to look like? I know what I think it ought to look like: R-E-L-I-E-F.

I would prefer to not suffer. I don’t mind doing hard if I don’t have to do hard for too long. I like rounding that corner in short order, resolution within the week, relief fast. But if you look me in the eye and tell me I my prayers will not change anything noticeably and I am going to be dealing with some really hard thing for a year, the colour will drain from my face. If you tell me I will keep praying but I will still be in a fairly painful place for five years, I will have to sit down. If you tell me that I might not even see relief and resolution in my lifetime, I will tilt. Tilt, by the way, has a great definition in the (questionable resource called) The Urban Dictionary:

Tilt: Usually a term in video games (though it can really be used in any activity or hobby), tilt is an emotional state when doing the exact same thing activity over and over produces negative results. It’s an emotional breakdown and frustration of your hard work not resulting in the success that you crave so desperately. When you or someone is in a tilt state of mind, the best thing to do is take a break from that activity and try not to think about it as much.

I have taken breaks like that. I have sat around stunned, not saying or hearing anything because that’s what you do when you are tilting. Usually there is anger that comes along, and judgement and fear. How could God allow this? And in that place, the activity of prayer when it is not resulting “in the success I crave so desperately” becomes harder and harder to engage in.

What is going on with all those prayers we pray when we are waiting for God to save the day? What happens when we don’t see any visible change to our circumstances? Is anybody out there?

Edith writes,

“There is no promise that all our requests are to be answered by a change in the circumstances, because the Bible so very fairly gives us a balanced understanding that the faith which asks and receives the answer of ‘sufficient grace’ to go on without a change is no greater than the faith which asks and receives an answer whereby mountains are removed and cast into the sea. There are to be answers to prayer which demonstrate that a child of the Living God…has real access to God the Father and to His power to do all things.” (92)

Isn’t this the hardest lesson to learn (or is it just me that feels that way)? Am I OK with that “sufficient grace” while God does His work in the background? What if none of it makes sense to me?

I liked these lines from “The Shack” by William P. Young. He says it so well. This is the character who represents God in the book:

“…you really don’t understand yet. You try to make sense of the world in which you live based on a very small and incomplete version of reality. It is like looking at a parade through the tiny knothole of hurt, pain, self-centeredness, and power, and believing you are on your own and insignificant. All of those are powerful lies… [you see] God as the ultimate betrayer, or perhaps at least fundamentally untrustworthy. You dictate the terms and judge My actions and find Me guilty. The real underlying flaw is that you don’t think I am good. If you knew I was good, and that everything-the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives-is all covered by My goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust Me. But you don’t.” (“The Shack” by William P. Young)

How true that is.

From some vantage points, God’s Great Plan looks and sounds amazing. But when God’s Great Plan is viewed from a place of personal suffering it is harder to be excited about; pain is painful, after all. Rejoicing in the Lord ALWAYS (Philippians 4:4) can feel like work.

I am thinking right now of John the Baptist, when he was in prison and sent word to Jesus, “Are you the one or should we wait for another?” What a lot of weariness and discouragement is in that question. I am sure he never imagined that being involved with Jesus would involve incarceration and ultimately death. John was doing so well, and the next thing you know, he was in prison. I am sure John had a hard time believing this was a part of God’s Great Plan. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to come and SAVE people? John’s birth was a miracle, he had an incredible calling on his life, he was a powerful voice in a world-changing movement…but then he ended up in isolation in a smelly, dark jail.

I wonder, did it help John to know he was in the middle of a larger thing? I have been asking myself this too. When I am suffering, does it help to know that suffering is not in vain and, in hands of God it will actually serve a purpose? Does it help me to know that even if my prayers aren’t providing immediate relief to me in the way I want them to, God is giving me what I need to continue on while he answers those prayers keeping His entire good plan in mind?

It’s all a lot to consider, how John or any of us fit into the larger plan of things. In prison, I am sure John couldn’t wrap his mind around how all of this would look in the bigger historical scheme and when it all came down to it, all things would work together for good (as the Bible says in Romans 8:28). Good doesn’t always feel good.

Jesus’ response is so very thought provoking: “Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.” This is not a scholarly and studied commentary on that line, but when I hear that line I hear something that Jesus might say to me today.

“In your suffering, in your confusion, in your questions…don’t give up on me. I know you don’t understand all of this, will you trust me to know more than you, see more than you, do more than you could ask or imagine?”

The fact is, dear Christian, we can’t pretend we didn’t know suffering was coming. The Bible hides nothing. The Bible is explicit in telling the stories of those who have suffered — just look at Jeremiah for example –– and in pointing to the absolute fact that we WILL suffer along with the suffering, broken world. Jeremiah described his suffering so explicitly in Lamentations 3:1-20 with every bit of pain and confusion and complaint one could have. And then…he stares the reader straight in the eyes and says this to everyone who would come after him:

21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.

22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23 (KJV)

Those are pretty amazing “last words.”

We have never been promised a pain free life. But no matter the road, Schaeffer reminds us that God has promised we will be given what we need to travel it. Is it enough for us for now to hear God say “Is there anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:26-27) and to keep walking with Him, and talking to him, not knowing exactly where it will all go?

What if we would step back from our “knothole of hurt and pain” and trust that where we are is OK because God is with us, and helping us minute by minute so that….so that we can persist in prayer and NOT GIVE UP. Schaeffer writes,

“We each need to be given the help of the Lord to recognize the sufficient grace and to not complain against him or compare our lot with others. We also need to turn away from that peculiar form of bitterness and unbelief which is mingled with the “Whats the use of praying?” kind of attitude. We will be tempted by Satan in his particular type of accusation which can take two forms…

  1. Attempt to cause us to complain against God or curse him and turn away from him because of our deluge of affliction
  2. Tempt us to take an academic view of prayer, excusing ourselves, by hiding behind God’s sovereignty, from ever asking anything in the wide areas God has specifically told us to ask — with faith as a grain of mustard seed and expecting changes in history as titanic as the removal of mountains. Both attacks are against the victory of Christ’s sacrificial death — attempts by Satan to spoil, mar, devastate and vandalize the perfection of Christ’s victory. And marvel of all marvels — without understanding it could be — we matter it in the battle..” (109)

Back to the widow. We, like her, are small and vulnerable in this world. But we have not been forsaken or forgotten. We matter to our heavenly Father. He tells us that we are part of a plot is so much deeper and wider and greater than we ever imagined and by “great” I mean large. Our immediate circumstances are significant in the history of our universe and in God’s plan of redemption and

“…a part of what He paid for was a moment-by-moment access for us to the Infinite God. Each of us has been given another portion in the fabric of history which our individual thread is meant to weave…” (101)

Jesus said we could and should ask for “anything” for this very reason and Schaeffer responds,

“I do believe that there will be a literal fulfillment of the ‘anything’ in the total collection of all the answered prayers in all space and time. It will be demonstrated that, in the total collection of incidents throughout all the aeons of history’s centuries in all of our lives (we who are the people of God and who have looked to Him, feeble and imperfectly, but with a measure of faith and trust and love) Satan will be defeated by some life at every place where his devices have been attempted….” (93)

The story I wrote about at the beginning of this blog applies to us. We cannot give up on prayer ever and “He asks us to remember that He is God and to act on that fact practically, not just in theological discussion” (109). When we are suffering, we need to be more stubborn than ever. Something is going on in the world, and our Father invites us into an even more intimate conversation with Himself during these times because we know

“…we affect history in the geographic spot where we are meant to be in God’s plan, and to have victory in the heavenly battle as we trust God in the midst of affliction and persecution right up to martyrdom, but we are to be having results two feet away from us in prayer — and also two thousand miles away…In what realm can one expect answers to prayer? In all realms.” (102)

And, as we walk and live out our faith — which holds us up in a way it hasn’t been challenged to in calmer times — we get even more persistent before God and…before others too. Psalm 78:4-5 says

We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.  For he established a testimony in Jacob…”

I would change that last line to say, “For he established a testimony in ___(insert your name here___” because that is exactly what He wants to do in your story and mine.

Again, read the Bible with eyes to see and ears to hear. In all these stories there are guideposts and mentors!  I love this verse about Abraham in Romans 4:20-21 (KJV)

“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God…”

I love the language here, the more I read it, the more I want to be like Abraham!

“Put out your hand and grab hold. We aren’t going to drown! Instance by instance there is eternal purpose, and whatever is going on counts and matters in a perspective beyond ours…” (110)

There is so much more I could write about this chapter, but it is an overview and I can’t really do it justice. So I will end with where I started in Luke 18 and finish verse 8:

“God’s people cry out to him day and night. Won’t he make things right for them?…I tell you, God will see that things are made right for them…But when the Son of Man comes will he find people on earth who have faith?” 

There is the call friends, will Jesus find people here who have faith? The point of persistence with a GOOD GOD is not to convince Him but to keep us convinced in His power. We persist and keep battling against the attrition of the enemy and the temptation to believe we are all we have. We keep persisting because we are part of a collective of prayer on this planet. We keep persisting because we have no idea the broader effect of those prayers but one day will.

So…will Jesus find people on earth who have faith?

Let it be you and I.

Be as stubborn as you can.

— Teresa Klassen





5. Overcoming

19 02 2017

Chapter 4: The Museum in Heaven: Rectangle A“Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 5 of 13 posts)

Explanations aren’t necessarily comforting. Let’s take cancer for example. Why does a person get cancer? If only we could answer that definitively….

  • Your cancer was caused by your exposure to something in the environment.
  • Your cancer was caused by something you consumed: something you ate, drank, smoked.
  • Your cancer was caused by a physical failure, a mutation of cells or genes.
  • Your cancer was caused by your lifestyle or habits.
  • Your cancer was caused by a product you used, a lotion or shampoo or cosmetic.

….which answer would make a person feel better once they have it? You still have cancer.

However, as we see over and over again, many people with cancer impact others in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. Their vulnerability, honesty and courage comforts others. The way they live their lives even while ill, motivates people with other challenges to keep going. Even their physical illness urges scientists to keep researching. Some people, in the worst time of their lives, have created world-wide movements! Some people have left a marvellous legacy…because of cancer!

I want to step back for a moment before it seems like I am becoming “all for cancer.” I don’t think that in and of itself affliction is “good.” I don’t think that when you have cancer it is a gift even when one chooses a noble path through it. As I have already said in other posts, we are living in a fallen state in a fallen world where fallen things steal from our lives. God never designed us to be ill, to cry ourselves to sleep at night, to be racked with pain and worry…these are things that our collectively sinful choices have left us with and that our ruined planet offers us now. Systems began to fail the minute we chose evil over good.

Yet, repeatedly with any kind of troubling event in our lives, when things go awry, we find ourselves asking “why did this happen?” or “how did this happen?” as if these answers will be satisfying. Self-reflection is not without merit. It is good to examine our past actions to inform our future ones however such “ruminating” can trap us in a past that we can’t ever reconcile. If only we had done this, said this, changed this, saw this, chose this, stopped this, started this…we endlessly circle the block, asking the same questions over and over, and who do we meet there? Our traveling companions become Regret and Condemnation and the Fantasy/Sin of believing if we had a do-over we could have done things perfectly and had perfect results.

In this chapter, Edith Schaeffer asks us to lift our eyes and consider “time and events” differently. I don’t really know how to walk you through the whole chapter in an objective way, so I will try to do so by applying it to my own life. For the past 6 years I have been on what, for me, has been an agonizing journey with my two sons. I can’t even describe how much I love these two young men, but this season of our lives has been painful on lots of levels.

So here I am, and this is where we are.

Edith says to me, “Teresa, consider some lessons from Job.” Look at how his battle had significance in “the heavenlies,” she says. See how Satan attacks God through attempts to make His children stop trusting their Heavenly Father, and start “complaining and murmuring” against Him? (73) This makes me pause. At this very moment, Satan is allowed into the presence of God to “accuse us.” I have read this before, but in a time of affliction it stands out more profoundly. In my affliction, however it has come, Satan has a goal and God has a goal.

Satan’s best outcome is for me to give way to bitterness and to harden my heart against God. His win is to turn to God and say, “See, I knew she would.”

I have had times where I have teetered and reeled. I have been stunned and mute. I have been overwhelmed by fear and I have filled bottles with tears. I can just imagine Satan’s delight at that. If only he could keep me there, in an “unhappy” place, will I not distance myself from my Heavenly Father? In John 6:66 some of Jesus’ followers became disillusioned and left Him and He turned to a few others and asked, “Will you be leaving also?” (verse 67). I have, during this time, heard that question asked of me….

Where will I be and what will I be doing during this time of affliction…this time when things feel so undone and not at all as I envisioned it? It is exactly at this point of time that God has given me a task. Do you find that sometimes, when you are stressed, a task is the very thing you need? I clean my house when I am stressed. It is nice to put something in order and have it stay in order! And while I work, my head clears as I have worked off some negative energy and I can approach “the thing” from a new angle. Sitting around and fretting is the worst!!

During times of affliction, God gives us a very specific task to occupy ourselves with: to overcome. When I read that, it feels to me like God his literally put His hands around me, picked me up, and moved me to another spot with a totally different perspective. In the middle of an overwhelming situation in which I can do very little, He puts me in a place of action where I am tasked with something very practical and hands on as I spend each day with one goal: to overcome. To prevail.

In this chapter, Edit draws two rectangles, A and B. Each rectangle represents all the geographic space that has been lived in for all time from the beginning to the end. In these rectangles are all of our human experiences, including people coming to Christ, including our journeys with Him. We are all in those rectangles.

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This is how she represents all that history. These two rectangles represent the “two kinds of victory which can be won by the people of God” (72). In this chapter she discusses rectangle A which “represents the victories in the heavenly battle which have taken place in the midst of unchanging circumstances” (72).  The large dot represents God looking over all of space and time, and the small dot represents Satan “accusing the brethren, coming before God and pointing out each one of us at various moments of our lives. He says, in essence: ‘This person does not love you, God. That person only loves his or her comfort [or possessions or health or land]'” (72-73).

Every affliction we face, no matter how it has arrived, is an opportunity of victory for God against Satan when we — each one of us as people who love God — “continue to love Him and trust Him in the midst of unchanging circumstances” (75). When we see progress and especially when we are turning the corner, it is very easy to “see God’s hand in it.” But what about those UNCHANGING, long-term-parking circumstances?  Edith encourages me to take a deep breath to see the bigger event that is going on. This thing I am walking through is about us and our boys, but it is about more then that. It is Satan’s best effort to prove that I don’t really love Christ. If he can keep me in a state of chaos or discouragement or anger or questioning, how can I possibly trust the Lord with all my heart?

Edith tells a story of a wonderful man who had so much life yet to live, yet he was cut down by illness and was on his death bed, about to leave the family and life and work that he loved. As He lay there, unable even to speak now, she challenged him “…that perhaps the next hours and days would be the most important ones of [his] life — a part he could still have in the battle in the heavenlies. When time is given us for a particular task, if we turn away from it at that time, that particular task can’t be repeated…” (68).

That last line stopped me in my tracks. I actually wrote it on my wall and challenged myself, “don’t turn away from your task. It can’t be repeated.” I am not to stand around wringing my hands, worrying and sighing as things don’t change. I — you — we are meant to understand that one very important victory we are meant to have is a series of repeated “overcomings” in a variety of difficulties (73).

Yes, this one I am in is important and I am called to VIGILANCE!  I am called to stand firm in my faith and pray to the Lord, “Please put your words into my mouth for this person, for this situation. Please give me Your Strength in my weakness in this specific need” (69). Instead of folding, crumbling, giving way to bitterness and endless questioning…in our affliction we are able to feel a new “camaraderie” with Jesus who suffered and offers to teach us how to walk through suffering, through His own personal experiences with it.

Read this powerful passage about God, Satan and us from Revelation 12:9-11

This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.

10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—
    salvation and power
and the Kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Christ.[a]
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters[b]
    has been thrown down to earth—
the one who accuses them
    before our God day and night.
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much
    that they were afraid to die.

I read this and I am gripped by the larger drama, the events going on in that rectangle in the seen and unseen and I am so aware that what is going on in my life right now is so much bigger, so much bigger, than my family alone. How many side stories are there to this one? How much do I not see in how God is engaging with all of this? How many times is He calling to me to be completely occupied with overcoming.

Back to how I opened this post. I have analyzed our family’s journey from every angle and it hasn’t changed a single thing. It is like the cancer patient finding out what might have triggered their cancer. It’s just information and it may help someone else, but it doesn’t change the present. Who am I right here, and right now?

There is something going on here that is out of my control but not out of God’s framework. My ongoing story is a part of history now within that rectangle, and it is within the rectangle of opportunity for God to declare victory over Satan. It’s all so messy and I cannot predict the outcomes, but I do know that I will not let Satan have this. As for me, I plan to overcome, I plan to keep standing on God’s promises, I plan to keep raising my hand to “point North” to what is true and right and good and I plan to leave the rest with God. What a relief that He is far less shocked than I at all of these ruins, as He has surveyed all of human behaviour over all this time and still…He keeps making all things new.

How do we overcome? It is very simple and it involves the thing people do the least…but when we grow tired of wringing our hands, here is the beautiful alternative:

  • Pray. Pray. Pray. Say it, write it, sing it, walk it…pray. Have a conversation with your Creator and receive all His life giving words and promises.
  • Be in the Word. And then be in the Word again. Pick it apart, understand it, pull it deep inside your heart. It is good food.
  • Daily submit yourself and your life to your Heavenly Father. And then do it again when you forgot you did this. Do this again when you waver. Proclaim your trust. Refocus.
  • Lift your eyes beyond your circumstances to imagine how Satan is accusing you and accusing those you love. Reaffirm your loyalty to the cause of Christ and shake a fist at evil.
  • Worship with thankfulness!
  • Be in good fellowship with Believers who will walk with you and you with them. Don’t just be a taker either, bless others and pray for them. Affliction opens your eyes to affliction, let God grow your compassion!
  • Make yourself available for the Good Works God has for you…don’t stall out in His Kingdom work just because you are limping.

You don’t need to be a pillar of strength, just don’t become a hermit, a sluggard, a person enveloped by self-pity. Don’t give Satan a foothold and wreck you by drawing you into foolish temptations. Open your life to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and He will help you to be vigilant and determined — and to be successful at your one task:

To overcome.

— Teresa Klassen

 

 

 

 

 





4. What Were You Actually Told?

18 01 2017

Chapter 3: A Crack in the Curtain — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 4 of 13 posts)

What can any of us expect of life? We have expectations, we all do. In fact, as nations we take the time to write some of them down.

My American friends have declared their expectations, stating that “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain UNALIENABLE RIGHTS, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Unalienable, by the way, means “unable to be taken or given away.” 

In my Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, these are some of what is promised to my collective by those who govern:

Section 7: right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
Section 12: right not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment.
Section 13: rights against self-incrimination

It is written down and I am owed those things (apparently). In fact, my first-world society tells me I am owed more then that as the word “deserve” is thrown around like confetti at a wedding.  Life should mirror Pinterest and if it doesn’t…stop everything, change course and speed, go after what you deserve.

Guess what? I have my own storyboard projecting what I believed I was promised as well. I didn’t even know I had one until some of the things on it were taken away and I had the acute sense of being ROBBED. When life took a few turns that I did not see coming it deeply, profoundly affected my life and my outlook. I didn’t even know I was expecting a certain kind of life until then, and had to examine it all.

“Why is this happening to me?”

“How could this be happening to me?”

“This is so unfair!”

“What did I do? What did they do? What did God do? What didn’t God do? What will He do? What is He capable of? What can I ask Him for?”

When life takes a turn for “the worst” we often feel betrayed or ashamed or confused or angry or bitter or afraid or desperate or judged or alone or…I have felt all these things. I have had a lot of time to think about this during fractured seasons.

Even as I reflect on all this, I am so thankful. It feels strange to say that, but by being dressed down, God has given me new clothes to wear. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel my journeys are unusual or I have done any hard season unusually well. But these experiences are unique to me and aren’t like anyone else’s because I am unique and my circumstances are my circumstances — so on my hard paths, I am a pioneer and as Edith says, “Pioneers always have a harder time in their uncharted experiences, as they push through jungles or wilderness without marked roads or maps” (50). Perfectly said and true for all of us.

You know you can’t talk about Affliction from a Christian perspective without talking about Job. So this chapter is largely about Job and as the author says, “We have a lot to thank Job for — he sailed an uncharted sea and stayed on course” (50). He had no way of knowing what an “important thing he was doing as he sat in the ashes covered with boils” (50). For any readers who haven’t read Job, you need to read the book or at least read a summary of what the Biblical book titled “Job” is all about. Here is a short one, but really — after all Job went through, his story really deserves a read: Summary of Job.

In this chapter of the book, Affliction, the main point is for us to see that Satan is trying to get Job to curse God as this is “Satan’s method of getting at God” (53). The point isn’t simply how bad Satan is, the point is how much we matter as individuals to the living God. However, “here is a sober warning — we also matter to Satan!” (51). Over the past few years, the reality of this has really landed on me.

I love “partnership.” I love doing life in community, alongside people who are determined to be faithful and stick-it-out with each other. I love my husband for this. I love my Church community, a group of people who have chosen to stay with each other through thick and thin, good times and bad, when it is easy and when it is hard. I love my family who have both celebrated and suffered with each other and have hung on even when the threads have been thin. And I love, most of all, that I get to partner with Christ.

This has become a visual thing for me — something I see in my “mind’s eye.” There are passages in Scriptures that say that Satan stands before God “accusing” us. He accuses us of all our failures, and Christ defends us. I can’t imagine having Satan in my ear all day long, dripping with negativity about the creation God loves. Until all is made right, until creation groans no more…our God is putting up with this evil fellow (for a time), the one we invited into our lives through our disobedience way back in Genesis. Through our invitation we see the wreckage that has come…

“We see then that Satan has the power to work in other people — to incite wars, assassinations, violence of person against person. In some measure he also has the power over the elements and can bring tornados and lightning. Now he directly sends disease. As the ‘prince of this world’ he definitely has a certain degree of power for the battle. Job’s boils appeared ‘from the sole of his foot unto his crown,’ in other words every inch of his body (2:7)” (53)

When one suffers, everything moves in slow-motion, in shadows, in valleys. The book of Job, in those times, is a gift. A manual of sorts. We see that Job was in the dark, not knowing what happened or what would happen. We also see that Job does not give way to whatever his expectations may have been. He trusts God: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly (Job 1:22).

But Job was discouraged. He couldn’t understand what was happening. There is no way to not feel this way. Suffering is called suffering for a reason; it’s not any other sunny day when something happens to you that grinds you down. But “discouragement and depression are not equaled with cursing or blaming God” (54). Job’s view was bigger than the moment he was in. He understood something about life and what we are promised and not promised that we would do well to learn from.

Job was open to being shown whatever he needed to see about his life (Job 13:23) but he wasn’t sent into a tailspin over it. He trusted his walk with God. He made things right as he went. He did not drag sin around with him. He did what he could, as best he could, to walk God’s way. When things started to go south, it isn’t because he was neglectful.

This is where we need to learn to listen well, and choose who we listen to. “People constantly drift into a simplistic lack of balance and are in danger of joining Job’s comforters” (56) who sought to find an explanation for everything — and in this case, “what did you do?” This is what we do when trouble hits, don’t we? We look for the cause. If you listen to the news at all, the continual question posed in the face of any difficulty is, “Who or what is to blame for this?” and we do the very same thing. We want an explanation for affliction because there must be something we can put our finger on, but what we don’t do is just get quiet and sit where we are in the ashes and consider God’s bigger view and what He is doing in the midst of suffering, how ever it came about.

Let’s not be shocked about suffering. Afflictions come. They are unavoidable, so we must not think we will ever, ever escape affliction. If we could, we would be like God and that is the first and biggest lie. While we live in this world, we will face suffering. Expect it. As the earlier chapters stated, broken world equals brokenness. That’s the bed we made. Even as I write that, I realize that is a hard pill to swallow because….. because…. because of what we think we were promised but never were (refer back to my introduction of this post). We weren’t promised if we “do everything right” all will go right.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about what suffering we bring on ourselves, because I think we know that. Sometimes we are idiots. Sometimes we disobey and hope we can get away with it. We rebel, we fake, we act out of greed. Sometimes we are just humans and fail and mess up and cause a mess. Sometimes others sin and we suffer because of their choices – unavoidable. The state of sin and evil in our world paves the way to suffering. Sometimes very innocent people (children) suffer because of what we have allowed in this world, environmentally, legally, permissively, stupidly, cowardly…

But this is an overarching truth: Always, Satan is on the prowl wanting to kill God’s work that is going on in and through us and even though suffering can be a great teacher, Satan will use suffering to turn us away from God. So no matter whether it is us, someone else, or another direct attack of Satan, remember that Satan “in his false work tries to turn aside the trust in God on the part of God’s people and change it to the trust in some false promise of a ‘thing’ (63) and the thing always is something that diverts our attention from God’s actual purposes and intentions in our circumstances. Here too, the Bible says Satan will flee from us when we assert that we will not fall to temptation!!

This chapter challenges us that we shouldn’t just do everything we can to get out of our suffering, spend all our time doing that, and lose what God is doing. Edith points out that Jobs comforters “promised immediate relief if he would just repent of his sin — this is a lie that ‘the immediate result would be that everything would be fine'” (64). We search our databanks for solutions that will “make things fine.” We dread afflictions and fight against them. We listen to people, we read books written by people, we seek comfort from people who will help us get out of our pain yet, “we are warned that Satan will not only tempt us to complain against God when afflictions come, but will also try to turn us into getting rid of the affliction the wrong way. Satan can do ‘miracles’ or ‘wonders’ and can give power to people to do them” (65).

Jobs “friends” suggested suffering was due to a cause and an effect. It suggests that we must be doing something wrong, or not seeing something, and therefore we suffer. It also suggests that righteous people don’t suffer. Error.

Job contemplated the nature and the fairness of God and saw that there would be no balance until the resurrection. And in the things Job could not see at all, we are given the window to see that much more is at work in suffering.

“We have an eternity ahead to increase our knowledge and understanding. What we need now is just enough to live by. We have been given understanding, but also a warning. The account of Job’s life (which tells us more than Job knew) is a warning to us. we are meant to grasp that warning sufficiently to help us see how worthwhile are periods of our lives which seem to be a waste. We are meant never to forget — no matter how shrill the wind, how violent the storm — that there is meaning and purpose to our lives. This involves us as individuals, involves other people (future and present), and involves God Himself, as well as Satan as he tries to ‘win'” (62)

When we suffer, we ought to “shut ourselves” into “contemplating the fairness of God in His marvellously personal attention to us as individuals, now throughout all this life and on into eternity” (66). Yes I know that goes against our fight or flight instincts, but let’s learn from Job who regretted that he had not trusted more, that he had not more willingly gone through all the afflictions, trials and tribulations of those weeks and months. I feel this. Some of the things that have happened in my life left me feeling like I had a concussion: dizziness, vomiting, uncontrollable emotions, loss of the ability to think straight.

Yes, I was discouraged. But I was also so thrown off by it all…like, as I said, I had been robbed. But was I? Wasn’t all of that “par for the course” Scripturally, being told again and again that I would, most definitely, at some point, and probably at other points, suffer? And haven’t I ultimately benefitted from the lessons learned as my heavenly Father has patiently walked with me?

I so echo Edith’s prayer

“Oh God, my dear Heavenly Father, I didn’t really know how great and marvellous You really are. You are so magnificent, so wonderful, so great, so beyond anything I was able to imagine You to be. I did worship You and I did trust You, but it was such a tiny fraction of what I should have done, had I realized more completely just what You are like and how perfect You are. Oh, God of the Universe, Master and Creator, there are not sufficient words in the human language to express the difference between You and me, and I want that expression so very urgently that I must make a visible and feelable difference by shredding my clothing and putting dirt on myself, so that I can feel I am bowing before You in a state which demonstrates the difference to myself more clearly” (59).

God has never forsaken me. Whenever I hear that line in the song “Shepherd” by Bethel Music it catches in my throat. Truth. Even in my most undignified displays, when I wept without any clear view of what God was doing…He did not forsake me.

The book of Job says there came a time, the ‘turning of the captivity, ‘ which refers to the fact that God no longer allowed Satan to hit Job with his fiery darts (60). Think of what Job went through for OUR BENEFIT. His historical suffering and redemption informs our historical suffering and redemption, and we would do well to study the nature of it. If we do, we see that the cruelty of Satan, his deception and destruction is at the root of ALL suffering. It was through Satan’s trickery that a human being turned their eyes from their Maker originally and all of us have since, no matter how hard we try not to. It was through such a cloaked evil, that all of creation suffers and declines and is overrun by waste and neglect. It is because of this that Jesus Christ came — the ultimate act of War against death and destruction and gives meaning to our present suffering and hope and strength and the assurance that this is not wasted time.

And, what we are actually promised…the promise you can write down is , there is an end, an absolute end to all tears and sorrow when Jesus — only Jesus — will wipe all tears from our eyes. Any comfort from anywhere else is only temporary. And…this here is life for the time being, and a life worth living and learning in. This is our home for now, and one Jesus said we should pray for, that we would all experience some of heaven on earth. And don’t we? Don’t we when we are lifted out of our present circumstances to see His greater purpose? Don’t we when He helps us? Don’t we when He makes us “battle ready” and don’t we when we are given strength to walk the most difficult paths? Don’t we, when Satan doesn’t win? Don’t we when we can suffer without despair?

If you are in the dust, lock eyes with Jesus who is defending you and will walk you through your valley, even sets a table you can eat comfortably at in the middle of your afflictions, all this and more…much to the dismay of The Enemy.

— Teresa Klassen

PS. Speaking of handling suffering well, take the time to watch this. It is worth it. You can skip the music and announcements if you like…it is a Message given by Erwin McManus from Mosaic church in Los Angeles. It makes the point very well. And while you are at it, pray for him, his family, and Mosaic.