13. Practicing Contentment

28 03 2018

Chapter 12: Practicing Contentment or What Comes Next?

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 13 of 13 posts)

There is something about contentment that drains the poison out of pain. But can we find contentment in the middle of suffering?  I believe we can if we are willing to stop long enough to interrupt the terrible cycle of worry and fear, anger and resentment which lurk in the shadows of every affliction. If we will begin to practice a different posture, we can navigate those difficult trails with goodness and mercy following us in a pretty surprising way (Psalm 23:6).

In and of myself, I do not have a satisfactory answer that will make sense of every hard thing, but when I stop and come before my Heavenly Father, He can speak to me and lead me to a new place. It was never His plan that we fret about everything or try to fix everything — to live in a giant knot. As Edith writes in a prayer, we should admit:

I know I am finite. You made me to be finite…

It is the opposite posture of the child has who insists he is BIG and can do everything or make sense out of everything. What he really needs to do is admit he is LITTLE and is in desperate need of help from someone bigger. We should come with open hands to our Father, in a listening posture, admitting that our understanding and ability falls short. We come to Him desiring to offload the angst of the unknown, inviting our Father to GIVE US a contentment in our circumstances that only He has the power to give.

Contentment weeds out the threats that can come our way when we are in a hard place. It steps between us and despair and calls us to stop and see and realize the love and Presence of God.

We don’t just need this contentment for our own troubled times, we need it for all the troubling things we see in the world and in the lives of our friends and family. The world is broken, and we care!  We ought to care, but we also need to know our place in it all. Edith prays a beautiful prayer in this last chapter…

I cannot do everything: I cannot take care of everybody. Please bring to me the people of Your choice for me to help, and send others to someone else for help. Please send me to the places of your choice and take others to other places to help. Please give me wisdom in choice and the strength for what You want me to do. And then let me accept what You give me with thanksgiving and the grace to really receive Your gifts, as well as to be compassionate and ready to help others (249).

To me that prayer just makes me exhale. If I stop what I am doing and take the time to ask what my assignment is, I will find that some things are my assignment and some aren’t and there are many things I can hand over to God and leave there. That may fall into the parenting category, ministry category, neighbourhood category, workplace category, world-wide category…

Why don’t we just ask our Father what He wants us to do and do that? Why don’t we leave what isn’t our assignment alone? If we would — cover everything with prayer and leave it with Him — we would learn to walk with more contentment.

Being actively content is a command and when we allow problems (ours or others) to rule the minutes of our days, Edith writes what she observed in her own life:

“It came to me that I was cancelling out the possible contentment of the immediate moment, so filled with the things which God had given me richly to enjoy. I was ignoring these wonders by concentrating on the problems of the present and the future” (251).

She writes,

“You and I are to really learn to be content. We need to practice this as we would practice the scales on a piano. It came to me that an active contentment is a moment by moment practice, not a big sweeping thing…It is the active noticing of what we have been given in any one moment to enjoy which brings the active result of contentment” (252).

This kind of advice has now been given over and over. Edith wrote this in 1978 and haven’t we heard it again and again over the years? But are we more content or less?

Edith writes,

We need to stop to actively “practice contentment,” time after time. Fran [my husband] was so struck by what I wrote about this that he and I have often stopped recently just to point out not just sunsets and stars and birds, but also the curve of a roof, the changing red of a vine in autumn — the immediate seeable, feelable, hearable, smellable things of the moment that we might ignore in the midst of a concentrated conversation. Contentment involves stopping to notice the heavens ‘which declare the glory of God’ and the richness of all that we can enjoy in spite of the immediate hindrances or afflictions or difficulties that threaten our activities — and in spite of the fears and worries that burden our thoughts” (252).

For me, the way this book ends is the right call. It is about really surrendering our lives to the mystery and beauty of God’s ways. To know Him well so that trust grows. To listen intently because He IS speaking. To step out of our short-sightedness and take a look at the big view.

And sometimes our bigger and broader view won’t make sense of it all either. We will need a bigger view still and might not get that view while stuck in the limitations of this present life.  Will we be content in our longings to wait for when Jesus will make “all things new” as the book Revelation promises?

The fix needed, ultimately, is bigger than the short-term things we lock onto when we feel a press in life. The relief we need, is deeper than the break we wish we had or think we deserve. God promises to do abundantly more than we could ask or think, which means He will do more also with our sufferings than we could imagine.

“…they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:16

I again extend my thanks to this mentor, Edith Schaeffer, for pointing out that Jesus is still in the middle of everything. He is right here, ready and WILLING to give us His peace, His strength, His perspective, and…beautifully…His contentment.

I pray that for you…and for me! Don’t despair.

— Teresa Klassen


12. Aborting Affliction

26 03 2018

Chapter 11: Aborting Affliction

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 12 of 13 posts)

This chapter had such important things to think about especially considering the rapid way that culture is shifting and becoming more and more confusing; especially as we are experiencing the accelerated erosion of our physical world; and especially as we move into the grey in almost every area of life, thinking we are wise and yet experiencing a nagging anxiety that we might not be.

“There is a twentieth-century smog, as formerly ‘unthinkable’ ideas are exchanged for a new set of thinkable ones. In many ways the former acceptable ideas are like fresh, sweet, spring air, compared with the heavily polluted, foggy, smoggy air of the new ones. People are being affected with ‘breathing problems’ in their minds! Their thinking is simply all fogged up and unclear, and a new set of choices is thrust upon human beings who aren’t equipped to argue or set forth an alternative set. We need to do some pretty serious and concentrated sifting of ideas and we need an absolute standard with which to compare them. Our little ships are going to crash on the rocks if we don’t construct some lighthouses where the old ones have been torn down! It’s as if some giant hand has gone through all the dangerous waters and removed all the buoys and lighthouses, so that new ships with young captains would surely be wrecked” (211).

Doesn’t that just describe it? I feel this acutely.

To make her point, Edith explores our attitudes towards the quality of our lives and what we believe we deserve or have a right to experience.  She addresses abortion as her example. If we believe we do not deserve to have to carry a life, deliver it and tend to it in some way,  women in many parts of the world can decide to abort a pregnancy. The chapter isn’t really about abortion (I know this is a complicated and layered issue), but rather the ramifications of decisions we make like this — aborting anything and everything that is inconvenient. She writes,

“The casual attitude toward aborting a fetus has been expanded into the area of commonly accepting the aborting of anything that is a bother, a burden, a heavy work, or a hindrance to whatever kind of freedom an individual wants to pursue by ‘starting a new life’ in some other direction” (212).

Suffering is undesirable. No one chooses what is behind that door. No one, if given the option, would choose that path.  Therefore, if given the freedom to, we will tend to do whatever it takes to alleviate our suffering. But with that seemingly “easy way out” is also the bypassing of something that is the “good” that comes with walking through a trial and often an entry-way into something worse or harder. Edith writes,

“Affliction — with the various purposes that can be fulfilled through affliction and what it can mean in our lives — is then also to be aborted. If affliction and tribulation are to be aborted, then also are aborted patience, steadfastness, experience, and hope. If these things follow tribulation then they will also be cancelled out” (212).

And, more serious still, is the the dangerous position of a human making decisions that are meant for God. To this one issue — the beginning and ending of a life, whether it is very new or very old — we are relying only on a short-sighted, narrowly informed human wisdom and this is “astonishingly and frighteningly egotistic” (213). Who do we think we are to exercise such a decision?

Knowing this was published in the late seventies gives it a rather prophetic feel. Edith imagines a government providing a building where one could commit suicide. This was suggested in Sweden in her time, and she asks “Can you imagine that?” Well…what can we say? This is our reality now. She warned back then that this would put into existence a temptation that would be “too heavy for human beings to face” (217). She questions,

“Who of us can trust all our motives, moment by moment, day in and day out, week by week, month by month? Who of us can completely trust our motives for the now, let alone the tomorrow for ourselves and all those whom we are in some way responsible for? Who does not go up and down in some measure in wisdom and sensitivity and unselfishness, if not in other basic qualities involved with such decisions?” (217)

Edith warns that we are easily twisted by a diseased perspective — think of how easy it was to tempt Eve into stepping away from what she knew! This “off” perspective becomes a cancerous growth, “causing our minds to be malfunctioning in relationship to true Truth. We can…suddenly be floating on the tide of the ‘new thinkables’ so that our feet are no longer on the solid ground of our island after all…” (217).

When we choose to abort affliction with the effort we do, we have to also abort the word responsibility from our vocabulary because now it becomes about our right to be trouble-free on every level of our personal lives. Now it is about us and we must stand up for ourselves and  “the further we live from what the Word of God teaches, the closer we are to being useful to Satan in muddling people up and keeping them from seeing any contrast or difference at all” (219) between right and wrong, life and death.

This is where that slippery slope leads: When we stop wanting to put up with affliction, we will also stop wanting to put up with one another, saying, “Let’s abort the togetherness and the continuity of life” (220).

She writes about this so meaningfully:

“Continuity is the precious thing that is lost when one starts following the will-o’the-‘wisp of fairy light through the moor s and hills looking for ‘perfection’ in whatever terms one might define it. And life is so very, very short, that there is scarcely time to build up that continuity in one lifetime. Continuity needs to be protected and worked upon, and a terrific variety of things takes place in the doing of that.” (220)

God is calling us to something else. He is calling us to be patient in affliction. He is calling us to not let go of love and trust when we are pressed. Love is patient. In the King James version it says that love “suffereth long.” What we need to know about love is that “it is willing to suffer some kind of affliction, some kind of tribulation. Everything can’t be ‘perfect’. There have to be real incidents, real moments, where one’s own desires are put aside for another person…” (221).

We ought not to “abort” our time of trial, seeking comfort above all else! Seeking transitory happiness no matter the compromise of God’s better way.

“Many times, people abort the work which God has led them to do, as definitely as though they had aborted life itself. They have aborted the affliction of doing something they felt was too hard, too dull, to exacting, too demanding, tied them down too much, or was too dangerous, as they turned to life that was entirely of their own will or desire. The only real difference between that and suicide is that there is still time to repent and to tell the Lord so, and then have another section of life to give to Him. He can take us right where we are and unfold a path that is His will, from that place on, if we turn back, let go of the determination to have what we are demanding, and ask, ‘Show me Thy way, Lord,’ with the intent to do His will… 225

Aren’t those “hard” words?  They should make us pause and ask why she used the word “suicide” in this paragraph — it is jarring!  Yet, there is something truthful about it. We have become very good at aborting affliction, aborting assignments, leaving, ending, escaping, exiting, transitioning, opting out, stepping away. What do you call stopping a good thing God is wanting to do? Spiritual suicide is not that far off, as far as descriptions go. We don’t even know what work it has killed in us and in our world.

When we keep aborting hard or unwanted assignments, the work that is to make us solid is aborted too. Edith writes, “There is a danger of not being real” if we skirt around what is making us real, beautiful, and polished. She compares a life that chooses to walk through, instead of around hardship, to a beautifully crafted piece of authentically fine furniture in the making: “Make me solid wood, Lord, not veneer!” (226)

Do we believe we are walking through tough times alone? Then no wonder we freak out and make all sorts of short-sighted decisions!  Yet our Good Father calls us to patient endurance, saying, “Through faith you are shielded by God’s power until the day coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have suffered grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:3-6

We all need to stop. Breathe. Sit with Jesus and take stock of what is going on. Listen well to what He is saying and accept the unexpected peace He offers in the middle of a fiery time. The good He offers, the directions He gives here, is better than any good we can conceive of on our own.

“Our abnormal world reflects the spoiled physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual condition. Contrast that with the eternity in which we will find complete healing, restoration, and possession of all the faculties which God meant us to have. The quality of life that awaits us is so completely different from the quality of life we can now have in our spoiled condition that there would be no words to describe the contrast.” (215)

Friend and fellow sojourner — let’s hold on to the hand of our God and find refuge in Him. Let’s seek Him out and not abort our situations. Let’s let Him make us and our lives and our future into something we couldn’t have made ourselves.

— Teresa Klassen

11. Affliction and Evangelism

20 02 2018

Chapter 10: Affliction and Evangelism — Affliction and Guidance

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 11 of 13 posts)

Edith Schaeffer begins this chapter with the story of Stephen, his martyrdom under the approval of Saul. Out of a terrible suffering, a loss, a murder, came new life and a powerful movement that spread out over the entire earth: a great good out of a great evil. Here we see the redeeming hand of God, taking the victory Satan thinks he has, a victory that no one could have even imagined possible given the nature of the tragedy.

This is what God does.

Schaeffer points out that Satan keeps trying to eliminate our way back to God. Think of when Jesus was born and Satan went on a rampage to kill Jesus from the very beginning (through Herod killing children under the age of 2). This was before anyone knew Jesus, before He had done a single thing on earth, before anyone believed anything about Him. This is where Satan attacked and failed. In the middle of this persecution, God was already victorious.

In the middle of our own impossible situations, God is not only at work for our own good but for the good He has planned for people all around us. He gives us strength not just so we can go on, but so that others will find life as well through our stories of God’s faithfulness. Because our God sustains us, our lives become stories of Truth:

“The reality in the life of an evangelist, or  a’teller of the truth,’ is not pointed out as a series of miracles which remove all sickness, hardship and fatigue from that person, but a series of hard, slogging days of work during which a sufficient amount of the Lord’s strength has become evident in the human being’s weakness” (192).

Instead of persecution stopping the early Christians, it actually produced Christians who spoke the Truth that went out like a “wave washing over the world” and this took place “because of — as well as in spite of — affliction, hardship, persecution and difficulties of all kind” (192).

“Satan oversteps himself in his attacks, time after time. God takes what has been a strike against His people or His work, and by blending together people, events and geographic places, brings forth a fantastic victory again and gain — as His people throw themselves on Him in prayer” (196).

Paul calls out to all people:

“I give you this CHARGE: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season…keep your head in all situations, endure hardship [afflictions], do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (196).

That is a powerful call! That is an energized call! There is no sentence in there that says “back off until things smooth out.” Quite the contrary! It is right in the middle of hardship that we draw our sword and defy the Enemy and side with Christ!

We have been forewarned that suffering will come our way, so be ready for all kinds of hardship from all kinds of sources. Be ready for rejection. Be ready for heartache. Be ready for friendships to go south. Be ready for unfair stories on the news. Be ready for the world to oppose your views.

“Satan can and will attack us directly in our areas of health, a deluge of disasters, car accidents, our house burning down, higher-than-expected taxes, a baby born with a handicap, loss of a job, or a crippling disease. Satan will persecute us directly, as will people persecute us…” (199).

Let us stand on what is True — eyes open to our reality here and our future with Christ and not let Satan take us out of the work God has for us.

“We are not being given a painkiller, a bit of occupational therapy, a club to join in which we can have a lot more friends, an insurance policy in case of some sort of disaster. We are being given the true Truth of what life is all about, of what has happened since God created the world, of how the Fall came about and where all the misery stems from, of how we can be forgiven and brought into a ‘forever’ relationship with God, and of the future marvels of which we can be certain” (199).

Isaiah 30:20-21 KJV says that we have affliction and we have adversity and this is and will be true for all of us but…do I ever love this,

“but thine eyes see thy teachers…”

(Don’t just skip over that…stop and think on that)

“…And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left…”

Verse 18 says the Lord will wait for us. Isn’t that a lovely picture. Even though God is vastly superior in every way and can work without us at all, He waits for us so He can be “gracious to us” and provide for us and have us as a part of His story and His victory.

But contrast this with Isaiah 30:1-3 KJV

“Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; that cover with a covenant, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin…”

Isn’t that a warning? Instead of our troubles producing good, they can actually become even more destructive when we walk away from God’s ways as we experience them. When we are not seeking God’s help or advice, His guidance and answers to prayer, and when we just live life our way, there is no good to come of that. In that posture, we are actually practicing unbelief.

“Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on their God.” Isaiah 50:10

We have the invitation to wait for God’s direction. The choose to have the patience to “stay” or…we can drift away and find ourselves in a place where our hearts are hard and our posture is rebellious:

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:15

Schaeffer warns us not to mix God’s guidance with the advice of “false prophets.” When we feel we are being crushed, at a low point emotionally or psychologically — this is just the place of temptation where Satan or one of his false prophets can strike. Be warned! (208) Recognize what is of God and what isn’t! Take up the shield of faith and be guarded (Ephesians 6:16-20) because this is serious. Satan’s ways only ever lead to death.

Don’t be fooled by false comfort, false guidance and false “light” (209).

Nothing good comes when we wallow in suffering or shake a fist at God, looking at our misery as a prison-sentence and at that time period as utter darkness. This is the will of Satan. The will of God is that we would open our hands to Him and trust that even here He can and will do a good work in you and through you. He takes the brokenness we have created in this world and, in spite of that, grows life.

“Drop to your faces before God in worship, saying, ‘I bow before You as one of Your creatures. Thank You that, while I do not understand everything, my hand is held by the eternal, all-wise, Infinite God, the Creator.'”

Instead of affliction being only a time of loss, in our Father’s hands it WILL be a time of gain because that is Who God Is. He is the one who Creates something out of nothing. In this time of suffering, your life can bear much fruit…as hard as that is to imagine and indeed it is impossible without the touch of God. In this very place though, He has us front and centre! While the Enemy thinks he has you, he doesn’t. Be assured, he doesn’t.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57

May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!

— Teresa Klassen

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

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.


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