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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Suffering Not Wasted

Psalm 56:8 “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”

I love to read the story of Jesus and Lazarus when I am sorrowful:

John 11

The Death of Lazarus
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

I Am the Resurrection and the Life
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world."

Jesus Weeps
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see."

Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?" Jesus Raises Lazarus Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

So many aspects of this account help me in suffering:

1) God loves me. Sometimes in view of the fact that God created and runs the universe, I lose sight of the fact that He knows me and loves me individually. The accounts of Jesus’ life are filled with stories of his love for individuals like me. Scripture gives us such intimate accounts of God’s love and compassion for us.

2) There is purpose to my suffering. Jesus tells us in this account that the reason Lazarus died and his friends and family suffered was for “the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it”. He gives us further insight into how God is glorified in this suffering by his words to Thomas, his words to Martha, and in his prayer to the Father. He wants them to believe in Him! This might sound like a peculiar thing to say to his followers who are believers. He wants them to trust more deeply in who He is, and He wants them to see His glory. In this there is peace for them and there is joy that supersedes their circumstances. I love that God is glorified in our trust, peace, hope, and joy in Him, and likewise that seeing His glory gives us more trust, more peace, more hope, and more joy in Him. This is what He wants for us, to the extent that He would lovingly use suffering as a tool to bring this about.

3) My suffering was ordained in advance as part of His glorious plan- it is not outside of the hands of my Sovereign Lord. Jesus tells the disciples that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death because He knew He was going to raise Him. Jesus’ prayer to the Father was in absolute confidence in what the Father would do. Jesus spoke and the dead Lazarus obeyed immediately!

4) Even though God knows that there is a great purpose in my suffering that far outweighs the suffering itself, He is compassionate and weeps with me and for me! Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and still He wept with those who were weeping!

5) My God can do anything- including raise people from the dead! As my husband Kristian says, “Even the dead obey the Living God!” Is anything too hard for my God? Is anything in my life too hard for my God? Of course not.

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