Get Real part 3:
Real Life
by John Young
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
October 8, 2006

 

Introduction

Is it just me, or do some of you also have issues with the theology in a number of our hymns?
 

  • "He keeps me singing every day"

  • "Ever day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before"

  • "And now I am happy all the day"

  • "I've discovered the way of gladness"

  • "I've found happiness all the time, wonderful peace of mind, since I found the Lord"
     

My issue with these songs is that they don't seem to address the reality of life. It may be that their authors were happy all the day long, but probably not for more than a couple of weeks at a stretch.

Dr. James Dobson observed that we rarely get a period of more than two weeks of smooth sailing at a time before some upsetting circumstance intersects our life.

So, today, I want to talk to you about real life…life without a feigned smile; life where the rubber hits the road; life where unpleasantness can't be simply wished away; life where disease, pain, and loss are our genuine bedfellows; life that is deep, not shallow, not superficial, not phony.

Now, the thing about sharing a message like this is that even if no one needs to hear it today, some of you will need it in the near future, and many of you have been down this road already.

Any adequate theology must be able to incorporate the reality of pain, loss, and suffering. If our understanding of God demands that He deliver us from these and keep us happy all the day, then we will be confounded, confused, and disappointed in God when the inevitable experiences of pain overtake us.

Christian singer/songwriter, Wayne Watson, has a song titled "Every Now and Again". The thrust of this song is that it's good to be lonely, or to go down in defeat, or to know sorrow every now and again if it draws us closer to God.

"It's good to know sorrow, to be closely acquainted with grief,
To be showered with tears, no reason to cheer,
To find in Christ your only relief.

"And know I am grateful,
'Cause if it makes me love you a little bit more,
I know, I'm sure,
It's good to know sorrow every now and again."


A healthy theology will see God as neither indifferent to our pain nor inadequate to deal constructively with it. God's grace is designed for fallen people in a fallen world. His grace is able to deal with reality.

 

Thoughts on Suffering

Suffering in our life stems from three root causes:
 

  1. Our sinfulness: Our rebellion against the will of God always produces pain. This is God's design. He knows that living outside His will is damaging and that is why He warns us and pleads with us against sin. Also, in the economy of God, the resulting pain and suffering is a tool that God uses to shepherd us back to Himself.
     

  2. Poor choices: Being human means that we make a lot of wrong choices. Not necessarily sinful choices, just poor ones…eating too much and exercising too little, not being careful with our finances, trusting the wrong people and not trusting the right ones, or not nurturing important relationships. Poor choices also have consequences, sometimes cumulative, sometimes far reaching, sometimes dormant for years.
     

  3. The fallenness and brokenness of this world: Bad things happen to innocent people through the sinfulness of others or the ravages of time and nature. The bystander who is shot in a gang war crossfire; a faithful wife whose spouse walks out on her for another woman; little children who are abused; the discovery that you have cancer; the loss of property to fire, flood, or storm; a car wreck; or emotional collapse. All of these can cause intense suffering for completely innocent people who did not participate in causing the pain at all.


Suffering can cause responses ranging from feelings of guilt or anger, to rebellion, despair, hopelessness, and doubt. Just read the psalms to find the whole array of human responses to suffering. God understands the effects of suffering. That is one reason He inspired the psalmists and other Biblical figures to share their suffering with us… that we might know He is indeed acquainted with grief.

God sees pain differently than we tend to see it. He sees it from the perspective of Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."; and II Corinthians 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
Some of you have endured the loss of a loved one; others have had protracted illness and coped with physical pain; some have been living with the consequences of their former rebellion…thoroughly forgiven, but still paying an earthly price for it; some have been deeply wounded by the unfaithfulness of a friend or the deliberate and sinful actions of someone who wanted to hurt you.

 

Personal Story

For me, emotional pain came through a protracted clinical depression. I want to share with you a little of my journey, its blackness, and the things I have learned about myself and God in the process. This is very intense and personal. One of the best ways to express my pain and struggle has been through writing. I will be sharing a few short poems and paragraphs that I have written over the years which have held great meaning for me.

If I were standing before a large crowd today bringing this message and the Holy Spirit was powerfully present so that people were moved to respond in great numbers and eternal fruit was being born in their lives; if I truly felt the anointing touch of God and knew that He was mightily using me; if the awesome works of God were accomplished in our midst, then from an earthly perspective I would be tempted to say, "This is my finest hour."

However, from heaven’s perspective I somehow think that my finest hour might not have been so glorious in earthly terms. Permit me to share my story personally with you. I began seeking the Lord with all my heart and praying this prayer of irrevocable commitment sometime in 1993:

“Father, lest I misunderstand my motives and deceive myself in pledging my commitment to You I ask You to take me at my word. Sovereign Almighty God take me at the word of my lips: Do whatever You must do, bar nothing, at whatever cost, to bring me to the place where I will love You, where I will trust You, where I will obey You the way You want me to, no matter what, only give me the Grace to be true. Here is my life, the breath of my nostrils - it is Yours to take; here is my health - it is Yours to take; here are all of my wealth and possessions - they are Yours to take; here is my job, my security - it is Yours to take; here are all the relationships of my life - they are Yours to take; here is my reputation - it is Yours to take. Almighty God I know, should You ask any of these of me, that in my own strength I would fail You on my very first step. Oh God, my hope, my only hope is that if You ask any of these of me You will give me the grace to obey and yield willingly what You ask. I do not present a perfectly prepared sacrifice to You. This sacrifice of myself is rough and imperfect but it is all I can bring. My hope is not in the strength of my commitment to You, my hope is in the strength of Your commitment to me. Sovereign God, Here is Your servant John. Do what You will. I irrevocably present the totality of my life to You. I am in Your hands alone.”
Shortly afterwards began what were to be the blackest days of my existence - a several-year experience of severe emotional pain and suffering. I was swept off my feet by a deep depression, a black hole of hopelessness and despair. I spent over a year on sick leave from my job. God was nowhere to be found. In fact I went through periods where I was completely uncertain whether God even existed.

During that time, I went to stay with godly friends, a Wesleyan pastor and his wife, who took care of me. They lived in a small town. Often I would take long walks on the back streets of that town trying to sort out my thoughts. Before the depression I had asked God to do whatever He needed to bring me to where He wanted me to be, at whatever cost, asking only that He would give me the grace to be true. It occurred to me during my pain that God just might be answering my prayer. On many of my wanderings through the town's back streets I would wrestle one moment with whether God even existed, and in the next moment I would pray, ‘God, if this is what it takes for You to get Your will done in me, then don’t stop. Don’t pull back. I must have Your perfect will for my life.’ You see, even in the pits of my hopelessness and despair, God really was answering my prayer. He was doing what had to be done in my life and He was giving me the grace to be true. I somehow feel that those back-street times of helpless painful submission to God’s completely unknown plans will be revealed in eternity to have been among my truly finest hours.”

I've been to the wall: perhaps you too have run into a wall of pain and there is no way around it, or over it, or through it, and you are left banging your head against the wall, trapped and alone.
 

The Wall

I've been to the wall for the thousandth time;
I've battered and bloodied my brow.
I've cried to the God of heaven to rend
These shackles and rescue me now.

I've watched as my dreams were ravaged by life,
I've faltered and stumbled in pain.
But God has been strangely silent and still,
So I'm back at the wall again.

With nowhere to turn and nowhere to go,
So empty and barren, forlorn,
I weep the dry tears of a shattered soul
And wish I had never been born.
Out of such bleakness has begun to grow a deepening understanding of God's very personal love for me and His presence in my life through all of my days, through all of my years, and through all of my pain.
 

Comforting Truths

Let me share with you some of the comforting truths that have encouraged me along the way. I am glad to share these with you because I also need to be reminded of them frequently.
 

  1. God is present and at work in your life.

    Before time began, God knew you and loved you. He masterfully arranged the circumstances of life to choose you, your hair, your eyes, your skill, your strengths. He was there when you were conceived and all of these came together. He watched you grow in the womb, saw your body and soul form. You are His creation, and He looks on you with delight. He shouted His love for you to all creation when He offered up His Son on the cross. That was His eternal “I love you”.

    If you are suffering, whether from personal sin, from poor choices, or the presence of evil in this world, I want to emphasize that you are not alone.

    Listen to the words of the hymn by Mosie Lister, "Where No One Stands Alone"

    Once I stood in the night with my head bowed low,
    In the darkness as black as could be;
    And my heart felt alone, and I cried, "O Lord,
    Don't hide your face from me."

    Hold my hand all the way, ev'ry hour, ev'ry day,
    From here to the great unknown.
    Take my hand, let me stand
    Where no one stands alone.

    It helped me to write the following statement of faith. I revisit it frequently and draw strength from it.

    "I believe that God is good; that He is present and powerfully at work in my life, despite what my circumstances may seem to indicate. The presence of pain, doubt, fear, loneliness, despair, and brokenness is part of the journey. I do not know where God is taking me, but I know that it is good because He is good.
    Though He seems distant and unreachable, I know He hears the longing cries of my heart for Him and that He is patiently leading me home. I choose to let God be God and to rest in the security of knowing that He is in control and that my destiny is guaranteed."

     

  2. Life is a journey.

    Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV) says"…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." Life is a journey. The destination is important, but so is the trip itself. The process of reaching heaven prepares us for heaven. Each step along the way has value whether it is one of bliss or one of pain. As such, suffering has meaning. It is part of the process of change in our lives that God is designing and supervising. There are lessons to be learned, relationships to be built, service to be offered, and a faith to be finished. God knows that pain and suffering form an integral part of this growth; that we generally will not move closer to Him unless we experience suffering that drives us to His arms. All of the journey counts.

     

  3. God can redeem your suffering.

    Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). God does not cause or create suffering but He redeems it by appropriating it and using it for good in our lives.

    God, in His sovereignty and driven by perfect love, exercises His infinite wisdom and His almighty power to take our suffering and pain, even that which our sin has caused, and crown it with victory and meaning. He will work ALL things together for our good if we are among those who love Him and are His called children (Romans 8:28). God is wise enough to not be surprised by our failures and big enough to bring all of the circumstances of our lives under His authority. He is there before the evil or the suffering happens and He has designed a trajectory for it that accomplishes His purposes in the lives of His children. Remember the story of Joseph. What his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good.

    Christian author, Brennan Manning, writes, "'The tenderness and love of God our Savior has dawned in our lives: He saved us not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His mercy' (Titus 3:4 – 5 JB). We can embrace our whole life story in the knowledge that we have been graced and made beautiful by the providence of our past history. All the wrong turns in the past, the detours, mistakes, moral lapses, everything that is irrevocably ugly or painful, melts and dissolves in the warm glow of (God's) accepted tenderness."

    Further, Brennan Manning asks if we hear the words of Jesus speaking to our hearts, "Shalom, be at peace. I understand your fears, your failures, your brokenness. I don't expect you to be perfect. I have been there. All is well. You have my love. You don't have to pay for it, and you can't deserve it. You only have to open and receive it. You only have to say yes to my love – a love beyond anything you can intellectualize or imagine."

    Earlier this year, I wrote the following words of hope:

    "Underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut 33:27)

    "Deeper and wider than my need; stronger than my weakness; present and active beyond my brokenness, doubt, fear, pain, and despair – the grace of God is at work in my life and has been continually through my years.

    God is healing me and setting me free. This is the day of grace. I don't know why the journey has been so very long, but I believe this is God's time.

    Lord, I am willing. Demolish strongholds; transform my thinking from bondage to freedom, from performance to grace, from fear to faith.

    Life is short. I want to use the gifts God has given me in His service, and I want to do so in freedom, grace, and faith."

    If you will bow your knee to His lordship, God will redeem your suffering and bring good out of it for you and Glory to His name. If God is nowhere to be found, hang on. If there seems to be no reason to continue, hang on. If the temptation is strong to abandon God and His ways, hang on. If faith is only a memory and you don’t even know if God is alive let alone watching over you, hang on. We don’t have to feel faith, we just have to act it...hang on, hang on, hang on, and "After you have suffered a while God Himself will restore you, make you strong, firm and steadfast." (1Peter 5:10 NIV). God is our redeemer and as such He will also redeem our most pressing and painful circumstances. ‘My grace is sufficient for you: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ (2Cor. 12:9).

     

  4. Even God's silence is purposeful and loving.

    Sometimes God seems distant and silent; sometimes we even question His love and motives. 1John 1:5 declares that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all…no wickedness, no evil, no duplicity, and no lack of knowledge. He knows exactly what it means to be John Young living with my measure of brokenness in a very broken world. He understands and He cares. He knows my needs. He understands my confusion. He has seen every sin and failure. He feels my pain and knows all about those things I have missed in life and grieve for. He is familiar with every raw edge of my soul and is aware of every shackle that binds me.

    Though God may seem silent and even uncaring at times, He is slowly, surely at work in your life. He is a good God. He has not put you on the shelf while He deals with others. He loves you as much as He loves anyone. All of His love is yours. That’s what Calvary was all about. He has committed Himself to molding you into the image of Christ. God’s interest and passion are directed towards you. He is the chief lover of you. His is the heart that longs for you, that dreams for you, that yearns for your well being. And the God who loves you like that is working in your life through every defeat and every victory; through each stumble and each stride; through each failure and each success. I remember James Dobson quoting, “With God, even when nothing is happening, something is happening.”

    C. H. Spurgeon said, "God is too good to be unkind, He's too wise to be confused, and if I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart."

    God has His hand and His call on your life. He is with you and at work in you. Be assured of that.

     

  5. God is bigger than you need Him to be.

    The King James Version tells us that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Not just more, but exceedingly more. He has also stated that His grace is sufficient for us and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2Cor. 12:9). This is not a promise, but a simple statement of fact. God is the eternal God. You can't surprise Him with your failure, you can't confound Him with your circumstances, and you can’t stump Him with your problems. He has “Blessed us with ALL spiritual blessings” (Eph. 1:3). There is nothing lacking which He has not already supplied. Wherever you go, whatever your circumstances this side of heaven, God is bigger than you need Him to be.

 

Conclusion

The following poem is my personal declaration of faith. I wrote it shortly before I turned 50 years old, and have decided to make it the "bottom-line" statement of my life as I move into my second half-century. It has been very meaningful and grounding to me, especially in dark days, when its simple affirmation of faith brings solace and comfort.
 

So Here I Stand

So, here I stand and hang my hope
On this and this alone,
That Christ has died and paid the price
To make me all His own.

No marshalled powers in earth or hell
Can pluck me from His grace.
Though bruised and battered, tossed and torn,
I yet shall see His face.

And on that face, love's richest smile
That puts to death my fears…
Sweet balm for all my brokenness,
Sweet end to all my tears.
 

In conclusion, I would like to remind you that there is a real God who has real grace for real life. He is present and at work in your life. Your life is a journey and every step along the way is important. God can redeem all your suffering and pain. Even God's silence is purposeful and loving. God is bigger than you need Him to be.

He is calling you to His heart, pain or no pain, suffering or no suffering, loss or no loss. It's you He wants.
 

God's Embrace

Draw near, draw near and come to Me.
Let not your fears withhold,
For I your Father want to be,
Nor cherish I your gold.

It's you I want and not your wealth;
It's you I will pursue.
No rest will I permit Myself
'Till I'm embracing you.

 

~ by John Young

 

 

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