Part 2 of our Easter Series – an important message for our day.
If I have faith, why haven’t I been healed? How do we answer this question when it’s asked by a loved one with cancer? When it’s asked by parents who’ve lost a child? How do we answer it for ourselves, when we find are wheeled in for surgery or otherwise suffering?
This question is one of about a dozen questions addressed in the new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments by my friend John S. Dickerson. Today’s blog is an excerpt from the book and is part 2 (part 1 available here).
Yesterday we examined how Paul the Apostle was never healed (in this life) from his “thorn in the flesh,” which included physical, emotional and spiritual chronic pain. Today we find encouragement in more Bible heroes who suffered severely, even while having the highest and strongest faith.
Paul wasn’t the only spiritual giant who found God’s strength and joy right in his suffering. Many of Heaven’s choice servants spent months or years in prisons, and not because they were being punished by God.
Joseph, who God used to save nations, spent 13 years as an Egyptian prisoner and slave—while God was delighted with him.
Zephaniah, God’s chosen prophet, spent a good chunk of his life in a Babylonian prison (present day Iraq). The same goes for Jeremiah, who suffered rejection, slander and loneliness as well as literal imprisonment while doing exactly what God had asked him to do. God even told him to expect the rejection.
Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was chosen by God to declare that Messiah had arrived. Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest person in the history of the world. What a privilege! And then John spent the rest of his life imprisoned by Herod Antipas, who eventually beheaded John as a party favor for a niece.
The apostle John spent lots of time in Roman prisons and jails.
Many of the first Christians got arrested and thrown in jail, simply for believing in Jesus. This practice continues today in parts of the Middle East, northern Africa, China and other areas, where the idea of “problem free Christianity” insults the most faithful believers of our era.
Peter was imprisoned again and again.
Paul’s singing friend Silas shared his jail cell.
In the early years after Christ rose from the dead, it became so common for believers to get thrown into prison that the early church made it part of its culture to visit jailed Christians who couldn’t make it to the Sunday gathering.
These imprisonments meant the loss of all earthly possessions. Believers “joyfully accepted the confiscation of [their] property, because [they] knew that [they] had better and lasting possessions.”
Jesus warned Christians in one church, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…”
Like Napoleon Bonaparte, John the disciple was sentenced to live his final years on a secluded prison island. From there, John wrote the final book of Scripture, Revelation. (John the disciple is different from “John the Baptist,” above, and keep in mind, he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” so no need to doubt Christ’s love for you when anymore in your own suffering.)
From Introduction to Conclusion, God’s people in the Bible are persecuted and jailed. Imprisoned on earth, but anticipating their escape into a better land with God. Peppered between those bookends we read stories where God does miraculously heal or instantly deliver from pain. God invites us to ask for such miracles in prayer even today. And I have seen Him perform those dramatic miracles. But, many strong believers today, including Joni Eareckson Tada, and recently Dr. Wayne Grudem, have not yet had a miraculous healing from pain or difficulty.
And we must face the reality that even the believers who did get miraculous healings (such as Lazarus, raised from the dead as described in John 11), those folks still eventually died earthly deaths. They left this earth knowing that death is not an end for the believer, but a beginning to a better life that actually is problem-free.
Here’s where we must gently but insistently course-correct many of our American brothers and sisters in Christ: Scripture focuses on our certain rescue in the future, not on present pain-free living now. (This can be a difficult concept for folks like us, who live in an age of immediate gratification.) Sure, some of God’s people got miraculously freed from their prisons. But the majority more closely followed the pattern of Paul, who prayed for healing three times (2 Corinthians 12:8), and then lived the rest of his earthly life with a painful “thorn” impaling his flesh.
It’s often the same today. While all believers will eventually be set free from our prisons, pains or thorns, we do not always gain immediate freedom or healing. This is why it’s called faith, a persistent belief that Jesus will break us out and that He will sustain us until His return. A faith that continues to believe, no matter what.
Find comfort in this list of spiritual super heroes. Their sufferings declare:
When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not alone.
When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unspiritual or lower-class in God’s eyes.
When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unloved by God.
When you find yourself in prison, God has not forgotten you.
When you find yourself in prison, and you choose to cling to faith in Chirst, you can count yourself in the company of Scripture’s spiritual heroes.
Like Paul, writing with his “thorn in the flesh,” you can declare in Christ:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.”
-2 Corinthians 4:8,9
This blog is an excerpt from John S. Dickerson’s new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. It’s written for times of suffering in life–to encourage you and help those you love build a Biblical theology of pain and suffering. Get free sample chapters by sending an email to: Friend@IAmStrongBook.com or visit IAmStrongBook.com.
It’s one thing to discuss pain and suffering as theory. It’s another to share real-life struggles from a place of personal suffering. My friend John S. Dickerson has a painful health condition with stroke-like episodes. He is attempting to encourage Christians who are hurting for any reason, in his new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. The following guest post is an excerpt from the book.
I have spent plenty of time in hospital beds. I’ve also spent plenty of time sitting next to hospital beds—as a pastor, as a dad, and as a husband. From hospitals and funeral homes to coffee shops and airplanes, I consistently hear one repeated question from Christians.
“If trusting in Jesus is supposed to make my life better, then why am I in so much pain? Isn’t my life supposed to be less painful after I trust Jesus?”
I hear so many hurting people ask this question, from sincere and broken hearts. And it’s no wonder. A bloating crowd of “spiritual” communicators today promise us that if only we trust Jesus, He will make our lives problem-free, right now. I call this message “The Myth of Problem-Free Christianity.”
The problem with “Problem-Free Christianity” is that it is not Christianity at all. It was not the faith of Paul the Apostle. He wrote most of the Christian Scriptures while living with the daily physical pain and torment of his “thorn in the flesh,” described in 2 Corinthians 12.
Problem-free Christianity was also not the Christianity of Christ. That’s not to say that Christ is insensitive to our hurts. Quite the opposite. In my own experience with a painful health condition, and in my experience as a pastor, guiding others over the slippery rocks of grief, I have discovered that Christ’s compassionate solutions are sturdier and longer lasting than the sugar-empty promise of anesthetized, pain-free living in the immediate.
And Jesus relates to our pain. After all, His life on earth did not culminate on a beach, sipping a mimosa. It ended with shrieks of agony, simultaneously bleeding and suffocating to death while impaled upon a Roman torture device. Jesus knows how it feels to hurt, because He carried our hurts in Himself.
Paul was one of God’s most beloved and chosen people. And yet, Paul agonized under severe pain in this world. Paul’s thorn encourages all who have trusted in Christ that our pain and difficulty do not necessary mean God is angry or unpleased with us. Scripture describes dozens of people with whom God was pleased who all endured unthinkable pain and suffering during their earthly lives. I will write about many of them in tomorrow’s post.
As the model “second Adam,” Jesus suffered unthinkable pain, and God the Father declared of him, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In a new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments, I aim to dismantle and disarm the destructive lie of “Problem-Free Christianity.”
The myth of “problem free Christianity” is so prevalent in America today that some will read this and say: “Oh no, that’s not right at all. Have enough faith, and you will be immediately freed from your prison.”
I recently interviewed a mother whose spine is broken from a car accident. Sadly, two pastors have visited her house, prayed with her, and told her that the only reason she is not up and walking is her own lack of faith. What a false, heartbreaking, and demeaning message.
It’s true that God can and still does perform miraculous healings, when He chooses, and to bring glory to Himself. I have seen more than one supernatural healing. Here’s what is also true. All the New Testament believers who experienced supernatural healings did eventually die physically and depart into eternity. Additionally, strong faith always healing was not the case for Paul the Apostle. As for problem-free living, most of the apostles who had faith to perform miracles lived or died in literal stone prisons, and their physical bodies all breathed final breaths on this earth.
As for pain-free living, Paul the Apostle wrote most of the New Testament while afflicted with his “thorn in the flesh,” an affliction he describes as daily torment including physical, emotional and spiritual agony.
Few people in Paul’s day were chained in so many jails across such a wide swath of the Ancient Near East. Paul’s exceptional faith in Christ did not typically break open the doors for him to walk out of his prison in beams of light, like a spiritual action hero.
From one of these prisons, Paul describes a joy, peace and contentment unlike anything he had tasted back when he was a free, healthy, wealthy man who did not know Jesus (Philippians 3:7-11 & 4:11-13).
Tomorrow we will explore the supernatural strength and peace available within our suffering.
This blog is an excerpt from my friend John S. Dickerson’s new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. It’s written for times of suffering in life–to encourage you and help those you love build a Biblical theology of pain and suffering. Get free sample chapters by sending an email to: Friend@IAmStrongBook.com or visit IAmStrongBook.com.
When He had said this Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:43-44
The event in these verses triggered the Pharisees to crucify Jesus. Lazarus had been dead four days. Jewish tradition prompted the family to bury soon after death, but the Jews also believed the spirit hovered over the dead body for up to three days. This time too had passed. Lazarus was a fully dead man! It was a real miracle to bring him back to life, and this was too much for the Pharisees.
What the Pharisees underestimated was this power would continue to be exhibited in the life of Christians for thousands of years to come. If you are a child of God, you have been brought from death unto life.
Jesus had raised Lazarus from the grave. We should love the story because it shows the power of the Savior. We can know if He can raise the dead to life, we can trust Him to help us make our house payment or whatever struggles our life may hold. We need to remember this in the day in which we live. Since Jesus has power over death is there anything in your life He can’t handle?
Jesus came to give us life! Jesus told Lazarus to take off His grave clothes, to quit “living” like he was dead. Shouldn’t we do the same thing?
Have you received Christ as your Savior? Is your name recorded in Heaven as a child of God?
Well, stop “living” among the dead. Look alive! Don’t let this world define your peace, contentment, or joy.
Jesus saved you by grace, through faith, not unto death, but unto life! Shouldn’t this make a noticeable difference in your life today?
One of the greatest feelings as a parent has to be watching your children sleep. I don’t get to do it much anymore, but remember those days as if they were last night.
When our boys started driving we didn’t have strong curfews. Our boys were responsible and knew our expectations, and they never came home very late – but it was often past our bedtime. Still, I didn’t fully rest until I could slip out of bed and see their cars in the driveway and knew they were in their bed – hopefully falling fast asleep.
Knowing they are safe – resting, under your care – has to be one of the greatest joys of being a parent. It was a comforting time of day.
I wonder if God gets a charge out of watching over His children as they sleep.
I wonder if He smiles when He sees a child – His child, you and me, drift into dream land.
I’m reminded of these verses:
“He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:3-4)
When you are sound asleep, God is on watch – like a proud dad! Like a protective Father He is caring for His children.
And, not only this, He has the whole world in His hands. In other words, you’re safe! There is nothing to fear. Daddy has things under control.
As you go to bed tonight, capture the moment, imagine the emotion God has as He watches the child He made, whom He loves with an everlasting love, fall asleep. It’s a comforting feeling.
The Psalmist said, “I have hidden your word in my heart so I might not sin against you.” God’s Word can be a protection for our heart and soul. It can teach us, convict us, and challenge us.
The same is true for leaders. The best leadership book is the Bible.
Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
Philippians 2:3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
Exodus 18:21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain —and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
Psalm 78:72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.
Matthew 20:26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.
Philippians 2:4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Matthew 5:37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
John 3:30 He must become greater; I must become less.
Galatians 6:9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
Perhaps you should choose one or two of these – or if you’re brave enough, all of them – write them down somewhere you’ll see them often, and commit them to memory.
What other verses would you recommend to leaders?
My stomach has been in knots the last few months. I’ve been nervous for our nation – a nation I love. I’ve been bombarded with blogs, tweets and the opinions of others about national politics. The culture of politics – and our nation – these days is so tense, so bitter, so divisive.
Chances are you’ve been nervous too – or certainly you’ve been distracted by the news of the day. Whether you watch the debates, read the blogs, or follow Fox News or CNN, this is certainly a year where everyone seems to be involved, at some level, in the election process.
And, so my life is much like yours. Consumed. Concerned. Captivated. How many times will we hear or say between now and November – “I can’t wait until this election is over”?
The more I studied the process and the candidates the more frustrated I became. Frustrated with their stands on issues which matter to me most. Frustrated with how they respond to one another. Frustrated with what seems to be a climate in our nation more towards bickering and bantering against others than pulling together for the good of a nation.
One of the most frequent questions I receive these days is not about some obscure Biblical passage, but for whom I’m going to vote for president.
And, honestly, I don’t know. Never in my life have I been more confused – and I’ve voted in every election since I was eligible to vote.
It’s been an interesting wrestling match. I know I still need to vote. Frankly, I choose to vote as my right and I’m thankful for it – and for those who have paid the ultimate price for my freedom to do so – and I will vote as responsibly as I know how. But, honestly I’m not sure what even that choice will be at this point. (Russell Moore has an interesting perspective in THIS POST.)
But, it was in the state of confusion the other day – actually during a time of intentional prayer, it occurred to me –
I was spending more time being disappointed in our election choices than I was praying for the kings of our nations.
“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
It was in this sobering moment I was reminded my role, as a believer, is different than a regular citizen. In addition to my responsibility to vote – I have a higher authority – a higher calling. I’m called, first and foremost, to pray for my earthly authorities – regardless of who is in authority.
And, as I reflected on my thoughts towards the two front runners in the presidential race, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I certainly hadn’t spent much time – okay any time, at this point – praying for them. Neither of them is currently holding an office, but they certainly could be. They surely are leading (and dividing) public opinions.
I’m praying for my son’s future spouse who is not yet married. Shouldn’t I be praying for the future leader of our nation?
I’m called to pray, even when worry seems to be a better option.
And, so I was convicted. I would never lead or teach our church to live this way. Turning to worry more than prayer? Never!
My role, as a follower of Christ, is first and foremost to trust and obey. To pray. Yes, I should use my influence to encourage moral value in our country. But, the reality is this world is not our home. America is not the answer to world peace. Finding a king is not the chief goal of a disciple of Jesus.
And, in further reflection, I found myself asking bigger questions. Questions such as:
This is when I realized I had been wasting some energy. I’d been worrying. I’d been fretting. I’d been spending private time in needless doubt – yet, all the while God was still in control. God is no less upon His throne today than He was yesterday – or will He be tomorrow.
What if I prayed as much – or more – as I worried?
And, I’m a pastor, so I feel obligated to encourage you.
I’m not suggesting you take down your political post or fail to speak out in truth. Yours may be the one voice which gets heard within a crowd of noise. I’m not even suggesting you don’t have your candidate in mind whom you are supporting. I would suggest, however, if you can’t share truth with love – it’s usually best not to share at all.
But, the point of this post is not to silence anyone. I embrace our freedom of speech. It’s not to advocate for or against any candidate. There are plenty of other posts doing that. What I am suggesting – and where I was convicted – is we remember our larger, perhaps more important purpose as followers of Christ. Prayer.
So for now I will pray. I will pray greatly. I will pray daily. And, may prayer never be seen as a lesser or a weaker response.