Thoughts on Suffering

As I continue reading through the Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murry M’Cheyne, I keep finding treasures of wisdom that I want to pass along.  The following is from a letter M’Cheyne wrote to his congregation when he was separated from them because of his poor health.  There were several in his congregation who were sick as well, and they had written to him about the meaning of suffering.  Here is his reply:

You have here, then, in Job 23:8-9, a child of light walking in darkness, an afflicted soul seeking, and seeking in vain, to know why God is contending with him. Dear friends, this is not an uncommon case; even to some of you God’s providences often appear inexplicable. He has tried you in different ways: some of you by the loss of your property, as He tried Job; some of you by the loss of dear friends; some by loss of health, some by the loss of the esteem of friends. Perhaps more than one trouble has come on you at a time, wave upon wave, thorn upon thorn. Before one wound was healed, another came, before the rain was well away, clouds returned. You cannot explain God’s dealings with you, you cannot get God to explain them; you have drawn the Savior’s blood and righteousness over your souls, and you know that the Father himself loves you; you would like to meet Him to ask, “Why do you contend with me?”

My dear afflicted brethren, this is no strange thing that has happened to you. Almost every believer is at one time or another brought to feel this difficulty: “God makes my heart soft, and the Almighty troubles me.” Is it in anger, or is it in pure love, that He afflicts me? Am I fleeing from the presence of the Lord, as Jonah fled? What change would He have wrought in me? If any of you are thinking thus in your heart, pray over this word in Job. Remember the word in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God.” God does many things to teach us that He is God, and to make us wait upon Him. And, still further, see in verse 10 what light breaks in upon our darkness: “But He knows the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Observe, first, “He knows the way that I take.” What sweet comfort there is in these words: He that redeemed me, He that pities me as a father, He who is the only wise God, He whose name is love, “He knows the way that I take!”He that is greater than all the world is looking with the intensest interest upon all your steps.

You do not know your own way. God has called you to suffer, and you go, like Abraham, not knowing whither you go. Like Israel going down into the Red Sea, every step is strange to you. Still, be of good cheer, sufferer with Christ! God marks your every step.

He that loves you with an infinite, unchanging love, is leading you by his Spirit and providence. He knows every stone, every thorn in your path. Jesus knows your way. Jesus is afflicted in all your afflictions. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by my name, you art mine. When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon you.”

Second, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” This also is precious comfort. There will be an end of your affliction. Christians must have “great tribulation;” but they come out of it. We must carry the cross; but only for a moment, then comes the crown.

There is a set time for putting into the furnace, and a set time for taking out of the furnace. There is a time for pruning the branches of the vine, and there is a time when the husbandman lays aside the pruning-hook. Let us wait his time; “he that believeth shall not make haste.” God’s time is the best time.

But shall we come out the same as we went in? Ah! no; “we shall come out like gold.” It is this that sweetens the bitterest cup; this brings a rainbow of promise over the darkest cloud. Affliction will certainly purify a believer. How boldly he says it: “I shall come out like gold!” Ah, how much dross there is in every one of you, dear believers, and in your pastor!

Oh that all the dross may be left behind in the furnace! What imperfection, what sin, mingles with all we have ever done! But are we really fruit-bearing branches of the true vine! Then it is certain that when we are pruned, we shall bear more fruit. We shall come out like gold. We shall shine more purely as “a diadem in the hand of our God.” We shall become purer vessels to hold the sweet-smelling incense of praise and prayer. We shall become holy golden vessels for the Master’s use in time and in eternity.

May the promise that God knows and shares our suffering, and that God is using it to refine His people, strengthen you and give you hope as you face trials and afflictions.

Grace and peace,

SDG

Quoted from: McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Logos Digital Edition.

Safe on Base

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…”
(Psalm 91:1)

Today’s message is brought to you by that eternal and ever-present childhood game: Tag.  You remember the game: running furiously to avoid getting “tagged,” until that moment you are “it” and you begin to chase the rest of the crowd.  “No-Tag-Backs!” you’ll hear the children shout, just to make sure they can get away.

Of course there are countless varieties to the classic game:

Freeze Tag – once you’re tagged you are “frozen” in place until another person crawls under your legs.

Blob Tag – one person starts as “it,” but as others are tagged, they join hand-in-hand to create a large “it” blob

Toilet Tag – when you are tagged you must squat down to form the toilet and hold out your hand like a handle.  To get back in the game, someone must flush you and make the flushing sound.

Then you will all remember crying “Base” just before you got tagged.  Now, a good game leader will have established a base, if there is one.  But when kids just get together and start playing,  base” becomes whatever is closest to keep you from getting tagged; a tree, a wall, a rock, it doesn’t matter, just so long as it keeps you “safe.”  Of course then, arguments ensue about the legitimacy of the base, how long one can stay, and how far away “it” has to stay from the base.  Who knew Tag could be so complicated.

Now you be thinking, Pastor Ethan’s lost his mind… and you might be right.  But there’s actually a point to all of this.  When playing tag, having a pre-determined base could come in handy.  It was a safe place, a place to catch your breath.  I always thought, as a kid playing tag, that base was a cop-out.  That was, until I needed one.

Wouldn’t it be nice if in this life, when thing are spiraling out of control, when everything is “tagging” you and you feel like you’re always “it” – wouldn’t it be nice if there were a place to call “base,” a hideaway, a safe place to go?

This is the promise of the Lord’s presence in Psalm 91:1-2.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

Now, before you all start singing “And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings…” consider for a moment what those verses have taught us about God.

God is a Shelter, a Refuge, a Fortress, He Hides us in the Shadow of his wings.  All of these images tell us that the Lord is a secure defense for those who trust in Him.  Keep in mind, you don’t need a shelter, a refuge, a fortress, a hiding place in times of comfort and ease.  The image of God as savior and keeper are only meaningful for those who need to be saved and kept from harm.

We are never promised that we will not face adversity.  In fact, Jesus said that those who follow Him must expect trials and tribulation (John 15:18-21).  Paul even said that no one who seeks to be righteous will avoid persecution (2 Tim 3:12).  We are not exempt from the storm, but we do have a shelter in the midst of it.

Today, whatever your facing, whatever storms are brewing, whatever “it” is chasing you down; run to Him who is your Shelter, your Refuge, your Fortress, hide yourself in the Shadow of His wings.

Sola Deo Gloria!