Preparing for Suffering and Trials

Trauma can happen to anyone. We should expect suffering. Trials are part of life.

When we read these things, we know they are true.

However, everyone seems to get the belief that somehow they will be exempt. “It won’t happen to me!” we think. Or we don’t think about it all. We just live as if life will go on forever the way it is.

It won’t.

The more we can recognize that this is the case, the more we will be equipped to deal with trials, suffering, and trauma when they occur.

That doesn’t mean that suffering won’t hurt. It just means we’ll be in a better place to process it.

That’s why the Bible constantly tells us to expect suffering. I did a brief survey of passages on suffering. It is truly amazing how often the Bible warns us to expect suffering. Here’s a brief list.

  1. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2–4).
  2. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
  3. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).
  4. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all (Heb. 12:7–8).
  5. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).
  6. When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
  7. Jesus wept (John 11:35).
  8. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Pet. 2:21).
  9. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said (Acts 14:21–22).
  10. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know (1 Thess. 3:2–4).

Another thing that helps us to process suffering and loss is to learn ahead of time the comfort that can come in the midst of suffering.

Here are a few ways to think about suffering and loss that will help us deal with them when they occur.

  1. You’re not alone. Suffering is the lot of human beings in this fallen world. When you feel intense grief, you may feel like you’re going crazy or strange. This is not true. The grief process is part of processing loss, and everyone who experiences loss has to walk through it in one way or another.
  2. God is shaping us through it. That’s why James says to count it all joy when we experience various trials and temptations. The testing of our faith produces character.
  3. God will be with us. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Is. 43:2–3).
  4. God brings light out of darkness. After a long period of time, Joseph was able to forgive what his brothers had done in large part because he saw how God had used it for good by putting him in a position to save his family and many others (see Gen. 50:20). We shouldn’t rush to conclusions about how God is going to do this, but over time, we will often see it.
  5. God Himself has entered into the suffering of this world. Tim Keller writes in his excellent book The Reason for God that Jesus’ death on the cross may not answer all the questions, but “we now know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition” (31). He has entered into it.
  6. Suffering is generally temporary in this life. The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time and season for everything, a time to weep and a time to laugh. There are times for both in this life, and life goes through its seasons.
  7. Suffering is absolutely temporary for believers in Christ. For believers in Jesus, this is the time of suffering. In the new heavens and new earth, there will be no suffering, for we have this promise: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

If we keep these things in mind, we will weep but not as those who have no hope. Processing loss will be a process, but the God of all comfort will comfort us so that we can comfort others with the same comfort that we have received (2 Cor. 1:3).

The more we can recognize that this is part of life, the better we will be prepared to process loss when it happens.

God Is Our Ultimate Source of Value, Love, and Provision

I have accomplished many things that give me satisfaction. When I put together a small group program and see people connecting, I feel good. When I am able to help someone get involved in an area of service where they flourish, I am thankful to God. When I finish a paper and hand it in, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, especially if I get a good grade.

God has also blessed me with many friends, an amazing wife, children who value me, parents who care about me, and various mentors, counselors, and advisers. When I think of all the people in my life, I am truly grateful for the love that comes my way.

I am also financially stable. I have money in the bank. I’m putting money toward retirement. My church takes good care of me.

The problem is that sometimes I try to do things and fail. Sometimes people hurt me or are not there for me. Sometimes I get a bill that’s big, and I’m not sure how I’m going to pay for it. If I lean too hard on any of these things for value, love, or provision, they fail me.

And that reminds me that all of these gifts cannot be the ultimate source of my value, love, or provision.

The ultimate source of my value, love, and provision is God Himself and the promises in His Word that He loves me, values me, and will take care of me.

Most of our great sins and pathologies arise from trying to take God’s good gifts and make them the ultimate source of our love, value, and provision.

It is only when we trust in God’s promises that we have an unshakable foundation of value, love, and provision. It is only when we trust in God that we can value His gifts for what they are and not turn them into an idol.

Trust in God is necessary to human functioning and flourishing (for a fuller discussion of this issue, see my article here).

Trust in God Crucial to Proper Human Functioning and Flourishing

[Note: read a shorter version of this article here]On the surface, human beings have many problems: addictions, injustices, abuse, anxiety, and depression.

No doubt these problems have many psychological, physical, and social elements.

Beyond all these is a theological problem. Most theological analyses of our problems are excluded in the modern world. In spite of this, belief in God remains widespread, and so, even if we exclude those who do not believe in God, such analysis may be helpful to a large proportion of modern people.

In this essay, I would like to propose that trusting in God is necessary to proper human functioning and flourishing.[1]

This is merely an application of Saint Augustine’s famous statement in The Confessions: “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

The Human Problem
Human beings were created good.

But human beings are also dependent beings. They can’t survive on their own. They need knowledge, purpose, love, and physical resources from outside of themselves.

Individuals not only lack these resources and need a continual influx of them from outside, they completely lack the ability to secure the continuation of that influx.

Out of this basic problem all anxiety arises. We need things from outside, and we can see the possibility that they would not be provided.[2]

If we had to live in this uncertainty, the human situation would be tragic indeed. Continue reading “Trust in God Crucial to Proper Human Functioning and Flourishing”

4 Verses Christians Turn to After a Mass Shooting

After what occurred Sunday in Las Vegas, whose heart cannot be heavy? As a Pastor, I struggle with what to say and how to respond to these types of tragedies.

Christianity Today posted an article yesterday that cited 4 verses that Christians turn to after mass shootings. I found that these verses were particularly helpful to me, and so I decided to re-post them here for your meditation:

  • John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
  • Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
  • Psalm 11:5 “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.”

To see how they came up with these verses and links to other helpful articles, see CT’s whole article here.

For those questioning how a good God could allow suffering, I offer my summary of Tim Keller’s insights in his book The Reason for God here.

Being Content When Other People Won’t Cooperate

We can get discontent with things. We want a better house, car, guitar, gaming system, phone, etc. It’s easy to struggle with wanting what we don’t have.

But discontent with things pales in comparison with discontent with people.

Here’s why. No matter how much money I have or how many resources I employ, other people will always do something slightly different than what I want. Oftentimes, totally different!

So, if we are dependent on the cooperation of others for our contentment, then we are in for a bumpy ride.

That can be really hard. We want people to like us. We need love. We are concerned about the people for whom we have some responsibility.

So, how can we be content when people don’t cooperate? Continue reading “Being Content When Other People Won’t Cooperate”

The Anxiety Cure

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6–7

Sometimes the things I need to learn are the most basic things.

This week, I attended a conference in Mississippi. I tried to go with an open heart to what the Lord would teach me.

What the Lord showed me was that there are many places in my life where I let frustrations or anxieties just sit there. In virtually every area of my life, there are low-grade frustrations. I don’t think I’m particularly weird because of that. Most of us have these types of frustrations.

But what had I been doing with those frustrations? Nothing. In some cases, they would build up with unpleasant results.

God reminded me this week that there is a cure to my anxieties and frustrations: prayer. God was inviting me to let go of my frustrations and seek Him in prayer through passages like Phil. 4:6–7.

So, I resolved by God’s grace that instead of letting frustrations sit there, I would bring them before the Lord. All throughout the week, I used frustration and anxiety as a signal to send me to prayer.

The results were remarkable, not in the people or circumstances I was praying about, but in myself. I felt more peace than I had felt in a long time. But that’s what God promised: “the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Lord, help me to remember to use my frustrations and anxieties as signals that point me to You.

Prayer in Preparation for Communion

By Jean Claude (1619–1687), from Self-Examination in Preparation for Receiving the Lord’s Supper

My God, my Savior, and my Father, I prostrate myself at the foot of your throne, to adore your majesty, and to acknowledge your righteousness. I am in your presence but dust and ashes, a worm of the earth, and most unworthy of your turning of your eyes towards me, or employing the cares of your Providence towards my good. For what is mortal man that you should regard him, or the son of man that you should visit him?
Continue reading “Prayer in Preparation for Communion”

How to Live by Grace

In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians that he prays to God that their love would increase (v. 9). This means that love is a gift of God’s grace, and we should ask Him to give us that gift. We can’t just manufacture love on our own.

This is further confirmed by what Paul goes on to say in the same passage. The fruit of righteousness “comes through Jesus Christ—to the praise and glory of God” (1:11).

In addition, the Philippians can be assured of the grace of God because “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6).

Our virtues are gifts of God’s grace.

This is more controversial than it should be among Christians. One reason for this, I believe, is that people take these truths out of the broader context of Scripture.

So, Christian A will say, “Did you work out your own salvation with fear in trembling, or was it God who was working in you?”

Christian B responds, “I worked. Christianity has not been easy.”

Christian A responds, “No, it was God working in you.” And the conversation spirals down from there. Continue reading “How to Live by Grace”

The Best Part About Boonville

By Brian Carpenter

In the summer of 1994 General Mills moved my wife and I to southwest Indiana. She was in sales, and I was trying to go to seminary. As we looked for a place to live, we decided to purchase a small home in a small town outside of Evansville. The town was called Boonville.

Boonville had several advantages. It was 20 miles closer to Louisville than Evansville was, and I was commuting to Louisville four days a week for classes. It turned a two and a half hour drive into a two hour drive. It was also cheaper. We bought a 2 bedroom, one bath house for something less than $40,000 if memory serves. Continue reading “The Best Part About Boonville”