What About Pain & Suffering?

-Can People Change?

There’s a scene, from the 2005 movie “16 Blocks”, starring Bruce Willis, where a prisoner that Willis’ character has to escort to trial, at the courthouse, tells him that, “People can change,” whereupon Willis’ character responds, “Days change. Seasons change. Not people.” So, what do you think? Can people change? Is it possible for people to change? Can we lose weight & keep it off? Can we do a better job at the job? Can our spouse ever change some of their ways?

-Hoping Church Will Change You?

I have found, through the years, that people often come to church wanting to change! To get better! To kick some old, bad habit! They’re hopeful that God might help them change! I’ve also watched people get frustrated & impatient when the change isn’t enough; or, it doesn’t happen fast enough! And, they begin to question whether faith, in God, really works! Back a couple of years ago I watched the trailer for a movie titled, “An Interview With God.” It dealt with perhaps the most difficult of all difficult questions:  “Why does God allow pain, suffering & Hurt? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it?” The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to address, in part, that difficult question.

-An Interview With God!

Think of it as a kind of interview with God, as we note what God has to say about pain & suffering! In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive message on the subject; but, hopefully helps us put together a bit of a Biblical theology on pain and suffering. Here’s what Jeremiah’s inspired text has to say about it:  God intends to train us, through life’s painful events, to trust His faithfulness & to look forward to redemption. Now, that’s certainly not the way Satan plans to use suffering! The enemy intends to use painful circumstances, in our lives, to destroy us. But, if you’ll trust God THROUGH the painful events, He’ll use those things to change you & to make you more like Jesus, our suffering Savior!

-No One Was Coming To Help!

At the time Jeremiah wrote down the words of his book, the end was very close for Judah & Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar & the armies of Babylon are at the gates of the city! Jerusalem has been under siege for more than a year & they’re experiencing severe famine. It says that there was no bread to be found anywhere in the city; and, there was no relief in sight! There was no one coming to help them! That’s the background to Jeremiah, chapters 30, 31, and 32. Here’s why this is important to us:  because the response, of the Jewish people, is so similar to our response to pain. Our default response to pain, suffering, and, struggles is to blame shift! And, all too often, we shift blame to God! We curse Him for our difficulties! That’s true, isn’t it?

-In Time You’ll Understand!

Here’s God’s response:  “Why do you cry out about your injury? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins “ Jeremiah 30:15. Get the picture? In a modern translation, God is saying, “Why are you crying? Stop it! I’ve done this to you! But, it’s not what I wanted to do to you! I wanted to bless you! But, you’re guilty of so much sin I can’t even count ‘em all!” The chapter finishes like this: “Look, a storm from the Lord! Wrath has gone out, a churning storm. It will whirl about the heads of the wicked. The Lord’s burning anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come, you will understand it” (30:23-24). So, God intended to unleash His wrath, against sinful Jerusalem, until they, “…come to understand…” that they were the problem, NOT God. Until they’re broken over their sin! We’ll get into this a little deeper next time!

How God Wants Us To Pray!

-He Wants Us To Repent!

So, let me tell you what I believe God wants us to do if our prayer life looks like the typical Christian! I believe He wants us to repent of our prayerlessness! I believe He wants us to denounce all our human efforts & admit our total helplessness when it comes to getting God’s work done in our human strength! And, I believe, that in order to accomplish that, He wants us to change some habits in our lives— He wants us to ADD TIME to PRAY into our schedules! That means we might need to actually move some other things OUT of our schedule! And, then, He wants us to pray with absolute dependence on Him!

-Pray Over A Crisis Of Faith!

I believe all these things, about prayer, based on the many and various texts of Scripture on the subject! Take Acts chapter 12, the first 5 verses, for instance. It begins:  “About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread.  After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church.” We can draw a prayer principle from that reading. When trouble comes our way, God uses our crisis of faith, in His Sovereignty, to get us engaged, with Him, in prayer!

-The Human Way We Pray!

There’s something dreadfully human about the way we pray when life is great! When the job is secure, when the marriage is healthy, when there’s plenty of money, when life’s great… WE DON’T PRAY! That says, “We got this”, doesn’t it? We have the false sense that the job’s secure, the marriage is healthy, and, there’s plenty of money because, “We got this!” Because we’re so good at living life! We credit ourselves for the good life. But, God knows how self-deluded we are! When Israel entered the promised land— AFTER God had miraculously delivered them from slavery to Egypt;  AFTER God had dried up the Red Sea so they could safely cross;  AFTER God had fed them with manna & quail in the desert;  AFTER God had preserved their clothing & sandals for 40 years in the wilderness— He knew they would be tempted to take credit for their good life. He warned them!

-Be Careful Not To Forget The Lord!

God knew how Israel would respond to His going before them & dispossessing the land from wicked nations & handing over to them homes, and cities, and land that they hadn’t earned. He warned them: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers… a land with large & beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig & vineyards & olive groves that you did not plant—and when you eat & are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Deut. 6:10-12. What do we have that God has not given us? But we get comfortable & forget, don’t we?

Lord, Teach Us To Pray!

-Bad Prayer Habits Abound!

I want to begin this series of posts, on the subject of prayer, by sharing, with you, the results of a survey of the “Top Ten Bad Prayer Habits.” Here they are:  #10—”My Prayers Are Just A Grocery List!” #9—”I Make My Grocery List During My Prayer Time!” #8—”I Only Pray By Myself!” #7—”I See Prayer Only As My Personal Wish List!” #6—”I Always Pray The Same Thing & Get Bored!” #5—”I Only Pray When I’m In A Crisis!” #4—”I Do All The Talking While I Pray!” #3—”I Can’t Stay Focused While I Pray!” #2—”I’m Just Too Busy To Start My Day With Prayer!” And, #1—”I Don’t Pray At All!” Can you identify with any of that? I can! I’m guessing we’ve all had; or, still do, have some bad prayer habits. Now, if you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you can see how that would be a bit problematic if you don’t pray at all, right?

-Praying Like Jesus!

There’s an amazing New Testament text, about prayer,  in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus was praying; and, when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” Now, let me share my take on that scenario. I see it kind of like one of our typical church prayer meetings! Jesus and His disciples are all gathered in a circle praying; and, the disciples have their little prayer lists—  “God, keep us safe from the Romans… Help Zebedee catch lots of fish today… Help us not to get leprosy! That’s been going around… Oh, and bless the missionaries!” And, when they finish they look up & Jesus is still praying! Minutes pass by! Maybe an hour! We don’t know! The text doesn’t tell us. But, I get the idea that things begin to feel a bit awkward as the inadequacy of their own prayer lives becomes evident. Maybe they start whispering among themselves, as they often did:  “Hey, ask Him how to pray!” “I’m not gonna ask Him, that would be embarrassing! It’d be like admitting I don’t know how to pray!” However it actually worked out, one of them wrenches up the courage to ask him:  “Lord, teach US how to pray!” Not “ME”; but, “US”! So, Jesus tells them how to pray! We need to pay attention here, church! To summarize, He tells them never to pray like they’re counseling God!

-When You Pray!

He told them: “…you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one...” Matthew 6:9-13. If you were to underline or highlight any of Jesus’ words here, I’d go back to v.5 “…whenever you pray…”; v. 6 “..when you pray…”; v.7 “…when you pray…”; and, “…pray like this…” in v.9.   Over the next couple posts, we’ll dig deeper into Jesus’ instruction about prayer! And, spoiler alert, Jesus makes it clear that God doesn’t need us to tell Him what to do! That’s not prayer! Don’t hang out a shingle and try to be “God’s Counselor”! Jesus tells them that prayer is how we align ourselves with God’s Sovereign plans!