“As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:7-11 NLT)
Last week the elders of The Village Church put out an update on facebook discussing Matt Chandler’s medical situation (read the Dallas Morning News article here if you are unaware of his condition) and the church’s response to it. What they put in their update has to be shocking to some. They said: “Certainly pray for Matt’s healing, and pray that he and his family would experience great peace during this time. But don’t stop there. Ask God to reveal what work he plans to do in you, in Matt and in our church through this trial. Although it may be easy to see the hand of the enemy in a situation like this, remember that God is sovereign that he may ordain trials to deepen our faith, draw us closer to him or to accomplish some other purpose. Therefore do not fear.”
Usually outsiders have a problem with the concept of God primarily because there are hardships and suffering everywhere. And the logic usually follows the thought pattern of, “If God is all-loving AND all-powerful, why does He allow __________ to happen?” But built into this idea that we are appropriate judge of all things providential. In reality, we are finite beings limited by space and time, something which God is not bound by. We turn out to be pretty poor judges when it comes to what is fair, right, and just.
One of the toughest things I believe as a Christian is that God actually uses our pain, suffering and horrible experiences for His glory. But as a follower of Christ, the cross forces me to hold to such a belief. So when a person asks me, as a Christ follower, to pray that God help them with __________, what am I supposed to do? Oswald Chambers takes a fairly hardcore approach when discussing this subject. He says, “And when you begin to see that person in the middle of a difficult and painful struggle, don’t try to prevent it, but pray that his difficulty will grow even ten times stronger, until no power on earth or in hell could hold him away from Jesus Christ.”
If you are not an adopted child of God, this quote probably seems harsh and downright evil. But if you look at it from a parent’s perspective, it may seem loving and absolutely necessary. When my brother was a little boy, he was obsessed with the stove in our house and insisted on touching it. My parents did everything they could to prevent him from placing his hand on the stove to keep him out of harms way. But eventually, my brother’s curiosity and creativity found a way to touch the stove while it was on anyway. What followed was a natural consequence: he burned his hand. Could my parents have prevented this? Possibly, but not without breaking the natural order of things in our home by banning him from the kitchen for all eternity.
The bottom line for me is this: I believe that our Heavenly Father loves us enough to let us suffer incredible hardships and allows us to endure intense pain for our benefit. I know in our hypersensitive culture this is a lost art, but it is a reality of our world nonetheless. Parents that never discipline their children do not love their kids more than parents that do lovingly discipline theirs. In fact, love without discipline is not love at all. Apathy is not akin to grace, and love without pain is not possible. This is how deep His love is for us: He allows us to experience short-term pain so that we can partake in an eternal reward.
The New Testament is clear that any pain and grief we experience on this side of heaven is nothing compared to the joy we will reap on the other side of eternity. Jesus even compares our pain to the experience of a mother giving birth in John 16:20-23. So if you are going through pain, experiencing loss, or your heart is unsettled, I would pass on Jesus’ words from John 14:1 when he says, “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; Trust also in me.” And what will I do the next time someone asks me to pray for the removal of his or her pain? Probably pray for the removal of their pain, while also learning to trust my Heavenly Father even more if it does not cease.