Devotions

It’s Not That They Didn’t Mean Well

Far too often we sound like Job’s friends when we encounter those who suffer, whether from tragic events or physical pain. We start out strong, offering our sympathy and support. Job’s friends sat silent with him for seven days and seven nights. They even lay there in the ashes with him, trying to show him “sympathy and comfort” (Job 2:11). Yet after the accepted time of mourning was over, they clearly had expectations of progress and resolve. After that accepted period, however, Job did not finally speak into the silence as a calm stoic. No, he spoke as a frustrated believer who laments his birth, which has now led to heartbreak rather than happiness (Job 3). He lives in pain:

For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
   and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
   I have no rest, but trouble comes. (Job 3:25-26)

With this break in the silence his friends begin to speak, even aware that their words may provoke his impatience (Job 4:1-2). But they speak, and so do we. As time moves on, we expect the wounded person to get better; we expect their frustrations and questions to turn into stoic acceptance. We expect denial or victory – ongoing struggle is the option we are most uncomfortable with, yet that is exactly where most who live with ongoing pain and suffering actually are.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, p. 65.

Remember You Are Dust, and to Dust You Shall Return

One important result of practicing an awareness of our mortality is that it can breed a greater concern for divinely given relationships. Historically, such heavenly mindedness was not meant to belittle this world but to value it, and to encourage the keeping of short accounts and always living in the present. You shouldn’t hold a grudge or harbor hostility because you never know if you might die without making things right. When someone is aware of the brevity of life, each day can be received as a gift, offering opportunities and meaning not for some imaginary future but fully living in the moments that God has provided. Knowledge of death can also liberate people to live with courage in the present, even when it is risky: all die at some point, so be courageous and do the right thing since God will not let death be the final word. A sober awareness of a person’s mortality can mean freedom from making self-preservation the highest value. In our day we often live somewhere between fear of the past and the demanding possibilities of a mythical future. The untiring call of the future – with its grand plans to be accomplished, vacations to be had, retirements to be enjoyed – can become so strong it swallows our ability to live in the now. This often means people fail to be fully present, to live in the moment. We neglect spouses and children, disregard care for our bodies, and dismiss relationships that naturally require time and attention as an impossible luxury. We fall into this trap all the more easily when we are not mindful of our weakness and mortality.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, p. 61.

The Place for Lament

The human experience requires lament, at least as long as we live in the current world as we know it. Biblically there can be no question about the place and need of this practice – sin and sickness mean we must create space for genuine lamentation. Not because we despair but because we recognize the wounds of this world and of our hearts. God instructs us to bring to him our tears, our hurts, our confusion. Old Testament scholar Daniel J. Simundson reminds us of this scriptural tradition:

The lament allows for honest interchange between humans and God, the freedom to admit even bad theology and hostile thoughts. The lament turns to God as the ultimate source of help and, in the typical lament form, ends with the assurance that God has heard and will save. The lament does not solve all of the sufferer’s intellectual questions about the origin and meaning of the suffering, but does provide a structured way for the faithful to bring their suffering to God’s attention and to cope with it.

If we do not restore space for lament in our individual and corporate church life, our suffering will drive us not only away from others but away from God himself.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, p. 31.

The Importance of Knowing Christ

There is little doubt that almost all Christians are content to have won Christ and thus to have received the gift of eternal life. But how many are equally concerned to know him? How often we cut Jesus in half, wishing to know that we are saved and that all is well with our destiny, but forgetting that to be truly saved means we must truly know him! On the gravestone of the Scottish Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford (d. 1661), we read of his passion to know Christ:

True godliness adorned his name,
He did converse with things above,
Acquainted with Emmauel’s love…
Most constant he did contend
Until his time was at an end.
Then he won to the full fruition
Of that which he had seen in vision.

Such words describing him at death correspond well with what he wrote in life in his Letters:

Put the beauty of ten thousand thousand worlds of paradises, like the Garden of Eden, in one. Put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all sweetness, all loveliness, in one. Oh, what a fair and excellent thing would that be! And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest Well-beloved, Christ, than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and fountains of ten thousand earths.

Put all the pleasures of life such as family, job, recreation, music, sports, entertainment, cuisine, and technology in one. Oh, what excellent joys they are! Yet such joys pale in comparison with the delight of knowing Jesus and basking in communion with his person, not just his work! Is Christ the ‘drop of rain’ or is he the ‘whole seas, rivers, lakes, and fountains of ten thousand earths’?

– Mark Jones, Knowing Christ, pp. 2-3 (emphasis mine).

The Bad News Must Come Before the Good News

We have to be poor in spirit before we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Negative, before positive. And here again is another example of exactly the same thing – conviction must of necessity precede conversion, a real sense of sin must come before there can be a true joy of salvation. Now that is the whole essence of the gospel. So many people spend all their lives in trying to find this Christian joy. They say they would give the whole world if they could only find it, or could be like some other person who has it. Well, I suggest that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred this is the explanation. They have failed to see that they must be convicted of sin before they can ever experience joy. They do not like the doctrine of sin. They dislike it intensely and they object to its being preached. They want joy apart from the conviction of sin. But that is impossible; it can never be obtained. Those who are going to be converted and who wish to be truly happy and blessed are those who first of all mourn. Conviction is an essential preliminary to true conversion.

– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 45.

God’s Purpose in Prayer

God is doing something big inside praying people. He is not primarily interested in our coming one by one as single, solitary individuals, asking for certain things, receiving them, and then going off by ourselves and remaining unchanged during the whole process. God will not have that, because He is far more interested in us than in what we ask – although that does certainly interest Him.

Instead God is working to change us through our asking, through all that He allows to come into our lives, through the Scriptures, through the Holy Spirit, through the providences, the hard things, the hurtful things, and the happy things. He is active in all these things to shape us into the likeness of Jesus, so that we will be at the place where the Holy Spirit is able to intercede, work, and plead inside us, reflecting the tones of the voice of Jesus.

Ultimately, it its not so much what we ask, but who we are when we pray that counts the most.

– Douglas Kelly, pp. 82-83.

God’s Sovereignty and Our Prayers

The sovereign God on His throne, who has planned all things from the beginning to the end, has arranged His plan in such aa way that the prayers of the saints are one of the major means He uses to accomplish His final goal. Instead of the sovereignty of God clashing with the prayers of the believer, the two actually presuppose one another and fulfill and undergird one another.

– Douglas Kelly, If God Already Knows – Why Pray?, p. 53