God wants to get your attention

There’s a story about a farmer who wanted to sell his mule. He said that the mule would obey any command. A man came along and was interested in buying the mule. He wanted to test and see if the mule would indeed obey any given command. He said to the mule – “Sit down”. The mule just stood still. “Sit,” the customer said again. The mule didn’t move and stayed standing up. “You said the mule will obey any command but I can’t even get it to sit down,” the customer said to the farmer. The farmer picked up a baseball bat, walked over to the mule and smacked it on the head. “Sit down,” the farmer said. The mule sat down. The customer was shocked. “The mule will do anything,” the farmer said, “But you have to get its attention first.”

Suffering is like the farmer’s baseball bat. Sometimes God hits us with the suffering baseball bat to get our attention. We can easily get caught up with our activities and busy schedules that we forget about God. We may focus on our careers, families, friends, hobbies that we neglect to pay attention to God.  It’s only when we experience the pain of suffering, like a baseball bat hitting us, that we come to attention and seek God’s help for relief of the suffering.

As C.S. Lewis says in his book, The Problem of Pain,

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

Sometimes when we are prospering, we stop turning to God. We start to rely on ourselves and take pride in our self-efforts. We become complacent. The danger when nothing is wrong in our lives is that we may mistakenly assume that everything is all right. In fact, everything might be far from all right. As things are going well, we feel less need to rely on God and start drifting away from Him.

When a person experiences suffering, they immediately experience a change in attitude. Their weakness makes them realize that they need strength from a source other themselves. This sometimes leads them to seek help from a higher power – from God.

Paul knew the value of suffering to get his attention. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes that he was taken up to heaven and shown incredible visions. But this high was balanced with a low. As Paul explains:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s thorn in the flesh made him pay attention to God, for whenever he experienced the pain of the thorn, it made him rely on Christ’s power.

So next time, when you face suffering, ask yourself is it because you have drifted away from God. If so, give thanks for the adversity and put your eyes back on Jesus. He’ll help you overcome your trials once you pay attention to Him!

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Sources of suffering

We all face suffering in our lives.

Many times we wonder who is behind the trials of our lives.

When the disciples encountered a man who had been born blind from birth, they asked Jesus – “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” (John 9:2)

The disciples assumed that illness must be a punishment for sin, thus they asked Jesus the above question. Jesus’ reply surprised them – “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents, but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Jesus challenged the disciples’ belief that suffering comes from sin by saying that there was a divine purpose behind the blindness, that it was to bring glory to God when Jesus healed the blind man of his illness.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes that

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

The thing that caused Paul to suffer came upon him from a good purpose, the suffering was to keep him humble, to keep him from becoming proud – and so it could be said that God was behind the thorn that kept Paul meek.

So sometimes God is behind our suffering. But another cause of suffering lies at our doorstep, sometimes we suffer because of our sin. The classic example is seen in the Fall of Man. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in Eden in paradisiacal happiness. When they sinned against God by eating the fruit that He told them not to, they brought death into the world and all sorts of terrible things – illness, pain, famine, earthquakes, wars – these disasters were not part of God’s original plan but were sufferings that came about due to the presence of sin.

There is a third cause of suffering, which is Satan. In the story of Job. Satan notes that Job is righteous and is blessed by God. He challenges God to take away Job’s blessings and to strike him with great suffering to test Job’s faithfulness to God. In the story of Job it is clear that Job is a righteous man who was attacked by Satan.

This can be seen in Job 2:4-7:

 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

 

Peter also writes about how some sufferings come from Satan:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

We are told to be alert to Satan’s plans and not to let our faith be shaken by the sufferings we face because of him.

So in conclusion, there are three main sources of suffering – God, sin and Satan. If we can identify the source, it can help us in our approach of dealing with the suffering. If the source of suffering is God, we can welcome it with joy and peace. If the source of suffering is sin, then we have to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. If the suffering is from Satan, then we should stand firm in our faith and resist the devil.

A Christian reaction to suffering

We all have to deal with suffering. When you are living in this fallen world, it’s likely that you will face problems, setbacks, disappointments and heartbreak. How you react to suffering is crucial, for your reaction to suffering will determine whether the trial makes you or breaks you. Some of the negative reactions to suffering include anger, bitterness, self-pity, fear, doubt – suffering can wreck your faith in God. Positive reactions to suffering include cultivating patience, endurance and a joyful spirit.

The Israelites were an example of a people who were punished by God for having a negative attitude towards suffering. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul writes:

“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food  and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.  Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”

When they faced difficulties, the Israelites started to grumble and rebel against God and were punished by God with death.

An example of a person in the Bible who was blessed because he reacted well to suffering is Joseph. He had to face great suffering, first being sold as a slave by his brothers to the Egyptian Potiphar. Joseph kept his faith in God and maintained a positive attitude and he was blessed by God. In Genesis 39:4, it states that “Joseph found favor in Potiphar’s eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.” However, Joseph had to face another great trial when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. Joseph refused to give in to her demands and so Potiphar’s wife accused him of raping her. As a result, he was thrown in jail. Unlike the Israelites in the desert, Joseph did not grumble against God but kept his faith. As a result, Joseph prospered in the prison and the warden put him in charge of the place. In Genesis 39, it says “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

Joseph’s example shows that if we keep a positive attitude and have faith in God when we are faced with suffering, God can turn the situation to our advantage and turn our trial into a blessing.

In James 1, the Apostle James writes, “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.”

When most people face trials, they react to it with fear, distress, upset or anger. Most people resist trials. James tells us that as Christians, we need to have a radically different reaction to suffering. We are to welcome suffering, even rejoice in the fact that we have suffering in our life. This is because for the Christian, trials are beneficial as it builds up our perseverance and endurance.

How we react to suffering determines our fate. An example would be the effect of the heat of sunlight on materials. When the sun shines on clay, it hardens but when the sun shines on wax, it melts. We should have hearts that melt in God’s love rather than stubborn hearts that harden in the heat.

So examine your reaction to suffering. Is it strengthening your faith that is being tested or is it leading you to question God’s love? Rather than expecting God to take away your suffering, ask yourself if you need to change your reaction to the suffering that is in your life. Are you letting the suffering help you develop patience and perseverance? Is the suffering inspiring you to put more of your faith in God and spurring you to rely on God’s strength, grace and mercy?

If you have the positive reaction to suffering, you’ll be surprised to find that the effects of suffering will be radically different from when you have a negative reaction to suffering. Examine your reactions, make the positive changes to your attitude and let God help you soar like an eagle above the storm!

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If you enjoyed reading this post, please visit the blog again. I try to update the blog once a week, usually on Wednesdays.