Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love's Painful Wait

Well over 6 years ago, I was badly bitten by a dog while pet sitting. I washed the bite immediately and called someone to take me to the ER. I had to wait for a long time before I was called back to be seen by a doctor, and finally I was treated and sent home.

However, the bite was deep, and the long wait combined with the wrong antibiotic had allowed a serious infection to develop. My entire hand was red and swollen, the knuckles barely visible. When I visited my doctor afterward, she was alarmed and put me on two antibiotics. I was ordered not to return to work or school, to keep my hand elevated, and to call her if the swelling spread.

I could not see any positives in this situation. The medications disturbed my sleep and gave me a rash. I got behind on all of my lectures, missed band rehearsals, and most of all felt mad that this one stupid incident was costing me weeks of productivity.

Looking back on that time now, I can see that it wasn't worthless. Because I was up late with nothing to do, I began talking online (typing one-handed) with the man who would later become my serious boyfriend. And as we discussed faith in depth with no time constraints, God used that time to begin to move his heart. Just 2 months later, he dedicated his life to Christ.

It's now easy for me to see that not only was God doing great things for his kingdom through my temporary suffering, but he also was doing great things for me.

It's interesting for me to see that Jesus has a habit of allowing temporary pain for a greater purpose.

When called by a man whose daughter was dying, Jesus stopped on the way to heal another woman who had a chronic illness and was in no danger of death. When he finally arrived at the house, the man's daughter had died. Jesus was late.

When Jesus was called by his dear friends Mary and Martha and told that their brother Lazarus was dying, Jesus again took his time. When he finally arrived to meet them, Lazarus had been dead 4 days. Late again.

In my own life, I cry out to God in prayer so often for him to help me with my physical trials, with my emotional distress, and when he doesn't relieve these issues or deliver me, I feel what these people must have felt - not only the deep anguish of my losses, but also the grieving disappointment of Jesus not loving me the way I expect him to love me.

But what I realized as I read about Lazarus today is that Jesus makes me wait BECAUSE he loves me. The wait through pain is an expression of his love.

The reason I know this is because of 2 verses in John that at first seem paradoxical:
"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was."

I had to re-read this several times and check my study notes. Sure enough, the notes say:
"So, therefore" shows the reason why Jesus stayed...He allowed his friends to go through the sorrow and hardship of the death and mourning of Lazarus because he loved them and wanted them to witness an amazing demonstration of Jesus' power over death.

He loved them, so he had them wait.

In my mind, this makes no sense. If I love someone, I want to be there to make everything better, to soothe, to take away the pain as soon as possible. In my human realm of thinking, pain is to be avoided at all costs.

But in the Kingdom of God, pain is not the ultimate evil to be avoided. Death and eternal separation from God is the worst possible case. Whenever Jesus can use circumstances to bring people to saving faith or to deepen the faith of those who believe, it is worth the temporary pain that may take place. It is worth the wait.

As I wait through a number of difficult trials right now, I can be tempted to see this as callous and lacking compassion. I cry out over and over to God, and yet he does not move to relieve my suffering. Through this story of Lazarus, I can be assured that as long as my pain remains, there are necessary and high-stakes eternal implications for it. But what about how I feel emotionally? Does Jesus care?

His response is to weep with me. When Mary confronted him (as I so often have), he "was deeply moved in his spirit." My Bible says this word for deeply moved is used here twice for how he feels and nowhere else in the entire New Testament. It was a "profound sorrow at the death of his friend and at the grief that his other friends had suffered." Jesus cries honest and genuine tears of sorrow when we are waiting in faith through pain. He cries with us and is deeply moved by our prayers. He intellectually understands the big picture and why we have to wait, but his emotions are with us in understanding the grief we must endure in the process.

It is the end of the wait that makes his love not late but awesome. When Jesus went to the tomb, he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." And after 4 days dead in the tomb, Lazarus walked out alive.

And that other man's daughter who died before Jesus arrived? Jesus raised her from the dead too.

If your circumstances look dead, if your wait seems long and cruel, if God does not answer you with deliverance when you ask, know first and foremost that he loves you. He loves not in spite of the waiting but he loves you with, through, and during the wait most of all. It is his plan to bring about glory for his kingdom and also to deepen your faith and bring blessing to you.

Know also that he cries with you. He himself has suffered brutality and can empathize perfectly with you. He is deeply moved by your cries and your disappointment expressed honestly and openly to him.

And most important of all, know this: "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.' "

He has the power to raise others from the dead. He has the power to raise himself from the dead. And in the last day, he will raise the whole world with just the sound of his voice. Jesus is the resurrection. He is the life beyond the grave. By believing and waiting on him, we set ourselves up to see greater things than we could ever imagine. He hasn't just come to bandage up the broken pieces of our lives. He has come to give us new life in Him.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Better than a Buick

Just today, I was watching Ellen. She was recognizing someone who had done a lot of good works in the community (who herself had very little to live on and was asking for help). When the woman got called up on stage, it was very moving because this person who had worked for a long time without recognition was finally receiving reward. I saw her receive a new car, and then when they came back from the break, she also received 10,000 dollars. It reminded me of this verse:

"If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
Matthew 7:11

I thought, if a mere human can reward another human for good works so richly and extravagantly, then imagine the gifts we will receive from God for doing his work in his name and asking him for help.

It's a challenge for me to remain encouraged when I feel as sick as I have the past few days. I seem to repeat the familiar chronic-illness-cycle of pushing too hard and then paying the price. I get discouraged because my emotional ability to cope well with my family's ongoing struggles is eroded by my physical weakness. At my sickest, I also feel the most powerless, the most irritable, and the least effective for God.

The reward on this TV show today reminded me of how long we sometimes have to labor quietly in dark times before we receive blessing for our obedience. If you are struggling alone and feel like you are not making progress in your trials, be encouraged by this quote from George D. Watson (a Wesleyan minister from the 20th century):

"The Lord may let others be honored and put forward while keeping you hidden in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade."

Though we may feel that nothing is changing in our circumstances, we can trust God to grow the fruit of his character in our lives as we quietly wait and labor for him.

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him”

1 Corinthians 2:9