Suffering was the theme this month. As God would have it, it was a focus for 3 weeks in my Biblical Counseling class, for which I had to read Why Does It Have to Hurt? Also, I happened to be reading through Shame Interrupted, and on my list to read was Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering! As I have been through an area of suffering this past year there’s also been so much comfort and hope in Christ I have received from this month's reading. If you've experienced suffering some of these may be helpful, and if you haven't... read to be prepared for when it does come.
Finished this month:
Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch (got this one on my Kindle!)
This book is loaded! It’s pretty long, but really gets into what shame is, the different kinds of shame and how we often confuse it with guilt. He discusses uncleanness in the Old Testament and how it’s associated with shame, but yet there’s a difference between them. And beyond just being clean, we can be made holy. This is really important book for anyone struggling with shame from their past.
“We can be bold in the face of shame because shame can be removed, though not by something we do.” There is an answer, there is hope, and it’s found in the Gospel. “The character of God is the basis for our connection to him, not our intrinsic worth. Self-worth, or anything we think would make us acceptable to God, would suit our pride but it has the disturbing side-effect of making the cross of Jesus Christ less valuable. If we have worth in ourselves, there is no reason to connect to the infinite worth of Jesus and receive what he has done for us.”
“What is the way out of shame? Knowledge that leads to belief.
Belief that leads to trust; trust in Jesus.”
The End of the Spear by Steve Saint
This was such an interesting book – a really great read! Written by the son of missionary Nate Saint who with his four friends (Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully and Roger Youderian) had been murdered by the Waodani Indians in Ecuador in 1956, this book tells Steve’s journey of going back to Ecuador years later, learning more about the details surrounding his father’s death and then moving to live with the very people who had taken his life. I loved learning more of this story, and the amazing work that God did in and through this tribe that formerly were greatly feared killers. If I was impacted by this story before (and I was very much), I am even more so now! You should read it - you will be greatly inspired!
“After learning in detail what happened on January 8, 1956 – while I was so anxiously waiting to see the speak of my dad’s little 56 Henry airplane appear over Penny Ridge – I believe God was much more involved in what happened than merely failing to intervene.” (p. 59)
Why Does It Have to Hurt? by Dan McCartney
This book was really insightful on the topic of suffering. He does a great job discussing what suffering is, the difference between the suffering we can bring upon ourselves, suffering we receive because of the actions/inaction of others, and suffering that is simply caused by living in a fallen world. He looks a Job’s suffering and his honest questions before God. He struggled, but yet in the end was still vindicated by God. He discusses God’s purpose in our pain and the hope that we have to cling to in Christ! It’s a weighty book, but what great encouragement!
“God’s sovereignty is the most important groundwork for any biblical dealing with suffering. If God does not have control over evil, then evil is only senseless and meaningless…” (p. 11)
“People who are suffering usually do not get a great deal of encouragement from doctrine unless that doctrine is made personal somehow…. This is not to minimize the importance of propositional truth. But it will not be important to us until it is personal.” (p. 60)
Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller
If there was one thing that I got out of this book, it would be enough to change me: “God is a suffering God.” Christ Himself suffered as we suffer, but He suffered it to the highest degree – so much deeper than we ever could. He entered into our suffering, and we enter into His. I have received SO much encouragement from this!
The book is divided into 3 sections. In the first Keller talks about what suffering is and how different cultures view it. It was really insightful to me on why Westerners/American’s are so concerned about avoiding pain and suffering at all costs, their worldview is primary about individual freedom and happiness so suffering does not fit. All other cultures see suffering as having a purpose of some sort, but western worldview doesn’t allow that option. It’s tragic really. Life that holds no meaning outside of yourself is deadly. He writes, “Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.” (p. 13) Only Biblical Christianity gives us this.
The second section looks at what the Bible has to say about suffering. The challenge it presents to our faith and God’s sovereignty over suffering and evil. It also discusses mans different responses to suffering and his responsibility in it. The last two chapters were very helpful as well: “The Reason for Suffering” & “Learning to Walk”. He writes, “Suffering will either leave you a much better person or a much worse one than you were before… the wrong strategy will usually mean that one’s character becomes weaker and less integrated while the right approach to suffering can lead to remarkable growth. Trials and troubles in life, which are inevitable, will either make you or break you.” (p. 190)
In the final section, Keller shares with us practical ways to walk with God through the suffering He’s placed in our lives. Weeping, trusting God, prayer, finding peace through thinking, praising God and loving others (this chapter was really good!) and then hoping in Him are all ways to help us walk through suffering and come out stronger. He writes, “Job never sees the big picture, he sees only God. But that’s what we really need – for all eternity.” (p. 284) And, “There is only one thing that is immutable [unchanging]. It is God, his presence and his love. The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live.” (p. 304) CHRIST IS ENOUGH!
"Suffering will only make us better... if, during it, we teach ourselves to love God better than before. This happens by recognizing God's suffering for us in Jesus Christ, and by praying, thinking and trusting that love into our souls." (p. 322)
Reading plan for this month:
I said last month that I had something special in mind for this month. I’ve had a few people tell me they are anxiously waiting to hear this…. So here it is! One my goals that I set at the beginning of this year was that I would take the month of March and commit to reading ONLY the Bible (only with the exception of my assigned reading for my CCEF class, which will include a couple articles and one book: The Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson).
My actual goal is to read the entire Bible in the next 31 days… I will be reading through a chronological Bible that I have and will require me reading 50 pages a day. A lot, but we’ll see how it goes!
But, an important reminder: “One bit of Bible prayed over, and bedewed with the Spirit, and made alive, though it be only a short sentence of six words, will profit you more than a hundred chapters without the Spirit.” – C.H. Spurgeon
How about you? How about just committing to reading twice what you normally read each day, or x-number of chapters? If you’re not reading your Bible daily, than just start with 1! That’s what I did 15 years ago, I committed to reading at least 1 chapter a day, and now it’s a wonderful habit!