Friday, March 10, 2023

Grief encouragement

Focus Verse

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” – Isaiah 43:2


  • Life’s Hurts
  • God’s Hope


Life seems “right” to us when things feel easy. We yearn for happy days and comfortable ways to dominate our lives. Perhaps this internal longing for perfection is rooted in our God-given desire for what only He can provide. Life is often harder than we expect, and certainly more difficult than we prefer.Our challenges come in a steady stream and from many sources. Life in a fallen world brings sickness and suffering. Our own sins and those of others complicate our lives. We face political unrest, relational conflict, and the constancy of change. How do we face the questions that arise within us? Where is God in all of this? What does it mean to follow God amid fallenness and dysfunction? Why does God use what hurts to reveal what matters? How does pain accomplish God’s purposes in our lives? Isn’t there a better way – or at least an easier one? 

God’s purifying purposes for Israel and Judah took them into foreign exile. The Assyrians attacked the northern kingdom of Israel and hauled away the people. The southern kingdom of Judah faced a similar fate when attacked by the Babylonians. Certainly, God’s covenant people failed to honor God and live as He intended. Yet, at this point in the story, we witness God’s chosen people headed into deep suffering by His design. How do we hold onto hope when our world crumbles? Our faith in God needs to go beyond glib clichés and easy answers. Our real lives offer an opportunity to trust God in specific, personal ways. God can be trusted to accomplish His purposes through our pain. Will you seek God’s hope in life’s challenges today?

Life’s Hurts

“But you, Sovereign Lord, help me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” – Psalm 109:21-22 

Life’s hard places expose our neediness as we exhaust our solutions and realize how little we control. We often pray for the prompt removal of pain. We resist acknowledging our wounds and accepting our weakness. Sometimes we are slow to accept the world’s fallenness or think we should be spared from its harm. However, God’s deep redemptive work through painful situations should not surprise us. When life is difficult, we become much more likely to turn to God. 

As we seek God’s help, we learn to trust Him and rest in His sovereignty. God has higher and holier goals than our perceived comfort. His faithfulness cannot be equated with the removal of pain or clearing of obstacles. No matter the source or outcome in life’s hurts, God remains trustworthy. Even if we never understand God’s ultimate purposes in our hardships, we can trust Him. 

God’s Painful, Purifying Plan for Israel and Judah 

Humbled by God’s Discipline

Lord, they came to you in their distress; when you disciplined them, they could barely whisper a prayer.” – Isaiah 26:16

The nation of Israel divided into two kingdoms and progressively turned away from God to worship idols. God sent many messengers who offered His persistent plea for His covenant people to turn back to Him. The continuous rebellion that led to God’s inevitable judgment overshadowed the bright spots in Israel’s story.

Two things remain true about the intense suffering God orchestrated for His people. First, their suffering in exile came as God’s judgment on their national rebellion and sin. Despite receiving God’s promises and blessings, Israel turned away from God.1However, a second comforting yet perplexing truth arises: God intentionally brought painful judgment on His people to accomplish a greater good. The faithful suffered alongside the unfaithful.

Purified Through Suffering

“‘I have revealed and saved and proclaimed – I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God.’” – Isaiah 43:12

God’s sovereign plan did not fail when foreigners overtook the promised land and deported God’s people. After the exile, God dispatched a faithful remnant to return and rebuild Jerusalem.2 Ultimately, God’s people await a glorious future where sin and sorrow cease and He reigns forever.3

God’s redemptive purposes cannot be thwarted. Israel’s painful exile finally eradicated her overt idolatry. Even as His people languished, God preserved David’s royal line awaiting His promised Messiah. God’s people would again fail when they rejected Jesus, who God sent to save them. Israel’s denial of God’s Son did not deter God’s greater good. As we learned in Isaiah 53:10, Jesus died as God’s gracious sacrifice to redeem sinners. Evil men drove the nails into Jesus’ hands, but God sent Him to the cross to fulfill His plan of salvation. God’s promises to Israel stand. He actively works to carry out His good and perfect will. 

The Reality of Suffering in Our Lives

Israel’s story offers us hope when God’s path for our lives involves pain. God’s purifying, purposeful work envelops everything He allows in all circumstances we face. While this may not make our troubles hurt less, a proper perspective helps carry us through. 

Sin’s Curse and Human Suffering

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19

“Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” – Job 5:7

The relationship between God, sin, and suffering challenges us. The thought that God inflicted harsh and devastating judgment upon Israel and Judah can be troubling. Many people question why a loving God would allow evil and pain to enter the world. Trouble and hardships fill the daily news as well as our day-to-day lives. Our entry into this world and exit from it both involve pain, as do countless moments in between. How can we explain global disasters, internal conflict, and the pervasive presence of heartache in our world? 

Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, shattering the perfection of God’s creation.4Sin’s damage makes disease, death, and disaster a regular part of our daily lives.5Difficulty now characterizes our lives in this fallen world. God uses suffering to discipline us but also to refine us. While the general cause of worldwide suffering remains clear, not all suffering directly results from personal sin. Seeking God and self-examination help when we suffer; we can trust God to reveal if our current difficulty is tied to a specific sin. We are not, however, equipped to understand or explain what only God knows about the suffering of others.

The Suffering of God’s People 

“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” – Isaiah 48:10-11

Following Christ does not guarantee a pass to an easy life. Believers and unbelievers alike experience hardship. In addition, God’s people can endure suffering specifically because of their faith in Christ. The ongoing challenge to resist sin in the Holy Spirit’s power represents a purifying but constant battle for a Christian. Also, people who follow Jesus often experience rejection and persecution, just as He did.6 Believers often suffer for doing right. Those who follow Christ breathe a different air, so to speak. The very way God’s children live confounds nonbelievers. Yielding to Christ in daily life creates both internal and external friction.

Believers face specific suffering but also experience stabilizing comfort this world cannot comprehend. Every season of distress brings an opportunity to experience God’s strength alongside our fragility. God works through a believer’s suffering whether that hardship comes as God’s loving discipline, Satan’s opposition,7 or merely from living in a fallen world. Spiritual maturity comes not through striving to grow, but as we experience our weakness and God’s unwavering strength.

The Example of Jesus through His Suffering

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” – Isaiah 53:3

Focusing on Christ Himself provides the most pivotal comfort when processing human suffering. God did not shield His sinless Son from agonizing heartache or this world’s pain.8 Jesus walked the earth clothed in human skin. He experienced hunger, thirst, temptation, abandonment, and exhaustion. Jesus wept beside a friend’s grave.9 Jesus felt pain so intense that He sweated drops of blood.10

Jesus suffered greatly and secured an eventual and eternal end to His children’s pain. He steadfastly embraced the agony of the cross, committed to carry out His Father’s will and redeem people caught in sin. Jesus’ example helps believers understand how God’s power, presence, and purpose can permeate pain. To remain faithful through suffering is to exemplify Christ.

The Truth that Stabilizes Us in Suffering

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

Believers experience a deep and eternal union with Christ that cannot be broken by anything on earth. Romans 8:38-39 powerfully captures this truth: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

A deliberate focus on God puts life’s struggles into proper perspective. So many truths about God help us when life overwhelms us. God acts in mercy and compassion to His children.13 Nothing and no one in this world is stronger than God. Yet, He understands human weakness and longs to pour His strength into the needy.14 God hears us when we cry out to Him. He acts on our behalf and sometimes even answers the prayers we do not have the strength to voice.15Our heavenly Father accomplishes His beautiful work in our lives through our pain.

God sees what we do not, understands what we cannot, and accomplishes what we will not. Psalm 61:2 instructs us to cry out to God when our hearts grow faint, asking Him to “lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Only God never changes. He alone provides the unshakable foundation in the storms of life. 

God’s Hope

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” – Lamentations 3:22-23

Hope comes when we place our eyes on God, not our circumstances. Suffering does not defeat 
God’s people or negate God’s promises. God accomplished His plans for Israel and Judah through a painful path they would never have chosen, and God will fully complete His work in you.16 In any given moment, all of God’s power, purposes, and presence are fully at work – never hindered in any way.

Suffering Accomplishes God’s Purposes 

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

Hard Times Wean Us From Self-Reliance

As sinners, we default to self-sufficiency. Often, we do not depend on God until we need to depend on Him. When human options fail, we find ourselves ready to turn to God. A depleted bank account, weary body, confused mind, or desperate moment offer a direct invitation to recognize how much we need God. We are equally needy in our self-confident moments as we are on days when trials leave us barely able to breathe. Hard times help us recognize what is true every minute. While tranquil moments feel more secure than the tumultuous ones, God fully upholds us on every kind of day. Our next breath always depends on Him. Isaiah urges us, “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils …” (Isaiah 2:22). Do you consider yourself privileged when God exposes your deep need for Him in practical situations? Difficulty brings us to a place of vulnerability and longing that God uses to turn our hearts to Him.

Our inborn independence means that we must learn to depend on God. How do we do that? Our faith grows when we trust God with our needs as we walk through difficult situations. The cycle of coming to the end of ourselves, crying out to God, and finding Him faithful builds spiritual muscle. God longs to help us. 2 Chronicles 16:9a says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” We walk by faith one step at a time.

Hard Times Help Us Grow Spiritually

In God’s hands, pain’s purifying work bears beautiful fruit. Desperate situations help us recognize what really matters. God reveals what we trust more than Him – or fear in spite of Him. Through hard times, God calls us to courageous faith. If we never suffered, we might never know the life-giving depths of true dependence on Him. Confidence in God seems easy with healthy finances and a thriving family. However, painfully powerful lessons emerge when we believe God and His Word when our health fails and earthly security vanishes. God remains completely trustworthy and exceedingly faithful. 

When have you grown the most spiritually? Most Christians recount how a particularly challenging season stimulated spiritual growth in their lives. Trials sensitize us to God’s work. Without difficulties, we would not depend on God as we should. God knows exactly what we need for our faith to deepen. In life’s hardships, we discover that we are needy children who can run expectantly to our faithful Father.17 God uses trials for our good and His glory.

Hard Times Prepare Us to Comfort Others

People who have persevered in faith through trials have something worth sharing with others. This result may not seem worth it in times of extreme pain. But God’s comfort exceeds anything that this world offers. When you walk through a valley and experience God as your Shepherd, you emerge equipped to proclaim His sustaining grace. God’s gentle guidance and powerful presence through intense pain allow you to personally experience how God loves you. When your faith moves from an idea to an experience, you learn something about God that other people need to hear. 

The realities of suffering prepare you to understand the emotions and struggles others experience. Even Jesus, in all His perfection, became our faithful High Priest who could relate to our trouble because of what He suffered.18 God’s comfort prepares His people to share His comfort with others.19

Suffering Allows Us to Experience God’s Presence

“My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” – Psalm 119:50

Hard Times Prove God Is Faithful

Our struggles showcase what is true about God. His promises read nicely when life runs smoothly. The same truths become the very air we breathe in times of struggle. When we suffer, God allows us to experience His nearness in very real ways. We can freely take our pain to God. When we cannot even voice words in prayer, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.20 Our weakness and neediness may shock us – but never surprise God.21 He stands ready to help and poised to strengthen us, according to His Word. 

The God who created and rules the world involves Himself in our heartaches. He knows when, what, and why we suffer. Our hardship often feels like more than we can bear, but we will never face anything that escapes God’s tender care. God may not remove the pain, but He longs to carry us through it. He determines the way that is best for us – and that matters more than the outcome we desire. Our suffering Savior understands our sorrows. Our Almighty God is our ever-present help in times of trouble.22

Hard Times Help Us Long for Future Deliverance

If this world were comfortable, we would not long for heaven. Our ongoing battle with sin’s carnage helps us realize that this world is not our home. We are created in God’s image – suited for Eden and heaven, not the pain of this fallen world. God has something so much better for us. The anguish, sickness, and death common to mankind will one day be abolished. God’s people will gather around His throne to sing His praises forever. 2 Corinthians 4:17 promises that our “light and momentary troubles” will bring “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 

At the end of life’s journey, believers will see Jesus face-to-face. The sinless One who bears our scars understands our pain. God’s own Son died a painful death to end our struggles. For all eternity, redeemed people will offer untainted praise to the Savior who set them free from sin’s sorrow. Earth’s hurts are real, but God’s victory remains sure. God can be trusted to accomplish His purposes through our pain.

Take to Heart 

Hold Fast

God sent the people of Israel and Judah into an intensely harrowing exile as an act of His judgment. He allowed them to suffer the brutal onslaught of conquering enemies and to be uprooted from their homeland in disgrace. However, God purified and preserved His people beyond their years of exile. Human wisdom questions God’s ways of accomplishing His redemptive plan. However, this torturous judgment revealed God’s sovereignty, upheld His purposes, and displayed His glory. The purposeful suffering of God’s covenant people helps believers today who endure life’s struggles.

Believers sometimes expect life to be easy and seem surprised by trials. While we resist suffering, God uses our pain in powerful ways. Through hard times, we learn to seek and depend on God. We stand ready to see God work when human solutions flounder and our sensitized hearts turn to Him. God remains ready to help us walk on in faith, relying on His strength. We may never fully understand all God’s intent as we suffer, but He is worthy of our trust. 

Apply It

The question that most often rises as we suffer is “why?” We observe loved ones suffering chronic physical torment. Our own trials rarely resolve on a schedule we would choose. We wonder what God is doing and why we deserve such trauma. God clearly told the people of Israel and Judah that His judgment brought their exile. We cannot always draw such certain conclusions. We also ask another question – “how long?” We long for pain to end as quickly as possible. Only God can truly answer our deepest questions. God calls us to trust His higher purposes that we cannot fully discern.What hard question are you asking that only God can answer? If God enlarges your understanding, praise Him! If God calls you to keep trusting Him with answers He does not provide, praise Him still! God will not extend earth’s agony one second beyond completion of His greater purposes. Pour out your heart to God and trust His infinite knowledge as your solid foundation.

How do we face the perpetual reality of trials without becoming bitter or depressed? Life certainly has bright moments but seems more often hard than easy. Some days we revel in life’s goodness. Other times seem unrelentingly heavy. How do we reconcile a realistic expectation of rigorous uphill climbs with our need for ease and reprieve? We will never find the stability we long for if we depend on circumstances to dictate our joy. We cannot expect every day to feel amazing. God wired your personality and emotions. He knows when you benefit from purposeful strain designed to accomplish His intended gain. God knows when you need reprieve and what puts wind in your sails. Ultimately, He calls us to meet each day ready to receive His fresh and timely supply of gentle mercy and sustaining grace. What do you face today? No matter what your day holds, will you deliberately look for God’s kindness? How might you fix your eyes on God rather than what you cannot control? 

Earthly pains will not last forever. We awoke this morning one day closer to either Jesus’ return or the end of our lives. This world’s pleasures offer passing comfort. Yet God has exponentially more for us than the bricks, money, power, and prestige of this world. One by one, our loved ones leave this earth and so will we. How has either the pain or pleasure on this revolving planet blinded you to what matters most? Only God knows you completely. Only God can rescue you from sin’s penalty. Only God will forever eradicate the hurts we face here on earth. At the end of the day, God rises as our only hope; at the end of our lives, He is all that matters. How does God – and the deliverance Christ accomplished on your behalf – help you look beyond life’s struggles and see Him? Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen!

While the Wind Was Blowing

“For the eternal substance of a thing never lies in the thing itself, but in the quality of our reaction toward it. If in hard times we are kept from resentment held in silence, and filled with inward sweetness, that is what matters. The event that distressed us will pass from memory as a wind that passes and is gone, but what we were while the wind was blowing has eternal consequences.”a 
– A. Wetherell Johnson, founder of BSF

Trusting God Despite the Pain

The Doctrine of Suffering

No one on earth escapes emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual strain. Every age and life stage brings change and challenges. Sin corrupted Eden’s perfection and Adam and Eve’s pure communion with God. Since then, very little about human life has been easy or harmonious. People toil to earn a living, raise families, and find purpose. Most people endure suffering with little sense of its benefit. 

God offers something better than merely plodding through life trying to distract ourselves from what hurts. While God never causes evil, no suffering occurs outside of His sovereign rule. We accept God’s absolute control over sunshine and happiness more easily than His purposes in our suffering. God is not only sovereign – He is also good. The fact that we experience hard times cannot mean that God does not love us. The truth that God sacrificed His Son on our behalf demonstrates His love for us. Jesus’ suffering through His earthly life and cruel death proves that God’s goodness and human suffering are not at odds. Suffering invites people to turn to God and experience His compassion, love, and faithfulness. Even if the reasons for our suffering remain mysteriously hidden, God works through our struggles to develop our character and call us to Himself.11

We can waste our suffering when we fail to yield to God’s purposes in it. The very things God intends to soften our hearts can harden us when we fail to seek Him. Without faith in God, anger, bitterness, frustration, and resignation become our only alternatives. We can wrongly assume that God remains either uninvolved, uninterested, or even mean-spirited regarding our pain. Pain seems pointless without a sense of God’s unconditional love, constant presence, and redeeming power. Unless you turn to God, you limit your source of hope in this world, which is full of trouble. 

This earth’s temporary pain can bring long-term gain. Walking through hardship requires honest wrestling with our doubts and constant dependence on God to stand firm. How would a watching world know that hope is found in God alone if our lives were always easy? Nothing this world offers or can take away compares to trusting the Lord. What is your biggest challenge today? Do you seek to merely escape the misery? What is God teaching you about yourself and His sustaining grace? God can be trusted with anything and everything we face in this life. Untested faith is unproven faith.12 Your troubles and trials allow you to experience God’s faithfulness. No matter what happens in your life, nothing is sweeter than depending on God.

1: Israel’s privileges: Romans 2:17–3:2

2: Remnant returns: Ezra 2–3; Nehemiah 2:11-16; Isaiah 51:11

3: God’s eternal kingdom: Isaiah 60; 65:17-25; Revelation 22:1-5

4: Sin’s entrance: Genesis 3:1-13

5: Sin’s curse: Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 3:9-18; 5:12; 8:20

a: Johnson, A. Wetherell. Created for Commitment. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1982.

6: Sharing Jesus’ suffering: Romans 8:17; Philippians 3:10

7: Satan’s opposition: 1 Peter 5:8

8: God’s Son not spared: Romans 8:32

9: Jesus’ experiences: Matthew 4:1-2, 11; 8:24; John 11:33-35

10: Drops of blood: Luke 22:44

11: Hidden reasons for suffering: Job 1:6-12; Romans 8:18-39; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

12: Genuine faith: 1 Peter 1:3-7

13: God’s compassion: Isaiah 30:18; Joel 2:13

14: Strength for the needy: Psalm 9:18; 40:17; 70:5; Isaiah 29:19; 40:3-31 

15: God hears: Psalm 5:3; 6:9; Matthew 7:7-11; John 16:24 

16: God’s work: John 5:17; Philippians 1:6

17: Growth through suffering: Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4

18: Jesus our High Priest: Hebrews 4:14-16

19: Comforting others: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

20: Holy Spirit prays: Romans 8:26-28

21: God knows our weakness: Psalm 103:13-16

22: Ever-present help: Psalm 46:1

1 comment:

Debbie said...

This article really helped me with what I'm going through. Thanks for posting.