Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joy in Suffering - The decision to trust

Real trust only happens when the relationship is challenged.

A couple of years ago I remember praying for God to teach me to have joy in suffering. (See this post from 2010. Though I don't have this mastered by any means, I have begun to taste what that can be like. And what I am discovering is that joy comes through trust.

I have an amazing friend who has suffered in life in ways I can't even imagine. When I met her she was depressed, hopeless, anxious, on the verge of divorce, destructive to herself and her family. Through many long conversations and God-arranged circumstances, she came to trust Jesus as her hope, love and salvation. In one of those conversations she was seeking my advice because she was afraid her husband was having an affair. He had been unfaithful in the past and she was racked by constant worry that he was doing it again. She was thinking of scheme after scheme to catch him in the act and saying that she just could not trust him. In a moment of clarity I said, "Well, it's a choice. You have to choose to trust him. Otherwise you will always be controlled by your anxiety and fear. You will never fully know. You just have to choose to trust." And an amazing thing happened... She decided to trust! That was the beginning of healing in her marriage. She was soon able to trust God himself with her life and for his goodness, and I saw a new joy begin to fill her marriage and life.

I have seen the same effect in my own life. The times I am most depressed, most anxious and devoid of joy or contentment are the times I do not trust God and others. But the times I have experienced joy and peace even in the midst of suffering have been because of my trust in the character or God and in my relationship with him.

"Cast your anxieties on him, for he cares for you..." 1 Peter 5:7

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, our Lord." Phil. 4:6-7

I've heard many sermons on the passages above that emphasize action. These are the things you need to do: Give your burdens to God ("and leave them there"), pray, ask God for help, give thanks, etc. But, honestly, these actions rarely help me... unless they are motivated from a place of trust. Think about it. I can't really give my concerns to God fully and let go, unless I trust that he knows what to do, will do it, and that he will do something good with it. Praying and asking won't help unless, again, I trust that he hears me, cares and is working things for my good and for the good of others. I can't really be thankful in the midst of suffering unless I trust that he is bigger than I can imagine, cares for me and has a good plan. What I really need is to trust. Not just to trust in an abstract God, but to trust in my relationship with him. That he really knows me, really cares and is big enough to do what is needed and good. I can't trust unless I know that I am fully accepted by him as I am, weaknesses, failures and all.

I know this through Jesus.

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Rom. 8:32 Through Jesus, God proves that he cares and does not just stop at the cross but continues to care for me through His Spirit in me. Through the cross I know that my sin has been crucified with Christ and that I have risen in the righteousness of Christ so that I am fully accepted, forgiven and given a place in God's plan and family. I am his child. This is how I trust him. And this is what brings me joy in the middle of pain, because I can let go and rejoice in the amazing care and relationship and unity I have with God. Because this relationship is not due to my own goodness or actions, I can rest that it does not depend on my goodness or actions. I am weak, and that is ok. I am His, and that is enough.

Psalm 37 is a beautiful reminder of joy and peace that comes through making God our refuge and trust. Basically, it says, don't worry about all the crap going on around you. God is the inheritance and joy of those who trust and rest in him.

1Do not fret because of evildoers,
  Be not envious toward wrongdoers.

2For they will wither quickly like the grass
  And fade like the green herb.

3Trust in the LORD and do good;
  Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

4Delight yourself in the LORD;
  And He will give you the desires of your heart.

5Commit your way to the LORD,
  Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

6He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
  And your judgment as the noonday.

7Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him;
  Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
  Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.

8Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
  Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.

9For evildoers will be cut off,
  But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land.

The interesting thing about all this is that if true joy comes out of trust, there is an increased opportunity for joy in the times where trust is required the most: in the times of suffering, when nothing makes sense and the world seems to be falling apart. It is in these times that we really learn what it means to "put our trust" in God, actively, making that decision to trust even when we cannot see, like my friend. It is in these times that we will find that the decision to trust God's character and our relationship with him will bring a deeper joy and peace than we could ever imagine, because it is the joy of knowing and walking with God. God revels in receiving our trust, opening wide his arms and pulling us in, just like a faithful husband who is overjoyed to receive the trust of a wife who had long doubted his love. There is nothing quite so joyful as when someone trusts our love. God experiences that same joy when we place our trust and hope in him.