Have you ever wondered why after you became a believer in Jesus, the God of the universe did not just swoop down and wipe away all the challenges, difficulties and problems you face? This may seem a naive question but it’s one that reflective Christians have pondered for centuries. But it also provokes an even deeper one: Since all the evidence is that God does not take away these difficulties, what on-going purpose do they serve in our own lives and in the lives of others?We garner a hint of what the answer might be in John 9 in the story of the man born blind. Upon encountering this man, Jesus disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, “but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” (John 9:3 RSV) Jesus is obviously not calling the man or his parents sinless. He is instead taking the focus off the cause of ailment and placing it on what God intends to do with it.
When any problem shows up in our lives, our reaction is usually to pray for its removal.That is natural and right. In the case of the man born blind, Jesus healed him and removed the problem. But when the problem remains, it is often useful to ask, “Lord, what is your ongoing purpose in this?” Often there is significant motivation behind this question because failing to find an answer can leave the person with little more than resignation or resentment over an undesirable outcome.
We are all born or brought up with difficulties of all kinds. Some are physical. Others are emotional, psychological, sexual, relational or financial. Some of these are remedied, improved or even eliminated in the course of living. But many are not. Is the “work of God” only manifest in the blind seeing? If so, then the life of Helen Keller and others whose problems are not removed are far less meaningful than we thought. The question is, how do we see God’s purposes in the difficulties that remain? And how do we cooperate with and even rejoice in those purposes? When we read and understand the biblical message, we get a radically different view of our difficulties than the simple and obvious wish to be rid of them.
We see a world where God wastes nothing, where the master weaver stitches together robes of righteousness and provision for his tattered children. Best of all, through this redemptive process we begin to see our difficulties more as assets than liabilities. Here at Living Without Lust, we are a fellowship of broken men beginning to see God’s redemptive hand in our lives. We have asked him to remove our difficulties and temptations. Instead we are learning he has a higher purpose for them. Here are some biblical principles God is showing us.
1. God wants to use our difficulties to transform us into the likeness of Christ. The Apostle Paul knew pride and elation, due to both his background as a pious and educated Jew and to his powerful spiritual experiences. In 2 Corinthians 12, after referencing “an abundance of revelations,” Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh,” that was given to him. Fortunately, though many through history have guessed what it was, Paul does not name it or most of the world might have dismissed it as irrelevant to their individual situation. The purpose of the thorn was to “harass” him. In other words, this problem did not go away nor yield to prayer but instead God used it to counteract what self-sufficiency and pride remained in him. Paul learned that God ‘s power showed up best in “weakness.” This realization led him to a deeper life of contentment in the midst of struggles.
Do you have a particular weakness, character defect or ailment? Part of the reason God allows it to remain is that he is using it to make you more dependent on Jesus, more needful and desirous of his presence in your life. Difficulties are a constant reminder that we are not the captains of our souls nor the architects of our destiny. When we surrender our situation to Jesus, we understand better what it meant for him to enter our fragile existence and what he surrendered for us on the cross. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Difficulty is God’s surgical tool for the human soul. But there is more.
2. God wants to use our difficulties to reach others the way nothing else will. Paul writes, “To the weak I became weak that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22) I used to think that God wanted to use our talents and abilities to reach others. Sometimes he does. But unfortunately our talents and abilities often intimidate or threaten others. They can put others off. This is why “the law,” both the law of human capability and God’s law cannot save. It too often intimidates, threatens and exposes the inability of the beholder. Our talents often cause others to secretly say, “I could never do that,” while they slink away with stooped shoulders. We are often too strong to reach others, not too weak. How often has someone shared a weakness or vulnerability with you that you were unaware of and afterwards you felt relief and a deeper bond with them than ever before? God wants to use our weaknesses in the lives of others to bind us together in unbreakable bonds.
Jesus came in weakness. He died as “the man of sorrows,” helpless and alone. He embraced our hopeless situation with his own complete surrender. Whatever your weakness is, and no doubt you know it better than anyone, God wants to use it as a bridge to others. If you are surrendering it to Jesus even with great difficulty, rather than secretly idolizing and indulging it or burying it in resentment, others can benefit from what you have learned. If they share your same weakness, all the better. This is a key part of the “fellowship of his sufferings.” (Phil. 3:10). The bridge of weakness is the path to fellowship with both God and people. “A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:3) …The weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Corinthians 1:25)
3. God wants to use our difficulties to lift our eyes to an “eternal” homeland. The old hymn sung to Greensleeves was originally a Tudor hymn that spoke of lost love. “Jerusalem My Happy Home” gives an alternative view and asks “When shall my struggles have an end? Thy joys when shall I see?” The answer is found finally and only in the new Jerusalem, our eternal home, not in the fleeting existence we now inhabit. Our difficulties point us to the place where they will be both redeemed and removed. The irony pointed out by C.S. Lewis is, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” It is our calling in this world to point to the next world.I recently shared with a friend how many of my “great expectations” of youth have not been fulfilled in this life. Hebrews 11 is a wonderful antidote to the pursuit of this worldly satisfaction. Speaking to Jewish believers tempted to look back to the former glory of their now destroyed temple and city, he writes, “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” But it is not a city “made with hands.” Corrie ten Boom once said, I have to hold the things of this world lightly because it hurts when God pries them out of my hands.” Our difficulties help to wean us away from the comforts and love of this world and set our sights “where true joys are to be found.” (Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C, Book of Common Prayer)
As humans we are tempted to be satisfied with the joys and pleasures of the world we see. But to do so is both short-sighted and foolishly limiting. C.S. Lewis writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The Weight of Glory
Though our ambassadorship is in this world, our citizenship is in the next. J. I. Packer referred to a Christian man this way. “Heaven was in him before he was in heaven.”This is what God is after in us. Not only do our difficulties wean us from our self-sufficiency, independence and pride. They also prevent us from settling down in this world. When we catch a vision of our true citizenship, we become free to focus on a time when “the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19) We are then free to love, free to serve, free to share our weaknesses with others in a world that is passing away knowing that an indescribable destiny awaits us beyond our imagination.
Our prayer for us all is simple: To have the grace to discern God’s redeeming, purposeful hand in the difficulties that remain, so that “the works of God be made manifest” in every one of us.
May his peace be with you today.
Living Without Lust
Living Without Lust is currently engaged in four initiatives to fulfill our mission. If you are interested in further information on these, please e-mail us by clicking on the Contact button on our website.
1. We consult with individual men who struggle with lust, pornography and sexual addiction in order to get them the help they need. If this is you or someone close to you, please e-mail us. We can help.
2. We seek to train and partner with Christian leaders of all kinds to help them speak to these issues and provide resources for those who struggle. We would be happy to speak to your clergy gathering or conference or simply be in touch for future partnering opportunities.
3. We go to theological seminaries to help them equip the next generation of leaders for lust, pornography and sexual addiction ministry. We can accommodate any time slot from a one-hour talk to an all-day conference.
4. Realizing that many of us got started early with porn, and the necessity of closing the door to internet porn among the young, we have constructed a one-hour seminar called Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography. If you are interested in hosting this event designed for parents and grandparents, please contact us for further information.
Upcoming Living Without Lust Activities
Saturday, March 7th…Living Without Lust Board Meeting.
Tuesday, March 10th to Thursday March 12th…Nashotah House Seminary, Nashotah, Wisconsin. Chapel Service followed by two one-hour classes.
Sunday, March 15th…8:30 am to 1 pm…Church of the Redeemer (Anglican) Jacksonville Missions Fair
Thursday, March 19th, 9:30am… Jacksonville Anglican Clergy Gathering.
Saturday, March 21st, 10 am to Noon…Church of the Redeemer Jacksonville, Florida Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography Seminar. (Dry Run)
Saturday, April 11th, 11:30am to 1pm…Crosswater Community Church, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida…Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography Seminar. Open to the public.
Wednesday, May 20th 7pm…Christ Episcopal Church, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, Protecting Your Chidren from Internet Pornography Seminar. Open to the public.