Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The root of joy in suffering

No, I’m not suffering at the moment. But it was one of the themes for a recent Sunday school lesson, and it made me meditate on how to respond in certain difficult situations. We were learning about how God was with Joseph in his time of slavery and imprisonment, and how we can behave when people treat us harshly or when we face a tragedy.

When giving their testimonies of how they came to Christ, many people name a “near-death experience” or another extreme episode that caused them to rethink their lifestyles. And from that point on their lives were changed. But I think the story starts before then. The story starts when God calls us, and when He has already started to lay the foundations in our lives. That part is often unseen.

At some point, the Word is preached in our lives, and creates an environment for us to respond. And our salvation is the fruit of that Word having been preached.

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
(Ro.10:14)

When purposefully living a Christian life, we will soon face trials. How may we respond?

James reminds us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (1:2) But isn’t this easier said than done?

There are a lot of inspiring stories out there, but one example we shared with the kids was the story of Joni Eareckson Tada, the quadriplegic who has an international ministry to the handicapped. What I find inspiring about Joni is how she gives glory to God through her lifestyle. She is not simply a smiling face but someone who truly fears God and seeks to serve Him.

Most people know that Joni’s accident turned her life around. But do they know what Joni’s life had been like before the accident? Looking at her childhood, we see, “Her childhood was an extremely happy one. She grew into a young adult surrounded by love, happiness, and security in her parent’s home.” But her happy childhood didn’t mean that she always stayed on the right path. “Before the accident she had felt that she wasn’t living the life she should be so she had prayed that God would change her life - that he’d turn it around.” (excerpts from http://www.historyswomen.com/historyinthemaking/joni.html)

In childhood, Joni had heard about God and sought him. Although she had strayed from the path, those roots were there and brought her back once she was ready.

Have you ever known that you are supposed to respond with joy, but not known how? It is easy enough to quote scripture, but to carry it out is a different story.

I haven’t suffered like Joni, but when I face difficulties in life, I know that my response depends not on the circumstances themselves but on what my relationship with God is like at that time. It starts with waking up in the morning and giving thanks and submitting the day to God. Being faithful in those everyday things lays the foundation and prepares the way for having a right response.

There’s a woman at the orphanage where I work, who recently was in a car accident and could have died. She comes to me saying, “I had a near-death experience. I think God is trying to tell me something.” Part of me says “Oh sure, that’s what they all say. She will get back to normal life and forget.” But the other part of me says, “She has heard the Gospel. I have been praying for her. Maybe this experience is a way for that Word to come to fruition."

Speaking of trials…the mosquitoes have arrived! :)

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