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How Do I Find God While Suffering?

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
March 29, 2022 10:00 pm

How Do I Find God While Suffering?

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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March 29, 2022 10:00 pm

How do you appreciate God's gifts through loss and pain? Author Joe Rigney urges listeners to press into the pain while suffering to obtain a deeper connection to the Lord and realize their true gifts..

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All I have is Christ. That song, we love singing that song at my church. All I have is Christ. Do you mean that?

All. That's a big word. You say that, but what if I take your leg? Is it still true? That song you sang at church, did you mean it? And so suffering is the way how we determine whether we really treasure God above everything or whether that's just words we say. Whatever we say about this subject has to be able to face the fact that every good thing that you have will one day be lost. You'll be lost. How do you think about that? How do you orient towards that reality? And so suffering does press on those deep places of our soul because it shows how precious the things of Earth can be to us. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most.

I'm Ann Wilson and I'm Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So one of the places I've experienced God the most is not on the mountaintop, it's in the valley. True for you?

Absolutely. I have felt- Why did you pause? I was wondering what that valley would be for you, but I think that's when we have needed Him the most and when I have felt Him the most. I mean, I remember in college going in for my second knee surgery and after the first one, I said, I'm quitting football if this ever happens again.

I'm on a scholarship. It's my life at the time and laying there in Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Indiana, mad at God, not understanding what's going on. I look back now and realize it was one of my deepest worship moments with God. It didn't feel like it at the time, but I experienced Him in a way I probably never had before and it was through suffering, you know, and you've experienced that as well. Yeah, I think when my sister passed away and she was in her 40s, I mean, there was a part of me that couldn't understand, but there was another part of me that needed God so desperately that I had to draw so close because I had nowhere else to go. Yeah, and we're going to talk a little bit about, you know, where do you find God in your life?

And suffering is one of those places. It's sort of the place you don't always expect to find Him, but we've got Joe Rigney back in the studio. Joe, welcome back. It's good to be here. Thanks for having me. And you're much more than a pastor in Minneapolis, president of Bethlehem College and Seminary.

You sort of like to plug that a little bit. I do. I love talking about the school. It's a great privilege to be the president and professor there.

We seek to offer an education in serious joy, which is related to what you just brought up there about life is hard. Yeah. Your dad. I'm a dad. Your husband. I'm a husband. Baseball coach.

Baseball coach. I wear a lot of different hats. Yeah. You know, I have to kind of keep them straight sometimes. I don't know anybody else that's tackled what you tackled, but in your book, Strangely Bright, Can You Love God and Enjoy This World, you go after that tension between living for the supremacy of Christ in our life and loving things of this world, and that's not a bad thing. It's a tension that we can actually balance. You know, when we talk about this whole topic of how do we love the world, love the things of this earth in a way that honors God, on the one hand, we want to enjoy God in everything and everything in God.

I talk about that as the integrated approach. They're together. You know, you don't have to choose. You love football for God's sake.

You love baseball for God's sake. You love your food for God's sake, for the glory of God. And then there's this comparative approach where you separate the gifts and the giver, and it's kind of a gut check moment. If you had to choose between all of the gifts or God himself, which one do you want? And we do this in worship when we sing All I Have is Christ. That song, we love singing that song at my church. All I have is Christ. Do you mean that? All.

That's a big word. Or, you know, David, there's nothing I desire beside you. I count everything as rubbish compared to knowing Jesus. Those kind of passages, we want to sing those. Suffering is when God makes us put our money where our mouth is.

You say that, but what if I take your leg? Is it still true? That song you sang at church, did you mean it? Suffering is the involuntary way, we don't choose it, but it's the way that we test, do you love God more than, fill in the blank. Some people just heard that and thought, does God kick our legs out? Is that God?

He absolutely does. Because? Because he loves us, and he wants us to have more of him. There are things that he does in our souls in loss that he does not do anywhere else. And all through the Bible, whether you run from a story like Joseph, all the evil that happened to Joseph, the brothers selling him, Potiphar's wife lying about him, getting thrown in prison. At the end of his life, he says, you meant evil against me. God meant it for good. God sent me here. God had purposes in this.

Job, same thing, right? Satan, sure, Satan's doing it and all of these people are robbing him and everything else. But who was ultimately behind all of that? God was.

Why? Because God loved Job and he wanted to show him more of himself. And so suffering is the way how we determine whether we really treasure God above everything or whether that's just words we say. When I was writing this book, there's a funny story when I was first getting into this project. I don't know how much your listeners are familiar with the ministry of John Piper. John's a friend and a mentor.

He's the chancellor of our school and has been one of the main influences on my life. And I was working on this book by the time it was a sermon. I was excited about it so I was telling him, but we enjoy God in everything, we enjoy everything in God and all this kind of stuff. And he's listening to me very patiently and then he looks at me and he says, until you die. That's what he said? That's what he said.

He just looked at me. That sounds like John. It sounds. It's a very Piper thing to say. And it was true.

Like, that's actually true. Yes, all of these things are good and you're going to die and you're going to lose them. You're going to lose them. And so whatever we say about this subject has to be able to face the fact that every good thing that you have will one day be lost. You'll be lost. How do you think about that?

How do you orient towards that reality? And so suffering does press on those deep places of our soul because it shows how precious the things of earth can be to us. And I don't mean just like in idolatrous ways like, oh, you know, somebody breaks into my house and steals my stuff and oh, that's sad.

We should. The Bible talks about rejoicing when your properties plundered because you have hope in God. That's a good thing. But I'm talking about the ones like when the baby dies or the family breaks up and just the hard, whether it's from sin or just natural suffering, any of those sort of situations. Or the brokenness of the world. The brokenness of the world. When that lands on us, we live in a broken and cursed world, when that comes crashing down upon us, the cancer returns and you have to go, what is God wanting? And it's God is trying to take you deeper through the pain. Have you experienced that?

A hundred percent. All the time. Both in my personal life, but then also, you know, I'm a pastor. I shepherd students and just the stuff that just comes, just wave after wave after wave. That's how it feels sometimes.

Just wave after wave after wave. And at some point you actually start to laugh because you're like, I am absolutely wrecked. Last week we had our pastors conference and one of the pastors who was speaking was Kenny Stokes. He's the pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church. His message was on my grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness. It was just, here's the passage and here's story after story after story after story of the way that God just wrecks us and then his grace is sufficient.

It's just underneath there. So yes, I've got all kinds of pain. We all do.

We all do. You know, as you said, as a pastor, just as a fellow human walking this planet, we hear stories on both sides of suffering. You hear, I always used to say, trials will make you better or bitter.

The choice is yours. And so we have a choice in that. Some become better and closer to Christ and experience the goodness of God, even in the evilness of a suffering moment, and others walk away.

What determines? How do you experience what you've been describing, hard times with a good God. Some people don't experience that.

That's right. It does present us with a choice. When we think about this as pastors, our pastoral team is part of our calling is to try to prepare people for the moment when they need it. I don't want to be trying to, you know, manufacture the big God theology in the moment of suffering.

That's not the time. I want to lay deep roots in the Bible about God works all things together for good. And He's for you.

He's not against you. And this is ultimately for your joy. I want living is Christ, dying is gain.

I want that to be the flavor and the ballast that they have so that when the storm comes, they have it. So part of it is sometimes people don't have it. Their theology is so superficial. It's so trivial. It's all sunshine and roses and lollipops.

And they have no category for deep suffering and God's purposes in it. And so as a pastor, part of my goal is to preach the Bible, teach the Bible in such a way that there is a depth of faith and grounding in the grace of God that is stabilizing. God is my very present help in times of trouble. I will not fear that the earth give way, that the water roar and foam, that the mountains be thrown to the heart of the sea.

I won't fear because He's my very present help. I want that before the storm comes. I remember hearing Tony Evans on the radio probably 30 years ago talk about, you don't see the cement guys pouring the foundation in the storm. In the tornado.

Yeah, he said they're pouring it on that day that's sunny. And I remember going home thinking, I mean, I was young and I thought, I better start pouring my foundation when the times are good and I can go deep and lay those great foundations. It's kind of like the building your house on the sand or the rock in Matthew 7. And so that made me think I need to be in the word every day. I need to be in fellowship every day.

And so when we're faced with that trial, my sister's death, I told Dave, like, I have enough foundation. Like it's rocking and the storm is just pummeling me. And you have all kinds of questions going through your head like, why? What is the purpose?

I don't see any point to this. And yet I know because I've been in the word. God, you are good. You have a purpose. You love me. And I can trust you. But you're right.

If we don't have that foundation poured, it gets rocky. Well, so I mean, one of the texts that we quote a lot is homework. I'm a professor.

I can give homework. In Habakkuk chapter 3, he says, though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food. Though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.

I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Now, here's the homework. You should at some point take an inventory and go, what's your fig tree and fruit and olive and flocks?

Put your things in place of his. Because you probably don't have fig trees or flocks. If you say, you know, there's no herds in the stalls, you say, that's just Tuesday.

That's just a normal, I never have herds in the stalls. What are yours, Joe? Like if you had to go through, what would you say? I mean, it would be things like, though my kids die in a car wreck. That's what it would be. Though my wife get cancer. It would be that sort of thing.

Though my father get dementia and Parkinson's like he did. It's preparing the soul for that moment and saying, if that happens, what am I going to do? And I want to say, I want to be like Habakkuk. I will take joy in the God of my salvation. That's what I want. When we talk at Bethlehem College and Seminary about education in serious joy, that's what we mean.

Because that joy is not light and trivial and worthless. It's substantive. It's a kind of thing that storms beat on. Use that image from Matthew 7. The storms beat on it, but it's a rock.

And so I want to build that into my life and into the lives of those around me because that's coming for all of us. I'm guessing there's a listener right now. They're in it. You know, if we could even look at their life, the storm is raging. Their walls have been beat down. They're listening and feeling like, I don't think I can muster up rejoicing in this.

What do I do? What does love look like when the object of love is being taken? So you've got someone who's dying of an illness or something. And what it looks like is tears. It looks like grief. It looks like weeping and wailing and saying, why?

That's what it looks like. One of the quotes I came across from my dad was, it hurts just as much as it's worth. It hurts as much as it's worth. In other words, pain, the pain, how much it hurts is a measure of the value that you place on whatever it is.

And it's like, wow, my dad was really valuable to me. That's why it hurts so bad. And so on the one hand, you don't run from the pain.

That's part of it. Lament. You lament, you grieve. And I think this is where, again, the Bible is such an encouragement. You should grieve like Bible people grieve. Which is like, tear your clothes, pour ashes on your head, and cry for seven days. That's what you do. That's biblical grief.

You've got the Psalms that are just, how long? Where are you? Why aren't you here? That's what faith does in those kind of circumstances.

So you don't have to just stoically shove it down and act like it doesn't hurt as much as it does. That's just a lie. I think this happens. I know it happens in our circles.

I don't know how widespread it is around in other churches or other communities. When God is taking something precious, you can feel like, I feel guilty because of how much it hurts. You feel that guilt. Because if I really loved God, I wouldn't grieve this way.

And I just want to say, no, no. If you really love God and you love his gifts and you're saying thank you for the gifts when they're there, when they get taken, you're going to grieve. Think about Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. He didn't go because he loved them.

So he didn't go heal him. And then when he shows up and they're like, you know, if you'd have been here. Where were you? I mean, both of them come and they say the same question. If you'd have been here, my brother wouldn't have died. What do you think they had been talking about for four days? What had been the conversation in that room?

And it was just that question. If he'd have been here, if he'd have been here. And then what does Jesus do? He's troubled in spirit and he weeps. He weeps with them five minutes before he brings Lazarus out.

He didn't just kind of stroll in there with a smile on his face. I got this. He says, I know it hurts. Death is awful. It's awful.

I hate it. I'm about to conquer it. I'm the resurrection of the life. And so to the person who feels the loss right now, I want to say God does have purposes here. He's not distant from this.

He's in this. And you're only going to find him if you press into the pain and go down and you meet Jesus, who is the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Would you say that's the same for the person longing for something that maybe will never happen, like a child?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's different kinds of suffering, right? You have the suffering of loss. Like my dad died. I had him and I lost him. And then you've got the suffering of longing.

I want to have a husband or a wife, couple who wants to have children. I'm longing for those things and God's not giving what I want him to give. And it's like, it hurts as much as it's worth. Go to him with it and pray and let him be your ultimate comfort. He's the God of all comfort. That's one of his names in the Bible.

It's a great name. He's the God of all comfort. And he comforts us in our affliction so that we can comfort those in any affliction with the comfort that we have received from Christ. It's interesting how you process that because it's so healthy. Because I think often we've been taught, or we think, if I lament about the loss of a relationship or a thing or a certain future, or like Ann said, I lament that I'm not going to be able to get what I hoped for, a child, a marriage, whatever. That means I value that thing or that person too much because I'm lamenting it. And you're saying, no, no, no, no, no, that's actually healthy.

It's okay. It's actually the process to making sure Christ is supreme in your life. That's right. It's bring the heartache to God. Cast the burden on him.

That's what it tells us to do with that pain and that suffering and that loss and that longing is to bring it to God and lay it before his feet. God's not threatened by his gifts, right? He's not threatened by his gifts, which means he's not threatened when you really want them and it hurts because you lost them or it hurts because you're not getting them. He's not threatened by that. The danger comes. You can commit idolatry. Like you think about Job's wife.

What was the problem? She experienced the same loss, horrible loss, 10 children gone, all the stuff gone. And Job says, the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. He worships through tears. And she says, curse God and die. And so it's like, so you can sin in grief.

This is the thing in the modern world where people think pain and grief and loss is an excuse and it's not an excuse. But it's rightly channeling all of that pain and bringing it to him and saying, God, this is too much for me. I need your grace to be sufficient. I need your grace to be sufficient in my weakness and my affliction now. And I would add, don't lament alone.

That's right. Even the biblical examples, they're always with community. And if the community rejects you because you're lamenting, it's the wrong community.

They should be wrapping their arms and saying, I feel your pain, dude. Let me walk with you and point you back as long as it takes. But let's go on that journey together. Well, you've talked about losing your dad. And did you guys have this common bond of baseball?

Yeah, we did. So, you know, my dad died in 2013 after seven or eight years of Alzheimer, Parkinson's. Awful. It's just it's a horrible way to die and to watch someone you love wither. Hard as it was on me, I know it was harder on my mom.

She lost her best friend. I think I say this in the book, like I miss him most on the baseball field. He's my coach, you know, like that was something that we bonded. My brothers and I, we all played baseball.

He coached us. That was like a bonding thing. So now here I am with kids of my own and he's not present to be there. And so it is a thing that like I feel the loss about March, April, May most, even though he died in November.

It's so funny because some people say that's shallow. You know, baseball? It was the place where the relationship was forged and formed. So it's baseball was valuable because my dad's valuable. And baseball is valuable to him because I'm valuable. He loved me.

I loved him. And this was one of the places, not the only, but one of the places where that happened. And it's the same thing has happened with me and my boys. So will you be playing baseball in heaven with your dad? So I have this I have this thing as I do talk about this in the book about how it's a mental imagination thing. And I need to explain it carefully because some people think it's kind of odd, but it's like there's a thing I don't get to have right now, which is dad cheering while I'm coaching and son is playing. And I think that would be a really sweet thing of Earth. That would be really bright. It'd be a happy thing. My father-in-law, my wife's dad, he does that. And it's such it's so glorious. I'm so glad that he's he steps in there to be present. I mean, your whole book's about that.

But that's I mean, I literally went back to a moment of her dad. Yeah. Who's the biggest Cleveland Browns fan in the world. Sitting in Cleveland Stadium. Yeah. I'm on the sideline with the Detroit Lions. We're playing a preseason game there.

And my son's playing for the Lions. So there it is. Yeah. They're sweet. It was like the sweetest moment ever.

Who cares about what happened the game? It was like this thing that we share. And so you've got that with baseball and a dad who's passed.

That's right. And so then I go, well, in heaven, I imagine my dad watching the game that my son's playing and I'm coaching. I imagine the joy I don't get now there. You don't know that's going to happen. It's like, you're right.

I don't. But it's a deep longing. And what the Bible does tell me is eye has not seen.

Ear has not heard. Nor is the mind of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. So I'm just trying to give God a workout. I'm saying, I think this would be a glorious moment. So, Lord, it needs to be either that good or better. And I am happy with better. The goodness and greatness of God, whatever heaven, whatever the new heavens and new earth is like, whatever we're going to be doing is going to far surpass our greatest joys here and our greatest longings here.

No one is going to be disappointed. And so part of what I'm doing there is to say this is a deep pain and therefore it's a deep longing. And therefore I expect, Lord, you've promised you are going to meet it either that way or probably better. That image that you just described, which you end the book with is so well written, is such a great picture of what matters.

Because the things that we enjoy on this earth are the relationships that matter. And so I would just say to the dad, and I know there's a mom listening to her, the husband or wife, don't miss an opportunity today to pour into the relationships that matter most to you. You know, I'm an older dad. Now I'm a grandfather. I can say like that, they're out of your house. I even say this to you, Joe. Your sons are sitting over there.

They're young boys becoming men and your window is closing. And if I could go back and do it again, I would seize more moments. So I would just say, man, don't miss that moment. But these relationships matter.

Go after them hard because God is smiling on those moments. That was David Ann Wilson talking with Joe Rigney on Family Life Today. If you'd like a copy of Joe's book, Strangely Bright, you can grab it online at, or you can give us a call at 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F as in Family, L as in Life, and then the word Today.

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Just me? Right, yeah. In any case, being on the same page about saving for retirement is pretty much always a good thing. CJ Cagle is going to be joining Dave and Ann Wilson to talk through how to make planning for retirement not an opportunity to fight. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you can join us. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. I'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-14 03:35:42 / 2023-05-14 03:47:06 / 11

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