Do you ever feel alone?
Are you discouraged in your faith?
Is prayer difficult or embarassing?
Have you been doubting your salvation, god’s faithfulness, or Jesus who we call Lord?
We often get sidetracked, we experience seasons of fear, of doubt, and of sorrow. The bible tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrow, through the words of the prophet Isaiah. We go through difficulties, we go through pain. Some of you have fallen ill, others have been injured, or had people die. My friends, this is not new, or extraordinary, it’s painful, but St. Peter tells us that this is what the world of Christians and even non-Christians is enduring.
Sometimes we experience what Christians have come to call the “Dark night of the soul.”
Our choice is what to do with the pain we encounter. Do we participate in the sufferings of Christ the way Paul did? Or do we save ourselves, and lose everything in the process? Some of us are suffering great trials and temptations, but the question is, what will you do with those trials?
Do you see that God has chosen you in the midst of this and that His love is leading you through?
We don’t often think about what it means to be chosen by God except when we talk about once saved, always saved. I think that’s a problem. If we look at Jesus, we see that the man most chosen by God in all of history, Jesus of Nazareth, suffers more than anyone else. We have to see being chosen by God as difficult. Here’s why: Being chosen by God does not mean we get to have a suffering-free existence, on the contrary, it means we will surely suffer. Jesus, not paul, not any other man, God himself enfleshed among us tells us that no servant is greater than his master, and we too shall suffer, like he did.
Why? is it a matter of cause and effect; say this prayer welcome to suffering? no. It’s a matter of what being chosen by God looks like, and being chosen by God looks like cross and resurrection, not blessing and excusability. There’s no such thing as Christianity without suffering, because suffering is one of those things God calls us to endure faithfully. Why?
We are the body of Christ in the world and only He can bear it all and redeem it all. We are a reminder of his presence among us in the spirit and that Spirit which raised him from the dead is the same spirit that drove him into the wilderness.
What I’m saying is, if we want to bring the Kingdom of God the way Jesus did, we need to do what God requires of us – the cross – and trust that he, in his time, will fulfill his promise – resurrect us.
I wanted to set all that up, so I could tell a story:
1 kings 17.8-24
The Widow of Zarephath
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ 10So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.’ 11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ 12But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ 13Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.14For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ 15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of theLord that he spoke by Elijah.
Elijah Revives the Widow’s Son
17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’ 19But he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?’ 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’ 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, ‘See, your son is alive.’ 24So the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.’
I have no doubt about the faithfulness of this community, and I love you all very much. I know that you all suffer with one another, and that you all stand together, and I have come to appreciate it very much. Our little community of faith is in some choppy waters, we’ve seen lean times, and we might feel like things are not looking up. Either for ourselves, or for our group as a whole.
Sometimes, we face difficulty not seeing God in it, but I want to tell you guys to imagine this as opportunity, and as grace. I heard a quote last night that called to mind and forced me to inspect the way i look at life. A man was talking to a pastor friend of mine and said, “you know, this whole jobless thing gives me an opportunity to focus on my salvation and walk more than ever before.” Will you see the difficulties God is leading you through become failures in faithfulness, or moments of healthy suffering?
For he had graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well . . . Phillipians 1:29. The thing is, the height of the Christian life is not running about with miracles, or being able to evangelize the world, no. The height of the Christian life is being able to ascend Golgotha in the footsteps of the rabbi.
God hates death and suffering, the bible tells us that God’s last enemy is death, but the only way God deals with death is through His and our crosses, and the resurrection that follows in His time, and according to his promise. God redeems his creation from the power of death by his own crucifixion and resurrection.
Sometimes, God will ask for a sacrifice in the middle of a famine, and if you’re not working out your faith in such a way that this strikes you as possible, and that you are well able to do it you will falter. This woman like some of you today, was on her last leg, feeling that it was all over. When we open our eyes and look up to heaven, do we see a threatening sky? Or do we see the one whom they have pierced? Sometimes, we’re building funeral altars for ourselves before it’s time. We can’t give up, even when all hope is lost, keep on hoping, with faith that the God we call father will appropriately wreck all our preconceptions about Him and prove to be faithful.
The thing about the Chrsitian God is that He himself is the answer to the problem of evil, he bears it with us, beside us. He never stopped being a man, he is still a man at the right hand of the Father. He endured as a man, and forever sits as the chief intercessor. If you feel like no one is praying for you, know that God himself is praying for you. It’s in the book of Romans.
The night might be dark, the pain might be unbearable, but the ability to endure the darkness of our experiences is often just a preparation for great and marvelous light. And it will not come about through our own power, but by the power of Him who works in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
I wanna close with this psalm.
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
That’s the character of our Lord. We believe Jesus is God because look at this text, look at Isaiah 61, which Jesus quotes at the beginning of his sermon career in the gospel of Luke. Does this prayer match up to who you think God is? When you hear the word God do you think the crucified Jesus? or just the father? Do you think the praying, interceding spirit, or just an idea of someone on a throne?
The God of the bible cares deeply about human affairs, and cares even for the most neglected and outside, even widows in pagan lands and orphans who have died.