Devotional

The Grace in Suffering

395“Your wounds will be your authority”

The words, though spoken softly, fell with such weight as to leave an indelible mark on me. Though I had only met her a few minutes prior, her warmth and generosity left me feeling as though I had known her for a lifetime.

The convent was quite simple, not at all what I would have pictured (my knowledge only coming from the movies). A quiet property in the countryside, beautiful in its simplicity, a small chapel and a prayer garden, laden with symbolism. It was amongst a guided walk through this garden that Sister Anastasia spoke these six words.

In the first section of the garden, we encountered a placard that read:

“My father, I do not understand you, but I trust you.”

A simple prayer that in some ways echoed the words of Christ in the garden: “not my will, but your will be done”. From here, she went on to explain the beauty inherent in suffering, the opportunity that it provides for us to identify with Christ, and she referenced several scriptures the way one references wisdom from a respected friend, with a familiar reverence.

Since that afternoon, I have been unable to shake these words from my heart, my spirit. They have echoed profoundly throughout many situations and conversations I have found myself in, and have shaped this understanding of both suffering and grace.

This whole idea of our wounds being our authority portrays a beautiful picture of this gift of grace: our suffering is redeemed.

Grace does not guarantee smooth seas, rather, it guarantees that even the darkest of storms can become a birthplace of hope.

Our areas of weakness and brokenness are often the areas that we most tangibly see God at work in our lives. We reach the end of ourselves and must allow His love to redeem us and restore us.  Our suffering, whether brought on ourselves, or as the result of living in a fallen world, can be redeemed. Through this redemption, we can in turn be a blessing to others as we are able to offer them hope in the midst of their suffering, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 MSG)

Suffering is redeemed in that it becomes a vehicle for the healing grace of God to reach a broken world.

Perhaps the beauty of grace in suffering is that it is no respecter of the cause of suffering. I often have an easier time accepting grace for things that happened where I did not have control, than for the sufferings brought on by my own mistakes and failings; however, grace redeems all suffering and has the power to transform it into a seed. If I surrender my pride and choose to accept this gift of grace, I have the opportunity to watch as God takes it, transforms it, sows it into the ground, and brings about a great harvest from the very things that seemed to be my undoing.

I love the example of Peter, the disciple who first proclaims Jesus as the Messiah, then denies Him after His arrest. Jesus graciously restores him, and in the end he saw the “birth” of the church, and had the opportunity to proclaim Jesus as Lord to multitudes. I don’t know if it is significant or not, but I do find it interesting that he denied Jesus 3 times, and yet on the day recounted in Acts 2:14-42, they saw 3000 added to their number.

It appears as though this grace not only restored him, but propelled him into his future. The wounds of denial, when redeemed, became the authority for his proclamation.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul compares himself to a jar of clay that contains a great treasure. Perhaps our wounds are like cracks or chips in these jars – testimonies that allow the glory of God to shine even more clearly:

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NLT)

Grace transforms these dark and trying places into beacons of light, and we then have the opportunity to come alongside and help illuminate the way home for those who still find themselves lost in the dark. The question then becomes: do I fight the process of suffering, hoping to ease my discomfort, or do I also choose to pray “my Father, I do not understand, but I trust you”, and submit to this transformative process? We have the promise that no matter what we face now, it will never compare to what lay in store for us in eternity:

16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, MSG)

May we not be ashamed of where we have come from, or the battle scars we bear, but may we see the beauty of redemption and the glory of God made manifest through them.

Devotional

Brave

BRAVE

1. Adjective: Ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage

2. Verb: Endure or face unpleasant conditions or behaviour, without showing fear


On several occasions over the past few months, the word ‘brave’ has emerged – in a series of messages, as a descriptor of my response to situations, in song lyrics; it appears this concept of bravery is everywhere.

To be honest, I had never given much thought to bravery. The general definition I would have provided is to not be afraid, or to do something without fear. As it has appeared numerous times in recent days however, I decided it was worth giving a bit more consideration… Starting with the real definition.

Upon considering the actual definition, I have discovered, or been reminded, that it does not mean to face things without fear, but in spite of fear. I hadn’t understood that even when you couldn’t choose whether or not you went through something, you could choose your stance.

I have long known that even when you can’t control the circumstance, you can choose your attitude – something that I feel is similar to your stance, although not the same. Stance resonates more strongly, and I believe this concept of bravery is linked to one’s stance.

In life, we often do not get to choose the storms we face. Sure, some are of our own making, some are the results of the broken humanity of which we are a part, and some are just the ebbs and flows of life. Challenges are inevitable. What I can choose is to either accept them with grace, or accept them begrudgingly (choices of attitude); I can also choose whether I submit to the process, or whether I fight the process (stance).

When we choose to stand up, to engage the process, that is bravery. To actively participate in the process, not passively ride it out. To choose to go ahead, when you know it won’t be easy, and at times it may not even make sense, and yet in the midst of this, to trust it will be worth the pain.

The question emerges, do we face the pain and fear head on, or do we fight the pain? I have heard that the best way to reduce pain is to actually lean in to it. Contrary to our natural inclinations to run from or pull away from the pain, leaning in is to allow it to do it’s work. The pain is able to give birth to something, to bring healing. To fight this pain is to hold back, to increase the tension that is faced, and to resist a natural, and inevitable, life bringing process.

There is a song with a lyric “you make me brave, you call me out beyond the shore into the waves” (Brave – Bethel). I am reminded, when I hear this, of Peter, who, in the midst of the storm, had the courage to face the fear an the uncertainty, and walk on the water:

24-26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

29-30 He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

32-33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”

(Matthew 14:24-33 MSG)

We, like Peter, are invited into the storm – and in that moment we are marked, we are changed. Our faith, at times, may falter and waiver, but we have a Saviour who does not hesitate to rescue us. Though our faith may fail us, we have still chosen to step out and embrace the pain or fear; to walk on the water.  This is to be brave.

Bravery changes us, but not only us, it changes others. Our challenge, our storm, rarely affects only us individually. There are people with us, in our boat; there are onlookers on the shore who see what we are in the midst of; and our courage, our bravery, has the ability to impact them. When we choose to face the fear head on, those who are with us see the incredible love and rescue of this Heavenly Father who invites us to walk with Him, and picks us up should we start to lose our courage.

The disciples, those who had walked with Jesus, after witnessing this event, worshipped him. They had a revelation of Him as God’s Son, because of what they saw. Like the disciples, those in our “boats” will also see the power of God at work as we step out, and they too will be drawn to worship Him.

May we ever choose to step out bravely in the storms of life, confident that our Father is right beside us, and that He will enable us to stand on top of the very storm that threatened to drown us.