12/17/2019 8:44:46 AM
Prepare the Way for the Lord...in Suffering
Two weeks ago, we talked about the benefit of meditation. Last week, we talked about the benefit of prayer. This week, we are talking about the benefit of ... suffering. I don't know that we normally think of suffering as a benefit. But consider this quote from Martin Luther, “[Suffering] is the touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom.”
It’s hard to imagine that we would want suffering in our life, but in Psalm 119 the composer tells us that our God is so good that he brings us good through suffering. And so as we prepare the way for our Lord’s birth, today we zero in on this idea of suffering to help us see and experience God’s goodness to us.
Psalm 119 says this, “I used to wander off until you disciplined me, but now I closely follow your word. My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees” (v.67,71). This refers to suffering that God allows us to go through, suffering that he sends us. The Latin word for suffering is related to the English word “tension” and it refers to an internal agonized tension.
So what does that suffering look like? This is NOT the suffering from being in a car accident, or breaking your leg, or losing a job, or getting cancer. This is spiritual warfare. This is the battle on the inside of a Christian. It’s the attacks to your faith in Jesus. Sometimes it comes in form of doubt, sometimes in the form of temptations, sometimes in the form of fear, sometimes in the form of feeling unworthy, sometimes in form of feeling tormented or in anguish.
And the stronger you are in your faith in Jesus and your commitment to serve him – the more you go to him in meditation and prayer – the more suffering you will face. It makes perfect sense: in an effort to win souls over to his side, the devil leashes attack after attack on the only people he doesn’t yet have, believers. And the stronger we get in our faith, the more the devil will intensity his attacks. So you see that these attacks of internal suffering are both from God and from the devil. Do you remember the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? Paul said it “was given to him” …by God. And yet he called it a “messenger of Satan.” That explains why the Bible uses the same word for “tempt” and “test.” What God allows as a test for our faith is at the same time a temptation to sin that the devil uses. And what the devil uses to tempt us to sin is something that God can use as a test for our faith in him and our love for him.
Recently a very strong, committed Christian said to me, “Pastor I have a confession: I sometimes have doubts.” And I said, “First of all, you are completely forgiven, and your doubts don’t change the fact that you are a child of God. And secondly, we all are attacked with doubts. They’re just different for different people.” That’s part of the suffering—this inner, spiritual suffering. The stronger you are… the more it will happen. If you haven’t faced it yet, you will. When it happens we realize that we need to go back to his Word and prayer, back to meditating on his word and pleading in our prayers for the Holy Spirit’s help.
So now can you understand how this internal suffering can actually be a blessing? Our Savior wants us to go back to his word over and over again to find our strength, comfort, power, and peace. We can compare this to something we’ve all experienced: growing up. When you were growing up – or for your kids right now – remember the times when your parents allowed you to struggle with something to make you a better person? Or a coach pushed you to work at a skill to make you a better player? Or a teacher corrected you in order to make you better at learning a life skill? At the time, those moments seemed difficult; maybe you even said, “this is a hard!” or even “This hurts!” But the person who cared about you, loved you enough to let you struggle or even made you struggle for your own benefit. Your parents or coaches or teachers wanted something good for you. That’s exactly what God does when he allows the spiritual warfare in your soul. The internal suffering or struggle or pain or angst of a believer will drive us back to him.
And why does that happen? As we continue to struggle in life, we learn again and again that we aren't able to handle life on our own - which is something we don't like to admit. And God knows that about us. He knows we would rather go through life without him if we had the choice. So he allows us to struggle and suffer to remind us how foolish that type of thinking is. He lets us see our weakness. He lets us hurt so that we more quickly remember to look for the many promises of his help that we find in his Word.
Notice how the psalm writer said it, “I used to wander off until you disciplined me, but now I closely follow your word. My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees” (v.67,71). This is what God brings us through suffering; he takes us back to his Word. Jesus’ brother James wrote in his New Testament book, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
So as we prepare our hearts, our minds, our souls for celebrating another Christmas, we have to be aware of what is happening to us. We have to be aware that we have been called out of the darkness of sin and unbelief into God’s family of believers. And as such, we will face all kinds internal struggle and suffering. As this Advent season turns into Christmas, prepare yourself for attacks – maybe doubt or apathy or fear or the temptation to leave behind who you really are and what the God of grace has done for. These are all from the devil, part of his mountain of lies. But your heavenly Father allows them so that you would go back to the Word of God you’ve been meditating on and go back to your Savior in prayer. That’s where you’ll be safe.
Realize that the real battle that we need to fight is inside of us. It’s not in the church – about personalities or preferences or even how we do things. The real battle that we need to fight is inside of us. It’s not in society – about laws the government should or shouldn’t make, or social agendas that groups who don’t believe in Jesus are pushing, or whether or not the Ten Commandments are displayed somewhere or whether or not a Christian prayer is spoken in a secular setting. See the real battle and put your effort and energy in fighting where we need to fight.
Again tonight I’d like to share with you a couple practical suggestions for just these next seven days. When you realize the internal suffering going on inside of you….first of all, go back to your baptism (anyone nine years old or under can just look at the baptismal font or even walk up here after church because right here is where you were baptized). You are a redeemed, forgiven, claimed child of God. Secondly, believe the blessing – our Triune God will bless you and he will keep you. He will shine his face on you and smile on you with his grace. And he will give you peace. You see, Jesus has won the victory, starting in Bethlehem – that was a victory for you and me! – and going all the way to the cross – that was a victory for you and me! – and the tomb – that was a victory for you and me! – then to hell’s gates and finally to God’s right hand in a powerful new victorious life – all victories for you and me! Those victories are yours! And finally, connect your struggle and your suffering to the Christmas account, written down in the Bible for us to read and re-read, to study and re-study, to ponder and re-ponder and to enjoy and re-enjoy. God became one of us – himself willing to suffer whatever was necessary – to keep his rescue promise. And if he would do that for you and me, he will certainly take care of anything and everything else that we ever need.
You are and will be victorious in your struggles/suffering this Christmas…with the newborn Savior King, the Word made flesh, who won the victory for you and says not even pain, struggle, doubts, fear, or any of Satan’s temptations will hurt you. We will be victorious because all that inner suffering will drive us back to the Word, in meditation and prayer. Amen.