We are human, humans suffer, for that matter, all creation has been “suffering” since the fall of man. You know, that split second in the Garden of Eden when man (Adam and Eve) thought they were smarter than God. Was it Satan’s (the serpent) deceit or man’s curiosity, or maybe a combination of both, that led them to take a bite of the fanciful fruit on the Tree Of Knowledge? At what point did Adam and Eve actually become “sinful man” and give in to temptation. If everything “pre-tree” was perfect and without sin then how were they tempted to sin?
Those of us who believe that God is a god of grace, long-suffering and willing that none should perish, also believe that He gives man free will, the freedom to choose good or evil, the freedom to accept Him or deny Him. Adam and Eve had that freedom in the garden…except for that one tempting little tree. So again, was it curiosity, which I think is not necessarily sin when handled properly, or was it the pure allure of Satan’s seductive slithering? Or, could it have purely been a selfish desire to have the same knowledge as God or to want more; to have that which was out of reach? Man wanted what he couldn’t have; he wanted “yes” when God had said “no.”
So it is with us now. It starts as little children and continues until death. The “I gotta haves” and the “latest and greatest” syndrome is in full control of our lives at every turn. While we know this is true with most everyone when life is just hummin’ along, I’ve discovered another time when this self-centeredness rears its ugly head and that’s in the midst of trials or suffering. As odd as it sounds I believe we can be the most selfish during those times and not even mean to be that way. It creeps in slowly but undeniably, it’s there.
I believe this is a disease within a disease, an erroneous error within a trial, a jagged way of looking at life during the most difficult situations.
Okay, by now you might be starting to think I’m being hyper-critical but bear with me and I’ll give you some concrete examples that hopefully will open your eyes to some of the same things I’ve seen through my journey. Maybe, the Lord will convict you, as He has convicted me, of some of these same selfish motives and ideas. If not, then just let me share with you my perspective and you can move on, I promise there will be no hard feelings.
With all of the “qualifying” out of the way, here it goes.
How many times, in the midst of a crisis, trial or some other calamity has your first thought been, “I wonder if anybody knows about this?” Or maybe, “I’ve got to let everyone know about what’s going on!” Yes, we do want those who love and care about us involved and informed about our situation so they can pray, or minister or bring some food by, or just be there. However, I believe there are degrees or stages to this and sometimes “getting the word out” can quickly turn into “Hey! Look at what I’m going through!” “Remember me, poor little ‘ol me!?”
The Bible says the following about how to handle our concerns and anxieties when we are in the midst of a trial or tough situation.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. [I Peter 5:7 NIV emphasis added]
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
[Philippians 4:6-7 NIV emphasis added]
When we’re in the middle of a crisis we all tend to start to panic to have the “what if” thoughts, or the “is this the end?” thoughts. It’s only human to think of yourself, your situation, your issues, your disease, your comfort, your needs…you get the idea. But I want to propose something, what if during our crisis or trial we focused on the needs of others while at the same time turning our focus to the Lord Jesus Christ and what He wants to accomplish in our lives through whatever it is we are facing? Radical? To quote Sarah Palin, “you betcha!” Needed? Absolutely!
Nothing can hone in your heart in to the presence of God quicker than taking your eyes off your needs and looking after the needs of others, even when you might have even greater needs. I heard a friend of mine the other day say, “no matter what you are going through someone is facing something greater somewhere.” And they were right on the mark! What made my friend’s statement even more poignant was the fact that they were walking through a very tough time themselves!
So I’m laying around the other day in the hospital having some of the same thoughts I mentioned earlier and God cracked me over the head as if to say, “Wake up! Who gave you permission to whine and moan and be selfish about what you’re going through?” Sure, you’re hurting but so are a LOT other people. What good does have a little selfish pity party accomplish? Minister to them I heard Him say. Encourage others in the midst of what you’re going through. After all, aren’t we all pilgrims going through this journey of life together?
I believe we have a Biblical mandate to come alongside those who are hurting and help them stand up. We can draw strength through each other. The Bible says when we are weak, God is strong, that His strength is perfected in weakness. I think the horizontal version of this is true too. We can provide strength for our fellow brother, or sister, by sharing our journey with them, by not being selfish. Provide encouragement, share heartache, share disappointments, don’t dwell on them, and always point to the hope that Jesus Christ and Scripture offer, but be there for them!
Don’t back down or shy away from trials, the bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” [James 1:2-3 NIV]
And that “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” [2 Corinthians 4:17 emphasis added]
You know, as strange as it may sound, I’m actually starting to come to the place where I welcome trials and crisis.
I read a portion of a devotional book I’m using the other day that said this about trials in our lives; “I (Jesus) can bring good out of everything I allow in your life, but much of what I do is far beyond your understanding. When you are suffering and your troubles seem endless, remember I am tenderly present in your afflictions. Instead of lamenting the way things are, search for me in the wreckage of adversity.” (From Jesus Lives, Sarah Young, Published by Thomas Nelson, 2009)
Another passage in this devotional book that “sealed the deal” for me concerning this paradox of selfishness in the midst of suffering is the following; “Another way to expand this capacity is to let My Love flow from you to others. I am so pleased when you do this that I flood you with more of My living Presence. As you continue this blessed adventure with Me, I fill you with ever-increasing volumes of unfailing Love.” [From Jesus Lives, Sarah Young, Published by Thomas Nelson, 2009)
Which I believe these ever-increasing volume of Love God fills us with are meant to overflow into the lives of others, to be shared as we continue along our personal journey.
We, you and I, can be agents of God’s grace during suffering rather than asylums of selfishness. Accept and receive the prayers of others with graciousness and thanksgiving. Let others minister to you with food, or other acts of kindness, but don’t forget to go the extra mile and reach out with all you have to others who are walking through the valley of darkness or facing the harsh winds of adversity. Let whatever it is that the Lord is pouring into your life flow freely into the lives of others. Be a pipeline, not a cesspool!
You’ll never know what one glimpse into the light of your situation might do for someone else who is walking blindly through their darkest night.