For awhile it was touch-and-go as to whether I would be able to actually attend this year’s Arizona Robert McLaughlin Ministries Bible Conference held at the Doubletree Hotel (about a mile from my house) with all that was going on with my mother, but the Lord worked it out and I not only got to attend every session, but also went to lunch with friends from out-of-town one day and hung around for several fruitful conversations on the other days.
And I was absolutely blown away by the conference’s theme this year: Suffering.
Or, to be more specific, “The positive outlook toward suffering that all Believers can have, depending on their attitude toward that suffering.”
Well, the timing of that subject could hardly be more appropriate. Pastor had mentioned that suffering was going to be the subject some weeks back, but I’d totally forgotten until I sat there in my conference chair and watched the words flash onto the screen. It blew me away. It felt like God speaking directly to me.
And of course He was. Here are some of the lines that especially stood out for me as recorded (and thus sometimes paraphrased) in my notes:
When we’re suffering, we have a desire for a finale — any finale. “God! Just let it stop!” And God said, “No, I won’t let it stop!”
In processing pain, we must identify what thoughts drive us. What thoughts are driving you? Pain and bitterness?
How well are you caring for yourself?
How much are you surrounding yourself with people who are feeding you?
How much power do you give to people who don’t care about you?
You’re not weak when you’re hurting — you’re hurting.
God called me specifically to handle this. And in it I “could see God’s hand in the situation, moving the chess pieces as only He could.
At times it seemed like Bible Doctrine did not help. No. Of course it helped, we just don’t always use it. We let it sit on the shelf while ascribing to the Satanic view of suffering — that it’s punishment.
Or — my thoughts here now — that it’s wrong. That it shouldn’t be. It’s that old concept from Star Wars — something is disturbing the Force. Something is wrong. It must be righted. In fact, that’s pretty much what novel structure is about. You start out writing, showing the protagonist in his status quo, where everything is right or at least comfortable or tolerable. Then you throw in something that stirs everything up, injustice, loss, pain, violence… and from there on the protagonist sets himself to solve the problem and set everything to right.
We watch that pattern unfold in countless movies. Sometimes, the protagonist finds that he cannot set things right because life just isn’t fair. I don’t like those kinds of movies. Sometimes the protag finds that he could set things “right” but the price he’d have to pay is too great, and he decides to live with the new reality, because again, life stinks, really, when you get down to it. I don’t particularly like those kinds of movies either.
Our culture decries any sort of problem, tragedy or suffering. The news is constantly telling us about something that went wrong, and then everyone wrings their hands trying to figure out how to make sure it never happens again.
A little girl, riding a familiar horse in a rodeo parade for the first time is killed in a not-particularly-freakish accident when you consider that horses are involved. Now everyone is investigating! Oooh! How can we avoid this! How can we make sure this never happens again.
A loon guns down a congresswoman and several others in a Safeway parking lot… oooh! How can we make sure this never happens again?! I know! We’ll take away all the guns. We’ll insist that everyone speak nicely to one another and never disagree.
Don’t eat this, don’t do that, don’t go there, make sure you use your seatbelt, get a flu shot, stop smoking… and on and on. Our entire society is suffering-averse. Consider it a blessing? Consider it an honor? Consider it something we need? Are you nuts?
But it is. Adversity plays a major role in our lives, said Pastor Bob last weekend, because suffering is like a parent. How? What responsible parents do for children, suffering does for the adult. Suffering challenges us to learn to use the divine assets God’s given us.
In a way, it’s like learning to play golf by reading a book, or listening to lectures. Maybe even watching others play. That’s all fine and good, and part of the process, but you’ll never really learn to play if you don’t go out and swing that club!
You can say you are ready to die, are not afraid of it at all, since you’ll be going to heaven, meeting your Lord, etc, but until you actually face death, you’ll never know if you are or not.
More than that, one of the most important ways we bring Glory to God is by trusting Him. How can we do that if we never have to endure hardship, uncertainty, loss, pain? What’s the big deal about trusting God is everything is going well? Elisabeth Elliot said, “Faith only works in the dark.” Very true.
Helen Keller said, “Character can’t be developed in ease and quiet. Only in experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.”
And the word of God elevates suffering to the same level of importance of salvation itself. Both are considered a gracious gift.
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”