Gracie has a lovely prayer she learned in pre-school. The interesting thing is that she always prays it “wrong.” The beginning is supposed to be “thank you for this day and all our blessings” but, she prays: “Dear Lord, Thank you for this day, and all our problems…”
I’ve often heard that prayer in the midst of life’s “problems,” and been reminded “to give thanks in all things,” for God “works all things to the good.” Recently my heart was heavy with “problems.” At the height of it Gracie made me a note (with a little help from my best friend) that said this:
God loves you. God knows everything. He is strong. God can care for us and He is Big Enough to handle anything that we need.
I’ve gone back to reread that note in the face of many “problems” since. But today as I was in my prayer time surveying the problems in the lives of those around me, my heart was breaking. You see, I have a confession. I don’t really have any problems. I have a charmed life. The truth is I am stunned by it… and by all the suffering that’s swirling in the lives around me— because there are problems… and then there are PROBLEMS. There is suffering… and then there is SUFFERING. Are you following me? I’ve had problems, and suffering… but I have never had PROBLEMS and SUFFERING. No major disturbance has happened to me in 42 years of life. I’ve never been unemployed. I’ve never been in a serious accident. I’ve never lost my home. I’ve never been abandoned by a loved one and I’ve never been attacked, though I know several people who have faced all of those trials. I’ve never been seriously ill or had to care for someone else who was; yet I’ve watched others walk through it. I’ve never experienced divorce or even had a significant bump in my marriage, but I personally know people who struggle heartbreakingly with their spouses. I have never experienced a miscarriage, but I don’t have enough fingers to count how many of my girlfriends have wept over lost pregnancies. I’ve never had a child with dire health issues, but I know people who’ve paced the floors of P-ICUs. Certainly, people I love have died or been ill, but I’ve never had a dearest friend die. I have not even lost any of my parents yet, not my own or my in-laws. 42 years: and no major difficulty.
You see, I don’t know what it is to have problems or suffer. Not really. So when Gracie prays: “thank you for all our problems” and I’ve had to deal with the stresses and hurts of life- it’s been an easy prayer. While I am grateful and humble before the Lord that I have not had to endure such sufferings, I confess; lately when I hear this prayer I want to cry, because I’m surrounded by people I love or admire who have real suffering. This is not an easy prayer for them, yet many of them are thanking God while leaning into Jesus as the storms rage.
The thing is, I also know that no one gets through life unscathed. I’m not wishing for it, but I know REAL pain will come. Yet, I am not afraid of it. I know that is big talk for someone who’s never really had any problems. I’m not going to claim that when it comes it won’t be gut-wrenching. But, because I know there is likely something the Lord has in my life’s journey that is going to crush me to the point that I won’t be able to breathe, the prospect of that presses me to go ever deeper into my relationship with Him now. And that is not out of fear- it is out of trust.
I trust what I know….
I know Jesus. I know Him & His love for me personally, not just intellectually. I know that “Nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:38) Knowing Him means that everything can be taken from me… but nothing can “finish” me.
“I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)
The more deeply I know Jesus and fix my eyes on him the more solid ground I stand on.
I know His attributes: He is everlasting, never changing and knows everything.
“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and always.” (Hebrews 13:8)
I had a little epiphany about this at a conference with Jill Briscoe. As she spoke of time being finite, and God existing outside of time- knowing and handling all things- I formed this picture….
Time is on a line, with definitive beginning and end.
God is outside of time, eternal, infinite. He has no beginning and no end.
I know God and His love only because of Jesus.
I know and trust this love because I see in His infinity,
The Great “I AM,” intersected in time personally on my behalf with His life.
There is nothing I can suffer, no pain I can endure for any length of time that He does not know or understand. I know that I can trust Him because of what He was willing to suffer for me. On the cross he experienced cosmic abandonment by The Father. When Jesus suffered that in my place it changed everything. Now I know I will never be abandoned by God. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave….(Psalm 16: 9-10) That is not wishful thinking, that is a PROMISE I can trust. 2 Peter 3:8-9 says:
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise… but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish….
When God says he is the great “I AM” that means he is everywhere and everything I need. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing.’ (Psalm 16:2)
Because he is outside of time, this also means I can trust Him with every detail of my life. He has a vision I cannot have, and the more deeply I know Him, the better able I am to “see” His intentions.
I know what God intends for in that time of suffering.
No, I’m not a prophet. I don’t claim to know the specific lessons God has for me (or you) in the problems & suffering of past, present and future. But I do know His intentions…
He intends to fulfill His purposes, not mine.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:28-29)
I think we like to look at Romans 8:28 “God works all things to the good” for comfort, but when real suffering takes hold that verse can become cliché. Until it is paired with verse 29… Then we see part of God’s purpose for suffering is His intention to conform us to the likeness of Christ. It’s not just some epic plan that I am lost it, but an epic plan that I am purposed in— He is getting personal with me, molding and shaping me by sharing in Christ’s suffering. Think about what tends to give depth to your closest relationships. It is the tough times that knit you together. This is God’s purpose for our suffering, to knit us together with Christ— so that we can become the heart of compassion for others— the way He was for us.
He intends for me to be praying, joyful and thankful regardless of the circumstances:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
I used to just hang on verse 18; “give thanks in all things for this is God’s will for you.” but, again, when you encounter severe suffering, that verse alone sounds pretty weak. Am I really supposed to say “Thank you God that my house burned down?” or “Thank you, Lord for cancer in my lungs?” or “Thank you Lord, my best friend just died?” No. Because those things grieve the Lord as much as they grieve us… probably more. When read in context; however, there is a whole new picture. We are not to say “Thank you for this excruciating pain, because I know it’s your will for me!” Rather, what God intends, (His “will”) is for us to be praying continuously through every circumstance, never losing hold of the joy we have in Him, while giving thanks, not for the suffering, but even in the midst of it. You see, when your heart is broken and dying, only prayer, firm joy, and thanksgiving in Jesus will keep it Alive!
He intends Life & Victory! He is BIG enough! He is strong enough to conquer death and give us life! If God is for us, who can be against us? …. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans8:31, 35, 37) Jesus says: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18) These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) One day He will wipe every tear… There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”(Revelation 21:4) To the Lord we sing: You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever. (Psalm 30: 11-12) For “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “O’ death, where is your sting? O’ Hell, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15: 54-55)
Know this today and keep it with you always…
God loves you.
God knows everything.
He is strong.
God can care for us and
He is Big Enough to handle anything that we need.