HOW WE LONG IN TIMES OF SUFFERING
FOR THE LORD TO MAKE HIS FACE TO SHINE UPON US
BUT THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY HE CAN DO THIS.
ONE IS THAT HE STOPS THE STORM,
REMOVES THE SUFFERING
AND INDEED, SOMETIMES HE DOES EXACTLY THAT!
HE STOPPED THE WAVES AND MADE THE SUN TO SHINE
UPON HIS FRIGHTENED DISCIPLES
ON THE SEA OF GALILEE
But there is a real danger in thinking that is the only way His face can shine upon us. Last week, in response to the first part of this two part study, Renee wrote:
I am SO looking forward to these next two weeks of this Bible Study. When I read the first paragraph above, I breathed a great big sigh of relief! Within the last few days, I read something from an acquaintance that just didn’t sit right. She had lost something, claimed (commanded) in prayer that it be found because her “whole life” depended on it, and then had “proof” of God’s love/answered prayer when she found it.
This feels so different…Jesus is my refuge, and I’m safe in Him…but I also see how Jesus has been my refining fire, in that He has refined me through difficult circumstances by making me more patient and accepting.
I so appreciated Renee’s testimony, for I think we do harm when we assume that God’s love can only be demonstrated by removing suffering. His purpose for us, as Joni Eareckson Tada has said, “is not to make us healthy, wealthy, or even happy, though it pleases Him to do so — but holy.” We can be so earthly minded, forgetting all eternity is ahead of us, and that He is transforming us into radiant children.
He is our Refuge, but He is also our Refiner. Whether the storm was of our own making or not, we must trust Him in it and not demand He remove it. For who are we to command God Almighty? We can ask, but then we must trust. If He does not remove the storm (and Philip Yancey, in his book on Prayer, says He seldom does), we can still sense His presence, His love, and His face shining upon us. He understands our pain, for He is the Man of Sorrows. He went all the way to the cross for us, so that we might be forgiven — but also, that we might trust Him in the midst of sorrow. This gospel truth can sustain us in suffering and in temptation.
Even if He does not remove your suffering, He “sees your affliction” and will “preserve the faithful.”(Psalm 31:7 and 23) Even if, as with Job (and with Jesus), the religious people condemn you, and you become “a reproach” and those on the street “flee from you” (Psalm 31:11) God reaches down to you from the cross, His face shines upon you, Your times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15) and He has a plan to one day make all things right. Be strong, and let your heart take courage! (Psalm 31:24)
Indeed, let your heart take courage in this gospel truth! This brings me to the movie, “Courageous.” (You may have wondered how I was going to get there! I did too! But it does fit, and we will look at how it does later in the week.)
1. What comment do you have on the opening?
2. Share a time when God did not remove suffering, and yet you still sensed His face shining upon you.
Monday-Wednesday: Psalm 31:9-34
Last week we looked at the opening of this Psalm, and of God’s promises to be a Refuge in our time of suffering, and to one day set our feet in a broad place.
We will begin this week with verses 9-13, in which, behind the psalmist, you can see Jesus. David Powlison, in the message we listened to last week, told of the suffering of one of his clients, whom he called “Sarah.” God was not removing her suffering, but in Psalm 31, when she saw Jesus behind the Psalmist, Powlison said it a little “nitelight” to her in the midst of her darkness.
3. Read Psalm 31:9-13. In what verses can you see The Man of Sorrows behind the psalmist?
4. What does it mean to you that Jesus understands your loneliness, your being misunderstood, your being forgotten?
What I want you to see is that the gospel is hidden in this psalm. Because the death of Jesus can be faintly seen, it gives the psalmist strength — he knows he is loved, so he can trust, he can go on. If his suffering is not removed, if his friends blame him, as did Job’s friends, he still can trust His God.
5. What two statements of faith does the psalmist make in Psalm 31:14-15a?
6. What does the psalmist request in verse 16? What do you think this means?
7. What request does he make concerning the wicked in verses 17-18?
8. Find a word picture of God as your refuge that is meaningful to you in verses 19-22.
9. How does the psalmist exhort his brothers in verses 23-24?
Thursday: Counseling and Counseling One Another
Optional: Listen to the rest of David Powlison’s message: Link
If the above overwhelms you — watch this short clip of Nancy Guthrie interviewing Paulsen. (I suggest you listen to it anyhow — it’s great!)
10. Why is it important to address sin as well as the body and a person’s past when attempting to help yourself or those to whom you are close overcome sin?
Friday: Reviewing the Movie Courageous
This movie is from the makers of Flywheel, Facing the Giants and Fireproof. This is Sherwood’s fourth, and each movie has gotten better. Yet each, in my view, has embraced some erroneous theology. The first three seemed to equate faithfulness to God with always producing health and success, whether it was getting wealthy, as in Flywheel, overcoming infertility and winning the game, as in Facing the Giants, or saving the marriage, as in Fireproof. Yet we know that some of God’s most faithful servants have not experienced those kind of results on this earth. I didn’t see this theology nearly as much in Courageous, though I did see it. And there is much that is wonderful in the movie. I sensed, for example, Meg’s enthusiasm, and I know many of you will have deservedly positive comments about the film.
Some will be upset that I am criticizing this film, for there is no doubt it is enormously more edifying that most of the movies out there. I do believe there is much that is positive in providing models of godly fathers, and I also know that two hours is not enough time to say everything that needs to be said. Having said that, I see a flaw in this story that I see in the evangelical world at large.
It seems we often think of the gospel as the way to get into the Kingdom rather than as the way to overcome sin in our lives. So often the formula seems to be, “Trust Jesus to become a Christian and then work really really hard to live like one.” In this movie, the men made many vows before God to be better fathers. That’s one approach — and not without merit, for promises, especially when they are made seriously before God and witnesses, can be an incentive to persist when times are tough. But we are so weak, that I wonder if a multitude of vows like that can only be kept in a movie script. I know I have made promises to God in the past to try to strengthen myself to do what I know I should do, but I have failed, and then I not only have failed, but I have sinned doubly in not keeping my promise to God. I am so weak in myself.
So, what would be the approach of gospel transformation? Take the father who had turned down his son’s request to run with him and had been spending evenings in front of the television. It is painful to give up what you want to do and do what you think the Lord wants you to do. The approach of guilt over being a bad father is what might be expounded from a pulpit — but what if, instead, you took this approach, with these questions, and these answers through the Gospel.
- Can I do this in my own strength? No. I am so weak and sinful Christ had to die for me.
- How do I know, as I experience the pain of saying no to what I want to do, that Christ will be here for me? I can know, for He loved me enough to go to the cross for me.
- I will have to go through suffering, but can I trust that this light momentary affliction will produce an eternal weight of glory? Yes, as it did for Christ, it will for me.
I realize this would be challenging to present in a movie — and I doubt I could do better, but I have seen it done in the movies made based on the lives of real people who did live dramatically different lives: Eric Liddell, Bonhoeffer, or Corrie ten Boom. In each case, they overcame what they might have wanted to do by looking at the cross. The gospel enabled them to endure pain, and to do what was right, even when the cost was enormously high. They didn’t make a lot of promises to God — they looked to the cross. That is gospel transformation. Without this emphasis, there is a real danger in Christianity just seeming like morality. In fact Keller had said that when you present Christianity to most people, they think you are inviting them into “morality,” and I think this film would lead an unbeliever to equate Christianity with morality.
But please feel free to disagree and share your thoughts in love.
11. If you watched the movie, what did you like? Didn’t like?
12. What do you think is the difference between morality and gospel transformation?
12. What’s your take-a-way?
Next week we begin the most beautiful and holy season of the year — and I pray you will be with us! The Lord has led me, and I’m excited for this holy time.