What does it mean to have an authentic Christian faith? What does it require?
Some Christians act as though they have achieved a level of faith that places them above the tough realities of life. They lead us to believe they are “first-class” Christians who have found the secret to a near perfect life, devoid of pain. This concept is not only wrong; it is toxic.
The authentic Christian life doesn’t involve attaining perfection, and it doesn’t mean living free from struggle; instead, it deals head-on with the issue of pain.
Rather than trying to avoid pain, as authentic Christians we allow struggle to shape our hearts and our faith. We allow humility to draw us farther out of ourselves and closer to God. It is not an easy life, but it is a rich life, full of growth and tough moments that remind us of who we are and how far we have to go in our spiritual journey. In the face of pain and struggle, our faith will give us comfort, guidance, and hope.
The biblical view of life is that it often gets worse before it gets better. Salvation, the free gift of God, is sometimes painful.
Listen to the apostle Peter address the value of suffering:
Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. — 1 Peter 1:6-9
In Romans Paul also described this refining process of suffering:
We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. — Romans 5:3-5
This, of course, does not mean we should act happy when we find out a leg has to be amputated or we have a terminal illness. It does mean that one day we will rejoice at the adversities we faced and the way Christ brought us through them.
In my life suffering has taught me some of the deepest lessons of faith. For seven years I waited for a child. I prayed and begged God, but nothing happened. For seven long years we did everything that the infertility doctors suggested, but nothing worked. With each passing month our despair grew as we realized we could never have children.
Finally, through circumstances only God could have arranged, we were able to adopt our daughter, Madeline. She has become the light of our lives. This child is even more precious to us because we know she is a direct gift from God. Nothing we could have done would have brought Madeline to us.
Although the suffering seemed unbearable at times, the ordeal taught lessons that could not have been learned otherwise.
Can You Spare Some Change
My parents were godly Christians. Yet suffering brought them face-to-face with change that they never anticipated. Learning that their son was dying of AIDS forced them to see the difficult realities of life. Like many other Christians, they thought that if they honored God and dedicated their children to the Lord, we would be shielded from pain and suffering. They discovered, the hard way, that this belief was false.
God had allowed Jerry to contract AIDS after becoming involved in the homosexual lifestyle. My parents wrestled not only with losing Jerry but also with feeling guilt: What could they have done differently to keep their son from such deadly behavior?
Their faith did not protect them from falling apart in a mixture of sorrow and regret.
God used that terrible incident to mold and deepen their faith.
When Jerry needed them most, my parents were able to display the courage and forgiveness necessary to lead him to repentance. They also developed deep compassion for others as a result of their suffering. Their hearts and lives were forever changed.
Change is always difficult, no matter what the situation entails. Most of us love the status quo. We grow comfortable and choose to ignore aspects of our lives that need improvement. But sometimes God asks us to make adjustments in areas we would rather just leave alone. Sometimes He asks us to change a career; other times it’s a change in our perspective about money or priorities. Change is never easy, especially after years of living a certain way.
Responding to God’s call to change can be painful because it often requires a transformation beyond what we thought possible. Nevertheless, what is impossible for us to achieve alone is possible through the power of God.
The End of Self
Sometimes our lives seem to get worse because God wants to show us that He is our only hope. If we can control something on our own, we will never come to know the greater power of God. God loves to step in and prove His faithfulness to us. No matter what the circumstances, God is still in control and will act according to His eternal plan. Isaiah 30:18 tells us the Lord is a God of justice for those who wait on Him. He will not abandon us in our times of helplessness. We must trust that He is able to change the worst situation into a time of hope and joy.
Donna lived with her husband and two babies on the tiny pension he received from the navy. Their rent was more than half of their income. Needless to say, the money often ran out. One month, their financial situation was so bad that Donna literally had no money left to buy laundry soap to wash her babies’ dirty diapers.
Donna got on her knees in the kitchen and prayed, “God, I’ve never needed You like I need You now. I have nothing, and I need You to provide soap to wash these diapers.”
Hearing a noise at the front door, Donna got up and went to open it. Someone had left a sample of soap in a plastic bag on her doorstep. It was a promotional giveaway. But Donna knew better. In utter helplessness she had cried out to God for help. Some would call the provision a coincidence, but Donna knew it was an act of God.
Through the pain, God will act to show you that He cares for you personally and deeply. Rather than give up on Him, you must surrender faith in yourself so you can tap into God’s divine power.
When things appear to be most impossible, God can show us He is in control. Our trials can become landmarks on our spiritual journey.
We learn from Mark 10:27:
With man [it] is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.
Countless people in the Bible faced “impossible” situations, only to be delivered by a loving God. Gideon’s armies, greatly outnumbered, defeated their enemies. The Israelites, pinned against the Red Sea by a fierce Egyptian army, crossed to safety on dry land. Paul, imprisoned in a dark cell, was able to sing songs of praise. In our troubles we must find the courage to believe that nothing is impossible with God.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is John 11:39, which I like to paraphrase, “He stinketh.” If there is something in your life that stinks, just remember that Lazarus, four days dead, also reeked to high heaven. Even when all hope was gone, Jesus showed His remarkable power and love by resurrecting Lazarus. If He can do that, He can give you new life and hope.
Excerpted with permission from The God of Second Chances: Experiencing His Grace for the Best of Your Life by Stephen Arterburn, copyright Thomas Nelson.
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What stinks in your life? What feels hopeless? Lifeless? Impossible? In your place of pain, how is the Lord shaping and changing your heart? Come join the conversation on our blog! We want to hear from you about authentic Christianity in the middle of struggle and suffering. ~ Devotionals Daily