The last place I wanted to be was at church.
My eyes were swollen almost shut from crying. My body ached from a physically demanding weekend: helping our son move to an apartment nearby, cleaning the house with one more empty room, and yard work that had to get done before gallons of rainfall gushed from the sky.
I plopped into the seat feeling physically, emotionally, and relationally exhausted. I opened my church’s worship guide and instantly noticed the sermon was on a passage in the book of James. Let me say this, the book of James is like a spiritual x-ray machine. Just like a doctor looking at pictures of one’s physical structure against a lit screen, James directs our attention to core issues affecting our core soul health . . . or lack thereof.
I’ll never forget the day my spine doctor told me why my body was in so much pain. While fusing my spine, he noted an abnormality in my structure. One side of my pelvic bone was an inch higher than the other. ONE INCH. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, does it? But God’s original plan is for our physical structure to be even—for the right and left sides to balance. At the core, covered by our skin and body systems, is the structure that no one can see without an x-ray. My skilled physician looked at the x-rays, found the source of my physical pain, and surgically did what he could to restore physical health.
One . . .
tiny . . .
Sometimes, what we can’t see is more powerful than what we do see. Keep reading . . .
The sermon from James zeroes in on an invisible, universal truth every human being will encounter on this side of heaven. In James’ straightforward, sincere fashion, the passage includes a word picture, some commands, and a couple of Old Testament references. It’s an unarguably solid, simply uncomplicated sermon on one of the most complicated things we face in life: suffering.
What a Pain
Human suffering raises more questions about God’s sovereignty, goodness, justice, and faithfulness than almost any other subject or experience. There’s nothing like pain to awaken every cell in our body and mind to seek relief and resolve.
Take note: I didn’t say pain “causes” me to react to it in a certain way; pain AWAKENS everything in me and in you to life’s truths. And what we do with these truths can make us or break us. Think of it this way . . . you and a friend are in an accident, and your friend is injured. While she endures excruciating pain, you rush her to the hospital where they immediately take x-rays. Within moments, the doctor returns and holds up the x-rays revealing your friend has a broken arm in several places. The doctor says that your friend will experience long-term challenges due to the damage and offers a suggested treatment plan:
- √ Surgery to set the arm
- √ A cast to hold it in place as the bones grow back together
- √ Follow-up appointments to make sure healing is going well
- √ Pain management during the healing process
- √ Physical therapy to regain as much mobility as possible
The doctor also informs you of things to expect during the healing process as well as how life may be different due to irreversible nerve damage.
How would you respond if your friend looked at the doctor and said any of the following:
- “I can’t believe you allowed my arm to get broken!”
- “Why didn’t you stop the accident from happening?”
- “I did nothing to deserve this. Now I have to change all my plans, and it wasn’t even my fault!”
- “Because of you, I’ll have pain for the rest of my life!”
Your friend is not forced to follow a doctor’s treatment plan; however, she can’t deny her arm is broken and in need of repair. Further, it would be laughable to hear your friend blame the doctor for having a broken arm.
And Yet We Will Suffer
The book of James begins with the truth that we will suffer in this life. We live in a broken world that God did not cause, and we have broken souls that only God can heal. In this life, we live with the residual damage sin caused. Oh, by the way, God didn’t cause sin; humanity did.
We must begin the work of reframing our lives by reflecting on what we believe about God, His character, and His Word. Our beliefs may be one tiny bit off but, like my compromised spine, the cascading effect can be disastrous—one problem causing another and then another and so on. Further, blaming God for our compromised souls is like blaming the doctor for a broken bone.
Most of us avoid times of reflection because reflection can cause pain to quickly surface. We’re great at staying distracted—avoiding soul-reflection—which, in the long run, can lead to enormous problems. Like my spine, one tiny structural difference has led to daily pain that will remain with me for the rest of my life. Reflecting is like a spiritual x-ray; we can examine what is wrong or broken and take it to the Great Physician who offers a treatment plan for life. Why would anyone run from that?
Reflection won’t just happen; we must choose to spend time with the Lord in prayer and meditate on His Word. One way to reflect is by journaling. To help you get started, we have put together a list of journal prompts—suggestions for how to start writing down what is churning in your soul. I challenge you to journal for 15 minutes a day for the next two weeks. Write about your pain, about things you don’t understand, maybe about something that you have blamed God for allowing. Don’t hold back. Then, look to God’s Word and see what it says about what you are going through. Ask the Lord to provide a plan for your spiritual healing just as we need a plan for physical healing.
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. . . . After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1 Peter 5: 6–7, 10)
Let Me Hear from You
The great news is that as you humble yourself before the throne of God and throw your pain and worries onto Him, He promises to provide a firm, unshakable foundation for your life: Himself. Let me know how you started reflecting today on that great promise!
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