Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Our struggles have a greater purpose

Sometimes I wonder why we have to suffer through difficult situations. I know we grow. I know we get stronger. But when difficult situation after difficult situation keeps rolling at me, I just want to throw up my hands and shout, “Enough already!” I mean, how strong do I need to be anyway?

And then this old insecure voice starts whispering at the back of my mind: What have you done wrong to deserve this? When situations in my life continue to be difficult, I start wondering if I did something to make God angry at me. But most of the time, no matter how I wrack my brain, I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would have made God so mad that He would keep throwing struggle after struggle at me. And thinking like that eventually leads to the belief that God doesn’t care. But if He cares, why do we struggle?

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are John 9:1-7.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

Just imagine being this poor blind guy. He was just sitting on the ground, minding his own business, and somebody (the blind man didn’t necessarily know it was Jesus) walks over and spits in the dirt and wipes mud on his face? Seriously? I would have freaked out.

But he didn’t. And he went and did what Jesus told him to do, and he was healed.

This is one of those famous Bible stories that you’ll always hear in Sunday School, and most of the time, the storytellers focus on the fact that Jesus healed the guy. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an important thing to focus on. Jesus healed a lot of people, and it was evidence of who He was (and who He is). But what caught my eye this morning is the fact that the man was born blind not because of something he did or something his parents did; he was born blind so that he could be healed.

That was the entire purpose behind it. There was a reason for this man’s blindness. When he was born, God made him born blind, and that sounds horrible. That sounds cruel and unusual that God would take away his sight as an infant, never even give him the chance to see the world. But God didn’t do it without a reason. He knew that this man would be sitting on this street corner however many years later and that Jesus would heal him.

How many times do we look at the circumstances in our lives as punishment from God? Granted, many times, they might be. I don’t know your life. I don’t know your choices. And if you’ve made choices that are contrary to what God says is right, of course, you’re going to endure consequences. It’s like the natural process of planting and harvesting. You’re going to get the kind of fruit you plant. If you plant bad seeds, you’re going to get a bad crop. That’s not God’s doing; that’s your choices coming back to bite you. So if you’ve made bad choices, don’t get upset with God when your life turns upside-down.

But I know my life. And I know the lives of the people close to me. And I know that none of us have necessarily done anything that merits the struggles we’re facing. And in many instances, the struggles we’re going through are just part of living in a broken world. But in some cases, it really does feel like God has a sledgehammer and is pounding away at us. But that’s a lie. And if we just step back for a moment, maybe we can wrap our heads around a new perspective this morning.

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Among them is patience. And patience is something that we shouldn’t try to get through difficult circumstances without. Why? Because most of the time we don’t understand the greater purpose for our suffering.

There is a purpose. There is a reason. God doesn’t let anything happen to His children for no reason. Maybe we’ll never understand the reason. Maybe we’ll never see the resolution while we’re alive on earth, but it’s our job to be patient in whatever trials and troubles come our way.

Think about the blind man in this story. He was born blind. He didn’t have a choice in the matter. He lived every day of his life knowing that he would never see–until Jesus walked up to him. How many years was that? I don’t know. But what I do know is that his blindness wasn’t a curse; it was an opportunity to be a blessing. I’m sure that man never would have guessed that people would still be talking about him 2,000+ years later and finding encouragement from his story.

I tell you what. If I know that God is working in my situation, that’s reason enough for me to be patient a little while longer. I trust Him that much. He knows what He’s doing, and I would rather have things happen in His time.

So whatever you’re facing today, be patient. You aren’t suffering for no reason, and the challenges you’re enduring present you with an opportunity to display God’s glory for everyone to see. Who knows? Maybe in 2,000 more years, someone will hear about you and find a reason to be patient where they didn’t have one before.

Ask and you shall receive . . . but when?

Do you ever get upset because God doesn’t give you what you ask for? I do. There have been many times when I’ve asked Him for something specifically that He didn’t provide for me, whether it was financial or emotional or family-related or whatever. It just seemed entirely unfair because there are so many verses in the Bible that say that all we have to do is ask Him and He’ll give it to us.

So I have struggled with that sometimes because when I want something, I want it right away. But that’s usually not how God works. And, in all honesty, I’m glad. Getting older has given me some perspective, I think. And knowing what I know now, if God had given me the things I wanted when I was younger, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have learned anything about life.

A good example is my manuscript writing. I wanted to get my first real manuscript published so badly. I don’t even think I can explain how badly I wanted it to see print. The first conference I took it to–the first editor I took it to–was about five years ago, and I had a really good chance. I gave it to an editor. He loved it. He started pitching it to his company to publish. I was on top of the world.

But it fell through. It’s a long, complicated story, so let’s just say it didn’t happen.

And I was upset. Majorly.

Looking back on that now, if that manuscript had hit print five years ago? Wow. That would have been awful. Becuase that manuscript was terrible five years ago. I’ve had five years to refine it, chisel away the bad spots, and accentuate the true message behind the story. So now it’s actually ready to go to print, unlike five years ago when it was a shell of itself.

Another example is my job. I wanted to write. I’ve always wanted to write for a living, but when I graduated from college, there wasn’t a writing job in Wichita. Anywhere. I was extremely disappointed. I kept looking for months, working as a temporary secretary, working as a sign language interpreter, doing anything I could find until I finally landed at the WSU Libraries. I was way over qualified for what I was doing, but I loved the people and the work was fun (I got to work with books all day; it was extraordinary). But it wasn’t what I had wanted to do. I wanted to write.

But what I learned at WSU Libraries opened the door for me to get the job I have now — a writing job. And looking back now I know without any doubt that I couldn’t have made it at Viega without knowing what I learned at WSU.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I asked God for something, He really did give it to me. It just wasn’t in the time that I wanted it.

Today’s verse is 1 John 5:14-15

14 And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. 15 And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.

 God hears us when we ask Him for things. And He doesn’t refuse to give us what we ask for out of spite or malice. But think about a parent with a child. Does a parent give a child something bad that will hurt the child? No. The child needs to ask for the things that will benefit him before the parent can even consider giving it to him.

I think that’s the first mistake we make. We ask God for things that don’t really help us, and they we get angry when He won’t give them to us.

But if we ask Him for things that are good, things that are eternal, things we can use to build our relationship with Him and with others, God will give them to us. But He may not give them to us exactly when we want them.

He may give us what we ask for right that instant when we would have preferred He wait ten years, when we’re not prepared for it, when we don’t know what to do with it. Or He may wait ten years when we would have preferred to have it right away. You never know what God is going to do, and that is the point of His being God.

But you can know that if you’ve asked God for something that pleases Him, you will receive it. And if you haven’t received it yet, it just means it isn’t time.

I have no doubt that my manuscript will be published someday. I didn’t write it for me. I wrote it for Him. So right now I’m just waiting for God to open the right door so that it will be possible. When He does, I’ll know it’s the perfect time for it.

So be careful what you ask for. What you ask for, you’ll receive. It just won’t be when you expect it.