"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Our Painful Afflictions Are a Poke in the Eye of God

"Whoever touches you touches the apple of God's eye." (Zechariah 2:8)

"... and to know His love that surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19)

Each of us strives for life to be as comfortable and convenient as possible. We work hard at trying not to work hard.  Life is good when we eat well, sleep well, work well, play well, see well, hear well, earn well, and relate well. 

But what happens when "the well" runs dry?

I'm old enough and wise enough to know that everyone's "well" will run dry at some point. The Christian health and wealth gospel is a sham.  The idea that followers of Jesus will always physically and financially prosper in this life is foreign to the teaching of Christ and the apostles. Paul said, "Don't be shaken by these afflictions we are going through. For you yourselves know that we are appointed unto this" (I Thessalonians 3:3). 

The temptation we all face is the tendency to measure God's love for us by how well our circumstances are. When things are going well, we seem more prone to feel God's love. However, when things aren't going well, "Where is God's love for me?" Our pain is only exacerbated when we pray and ask God to remove our afflictions, only to have our circumstances seemingly worsen and  our pain intensify.

So how can I measure God's love for me when things are no longer as comfortable and convenient as they once were? How can I avoid falling into the trap of believing that if God really loved me, He would remove from my life those things that are causing me suffering and pain?

The Eye of God Is Touched

When the prophet Zechariah wrote, "Whoever touches you touches the apple of God's eye" (Zechariah 2:8), the people of God in Judah were suffering mightily. Zechariah used vivid language to give hope to God's people. You are the "apple of God's eye," the prophet declared. What does that mean?

The eyeball, or globe of the eye, with the pupil in the center, is called the "apple" because of its round shape. The eyeball has great value and is carefully protected by the eyelids which automatically close when there is the least possibility of danger. That's why in Scripture, the "apple of the eye" is an emblem of that which is most precious and jealously protected.

The Hebrew word translated apple is 'ishon, which means "little man." It is the diminutive of 'ish, which is the Hebrew word for "man." So the Hebrew term "apple of the eye" or "little man" is a specific reference to the center of the pupil where there is "the little image of oneself when looking into another's pupil" (Davies' Lexicon). When you look at your heavenly Father in the midst of your pain, you should always remember that you are "the apple of His eye"

That's right, you are His eyeball.

So because you are His eyeball, when you hurt, He hurts. Or, as the prophet Isaiah said, "In all your suffering, He is afflicted!"(Isaiah 63:9).

When you are irritated, so is He. When you are in pain, He too feels it. When you are uncomfortable, He is uncomfortable. You can't have an affliction come your way and your heavenly Father not feel that affliction as well. You are the "apple of His eye."

So this is how I must measure God's love when "the well" in my life runs dry.

I must realize my Heavenly Father feels with me.

Then Why Does God Not Remove It?

There can be, and there is, only one answer.

Something better is coming my way.

It's the same reason the weightlifter strains under the weights - for the strength that comes. It's the same reason a business owner will endure struggles - for the profit that comes. It's the same reason Christ endured the pain of the cross - for the joy that was to come. It's the same reason that we will endure any pain willingly - if not enthusiastically - when we KNOW that something good is coming our way.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
Here's the hard part. Most of the "good" coming my way is all about God conforming me to the character of His Son (Romans 8:29). Becoming like Christ is God's plan for me. In my experience,  the painful times in my life have done more to shape my character than all of the comfortable and convenient times combined.

Soul Food

Recently I read a story that a missionary told about his son and a cranky woman they met in a restaurant.
"Last week, I took my children to a restaurant. My six-year-old son asked if he could say grace. As we bowed our heads he said, "God is good, God is great. Thank you for the food, and thank you more if Mom gets us ice cream for dessert. With Liberty and justice for all! Amen!"

Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby, I heard a woman remark, "That's what's wrong with this country. Kids today don't even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!"

Hearing this, my son burst into tears and asked me, "Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?" I assured him that he had done a terrific job, and God was certainly not mad at him. An elderly gentleman approached the table. He winked at my son and said, "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer." "Really?" my son asked. "Cross my heart," the man replied. Then, in a whisper, he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing), "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."

Naturally, I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal. My son stared at his for a moment, and then did something I will remember the rest of my life. He picked up his sundae and, without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, "Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes; and my soul is good already."
Most people when they read that story will focus on the cranky woman.

I'm captivated by the father of the boy. He felt the pain of the woman's attack too. It was his son crying out. The father felt with his son as if he himself were in pain, but he did not remove his son from the uncomfortableness of the affliction. The father ministered to his boy in the affliction and allowed others to come alongside to offer grace and help in his time of need. As a result, something unforgettably good happened to his son.

My affliction is like a cranky old woman yelling at me for my shortcomings. My Heavenly Father hears the shouts, and He and others whisper grace to my soul during my dark moments, teaching me in the midst of my affliction far more than I'd ever learn without it.

Painful afflictions aren't fun. We all want them gone.

But if our Father isn't standing up and kicking the old woman called affliction out of the restaurant, it's because He knows there's something better we can learn from her yelling at us than we'd ever be able to learn without her.

2 comments:

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

I love the ‘ice cream’ story. Besides the boy, I think the old man was the main character.

“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.”
Robert Browning Hamilton

You’re right about a “weight lifter”. (By training, my high school sophomore grandson missed going to State in the 110 yard hurdles by .02 seconds.)

You said; “Christ endured the pain of the cross – for the joy that was to come.”

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” I don’t see Jesus motivated by any joy to come.

OFF TOPIC but a favorite of mine. :)

This is part of an 8 page article I’ve just read “The Church of Jerusalem” By F.F. Bruce (April 1964)

“In 57 AD, Paul and the delegates from the Gentile churches came to Jerusalem with gifts for the mother church. They received a cordial welcome from James and his fellow-elders. But in order to conciliate [appease] the ‘zealots for the law’ in the Jerusalem church who were ready to believe the worst of Paul and all his activities, James and his colleagues made the well-intentioned but probably ill-conceived suggestion that Paul should take part publicly in a temple ceremony; a suggestion which led directly to his arrest and imprisonment, and ultimate dispatch to Rome.
It is not recorded that the Jerusalem church or its leaders exerted themselves in Paul’s behalf when he was arrested. They probably thought that his removal from Jerusalem under armed guard was all to the good. There was usually trouble when Paul came to Jerusalem. In his absence they got along tolerably well with the authorities.”

I agreed with Bruce: “It is not recorded that the Jerusalem church or its leaders exerted themselves in Paul’s behalf…” because they DID NOT as shown by Paul’s words

“The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me…May it not be counted against them.” (2 Timothy 4:16 NLT)
“At my first answer no man stood for me…I pray God that if may not be laid to their charge.” (KJ)

“MY God, MY God, why have you forsaken me?” are the saddest words in the Bible. I believe “no man stood for me” are also sad but more than sad they were an accusation to those that should have stood at his trial in his defense

Otherwise why would Paul pray not to count it against them. That was the same prayer he heard Stephen pray as he was being killed.

I believe as the prison years passed with no visits from those who called him “dear brother” (Acts 21:20), Paul finally connected the dots.

Pege' said...

Wade, Thank you for writing this! I am encouraged. :)