This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Naji Abi-Hashem (from Lebanon. Naji now lives in the free west), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)
By nature we tend to escape suffering and avoid pain. We frequently complain about hardships and dream of a life without sorrow. But is that realistic?
An old proverb in the Midrash Tehillim says: 'If you want life, expect pain.'
When we suffer, God often surprises us with a special blessing. Although we tend to blame Him, at times, for what we are going through, He is gracious enough to bestow on us a unique measure of grace. As a result, we surprise ourselves with the degree of strength we have acquired to bear the unbearable and endure the hard seasons of life.
He is willing to give our suffering a new meaning. Certainly, our character is best sharpened through pain. Hardships are not meant to defeat us but to develop us. Therefore, we become brighter and more refined, like the rays of the sun after the rain.
A moment of introspection: Lebanon, once an oasis among the Middle Eastern desert sands, yet became a land of very real persecution and pain for Christians. This is the backdrop of the writing of Naji's thoughts, above. His words are woven amid the strands of painful, sometimes horrifyingly real memories. Yet, through this vivid backdrop of suffering for one's identification with Christ, God's amazing grace shines through. Let's explore the meaning of God's grace amid such trials.
With the coming of anti-Christian persecution to our American shores, one might don a confused face and ask "Grace ... Persecution?" Two terms that on the surface seem mutually exclusive, upon deeper consideration, do relate. As usual, let us delve into God's word for greater understanding of how the two concepts relate. In his letter to the young church at Philippi, the apostle Paul starts his letter affirming the church and then avers in Philip. 1:7 (NIV) that "It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me." I note a comradeship between the apostle Paul and Naji Abi-Hashem. Both refer to times during which God bestows His unmerited favor upon us--even when we take no notice, and perhaps even blame God for the situation. The apostle Paul described three examples of grace under fire, as it were: 1) in chains, 2) defending the gospel, and 3) confirming the gospel. If not all three, two of these would be undertaken or experienced during adversity, during persecution, during worldly opposition. God chooses a variety of times in which to lavish on His followers the astonishing grace of which his divine heart is solely capable. The apostle Paul also recognized God's grace as a message needing to be delivered to non-believers in the vicinity of Ephesus: (Ephesians 3:7-8, NIV) "7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ". Now we have not all been given the gift of preaching, yet could we not, each one of us, admit that we are in His glad service? The apostle Paul, too, became a servant of the gospel, which brought opposition from many quarters, personal loss, attacks on him and his evangelical team.
Whether we rejoice in suffering for the cause of Christ (Hebrews 5:3-5), considering such suffering "pure joy" (as James describes it: James 1:2-4), or whether we merely muddle through, Immanuel (Matthew 1:23) abides with us if we abide in him. In such situations, the "peace that passes understanding" can be ours; this is a measure of grace. In the midst of persecution, God can give our suffering a new meaning--sharpening our character, developing our maturity and serving to further complete us. But this comes at a cost, and just as it cost Jesus Christ His life, the special blessing God gives us demands our loyalty and our trueness to the gospel and to God. Mr. Abi-Hashem, the apostles Paul and James, millions of Christians today, and Christ Himself experienced and cling to costly grace. Grace that comes with loss and arrives during pain, costs our all--yet sustains us and lends perspective to the suffering. The music of a currently popular Christian song (All About Grace, by Barbour, Wilson and McCrary-Fisher) rings in my mind, and its lyrics speak to God's grace in trying times.
O my Lord, You are the light by which I see
It's all about grace, Your grace.
You're by my side, however long the night might be
It's all about grace, Your grace.
... etc ...
I have come to know Your blessing
Sure as the morning sun
Sure as the pain that comes
Sure as I am Your child
Most Holy One
... etc ...
I would recommend the CD by Allen Asbury as he sings this amazing song of grace. Night--grace, pain--grace, loss--grace (Philip. 3:8)--all these experiences and more heighten our senses to the value of costly grace. When we are at our weakest during the world's attacks, we know in silence God's solace, His divine balm, His strength (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV) "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." God's unmerited favor comes to us in moments of weakness for God's sake--relying on the strength of Christ, the power and sovereignty of God. In our own strength, we do not merit God's favor so much, as when our only strength comes from Him. Grace and persecution, unmerited favor from God Who is with us, annealing us and maturing us, completing us.