If I speak to my spouse using tactful “I feel” messages and skillful conflict-resolution strategies, but I do not love, I am like a clanging cymbal or a car alarm that won’t shut off.
And even if I have an advanced degree in marriage counseling and understand the mysteries of why people do what they do and have all knowledge of psychology, and even though I read a mountain of books on relationships, if I do not love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my good efforts to fulfill my duties, and though I burn up every drop of energy in being a great spouse, if I do not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient even when a spouse does not change. Love is kind even when a spouse is thoughtless. Love does not envy someone else’s marriage. Love is not impressed with its own marriage skills.
Love does not save its best manners for company but instead uses its “fine china” manners with a spouse, treating him or her with honor every day. Love does not insist on getting its own way but works to see things from another’s perspective. Love is not irritable or exasperated. (You cannot get its goat!)
Love keeps no record of wrongs because love does not take offense. Love does not see a spouse’s failures or sins as personal affronts. Love knows that a spouse sins against God and against God alone (Psalm 51:4). Love forgives and refuses victim mentality (Proverbs 12:16, Ephesians 4:32).
Love refuses to think resentful thoughts about a husband or wife; instead, love insists on seeing what is good and giving thanks. Love does not delight in any threat to the relationship, but rejoices in what heals and strengthens the marriage.
Love always protects a spouse (his or her ultimate good), always believes that a spouse is priceless and made in the image of God, always trusts the promises of God, and always is confident that God’s grace is deeper than any need. Love never shuts its heart, never forsakes its covenant commitment, and never rejects a spouse.
Love never fails. But prophecies that “you should move on with your life” will fail; the tongues that call your spouse “a jerk” will cease; and the knowledge that “you deserve better than this” will vanish away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became married, I had to put away childish things, such as name-calling and pouting and choosing what feels easy.
For now we see through a hazy glass, and there is much that we do not understand about our spouses, about ourselves, or about God’s ways; but then, face to face with God, we will know fully what glorious things He has been doing through our marriages, just as He knows fully how to love us well now.
And now faith, hope, and love remain; but the greatest of these is love.
**adapted from various translations of 1 Corinthians 13, including the KJV, AMP, AMPC, NLT, and NIV
For many years, Elisabeth Elliot had a daily radio broadcast called, “Gateway to Joy.” A gateway to joy sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But this short title came from a statement that Elisabeth often made: “The cross is the gateway to joy.”
Wait. A cross?
That isn’t the gateway to joy that we were looking for! But I guess that explains why we have been searching without finding because the Cross truly is the gateway to joy.
Although Elisabeth Elliot passed away in 2015, a new book by Elisabeth was published this year by B&H Publishing. Entitled Suffering is Never for Nothing, this book is the transcription of a series of talks which Elisabeth presented many years ago at a small conference. Focused on the topic of suffering, the six messages which she shared that weekend are now the six chapters of this new book.
I was eager to read this section because it is written by Joni Tada, whom I appreciate immensely. Joni relates that when she was a young woman, she asked Elisabeth Elliot to preview a book which Joni was writing in which she listed 35 biblical reasons for suffering. When Elisabeth told Joni that her explanations were “a bit technical,” Joni says that she felt crushed (viii). However, after Joni experienced even more suffering in her own life, she came to appreciate Elisabeth’s perspective.
I think the truth that these two God-fearing women insist upon is this: there is a mystery to God-ordained suffering that must remain a mystery on this side of heaven. Job never knew why he suffered as he did; but he learned to be at peace, confident that he could trust God.
Chapter 1: “The Terrible Truth”
The terrible truth is that there is suffering. Suffering is our current reality.
The question remains, is God paying attention? If so, why doesn’t He do something? I say He has, He did, He is doing something, and He will do something. (13)
The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. (9)
The subject can only be approached by the cross. … The very worst thing that ever happened in human history turns out to be the very best thing because it … saves the world. (13)
Chapter 2: “The Message”
The message is this: God is with us, and we can trust His character. We don’t need to understand when we can trust (77). When we suffer, we can trust the One who has suffered for us.
God, through my own troubles and sufferings, has not given me explanations. But He has met me as a person, as an individual, and that’s what we need. (23)
For myself, I have found great comfort in knowing that there is an answer to our suffering even though I do not now know what it is. It gives me peace to know that there is an answer that is sufficient and satisfying to the One who is all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving. I rest in that!
Elisabeth emphasizes that her faith would have disintegrated” if she had demanded “a particular kind of answer” from God concerning her suffering. Instead, her faith was “founded on the character of God Himself” (26). In other words, we interpret our circumstances according to God’s love, not the other way around. We do not know why we suffer, but we do know that God’s love is lavish, unfailing, and absolutely trustworthy.
Chapter 3: “Acceptance”
Elisabeth stresses that acceptance is “the key to peace in … suffering” (40). We can accept whatever God brings because we are confident of His love. Right now, our job is to trust and obey; later on, it will be our forever joy to understand (John 13:7).
Here is one of my favorite statements in the whole book:
The love of God … is a willed and inexorable [unstoppable and relentless] love that will command nothing less than the very best for us. The love of God wills our joy. I think of the love of God as being synonymous with the will of God. (41)
I love that! When we know that God is actively loving us into our maxxed-out joy, we can accept suffering (which we do not understand) because of God’s goodness (which we trust). (Read more about the goodness of God HERE.)
The will of God is love. And love suffers. … Love is always inextricably bound with sacrifice. (41)
We are not adrift in chaos. We’re held in the everlasting arms. (44).
Chapter 4: “Gratitude”
The next step, after accepting God’s will, is to express gratitude. Elisabeth says that gratitude is a shortcut to knowing God. Gratitude reminds us that we “are not adrift in a sea of chaos” (67).
So, what is there to be grateful for in the midst of suffering? Well, God is still love. … God is still God. … Before the foundation of the world, He knew [about this situation]. So He wasn’t taken by surprise. Love still wills my joy. (67)
Gratitude is important because it honors God and because it prepares the way for God to show His salvation (Psalm 50:23). Expressing gratitude to God helps us to enter the Presence of God (Psalm 100).
It is in these very situations which are so painful … that thanksgiving can prepare the way for God to show us His salvation. (74)
Certainly, that is true! Treasure the Lord in places of darkness, and treasures of the Lord will be revealed to you (Isaiah 45:3).
Elisabeth shares her “amazement and delight” in learning that the Hebrew word for burden “is the same word as the word for gift” (72). She says, “If I thank God for this very thing which is killing me, I can begin dimly and faintly to see it as a gift” (73).
Chapter 5: “Offering”
Realizing that a burden is also being a gift leads well into this fifth chapter, which is the meatiest of all, I think. There are three main points:
1. Everything we have is given to us as a gift.
Everything in my life I begin to see as a gift, and I do mean everything.… even my widowhood. I began very slowly to recognize … that it was within the context of widowhood that God wanted me to glorify Him. … It was something that God not only allowed, but in a very real sense, He had given me because He had something else in mind. And this was a gift not just for me, but also for the life of the world…. (76-77)
2. Everything we have is something to offer back to God as a sacrifice. All that we have can be offered up to God “for the life of the world” (82). Everything “is potential material for sacrifice” (84).
I appreciate the fact that Elisabeth includes her painful feelings and her negative emotions in this “everything” which is material for sacrifice. For example, Elisabeth was often asked how she handled loneliness in her life. She always explained that she could not handleloneliness—or discouragement, or despair. But she could offer it as a sacrifice to the Lord. Her loneliness became an offering to the One who could handle it (84).
3. Our greatest offering is obedience (77). The “highest form of worship is obedience” (86).
Here is a great truth: “there is no consolation like obedience” (87). We forget that, don’t we? Yet how much comfort we could gain if we believed this!
Through our obedience in the midst of our suffering, we become like “broken bread and poured out wine for the life of the world” (87). That gives our lives rich meaning and high purpose, does it not?
Our lives are evaluated not by how much we accumulate or accomplish but rather by how much we give. The most important measure of our lives is what we sacrifice through our offerings of love and obedience. As Elisabeth concludes this section on offerings, she shares this quote by Ugo Bassi: “Measure your life by loss and not by gain, not by the wine drunk, but by the wine poured out. For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice …” (89).
Chapter 6: “Transfiguration”
Elisabeth discusses the principle of transfiguration, the perspective of transfiguration, and the paradoxes of transfiguration.
If we receive the things that God wants to give us, if we thank Him for them and if we make those things an offering back to God, then this is what’s going to happen—transfiguration. (93)
As we pour ourselves out for others, we find that we ourselves are strengthened (Isaiah 58). Elisabeth calls this the principle of transfiguration. As Proverbs 11:25 says, “He who waters will himself be watered.”
Life comes out of death, just as a seed must be buried in the ground in order to bring a great harvest.
Our perspective is transfigured through suffering. As we endure, we begin to see “Him who is unseen” (Hebrews 11:27). We begin to understand that our suffering is achieving true glory.
All of this, of course, involves profound paradox. God is a transforming God. He turns deserts in springs, ashes into beauty, mourning into joy, and humiliation into glory (104).
We are privileged to offer to God all that we are and all that we have and all that we suffer. God then transforms this sacrifice “for the life of the world”; and He transfigures us into men and women of joy.
There is … no redemptive work done anywhere without suffering. (104)
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. A. W. Tozer
As Christ-followers, we believe is that God is good.
That statement is far more than a simple cliché: it is a critical dividing line!
This belief distinguishes angels from demons. The confidence that God is good separates joy-filled believers from joy-less believers, and victorious Christians from defeated ones.
From the beginning of human history, we have been tempted to doubt the goodness of God.
Even when we recognize God’s goodness as a fact in our theology, we often struggle to trust that goodness as a reality in our daily lives.
We know that “God is good” does not mean that He grants our every whim like a genie in a magic lamp. But what does it mean?
Here are several realities created by the abundant goodness of God.
1. “God is good” means that every drop of suffering that we yield to Him will gain a far greater weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). Ultimately, God redeems all suffering that is given to Him. Our redeemed suffering will bring a joy and inner thriving to us that will overflow our pain.
“God is good” means that God knows how to turn our suffering inside-out into well-being and delight.
The LORD your God turns curses into blessings for you because He loves you. Deuteronomy 23:5
“God is good” means that God will take the ashes of our lives and replace them with the beauty of Abundant Life. In exchange for the despair and heaviness of our hearts, He gives us the oil of gladness (Isaiah 61:3).
2. “God is good” means that if we could see now what God sees,we would not change one thingin what God is doing, how He is doing it, or when He is doing it. We would not resist Him. Instead of grumbling, protesting, or dragging our feet, we would join Him wholeheartedly!
If we could see now what God sees, we would rejoice that He is working perfectly in our lives. And someday, when we do see all that God has done, we are not doing to be disappointed! We are going to be overwhelmed at the splendor and excellence of it all.
3. The goodness of God means that we always have reason for joy. We can always go forward with hope. The goodness of God is greater than our greatest sorrow, and His goodness is deeper than our deepest disappointment.
4. “God is good” means that God is fully attentive to us, His children. He is always motivated by absolute love; He is never limited in His strength or ability; and He is always guided by perfect wisdom. Without fail, God loves us well.
5. “God is good” means that God does not lie. He keeps His promises. Whether we are single or married–whatever our circumstances are–God is not late. He is never negligent or forgetful.
6. “God is good” means that God does not react to us out of fatigue, exasperation, impatience, wounded ego, defensiveness, spite, or misunderstanding. God responds to us in wisdom and love.
7. “God is good” means that we can cast ourselves on His goodness, trusting His commands, and trusting our well-being to Him. We can trust Him in the frustrations, disappointments, and sorrows of life. As we focus on treasuring Christ, we allow His goodness to be comfort, sweetness, and strength to us.
The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant. Psalm 35:27, NIV
8. “God is good” means that if somethingwill truly bless us, then we will have it! It is the heart of God to maximize our forever joy and to nurture our well-being. God does not withhold blessing (Psalm 84:11).
God is always way ahead of us when it comes to blessing us! God’s desire to bless us is greater than our desire to be blessed. When we are yielded to God, anytemporary lack in our lives is always making way for something greater.
9. The goodness of God shields us (Psalm 31:19). In our marriages and families, we are surrounded by things that are not good. We feel knocked down at times by the things that people say or do that are not good. But God’s goodness stabilizes us. His goodness protects us so that our hearts stay clean and our spirits stay healthy. The goodness of God keeps us from sinking into bitterness or discouragement.
10. “God is good” means that when we suffer according to God’s will, God makes it His suffering, and He carries the weight of it (Matthew 11:28-30).
11. “God is good” means that even though we do not know exactly why God allows certain things, we do know that there is an answer! There is a good answer that will not only make sense to us but which will fully satisfy us and cause us to rejoice. Sometimes it is enough just to know that there is such an answer.
12. “God is good” means that God will maintain His excellencies and glories as a perfect God. We are utterly dependent on Him, so it is wonderful to know that He is committed to maintaining His strength, His wisdom, and His holiness.
LORD, we are in awe of You! You are far greater than we can know, not just in wisdom and knowledge, but in utter goodness.
We delight in your goodness, Lord! We celebrate your abundant goodness (Psalm 145:7). Your goodness is the song that dispels the dissonance of evil.
Lord, today we trust Your goodness. We rest in Your goodness. Like Your people in Nehemiah 9:25, we revel in Your great goodness.
In the Name of Christ we pray. Amen.
**This material first appeared on the Manna For Marriage prayer call on June 13, 2019. The recording may be viewed HERE.