“Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.” (Amos 9:11, NLT)
I know that you are asking God to fulfill these words in your marriage, and I earnestly join you in that prayer, believing that God’s heart is strong for healing and reconciliation. But I also know that at this moment, you sense only cold silence and closed doors.
I want to encourage you that you are not alone in your pain, God is not discouraged, and His plan for your life is not in tatters.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV)
God is not limited by your emotions. You can feel low and yet have strong faith. As you set your will to follow God, He works powerfully through your yielded spirit.
“Therefore, since we do hold and engage in this ministry by the mercy of God …, we do not get discouraged (spiritless and despondent with fear) or become faint with weariness and exhaustion.” (1 Corinthians 4:1, AMPC)
I pray that the following five truths will strengthen you today.
1. God’s mighty purposes for your life and your marriage are not thwarted.
“I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted.”(Job 42:2, HCSB)
God is still using your marriage to draw you closer to Him. The Spirit is still using you to show those around you what God looks like. You have the opportunity to reveal God as a forgiving God, full of generous grace, unfailing commitment, and unconditional love. In fact, it is when our marriages are difficult that we are most able to demonstrate these awesome attributes of God.
And when our marriages are difficult, we are often able to see our own hearts better. When a spouse is warm and supportive, we may believe that we are more loving than we really are. “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” is usually a pleasant transaction, not a self-denying sacrifice. But when we serve a spouse without receiving appreciation or even acknowledgment, then our inner responses reveal our true motivation.
As others have pointed out, when we are treated like servants, we quickly learn whether we have servant’s hearts or not! When we are not receiving positive feedback, we have the privilege to serve purely for the sake of love.
One of the most life-changing habits we can develop is meditating on Scripture.
This means to keep a phrase or passage from the Bible in our thoughts, pondering its meaning and implications. As we go throughout the day, we keep that thought in mind, reflecting and contemplating. Even when we are not consciously considering the phrase, it is still on the “backburner” of our thinking.
We mull it over, asking ourselves questions such as these:
What does this say about God? What does this say about me? How does God want me to apply this to my own life?
What are the spiritual and physical parallels in this situation? What deeper truths are hidden here? How does this connect with other truths?
How does this passage encourage me? convict me? instruct me?
How is the beauty of Christ revealed in this Scripture? How can I treasure and adore Him here?
Meditating on Scripture is like pouring our behavior and our thoughts into a divine mold. When we hold God’s thinking in our minds, our lives begin to conform to the image of Christ.
Over and over, we let the “water” of the Scriptures wash over our minds and spirits. As we do so, we are cleansed and refreshed. The water of the Word is not only a refreshment to our thirsty spirits; it is also a powerful force that shapes us, just as the repeated rushing of water can sculpt even rock.
Those who meditate on Scripture “are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do” (Psalm 1:3, NLT).
God tells us to study the Book that He has given to us:
Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Joshua 1:8, NLT)
What promise from God are you leaning on today? Are your thoughts focused on a specific Scripture? Are you clinging to Truth?
Of course, meditating on Scripture and memorizing Scripture go hand-in-hand. I want to encourage you always to have a verse or a passage that you are memorizing. Just five minutes a day of memorizing will change your life!
(Listen HERE as Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband, Ken, talk about how he memorizes Scripture.)
Below are several encouraging Scriptures. I pray that you will be greatly blessed as you meditate on the precious and powerful promises of God.
If you would like to print these verses, I am attaching them as a pdf HERE.
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)
Recently, my friend Kristen Hogrefe asked me several questions about marriage as she prepares for her wedding in just a few days. She recognizes that preparing for a lifelong marriage is more important than preparing for a wedding event, as exciting as that is! Having been on this journey myself for over thirty years, I am happy to share some of the things I have learned (and still am learning) along the way.
Here are the first three questions:
Bride: Opposites do attract, and my fiancé and I are no exception! What advice can you give to help us celebrate these differences instead of resenting them?
Bride: So often, I hear, “The first year is extremely hard.” Do you agree or disagree, and why?
Bride: Perhaps because I’m getting married in my thirties, I don’t have the “rose-colored-glasses” view that a teen or twenty-something might have. Instead, I’ve seen enough life and marriage struggles to know marriage isn’t always easy. What encouragement can you offer the new bride?
I am honored that Kristen is sharing her questions and my responses in two guest posts on her personal blog, where Kristen encourages her readers “to think truthfully and live daringly.” The first article appeared on her website today, and Part Two will be published next week.
To read our Q and A exchange, continue reading HERE.
How can you trust God after He has allowed evil and suffering to tear through your life?
My friend Joanna has known pain that I cannot even imagine. She experienced horrific abuse for many years of her childhood. Today, she says that she loves God—and I know that she does—but she wonders how she will ever be able to trust Him.
Perhaps you have wondered the same thing. Perhaps your suffering causes you to feel confused about the goodness of God. If so, then my letter to Joanna is also my letter to you:
You have experienced incredible pain.
These painful pieces of your journey are like holy ground to me, and I take my shoes off here. I do not speak flippantly to you.
I do not know the why’s of this evil. There are things in this battle that we do not understand. But I do know this: God will redeem everything that is given to Him. It is certain that this was egregious evil, but it is even more certain that the judgment of God will not fall short or be lacking.
These were awful things, but God will turn them inside out one day. He will satisfy the cry for justice, and He will satisfy your bewilderment. He knows something that we do not know.
How can God tolerate such incredible evil? I do not know how He can stand it. But I am confident of this: He is more tenderhearted than we are. He is more compassionate than we are. Our protest of evil is nothing compared to His.
Your suffering has exposed enemy territory—territory which God now purposes to overwhelm with His forces of victory. As you declare His ownership of these areas, God will push back the forces of evil and will powerfully advance the Kingdom.
Every hurt is a place for a promise, and ashes are the seeds of great beauty. You have many hurts that you can redeem for promises, and you have ashes that you can bring to Jesus. When ashes are allowed to smolder, they bring destruction and deformity. But overshadowed by the Spirit, those same ashes can be exchanged for beauty and glory.
We can pray, “God, I cannot imagine how You can do anything with this—it is such total devastation and heartbreak. It is death. It is beyond my ability even to speculate how You can transform any bit of this. But as Your covenant partner, I am holding on to Your promises. I do not know how You can create anything beautiful from this, but I am asking You to do that, all the same.”
God’s commitment to justice will include these very things from your life, dear friend—the specific deeds of darkness and the specific acts of evil that you have experienced. God’s desire and power to heal are greater than the deepest wound. He knows how to bring water from rock, and how to make the desert bloom. He knows how to bring life from death.
God has made immense promises to you. You see no way in which He can keep His promises, but that is okay. He will keep His promises. It will be more glorious than you ever hoped or imagined.
“For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17, HCBS).
God is up to this. That’s how big He is. Marvel at Him. You do not have to know how He can do this. God just wants you to trust that He will do something bigger than you can imagine. He longs to dazzle you.
God promises you this, dear friend: whatever you give to Him, He will transform. The things you suffered will always be evil, but they will lose their power to destroy you. They will lose their power to make you destitute in spirit: God will make you rich.
The enemy “intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20, NIV).
It is easy to see how the enemy intended these things for destruction. But what does God intend? He intends to redeem!
The LORD God turns curses into blessings for you because He loves you (Deuteronomy 23:5).
It is far too trite to say, “You will learn some good things from this.” That would not be sufficient, would it? There must be more.
This is an evil that we cannot really measure; I know I can’t. It is too much. In the same way, I can’t imagine a “good” that would be good enough to redeem such pain. I can’t imagine a “glory” glorious enough to outweigh that suffering. But God can!
We can trust God because we are convinced that He knows something that we do not.
You do not need to settle for pat answers and trivial assurances. Wait with expectation and confidence for something much greater. God promises something so incredible that it will be more incredible than the pain. We do not know of any such glory, so we are deeply grieved, and we despair of the goodness of God.
But listen: God does know. He does know of a glory that will satisfy your soul. He knows something that will be bigger and deeper, something so GLORIOUS—we do not have big enough words, but something so AWESOME—that it will cause you to fall at His feet and worship Him and adore Him and marvel at Him and love Him like never before.
You will not be disappointed. You will not say, “Lord, this glory—it isn’t enough.” You will say, “Lord, I didn’t know! I could not have imagined this! Yes, Lord, my soul is satisfied!” You will be well satisfied, fully satisfied, completely satisfied. You will never come to the end of your delight in Him.
“The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23, NIV).
For God to do such a thing would be an absolute miracle, wouldn’t it? It would completely amaze us and take our breath away, wouldn’t it?
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God.There the angel of theLordappeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
When theLordsaw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
“Here I am!” Moses replied. (Exodus 3:1-4, NLT)
What an incredible sight! Out in the wilderness, Moses discovered a blazing bush that didn’t burn up.
It got Moses’ attention. He stopped. Intrigued, he moved closer. And then God spoke to him.
A Spectacle of Grace
Over 200 years ago, John Newton realized that this burning-but-not-burnt bush was a vivid metaphor for Christians as they go through fiery trials. Newton wrote:
Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses, ‘Why is this bush not burned?’ The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace.¹
Newton called these suffering-but-victorious Christians “spectacles of grace.” Joni Tada uses the phrase “spectacles of glory.” Joni, by the way, is the perfect example of this! Not only is she a quadriplegic, but Joni has also battled cancer, and she lives with chronic pain. Despite immense suffering, she faithfully maintains a joyful, thankful spirit.
Perhaps you are a spectacle of glory.
At some point, God calls all of us to be spectacles of glory. When we walk through difficult circumstances without being destroyed, it grabs people’s attention. They say, “How can this be? What is going on here?” They turn their eyes from their usual focus. They stop to look. And as they gaze, still and attentive, God speaks to them.
Smoke or Spectacle: Your Choice
When you experience fiery trials, you can be badly burned, and your life can turn into ashes. You might become bitter, resentful, and stuck in grief. You may feel abandoned by God, and you might feel sorry for yourself. Discouragement and despair may overtake you. Your strength, your success, your usefulness—it all seems to go up in smoke.
OR … you can be a bush that is not consumed!
You can be a spectacle of glory as the fires of suffering burn without burning you. Do you remember the young Hebrew men who were thrown into the fiery furnace? They were not consumed—not a single hair was singed. And when they came out of from the flames, they did not even have the smell of fire on them.
A Captive Audience
You can be a miracle that gets the attention of others. (It will probably get your attention, too!) Like a burning-but-not-consumed bush, you will create opportunities for people to hear the voice of God.
People will say, “What’s this? How are you going through these circumstances with a calm spirit? How are you going through all this without being bitter or belligerent? Why are you not anxious or angry or addicted?” Because your response to suffering is unusual, they will stop for a moment and look away from their usual activity—like Moses turning away from his flocks—and they may hear God speaking to them.
We can yield to the indwelling of the Spirit of God. He will be our radiance—the blazing fire that fills us but does not consume us. We can let God turn us into spectacles of grace and glory.
Whose Suffering is This?
The Scriptures tell us:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal you are going through, as though something strange were happening to you. Instead, rejoice—be very glad— as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13, NLT)
Notice that we participate in the sufferings of Christ. Usually, we participate in our own sufferings, don’t we? We participate in our life, our pain, our worry, our frustration, and our feelings of being rejected. But when we live that way, we are like bushes burned and consumed.
Instead, we must give our lives to Christ. We must walk through hard times knowing that these are His sufferings. We can say, “This is God’s life. He can do with it whatever He pleases. I gave it to Him, and I trust Him.” All the pain, the weight, and the rejection is His suffering. It all becomes redemptive suffering, in which nothing is wasted. All of the pain is being molded into a container for glory, a vessel that will overflow with glory.
Redemptive suffering increases our capacity for joy.
Keep On Doing What is Right
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19, NIV)
So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. (1 Peter 4:19, NLT)
What are some of the good things that we should continue to do? Here are several things that are always right to “keep on doing”:
Keep trusting that God is fully attentive to you, absolutely loving, and perfectly wise. Keep trusting that He is trustworthy!
Keep praying fervently and without ceasing.
Keep your heart open and soft toward your spouse. (God often uses the hot coals of kindness to melt icy-hard hearts.)
Keep honoring the spirit of your spouse.
Keep your covenant vows.
God has given us this wonderful promise:
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2, NLT)
If you are walking through fiery trials, I pray that God will sustain you as an amazing “spectacle of grace.” As you are filled with His Spirit, you will be like a burning bush, radiating with His spectacular glory!
Blessings to you, Tami
_______________________________________ ¹Quoted in A Spectacle of Glory: God’s Light Shining through Me. Joni Eareckson Tada. Zondervan. 2016. Page 7.
You may not realize that 20% of high-school and college students engage in the self-injuring practice of cutting. As this becomes more common, it also affects more marriages.
Most of us have not purposely cut ourselves, but we have all experienced inner pain, and we have all searched for ways to relieve that pain. Although this is not my usual topic, I am sharing this today with the prayer that it will be helpful—perhaps to you or someone you know.
The Cutting that Cures
God understands this pain of cutting.
He knows this pain that cries with the voice of a knife.
He feels this pain too heavy for words or tears alone to carry; the flesh must join.
If only burdens would flow with blood. If only blades could strip sorrow as well as skin.¹
This draining of the body leeches life from the soul.
“Imago Dei”² is written upon us, yet we mar, not knowing the handwriting of God.
“Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.”³ Without having heard, we seem to know. But we hope only for the remission of pain.
Only God really knows how great is the loss and how deep is the pain.
Through the tearing of His own flesh, He felt the torment of the whole world. With the gushing of His own blood, He marked the loss of love.
He carried the weight of our suffering in His own body that we would not in ours.
Our pain became His pain, and His wounds became our healing. His brokenness bought our wholeness.
There is, therefore, now no cutting for those who are in Christ Jesus, for there is now no condemnation and no separation.
There is no loss that He will not accept as His. There is no emptiness that He cannot turn inside out into fullness.
The only cutting that will ever put things back together was the crushing of Christ on the Cross– the tearing of a veil, and a new covenant cut.4
“It is finished.”
With lavish love, He engraved our names forever on His palms.
The scars of Christ, sealed on our souls, mark us now as His.
1 In The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp writes that she cut herself as if “you could drain yourself out of pain” (Zondervan, 2016, page 11). 2 This is the Latin phrase for “image of God.” Genesis 1:27 says that God created people in His own image. * By User:BardFuse (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 3 From Hebrews 9:22. The Bible teaches that the consequence of our rejection of God (who is Life) is death. 4 In English, we say that we make a covenant. But in the Hebrew language of Scripture, a covenant is “cut.”
FOR HELP in overcoming cutting, please visit Focus on the Family’s website for a series of helpful articles.