The Prize Inside Our Sufferings

Day 36 May 31, 2014

“Oh, if only someone would give me a hearing! I’ve signed my name to my defense—let the Almighty One answer! I want to see my indictment in writing. Anyone’s welcome to read my defense; I’ll write it on a poster and carry it around town. I’m prepared to account for every move I’ve ever made— to anyone and everyone, prince or pauper. (Job 31:35-37 MSG)

And then GOD answered: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time. (Habakkuk 2:2, 3 MSG)

Is it healthier to be alone with painful thoughts or to have potentially misguided comforters join us with more painful ideas as to why we are suffering? What about writing those thoughts down? Job did. Is it therapeutic or possible to think too much, too deeply? Is it possible to over think and to worsen our pain? Do our interactions with others shed light on our dilemma or increase it's shade of darkness? Let me twist Job's story a little bit today.

What if Job would have at least entertained his friends, his comforters, opinions about his suffering? You don't have to give up on your own ideas just because you entertain someone else's thoughts. I'm looking for a silver lining in our crises today. Does one exist?

I think that pain and suffering often create a force field around the sufferer. There is a silent voice within the griever that states, "I don't want anyone to know my pain" which can potentially take us from the shock caused by our suffering, which leads us to a place of denial. Dangerous for sure. Maybe there are too many opinions and possibilities to consider, therefore, to much pain to process. Is it possible, however, that we have to learn to process past and present pain in order to truly enjoy future prosperity?

I'm not saying that happiness and peace are required to possess prosperity. Job had proven that neither is necessary. But, is it possible to have everything and still have nothing? Was Job truly happy with his first stint of prosperity? It doesn't seem like it to me. He seemed to be in a constant state of fret. Always cleaning up behind the perceived messes that his children created.

What was Job looking for once this season of sorrow ended? More stuff? Control of his children's religious life-style? I propose that we must never allow suffering itself become our focus. Can it be ignored? No. But, it must be rightly addressed. At least if we don't want to remain in pain for a lifetime.

There are many marriages, relationships and vocations that have people trapped. The people locked inside are literally suffering and rather than addressing the sorrow they are simply adjusting to the suffering. They give into the idea that a life of contentment is unattainable. They quit believing. There was a miracle inside Jobs suffering. Chapter 42 tells me so. Did you know that there is a miracle inside your adversity, your suffering? I'm absolutely sure that there is in mine.

God wants us to be happy. I know that some people don't agree with the idea of happiness on this side of heaven. Is it possible that your family tree leads you back to Elihu, one of Jobs "comforters?" Are you more focused on the cause of your suffering than the outcome that God has planned for you? It's important to look ahead. Why is this line of reasoning important? Maybe because if you don't have an idea of where you're going you won't know when you've arrived. If you don't know your target, you won't know when you hit it. Did Job want his stuff back? His kids? Or, was he looking ahead to a redemptive end to his suffering?

If it's his kids he's waiting for he's never going to recover from his suffering; they're not returning. So, how do we address our pain in such a way to get the best return on our suffering? Do we keep talking about until we get comfortable with it or until it goes away? I propose neither. I think until we understand that it's a natural part of life we will live a life of great disappointment. There is always a lesson inside the suffering. That's the prize or the miracle if you will. Let's look at two prizes inside the sufferings of Christ.

First, He learned obedience through the things that He suffered. (Hebrews 5:8)

Second, He purchased our salvation through His suffering on the cross.

When I was a kid one of my favorite snacks was "Cracker Jacks." The box was cool looking and the contents sweet, however, those two attractive reasons were not the big draw for me. Inside every box of Cracker Jacks was a prize. It was usually buried somewhere near the bottom of the box. Overcome with anticipation, I would often spill a larger portion of the sweet nuggets inside the box attempting to access the prize prematurely.

Why? I was a kid. There was a sufficient amount of candy but only one prize. Go for it! I want to approach this season, with all it's pain, in the same way. I'm adding some sugar to my suffering and going after the prize. I didn't ever know what the prize was going to be but I didn't care it was always good. I don't know what the prize is inside my momentary suffering but I do know that one exists. I have peace.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

 "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." (Isaiah 26:3)

There will always be a sufficient amount of suffering in our world. We can never avoid it and we certainly don't want to find comfort in it but we do want to find the prize. The prize? Yes. That one special nugget of wisdom and understanding that will make us better and more capable of enjoying our "twice as much" when it arrives. Job was going to live 140 years after everything was restored to him.

That's awesome...I think. I think? Yes. I think Job found the prize, or prizes inside his suffering. Contentment. Trust. Why would I think that he enjoyed his extended years? Because there is no Job sequel or 2nd Job. We never read of him running behind his new family attempting to clean up after their religious deficiencies and delinquencies. How miserable. It appears as though he learned his lesson. The real prize in Job's box of suffering was that God could now handle the things that Job once tried to control in his own strength. We are only called to possess "self-control" not to control others.

I want the prize. I don't want to learn to be a better sufferer. I don't want to compete in the "Martyr's Olympics". God forbid that I win a Gold Medal for misery and suffering. I don't want to learn "how to suffer living alone" (I hate it) but I do want to learn "from living alone". In other words I don't want to learn how to suffer but I do want learn from my suffering.

There is a prize in my box of suffering and I'm going to find it. God has something hidden, no packed, inside this time in my life. He wants me to find it. As a father of five I've always loved watching my children run to the Christmas tree to open there gifts. I loved seeing their little faces light up when they see what they've anxiously waited for, for weeks. They wanted their prize.

One of the prizes that I've found inside my suffering is meditation. I've never really enjoyed being alone with my thoughts. Maybe the real truth, I've never been "comfortable" alone with them. I like to be busy and not think too much or too deeply. I guess that I've been afraid to face some hidden insecurities in my life. I'm not sure. I've never taken the time to put my true thoughts on paper (iPad) and see for myself what's in me.

I've never shared my real feelings and thoughts with others because I've never had the courage to share them with myself. I've found a prize in writing and sharing. I'm getting to know the real me. I feel like an onion. Every day another layer that has shielded me from self discovery has been peeled away. What have I been afraid of all these years? I think I've discovered at least one answer. It's found in the last line in the paragraph below.

“Others fearing to try their wings are content to show early promise and to live with the belief that they could be great (and win their parents’ love) if they ever applied themselves, which they dare not do. They might have a great natural tennis swing but they will never practice. The fantasy of approval for what they might do is preferable to the reality of possible rejection for what they can do.” Excerpt From: Elan Golomb, PhD. “Trapped in the Mirror.” HarperCollins Publishers, 1992. iBooks.

My fear of being rejected has prevented me from being authentically me. In spite of my many weaknesses God has allowed me to experience a pretty good measure of success. But, rather than enjoying my success I've hidden behind it. Why? Maybe I feared losing it if anyone ever knew the insecure me. And, if I did, God forbid, others would see the real me, even worse I would see the real me. I've now pulled back the veil to face my suffering, another layer fear has been removed, and guess what, it's actually liberating. I'm not defined by success or failure. I'm defined by who I am. I'm made in God's image and likeness. I'm the apple of His eye. I'm fearfully and wonderfully made.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day. (Psalm 139:13-16 MSG)

My latter days, weeks, months and years will be far greater than my previous ones. I probably don't have 140 years left but the time that I have left will be lived to the full. I'm His prize waiting on my prize on the other side of this sweet suffering.

I love the way Habakkuk worded it. "This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait!"

My heart aches for the prize within my box of suffering today. I pray that there is an ache in the atmosphere of your soul today.