Hearing God in Suffering

How to Live a Dying Life

I had a high school friend whose life overflowed with compassion. The rest of us were obsessed with college-prep, extra-curricular activities, and jobs. But he, like a lion, could sniff out a wounded schoolmate from a thousand yards. And like a lamb, he sat with them in their grief.

Anguish

One day we heard a lecture on handling pain. Most of the class was indifferent—bored even—but my friend listened quietly with fixed attention. My preppy class asked how to deal with a poor score on a college-entry exam; my friend wondered how he could cheer a suicidal sibling.

My friend suffered from cerebral palsy. Everyday his infirmity slapped him in the face, and every night throbbing muscles threatened his sleep.

His walk was awkward, his dialog at times incomprehensible, his body wracked with pain; while his mind remained sharp. But mid-day waiters asked me what “he” wanted for lunch; classmates overlooked him for team sports; and the difficulty of his spastic speech meant few people invited him for an evening dinner. Yet he always sought out others in  sorrow.

Oswald Chambers observed that, “Suffering burns up a lot of shallowness in a person.”

Let’s Rethink the Way We Think

Circumstances, commitments, and surprises (the unpleasant kind) overwhelmed me the past six weeks. I had too much to do and too little time to do it. Forces from competing goals pulled me in opposite directions.

rethink the way we think r2

Two weeks ago I arrived home from a retreat in Colorado, physically and emotionally drained. But I woke up the next morning in an adrenalin-induced frenzy, desperate to prepare five new sessions for a retreat that began in four short days.

The retreat topic was Hearing God. I’ve been waiting (impatiently) for years to offer a retreat on how to recognize God’s voice, but commitments (and bad surprises) had frustrated my attempts to plan it. I was woefully behind and anxious about the few remaining hours I had for preparation.

When I woke up that feverish morning, I sensed God say to me:

“If your retreat teachings are the greatest talks you’ve ever given, but no one hears my voice, the retreat will be a dismal failure. If you give the worst talks you’ve ever given, but people actually hear me speak, the retreat will be a roaring success.”

I sensed God invite me to take two days off from any retreat work—half of my limited, remaining prep time—and simply to give “my” retreat to him. The word seemed unwise, irresponsible, and a little crazy.

Common Sense or Nonsense?

The speaker was persuasive and moving. He asked us to hug a friend, stomp on the floor, and even pinch our own forearms. It didn’t hurt that he could have been a GQ model: six foot three, blond-haired, blue-eyed, and funny. When he looked each of us in the eye, we felt his personal care.

preach r1

(This is not the actual speaker, just a photo of an unknown preacher I found on the web.)

The conference theme was Knowing God. Its most popular presenter was this man with passion for feeling God’s love:

  • He asked, “How can we know God’s love?
  • He answered, “We feel love in the hug, we sense the solid floor in the stomp, and we experience pain in the pinch.”
  • He argued, “God knows our frame, our need for hugs; he longs for us to detect his touch. And that is how we’ll know his love. When we feel it.”
fact faith feeling

Carrie Koens http://www.carriesbusynothings.com

He scorned the old evangelical formula, “Fact–Faith–Feeling” with its mundane illustration of a train: the locomotive represents “fact,” the coal-car “faith,” and the caboose “feelings.”

If we put our faith (fuel) in the facts (locomotive), our feelings will follow. He snickered at its antiquated answer.

“That perversion,” he laughed, “is completely contrary to the God-man of the gospels. Jesus was a man of compassion. We know his love only when we feel it. Feelings teach us facts.”