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The Gift of Suffering

Lisa Barry: Do you like birthdays? I guess I like them all right, but they do seem to be coming more frequently these days. Birthdays are fun because it's a time when people do special things for us, buy gifts that are uniquely suited to us. Well, you can imagine how you'd feel if you opened up a gift addressed to you, only to find that it was the gift of suffering.

Now, obviously, that's not a very likely gift from a family member. But the Bible says that suffering is a gift, a gift from God. Elisabeth Elliot explains this often misunderstood idea as she continues reading letters from listeners. That's what's coming up on this Friday edition of Gateway To Joy.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says, "and underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot, talking with you today about the gift of suffering.

I've been talking to possibly perspective missionaries, giving you some glimpses on things that might be difficult. Let's not suppose that God is ever going to give us a job that's just going to be smooth sailing. For all of us, we need to be taught. We need to be taught throughout our lives. There's never a point at which we graduate from the school of suffering particularly.

The whole question of suffering is one that I've talked about many times. I've written a book called A Path Through Suffering, which I would hope would be very helpful to some of you who may be going through such a path right now. My definition for suffering is a very simple one. It may seem a little ridiculous to you, but I think if you ponder it a bit you may see why I consider this a valid definition. Suffering is having what you don't want, or wanting what you don't have.

I think all of us can think of something that we don't want and something that we don't have that we do wish we had. Suffering is a rather dramatic term, yet I do believe it covers all the little things that get us all upset and all bent out of shape--the sorts of things that we might not even think of getting onto our knees about. Well, I don't want to bother God with a silly little thing like that. The washing machine broke down this morning; three of the children were vomiting, or whatever it is. You know you've got something you don't want and you want something that you don't have.

When I lost my husband I certainly wanted something I didn't have any more. Well, you can fill in the blanks can't you? This idea of the gift of suffering. Why would God give us suffering? Do you know the passage in Paul's epistle where he's talking about all his trials and tribulations? I think it's in 2 Corinthians 12 where he goes through a long catalog of the trials and tribulations that he had been through. It's quite staggering when you read those in chapter 11.

Well, I'll read you just a few of them. He says, "I've been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked, spent a night and a day in the open sea. I've been constantly on the move. I've been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in the danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false brothers."

How's that for a list of dangers! Verse 27, "I have labored and toiled; and have often gone without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst; and have often been without food. I have been cold and naked. Besides everything I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak and I do not feel weak. Who is led into sin and I do not inwardly burn."

Now all of those things in that list, that's from chapter 11. But you get into chapter 12 and here's this tiny little thing that just about ruins Paul. He says, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away, but He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you. For My grace is all you need for, My power is made perfect in weakness.'"

Now let's think about those dramatic troubles and trials and tribulations that he has, that he lists in chapter 11. And then here's this ridiculous teeny, tiny little thing. He did just what you or I would have done. You would ask the Lord to take it away. But the Lord said no. "My grace is all you need."

A poem that was given to me some years ago speaks of a mendicant. It's not a word that we use very often. It simply means a beggar. The passage from which this author took her idea is the one that I just read. This is the way she put it:

"I stood a mendicant of God [or a beggar] before His royal throne and begged Him for one priceless gift that I could call my own.

I took the gift from out of His hand, but as I would depart; I cried, 'But Lord, this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.

This is a strange and hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.' He said, 'My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.'

I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore, As long years past I learned at last to love it more and more.

I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil that hides his face."

He is a loving God, my dear listeners. Believe me, He is a loving God. He gives good gifts. Some of those gifts are suffering. I don't know what the cup might be that the Father is offering to you now. But I know that in Jesus' case, the cup that He had to accept from His Father's hand was a cup of sorrow and suffering the like of which you and I will never know.

If you read Isaiah 53, this gives you a glimpse of what Jesus Himself went through. He received the cup when He was in the Garden of Gethsemene, when He was saying, "Father, let this cup pass from Me." But His next answer was, "Nevertheless not My will but Thine be done." In Isaiah 53 we read:

"He was despised and rejected of men, a Man of Sorrows, familiar with suffering. He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed. He was oppressed and afflicted yet He did not open His mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer."

Now when you and I begin to feel sorrow for ourselves and we think, "Poor little me. Why does God do this to me? I don't understand why God is allowing this to happen to me," go back to Isaiah 53:10. It was the Lord's will to crush Jesus Christ, His Son, and to cause Him to suffer. Why?

"Though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days; and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand because He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors."

The gift that God gave to His only begotten Son was to crush Him. The gift that God may be offering to you in His loving hands may be a thorn--something about which you cannot imagine why God is doing this. Yet He is saying, "Will you love Me? Will you trust Me? Will you praise Me?"

The Bible tells us in Romans 8:17 that we are heirs with Him if we suffer with Him. We become co-heirs. He wants us to be with Him in our sufferings. He wants us to understand the sufferings that He went through for us. Of course, we can never understand it. Of course, it is beyond any of our wildest imaginings. But we know that because of that shameful cross you and I receive redemption.

I don't know what the gift may be that God is handing to you today, but there may be bitterness in the cup. There may be a thorn. Think of the words of that beautiful hymn, "When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. See from His head, His hands, His feet sorrow and love flow wounded down. Did ere such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown."

What is the gift of suffering that God may be holding out to you? He loves you. He looks at you with great compassion. He says, "Will you receive it? Will you love Me? Will you trust Me? I love you with an everlasting love."

Lisa Barry: As we bring this series to a close I hope you've been challenged to give God complete control of your life. That's our goal here at Gateway To Joy. And if it happens, we will rejoice with you and praise God for doing what He said He could do.

Something else that has been changing the lives of Gateway To Joy listeners is the book Gateway To Joy: Reflections that Draw us Nearer to God. We've taken some of the best, most quoted portions of Gateway To Joy and Elisabeth's writings and put them together in a book for you. It's all there in a beautifully illustrated book that you'll be pleased to display in your living room. For a limited time, we're offering this book at a discount. It used to be $21.50 but if you order now it is $15.50. And to purchase that, you can send that amount along with your request to:

Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE 68501. Or, toll-free 1-800-759-4JOY. We also have today's program available as part of a one-week series. Ask about it when you call 1-800-759-4569. A third option is our Web site at gatewaytojoy.org.

Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible, and people like you make it possible.

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