Note: The original draft of this was written on September 9. I have kept most of the original but have tried to edit for clarity since Jeff went home to be with the Lord only two days later.
About eleven years ago, I recognized my innate impatience, and like a “good Christian,” I prayed for more patience. About two weeks later, Jeff told me his company was going to deploy to Iraq. What followed was the greatest test of my faith and endurance that I had (at that time) ever known.
The lesson: Be careful what you ask for in prayer.
I say that somewhat light-heartedly, but also with the serious acknowledgment that sometimes we don’t know what our Lord may need to do in order to answer those prayers.
Another example of this was when Jeff and I were newlyweds. In my state of newly-wedded bliss, I foolishly asked the Lord to make our marriage an example of His purposes for marriage and use it for His glory. I believe He has done those things, but oh, how painful has that process been for both of us!
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.” (James 1:5-6 NLT)
Whatever we ask of Him, we must make sure our intentions are not misplaced and that our faith and hope are in HIM ALONE.
Awhile back, I shared how I sought His purpose in Jeff’s illness. Not always selflessly or with the best intentions, but God continues to gracefully intertwine the life of Jesus into me as I share in Christ’s suffering through this journey. He has met me in every moment. Over the weeks and months, I have often asked why He would allow us to walk through this kind of anguish and what His purpose is.
There are certain things He has consistently spoken to me through this season of suffering, marked by Jeff’s illness, his passing, and my own grief. Maybe they will apply to others in similar seasons (and I humbly hope they will), but please don’t interpret them to apply to everyone going through something like this. Find the beauty in God’s answers to me and seek Him out to find the answers He may have for your particular situation. He is good. He is faithful. He is true. Ultimately, when we ask, let us a) expect Him to answer b) be willing to hear His heart and receive His answer. Don’t expect your flesh to like His answers, but expect your spirit to bear witness to them. And expect His grace to be sufficient.
1. Suffering molds me into the image of Christ. “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3: 19-11 NLT). “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:10 NLT)
2. Adversity has removed much of my prideful independence as I must depend more upon Jesus and less upon myself. Sometimes, I also have to depend upon others (I really hate that!). When I find I can’t do it all alone, then I realize that the Body of Christ is THERE so I don’t have to carry the burden alone. This has lead me to acknowledge how much I still need grace. As I become more dependent upon His grace, I am more able to extend grace. I have experienced this truth in almost every aspect of my life, as I have had to depend upon others to: care for my husband in the hospital, care for my children, pick up my groceries, mow our lawn, overlook our cluttered home… I could keep going.This has been so difficult because Jeff and I were independent people. We wanted to be self-sufficient, but God had other plans. He wrecked our self-fufficiency, and gave us HIS all-sufficiency.
3. The fire of affliction shows me my idols and strips me of them. At times, my marriage and my husband were idols in my life. This was never intentional, but God loves me too much to allow idolatry in my life. He used Jeff’s illness to clearly show me that I must not depend on my husband and marriage or anyone/anything more than I depend on Him. As Jesus said, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthing of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.” (Matthew 10:37 NLT). He is making me into a “bride” who is both pure and wholly devoted to Him.
4. Suffering is not about ME. It is ultimately about reconciling to the Father those who are separated from Him. One day, I was praying and the Lord reminded me of Jesus praying in the garden before his crucifixion. His suffering had a GREAT purpose–to reconcile the human race to God. His suffering was about you, me, and all of those the Good Shepherd would bring into his fold. He is still doing that. He has instilled in me that the time is short and there are still many whom He wants to draw to Himself. He allows us to be a part of that! It is a glorious unfolding of God’s perfect plan. We are not only part of this great harvest, but we are the “few” workers chosen to bring it in. Our role may be suffocatingly painful at times, but if we can allow Him to show us how to see into the unseen, we just may catch a glimpse into the glorious eternal beauty He is bringing from our momentary ashes.
5. Walking through intense, heart-wrenching trials with the right attitude always leads me back to Jesus. In the midst of heartbreaking anguish, I realize I can’t take my eyes off of Jesus for a second. Moment by moment, I must choose to place my hope in His promises, particularly the promise that He will one day “wipe every tear from our eyes.” When I do that, I focus less on earthly things and more on heavenly things. This causes me to live differently, speak differently, love differently. Jesus becomes more real to me. He becomes more and more while “self” becomes less and less.
What should I pray for next?
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18 NLT).