The Birth of the Ancient of Days

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
This is a great Christmas text even though it comes from the very end of Jesus’s life on earth, not the beginning.
Notice: Jesus says not only that he was born, but that he “came into the world.” The uniqueness of his birth is that he did not originate at his birth. He existed before he was born in a manger. The personhood, the character, the personality of Jesus of Nazareth existed before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born.
The theological word to describe this mystery is not creation, but incarnation. The person, not the body, but the essential personhood of Jesus existed before he was born as man. His birth was not a coming into being of a new person, but a coming into the world of an infinitely old person.
Micah 5:2 puts it like this, 700 years before Jesus was born:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
The mystery of the birth of Jesus is not merely that he was born of a virgin. That miracle was intended by God to witness to an even greater one; namely, that the child born at Christmas was a person who existed “from of old, from ancient days.”
And, therefore, his birth was purposeful. Before he was born he thought about being born. Together with his Father there was a plan. And part of that great plan he spoke in the last hours of his life on earth: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).
He was the eternal Truth. He spoke only the truth. He acted out the greatest truth of love. And he is gathering into his eternal family all those who are born of the truth. This was the plan from ancient days.
– John Piper

The Greatest Salvation Imaginable

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah . . . ”(Jeremiah 31:31)

God is just and holy and separated from sinners like us. This is our main problem at Christmas — and every other season. How shall we get right with a just and holy God?

Nevertheless, God is merciful and has promised in Jeremiah 31 (five hundred years before Christ) that someday he would do something new. He would replace shadows with the Reality of the Messiah. And he would powerfully move into our lives and write his will on our hearts so that we are not constrained from outside, but are willing from inside, to love him and trust him and follow him.
That would be the greatest salvation imaginable — if God should offer us the greatest Reality in the universe to enjoy and then move in us to know that Reality in such a way that we could enjoy it with the greatest freedom and the greatest pleasure possible. That would be a Christmas gift worth singing about.

That is, in fact, what he promised in the new covenant. But there was a huge obstacle. Our sin. Our separation from God because of our unrighteousness.

How shall a holy and just God treat us sinners with so much kindness as to give us the greatest Reality in the universe (his Son) to enjoy with the greatest possible joy?

The answer is that God put our sins on his Son, and judged them there, so that he could put them out of his mind, and deal with us mercifully and remain just and holy at the same time. Hebrews 9:28 says Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many.”
Christ bore our sins in his own body when he died (1 Peter 2:24). He took our judgment (Romans 8:3). He canceled our guilt (Romans 8:1). And that means our sins are gone (Acts 10:43). They do not remain in God’s mind as a basis for condemnation. In that sense, he “forgets” them (Jeremiah 31:34). They are consumed in the death of Christ.

Which means that God is now free, in his justice, to lavish us with the all the unspeakably great new covenant promises. He gives us Christ, the greatest Reality in the universe, for our enjoyment. And he writes his own will — his own heart — on our hearts so that we can love Christ and trust Christ and follow Christ from the inside out, with freedom and joy.

— John Piper

Leveraging Suffering for Eternity

She wasn’t a typical American.

At a time when other Americans were throwing rocks in first grader Afshin Ziafat’s childhood home and kicking him off the soccer team, there was an American lady who loved him.

What Afshin didn’t realize at the time was that her acts of love would one day connect him to the Source of love.

•••••••••••••••••••••

When he was 2, Afshin and his family moved from Houston to his parents’ home country of Iran.

Four years later, the Islamic Revolution hit the country and the Ziafats returned to Houston.

“I was in the middle of first grade,” Afshin said. “I didn’t speak English and God in His incredible providence gave me a tutor who taught me English by reading me books.”

But that’s not all she did for him.

“In the second grade, she said, ‘Afshin, I’ve been reading you all these books but now I’m going to give you the most important book you’ll ever get in your life,’ and she handed me a small New Testament. She said, ‘You’re not going to understand this book today, but promise me you’ll hold onto it and read it later in your life.’”

And a seed was planted.

•••••••••••••••••••••

A doctor and prominent Muslim in the Houston community, Afshin’s father taught his children the five pillars of the Islamic faith and that Jesus was merely a prophet. Despite that, as a senior in high school, Afshin became curious about the person of Christ.

“God, in His amazing plan, had this guy on a basketball court say to me after I said ‘Jesus’ in vain, ‘Hey, that Jesus is my God.’”

Afshin thought the guy was crazy, but one thought led to another until he went looking for the Bible his tutor had given him. Years after she gave him the book that had the power to change his life, Afshin found it at the bottom of his closet.

With the covers pulled over his head, he began reading the Bible every night by flashlight, afraid of what would happen if his family discovered him.

But then Afshin discovered something worth immeasurably more than his security.

“I got to the book of Romans and read about a righteousness that comes apart from the law but comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” he said. “That day was a turning point for me and a couple of weeks after that I was invited to an evangelistic event where I gave my life to follow Christ.”

•••••••••••••••••••••

What happens when suffering looks like persecution within your own family?

Not fully understanding the commitment or call of Christ to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, Afshin drove home from the evangelistic event wondering what he would tell his family, especially his father. Instead of telling them anything, he hid his faith from his family, intercepted mail from the church he snuck out to attend, and continued to hide his Bible.

Eventually, however, his father found out and presented him with an ultimatum: Christ or him.

By God’s strength, Afshin chose Christ.

“You’re no longer my son,” was the response he received.

In what he now sees as a definitive moment in his life, Afshin went upstairs and cried, “God, how could You do this to me?”

The Lord, full of compassion, led him to Matthew 10 where he read,

So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father…

“I’m reading that going, ‘That just happened to me,’” Afshin recalled.

…and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. –Matthew 10:32-38

“That’s when I really understood what it means to be a follower, not just to believe the right things, but to be willing to lose your dad, your family to follow Christ.”

•••••••••••••••••••••

As detailed in Scripture, our lives intersect with other lives and weave together in affliction, suffering, and comfort, ultimately displaying the faithfulness of God for the glory of God.

Afshin’s story is no different. Though persecution came and his family disowned him, Afshin learned to embrace the God who is sovereign over suffering and with us in the midst of it.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. -1 Peter 4:19

“Normal human experience would be to shake your fist at God because suffering is coming,” Afshin said. “But if you’re suffering, I believe you have an opportunity to say to the world, ‘He’s faithful. Even in my suffering, He’s faithful and He’s got a purpose for this.’ I think that’s a huge opportunity.”

This, along with Jesus’ high priestly prayer, directly counters the comfort-driven lives of the Western world.

“In John 17, Jesus prays for His disciples and He says that the world hates them and they don’t belong to the world,” Afshin said. “We would probably say, okay, if the world hates me and I don’t belong to the world then Jesus is going to say, ‘God, keep them separate from the world, protect them from the world and they’ll become monks in the mountains somewhere away from the world.’ But that’s not what He said.”

As You have sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. … I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word… –John 17:18, 20

“Leveraging our life for eternity means I understand that the days I have here are limited and God has not left me here to pursue comfort and the American dream,” Afshin said. “He’s left us here for mission.”

•••••••••••••••••••••

With an earnest desire for believers to be moved by that mission, Afshin leads his life, family, and church to glorify God by making disciples who make disciples through the Gospel, in community, and on mission.

“I wish the church in America would wake up to our calling to love and serve the least of these and to spread the Gospel to a spiritually dark world and not be fixated on our protection and our comfort and our safety,” he said. “You’re not here for you. You’re here to be on mission. That’s why God has left you here.”

That mission does not cease during trials but, through the lens of the Gospel, we see the opportunity to magnify God actually expands during suffering.

“Why would you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus? Why would you hate your father and mother and your wife and children to follow Jesus? Why would you forsake all you have in order to be His disciple? There’s no way you would do that unless you understand what you’re getting in the Gospel.”

After completing high school, Afshin graduated from The University of Texas in 1996 with a Bachelors of Arts in History then Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2000 with a Masters of Divinity with Biblical Languages. He and his wife Meredith now live in Frisco, Texas, with their two daughters, Elyse and Ansley, where he serves as lead pastor of Providence Church. Afshin also works with Elam Ministries to train Iranian men and women called into ministry to go back into Iran to preach, teach, and plant underground churches.

For more articles and resources like this,
get your free copy of RTM Magazine on iPhoneiPadAndroid, or on the web.

Leveraging Suffering for Eternity

She wasn’t a typical American.

At a time when other Americans were throwing rocks in first grader Afshin Ziafat’s childhood home and kicking him off the soccer team, there was an American lady who loved him.

What Afshin didn’t realize at the time was that her acts of love would one day connect him to the Source of love.

•••••••••••••••••••••

When he was 2, Afshin and his family moved from Houston to his parents’ home country of Iran.

Four years later, the Islamic Revolution hit the country and the Ziafats returned to Houston.

“I was in the middle of first grade,” Afshin said. “I didn’t speak English and God in His incredible providence gave me a tutor who taught me English by reading me books.”

But that’s not all she did for him.

“In the second grade, she said, ‘Afshin, I’ve been reading you all these books but now I’m going to give you the most important book you’ll ever get in your life,’ and she handed me a small New Testament. She said, ‘You’re not going to understand this book today, but promise me you’ll hold onto it and read it later in your life.’”

And a seed was planted.

•••••••••••••••••••••

A doctor and prominent Muslim in the Houston community, Afshin’s father taught his children the five pillars of the Islamic faith and that Jesus was merely a prophet. Despite that, as a senior in high school, Afshin became curious about the person of Christ.

“God, in His amazing plan, had this guy on a basketball court say to me after I said ‘Jesus’ in vain, ‘Hey, that Jesus is my God.’”

Afshin thought the guy was crazy, but one thought led to another until he went looking for the Bible his tutor had given him. Years after she gave him the book that had the power to change his life, Afshin found it at the bottom of his closet.

With the covers pulled over his head, he began reading the Bible every night by flashlight, afraid of what would happen if his family discovered him.

But then Afshin discovered something worth immeasurably more than his security.

“I got to the book of Romans and read about a righteousness that comes apart from the law but comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” he said. “That day was a turning point for me and a couple of weeks after that I was invited to an evangelistic event where I gave my life to follow Christ.”

•••••••••••••••••••••

What happens when suffering looks like persecution within your own family?

Not fully understanding the commitment or call of Christ to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, Afshin drove home from the evangelistic event wondering what he would tell his family, especially his father. Instead of telling them anything, he hid his faith from his family, intercepted mail from the church he snuck out to attend, and continued to hide his Bible.

Eventually, however, his father found out and presented him with an ultimatum: Christ or him.

By God’s strength, Afshin chose Christ.

“You’re no longer my son,” was the response he received.

In what he now sees as a definitive moment in his life, Afshin went upstairs and cried, “God, how could You do this to me?”

The Lord, full of compassion, led him to Matthew 10 where he read,

So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father…

“I’m reading that going, ‘That just happened to me,’” Afshin recalled.

…and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. –Matthew 10:32-38

“That’s when I really understood what it means to be a follower, not just to believe the right things, but to be willing to lose your dad, your family to follow Christ.”

•••••••••••••••••••••

As detailed in Scripture, our lives intersect with other lives and weave together in affliction, suffering, and comfort, ultimately displaying the faithfulness of God for the glory of God.

Afshin’s story is no different. Though persecution came and his family disowned him, Afshin learned to embrace the God who is sovereign over suffering and with us in the midst of it.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. -1 Peter 4:19

“Normal human experience would be to shake your fist at God because suffering is coming,” Afshin said. “But if you’re suffering, I believe you have an opportunity to say to the world, ‘He’s faithful. Even in my suffering, He’s faithful and He’s got a purpose for this.’ I think that’s a huge opportunity.”

This, along with Jesus’ high priestly prayer, directly counters the comfort-driven lives of the Western world.

“In John 17, Jesus prays for His disciples and He says that the world hates them and they don’t belong to the world,” Afshin said. “We would probably say, okay, if the world hates me and I don’t belong to the world then Jesus is going to say, ‘God, keep them separate from the world, protect them from the world and they’ll become monks in the mountains somewhere away from the world.’ But that’s not what He said.”

As You have sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. … I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word… –John 17:18, 20

“Leveraging our life for eternity means I understand that the days I have here are limited and God has not left me here to pursue comfort and the American dream,” Afshin said. “He’s left us here for mission.”

•••••••••••••••••••••

With an earnest desire for believers to be moved by that mission, Afshin leads his life, family, and church to glorify God by making disciples who make disciples through the Gospel, in community, and on mission.

“I wish the church in America would wake up to our calling to love and serve the least of these and to spread the Gospel to a spiritually dark world and not be fixated on our protection and our comfort and our safety,” he said. “You’re not here for you. You’re here to be on mission. That’s why God has left you here.”

That mission does not cease during trials but, through the lens of the Gospel, we see the opportunity to magnify God actually expands during suffering.

“Why would you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus? Why would you hate your father and mother and your wife and children to follow Jesus? Why would you forsake all you have in order to be His disciple? There’s no way you would do that unless you understand what you’re getting in the Gospel.”

After completing high school, Afshin graduated from The University of Texas in 1996 with a Bachelors of Arts in History then Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2000 with a Masters of Divinity with Biblical Languages. He and his wife Meredith now live in Frisco, Texas, with their two daughters, Elyse and Ansley, where he serves as lead pastor of Providence Church. Afshin also works with Elam Ministries to train Iranian men and women called into ministry to go back into Iran to preach, teach, and plant underground churches.

For more articles and resources like this,
get your free copy of RTM Magazine on iPhoneiPadAndroid, or on the web.

Making Salvation Real for His People

Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)

Christ is the Mediator of a new covenant, according to Hebrews 8:6. What does that mean? It means that his blood — the blood of the covenant (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 13:20) — finally and decisively purchased and secured the fulfillment of God’s promises for us.
It means that God, according to the new covenant promises, brings about our inner transformation by the Spirit of Christ.
And it means that God works this transformation in us through faith — faith in all that God is for us in Christ.
The new covenant is purchased by the blood of Christ, effected by the Spirit of Christ, and appropriated by faith in Christ.
The best place to see Christ working as the Mediator of the new covenant is in Hebrews 13:20–21:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

The words “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” describe what happens when God writes the law on our hearts in accord with the new covenant. And the words “through Jesus Christ” describe Jesus as the Mediator of this glorious work of sovereign grace.
So, the meaning of Christmas is not only that God replaces shadows with Reality, but also that he takes the Reality and makes it real to his people. He writes it on our hearts. He does not lay his Christmas gift of salvation and transformation under the tree, so to speak, for you to pick up in your own strength. He picks it up and puts it in your heart and in your mind and gives you the seal of assurance that you are a child of God.

– John Piper

Two Kinds of Opposition to Jesus

Jesus is troubling to people who do not want to worship him, and he arouses opposition against those who do. This is probably not a main point in the mind of Matthew, but it is an inescapable implication as the story goes on.

In this story, there are two kinds of people who do not want to worship Jesus.

The first kind is the people who simply do nothing about Jesus. He is a nonentity in their lives. This group is represented at the beginning of Jesus’s life by the chief priests and scribes. Matthew 2:4 says, “Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” So they told him, and that was that: back to business as usual. The sheer silence and inactivity of the leaders is overwhelming in view of the magnitude of what was happening.

And notice, Matthew 2:3 says, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” In other words, the rumor was going around that someone thought the Messiah was born. The inactivity on the part of the chief priests is staggering: why not go with the magi? They are not interested. They are not passionate about finding the Son of God and worshiping him.

The second kind of people who do not want to worship Jesus is the kind who are deeply threatened by him. That’s Herod in this story. He is really afraid. So much so that he schemes and lies and then commits mass murder just to get rid of Jesus.

So today, these two kinds of opposition will come against Christ and his worshipers: indifference and hostility. I surely hope that you are not in one of those groups.

And if you are a Christian, let this Christmas be the time when you ponder what it means — what it costs — to worship and follow this Messiah.
– John Piper

Two Kinds of Opposition to Jesus

Jesus is troubling to people who do not want to worship him, and he arouses opposition against those who do. This is probably not a main point in the mind of Matthew, but it is an inescapable implication as the story goes on.

In this story, there are two kinds of people who do not want to worship Jesus.

The first kind is the people who simply do nothing about Jesus. He is a nonentity in their lives. This group is represented at the beginning of Jesus’s life by the chief priests and scribes. Matthew 2:4 says, “Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” So they told him, and that was that: back to business as usual. The sheer silence and inactivity of the leaders is overwhelming in view of the magnitude of what was happening.

And notice, Matthew 2:3 says, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” In other words, the rumor was going around that someone thought the Messiah was born. The inactivity on the part of the chief priests is staggering: why not go with the magi? They are not interested. They are not passionate about finding the Son of God and worshiping him.

The second kind of people who do not want to worship Jesus is the kind who are deeply threatened by him. That’s Herod in this story. He is really afraid. So much so that he schemes and lies and then commits mass murder just to get rid of Jesus.

So today, these two kinds of opposition will come against Christ and his worshipers: indifference and hostility. I surely hope that you are not in one of those groups.

And if you are a Christian, let this Christmas be the time when you ponder what it means — what it costs — to worship and follow this Messiah.
– John Piper

Mary’s Magnificent God

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46–55)

Mary sees clearly a most remarkable thing about God: He is about to change the course of all human history; the most important three decades in all of time are about to begin.

And where is God? Occupying himself with two obscure, humble women — one old and barren (Elizabeth), one young and a virgin (Mary). And Mary is so moved by this vision of God, the lover of the lowly, that she breaks out in song — a song that has come to be known as “The Magnificat.”

Mary and Elizabeth are wonderful heroines in Luke’s account. He loves the faith of these women. The thing that impresses him most, it appears, and the thing he wants to impress on Theophilus, his noble reader of his Gospel, is the lowliness and cheerful humility of Elizabeth and Mary as they submit to their magnificent God.

Elizabeth says (Luke 1:43), “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And Mary says (Luke 1:48), “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”

The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are people like Elizabeth and Mary — people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the condescension of the magnificent God.

– John Piper

Silent Suffering in an Instagram World

By Monica Hall

The pain was almost unbearable.

The smallest tasks overwhelmed me. I could barely focus through the fog to take care of my children. My whole world had been rocked, but I still had to function. I still had to do the next thing. And I had to do it all while hiding the pain in my heart, because no one else knew that anything was wrong.

Sometimes our suffering is out in the open and our pain is no secret. A car wreck. The death of a friend or family member, spouse or child. A battle with cancer. A house fire. A divorce. We suffer greatly through these times, and everyone knows and sees how we respond. Our church family and other believers can encircle us with prayer and love, and lend us their strength to continue walking down the path.

Other times, and maybe even more often, our suffering is done in the secret places. Maybe someone hurt us deeply and they don’t even realize it. Maybe a wrong was done to us, but we choose not to make it public. Maybe it’s an unrealized dream that is breaking our hearts—infertility, another baby that died before we could even announce we were expecting, singleness when we long for marriage, another job or promotion that went to someone else. Maybe it’s a marriage that looks completely different at home than it does in public, a struggle with depression or anxiety, or even a private battle against our own sin.

Sometimes we suffer in silence unnecessarily. We are too embarrassed or ashamed or prideful to admit what’s really going on. We shudder to think about anyone finding out, afraid they’ll reject us if they know, so we refuse to tell the truth and instead put on a mask and pretend everything is fine. We rob ourselves of the comfort and strength that can come from sharing our pain in a safe place by hiding behind sinful pride, when we could be helped greatly from the humble vulnerability that says, “Everything is not ok, and I need you to pray for me.”

Sometimes, though, it is not a situation that we have the freedom to share.

Sometimes, we must stay silent out of respect for someone else. When I was hurting privately, it was because it wasn’t just my story, and to share my pain would be to betray someone’s trust. Sometimes, we just aren’t far enough down the road to share. Maybe we can tell others later what was going on, but in the midst of the pain it is too private and personal. For whatever reason, there will be times when your heart is broken and you cannot let anyone see.

These times can be particularly excruciating in this Instagram world in which we live. On the surface, everyone is so happy. Everyone has it all together. Everything is perfectly arranged for the picture and the effect is beautiful. All we see is perfection, and all we feel is complete brokenness. It appears we are the only one struggling, the only one whose picture is distorted. The only one suffering.

Now, most of us know that no life is as perfect as it appears on social media. And this isn’t an article that’s going to tell you to spill everything in public, to be completely real and post equal parts ugly and beautiful.

Instead, I’d simply like to give you some solid truths to cling to when your life isn’t picture perfect and you have a sorrow that really can’t be publicized.

ONE. Your pain, even if no other person on earth knows about it, is not hidden from Christ.

Isaiah 53 is a bedrock of hope for the suffering Christian, particularly one suffering in private.

This chapter is one of the most beautiful, agonizing descriptions of the suffering of Christ. We focus on the fact that He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sin and that His suffering was because God laid our iniquities on Him, as well we should. But sometimes we miss the simple fact that He suffered, and what that means for our suffering. He was well acquainted with grief. He was a Man of Sorrows. And right after this description, nestled among all the descriptions of what He suffered for us, we read these words: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4). Whatever else this may mean theologically, we can know that it at least means this: Jesus knows your suffering, and He understands it. And not only that, He carries it with you. No matter how great your pain, no matter what the source, even if it’s a result of your own sin, Jesus loves you with a compassion for your suffering in a way no one else can. When you feel like you cannot share your sufferings with anyone else, pour them out on Him. He is already well-acquainted with your grief, and is ready to comfort you and help you.

TWO. No suffering is wasted, not even private suffering. 

Sometimes it can be easy for us to see a purpose in our suffering.

Other times, it appears senseless. We know the verse that says that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28) but we cannot see any way that good could come from our pain. This is where the rubber of our faith meets the road of life. God has promised to work all things for our good. He has promised to redeem all pain and right all wrongs. He has promised that He has a plan for the world and a plan for us, and that nothing can thwart that plan. When we suffer and can make no sense of it, these are the promises to which we must cling and upon which we must stake all our hope. I can’t begin to suggest here what His purpose may be in your pain, I can just promise you there is one and point you to the cross, where your Savior demonstrated His love for you while you were still dead in your sin. Trust Him. Suffer with faith in Him. Preach His promises to yourself over and over, as often as necessary to help you trust and not despair. And suffer with the end in view—the glorious end of all suffering for all eternity.

THREE. Participate with God in your suffering.

When we are hurting badly, it is often a huge temptation to do anything we can to feel better, even if it’s all just pretense.

Don’t do this. Don’t mask the pain, don’t pretend everything is fine, and don’t drown it in temporary “fixes” that often leave you in more trouble than when you started. If it’s true that God has a purpose in your pain—and it is—then you will only fulfill His purpose by experiencing the suffering. Romans 5:3-5 gives us an overall view of God’s purpose in every pain:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

We have a hope that will not put us to shame, because God’s promises are guaranteed to be true. In the midst of our deepest pain, when we cannot share it with anyone else, God promises that through the suffering He is producing a good work in us. He is conforming us to the image of His Son who suffered (Romans 8:29). For us to be like Jesus, we must suffer, but our suffering is never arbitrary. If we submit to the loving hands of our Father, even in the midst of our suffering, He will refine us as gold in the fire.

FOUR. You are not obligated to publish your pain.

In a culture that publishes everything from what we had for dinner to who we voted for in the last election, it’s important to remember that it is okay to keep your pain private from the masses.

With social media being so prevalent in so many of our lives, it can begin to feel like we must keep our followers updated on what’s going on with us. However, the deepest suffering often brings the deepest growth, and this most often happens in the quiet, secret places. Instead of making your pain public, find one or two trusted believers that can help you walk through the fire. Find friends who will remind you of the truth in your darkest moments, hold your arms up when your strength is gone, cry with you, fight the battle with you, and lift you before the throne of God when you have no words to pray for yourself. This kind of sharing happens person to person, not over social media updates. Your pain does not always need to remain absolutely private, but neither does it need to be public often.

When you are suffering silently, no matter how great your anguish, God sees your pain and has compassion on you.

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? I must perform my vows to You, O God; I will render thank offerings to You. For You have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. –Psalm 56:8-13

You might not see the light when your suffering is darkest, but God sees your tossing and your tears, and He is for you. You can trust Him. Though darkness be all around you, You need not be afraid because God has delivered your soul from death and your feet from falling. You can even render thank offerings to Him through the pain, because His promise is true. And even when no one else in this very public world knows your private pain or your victory over it, He sees. He sees, He cares, He helps. And you may walk before Him in the light of life that is abundant in spite of the pain.

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Theology Matters: Thinking about God

May 27, 1950

2 Peter 3:8, Psalm 90 – I have been considering the greatness of God this morning and am quite amazed that my thoughts of Him have been so human before now. Particularly I am impressed with the eternality of the Godhead. When Peter says that one day is as a thousand years to the Lord, he does not mean that God is on a slower time scale than we are; that is, that 365,000 years of man’s time would equal 365 days of God’s ‘time’. He means only that, in relation to men, God represents Himself as One with whom the passage of time has no effect. “A thousand years are in Thy sight as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” (Ps. 90:4)

The real significance is that god is timeless in His relations with the universe. Eternality is not the length of passing myriads of ages; it is above, beyond, and utterly unrelated to any measurement. This settles much talk of foreknowledge and election. God does not think a thing, and then do it. He can think nothing but it is done instantaneously. Further more, there is no succession in His mind. To Him, eternity is a single act, having no cycles, starts, or ends. What God has become in Christ, God IS from everlasting. It is not that God stooped to become a man and decried to remain such in Christ. God created man in the image He Himself already sustained; this is meaningless unless I believe that God does not become anything. I AM. That settles all possible change. God can neither reverse, go beyond, nor step beneath His eternal mode of being. Thus, none can frustrate His design, for His designing is part of His eternal doing, and those are forever occurring because of His eternal being . . . . He begins, sustains, carries out, and fulfills His every decree—from our point of view. In Himself, however, it is a single act, even as though my entire life were a single breath.

– Jim Elliot