PRINCIPLES OF CHANGE: PROFITING FROM OUR SUFFERINGS PART 2

INTRODUCTION

Even as Christians, we are still an imperfect people. We make mistakes.

  • Sometimes, the mistakes are unknowing or unintentional: we didn’t know what we were doing at the time. We were just plain ignorant.
  • Sometimes, the mistakes are a weakness of the flesh. While we have the best of intentions and spiritual desires, we were caught off guard in a temptation and, in a moment of weakness or passion, we gave in to sin. Afterwards, we really grieve over what happened, we condemn ourselves for it, because we knew better. We lament and regret our weakness.

Sometimes, however, the mistakes are willful and knowledgeable. We knew what we were doing. And we did it willfully and deliberately because we wanted to do it. We were, at that point, willfully rebelling against God’s law. We did what we wanted to do. And we didn’t care what anyone—including God—said about it. We sinned because we wanted to sin!

FOR A TRUE CHILD OF GOD, SIN DOESN’T MAKE OUR LIFE BETTER. IT DOESN’T PROFIT US. IT DOESN’T DO US ANY GOOD. In fact, sinning makes things even worse. WE’LL SUFFER FOR THE CHOICES WE MAKE. SIN BRINGS SUFFERINGS AND MISERY. AND WHEN WE DECIDE WE’RE GOING TO SIN WE’RE ALSO DECIDING AT THE SAME TIME THAT WE’RE GOING TO SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT SIN.

We don’t like hearing it and we don’t want to hear it. So let me say it once again. Sin has consequences. It brings us suffering. And the root cause of this sin and suffering is a selfish, self-willed, stubborn, rebellious, desire to do something we know is wrong and displeasing to God. It is this sinful desire that the Lord wants us to get  rid of.

Unfortunately, we’re not going to get rid of this sinful desire on our own choice or initiative because we love the sin too much that we’re not going to give it up or let it go on our own. God is going to have to force us to give up this sinful desire. He’s going to have to bring us to a point where we finally admit and decide that this one sin isn’t worth all the suffering and grief we’re going through. This is the change that the Lord wants to produce in us.

LETTING CHASTISEMENT CHANGE US

This theme of suffering brings me to our next principle of change. And the principle is this. IN ORDER FOR US TO CHANGE WE NEED TO LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES AND PROFIT FROM OUR SUFFERINGS.

Now there are many different kinds of sufferings. There are many different reasons why God’s people suffer. But the one reason and cause for suffering that I’d like to look at today is the suffering that is the result of sin. It’s called chastisement or chastening. When we sin God chastises us. Hebrews 12:6-8 puts it this way, For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child. (7)  As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as His own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?  (8)  If God doesn’t discipline you as He does all of His children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really His children at all.

God loves His children. He loves you by name! And when you disobey Him He chastens you. GOD’S CHILDREN ARE CHASTENED AND DISCIPLINED WHEN THEY SIN. It’s definitely not fun or enjoyable. In fact, we hate it and we don’t want it. But God lays it on us because He loves us. Chastening is proof that God still loves us and we’re still His children!

Why does chasten us? Because CHASTENING IS MEANT TO CHANGE US. TO MAKE US MORE RIGHTEOUS. MORE OBEDIENT. It will do this if we submit to the suffering, learn from our sin, and choose next time to be righteous instead of sinful.

Hebrews 12:10-11 tells us,  Our human fathers correct us for a short time, and they do it as they think best. But God corrects us for our own good, because he wants us to be holy, as he is.  (11)  It is never fun to be corrected. In fact, at the time it is always painful. But if we learn to obey by being corrected, we will do right and live at peace.

Let’s look at how chastisement changed a stubborn, hard-headed fellow named Jonah who, not surprisingly, was a spitting image of us. 

JONAH

Jonah was a prophet in Israel. And as a prophet, it was Jonah’s job to go to whoever and wherever God sent him to speak the message that God gave him to speak. On this particular occasion, God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach a word of warning and destruction (Jonah 1:1-2).

Now Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. And Assyria was, at this time, the dominant world power. You could say that they were the rulers of the world. And it just so happened that Assyria and Israel were mortal enemies at this time. Assyria was Israel’s hated enemy #1. They fought several wars. And, within fifty years of Jonah’s ministry, Assyria would invade Israel and pretty much destroy Israel as a nation.

So when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh He was, in effect, asking an Israelite to go into the very heart of the heathen enemy and, as an enemy of the Assyrians, give these heathens a threatening message from a foreign God. It was, in the natural, a life-shortening recipe for disaster and death. Without God’s intervention, the prophet would never make it out of Nineveh alive. He would never see Israel again. His life was as good as dead and done. So what do you think Jonah did? Like a lot of us today, Jonah disobeyed God and ran for his life (Jonah 1:3).

Like I said, if you’re a true child of God, God isn’t going to let you get away with disobedience. You can run from Him and hide from Him. But God knows exactly where you’re at, where you’re going, and what you’ve got planned up your sleeve. And God goes right to work, making sure your plans don’t succeed. This is where your life starts to fall apart and one thing after another goes wrong for you.

Jonah 1:4-17 details how fearsome and awful God can be when you mess with Him:  But the LORD made a strong wind blow, and such a bad storm came up that the ship was about to be broken to pieces.  (5)  The sailors were frightened, and they all started praying to their gods. They even threw the ship’s cargo overboard to make the ship lighter. All this time, Jonah was down below deck, sound asleep.  (6)  The ship’s captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and pray to your God! Maybe he will have pity on us and keep us from drowning.” 

(7)  Finally, the sailors got together and said, “Let’s ask our gods to show us who caused all this trouble.” It turned out to be Jonah.  (8)  They started asking him, “Are you the one who brought all this trouble on us? What business are you in? Where do you come from? What is your country? Who are your people?”  (9)  Jonah answered, “I’m a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  (10)  When the sailors heard this, they were frightened, because Jonah had already told them he was running from the LORD. Then they said, “Do you know what you have done?” 

(11)  The storm kept getting worse, until finally the sailors asked him, “What should we do with you to make the sea calm down?”  (12)  Jonah told them, “Throw me into the sea, and it will calm down. I’m the cause of this terrible storm.”  (13)  The sailors tried their best to row to the shore. But they could not do it, and the storm kept getting worse every minute.  (14)  So they prayed to the LORD, “Please don’t let us drown for taking this man’s life. Don’t hold us guilty for killing an innocent man. All of this happened because you wanted it to.” 

(15)  Then they threw Jonah overboard, and the sea calmed down.  (16)  The sailors were so terrified that they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made all kinds of promises.  (17)  The LORD sent a big fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

Well, Jonah was pretty set and stubborn about not doing what God wanted him to do. But suffering and chastisement have a way of changing a  guy’s  heart and making him whistle a different tune. Jonah gets swallowed by a whale or something really humongous. He should have died. But God miraculously kept him alive because He had a job for Jonah to do.

When Jonah saw how precarious his circumstances were the very first thing he did was pray (Jonah 2:1). In the midst of his sufferings and chastisement Jonah had a change of mind. He vowed that if God ever got him out of this fix he would obey Him, go to Nineveh, and preach to those heathen enemies of Israel (Jonah 2:9).

Jonah got things right with the Lord and, once he did,  God brought the suffering and chastisement to an end. The fish vomited Jonah out and the relieved prophet found himself on dry ground once again (Jonah 2:10).  

What was it that got Jonah to change his mind? What brought him to repentance and obedience? God’s chastisement.

Brethren, God’s out to change you. To change your heart, mind, affections and desires for sin. If you will not do that on your own, God will take over and force you, or get you, to change your mind about sin. How’s He going to do that? By chastising you and making you suffer quite miserably. Intolerably.

Do you have your mind bent on sin? Are you sure you want to disobey God and do things your own way? If so, then be ready to suffer for your selfish, sinful, stubborn mindset.  I guarantee you, like  Jonah,  it  won’t be pretty. You can be stubborn all you want right now. But I guarantee you, if you want to live you will eventually change your mind about sin and cry out to God for mercy, help, and salvation.

So do you find yourself in the whale’s belly right now? Is life falling apart for you? Like Jonah, turn back to God and pray. Apologize to Him and ask Him for forgiveness. Ask Him to give you a change of heart. To cleanse you and rid you of your sinful desires (1 John 1:9).

God still loves you! It may not seem like He does. But He still loves you. That’s why He’s made things miserable for you. But He doesn’t want you to be miserable for the rest of your life! He doesn’t want to kill you! He’s not against you! He just wants to teach you a lesson. If you learned your lesson, humble yourself and go penitently to God in prayer. I guarantee you you’ll feel better, you’ll find yourself standing on dry ground, and life will be sweet once again. God’s grace be upon you, dear friend, to abhor what’s evil and cling to what’s good and Godly.

RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT GOD: FEELINGS

DOES GOD HAVE FEELINGS?

I was laying in bed a short time ago having one of my “random” moments. What if God doesn’t have any feelings at all?  Whether any one of us will admit it or not, a lot of people believe He doesn’t.  

God can look at what we’ve done to the American Indian. The Negro of a dark, shameful era in American history. More recently, what America is doing with the unborn and the unwanted. And now, what America’s doing with God Himself. The nation is literally kicking God out of the public sphere. Whether we’re talking about public prayer, Bibles, the Ten Commandments, the freedom of Christian expression and conviction, or anything else Christian; vocal, militant, mainstream America wants nothing to do with God.

The nation’s assault on God has come to the very root, foundation, and core of any civilized society—the family. We’ve begun to change the traditional, really, the Biblical, definition of marriage and family.

What does God think about all these?

Anyone with feelings can’t help but be outraged by these travesties of justice and morality. You don’t have to be a Christian. You don’t even have to believe in God. All you have to be is a person of feeling, a person with feelings, and you will be outraged at all that is grossly and inhumanly wrong. We can talk about the treatment of animals. About what goes on in the farms and slaughterhouses where the nation’s meat supply comes from. We can talk about the poisonous chemicalization of our food supply, the depletion of natural resources, the rain forests, global warming, the ozone layer, and a whole host of other hot-button issues that people are so passionate about.  

We respond because we’re creatures of feelings. We feel pain. We identify ourselves with those who are pained—be it human or nature—and we get pretty vocal, even militant, about things that really get under our skin and arouse our dander. Why is that? It’s because feelings lead to a formative response. They lead us to action.

We can talk about the rightness or wrongness of our feelings-induced actions and responses. An anti-abortionist’s killing of an abortion provider; or a PETA person assaulting a woman in furs; are examples of the rightness or wrongness of an action that are matters of discussion or debate. Actions are another matter of discussion for another day. I’m simply trying to lay the groundwork here and say what we all already know: our feelings lead us to action.

What if God, unlike us, doesn’t have feelings?  Then it would be easy to understand why He can be so aloof or uncaring about all the evils that exist in our world. God doesn’t care!  It’s like God doesn’t exist!  He isn’t going to judge us for our evils or wrongs because He plainly doesn’t care. He doesn’t feel what we feel. He isn’t insulted, angered, or passionate about the things that we feel strongly about. He can look at what America has done to the Indians and the Negroes, or look at the genocide of the unborns, the killing fields in Russia, Europe, Cambodia, and Rwanda in bygone years, and not care or bring it to judgment because He has no feelings that would make Him care. Make Him mad. Militant. Responsive.

A person’s disbelief in God and consequent disbelief in prayer is a soothing and rational explanation for the presence of pain, suffering, and death. If God exists, if He feels what we feels, He wouldn’t possibly allow any of this to happen to us! The mere fact of pain and death are, to many, proof that God doesn’t exist. Or, if He does, then He plainly doesn’t care! And we flatly don’t need a God who doesn’t care!

But herein comes the problem. If this is so, if God doesn’t have feelings, then, within the framework of all of us who believe God made us, Can a God without feelings create people with feelings?  Can a God who doesn’t know anything about love, hate, anger, and the like, make people who feel such things? Feel what He doesn’t? Would God make us with something that He Himself doesn’t have, namely feelings?

You can mull on that while I move on. I’ve answered the question for  myself because I’ve read the Book and I know the Lord. God does have feelings. And, like us, He gets vocal about what He feels (the Bible); He’s responsive to what He feels (Calvary) and, one day, He’ll become militant about what He feels (the Tribulation and Day of Judgment).

In the meantime, regardless of where you’re at in Christian growth or where you stand in the Biblical, theological spectrum, rest assured that God has feelings. That’s why He’s going to bring every thought, every action, every person, every evil and travesty, to judgment. Feelings lead to a response at some time or another. We shouldn’t be surprised if they have this same effect on God.