Summary: As much as we might like to believe otherwise, the road to maturity is a road marked with suffering. We all pass through its stations and we cannot do so without being affected.
THE ROAD TO MATURITY.
So far in this series we have looked at:
* Focusing on our identity as children of the Father (Micah 6) [What does the Lord require?]
* Taking care of ourselves so that we are in a place where we can hear God building us up (1 Kings 19)
* Today we are going to ask questions about suffering.
Is suffering a hindrance to our spiritual growth and development; a nuisance to get out of the way so that we are not held back?
Or is it quite the opposite; a catalyst in the whole process that can assist us on the road to maturity rather than hold us back from it?
There is an uneasy tension we sometimes find ourselves in between:
* Our expectation in faith of divine healing and deliverance,
* and our experience of pain and sickness that appears to be obstinate in the face of sustained prayer.
It's a tension that could be summed up in a sign outside a church that reads:
'Healing meeting cancelled owing to outbreak of Swine Flu'
It's a fact that at times we experience remarkable healings as an outcome of the prayer of faith; whilst at other times, after praying every prayer our poor condition of health remains unchanged.
We also tend to run to the extremes of taking the attitude of refusing to give up praying until all disease is eradicated from the world, or being entirely passive whenever we get sick with little expectation of any recovery.
Why our obsession with health and wellbeing?
* It's probably a combination of several things:
* The Optimism that rose out of the Enlightenment.
* The evidence that we can experience vastly better health
* A rediscovery of Spiritual Gifts through the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Renewal movements.
Thesis: The facts remain that we can and do from time to time experience remarkable divine healing. However, no matter how charmed our lives may be there will always be a degree of pain and suffering that God in his providence will not deliver us from.
In my reading of the New Testament when the subject of suffering is addressed it is in the stories of the healing miracles of Jesus, or the suffering of Jesus himself or the persecution the early Christians were going through.
But questions about suffering that we normally raise don't appear to be directly addressed. It's as though the people at the time didn't question God about suffering as we do. Their struggle was to remain faithful and to persevere through times when it was tough and costly to be a Christian.
So we end up taking the passages of the New Testament that deal with suffering persecution and we apply them to suffering ailments and loss.
It leaves us asking the questions,
* 'Should we as Christians take an aggressive stance against all sickness and pain as something that does not belong in our lives as Christians?'
* Or, 'Should we be more accepting about our illnesses and suffering, and be content not to expect that things will improve much?'
* Or, 'Is healing exclusively a sign gift that is intended to convince people of the truth of the Gospel?'
* Or, 'Is healing a grace gift that we should not be demanding of but grateful for if God, in his sovereignty should grant it to us?'
* And what has any of this to do with my spiritual growth and development as a Christian?
READING -- James 1:1-12
It's interesting that James, right from the outset, links the endurance of suffering with maturity. And yet at the close of his letter he gives instructions for praying for the sick!
It appears that there is a balance in Scripture that accounts for the fact that the Kingdom of God has come, but that it has not yet come in all its fullness.
James is not alone in this.
Paul writes 2 Corinthians 4:17
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Peter writes: 1 Peter 4:12
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed
Suffering is something we have to contend with. But most of what is written in the New Testament about suffering is in the context of persecution and endurance for the faith.
Apparently they were not as obsessed with health as we have become.
POINT For James the main issue in times of sufferings is not healing or relief, but maturity.