“It makes no sense” is one of the most frequent statements I hear when people ask about how LeRoy is doing and if there is any improvement in his condition. No, we’ve seen no improvement. Yes, he still suffers with excruciating pain from nerve damage and muscle spasms. Yes, he still needs a great deal of assistance; he’s partially paralyzed due to spinal cord damage. His vision is blurry when he tries to read, his voice and body are weak, and his day revolves around medicine doses and difficult trips from his reclining chair to the bathroom. His life has taken a drastic turn.
If you’re a new reader here, you can find the story of my husband’s rare illness by clicking here.
When people tell me how crazy it is, how it makes no sense . . . I agree to a point. It does feel crazy, and it sure wouldn’t be how I would’ve done things. It seems to make no sense to pull a man out of public ministry in his prime . . . to cripple and remove a man who has devoted his life to sharing the gospel, who is characterized by faithfulness, kindness, and self-sacrifice, who has powerfully delivered the Word (since he was thirteen years old). None of that makes sense.
Until I remind myself of what I know to be true.
As much as a crazy nightmare that this seems at times, one word holds me fast through all of this. It is the word purpose. This word is tied to the truth about God’s sovereign and good character. The word fuels hope and stability. Last week, I shared with you that there are “four graces” that have carried me through this season, and this is the first of those: Purpose.
Purpose is a word I mention frequently and whisper to myself almost constantly.
Purpose speaks of not only what is to come, but what God is doing now. There is purpose in the pain. It is not wasted. It is not meaningless.
- Purpose: The intrinsic reason behind the action. The true meaning within, behind, and beneath the event. The cause and the motivation. The reason for being.
LeRoy’s disability doesn’t only affect him; it impacts our church body, our family, and friends. This illness has changed all of our lives to some degree. So, when I speak of purpose, the purpose and work God is doing goes beyond His intentions for LeRoy and me.
God always has a greater purpose in mind when His hand brings affliction—He is able to use the affliction of one to impact generations (I’m thinking of how Job and Joseph have impacted believers for centuries).
I’m studying the book of James right now, perhaps the earliest New Testament book, and in the very first sentences the reader is introduced to sobering and significant horrors. The little word “trials” doesn’t seem like much until you read about the persecution these early believers were experiencing (see Acts 12).
And yet, God cared for these believers; they were His, but He allowed their faith to be tested and, for many, He ordained that their lives be taken.
The horrors of evil that are inflicted on God’s own are never easy to comprehend or explain—but there is purpose.
As I was working on this post, I got word that a precious mother of four, a passionate follower of Christ, and powerful witness for Him, was suddenly and unexpectedly taken from this earth, from her family and friends . . . from her kingdom work. To us, it makes no sense. In fact, it seems cruel and incomprehensible.
You may be walking through a season where it seems that God is being cruel. Where nothing He’s doing makes any sense. Where your faith is being peeled back and shaken to the core.
When you’re in a faith crisis, that’s the time to ask God some hard questions, and the time to go to His Word to seek answers.
As I spend time studying and praying through the first several verses of James, it is evident that suffering, loss, even persecution, have several worthy purposes. But seeing their value only comes through an eternal perspective. And that doesn’t come naturally.
In this post, I’ll just mention two of those: spiritual maturity and martyrdom. Now, when I say martyrdom, don’t think I’m advocating you endure a violent death or develop a pathetic “martyr’s complex.” The literal translation of the Greek word martyr (and the way it is most often used in the New Testament) is “witness.” A witness gives a credible account of what they’ve seen, heard, or experienced.
A form of the Greek word “martyr” is used in Hebrews 12:1 when it describes being surrounded by a great cloud of “witnesses” and in Acts 22:20 when it refers to Stephen as giving “witness” (providing visible evidence for the validity of Christianity, through his blood being shed for Christ). These were martyrs, witnesses really, to the reality of Christ. These Old and New Testament martyrs are living testimonies, still today, of the value of trusting Christ all the way to the death. Present day martyrs also give witness to the value and reality of the gospel.
Spurgeon challenges us to live as “martyrs” when he tells us we should be ready to risk everything as a living witness:
“Oh, that we may know our God; his power, his faithfulness, his immutable love, and so may be ready to risk everything in his behalf. He is one whose character excites our enthusiasm, and makes us willing to live and to die for him.”
As the book of James opens, we find a word in the very first verse that clues us into the fact that these believers were suffering persecution. They were experiencing the Diaspora (the scattering of believers—who were either exiled or on the run for their lives). These first century believers watered the seed of the gospel by their blood. As the pagan world watched men and women willingly lay down their lives for the Messiah, it became evident that they were not dying in vain, but their deaths validated the truth they were spreading.
To those believers, James provides a perspective for their suffering:
[box]Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2–4).[/box]
James tells them that their suffering has purpose. Spiritual maturity is the end result of steadfast endurance when suffering. As the sufferer grows in Christlikeness, he becomes a “living martyr,” a visible witness of the beauty and reality of the transforming power of Christ. So, these two purposes of suffering (spiritual maturity and martyrdom) are really tied together.
Oh, to be a living martyr. Not a pathetic, self-pitying sufferer, but one who nobly and willingly reflects the strength of Christ’s endurance. One who embraces the Father’s will with joy—even when that will includes suffering.
And why does this matter? Because others need to know that Jesus is worthy, that He has paid the price for our sins, that He has steadfastly endured suffering for us.
While I cling to the word purpose, these truths flood my being and uphold me in this long season:
[box]Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:16).[/box]
Every day of our lives has been planned and ordained by God—long before we were born. And within that plan, He has purpose. Our days are not by accident or random chance and meaningless occurrence.
God has a plan that He is carrying out for our good and His glory.
[box]The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands (Psalm 138:8).[/box]
I’ve written this verse on a (now fading) yellow piece of paper, and it stays on my bathroom counter. I pick it up, sometimes several times through the day, and let the words soak into my weary mind. My soul is refreshed as I focus on the truth that He is at work to fulfill His purpose in us. And reminding myself of the truth that “He will not forsake us” is a shield of protection against fear.
[box]Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).[/box]
I’m so glad Jesus answered the question of why the man was born blind. He let us know that sickness, ultimately, is for God’s power to be displayed in our lives. Sometimes that display of power comes through healing, often it comes through transforming the sufferer into a living, visible, witness to His worth and value in the midst of suffering (living martyrdom).
[box]And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28–29)[/box]
Here is the heart of His purpose: When we are conformed to the image of Christ, it gives a visible picture of the Savior to a lost and needy world. If the sufferer responds in joyful surrender to the refining work of the Master Potter, if in the fire, the sufferer worships Him, that response provides a clear witness to the Savior’s worth and value.
Are you suffering today? Living a life that seems to make no sense?
Will you join me in this prayer?
[box]“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me” (Psalm 57:1–2).[/box]
Be assured that nothing is by accident. The Lord of heaven and earth is at work, He has a plan and a good purpose, whether you can see it or not. Will you surrender to the work He has purposed in your life today?
[box]Dear Friends, your prayers are a tangible means of God’s grace in our lives. If you are new to the blog, and unaware of what we’re walking through and how we need your prayers, I hope you’ll read this post from the archives. Even though I’m unable to respond to your comments, I do read every one. For those who share prayer needs, I lift those to the Father and am so grateful to be entrusted with your prayer request. I love to hear from you, so please continue to leave your comments knowing that they matter![/box]