In our previous discussion, we examined the instruction of Jesus to take up our cross. We concluded that suffering with Christ and dying off our own sinful desires is crucial as disciples and followers of Jesus. But what is the point? Why does God allow such heavy burdens in the lives of his children he loves? Why not just carry the load for us or get rid of it altogether?
With God we lack no good thing
To gain a heavenly perspective on our lives, we can study Psalm 84. The author paints a picture of the valley of Baca which represents any dark valley of despair or loss we must travel through while we are “on the highways to Zion” (v.5) The final verses of this short psalm give us great encouragement.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts blessed is the one who trusts in you!Psalm 84:11-12
A few years ago, my dad shared this verse with me during a dark and dreary valley of expectation. In the end, I did not receive the gift I was praying for and I was bitterly disappointed. To this day I do not understand why this gift I was asking for was not a good thing as stated in this Psalm, but I have to trust in my growing eternal perspective. In the ESV Women’s Study Bible Carolyn McCulley reminds us that our reward is not in this life but in the presence of the Lord who “bestows favour and honour” (v.11). If we feel in our limited understanding that we lack certain gifts like marriage, children or a dream job, it is not because we lack favour or honour in God’s sight. No, we can be assured that the absolute best thing has been given to us freely. Just as God promised Abraham that he will be his shield and his reward will be great (Genesis 15:1) the Lord shows us that he himself is our greatest reward.
In his discussion on Psalm 84, Matt Smethurst writes the beautiful exclamation “The good life is not about having everything you wanted; it’s about having God—even if it’s in the midst of nothing you wanted.” In our #blessed world, we are assaulted with natural prosperity as a sign of blessings. But this psalmist reminds us “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” (v. 4); “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (v. 5); and “Blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (v. 12).
Of the 112 references to blessings in the New Testament, not a single one refers to natural blessings. This shows us that Jesus had put precious little value on natural riches and prosperity.
God shows up at the right time
In 1956, C. S. Lewis corresponded with a woman who struggled with worry. At one point, Lewis simply wrote: “Remember, one is given strength to bear what happens, not the 100 and 1 different things that might happen.”
We can trust that we receive the strength we need just in time.
During World War II a young Dutch Christian named Corrie ten Boom was losing hope in a Nazi concentration camp. Years later in her autobiography, she reflected on the timing of God’s provision. As an illustration, she recounted her own anxiety as a 6-year-old girl:
Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffed a few times, considering this.
“Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie.”
“God will not be rushed, and spiritual growth cannot be microwaved. The Christian life is a long and arduous pilgrimage, one trusting step at a time.” (Matt Smethurst)
God gives us the strength to carry the cross
One of the famous myths often quoted to Christians in time of tribulation is “God will not give you more than you can handle.” This is utter nonsense and is not written anywhere in the Bible. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 1, Apostle Paul writes to the congregation that “we were utterly burdened beyond our strength that we felt we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9) God gives us heavier crosses than we can carry every day because he wants us to become completely reliant on him. Earlier in the same chapter, Paul encourages the congregation, and later readers like us, by explaining that God comforts us in all afflictions, so we can comfort others with the same comfort. In the ESV Women’s Study Bible, Ann Voskamp writes that the Greek word for affliction here is thlipsis which literally means “a pressing or pressure,” and the translation for comfort originates from the word paraklesis meaning “called to one’s side to strengthen.” We can conclude then that God comes to our aid with the strength we need to carry the load he determined for us. In turn, we can then strengthen others we meet on our journey with the same strength God has given us. When we experience more suffering, God provides more strength.
Paul also tells us that we “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ, we share abundantly in comfort too.” Christ strengthens us because he understands the cross we carry. Perhaps the most challenging part of Paul’s letter tells us “if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation…which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” When God allows affliction and strengthens us to carry the weight, he does so to force us to give up relying on ourselves and pushes us into the arms of God.
Our hardships reveal our powerlessness and expose our dependence on God.
The heavy cross forces us to surrender. As we lay down our lives and take up our cross, we know that we lack no good gift because the Lord is our greatest blessing. We can also be assured that God is strengthening us to carry the load and will bless us as we are sanctified to grow in the image of our Saviour Jesus Christ. There is no short cut or easy detour towards the Kingdom of Heaven. There is only one way and that is the way of the cross of Christ. Let us pick it up gladly and anticipate with complete trust the strength with which God will support us on this journey so we can encourage and strengthen all those we meet on this journey.
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