Friday, May 9, 2008

The Joy of Suffering

While flying out of Iraq -- YES! -- I had time to read several chapters in my pocket-sized New Testament. I must admit that each time I pick up the scriptures, I learn something new. This is particularly true when I concentrate on what I'm reading and study with a prayerful attitude.

When I was in high school, on the day my friend shot and killed himself, I began to write in my journal regularly. Not only has record-keeping helped me solve emotional and spiritual trials, but it's given me a record for my posterity and has improved my ability to express myself. It's been a positive blessing to my life. I mention that because at or near the same time I began a more serious study of scriptures too. I determined then to read a little each day. Since it only takes 21 days to form a habit, the years that have followed have been rather wonderful. With the exception of the first year, in which I may have missed 5-6 days, I've read the scriptures everyday since then.

To give you an idea of how long that's been, the soldiers have occasionally referred to me as an "old man" and have poked fun of my thinning and receding hairline. But I'm sure I'm not as old, nor as thin on top, as Elisha the prophet whom the children of Bethel mocked, calling him "bald head." Two sows, or female bears, mauled the children after Elisha cursed them. That was one angry prophet. (See 2 Kings 2:23-25.)

Writing nearly everyday in my journal, and reading Holy writ daily helped me to pray each day. I can say without reservation, that everything good and positive that has come to my life since then, which is quite a lot, has been a direct result from starting and continuing those positive daily habits. Indeed, it is said that by small and simple things, great things come to pass.

That's my segue to say this:

In all those years of scripture study, I have seemed to skip or rather not fully understand many passages. Of course, some writings of Isaiah or John the Revelator, for instance, I simply don't understand at all. No, what I'm talking about is actually FEELING and UNDERSTANDING the words. It's one thing to read the word "faith", for instance, and it's another thing entirely to comprehend it's meaning through personal experience.

Even though my days are filled with hope, happiness and optimism, I have learned valuable lessons this last year. Since wickedness never was happiness, despair cometh because of iniquity. Nevertheless, even when we're striving to do what God commands, we are not immune from pain or suffering. "There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men." (Eccl. 6:1)

All personal trials are unique, yet we all experience them.

Consider replacing the word trial with the words tempted and temptation in the following passage: "There hath no [trial] taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be [tried] above that ye are able; but will with the [trial or burden] also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. 1:13)

I've learned, and more fully comprehend, what the prophet Isaiah meant when he prophesied of the Messiah, the Emmanuel, the Price of Peace. Isaiah wrote, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief." (Isa. 53:3, emphasis added.)

If our mandate is to become more as He is, shouldn't we also suffer with Him? Consider these verses:

"Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." (Heb 5: 8)

"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

"But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Pet. 4:12-13)

"And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." (Rom 8:17, emphasis added.)

Patience is the essence of Charity -- the pure love of Christ. It is part of the essential pathway of life that we have an opportunity to add "to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness." (2 Pet 1:6) And love.

If I could shout from every housetop I would. Hear this, my friends! Every experience and every painful trial shall be for our good. To borrow the words of another,

"Unquestionably every experience is of value to an individual or an organization. Some experiences may be sad, and accounted at times as disastrous; but are they really so? The rough wind which shakes it helps the young and slow-growing oak; for by reason of this very shaking the tree takes firmer hold of the earth; wider spread the roots; deeper down into the soil are they thrust, until the sapling, once so easily shaken, becomes a monarch in the forest, mocks the howling tempest, until its height and frame become worthy of the land and atmosphere in which it grows a giant tree... Profitable if not sweet are the uses of adversity." (History of the Church, per. 1, 1948, Intro. Calamitous events, p. XXXII.)

Fortunately, there is One who suffered incomprehensible pain, even more than man can suffer except it be unto death. Our Advocate with the Father, our Savior and Redeemer, knows how to lift our burdens and carry our trails because He alone experienced them.

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