Discovering God's Purposes in our Pain

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Guest Contributor: Harry Shields

In the fall of 2011 my wife and I entered a most unexpected chapter in the story of our lives. I had just completed a two-month sabbatical. We were returning to ministry, rested and enthusiastic about the years ahead. But on a sunny afternoon in September, Carol called to inform me that she had just fainted and was confused as to what was going on. I rushed home and called our family physician. He instructed me to take her to the ER as soon as possible. I did, and less than 24 hours later, my wife was the recipient of a pacemaker. Her recovery was quick, but the whole experience was unsettling - for BOTH of us. Three weeks later I received a call that my father had passed away. And another three weeks after that our friend and family doctor asked us to stop by his office. He had something he wanted to talk to us about regarding a recent mammogram Carol had undergone. The hours preceding that visit were agonizing. When he walked into the waiting room, he said, "Well, I don't like having to tell either one of you this, but Carol, you have breast cancer." He shed tears with us. He prayed with us. He went above and beyond the call of duty in helping us enter into the journey that was ahead.

Like so many people given "the cancer diagnosis," we asked tons of questions. We asked about therapy options, about lifestyle changes, the impact of radiation and chemo…and we asked about the prognosis. And then in the privacy of our own thoughts we asked, "God, what are you doing? Don't you realize we have a church to care for and a ministry to run?" Silence! Yes, silence from the Almighty that went on for weeks.

But an answer did come. It came from a biblical text that I had preached from numerous times in the past. It is found in the New Testament Book of James, chapter 1, verses 2 through 4. In these three verses God invites us to do something that seems virtually impossible - maybe even a little sadistic. He says, "Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials."

Why would anyone rejoice over a cancer diagnosis, a job loss, or a devastating accident? The biblical writer says, "For you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and endurance empowers you to be mature and complete." I understand those last three words to be saying, "You would never choose to do this on your own, but I am using your trials to make you dependent on Me! And when you are dependent on Me, I'll make you more and more like Jesus."

It has taken me weeks to process the new life that God has called us to. Yes, Carol has been given a clean bill of health. And yes, our life is and will be different. But I am also aware that God works in all of our challenges to accomplish His ultimate mission - He wants to make us strong through our challenges. He wants to make us resemble Jesus in all we do.

Harry Shields is a retired pastor and adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute. You can read his blog at: caringforsouls.com.

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