Rest in His Arms
“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully…” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT)
I have the joy of being a grandmother for the first time. My grandchild is a little over five months, a wonderful age, so small and dependent, yet she is giggly and full of sweet smiles, wanting to explore. Even now, she attempts to “jump” down from grandma’s arms and find out what’s available around her, pushing hard with her tiny legs. But she is still very little, so life is basically a round of bottles, naps, and diaper changes; then we repeat! Twice a week she comes to spend a few hours after lunch with me until her parents come home from work.
I have noticed something as I’ve begun to learn her “signals.” When she starts to get sleepy after her latest bottle, she’ll struggle to let go and rest. She will begin to settle down in my arms and her eyelids will droop, but then she cries out, wrestles in my arms, burrows her face into my chest and spits out her pacifier, fighting the whole process. I put the pacifier back in her mouth, she settles for a moment and then begins to rear up and wriggle and fight relaxing, crying out all the while. This whole process can take several minutes and much grandma arm strength!! But, as she fights relaxing, I don’t find myself impatient with her. On the contrary, my heart is moved with tenderness and I quietly soothe her with my voice and caress her with my hands until she calms down. When finally she allows herself to sleep, my love pours out even more as I see the sweet curves of her tiny face; as her little fingers wrap around one of my large ones. She’s not doing anything to gain this love. I simply love her because I love her.
God spoke to my heart the other day, “Can you see how I feel about you from this picture of yourself with this child? You wrestle and fret and doubt at so many points…struggling in my arms, not believing that I can perfectly hold you and care for you…wondering if my love really does endure forever, but it does. How can you think I would ever give you up? Your love for your grandchild is but a human reflection of my more perfect love for you. Rest in Me. Truly trust Me. Be still and wait on Me.”
Now, perhaps you perfectly trust God at every moment no matter what is going on, but my hunch is that like me and probably all of us, there are times when circumstances are so difficult, you wonder if God can still be there, and if He is, does He care? Or perhaps you feel you have failed Him – your sin is far too great – or you have not done enough to please Him. Maybe in your life, you’ve had so many come and go who you thought you could trust, but they’ve let you down, left you lonely. “How could God be different than others who have abandoned me?” you wonder with sadness. It is natural, in this flesh, to have our moments of fretting rather than resting in God’s arms. But, so much in scripture helps to calm those fears and heal our troubled hearts:
“Jerusalem says, ‘The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.’ Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:14-15, NLT)
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble … No! … I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:35-38, NLT)
Read the promises in His Word. They are steady. Emotions are not. Rest in His arms and believe that He loves you with a love that is beyond your understanding and without end.
Here’s the straight truth.
There’s no way for anyone on this planet to go through life without going through suffering.
I wish there was.
But there is not.
Though knowing that suffering is a part of life and that it’s coming can actually help. Because part of the problem of suffering is that so many people are surprised when it happens.
A silly example: the other day, my friend invited me to go trail running on a course I’d never been on. I asked him, “Are there any hills?”
My buddy paused and said “No.”
The next day, we started out on this trail, and I am telling you, it was murder. So difficult. At the end of the run, I turned to my buddy. “I thought you said there were no hills, man,” I said, feeling deeply betrayed. “Why you trying to trick me?”
“I didn’t say that!” he exclaimed.
“I asked you yesterday if there were hills,” I said.
“Oh!” he said. “I thought you said, ‘Are there any wheels?’ I thought you meant mountain bikes or something.”
I’m still a little mad about that one.
“Are there any wheels?” Who would ask it like that?
The point is because I thought the course was flat, I was dismayed and even felt a little betrayed by my friend. “You could have warned me,” I thought to myself. “I would have brought more water.”
The next time we ran it, I was prepared. And you know what — it really wasn’t so bad that time.
In a small way, that’s what life is like. So here are some ways to prepare yourself so that when the storms of life come — and they will come — you’ll be a little more ready.
It won’t be easier, really. But at least you’ll know what to do.
NOT IF, BUT WHEN
As I said earlier, it’s not an issue of if suffering and bad things will happen to you, but when. I wish this were not so, but one of the surest truths of life is that suffering will happen to you. Jesus even says at one point to His followers,
In this world you will have trouble. — John 16:33
In fact, if you love anyone or anything a great deal, there’s a good chance you will suffer quite a bit. As the famous author C. S. Lewis once wrote:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.1
NOT WHY, BUT WHAT
My friends who have been around a great deal of suffering tell me that the most common question people ask after experiencing a great loss is “Why?” As in, “Why did this happen?” or even “Why did God let this happen?” This is the question we want to ask first, and it’s actually the question least likely to be answered.
You’re probably never going to know why. And even if you got the answer, it wouldn’t help.
Instead, ask God the question “What?”
God, what are you up to here?
God, what are you doing in my life?
What — if anything — is my role in this? (There are times we suffer because of our own choices. Be careful not to slip into false guilt, though, because sometimes suffering has literally nothing to do with us.)
Another thought. If God actually explained why He allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains. My daughter, when she was younger, often would cry when her mother or I didn’t let her do something she wanted to do. She didn’t understand why we didn’t let her, for example, play with the sharp knives we emptied from the dishwasher. She was too little. But we would pick her up and hug her and let her know we loved her, even if we wouldn’t let her play with the knives. She might not understand the why, but she could understand that we loved her. And that’s what she needed the most.
I can’t understand all of what God is up to, but I know He loves me. I know He loves you. Jesus on the Cross proves it.
NOT AROUND, BUT THROUGH
We almost always want to do whatever it takes to avoid pain. We try to numb it, or distract ourselves, or get away from it. It’s natural. It’s what we do. But this is not how to deal with suffering. In fact, this is like if you have a gaping cut on your leg and you walk around pretending you don’t have a serious wound. You actually make it worse. There’s no way around the pain. We can’t pretend our way out of it. We have to go right through the painful valley. But there is good news. The good news is that this is where God is. He promises to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He walks with us.
NOT EVIL, BUT GOOD
In the midst of suffering, we have two tendencies that will paralyze us. The first is the tendency to believe that everything is ruined. When suffering happens, we think, “Things will never be the same, and everything is wrecked.” That’s almost never true. How many times in the Bible does God take a situation that seems helpless or hopeless and make a way out of it? God does this all the time.
One of God’s great superpowers is to write stories with surprise endings, where bad things come undone.
The second tendency is to believe that because this bad thing happened, it means God is bad. Or maybe not bad, but definitely mean. But God didn’t create the world with evil in it. That’s the result of mankind turning away. But even though there is suffering, God doesn’t turn away. In fact, if the Bible is to be believed, God rushes in to help us.
As the theologian John Stott once wrote, “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”2 So we must resist the temptation to believe that because the world is bad, God is bad.
Jesus proves otherwise.
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” – 2 Timothy 2:2 NASB
Born in Scotland, William Tennent was ordained in the Church of Ireland, before immigrating to America in 1718. Settling in Pennsylvania, he was called to pastor a church in present-day Warminster. There he established a religious school in a log cabin, which became known as the Log College.
People throughout the colonies heard how God was moving through his ministry. Many enrolled in his college where he sought to inspire them to be faithful ministers, committed to the Gospel.
But some criticized his methods. He was accused of trying to teach poor people who, they felt, were unsuitable for ministry. But Tennent was not concerned about the background of his pupils. He simply wanted to teach people who were hungry for God.
Many of his students became preachers and brought the Gospel throughout the colonies. In fact, his Log College became the prototype for the institutes of higher learning in America, leading to the foundation of the College of New Jersey, which eventually became known as Princeton University.
His ministry helped spark what became known as the Great Awakening in America. Through his influence, the Gospel went forth.
Today, God looks for men and women with this same commitment to teach His Word, to reach out to others, and to live for Him, regardless of what critics might say. Seek to be a faithful witness with the things God has entrusted to you. Commit your life to Him