Served by Suffering
About the Guest
Valleys either help you or hinder you. They can either derail you from the purposes of God or make you what you were meant to be. Dennis Rainey offers some special insights on suffering and the will of God.
Valleys either help you or hinder you.
Served by Suffering
Bob: Think for just a minute about Job. His legacy was a legacy that forged in the fires of adversity. At some level, that is true of all of us.
Dennis: My dad died. I thought I was having a heart attack. We had our son. Major surgery. Barbara almost died. We had some challenges with an adult child. I hired a person here at FamilyLife who ended up betraying me.
My wife curled up in a ball from the pain. My mom died. It turned out to be a cyst on her ovaries. I had a person from another city who was trying to hurt me. Our daughter Laura was rejected at college by her closest friends.
There was a cash-flow crisis here at FamilyLife. Our personal support was at a 20-year low. Amidst all that, Barbara’s car died. Who would ask for that to come into your life? The reality is, “Your life will be marked by suffering.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey; and I'm Bob Lepine.
Romans 5 says we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. You know, as we have been talking about this subject, both last week and again this week, the subject of legacy—honestly, I have been thinking a little bit about my favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life—George Bailey.
Dennis: You find a way to make application out of that don’t you?
Bob: Well, I also have been thinking about the new Veggie Tales video that is out where they kind of took that same story and did a spoof on it.
Bob: Here is a guy had his life mapped out. He had his plan set. It just didn’t work out. He got some real life thrown in to the middle of his plan that readjusted. I mean, I have just been thinking about George Bailey’s legacy.
He wanted to travel. See the world. He wanted to build things. He wound up living in Bedford Falls and almost committed suicide. So...
Dennis: And he is not alone, Bob. There are a lot of people who have the vision of what they think their life is going to turn out to be. And there are some hiccups along the road of life that interrupt our vision and our dreams. In fact, I want to begin by just asking you: What do the following people have in common? Lucille Ball, The Beatles.
Bob: Oh, man.
Dennis: Ulysses S. Grant, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, and Abraham Lincoln. That is a pretty interesting group. I’ll give you a hint—it is not the same birthday.
Dennis: Alright? What they have in common is they all experienced dramatic failures. Lucille Ball was dismissed from drama school with a note that read: “Wasting your time—too shy to put her best foot forward.”
Bob: Shy?! She paid attention to the note and said, “I’ve got to fix that!”
Dennis: Yes. The Beatles were turned down—you probably knew this—by Decca Recording Company who said, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on its way out.” (laughter)
Bob: Let me just suggest that that might not have been a failure for The Beatles; it was for Decca Records. (laughter)
Dennis: Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. He went home and locked himself in his room and cried.
Bob: Hard to imagine.
Dennis: Thomas Edison—a teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything and he should go into a field he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality.
Dennis: Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no original ideas. I wonder if that publisher had any original ideas.
And then Abraham Lincoln—I have actually got a little chart here that many of our listeners have seen before...
Bob: I have seen this, yes.
Dennis: All of these are about a year apart. He lost his job, was defeated in a run for the Illinois state legislature, failed in business the next year, he finally was elected to the state legislature, then his sweetheart died, then he had a nervous breakdown. Can you believe we’d elect a president back then who had had a nervous breakdown? I mean, that is pretty remarkable.
He was defeated in a run for Illinois House Speaker, defeated for U.S. Congress. He then was elected to U.S. Congress, lost the re-nomination, then rejected for land officer for U.S. Senate, defeated in a run for nomination for Vice President, again defeated for U.S. Senate, and finally in 1860 he was elected President.
All of these people experienced defeat, but they didn’t let it define them. We have been talking about legacies. One of the things I want to talk to our listeners about today is about how you handle life’s difficulties—how you handle the challenges that come your way.
I want to read from 1 Peter 2:21. This is pretty chilling here. It says, “For to this, you have been called.” In other words, this is your assignment and mine “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. While being reviled, He did not revile in return. When suffering, He did not threaten but continued entrusting Himself to Him Who judges justly.”
Bob: So the passage is basically saying, “You can live a life that is perfect before God—perfect obedience to what the Father calls you to—doing everything that God would have you do...
Dennis: As Jesus did.
Bob: And suffering will be a part of that life.
Dennis: Basically, the command of the Scripture was, “You have been called for this purpose—therefore, do what Jesus did. Entrust your life to Him Who is going to end up judging your life at the end of time.”
Here is the reality. All of us are going to experience mountain-tops in life. We love the mountain-top. We love the view up there. Who wouldn’t love to live on top of the mountain? But, the mountain gains its definition from the valley. It is the valleys that God allows in our lives and takes us through that, I think, brings definition to our lives as well.
The key issue is: Are you going to do what Christ did? Are you going to keep entrusting yourself to your heavenly Father Who knows what is going on? Who is not making any mistakes here but Who is allowing certain things in your life—bringing other things to your life and in the process is wanting to, I think, hammer out your legacy in your life through what you suffer and what you have to endure.
In fact, Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7. He said, “I want you to do your ministry. I want you to fulfill your calling.” It is like it is in parenthesis in there. He says, “And Timothy, endure hardship. Persevere under hardship because you are going to experience it.”
Most of us though, Bob, really don’t think our lives are going to involve suffering. So when it happens, it is like, “Where did that come from? What is going on here?”
Bob: One of the people we have learned about suffering from—who has been a model for how to stay faithful to Christ in the midst of suffering—is Elisabeth Elliot. Her husband, Jim, was a missionary to the Auca Indians in Ecuador back in 1956.
He and others were martyred on the banks of the Curaray River. Elisabeth was a young wife and mother who was now a widow with a little baby and who was facing an unknown future.
Dennis: Yes. Her life, Bob, is part of why we interviewed her. She had three husbands and had actually been single more in her life than she had been married. I mean, she endured the loss of not only one husband, but a second husband and had remarried a third time. When you sit down with someone who has suffered much, what they have to say can be extremely profound.
Bob: We have a clip from that interview that I think gives some really helpful insights into this whole issue of suffering.
Dennis: (from past interview) One of the themes of your books that seems to be in all of them is the call for the Christian to endure in the midst of suffering. You believe the Scripture calls us to remain faithful in the midst of circumstances that aren’t working out to what we wish they would.
Elisabeth: Suffering is a gift, Dennis. It is a gift. Paul says, “Unto us it is given not only to believe, but also to suffer.” And Jesusreferred to “the cup My Father has given Me.” What was in that cup?
He was reviled. He was persecuted. He was hated. He was mocked. He was captured. He was flogged. He was blindfolded. He was stripped and He was crucified. That was “the cup.” And we know that His human nature was in agony over that.
He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood in Gethsemane and finally He said, “Not My will.” He said, “If it be possible, let this cup pass.” The cup didn’t pass. It was impossible because He could not save Himself and save you and me.
Dennis: That can be difficult, Elisabeth, for a person to grab hold of and then retain possession of. It is like a cross that they carry.
Elisabeth: That is exactly what it is. What do we expect the cross to look like? In what form do we expect the cross to be presented to us?
Jesus said, “If you want to be My disciple—you don’t have to be; but if you want to be, these are the conditions: No. 1: Give up your right to yourself.”
Of course, that is difficult. It is the most difficult thing that God could ever ask of us, especially in today’s climate where everybody says, “It is your life. It is your body. You have a right to yourself. If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t feel good, forget it. Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.” Jesus quietly continues to say to us, “If you want to be My disciple, you give up your right to yourself.”
Secondly, “Take up the cross.” In what form is that going to be presented? It is going to be presented in the form of suffering. What else do we expect? The cross is an instrument of torture. Why should we be surprised? Of course, we are going to have to get down on our knees again and again and ratify that once-in-a-lifetime surrender.
There isn’t a day that goes by, Dennis; and I am not exaggerating. There is not a day that goes by in which I do not consciously have to take up the cross in some form or other. “
Dennis: You know, Bob, I get a big smile on my face; and I saw you did, too. I miss her. I really do miss Elisabeth and having a chance to talk with her.
Here is a person who did suffer much. Elisabeth Elliot—to lose a husband to martyrdom—to losing his life because of his commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ— and then to take her daughter and go back into the people who murdered her husband in an attempt to reach them with the gospel. You talk about receiving the gift and then blessing those who curse you. I don’t know that I could have done that.
Bob: And her response to the suffering that she was experiencing shaped her legacy to the very point that you are talking about. The reason we were talking to her, the reason we remember her name, the reason she has influenced millions is because of how she responded to suffering.
Dennis: The book that tells the story of the loss of her husband and her suffering is called Through Gates of Splendor. What a title for a book! What a title for a story; and yet, when we are in the midst of a valley—I’ve been there; so have you—we don’t necessarily think of that—that this is a part of my legacy. How I respond today to what I am facing—the loss of a job, health issues—I mean, Bob, you have faced cancer.
Dennis: I watched you respond to that—both you and Mary Ann—really remarkable. Your children will never forget that. That is a part of your legacy. There are folks here at FamilyLife who have heard you share about that and really stood back in awe of your faith—your processing—how you dealt with fear. It is a part of your legacy.
I was doing some thinking about this, and I just want to make three points about suffering and how you can view suffering so that in the end it can be a positive part of your legacy.
The first point is: You will suffer. You are going to suffer with small stuff, medium-sized stuff, and the big stuff; but you will suffer. Job 5:7 says—that famous passage—“A man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
Dennis: We have a fire pit on our property; and on occasion, when it has been dry in the woods, I have not shown good discernment in burning some debris that had piled up that Barbara and I had cleaned out of our gardens and everything. It made a pretty good-sized fire.
Bob: And sparks fly up?
Dennis: The sparks go everywhere! I mean, frankly, at those times when I have been naive, I have set back going, “You big dummy! You are going to burn down the neighborhood. You are going to have a forest fire here.”
I think that may be a little bit of what God may be saying here. When you start a fire, you need to have some sense of, “Yes, there are going to be sparks flying upwards.” As you live life, “Yes, there is going to be some small stuff, some medium-sized stuff, and some big stuff.”
I would never have guessed that when Barbara and I were first married, we would go through two seasons of suffering that were really pretty-well defined. One was the year we started FamilyLife in 1976. In a 12- to 14-month period, my dad died. Barbara almost died. I thought I was having a heart attack. My brother had what was thought to be at the time an apparent heart attack. We had our son who had major surgery. We had financial challenges. There wasn’t much more that could have gone wrong. Every area of our life was being touched.
Then, again, at the turn of the new millennium, the year was 2000. I wrote down a list of some of the trials that marked our lives. Again, this is a partial list. I don’t have everything on here because it wouldn’t be appropriate.
We had some challenges with an adult child who made some choices that were costly. My mom died. I hired a person here at FamilyLife who ended up betraying me and creating some problems.
When I was trying to write a book on being a man, my wife curled up in a ball from the pain—we weren’t sure what—but we had to fly her back here to Little Rock. It turned out to be a cyst on her ovaries. We then went through a period of time of wondering if it was cancerous or not.
I had a person from another city who was trying to hurt me personally. Our daughter, Laura, was rejected at college by her closest friends. There was a cash flow crisis here at FamilyLife. Our personal support which we raise for our own salary—we don’t take anything from FamilyLife here—was at a 20-year low. In the midst of all that, Barbara’s car died.
You were there—you watched us go through it. It was a season of one thing after another. We prayed—I’ll never forget a statement you made, Bob. We prayed that God would move FamilyLife to a new level of ministry and we would be able to impact tens of millions more people’s lives.
You turned to me one day and said, “You know, just watching what you are going through—you and your family—kind of the Refiner’s Fire that you are experiencing—I’m kind of rechecking whether I want to pray that prayer or not. You were just being honest; I mean, who would ask for that to come into your life?
Dennis: The reality is: Your life will be marked by suffering.
Bob: For you guys, that was a valley in the midst of a roller coaster. There have been other valleys; but there have been peaks along the way, as well. I think of folks we have interviewed—folks like Joni Toda for whom suffering has not been a seasonal occurrence—it has been a lifelong occurrence.
Dennis: Right. That really leads me to my second observation about suffering. Some people will suffer for a short season of their lives while others are going to suffer all four seasons of their lives. Their lives will be marked by suffering.
Joni came to my mind as well. As a teenager, breaking her neck and being a quadriplegic all her adult life. She has modeled for the Christian community worldwide what it looks like for someone to entrust her life to the God Who is trustworthy, Who knows what He is doing. Spurgeon said—and you could think about Joni Erickson Toda’s life—this could really describe her: “Some men owe the grandeur of their lives to their many difficulties.” Joni’s life has a sense of grandeur about it, even though it has been lived in the valley.
Bob: All of that brings us back to the question of how we choose to respond to trials or to suffering because that is what is going to determine what our legacy is.
Dennis: Yes, and that is the third point. James 1:2-8 points out that, “We should count it all joy when we encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance, perseverance, maturity;” but we have to respond in faith.
I think of Corrie ten Boom being a person whose life was marked by suffering. She and her sister were imprisoned by Hitler’s regime. Ultimately, she lost her sister to that prison. It was a story, really, of Corrie ten Boom having to forgive the prison guards.
It is a powerful, compelling story of redemption and a picture of the gospel, Bob, of how God redeems us and seeks reconciliation with us as human beings. I think the question for every listener is this: Will you allow tragedy to define your life or will your decision be to respond to God and trust Him as you go through a season of difficulty?
Here is the application for you: What trial, what tragedy right now—and maybe it is tragedies—are you facing today that demand your faith in God? Some folks listening to this broadcast need to take a step back and do an inventory. They may need to make their own list of how the sparks have flown upward.
You just need to take a step back and say, “Lord, God, I am going to trust You with this. I am not going to let this define me. I am going to trust You and believe You that You are going to use this for Your purposes.”
Bob: If you were sitting across the table from somebody in the midst of that, I can imagine that if you had a copy of Jerry Sittser’s book right there, you would hand it to them, wouldn’t you?
Dennis: I would. I would also give him a copy of the interview we did with Jerry. This is a man who lost his wife, his mother, and his four-year-old daughter in a tragic car wreck back in the early 90’s. His response is unthinkable; it is so supernatural and empowered by God. Every person really needs to read this story or get the book and pass it on to a friend.
Here is the deal, Bob. Generations will be impacted by your response. People will be telling the story of Elisabeth Elliot and her faith for generations to come until Jesus Christ comes back to planet Earth.
Bob: Yes, and I think it is helpful for us, to be ready for our own season of suffering, to read stories of how others have gone through it. You can get a book like the one that Jerry Sittser has written, that you mentioned, that we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center; or you can get the interview with him that we did and listen to that together. You can get a copy of the book that your wife Barbara wrote with your daughter Rebecca after your family went through a season of suffering after your granddaughter, Molly, was born and lived for seven days.
We have these resources in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If folks want to go online, they can find out more about the book by Jerry Sittser. It is called A Grace Disguised. The book that Barbara and Rebecca wrote together is called A Symphony in the Dark. Again, there is more information about all of these resources on our website FamilyLifeToday.com.
Let me also mention that the subject of the kind of legacy that we leave to the next generation is at the heart of a brand new Veggie Tales DVD called It’s a Meaningful Life. We have that in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well. It is something the whole family will enjoy watching together. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Again, we want to say, “Thanks,” to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate your financial partnership with us. We are listener-supported. Your donations are what keep FamilyLife Today on this station and on our network of stations all across the country. We just want to say, “Thanks for your donations to this ministry.”
We want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow. We are going to talk more about the kind of legacy we pass on to the next generation. We are going to look tomorrow at how the small decisions we make every day are ultimately what determine what that legacy will be. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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