Putting our troubles into perspective- my story
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Sometimes it helps to put our troubles into perspective. Let me share a memory from many years ago. As a young pastor just beginning a family, I served several churches as pastor on a small salary. My wife Mary and I had some financial struggles, but we were happy, getting by living in a mobile home nicely furnished at one church, and later a larger pastorium, although we sometimes didn’t have the money to refill the butane heater. Our first child, Melissa, was born. Money was tight, but God provided. Eventually, I decided God was calling me to return to New Orleans Baptist Seminary and work on a doctoral degree.
Those days in seminary working on my doctorate were especially difficult times financially. I gave up my church position as pastor to dedicate myself to study, and I took a job on campus working for the grounds crew three days a week, so I could be in class and study the other days. I also worked as a grader for the professor, but that paid very little. My income was even less than when I worked for a church, even with Mary working. We stretched the money every way that we could.
One December day during this time, I got a call from the church there in New Orleans where we were members. They wanted me to pick up a Christmas gift for a needy seminary student family. I was so excited, because I thought that must be for my family. I arrived at the church, and they gave me the name and address of a student family in my apartment building. My heart dropped, but I dutifully took the gifts of food, gift cards and other presents, and went to the door of the family and knocked. When they opened the door, I was shocked– the family had an apartment full of kids, and had almost no possessions inside. They were so much worse off than me and Mary and Melissa. It put things in perspective, and I rarely felt sorry for myself again. I was thankful for what I had.
We all have a choice, to look down at our problems, or look up at our God, the Lord who provides (Genesis 22:14). As the apostle Paul wrote, “Set your minds on things above, not earthly things” (Colossians 3:1). A poet put it this way: “Two men looked out prison bars/ One saw mud, one saw stars.” It all depends on your perpsective, so let’s look up and be thankful for what we have.
What have you learned about pain and suffering?
After seven weeks of teaching my Bible class about dealing with pain and suffering, today I asked them, “What is the biggest take away you have learned about suffering?” As they talked, I began to summarize their thoughts on the whiteboard. Here is a list of their comments:
*We grow in faith through suffering.
*Suffering can be used as a testimony to glorify God.
*A diamond is formed under pressure; likewise, suffering develops character.
*Suffering is a process, and you have to let the process work you into a diamond. If you quit on God too soon, you just become a lump of coal.
*In the Holy Land, olives were pressed and crushed in a vat, making olive oil. Likewise, God allows us to suffer pressure, and God produces good things in our lives from it.
*We experience God’s presence in suffering– it draws us closer to God.
*Suffering forces us to make choices– will we be better or bitter?
*We must learn to see suffering in perspective: it is temporary and light compared to the eternal weight of glory God has for us (2 Corinthians 4:17)
*We are able to relate to others with similar suffering, and comfort them. (2 Corinthians 1:4).
*Suffering requires us to be obedient to share the lessons we learned with others, even though we might prefer to talk about other subjects. But when we talk about it, it helps others.