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FAITHFUL LIVING: Through pain, God helps us grow
I know many Christians who rarely talk publicly about their faith. They tend to be private people and prefer to serve God as living examples. They have usually been given the gift of service and are the folks who dig right in with spontaneous generosity. They believe that lifestyle evangelism works best and I am a huge believer in this approach to sharing ones faith. I much prefer it, as a matter of fact, to street-corner preaching although that approach to sharing ones faith is amazingly effective and has a place in this world.
Lifestyle evangelism is a long-term approach to passing it on. And while living the Christian life can be terribly complex, the equation to lifestyle evangelism is wonderfully simple: Live your faith.
Even those of us who are willing to discuss our experiences with faith will readily admit that much of life is difficult to manage and understand. This is why most people carefully choose the times and places for discussing God. It is natural to feel the need to defend Him, especially when an issue is brought up where there is no easy answer and life seems terribly unfair. In fact, most Christians will point out that conversations inevitably work themselves to a point where THE question is asked. It is for this reason that we avoid personal evangelism.
I experienced one of those moments this week when THE question was posed to me, a question so difficult it felt as though I could not address it with much justice. A young friend came to me to gather my take on a situation in his life and out it came..THE dreaded question.
If God loved me, why has He let this happen to me?
Ouch. It makes even the strong at heart go running for the hills, or better yet, for an underground shelter. For a moment I thought, Calgon, take me away! Then a thought came to me. The time had arrived to share a private struggle.
My struggle involves a question as well: Why did God take my friend Rich who left behind a wife, four youngsters, a loving extended family and a host of friends. Rich was a talented family practice physician who loved his patients beyond the front door of his office. He was a man who told everyone who would listen that God loved them with a depth that extends into eternity, as evidenced through Christ. He was also a man who profoundly suffered nearly two years from the effects of a brain tumor before passing on.
I had asked God, Why? a thousand times and it seemed my anguish was falling on deaf ears. That is until this week, when I dug a little deeper into the dynamics of questioning God by pulling out my trusty Bible. In reading how God responded to a number of famous biblical characters, including Job a wealthy and upright man who lost his possessions, his children and his health, I began to hear a number of answers to some of my most profound questions.
First, God answers when we are ready and able to listen. This means we will not be given stock answers; that would be disrespectful. Likewise, if what we need to learn is beyond what we can handle at the moment, God will provide us with faith-strengthening experiences until the time is right.
Second, we must never assume that bad situations or personal suffering are a form of punishment. We may suffer and it may not be our fault. Therefore, we do not have to add to our pain by feeling guilty that a mistake is causing our trouble.
Third, we must accept the fact that discomfort, questions and doubt are a part of everyday life. Yet we fight it. We attempt to remove the worry and the pain. We self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. We loose ourselves in TV or on the computer. We run from relationships when things get tough. But challenge is a realistic part of every day. That is why God draws near.
Facing tough questions is a sign you are growing. Are you willing to really listen and really care? God needs no defenders or pat answer providers. He does ask that we extend our hearts and our routines to care for those around us. He does ask that we sacrifice at moments to help others.
It seems God allows our hearts to cry out in anguish so we will draw close to Him, experience His unique love, and set a new course for eternity. Such testing is difficult, but the gift is a closer bond with God and a deeper, more significant life now and forever.
Freelance writer Joan Bay Klopes e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org