Tag Archives: discouragement

Where Is God In Our Pain?

By Michael J. Klassen

In October, 1995, 29 year old Göran Kropp embarked on a round-trip journey that would take him from sea level to the roof of the world. What made his journey significant was his determination to travel from his home in Stockholm, Sweden to the summit of Mt. Everest entirely under his own power—without the help of a car, train, or airplane. He would make the entire journey from Sweden to Nepal on bicycle. And once on the mountain, he would climb without the aid of a Sherpa team or supplemental oxygen.

During his 8,000 mile bike ride to Katmandu, he was robbed by Romanian schoolchildren and assaulted by a crowd in Pakistan. He was hit on the head with a baseball bat in Iran. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet on at the time.

Finally, on May 1, 1996—7 months later—Göran left base camp to began his ascent up the world’s highest mountain, hovering at 29,035 feet above sea level. He wasn’t tethered to another climber who would secure him if he slipped and began falling off the mountain and he didn’t have a Sherpa team to haul his supplies like all the other climbing teams. In fact, he didn’t even have bottles of oxygen to help him think clearly when the air became dangerously thin above 20,000 feet.

By Thursday that week he was camping at 26,000 feet and the next morning, he began the final leg of his ascent. Unfortunately, Göran found himself fighting for every step through the thigh-deep snow which quickly drained what little reserves of strength he had left. At 28,700 feet, a mere 60 minutes from the summit, the snow he had been trudging through finally took its toll. Determined that he was too tired to make it safely to the top and down again, he turned his back to the summit and began his descent down the mountain.

But this story does have a positive ending: On his second try three weeks later, after the famous 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy, Göran Kropp conquered Mt. Everest.

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Mountains Represent Our Problems
Mt. Everest accentuated Göran Kropp’s weaknesses. Mountains tend to do that.

Throughout Scripture, mountains symbolize one of two things. First, they symbolize problems.

Jesus said in Mt 17:20, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Especially in the days before bulldozers and earthmovers, mountains symbolized the immovable. Mountains exemplified anything so ominous in a person’s life that it couldn’t be removed apart from the power of God.

It was on Mt. Moriah that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac (in Genesis 22).

When faced with an enormous task, God spoke to Zerubbabel, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Then God spoke to Zerubbabel’s problem: “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground” (Zechariah 4:6-7).

Jesus was crucified on a mountain called Golgotha

Problems are part and parcel to our human existence. It doesn’t matter how talented or wealthy or even how spiritual you are; even if your name is Jesus Christ, problems are a fact of life.

And if it makes you feel any better, Jesus promised us problems. “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33 italics added).

Mountains Represent The Presence Of God
Without problems we wouldn’t recognize our need for God—which brings us to the second thing mountains symbolize in Scripture: The presence of God

Moses was a lowly shepherd tending sheep one day in the wilderness.  The mountain Moses faced was his own self-doubt. Months before, he was a powerful ruler in Egypt, but due to some very poor judgment on his part, he fled his homeland because he murdered a fellow Egyptian.

While on the side of a mountain named Sinai, he encountered a burning bush. God spoke to Moses, “I want you to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians.” But Moses interjected, “Why would you want to use a failure like me bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

God answered back, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (Ex. 3:11-12 italics added).

Repeatedly from then on, whenever Moses encountered a problem, he returned to the mountain. On one occasion, God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, and then passed by him in all His glory (Exodus 33).

My tendency is to assume that my spiritual maturity will naturally grow over time. I’m 46, but when I’m 50 I’ll be a much stronger Christian. And think how strong I’ll be when I’m 60! But it doesn’t happen that way.

You know what helps me grow stronger? Mountains. Mountains help us on our journey to becoming more like Christ.

We’re no less in God’s presence when we’re facing our problems on the mountain than when we’re on the mountaintop. They’re both the same mountain!

Our perspective on problems is often wrong. We often see it as cause/effect for our sin—which it sometimes is—when we should see them as opportunities for burning bushes and the still small voice.

We may not always realize it, but that problem we are facing, that mountain we’re on, is holy ground. Dare I even say that the problem before us may even be a burning bush.

Problems reveal to us our shortcomings, our capabilities, our limits; they reveal to us and others the bankruptcy of our own efforts. Problems reveal to us what God already knows: that we are fraught with shortcomings. Problems reveal to us our need for Jesus. Our depravity. Our pride. But they also present us with opportunities to rely on God. Sometimes they even drive us to our knees.

Pain is the platform where we often encounter God.

Last Friday we discussed what it means to abide in Christ. While I can abide in Christ in the stillness of my quiet office when all is well in my world (at least temporarily!), I can also abide in Christ in the middle of my problem.

And you can, too.

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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In The Stillness

Six weeks ago, I embarked on a 5-day trip to Taos, New Mexico for some extended time alone with God. To my delight, I stayed in a beautiful house nestled on the side of a mountain overlooking the city while some relatives were out of town.

Immediately upon entering the house, I said to myself, It sure is quiet in here. No one yelling. No one telling me what to do. Apart from an occasional dog barking in the distance, the stillness was deafening.

That night as I prepared for bed, I started freaking out. Every errant sound transformed itself into an imaginary wild animal or fugitive attempting to break into the house. As I turned off the lights, I checked to make sure the bedroom door was locked.

Obviously, nothing happened, but I soon realized how ill-equipped I am to cope with silence.

Join me today as we look at the benefit of silence.

TODAY’S READING

1 Kings 19:1-21
Acts 12:1-23
Psalm 136:1-26
Proverbs 17:14-15

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Kings 19:1-21. After serving as the instigator in a dramatic showdown between Yahweh and Baal, Elijah heard Jezebel had sent men to kill him…so he ran. The explanation of why Elijah ran after such a significant “God encounter” has always escaped me—so if you have some insights, please join the conversation.

Elijah shows us that no matter how powerful or godly a person may appear, everyone stands on feet of clay.

This passage is rife with parallels between Elijah and Moses—both stood on Mt. Horeb (Ex 3) and both possibly hid in the same cleft of the rock as God appeared (Ex. 33).

Acts 12:1-23. Two elements about this story of Peter’s dramatic release from prison struck me as I read this section from the Bible.

  1. The people prayed earnestly for Peter’s release. Verse 5 tells us that “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” In prayer, we ask God to intervene in our everyday circumstances. This may seem pretty basic, but all too often, I witness heartless prayers that seek nothing tangible from God. It’s okay to ask God for something!
  2. The people were surprised when God answered their prayer. After the servant girl announced Peter was at the door, they remarked, “You’re out of your mind.”

Psalm 136. This psalm served as a recitative prayer between the leader and the people. And what is the theme? God’s love endures forever. Sometimes we need to keep reminding ourselves of this because we so easily forget. By tracing various examples of everyday life and Israel’s history, we begin to see the breadth and depth of God enduring love.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

If God could throw lightening from heaven and bring an end to a overwhelming drought, surely he could defend Elijah from lowly Jezebel. Nevertheless, after serving as the instigator in God’s show of superiority over Baal, Elijah was burned out and desperate. He ran for his life in fear of Jezebel’s threats and then pleaded for God to take his life. So fearful was he that Elijah ran to Beersheba, the southern region of Judah on the edge of the desert. Surely Jezebel’s troops couldn’t find him there.

Elijah desperately needed an encounter with God. He needed something that would prove God was there, and that he cared. And where else should he go but the same place Moses had encountered God 650 years earlier?

There, standing on the side of Mt. Sinai (also called Mt. Horeb), Elijah waited for an experience with God he could call his own.

A powerful wind blew across the mountain.

An earthquake shook the ground underneath his feet.

Fire raged all around him.

But God wasn’t present  in any of these “manifestations.”

How often do we ask God for dramatic experiences? Maybe you don’t, but I do. I want him to rescue me, heal me, deliver me. And I want it NOW!

While he has the power to do any of these—and sometimes he does—he usually appears to us in the same way as he did to Elijah.

The NIV translation of the Bible says that God spoke to Elijah in a “gentle whisper.” Most scholars, though, translate the word as “silence.”

A deafening silence.

Interestingly enough, the writer of 1 Kings tells us that Elijah heard it (see 1 Kings 19:13). Then out of the silence, God asked him, “What are you doing here?” Elijah’s answer reveals his good intensions as well as his skewed view of reality. God then gave him direction and courage to continue.

In an age of overstimulation, the idea of being still and silent is frightening. Yet perhaps that’s exactly what we need.

When we turn down the volume of the many voices vying for our attention, we create room for God to speak to our hearts.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How do you feel about spending time alone in silence? What prevents you from this important spiritual discipline?
  3. Why do you think it’s important to God?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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