When You're Surrounded By Flames
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b
Honestly, I don’t like troubles.
I don’t know anyone who does.
And the fact that suffering seems to be a major theme in the Bible is – at least at first glance- not exactly comforting.
My fleshy self would love nothing more than to spend my entire life in air-conditioned luxury, room service, massage, perfect health and perma-chillaxin’ that involves a great deal of ice cream and movie marathons. In other words, my default mode is to want to put my feet up and stay that way.
Last week, Brian and I sat mesmerized, watching raw cell phone video footage of a couple fleeing Paradise, California. Active fires burned building after building on both sides of the road as they sped by in their vehicle. The journey seemed to go on forever and I felt tense and anxious for the couple and their pets as they tried to escape the inferno.
Our older children came over and watched some of the video over our shoulders. After getting over the startling images of fire, they listened for a bit then asked, “Why is that lady talking like that?”
Brian and I tried to compassionately explain to our 9 and 7 year-old why someone might be cussing and throwing God’s name away repeatedly when they are terrified.
A day later, I watched a similar escape video. This one included fire crossing the road and obvious moments where the car appeared to be driving directly into the flames. But in that video, the woman was praying and praising God.
Two stories captured in the flames.
Two totally different responses.
A year and a half ago, one of my favorite Christian authors, Lysa Terkeurst, announced her husband’s infidelity and the angst-ridden decision to separate.
She asked for prayer for herself and her husband.
Pain striking someone I deeply admire. I have read some of her books and even led Bible studies using her materials. She has been a familiar voice of vulnerability, faith and encouragement.
So I prayed and hoped for a miracle in Lysa’s marriage.
Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It felt like too much for one person.
It felt like watching someone going through some intense flames.
Sometimes we go through the flames and it feels like hell.
Sometimes we go through the flames and question why.
Sometimes we go through the flames cursing and screaming.
Sometimes we go through the flames feeling all the things but seemingly anchored to a steadfast peace that puzzles the world.
Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
Yesterday, Lysa Terkeurst launched her new book, “It Wasn’t Supposed to Be This Way.” On Facebook, I watched along with thousands of others as Lysa gave God all the glory and shared a message of hope and promise with a hurting world. She had emerged from the flames victorious and radiant. But her book’s message is not one from a healed woman with a restoration happening in her marriage -although that is now her story. Her book is about going through the flames.
And I’m making a prediction: I believe her book will make The New York Times best seller list. And here’s why I think so:
Our world is full of some pretty big flames. Hard times, discouragement and uncertainty are all things we each encounter. One thing Lysa said yesterday is, “All of us are either reflecting on something we’ve just been through, or we’re going through something, or we’re about to go through something.”
We ALL are going to face troubles in our lives. The question becomes, how will we face them? And can we face them with purpose?
If this life is really about surrendering and bringing glory to a God who loves the world He created- even a world that has turned its back on Him;
If there really is an eternal hope and a promise of heaven for those who follow Him;
If God’s word is true;
Then the hard times really become raw opportunities.
Opportunities to choose a God who loves us and whom beckons us to draw near to Him.
Opportunities to reflect the love of God to a hopeless world.
For a few minutes yesterday, I listened to my favorite Facebook live program for Christian speakers and writers. It’s called Marketers on a Mission and it comes on live every weekday at 12pm. The host, Patricia Durgin, was interviewing a 70 year-old pastor named Michael Gannt. He shared this truth he learned from Christine Caine, “anointing only comes through crushing.” He went on to say that throughout the Bible all the people we really admire, all the heroes, went through a hard season before they were used of God.
So what does that mean for us?
We all hate the crushing and the flames.
But this is what the Bible says:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3&4
In other words, NOTHING IS WASTED.
If we are followers of Christ and we know real hope, we can’t afford to keep our feet up for very long.
If you have comfort to give, then by all means, please, give it!
The world wants to know, is it real?
IS IT FOR REAL?
I believe Lysa’s book will be a bestseller because she’s living proof she has real hope.
The reality of pain and suffering is true no matter what we believe. We all will face it. And to ask a question that’s been asked for centuries, where else would we turn? Where else can we go?
We do not worship a God who leaves us when we’re hurting and in the flames, friends. I know I’ve quoted a lot things in this post but the scriptures are true, “God is near to the brokenhearted.” Psalm 34:18a
And yeah, I’ll bank my life on what the Bible says because just like that beautiful song “Build My Life” says, “IT IS A FIRM FOUNDATION.”
Here are just a few final thoughts.
We live in a world of constant noise, distractions and pleasure-seeking. But once in awhile, the flames roar in and we’re faced with a sobering reminder of life’s uncertainties. And when those times come, we can choose to go it on our own and see where that takes us. We can cuss it out and try out best in our own strength. Or we can believe that there is a God who promises this life is temporary. He promises to never leave us or forsake us. His promises are eternal. He loves us. And the outcome belongs to Him.
The Apostle Paul was a guy well-acquainted with suffering. He endured torture, shipwrecks, a snake bite, imprisonment, stoning, house arrest and eventually martyrdom and he kept sharing the Good News of Christ. Why did he continue praising God? Why did he continue sharing?
BECAUSE HE WAS TOTALLY CONVINCED OF HOPE.
He HAD HOPE. HE HAD PEACE. HE HAD COMFORT.
The only thing that separates us from that hope, peace and comfort?
It’s a heart that won’t surrender to God.
This is what Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…. in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:18, 37b-39.
If you’re going through the flames, I pray that there is someone who has been comforted who brings comfort and a reminder of hope to you today.
And if you’ve been through the flames and you know the peace that passes understanding, then friend, please don’t keep it to yourself. Go out there and share that comfort with a world that desperately needs the real hope that you have.