How do you respond to persistent, long term challenges?
The prophet Jerimiah complained to God about the godless prospering and living in contentment even though their hearts were far from him. God had called Jerimiah early in life to speak for him. From the beginning, Jerimiah encountered hostility and persecution to his prophetic words taking place over decades under several kings and the conquering armies of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. Seldom did the people or their kings heed his warnings. To compound his lament, he sees people prosper who have ignored both him and God.
God’s response is not entirely sympathetic. He says, “If running against men worries you, how will you race against horses?” (Jer. 12:5) This sounds similar to God’s response to Job after his many complaints resulting from his lengthy suffering. “Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance?” (Job 38:2)
Like Jerimiah and Job, how often do we complain to God about the trials and challenges in our lives, or question his timing or justice? It may be the suffering from a long term illness, seeing the life of a loved one snuffed out prematurely or protracted unemployment extending beyond our ability to cope.
I am reminded of the women who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years in Mark 5:26 or the man who had been an invalid for 38 years waiting to be healed by the stirring waters of the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:2-9. Each had an enduring faith: the woman saying, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured;” the man waiting for someone to assist him to get into the pool while the healing waters are stirring.
For almost thirty years, I have been praying for the healing of a daughter with a speech disability that accompanied her birth with Down syndrome. She understands fully all that we say to her, she reads at a rudimentary level, but she has difficulty articulating her feelings or thoughts that require more than a short sentence.
In spite of her disability, God has blessed her with a smile that melts your heart, an inclination to love and hug most everyone she meets and a purity of heart that teaches the rest of us about the ways of God. While I must confess that I have given up on my prayer from time to time, I still persevere, knowing that anything is possible to God in spite of my mustard seed size faith.
I stand in awe of people who suffer through a painful long term illness and yet retain the joy of the Lord. I marvel at the spouse who cares for a disabled loved one day in and out, month after month and sometimes even year after year.
The apostle Paul who accepted the tough words of God to Jerimiah and Job for his own life, offers us great words of encouragement in the face of interminable suffering or challenges. He says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12: 1-3)