Based on the Scripture, two-thousand years of Church experience, and 38 of my own, I'm a firm believer that the Spirit of God more often marvels an onlooking world through--not our prosperity, but--our suffering, through our going without, and especially through our faithful expiration from this planet.
Some believe that anything less than "blessed" is Spirit-less and in need of a good rebuking: from the loss of a job to catching a cold! So, why didn't Paul just rebuke Timothy's sickness rather than instruct him to take some wine to soothe it? 1 Ti 5.23 Maybe he should've wielded the sword of well-being or proclaimed the power of prosperity?
Could it be that the Spirit's focus--like the Son's--is our deliverance from sin more than our deliverance from sorrow or suffering? Otherwise, would the Father have sent the Son to become one of us--to die for the sin of every one of us--when He could've simply decreed from heaven: "Every disease healed, every account filled, and every stocking stuffed!"
It's dangerous to assume that anything that ails us is outside God's will, that it must be the work of our enemy, or of no pruning or sanctifying value for the believer. What do we tell the world when a righteous, God-fearing, Christ-centered saint dies of cancer? That he or she must have had some hidden sin in their lives that prevented their healing? Or perhaps the Spirit of God was simply over-powered by satan? Never!
Rather than to her detriment, the Church has proven to grow faster & stronger through her difficulties. If "the Son learned obedience through what He suffered" (Hb 5.8), what of you and me?
Some of the most influential in church history have died from sickness or disease, from heart-attacks, cancer, and even depression. Some God took in the peace of their sleep, but others burned at the stake.
Nothing testifies to the surpassing glory of "being absent from the body [and] present with the Lord," like dying well. Ac 7.54-60 Finishing the race in faith reveals that the face of Jesus is more than sufficient to face death & disease, that the Pearl of Great Price really "is more precious than life," and that "a day in His courts is better than a thousand elsewhere". Isn't that what we've been singing?!
But shouldn't we lay hands on people, anoint with oil & pray for deliverance from sickness, disease, distress? Shouldn't we steward well the "blessings" our Father provides for His children? Absolutely! Jesus did and commands we honor the Lord by doing the same.
But brothers & sisters, God is always at the helm--in sickness and in health; and we ought to proclaim that truth as much as any "blessing". It frustrates me that we hear so little from pulpits these days about the blessing of lean and difficult times. But, then again, who needs faith when you've got genie Jesus?!
My desire is that the Lord would richly, richly bless you... with absolute confidence in Christ Jesus so that with Daniel, you can face lions; with David, you can challenge giants; with the Apostles, you can look death in the eye & not be shaken.
Discomfort, struggle, war, pain, suffering... these are not the enemy. Doubt, disbelief, and "
Thy MY will be done"... these are enemies. The previous describes the earthen life of Jesus & His disciples. Shouldn't it still?
"Name it & claim it" just doesn't befit underground believers in China, nor the persecuted, hurting, suffering, ailing believers in India, Pakistan, Libya, Uganda, Cuba...
We all get injured. We all get sick. We all suffer. We die... saints & sinners alike. A "gospel" that "claims" or "decrees" an earthly escape--or else "something must be wrong with your faith"--is foolishness, insulting, unbiblical, and, worst of all, does NOT honor the surpassing glory of a God who is better than 'your best life now'!
Can and does Jesus heal, bless, raise the dead? YES! Does He do so every time? No! Why not? Because our faith is too weak? Well, you'd be hard pressed to find stronger faith than Paul's, yet he had a perpetual thorn in his side to remind him: God's "grace is sufficient for me; His power is made perfect in weakness." Wait, what was that? Where was God's power made perfect? That's right: in Paul's weakness & suffering!
Does that mean we ought to become masochists who seek out opportunities for pain, suffering & persecution? NO! Then should we pray against it? Of course! ...and against anything else that hinders or diverts our attention from the Lord. BUT if storms & thorns abide, we need not conclude that the only explanation is that there's something wrong w/our faith, that we're somehow lacking the right spiritual jargon or magical prayers. That's witchcraft and hocus-pocus, not Christianity.
Does Jesus wipe away every tear of toil & suffering? Not yet! But He will! Rv 21.4
However, now and then--by His gracious design & perfect time--we do get to behold His miraculous power, power that glorifies and honors His name. But His glory can be seen through saving AND suffering, through sickness AND health, through sight... AND even in blinding the sighted!
There are lots of paralyzed believers who will tell you, "I praise God for the day I broke my neck: I was on a fast track to hell & God woke me through this weakness. Hallelujah!" Personally, I praise God for snapping my elbow and pulling my self-centered, wealth-centered rug out from under my baseball career.
Does God still work miracles? Is He still into wonders & revelations of mercy & might? You bet!
Just in the last few weeks in our south church & extended family, despite a grim prognosis, God baffled physicians by adding pounds to a baby in the womb that otherwise would've required an early induction. He has brought several unbelievers into restore relationships wherein the Scripture is being shared & disciples are being made. And, as a personal testimony, He provided two vans for the price of NONE. That's right, none! ...one for my growing family, and one for a ministry in Honduras! (A great testimony for another time.)
And these are just those close by, off the top of my head. No doubt you could tell a handful of your own. Praise the Lord!
But don't overlook the miracle God does every day, the real work that renders real praise from real angels: bringing real rebels to real repentance, saving sinners, granting Life to dead men walking!
He is bigger than our will, wants & desires... bigger than our diseases, sickness & sin. He is not limited only to the tools that make us "happy". As we have & will continue to see through our study of Genesis, even satan is on His leash, a tool in His bag, and is often His carving knife of choice.
So what do we do with evil right now, in this "already, not yet" kingdom come? A few suggestions from the Scripture:
Expect evil: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. -1P4.12
Endure evil: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. -1Co13.7
Hate evil: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. -Ro12.9
Pray for rescue from evil: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. -Mt6.13
Expose evil: Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. -Ep5.11
Overcome evil w/good: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. -Rm12.21
Fight evil: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. -Ja4.7
All the while thank God for the sanctifying power of evil: "...giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," -Ep5.20
Never think evil is out of God's control: "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will," -Ep1.11
Never believe satan who says that--because you may not be healthy, wealthy & wondrous--God must be a sinner: The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. -Ps145.17
And--as I was recently reminded--never doubt God's total & complete love for you in Christ Jesus... no matter how severe the pain, suffering, sickness, or persecution!
Strive for biblical faithfulness, church family. Even & especially when things aren't going the way WE think they should. We've got to keep seeking His face, His will... not just His hands or His gifts, but Himself! Remember His words in Matthew 12.39:
I must go--ironically--to a funeral of a saint. I hope you can receive this in the Spirit of love, hope and inspiration that I intend it. The last thing I want to encourage in any of us is to lay down our arms, give up the struggle against sin & death, and ho-hum all the way to hell. No! I wanna fight sin and encourage nothing but the same fight in you... a biblically-saturated, Christ-honoring FIGHT!
Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,