The Benefit of Anguish

Pain.  Sorrow.  Anguish.

There are times in life that we experience it deeply.  You may know it.  It is that place you find yourself asking… Why?  Why God?  It hurts so bad that the tears don’t even matter.  In fact at times it hurts so bad you can’t even cry.  Maybe you’ve wondered like I have.  “Is something wrong with me?’  It runs so deep that it wears you out and you just want to sleep so you don’t have to think about it. But even in your dreams you are reminded of the pain.  You may be tempted to self medicate with that vice that is your nemesis.

But, what if the pain is a gift?  I know that does not sound right.  It doesn’t seem to make sense.  It doesn’t for me either.  One day I was sitting in the hospital room with my mom having a pizza party.  My sister, her husband and kids were there.  My pregnant wife and young daughter were there.  The room was filled with laughter and prayer and sorrow.  We knew she was going in for a biopsy the next morning for a mass on her brain.  A week later she was gone.  My wife’s sister just recently passed away from cancer, just a few weeks from the diagnoses.  The reminders of death and a broken messed up world seem to always be right in our faces.  How is pain supposed to be a gift?  I found myself saying a number of times in my life, “God, I don’t get it!”

Chapter 38 of Isaiah has some of the most profound words in regards to this topic.  Hezekiah was told by the prophet Isaiah to get his house in order because he was going to die.  “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, ‘Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done was is good in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly.” (Isaiah 38:2-3 NIV)  Hmmm…  A fairly simple yet profound prayer.  Remember me God.  That is really all he asked for.  Is that what I would ask for?  Is that what you would ask for?  God, remember me… uh, except for…   No, Hezekiah left it all in God’s hands.  Somehow that prayer hit the ears and heart of God in such a way that He decided to add 15 years to Hezekiah’s life.  God didn’t stop there. He also promised to deliver him and the city from Assyria.

All that stuff is pretty awesome, but here is what pierces my heart to the core.  It is found in verse 17.  You could easily miss it as I almost did.  “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish.  In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”  Wait?  Did he just say it was for my benefit?  Yes he did.  I had to read it again.  I just stopped right there.  WOW.  Ok, I understand the idea that “sufferings produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)  But this… this says it completely different.  That somehow it is to my benefit that I suffer anguish?  As I put those two together it makes sense in my head.  Sure the benefit is perseverance, character and hope.  But how do I reconcile that in my heart when the pain is so bad?  Even Hezekiah refers to it as an anguish of his soul.

To be honest I am still trying to wrap my heart and mind around the idea of the benefit of anguish.  I go back to my previous post when I talk about letting God hold my heart.  I have a couple of choices in the deep pain.  I could run.  Run from everything and everyone.  Self medicate myself.  Sleep it away.  But when I wake or come back from the slumber it is all still there.  I could just get angry and bitter.  I’ve seen that before.  I don’t want that.  There are probably a number of other options too.  OR…  I could hand over my heart.  I could be completely and brutally honest with God.  Wrestle through it with him.  Lean into him and lean on him.  Surrender.  Trust.  Allow God to turn those hard parts in my heart to soft fertile soil.  Because they are there.  When we are truly honest with ourselves we all know they are.

Of course, that begs the question,”Does God make these things happen then?”  No, I don’t think so, but I’m also not God.  What I do know is we live in a fallen world.  It all started with the first sin.  We live in a broken world as a result of that.

So, maybe there is a benefit of anguish. Is it an opportunity to hand things over, relinquish control, and trust that he will be all that I will ever need?  To let go of the fear of the unknown?  In the pain could he do something in me that I wouldn’t allow otherwise?  That I am at the point where I say, “Ok God, my life, it is yours.  Do with it what you will. Your will, not mine.”  Was that not the prayer Jesus said at his time of anguish in the Garden?

Deep, beyond the pain therein the gift is to be discovered.  It will look different for you than it does for me.  Maybe the gift is not for you but for someone else.  My wife and mother-in-law discovered a deep sense of loneliness in their loss.  Yet they vowed they would never let one of their friends feel as alone as they have in their anguish.  Their’s is a gift for someone else.  In return it is a gift for them as well.  They are now a comfort to those who mourn and it brings them joy.  The gift we find beyond the pain is an odd but powerful thing.

We live in a deeply broken world that needs people of God who know the benefit of anguish. God knew it, so he sent His only son to experience it.  Jesus knew it so he walked into to it.  He in fact took upon him the greatest anguish of all.  The full cup of God’s wrath for you and me.

As you celebrate our risen Lord this weekend do not forgot he experienced the greatest anguish of all so that we might experience and know his love that restores all things.  And remember… In that great anguish He conquered sin and death!

The Gardner and the Fertile Soil

Will the Gardner spend his energy on soil that is not fertile?  It is a question that has been rolling through my mind for the past six months.

In Matthew 13 there are three out of the five parables that are very similar that we usually see as separate.  The first is the parable of the sower which is about a farmer who scatters seed and it falls on different types of ground.  If you have read it you know the story.  Some take root very shortly, some not at all, but only there is only one under which the conditions are good enough for the seed to bear fruit.  The fertile soil!  I have heard these verses used for us as believers to “scatter the seed of the word” everywhere.  But what if we are not the sower of the seeds.  What if in this parable the message Jesus wants to get across is about the condition of our heart.  In the parable of the weeds (the second parable) Jesus explains that the sower of the seeds is “The Son of Man”.  Is it possible that these two are meant to be seen as stories that Jesus is weaving together?  And the third one is about the mustard seed.  What if all three of these are meant to be woven together to understand the depth of what Jesus is talking about? In John 15 Jesus also uses the analogy of the vine and branches.  When we stay connected to the vine then we as the branches will bear fruit.  When we tie all this together what we have is a Gardner (Jesus), the soil (our hearts), the world (weeds, rocks, etc) and our lives (the branches) which are meant to bear fruit.

This all brings me back to the question?  Will Jesus – The Gardner – spent his energy on soil that is not fertile?

I believe He wants to break up those hard pieces of our heart.  The question is… Are we willing to let him hold our hearts?  Are we willing to surrender everything to Him?

Here is a journal entry from about 6 months ago…

– I must learn to rest in His Love. I must allow him to break open my heart and break down all the hard pieces and places until it is soft, rich, and fertile soil.  Then he can put it back together.  That might be, no it is, painful.  I thought to myself, “If I could hear him his voice once a week it would be wonderful.  I wouldn’t want to stop there though.  Once a day would be even better.”  Then maybe my heart would remain softly in His strong, but gentle hands.  Maybe then I wouldn’t be as reluctant to let him hold it.  It wouldn’t hurt as bad when he needs to break it loose. –

This is only one piece to the whole story.  Trees and branches that bear fruit do not grow over night.  There is a process involved and it takes time.  There are seasons of pruning and dry spells and bearing fruit.  They don’t just happen once either.  Pruning is a regular occurrence, but bearing fruit is also a regular occurrence.  Dry spells come and go and often catch us by surprise.  Some of these moments are extremely painful, others are full of joy and life.

I plan on writing more about this in three more parts:

1. Establishing Fertile Soil: The Benefit of Anguish

2. Growing and Pruning: Don’t Neglect the Process

3. Dry Spells: Roots that go Deep

I will end with this.  How fertile is the soil of your heart?  Are you willing to ask your heavenly Father that question?  When you are ready to ask you might be surprised by His answer.

When I Was a Cable Guy, I Discovered True Joy

Two months from getting married I discovered the job I was hoping to get was not going to happen. I had this whole plan worked out. I was going to work at my college for a couple of years so then I could get my masters degree for free. Sixteen years later and I am “masterless”. I know that is probably not a word. So, my brother-in-law had just got this job as a supervisor for a cable company and he offered me a job as one of his installers. I know what you are all thinking, “This guy is crazy! You never take a job working for a family member and on top of that, a cable guy?” Almost straight out of the movies.

I went to “cable guy school” to get my certificate as an installer and complete my pole-climbing training. The pole-climbing thing was actually pretty awesome, once I got over my fear of heights. I really did not have a choice in the matter because I just got married and had nothing else lined up. One of the guys in my class actually did not make it. The thought of it alone can freak you out. The only thing suspending you in the air is two metal spikes that go into the pole only about a half-inch.

I met a lot of interesting people while I was installing cable service and disconnecting service for those who did not pay their bill. Probably the most interesting situation I came across was in a very low income part of town. Most of the time, as you can imagine, that is where our disconnections happened, but this one was actually an install. I pull up, grab a cable box and all my tools to do the job, not really thinking much about where I am.

As I begin my work I begin to feel that something is just not right about this situation. Not in a scary sort of way but in a more… depressing way. I was becoming acutely aware of the living situation of the people I was serving. I had seen plenty of unkept houses before. Some people just don’t like to clean or organize, but this, this, was very different. It was not about cleanliness, it was about the well-fare and unhealthy living environment. I am sure it had never been vacuumed, mopped, or swept. There were numerous kids running around who probably had not had a bath in weeks and clothes on that were just as bad. Who knows when the last time was that they had a decent meal? There was a hole in one of the exterior walls about the size of one of those large foursquare balls.

I could not believe that people would do that. Drop $80 on and install for cable and not even feed their kids, fix the hole in the wall, or something else. The least they could have done was waited for one of our free install offers. I actually began to get angry about the situation.  Everything inside me wanted to just walk out, not do the job, and tell them to fix the whole in the wall, buy some clothes, buy food and clean up their life.  Instead I had to do my job and I left dumbfounded. “God, why do people do that?” I asked. I was so angry and broken inside at the same time.

But, you know what I learned? What is the difference between them and that huge house that I was just at?

You can have everything, but still have nothing.  You can have nothing and want everything.

Or better yet, what is the difference between them and me or between you and them?

We all try to fill that hole in our home and in our hearts with joys other than the ultimate joy, God’s joy. Their’s was just out in the open. Ours we hide it, or justify it. We miss the abundant life Jesus came to give us because we allow the cares of this world to distract us away from the deep unconditional love the Father has waiting for us.

Jesus said, “As the Father has love me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my Father’s commands, you will remain in HIS love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11 Emphasis mine)


Our place in this world is not defined by the job we do.  It is not defined by how much we accomplish.  It is even not defined by how much we do for God.  We must remember that there is nothing we can do to earn grace.  But what about the Father’s commands?  Jesus told us the greatest commandment is to love God completely with all we have.  Our place in this world is simply this… Remain in HIS Love.  In that love we find true Joy and contentment.  And like the prophet Jeremiah if we try to keep God’s word, his wonders, and his love to ourselves we will grow weary of holding it in.  “Indeed I cannot!”  It will burn inside you like a fire deep in your bones.  Once we experience the true joy that comes from God alone we share the burden of Christ to give the most life-giving message of hope the world will ever know.