Monthly Archives: February 2014

Growing through suffering and difficult times: Ways to Grow in God

Suffering

by Laurie-Ann Copple

Last time we discovered that we grow well when we learn to read the Bible (by reading it for ourselves devotionally as well as learning about the history and cultures of biblical times). The Holy Spirit speaks to us through scripture that seems to jump off the page to us, just as if it’s a personal message, and we may also hear his voice at times when we remember various scripture passages just when we need them. Often personalized scripture verses are like promises to us in hard times, and in times of suffering.

We shouldn’t fear difficult times, although there is a temptation to ask Jesus to just take pain away from our lives. When I lived in north Toronto, I used to be part of a church with a strong healing prayer ministry. I also studied counseling at Tyndale Seminary and I integrated what I learned in school with the practical ministry I did at the church. Many times people approached us with deep emotional wounds and difficulties. Some wanted the pain to go away without dealing with the issues that were causing the pain – they didn’t want to deal with the root cause. In a sense, they wanted a ‘band-aid’ for the pain, and not emotional/spiritual heart surgery done gently by the Holy Spirit through prayer. While ministry team members are not counselors, sometimes the Holy Spirit jump starts a process that goes on in a pastoral or counseling office, if the person is willing to ‘go’ where the Holy Spirit is leading them. The important thing is that God is WITH them in the midst of suffering, and through the journey together, they are healed and grow. I have had many occurrences of this phenomenon in my own life, and this has taught me to not run away in the midst of pain or difficulty, but to continue to walk forward with Jesus’ help.

The same growth can happen through illness – which I have witnessed while volunteering in an oncology ward, and in the growth of a close friend while he has lived with failed hip surgeries. I have begged God many times to heal my friend so that he can get on with his life in serving God. He has struggled over seven years and will likely continue until after healing from yet another surgery. Once as I prayed for him, I sensed that God was using this time to deepen spiritual maturity and wisdom into his life. I know that God uses him to minister to others, based on the scripture 2 Cor. 1: 3-4: “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 have received from God.” My friend is does that through an online support group for people dealing with the same disease that he is working through.

Others experience their difficulties in other ways, including  persecution due to their faith in Jesus.  Throughout the world, there are persecuted Christians. More Christians died of martyrdom and persecution in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined (including the infamous Roman practice of throwing believers to starved lions). Persecution in the 21st century is escalating. I have seen some of this in the Somali community within Kenya and in my work with Pakistani Christians. In North America, this trend may be limited to name calling and political correctness in trying to silence the Christian voice of conscience in our society, but it too is getting worse.

Christians have become targets, similar to how Jewish people have been persecuted through the ages. How can people deal with this strife? When I was on a prayer journey mission in Northern Ireland, I once asked my Christian landlady about the marvelous godly quality of some of the Christians I had met in Belfast – they had a deep, sweet character and every aspect of them reminded me of Jesus. I wanted this quality and told her so. She sighed and then smiled. “There is only one way to grow in this part of your faith.” I asked, “more absolute surrender?” She replied, “No, by suffering.” That hit ‘home’, although I did not fully understand what she meant other than that difficulties refine our character as we trust God in difficult circumstances.

I again saw this quality in the Christian people of Shantinagar, a small village in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Until the past few years. Punjab has been the most stable Pakistani province with the exception of an occasional flare up of persecution. In 1997, there was a massive wave of persecution perpetrated by hundreds of angry Muslims. They attacked the churches, schools, hospitals, businesses and homes of Shantinagar based on a rumour that a Qu’ran had been desecrated (it was actually a Bible that was destroyed). These villagers were left with very little – even the children’s school uniforms and books had been destroyed. Ministries came to help and the village was re-built. Life continued on.

When I visited in December 2007, I enjoyed deeply sweet hospitality. I felt loved, honoured and blessed. I was able to share with them a message I developed specifically for them – about God’s call to them as servants. They knew they were sons and daughters in their faith, and they had confidence in who they were in Christ.  But they were also servants– with the same attitude and love that Jesus displayed in Phil. 2: 5-11. This wasn’t any ordinary service to others. It was something incredibly deep and confirmed to these dear Christians that their forgiveness and humility was a witness to Jesus. Everything that they did and will do for Jesus is a great treasure because of their attitudes, countenance and character. I would like to go back to this place – to teach but also to learn from them. They had truly learned how to grow spiritually – so deeply that Jesus shone from every aspect of their lives. One of their secrets was to trust God in all circumstances. We are encouraged by Proverbs to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths”(Prov. 3:5-6). May we continue to trust Him who is faithful and will never leave us.

Next time I will share on how we can grow through worship.

Yours in Christ, Laurie-Ann Copple

Laurie-Ann is based in Ottawa, Ontario and may be available for mission trips and speaking tours.

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Growing through Bible Study: Ways to Grow in God through God’s word

by Laurie-Ann Copple

Old-New

Last time we discovered that we grow well when we pray for others in intercession and in fasting (either Lenten type fasts or more serious disciplines). Fasting in the context of prayer is meant to change the heart of the person who prays, and helps you get more in tune with God’s heart.  The next featured way to grow in God is by studying his written Word – the Bible.  The Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and the Book of Alternate Services (BAS) are full of great scripture, so when you decide to begin reading the Bible on your own (or with a group), you will recognize quite a few of these verses. For example, a personal favourite spoken in the order of service, is: Ephesians 3:20: “Glory to God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation, in the Church and in Christ Jesus, for ever and ever.” Of course, the prayer book also includes many historical prayers and creeds that are also scripturally-based. However, it is best to start with the authoritative word of God first – the Bible.

The Bible is God’s truth, and it is spiritual food for us.  If this journey is new to you, I would suggest that you begin with the New Testament, then the Psalms and Proverbs, and in time the rest of the Old Testament, including the Prophets.  As you read each chapter and verse, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in understanding. Sometimes a verse from the Bible will seem to jump out at you into your heart (the term is called ‘illumination.’)  This is meant as encouragement to you.  Since the Holy Spirit inspired and filled the human authors to write the different biblical books, He can also inspire YOU.

Remember to be regular in Bible reading – even if it is only 15 minutes a day.  You wouldn’t want to eat too much of your favourite food at once, right?  This is the same thing. We grow through the Bible in a way that roots us into what God says to us, even though the original words were given 1900 – 4000 years ago or so. The Bible has a special quality to it that it speaks to the people of the time in which different books were written as well as to us – sometimes literally, and other times by analogy.  We grow through studying the Bible and spending time with the Holy Spirit during our regular devotional time.  When we have both, we become spiritually balanced rather than being ‘flaky’ or cold.

It often helps to study the Bible in groups, because it is important that you learn what God is doing with others while they are also learning scripture.  However, remember that the Bible is an ancient book. God has spoken and still speaks through the Bible, but the cultures from biblical times are different from our own, although, sometimes the circumstances can be parallel to our own lives. Then we can understand and apply what we learn to our own lives. The term for learning the Bible in its original perspective is called exegesis. When I learned some of the history and culture of those times, as well as a bit of their language, it gave even deeper meaning to the scriptures – especially with the stories of Jesus and of the journeys of the Apostle Paul. It helps even more to see these places in person if possible.

Applying the scriptures to our daily lives is called hermeneutics. Do we need to understand the original meaning before we can apply a scripture to our lives?  No, but it gives us greater understanding and makes the Bible seem even deeper to us since the writers were describing real places.

What if you have read the whole Bible from cover to cover?  I would definitely encourage you to keep reading your Bible regularly.  There are different ways to do this, especially if you’ve read each book ‘as is.’ Perhaps a topical study would be a good start, since often scriptures are linked throughout the Bible. Study Bibles are helpful as are Topical Indexes. Visit your local Christian bookstore, which would have Bible studies that can help you on your Bible-learning journey.

Remember, even though scripture can be familiar, or may feel like a comfortable old shoe, it can still speak to you in a deeper way when you need it most.  Next time, we will learn of another way to grow in God.

Yours in Christ, Laurie-Ann Copple

Laurie-Ann has returned to Ontario from Nelson BC and is currently in transition, seeking ministry and employment. She volunteers as writer, producer and radio host at CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa and attends St Paul’s in Kanata ON.