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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Affection of Afflictions

By Bethany Chastain

For many years, I have faced the same affliction, an affliction that I have prayed long and hard for God to remove. And while I have prayed and cried, the problem remains. For years I have told God repeatedly that He should change things, make them better, make ME better. Yet, time and again I failed to be freed of my affliction. This failure tugged at my very soul, causing me to believe that God did not care for me at all.

It was with this mindset and a heavy heart that I began reading my Bible once again, trying desperately to find some reason why God was afflicting me with this hardship. However, what I found was not what I expected.

The Apostle Paul was a mighty man of God with a prosperous ministry. He was one of the early heads of the church, a man to be respected and listened to. But his life wasn't easy. He was shipwrecked, adrift at sea, beaten with rods, lashed five times to within an inch of his life, imprisoned, almost killed by riots, bitten by a poisonous snake, stoned until believed dead, and eventually killed. He also had an affliction that he called his "thorn in the flesh," which would not go away no matter how many times he prayed (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Yet he continued forward, knowing that the reward at the end was worth the hardship.

The Apostle John was a very blessed man and was probably the closest disciple and friend that Jesus had. He witnessed all miracles and mysteries, did not deny Christ at any time, remained faithful while other were faithless, was present for Jesus' hearings, was given charge of Jesus' mother, witnessed Jesus' death AND resurrection, was given a place of leadership in the church, witnessed all that was spoken of in the book of Revelation, and died of natural causes. Yet he was also persecuted by the Jews, was kept in hiding as an apostle, was boiled alive in oil, and then was banished onto an island to die. His was not an easy life either.

Daniel was a man that God elevated to a high position. He was a man who loved God and worshiped only Him. He was placed under a steward who allowed him to be a vegetarian, was promoted for his faithfulness and his dream interpretations, was given a place above all of the King's magicians, was kept alive in the lion's den, was allowed to hear about the future from the mouth of Gabriel himself, and died an old man. However, he also was taken from his home, watching many of his people die. His best friends were thrown into a furnace, and he himself was thrown into a lion's den for even praying to God. He lived his entire life as a slave, cast aside by each new ruler until a time when he could prove himself again. And he eventually died as a slave in a foreign land.

There are many more examples in Scripture of men and women who loved the Lord and remained faithful to Him, yet were afflicted in ways that are difficult to even imagine. I can think of Job, Ruth, David, Lazarus, Moses, Peter, all of the prophets, and many more men and women "of whom the world was not worthy" (Hebrews 11:38). And God used them all for His glory, showing us that, while life is difficult and the world will not be kind, He will hold us until the very end.

What I found the most interesting is that God never once stopped caring for these men and women, never once abandoned them, and yet never once did God promise that life would be easy for them either. In fact, John 16:33 makes that perfectly clear when it says, "In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

So why do I complain about one affliction? The Bible is full of stories where men and women experience troubles and afflictions. Yet God remains faithful. He does not promise life will be easy or that all of our troubles will be taken away like magic, but He does promise to be with us no matter what happens. And judging from what afflictions others have faced, mine does not seem so large.

So, perhaps I can use my affliction for the glory of God just as Paul did. Perhaps knowing that I'm not perfect will show others that God can work with their weaknesses as well. After all, God did say, "My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). So I will bare my weakness the best I can, knowing that God has a plan. And I will lean on the words that God gave to the Apostle Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you." Perhaps then others can see me how God sees me: a woman with an affliction that can still be mightily used by Him.

Bethany Chastain understands that people aren't always kind, especially to others who are different or disabled. Hence she has unshakable faith in God, wearing Christian t-shirts and necklaces, youth group tee shirts, and other Jesus apparel, all in an attempt to share her faith despite her infirmities. She knows it's what people know of God that counts.

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