Only 5 percent of the population in Great Britain attends church on a given Sunday. Only 28 percent said they “believe in either God or a higher spiritual power,” while 38 percent said the opposite.
Given spiritual trends in the UK, it is wonderful to hear that thousands of people responded to the gospel at a recent outreach event there organized by The Message Trust and the Luis Palau Association. Festival Manchester has been described as the largest outreach event in the northwest of England in a generation. Prior to the event, the two organizations joined with local churches to hold an eighteen-month outreach in which they shared their faith as they organized social action projects. Thousands responded to the gospel through these projects.
Andrew Palau of the Luis Palau Association said, “As is always the case, when the church comes together in unity, serving the city, encouraging the body, and proclaiming the good news boldly, great things happen. And that is exactly what we saw here in Manchester.”
How to have spiritual grandchildren
Luis Palau was a personal friend and a great hero of the faith. Sixteen months after his homegoing, his legacy continues through every person his ministry is reaching with the good news of God’s love.
While God has no grandchildren (we must each enter into a personal saving relationship with him), those reached by those we reach are our spiritual grandchildren. In this way, the kingdom of God multiplies until every person has a personal opportunity to know Christ.
Of course, Satan understands God’s multiplication strategy and is doing all he can to stop it. One of his chief responses is tempting Christians to doubt their faith to a degree that impedes sharing their faith.
If I’m not sure something works in my life, why would I try to give it to you?
This week we’ve been exploring ways to trust God when it’s hard to trust God. When we plead with him for help with our suffering but he seemingly refuses to do what we ask, our confidence in his love and power can be shaken.
Today, let’s consider three biblical explanations for such a response from our all-loving, all-powerful Father.
One: God sometimes uses suffering to judge sin.
In response to Adam’s sin, God pronounced, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). From Miriam’s leprosy (Numbers 12:10–15) to Herod’s death in response to self-idolatry (Acts 12:20–23) and the plagues and punishments of Revelation, the Bible offers numerous examples of suffering as divine judgment on personal sin.
However, this is not the only explanation for suffering. Remember the innocent sufferings of Joseph, Job, and Jesus, the deaths of the babies in Bethlehem (Matthew 2), and the martyrdoms of Christians across the New Testament. We should never assume that a person’s suffering is divine judgment.
But when we face suffering ourselves, it is good to ask the Lord if sin is relevant to our condition. Is our suffering a consequence of sin in some way? Could sin be impeding the Holy Spirit’s healing work? If so, our Lord will tell us and we can respond (1 John 1:9). If not, we can dismiss this as a factor.
Two: God uses suffering to show us our need of himself.
Suffering shows us that we need help beyond ourselves. Cancer requires an oncologist; storms require a shelter. In such times, we discover who—or what—we have been trusting.
God said of ancient Judah, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). Then, “in the time of their trouble they say, ‘Arise and save us!’” (v. 27). But God responds: “Where are your gods that you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you, in your time of trouble; for as many as your cities are your gods, O Judah” (v. 28).
God did not remove Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” despite his fervent pleas (2 Corinthians 12:8). Rather, he redeemed it by drawing the apostle into a deeper, more dependent relationship with himself: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (v. 9).
From this, Paul learned to say, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). His example is recorded in Scripture so we can follow it today.
Three: God uses suffering to grow us in holiness.
Craig Denison writes in First15: “I can in no way sanctify myself because in and of myself I have no holiness.” He is right. I cannot give myself (or anyone else) something I do not possess. I cannot make myself taller or change my chronological age.
If I want something I do not have, I must seek it from someone who can give it to me. This is why people go to doctors to be healed, to lawyers for legal counsel, and to banks for loans.
Craig continues: “Holiness is the direct result of openly and continually encountering the nature of a perfect, loving, and available God. . . . We must learn to trust that in encountering him we will experience freedom from our sin and healing for the wounds that drive us to the things of the world.”
When suffering turns us to God for help, this turning positions us to be sanctified by his Holy Spirit. He then redeems our pain by using it to grow us into our best selves. As the poet and priest George Herbert (1593–1633) noted, “Storms make the oak grow deeper roots.”
“You have never lived one unloved day”
As I noted in my latest personal blog, the immensity of creation now being revealed by NASA’s new space telescope shows us the immensity and power of our Creator. However, as Max Lucado reminds us: “The greatest news in the world is not that God made the world but that God loves the world, and he loves you, my friend. You have never lived one unloved day. God loves you, and because he does, you can be assured that joy will come.”
Hear that again: “You have never lived one unloved day.” Including this day.
Why is this fact especially good news today?