Listen to the podcast
You may want to read:
Biff sat in my office, discouraged. He just received news of his impending divorce. He sunk into his chair and cried. No matter how tough he wanted to pretend to be, the anguish of the disappointment was overpowering. I cried with him (Romans 12:15). Though I knew where I needed to take him, the more vital thing was not to move forward at that moment but weep with a broken man.
Prioritizing your discipleship aims with a person is vital. The only thing appropriate for that moment was to weep with my friend (John 11:35). Christian counseling is neither Christian nor counseling if you do it without compassion. Biff did not need a plan at that moment as much as he needed an understanding friend.
Some sorrows do not need spoken words. There is a grief that stands without explanation (Ezekiel 3:15). Biff was experiencing one of those sorrows. His marriage was ending, and apart from a mighty miracle from God, nothing was going to stop it. Have you ever experienced that kind of suffering? Have you ever come to the death of hope?
Perhaps your marriage is sound. If so, I rejoice with you. It is a mercy from the Lord to have a fantastic relationship with your spouse. It’s a gift from God. As you enjoy what you have, I want you also to apply what I’m sharing about Biff. Though your marriage may go the distance, all your hopes will not.
If you’re not currently going through a personal trial, it’s a promise from God that your day is coming where suffering will be your companion (Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21). None of us will get out of this world without experiencing multiple painful iterations of the curse of Adam (Romans 5:12, 3:23).
It is the disappointments of your life that will reveal your hope. When the sad times come, there will be an accompanying test. The disciples were doing well until the thing they cherished the most died. The death of Christ highlighted their hope.
It is easy to rest in and trust God when things are going well. I suspect that most of us who are doing well have an accompanying deception about our faith in God. It’s not as hard to trust Him when you’re getting what you want. I do not wish calamity on you. I am appealing to you to give reflective time to where you have placed your hope.
You don’t have to wait for trouble before you think about the quality of your faith. What if you are preemptive? If things are going well for you, take time to think about and apply these two things to your life. Will you do these?
Some of the saddest counseling situations are the people who were doing well in life until personal sorrow altered their predetermined plans. In nearly every case, they did not prepare for the obvious: humans were born to suffer. Here are a few examples of what I mean.
Then disappointment enters the room. Along comes sorrow, and the self-sufficient’s hope exits. The reality of imminent grief should motivate any rational person to assess themselves soberly. My goal here is not to be oppressively negative. I’m a realist. If disappointment is not here today, it’s coming soon.
Unwise and careless people do not give cautious attention to where they place their hope. They enjoy today with all its benefits and do not take heed about the fragility of life or subtleties of self-deception. If you don’t take heed to these words, when disappointment comes, you will be a relational train wreck.
Biff had placed his primary hope in his marriage. I know this because his grief was abnormal—a pain that had no end. If you don’t get over the bad things that have happened to you, then you have misplaced affections. The sunshine will not return to your life until you make Christ your ultimate joy in life.
It’s okay to have a rattled confidence, but if it stays that way, your Christianity is out-of-whack. If Christ controls you, whatever upheavals come to your life, you will not live on a yo-yo. You may waver, you will have bad days, and you will be sad, but your trouble will not manage you in adverse ways. Biff was up and down, and you could predict his movements based on what was happening with his spouse. If she looked as though a reconciliation was in the future, Biff had a pep in his step. When things took an unexpected negative turn, he was sinking in his chair again.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
What Paul learned was not Biff’s experience. Biff was ignorant of the purposes of his disappointment and affliction. This miscalculation was Paul’s warning to the Corinthians—”not to be ignorant of the affliction they were experiencing.” Biff had misplaced his hope by making his marriage more about his dream than God’s purposes.
Biff had created an illusion that spun him into discouragement. Biff’s story is yours if you put too much hope in the wrong thing or the wrong person. You are only as Christlike as the central fixation of your dream. Because the most essential thing in Biff’s life was his marriage, the lack of marital happiness diminished his Christocentric equilibrium.
The most difficult thing to tell Biff was what Paul attempted to teach the Corinthians: Biff was relying on himself to provide the most important thing to him, which was his marriage. Biff’s inability to break free from his “self-imposed funk” revealed his misplaced hope.
Paul could not have been clearer: he did not want the Corinthians to be ignorant of the affliction that happened to his team, which is why he tried to educate them on their suffering. God was breaking them, as he broke Paul from the misplaced hope of self-reliance. The Lord wanted Paul to rest in the only person who could bring someone from the grave.
This truth is also how the disciples overcame their funk. Before the resurrection, the disciples could only hope in a dead Savior. Post-resurrection, there was a brighter aspect of the gospel for them to fix their confidence on. Their early faith was on an earthly thing, not something that transcended mundane hopes.
Biff’s hope was in what he could see and feel—his marriage. As his marriage was dying, it rattled his confidence. Biff needs a transcendent view of marriage. Transcendence is usually considered an incommunicable attribute of the Lord, which is something we cannot have.
This definition is true in a technical, theological sense. But with many of God’s attributes, there is an “echo of it” that God does communicate (gives) to His children. Because we are in Christ, we do have other-worldly expectations and abilities.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12).
This ability you have is a gift from the Lord. It is not self-generated or self-perpetuated through self-sufficiency. It is pure, God-centered reliance. Once tapped into, it will give any Christian sustainability through trials. Paul was making this point to the Corinthians.
What about Biff’s marriage? Jesus gave Biff something special when He came out of the tomb, but Biff has not learned how to live in the power of the resurrection. He had mostly placed his hope in his marriage, which is a “what’s in it for me” expectation. Biff’s temptation is our most common one: we look to how we can benefit from something rather than thinking of how God can use that thing to make us better people.
God had to bring affliction into Paul’s life to reorient his thinking around the gospel rather than other things. In Biff’s case, the Lord had to shake his hope loose from his marriage so that he could wrap it around the gospel. One of the purposes of suffering is to dislodge us from fixating on and hoping in the wrong things.
Biff must realize that his most excellent satisfaction will not come from his marriage but from God. His relationship with his spouse, assuming it will continue, is to deepen his affections for Christ. He saw his marriage as something that made him feel good. He was using his marriage as an addict would use drugs.
Perhaps you’re ignorant—using the language of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8. Are there people, places, and things in your life that you use, not realizing the best purpose of them? Do you have a “what’s in it for me” attitude when it comes to those things? Here are two common ways in which I’ve experienced a lack of functional application of resurrection power in my life.
What about you? If you’re suffering today, have you found contentment in it because you have a transcending hope? If so, you are accessing the power of His resurrection that Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. In your situation, keep on doing what you’re doing. Your circumstances may or may not change, but you will be okay because those disappointments are not what manages your mental state.
Perhaps some of you are living in a false victory of self-reliance. If so, you need a loving and courageous friend to come alongside you to discuss these things so that you can learn how to let go of your dream while embracing a transcendent life. God’s Word is real, and His power is accessible to all His children. These gifts are the hope we have in the resurrection.