MOBILE, AL – In our sphere of the Send Network, several faithful families have endured great, unexpected suffering and losses. People who pursued God radically as they “left house or parents or brothers or wife or children for the sake of the kingdom of God…” (Luke 18:29). They faithfully and passionately obeyed the call of God on their lives.
Luke goes on to say of these people, “Who shall receive many times more in this present time and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:30). On the surface, that could be interpreted as a protection clause for those who demonstrate sacrificial obedience. But in truth, there is no promise of protection from suffering or difficulty due to us as obedient followers. That clause does not exist in Scripture — nor is it borne out in biblical narrative. Jesus’ and Paul’s lives alone bear that out.
As I have watched young families enduring particularly painful suffering in recent months, I remember the dark work of Satan in the midst of the pain of God’s people. He will do all he can to urge us to be consumed with bitterness, disappointment, and faithlessness in the face of our grief and despair. He wants to sow deception that might cause us to doubt and mistrust God. He sees our vulnerabilities and wants to take advantage of our limping faith and wounded hearts. Sixteen years ago, unexpected, unwanted circumstances invaded my life. I became a widow at age 45 and my children lost their father. We joined the masses of innumerable families where death visited far too soon.
God was behaving unpredictably. Why would a faithful, selfless leader, who was making tremendous impact on the kingdom of God, be taken in the prime of his life? We wanted to know why this happened. It was senseless. Surely an explanation would be forthcoming to make divine sense of our pain. As believers, we could proclaim with the sincerest of heart that we would not question God. And in our good moments, we pulled that off. Yet in the darkness, loneliness, and at empty holiday tables, the “why” came tumbling out, which would often be followed by an unspoken — “It’s not fair!”
We are disoriented by the interruptions in our lives. A sense of injustice is hard to quell. There is no fairness in a kind, humble man dying at age 46, or in a 4-year-old with leukemia, or when a job termination has been forced upon us. Seeds of bitterness, anger, and disillusionment can easily sneak into our hearts. At the point of these painful wounds, we may become offended with God.
The term “offended” comes straight from the lips of Jesus to one of his followers, and not just any follower but one of his most faithful, bold followers — who also was family. His life had taken a dramatically bad turn; he sent his followers to inquire of Christ: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me” was the message relayed back to an imprisoned John the Baptist by his disciples. John was disillusioned and isolated — and no doubt his followers were as well. Jesus was performing profound public miracles, yet John remained shackled. In these words, to John’s disciples, Jesus seemed to be sending the message “John, I won’t be making all your wrongs right.” These are hard words for the man who stuck his neck out for the Messiah. He would remain in jail and soon even lose his life. Not exactly what he saw coming.
Maybe John the Baptist or his disciples were saying to Jesus, “It’s not fair!” Jesus knew the leanings of the human heart. “Remain unoffended,” He said. I could easily create a scenario where my husband, Rick, stuck his neck out for God and this was the thanks he got. While my head knew his faithfulness hadn’t earned him protection, my heart was having a hard time believing it. Yes, being offended was a real possibility. In the years that have passed, I have wrestled to remain unoffended. My heart is tenderized toward others who fight this familiar human struggle. It is a true fight, because our enemy is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour and takes no thought of attacking us at the point of our tenderest wounds.
These three ideas — wrestled down often — have been my constant companions to remain unoffended:
Accept that which has been withheld from you.
Surrender your need for an explanation; live with the mystery.
Focus on what He is doing and not what He did not do.
This verse has also held strong keys for me in freedom from offense: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deut. 29:29) In basic terms, this verse says: There is info only God will have. There is info I will never have. I have to live out of what is revealed to me, not focus on the unrevealed.
Four simple revelations that saved my life and continue to save my life:
His steadfast love never fails.
His mercies are new every morning.
We can see the goodness of God again in the land of the living.
Blessed is the man/woman who trusts in the Lord.
Friends, I don’t know the source of offense in your life. While mine is a mile marker on an interstate, yours may be an act of violence, the face of a child who slipped away or, like John the Baptist, your ministry life gone badly awry. The blessing of remaining unoffended is an unexplainable, irrational peace. It is childlike trust in the face of epic, unanswerable questions. Fight for it. It may be the platform for the clearest testimony of your life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathy Ferguson lives in Mobile, Alabama, with her husband Ed, pastor of Redemption Church. Both lost former spouses in car accidents, and God uniquely gave them new love and life together in 2009. Kathy enjoyed 26 years of life and ministry alongside Rick Ferguson. She has three children and ten grandchildren. Presently, Kathy serves at NAMB as Planter Spouse Care Manager.