I’m honored that Ian and Larissa have invited me to write a guest post on their blog. Ian and Larissa (as well as Ian’s Dad who went to be with the Lord a couple years ago), his mom Mary and his brothers) because for years they have faithfully glorified God in the midst of unimaginable suffering.
I’m humbled by the topic they asked me to write on - “an encouragement for some of our readers who may be disabled and have felt the impact that has on their ability to serve the church and what their "new" or "ongoing" role looks like.”
First of all, though I have experienced various trials, some harder than others, I don’t consider myself in the same league as Ian and Larissa and many other believers I know. As a pastor for over 30 years, I have seen many of God’s people suffer extraordinary trials. I’ve tried my best to enter in with many in their afflictions, but can’t possibly know the pain they’ve experienced. So I write on the authority of God’s Word and as a witness to a number of saints who have glorified Jesus in the midst of incredible suffering.
First, God knows best what will glorify him. God gave Paul a “thorn” in the flesh to glorify himself:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Paul wouldn’t have chosen his thorn, but God knew what would best glorify him. Not only did Paul’s thorn keep him humble and dependent on God’s grace, but it formed the black velvet background to showcase the diamond of “the power of Christ.” Knowing this helped Paul find contentment in weaknesses, insults, and hardships, because in his weakness, the power of Christ shone through.
Somehow God will use your disability to display his power and glory. He does this as you rejoice in Christ and his salvation despite your affliction. As you display joy when the world would expect you to be depressed. As you to look to the interests of others instead of being consumed by your own suffering. As you continue to come to church, small groups and the life of the church. As you encourage others even when you are suffering.
We tend to evaluate our own “usefulness” based on what we can do for God. But God doesn’t evaluate us on that basis. As Oswald Chambers says,
God plants His saints in the most useless places. We say, "I should be here because I am so useful." Jesus never estimated His life by the standard of greatest use. God puts His people where they will glorify Him, and we are not capable of judging where that is. -- Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest
God planted Joseph in an Egyptian prison for 13 years. God put Moses in the desert for 40 years before calling him to deliver Israel from Pharoah.
David too spent lots of time in “useless places” - desert caves and strongholds hiding from Saul before God exalted David to became king.
Jesus spent 30 years in obscurity before a short 3-year ministry, then died a “failure” on the cross, having had seemingly little impact on Israel.
Paul spent lots of time in prison. He could have viewed his jail time as useless, but through his imprisonment the gospel spread to prisoners, guards and beyond. And Paul wrote a number of his letters from prison which we might not have had God not put him in a “useless” place.
My wife and I adopted our youngest son almost 21 years ago. He came to us through the ministry of a disabled woman named Eileen. Eileen had a form of dystrophy that bound her to a wheelchair much of her life. Eileen suffered a LOT. Yet she was always joyful and filled with faith. She must have been tempted to self-pity at times, but I never heard her once complain. Eileen was active in her church, counseled women and children, took foster children into her home, and adopted children. The last time I saw her before she went to be with the Lord, she was unable to swallow anything, even her own saliva, because of a particular physical affliction. Yet she was still cheerful and praising God.
You may not be able to glorify God in some of these ways because of your condition, but here are a few suggestions.
By reading or listening to God’s word and praying.
By whatever ways you are able to participate in the worship and life of your church - even if it’s just being there.
By trusting God and declaring to others that God is sovereign, good and wise.
By setting an example of faith and perseverance.
By rejoicing in all things and not complaining.
By depending on God.
By encouraging others.
By being content in Christ as your treasure even above your health and comfort
Activity doesn’t glorify God as much as patient trust in him. I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon and hope it encourages you:
Many who can labor without weariness cannot suffer without impatience. Men are seldom equally skilled in the use of the two hands of doing and bearing. Patience is a grace that is rarer and harder to find than activity and zeal.
The bottom line is that all of us must daily commit and devote ourselves to the glory of God, wherever he has us, whatever we must go through.
"We need to deal with God... that God may be glorified in our condition, whatever it is. If he wills for us to be rich and full, that he might be glorified in our bounty; if he wills us to be poor and low, that he may be glorified in our patience; if he will have us healthy, that he may be glorified in our labour; if he will have us sick, that he may be glorified in our pain; if he will have us live, that he may be glorified in our lives; if he will have us die, that he may be glorified in our deaths" (Romans 14:8). -- Thomas Manton