Stumbling blocks

Stumbling blocks are that which cause a person to stumble while he is walking along a path. While on the pathway of life, we could, at times find ourselves forced to suspend our pursuits due to issues such as accidents, illnesses, sudden financial setbacks or other problems. Once the problem or issue at hand has been dealt with, we return to pursuing life until another event occurs that diverts our attention again. Often these events are marked by grief and pain and tend to be long drawn out affairs that result in much weariness and brokenness.

At this point, I want to direct you to read my article, “Biblical suffering” in this blog as this will give you a clear idea of what suffering is according to the Scriptures. As a Christian, we may face persecution or trials of various kinds (James 1), but these will result in spiritual growth ONLY IF they are not caused by our mistakes or sins. Peter says that we should not suffer as murderers, thieves, evildoers or as busybodies. He was saying that our suffering should not be the result of our sins (1Peter 4:15).

In the Old Testament, we see that as long as Israel walked with God, they experienced great peace and prosperity. Once they began to turn away from God to idols, God tried to draw their attention by sending them prophets. When they rejected the prophets, God had no other option but to remove his hedge of protection from them which allowed their enemies to attack and cause destruction. God was trying to draw their attention and turn their hearts back to himself. When they persisted in their rejection of God, he allowed them to be taken captive from Israel and to dwell as second class citizens in foreign lands. Even here, He desired that they would return to Him. In other instances, He permitted famine, withheld rain and permitted pests to destroy their crops hoping that these stumbling blocks would cause them to stop, consider their lives, repent and return to Him. The storm that Jonah passed through is a good example of a stumbling block.

Lets look at some causes of stumbling blocks in our lives –

1. God places stumbling blocks in our path – Jeremiah 6:21, Ezekiel 3:20, James 4:6. God places stumbling blocks in our path when we persistently sin and turn away from him. James says that God resists the proud. The proud will find his path blocked by God Himself. If we understand that it is God that has placed the stumbling block in our path, we ought to just fall to our knees in repentance and in re-dedicating our lives to him. When we are called to pray for others, we need to discern whether their problems have been caused by their own sin. In those cases, it would not be wise to pray for the problem to go away but for God to complete his work of turning them to himself. Often we short circuit God’s discipline in a person’s life due to our lack of discernment.

2. Satan places stumbling blocks – 1Thess 2:18, 2 Cor 12:7, 1 Pet 5:8,9 We find that Satan hindered Paul. He also causes persecution to rise against us and sends his messengers to buffet us. When we discern that the problem has been caused by Satan, we ought to take authority over the power of the enemy and destroy what has been sent against us. Too few Christians have been taught to wage spiritual warfare with discernment. We beg and plead when we ought to be using our spiritual authority and we command when we ought to be repenting for our sins.

3. We place stumbling blocks in our own paths – Ezekiel 14:1-11. In this instance, God was grieved that the people had set up idols in their hearts and those idols had caused them to stumble. The idols of the heart – not physical idols. Most of us would never dream of worshipping idols – we are not so careful when it comes to the idols of the heart. Paul calls covetousness idolatry in Colossians 3:5. Anything that takes God’s place could be categorised under idolatry. Placing idols in our hearts can erect stumbling blocks in our paths – it is a law. Ezekiel 7:19 speaks of silver and gold becoming the people’s stumbling block of iniquity. Indeed, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is an idol of the heart. Fear could also be an idol of the heart and create stumbling blocks in our lives – Job said that what he greatly feared came upon him (Job 3:25)The only way out is to deal with these idols ruthlessly. We ought to throw Jonah out, not the cargo. In these days of the sugar-coated gospel, it is rare to find sin spoken against and rarer to find calls to repentance.

In closing, whenever we find ourselves faced with a stumbling block while along life’s path, let us pause, take some time to examine our lives – find out whether it has been placed there by God or Satan or by the idols of our hearts. Let us deal with it appropriately so that we do not get diverted from our purpose in life. After all, we only live once.

 

Biblical suffering

Everywhere we look around us in the world, we are confronted by the reality of human suffering. At times we wonder how a human being can go through such physical and mental suffering – the suffering brought on by wars, by human trafficking, by death, by sickness, by famine, by family breakdown, by poverty, by sin, by Satan, by natural disasters and much more. We live in a world that has been defiled by sin and what we see is but the consequences of man’s sin; consequences that affect both the sinner and the innocent.

Anything that causes pain or sorrow or misery or a general lack of ease in life could be classified as suffering. Today, however, I want to look at suffering in the New Testament context. This is the suffering that each disciple of Jesus could pass through in this life. Note that I did not say “will pass though” but “could pass through” either some or all of them.

1. Suffering due to temptation Heb 2:18

2. Suffering due to hatred from wicked people (1Pet 4:1; Heb 12:3; 1John 3:12; 2Tim 3:8; 4:14,15)

3. Suffering due to persecution because you are a Christian (1 Pet 4:16; John 15:18,19; John 16:33; Rom 8:18; 2Cor 1:3-11; 2Cor 4:7-12,16,17; 2Cor 6; 2Cor 7; 2Cor 8:1,2; 2Cor 11:23-28; Phil 1:29; 2Tim 3:12; 1Thess 3:4; Rev 2:10 plus so many examples in the book of Acts)

4. Suffering due to demonic resistance (2Cor 12:7-10; 2Thess 2:18; Eph 6:12)

5. Suffering due to opposition from carnal believers (2Tim 2:25, 26; 2Cor11:13; 2Cor 11:26c; 2Pet2:1)

6. Suffering due to poverty (2Cor 8 – Judean church; Rev 2:9 – Smyrna church)

7. Suffering due to sickness while in the course of ministry (Phil 2: 25-30)

Since Jesus came in the flesh, he understands human suffering perfectly. He is able to identify with the one who suffers – when Stephen was being martyred, Jesus, who is normally seated at the right hand of God, rose from his seat and stood (Acts 7:55). When Saul asked Jesus who he was at the Damascus road, Jesus answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”. Saul was persecuting the Christians, yet Jesus said that Saul was persecuting him – such was Jesus’ identification with his suffering church.

Some people believe that we must be broken – often through suffering and that this is the primary means by which God teaches and changes us. In fact, a recent Facebook post said that the best school is the school of suffering. I do not subscribe to this view. I think it is an insult to God to speak in this way. Would I teach my child a lesson or draw his attention by placing his hand over an open flame? Certainly not! Why would God be any different?

The best school is not the school of suffering but the school of the Holy Spirit. If we submit to and relate with him, he will produce the transformation that is necessary in our lives and make us like Christ.

I believe that brokenness can be accomplished while in the place of prayer and study of God’s Word. It is not necessary for us to pass through the most distressing situation in life for us to be changed.

We need to recognize that we do pass through suffering at times due to our own follies or sins. I do not address this issue here other than to say that we can do without suffering in this manner.

Peter speaks of suffering according to the will of God (1Pet4:19) and he encourages those who suffer thus to commit themselves to God as to a faithful Creator. God still is the “One who sees” (Gen 16:13) and has an “intended end” (James 5:11) of healing, restoration, transformation, deliverance and blessing.

We serve a faithful God! Hallelujah!