Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘affliction’

The Reasons for My Suffering

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul

Suffering and the Glory of God

I once visited with a woman who was dying from uterine cancer. She was greatly distressed, but not only from her physical ailment. She explained to me that she had had an abortion when she was a young woman, and she was convinced that her disease was a direct consequence of that. In short, she believed cancer was the judgment of God on her.

The usual pastoral response to such an agonizing question from someone in the throes of death is to say the affliction is not a judgment of God for sin. But I had to be honest, so I told her that I did not know. Perhaps it was God’s judgment, but perhaps it was not. I cannot fathom the secret counsel of God or read the invisible hand of His providence, so I did not know why she was suffering. I did know, however, that whatever the reason for it, there was an answer for her guilt. We talked about the mercy of Christ and of the cross, and she died in faith.

The question that woman raised is asked every day by people who are suffering affliction. It is addressed in one of the more difficult passages in the New Testament. In John 9, we read: “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (vv. 1–3).

Why did Jesus’ disciples suppose that the root cause of this man’s blindness was his sin or his parents’ sin? They certainly had some basis for this assumption, for the Scriptures, from the account of the fall onward, make it clear that the reason suffering, disease, and death exist in this world is sin. The disciples were correct that somehow sin was involved in this man’s affliction. Also, there are examples in the Bible of God causing affliction because of specific sins. In ancient Israel, God afflicted Moses’ sister, Miriam, with leprosy because she questioned Moses’ role as God’s spokesman (Num. 12:1–10). Likewise, God took the life of the child born to Bathsheba as a result of David’s sin (2 Sam. 12:14–18). The child was punished, not because of anything the child did, but as a direct result of God’s judgment on David.

However, the disciples made the mistake of particularizing the general relationship between sin and suffering. They assumed there was a direct correspondence between the blind man’s sin and his affliction. Had they not read the book of Job, which deals with a man who was innocent and yet was severely afflicted by God? The disciples erred in reducing the options to two when there was another alternative. They posed their question to Jesus in an either/or fashion, committing the logical fallacy of the false dilemma, assuming that the sin of the man or the sin of the man’s parents was the cause of his blindness.

The disciples also seem to have assumed that anyone who has an affliction suffers in direct proportion to the sin that has been committed. Again, the book of Job dashes that conclusion, for the degree of suffering Job was called to bear was astronomical compared with the suffering and afflictions of others far more guilty than he was.

We must never jump to the conclusion that a particular incidence of suffering is a direct response or in direct correspondence to a person’s particular sin. The story of the man born blind makes this point.

Our Lord answered the disciples’ question by correcting their false assumption that the man’s blindness was a direct consequence of his or his parents’ sin. He assured them that the man was born blind not because God was punishing the man or the man’s parents. There was another reason. And because there was another reason in this case, there might always be another reason for the afflictions God calls us to endure.

Jesus answered His disciples by saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3). What did He mean? Simply put, Jesus said that the man was born blind so that Jesus might heal him at the appointed time, as a testimony to Jesus’ power and divinity. Our Lord displayed His identity as the Savior and the Son of God in this healing.

When we suffer, we must trust that God knows what He is doing, and that He works in and through the pain and afflictions of His people for His glory and for their sanctification. It is hard to endure lengthy suffering, but the difficulty is greatly alleviated when we hear our Lord explaining the mystery in the case of the man born blind, whom God called to many years of pain for Jesus’ glory.

I Am Afflicted

SOURCE: Taken from a sermon by  Pastor Mark Driscoll

I Am Afflicted: Sermon Recap

1. A third of the Psalms are laments. All of the Old Testament prophets except one include a lament. The Bible doesn’t avoid suffering. You won’t avoid suffering.

2. Don’t believe false teaching that says you won’t suffer if you really love Jesus. Jesus will end all suffering eventually, but on earth he suffered more than anyone.

3. When it comes to suffering, don’t ask “Why” ask “Who am I in Christ?” Your affliction doesn’t establish your identity, but your identity can get you through your affliction, if your identity is in Christ.

4. Suffering will cost you a lot of time and energy, so I encourage you to invest it. If you’ve suffered, you have powerful credibility to lead others to the genuine hope found in Jesus.

5. It’s not wonderful that suffering happens, but it’s wonderful that God can use it to help, bless, and encourage others.

6. How are you suffering? What is God teaching you? How can you use it to bless others?

7. If one of the great goals of your life is to be more like Jesus, the most horrible seasons can also be wonderful opportunities for growth.

8. God can use the most painful parts of our story to be the most encouraging to others.

9. Addiction, self-medication, debt…much of life is spent trying to figure out how to go on after we have lost heart. Jesus says, “Take heart!”

10. Some don’t talk about their suffering because it somehow feels more righteous to bear it quietly and avoid burdening others. But the apostle Paul was open about his suffering, and none of us are more godly than him.

11. God usually doesn’t give us an answer for our suffering, but he provides us with his presence: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

12. If you minister to hurting people you will have a growing ministry.

The Wisdom of God in Affliction

Source:  Thomas Watson as posted by Deejay O’Flaherty

The wisdom of God is seen in making the most desperate evils turn to the good of his children.

As several poisonous ingredients, wisely tempered by the skill of the artist, make a sovereign medicine, so God makes the most deadly afflictions co-operate for the good of his children.  He purifies them, and prepares them for heaven. 2 Cor 4:17.

These hard frosts hasten the spring flowers of glory.  The wise God, by a divine chemistry, turns afflictions into cordials.  He makes his people gainers by losses, and turns their crosses into blessings.

 
–Thomas Watson–Body of divinity pages 74-75 Banner of Truth edition

[Thomas Watson – (c. 1620—1686) was an English, Puritan preacher and author.]

Why – Why – Why Me?

SOURCE:  David H. Roper/Our Daily Bread

Recently I read Psalm 131, one of my favorite psalms.

In the past, I viewed it as an encouragement to understand that mystery is one of the hallmarks of God’s character. It challenged me to let my mind be at rest, since I am unable to understand all that God is doing in His universe.

But then I saw another side of David’s calm spirit: I am unable to understand all that God is doing in me, and it is impossible to try.

David draws a comparison between a weaned child that no longer frets for what it once demanded, and a soul that has learned the same lesson. It is a call to learn humility, patient endurance, and contentment in all my circumstances—whatever they are—though I do not understand God’s reasons.

Divine logic is beyond the grasp of my mind.

I ask, “Why this affliction? Why this anguish?” The Father answers, “Hush, child. You wouldn’t understand if I explained it to you. Just trust Me!”

So, I turn from contemplating David’s example to ask myself:

Can I, in my circumstances, “hope in the Lord”? (v.3).

Can I wait in faith and patience without fretting and without questioning God’s wisdom?

Can I trust Him while He works in me His good, acceptable, and perfect will?

It may not be for me to see
The meaning and the mystery
Of all that God has planned for me
Till “afterward”! —Anon.

[In a world of mystery, it’s a comfort to know the God who knows all things.]

All Trouble and Affliction Comes From God’s Hand (Part 1 of 2)

SOURCE:  Bishop Myles Coverdale (by Deejay O’Flaherty)

[Myles Coverdale  (c. 1488 –  1569) was a 16th-century Bible translator who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.]

——————————————————————————————-

I Call all that trouble and affliction, whatsoever is reputed to be contrary to the desire and appetite of man’s nature; as the unquiet suggestions of the flesh, the temptations of the devil, sickness of body, a wicked and forward mate in matrimony, to have disobedient children, unkind and unthankful friends, loss of goods, to be deprived of any old liberty or privilege, loss or blemish of name and fame, the malice and displeasure of men, hunger, dearth, pestilence, war, imprisonment, and death. And in this register do I put all kinds of crosses and afflictions, whether they be bodily or ghostly, our own or our friends’, private and singular, or universal and general, privy and secret, or open and manifest, deserved or undeserved.

Every Christian man ought first of all to consider the very root, ground, and beginning, after this wise: that all things, whatsoever God sends, we ought to take and receive them patiently.

For this is once true, that God is our Creator and Maker, and we his workmanship; he is our King, our Lord, and Father; and like as it is not seeming that the pot should murmur against the pot-maker, (Isaiah 45:64, Jeremiah 18) even so is it much less convenient that we should murmur and grudge against God’s will and judgment.

And although trouble and affliction rises and springs oftentimes by the wickedness of enemies, and through the instigation of the devil, or else by some other means; yet ought we never to imagine that it cometh by fortune or chance, without the permission, sufferance, determination, and will of God, but by and with the foreknowledge, providence, and appointment of God.

Ezekiel 28, Job 1, Matthew 10.

Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

SOURCE:  Wendy Horger Alsup/Practical Theology for Women

Fruitful in the land of my affliction. That phrase may sound poetic to some and archaic to others. Personally, I find it striking. I first wrote about it a few years ago when I was in a very dark place, and it is time for me to revisit it. The phrase comes from Genesis 41:52, where Joseph names his second son.

The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

I have heard a number of sermons over the years from the life of Joseph. He often becomes a moral lesson – be like Joseph when you are sexually tempted and unjustly accused, and God will exalt you as He did Joseph. I strongly resist that view of the life of Joseph. God’s not conforming me to the image of Joseph. He’s conforming me to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Joseph’s story is powerful because it reveals God, not because it reveals Joseph. My circumstances will be distinctly different than Joseph’s, but my God is the same.

There is much to learn of God in Joseph’s story, and the naming of Joseph’s son is one such place. Many thoughts hit me as I meditate on why Joseph named his son Ephraim (which sounds like the Hebrew word for fruitful). First, it’s counterintuitive. Joseph was fruitful in the very place that should have sucked the life out of him. The paradox intrigues me. But, second, I resist the name, because I don’t want to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. I want God to END my affliction, and then I want to be fruitful in the beautiful land I imagined would be God’s best for His children.

However, like Joseph, I am powerless to end whatever troubles plague me, and I get impatient waiting for God to move. It is in those moments that I wrestle with God, “How can I do what You have called me to do in THESE circumstances?!”

Once I calm down and take an objective look at Scripture, it finally hits me that no one in Scripture seems to be very fruitful EXCEPT in the land of their affliction. In fact, you can argue from Scripture that suffering, affliction, and death to self are essential to God’s plan for fruitfulness in His children.

John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

I have situations in my life that plague me, that I would desperately love to see changed. God tells me to pray for His will to be done, for His name to be hallowed, and for His kingdom to come. I long for those things to come about in my home, in my neighborhood, in my church, and in the larger Body of Christ. I talked about this in depth here. But in the midst of waiting for the affliction to end and God’s kingdom to come, I am blessed by God’s story in the life of Joseph, and I meditate on what it looks like to be fruitful in the very places from which I would most like to be delivered. And I receive hope that affliction doesn’t end the possibility of fruitfulness but may instead be the very thing that prepares the ground for “fruit that remains.”

John 15:16 NAS “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain … “

What Believers Ought To Do And Pray In Time Of Trouble


SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Ligon Duncan [First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS] 

Luke 22:39-46 [reveals] Jesus, on the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane.

J.C. Ryle’s words about two aspects of this passage are rich. He says: “The verses before us contain Luke’s account of our Lord’s agony in the garden. It is a passage of Scripture which we should always approach with peculiar reverence. The history which it records is one of the ‘deep things of God.’ While we read it, the words of Exodus should come across our minds, ‘Put off your shoes from off your feet; the place where on you stand is holy ground.’ (Exod. 3:5)

“We see, firstly, in this passage, an example of what believers ought to do in time of trouble. 

The great Head of the Church Himself supplies the pattern. We are told that when He came to the Mount of Olives, the night before He was crucified, ‘He knelt down and prayed.’

“It is a striking fact, that both the Old and New Testaments give one and the same receipt for bearing trouble.

What does the book of Psalms say? ‘Call upon me in the time of trouble-I will deliver you.’ (Psalm 50:15) What does the apostle James say? ‘Is any afflicted? let him pray.’ (James v. 13) Prayer is the remedy which Jacob used, when he feared his brother Esau. Prayer is the remedy which Job used when property and children were suddenly taken from him. Prayer is the remedy which Hezekiah used when Sennacherib’s threatening letter arrived. And prayer is the remedy which the Son of God Himself was not ashamed to use in the days of His flesh. In the hour of His mysterious agony He ‘prayed.’

“Let us take care that we use our Master’s remedy, if we want comfort in affliction. Whatever other means of relief we use, let us pray. The first Friend we should turn to ought to be God. The first message we should send ought to be to the throne of grace. No depression of spirits must prevent us. No crushing weight of sorrow must make us speechless. It is a prime device of Satan, to supply the afflicted man with false reasons for keeping silence before God. Let us beware of the temptation to brood sullenly over our wounds. If we can say nothing else, we can say, ‘I am oppressed-undertake for me.’ (Isaiah. 38:14)

“We see, secondly, in these verses, what kind of prayers a believer ought to make to God in time of trouble.

Once more the Lord Jesus Himself affords a model to His people. We are told that He said, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me-nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.’ He who spoke these words, we must remember, had two distinct natures in one Person. He had a human will as well as a divine. When He said, ‘Not my will be done,’ He meant that will which He had as a man, with a body, flesh and blood, like our own.

“The language used by our blessed Master in this place shows exactly what should be the spirit of a believer’s prayer in his distress. Like Jesus, he should tell his desires openly to his heavenly Father, and spread his wishes unreservedly before Him. But like Jesus, he should do it all with an entire submission of will to the will of God. He should never forget that there may be wise and good reasons for His affliction. He should carefully qualify every petition for the removal of crosses with the saving clause, ‘If you are willing.’ He should wind up all with the meek confession, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’

“Submission of will like this is one of the brightest graces which can adorn the Christian character. It is one which a child of God ought to aim at in everything, if he desires to be like Christ. But at no time is such submission of will so needful as in the day of sorrow, and in nothing does it shine so brightly as in a believer’s prayers for relief. He who can say from his heart, when a bitter cup is before him, ‘Not my will, but yours be done,’ has reached a high position in the school of God.” (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke)

 

How to See God’s Hand in Your Suffering

SOURCE:  John Flavel/Desiring God Ministry by Jonathan Parnell

John Flavel, in 1678, instructs readers to see God as the author of all circumstances in life, including suffering:

 Set before you the sovereignty of God.

Eye Him as the Being infinitely superior to you, at whose pleasure you and all your have subsist (Psalm 115:3), which is the most conclusive reason and argument for submission (Psalm 46:10). For if we, all we have proceeded from His will, how right is it that we be resigned up to it!

Set the grace and goodness of God before you in all afflictive providences.

O see Him passing by you in the cloudy and dark day, proclaiming His name, ‘The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious’ (Exodus 34:6).

Eye the wisdom of God in all your afflictions. 

Behold it in the choice of the kind of your affliction, this, and not another; the time, now and not at another season; the degree, in this measure only, and not in a greater; the supports offered you under it, not left altogether helpless; the issue to which it is overruled, it is to your good, not ruin.

Set the faithfulness of the Lord before you under the saddest providences. 

O what quietness will this breed! I see my God will not lose my heart, if a rod can prevent it. he would rather hear me groan here than howl hereafter. His love is judicious, not fond. He consults my good rather than my ease.

Eye the all-sufficiency of God in the day of affliction. 

See enough in Him still, whatever is gone. Here is the fountain still as full as ever, though this or that pipe is cut off, which was wont to convey somewhat of it to me.

Lastly, eye the immutablity of God. 

Look on Him as the Rock of ages, ‘The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17). Eye Jesus Christ as ‘the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’

The Mystery of Providence, 1678, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 130-132, bold and paragraphing mine.

________

We Shall Thank God For Every Storm

SOURCE:  J.C. Ryle

“If we are true Christians, we must not expect everything smooth in our journey to heaven.”

“We must count it no strange thing, if we have to endure sicknesses, losses, bereavements, and disappointments, just like other people.”

“Free pardon and full forgiveness, grace by the way and glory to the end – all this our Savior has promised to give. But He has never promised that we shall have no afflictions. He loves us too well to promise that.”

By affliction He teaches us many precious lessons, which without it we should never learn. By affliction He shows us our emptiness and weakness, draws us to the throne of grace, purifies our affections, weans us from the world and makes us long for heaven.”

“In the resurrection morning we shall all say, ‘it is good for me that I was afflicted.’ [Psalm 119:71]  We shall thank God for every storm.”

~ J.C. Ryle

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985], 83. {Mark 4:35-41}

5 Myths About Suffering: See Your Pain From God’s Perspective

SOURCE:  Stacy Padrick/Discipleship Journal – NavPress

“Your blood pressure is fine,” said the nurse, leaving me to wait for the doctor.

“Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “please help the doctor find out what is wrong with my body.”

After leaving numerous doctors’ offices with no answers over the course of 18 months, I was desperately seeking a cure for the mysterious virus that often confined me to home and bed. I longed to reclaim my active lifestyle, resume working full time, and eventually return to the mission field.

“Hello, Stacey,” the doctor’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “How are you feeling?” As I began describing my symptoms, she nodded as if already suspecting the answer. When lab results confirmed her diagnosis, my hope of simply “getting over it” vanished, leaving me to live with the daily limitations of an incurable disease. As a previously energetic and ambitious 27 year old, I watched in fear as this illness crept into every area of my life, threatening my work, my ministry, my finances, my dreams, my relationship with the man I loved, and even my walk with God. I cried out to Him, groping to know His presence in the midst of my pain.

Suffering. Just hearing that word can make us cringe. Under the influence of a society that abhors even the thought of suffering, we seek to escape the reality of pain in our lives any way we can—television, busyness, entertainment, drugs. Suffering doesn’t fit with the world’s notion of success or with the theology of God’s goodness and victorious living in Christ we often espouse. Never mind that Jesus often spoke about suffering. Like Peter and the disciples to whom Christ revealed His imminent suffering and death, we, too, are tempted to respond, “Oh, that will never happen to you!” (see Mt. 16:22).

Yet is it possible that our view of suffering has been colored by pervasive myths we have unthinkingly accepted? As I’ve faced pain in my own life and turned to God’s Word for consolation, I’ve identified five myths that tempt us to shrink back, doubt God, or experience despair during times of suffering.

Myth 1: Suffering is negative and to be avoided at all costs.

How often do we pray to know Christ better? Quite often, most of us would say. How often do we pray to know Him better through suffering? If you are like me, seldom, if ever! Shortly after my diagnosis, I read Paul’s words in Phil. 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” I passionately prayed, “Yes, Lord, I want to know You better!” But as I came to the words that followed—”and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”—my tongue froze. The idea of praying for suffering made me shudder! Why would Paul pray for fellowship in Christ’s sufferings? I began to wonder if he knew something we unknowingly miss in our rush to avoid or “get through” suffering.

Scripture clearly teaches that affliction and tribulation work to make us complete and mature. James wrote,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

—Jas. 1:2–4

For the believer, suffering works on the seeds of faith in the same way manure works as a fertilizer. We abhor the stench of manure and, similarly, the agony of pain. Yet though it seems like waste material, suffering nourishes and feeds the growing fruits of faith and maturity in the garden of our lives. God does not waste any experience in our lives when we willingly surrender it to Him. Even Jesus, although He was God’s Son, learned obedience from the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8).

Truth: The spiritual fruit for which we often pray is fertilized by adversity.

Myth 2: We can only experience joy and peace when we are not experiencing pain.

Knowing that suffering develops character only partially comforted me at times. Though I tried to “consider it pure joy” as James advised, my emotions often swayed from peace to anxiety when my body battled unpredictable symptoms. How could I experience joy when I was losing my health, my independence, my dreams of returning to the mission field, and a love relationship?

The psalmist wrote: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:5–6). When God gave me the seeds of sadness and brokenness, I wanted to cast them aside and implore Him to give me seeds of joy and peace instead. But then it struck me that joy and peace are fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), fruit which is often mysteriously born from seeds of suffering. Only as we willingly accept these uncomely seeds and allow Him to sow them in our lives will the lasting fruit of joy and peace bloom.

In 1873, Horatio Spafford, a prominent American businessman, waved good-bye to his wife and four daughters as they boarded a ship for Europe, where he was soon to join them. Days later, he received the shattering news that the ship had collided with another, and his four daughters had drowned in the Atlantic. Journeying to Europe to meet his wife, his ship sailed over the waters where his daughters had perished. As his tears poured forth, he returned to his cabin, committed his immense sorrow to God, and wrote the following: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: It is well. It is well with my soul.”

Not only did he experience God’s peace for himself, but with the seeds of his suffering, he sowed a five-stanza hymn that has brought comfort and peace to countless people in pain for more than a century.

Truth: Suffering and sorrow, when willingly accepted, become the seeds of joy and peace in our lives.

Myth 3: Suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure or judgment.

As months passed and God did not answer the many prayers of friends and family for my healing, I began to wonder, Did I do something to invite this? Is this a sign of God’s judgment of me? Then the enemy, prowling about for an opportunity to attack when my spirit and body had grown weary, tempted me to believe that God had condemned me or, at best, overlooked me. Yet turning again to Scripture, I found truth in Paul’s words: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29, NASB).

Rather than a sign of God’s disapproval or neglect, adversity is a sign of God’s work in our lives. My pastor once said, “In God’s economy, sometimes the measure of our hurt is the measure of our success.” Why? Because suffering makes us more like the Author of our salvation. Allowing us to suffer is actually a sign of His grace! He cares so deeply for us that He will do whatever is necessary for us to know Him better and to become more like Him. God does not test us, as the enemy would have us believe, simply to see how much we can stand. Earlier in this century, an anonymous writer penned these words:

The very fact of trial proves that there is something in us very precious to our Lord; else He would not spend so much pains and time on us. Christ would not test us if He did not see the precious ore of faith mingled in the rocky matrix of our nature; and it is to bring this out into purity and beauty that He forces us through the fiery ordeal.

Truth: Affliction allowed by God is a sign of His grace in our lives and His love for us.

Myth 4: Only voluntary suffering “for the sake of Christ” has spiritual value in the kingdom of God.

To sustain my spirit during the most difficult times, I meditated on Scripture about tribulation and claimed the promises and hope they offered. Initially, I found comfort in Peter’s words:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.

—1 Pet. 4:12–13

However, the enemy soon began tempting me with thoughts such as, These verses don’t apply to you! They are for those who suffer voluntarily for the sake of the gospel. Your affliction just happened; it isn’t a result of your obedience to God. As I read verse 14—”If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you”—I had to concur that I was not being reviled for the sake of Christ. Perhaps the deceiver was right, and my affliction lacked real spiritual value.

Yet one night as I anguished over the apparent lack of purpose in my hardships, I stumbled upon a statement in C. S. Lewis’ Letters to an American Lady that challenged my narrow definition of suffering for Christ. Responding to a letter from a woman who laments about her many ailments and trials (from toothaches to budget problems), Lewis wrote: “Always remember that poverty and every other ill, lovingly accepted, has all the spiritual value of voluntary poverty or penance” (emphasis mine). What comfort these simple words brought!

As I committed my illness to God and asked Him to accomplish His will through it, my struggles no longer seemed in vain. Thomas À Kempis wrote, “Do not despair or be discouraged but accept God’s will calmly, bearing all that befalls you for the glory of Christ.” My disease, as frustrating and limiting as it was, could still be used for God’s glory.

Truth: All suffering can be used for God’s glory when we willingly accept and surrender our hardships to Him.

Myth 5: If God were truly good, He would remove this suffering from me.

As another year ended, I prayed once again, “Lord, may this new year be one of healing.” Even knowing the maturing benefits of affliction, I grew weary of the struggles. “Enough, Lord!” I wanted to say. “Haven’t I been pruned enough for a while?” How desperately I longed for Him to deliver me from the trials and bring restoration of the losses I had endured. If God was God, He could do that, right? If He were loving, He would do that, right? How tempted I was to believe that if God truly cared about me, if He were all powerful, He would take away the pain.

Yet as I continued praying, I stumbled upon a treasure I would have easily missed had I looked to healing as the only sign of His love. More often than not, God does not remove our suffering. He does something better: He enters into our suffering. The Lord Jesus enters into the fullness of our pain and bears it with us. He is the God who is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).

I finally understood why Paul prayed to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. The path upon which we come to know Him better winds through the valley of suffering. If we seek a detour around the valley, we forfeit a chance to walk alongside the Suffering Servant. To know Christ more intimately, to more fully identify with Him, I must share in His sufferings by experiencing it myself. Whatever the nature of our affliction, sharing our pain with Him forges a deeper bond of intimacy. Nothing—not healing, not restoration, not success—compares with the comfort and sweetness of this fellowship.

The jewels of suffering abound: maturing faith, growing obedience, increased fruit. Yet the greatest treasure I have found is deepened intimacy with Christ as I fellowship with Him in the midst of my suffering.

Truth: Suffering helps us identify with the Lord Jesus more fully and deepens our intimacy with Him.

The Mythmaker

Where do these myths originate? I believe they come from none other than the father of lies. The tempter has thoroughly duped us into believing that suffering is negative, a sign of God’s neglect or of our own failure. Why would Satan be so determined to tempt us to avoid suffering (and sadly, sometimes to avoid those we know who are suffering)? Because he knows that suffering is one of the greatest means to draw us closer to Jesus and teach us increasing dependence upon Him. Thus, he will do whatever it takes to entice us to run from it  . . . until God, in His grace, allows suffering from which we cannot run.

When Peter refused to accept Jesus’ imminent suffering and death, He responded, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt. 16:23). In the midst of our pain, we must refuse to accept Satan’s lies about suffering. When we believe that God loves us perfectly and that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18), we need no longer submit to the fear of suffering.

We live in a fallen world where the prince of darkness rules. Trials, hardships, and adversity are more normal in this life than abnormal. If this life were absent of suffering, we might begin to mistake it for the real thing. Suffering makes us hunger for heaven, our real home, where God will wipe away every tear. Though we may never fully understand our suffering, we can rest in the hope that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Ro. 8:18).

Tag Cloud