My greatest, and most overriding desire in all forms of trials I face, is no longer that they would be removed but rather that they would not be wasted. If God would be pleased to use suffering to make me more like my Lord Jesus Christ, and if He would refine me in the fiery trials in a way that would bring Him glory and draw men and woman, boys and girls to Him, then I will rejoice in my sufferings. I might trip and fall along the way, and find myself in doubt and sorrow, but this I know: by Christ’s power He will be certain to bring me back to a place where I can rejoice and thank Him, even for my pain. This I know, because He has done it for me time and time again and because His word assures me it is true.
I may sound bold, and strong to say this, but I can assure you I am the farthest thing from it. If you knew how fiercely I have fought in the past against temptation, and how close I have come to caving in to it and heeding the advice of Job’s wife “Curse God and die (Job 2:10),” then you would know that I am nothing but a weak and empty vessel, in desperate need of God. The only reason I can say such things as above is because of the slow and painful work God has done in me.
How pleased I am that God saw fit to bring trials into my life, when I thought that I was strong, and when I stood in shallow faith. What a gracious and awesome God I serve, that He would treat me like a daughter! I thank God that He would not withhold from me that which “for the moment…seems painful rather than pleasant, but later…yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
It seems I have been in and out (but mostly in) some form of trouble for the past three years. One pain eases, and it is not yet a day before another trouble seems to come. I don’t think it is the gravity of my trials that tries me as much as it is the consistency of them.
I would choose insomnia and frequent episodes of physical pain, rather than to have been born blind, or to have lost a spouse, or to go through a lengthy and horrid battle with cancer. The purpose of my writing this isn’t to go on and express my troubles at length. I know that there are many who endure far worse than myself, in fact it humbles me to look around at world suffering and feel that I have no right to open my mouth with grumbling. Nevertheless, my trials have been real to me and have been granted by the sovereign hand of God. They have taught me innumerable lessons, and I think that even though my troubles pale in comparison to so many, the treasures gained in the trials are worth sharing. My journey feels long, and the lessons I’ve learned feel countless, so I will share just a few things I’ve learned recently.
The Timing is God’s, Not Ours.
God has had to do a lot of work in my ungrateful heart. I remember the first month back pain suddenly came into my life, and I said to Brent “what if this isn’t going to go away?” Then sixth months later, still in constant pain I felt nothing of gratitude, but only a sense of dread.
It has been a slow process for me. I think that people who live relatively trial-free lives right now, best prepare themselves ahead of time for suffering. Coming to terms with God’s will for it, sovereign rule over it, and love for you in and through it, are going to save you a tremendous amount of struggling and pain when trials do come. And they will come.
But the timing of it is God’s not ours. After experiencing great spiritual growth, and what I considered to be a firm grip on the biblical truths surrounding suffering, I felt pretty confident that God would now remove it from me. I reasoned “OK God, I have learned to cast my anxieties on you. I have time and time again chosen to be faithful to you, and to worship you in my suffering. I have handed over my future into your hands. Lord, I have mastered how to suffer biblically. Now it is enough Lord. Take it away.”
So many times like this, the pain would not be removed. Or what I considered worse, I would be free from it for a week only to have it return, and leave me feeling set up for disappointment.
But the truth of the matter is I have often been arrogant and foolish. What pride must lie within me, to think that I had mastered how to suffer biblically, that I had learned all that there could be to learn about it and succeeded. Just that way of thinking alone proves that I still had and have much to learn about suffering for the glory of God.
We might be prone to thoughts like “why now God? Why would you bring me this health problem now and not wait at least until I was older and raised a family?” Or “why for so long God?”
Now looking back, I find it somewhat humorous that I thought I had a grip on how to glorify God in suffering, when I now see that I was still racked with anxiety and still had little concept of thanking God for it. My friends, we are so little, and our views are so narrow. God is good and He knows what we need most. We might be convinced that what we need most is for our season of suffering to come to an end and for health, wealth, and prosperity to be showered upon us. But God is not as concerned with our physical well being as he is with our hearts, our souls, our faith and our eternity. Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” When we don’t understand God’s timing, and the purpose of our trials, we are given the perfect opportunity to trust in the faithful character of our loving Father.
When We Are At The End of Ourselves, and Cannot Take It Anymore, We are Exactly Where God Wants Us.
I’ve had a rough month and a half. I had a cough for three weeks that had me awake by 3am at the latest every single night. On top of that of course, I had back pain, so lying awake in pain and coughing for the next four hours was not fun. On top of this I developed a sinus infection that made my head feel like it was going to explode. All of the coughing caused me to injure my back which now has me in a very painful muscle spasm that won’t seem to let up. Just yesterday morning I was eating breakfast before work and said to Brent “I am done with enduring. I want to give up. Why does every day have to be enduring? I don’t have the strength to endure anymore.” It’s not the first time I have complained this way. I can remember many times when I have said “Why does every day have to be a battle? Can’t I just wake up and actually enjoy the day with ease?”
On my drive to work I was listening to a fantastic hymn entitled “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Some of the lyrics jumped out at me that never had before. “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man (Jesus) on our side, the man of God’s own choosing…And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.”
My heart seemed to be overwhelmed with joy. How quickly we can forget the words of 2Corininthians 12:9-10: “’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.”
My tendency to forget these things is likely part of the reason God graciously grants me further trials. He lovingly reminds me that all of life is dependence upon His grace and His strength, and not my own. Consider these incredible words in 2Corinthians 1:8-9 “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.”
You don’t decide one day that you are going to “endure” and then trust that one time commitment to carry you through the rest of your trials. I have learned that endurance is a day by day commitment to follow Christ no matter what. And does God have a purpose for it? Of course He does.
Romans 5:3-5 “More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Now speaking of trials, I usually can’t write for as long as I want to because of tendonitis. I had intended to share many more thoughts, but God may grant me another time for that. I’m off to the hot tub and hoping to feel better. For those people I know who are likely quite opposed to some of the things I am writing… It is not that I don’t pray for healing or desire it. But whether or not it comes I will bless the Lord God and trust that He will glorify His name. I praise God that He has been wonderfully answering my prayers the last few weeks and my sleeping has improved greatly! I would love to answer any questions about God’s Sovereignty and how it relates to our suffering.