This week is turning out to be one of those weeks where things are so crazy that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with all that’s going on. The fact that I’m even finding the time or mind-share to write this post right now, is a miracle in itself.
A thought just struck me though. If your life is too easy, too smooth, or too painless, then I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing. Bear with me on this thought. I’m not saying that God wants us to live a life of constant suffering (nor am I saying I want you guys to suffer hehe). Rather, He tells us in His Word that as His children, we’re to have an abundant life, characterized by and rooted in His love, joy, and peace (John 15:11). But there is definitely something to this suffering.
This is just my observation, but the people in my life right now that are showing the most growth in their relationship with the Lord, are the ones going through some type of suffering, mixed in with a lot of self-awareness. And I’m not talking about your standard daily challenges like trying to manage your family’s schedule or figuring out what to eat for dinner or finding time to do yard work or solving a problem that’s part of your job or studying for a test that’s really hard. I’m talking about deep struggles (i.e. walking through the valley) that will either change you for better or for worse, coming out on the other side of them.
I also mentioned self-awareness, because I am seeing that in some of my friends, God is actually showing them the reflection of what He sees in their life and lifestyle, vs. who they THOUGHT they were. And the reason He is doing that, is because for the first time, they truly asked Him to reveal it to them. That’s some crazy powerful stuff right there. To be able to see ourselves (and others) through the lens of God’s eye is absolutely life-changing. His Spirit and His Word will reveal who and what you really are in this moment, if you allow Him to show you.
I used to think that the Bible verse about finding it pure joy when we go through trials (James 1:2), was silly. I understood the concept in my head, but in reality it just didn’t make any sense. “Lose my job? Lose a family member? Contract a life-threatening disease? Well praise God!” When I read the words of that verse, it seemed more like positive, wishful thinking than something someone would actually feel or do.
But the more I witness brothers and sisters going through their suffering and ending up praising God even more, I know it’s absolutely true. That’s how I know the Holy Spirit dwells inside of them, and they are genuinely transformed by His presence in their lives.
My Mom showed it in her last days. One of the final things she said to me before she went home to be with the Lord, was “Sean, always remember that God loves you!”, and she said it with a smile. Her cancer-plagued body didn’t look like it represented God’s love to me. Her tear-stained face from the pain she was going through didn’t look like God’s love to me. Her departure from earth before she even reached the age of 60 didn’t look like God’s love to me. Oh but her heart.. her peace… her joy… her words of love and gratitude towards God in the midst of her pain, suffering and death… all of those gifts God gave her as she walked through the valley… that looked EXACTLY like God’s love to me!
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8
God’s ways are not our ways. While we like to look at the appearance of something on the outside, God is working on the inside. In the middle of her cancer, God never left her. In the middle of her suffering, God gave her unexplainable joy and peace. People want to see miracles today. That is a miracle right there, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit right there. When you can look someone in the eye on their death bed, and all they have is joy in the Lord, then you’ve seen a miracle that goes beyond the capacity of our human understanding!
I’m beginning to experience it myself. Now when I come up against trials, my initial reaction isn’t always “Wow this absolutely sucks”, but it’s transforming into “Wow, I can’t wait to see what God does through this!” Not to say that I don’t recognize the pain and ask God to take the cup away from me, but I am content to hold it if it’s His will for me. And that’s amazing, because I never thought that way before. I honestly see my challenges today as opportunities to stretch my faith and dependence on God, where in the past I related them more to unfair pain and punishment.
Are you experiencing intense trials or deep-seated suffering today? If so, how are you reacting to them? Are you relying on God’s strength or your own to carry you through? Are you viewing them as unfair and unnecessary interruptions to life, or as opportunities for God’s glory to be magnified? Are your thoughts filled with complaints or doubt, or are they filled with the desire to draw closer to Him? Are you wasting your trial, or are you using your suffering as a testimony of God’s love and power within your life?
As His followers, Jesus did not promise us an easy life. On the contrary, He told us to expect trials, tribulation, and persecution as part of our Christian walk (John 16:33). But He promises us that He will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us through our suffering.
The key is that we have to truly be holding on to Him for that to happen. If you don’t know the Lord, how will you know His peace? If you don’t walk in faith, how will you walk in His spiritual provisions? If you don’t surrender your situation to Him, how will He move in it?
My prayer today is that God would transform every one of us, that we would rejoice in the Lord always, no matter what our circumstance looks like; and furthermore that we would be able to recognize the purpose of and blessing in every trial.
If we truly believe that in all things God is loving and sovereign, then even in our suffering, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can consider it pure joy!
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. Romans 5:3-5
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
[From November 4, 2015]