It seems that our small congregation is keeping the entire medical industry of Cincinnati afloat. We have cancer, chicken pox, allergies, shingles, heart arrhythmias, sore throats, high blood pressure, bulging disks, head trauma, melanoma, broken bones, fibromyalgia, and a brain tumor. (If I left out your specific ailment, it wasn’t intentional – it’s getting hard to keep up.) We have people recovering from surgery, some preparing for surgery, and others considering it. We’re waiting for test results, enduring treatments, getting second opinions, scheduling physical therapy, and filling prescriptions.
We have other problems, too. Beyond our own physical ailments and those of family and friends, we are enduring trials financially, relationally, emotionally, psychologically, and every other way imaginable.
And I’m so encouraged by it all. Not so much by the trials themselves, but by how the body is responding to them. I haven’t heard anyone complain. I haven’t seen any bitterness. Instead, I’ve heard people praying for and encouraging one another. I’ve heard people talk about trusting the Lord in the midst of it all. I’ve heard those who are coming out of trials speak about what the Lord taught them through it. It looks as though we are living like we believe what we say we believe.
There is nothing wrong with wanting trials to be over. As we saw in Matt 5:4 a couple of weeks ago, it is characteristic of a true disciple to mourn the effects of sin in the world. But I want to encourage you to continue to keep in mind what God is accomplishing through these trials.
All of our sicknesses, struggles, and heartaches are mechanisms that God is using to sanctify us. And this has numerous effects. First, our trials teach to value God’s Word. The believer who is enduring a trial is drawn to God’s Word to find comfort and help from the Lord. Psalm 119:71 captures this well: It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. A trial can be a gift from the Lord to a person whose devotional life has grown stale. He graciously puts us in a position where we instinctively run to the shelter in His Word.
Trials are also beneficial to us in that they can be used by the Lord to expose our hearts. Either the difficulties of life show us sin that we are harboring in our hearts or affirm to us that we are trusting the Lord as we should. Both are good for us. For example, if we are enduring a difficult time financially and we find ourselves complaining about all the things we don’t have, that trial has shown us that we are valuing something above God and that we have a grumbling spirit. This is good because after seeing our sin, we then know what needs to be killed.
On the other hand, if we are enduring an illness or injury and we find ourselves trusting in the Lord rather than grumbling, that trial gives us evidence of God’s grace in our lives and shows how he has grown us. The pressures of life force whatever is in our hearts to come out. That is always good for us.
Another purpose that trials can serve is preparing us to comfort those who will suffer in similar ways in future. Paul writes in 2 Cor 1:3-4, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Pain trains us to help others who suffer. Who can serve a parent who has lost a child better than another parent who has lost a child? Who can come alongside one enslaved to a besetting sin more effectively than another who has struggled with the same issue? When we go through that training ground, we are actually getting the same instruction Christ did – He is able to help us because He endured all the trials and temptations of we have. When use our experience to help others, we follow in His footsteps.
Another benefit of the difficulties of this life is that they make us long for and trust the Lord. To endure any trial, we must trust Him. And to maintain hope, we must continue to believe that He will come again, defeat the enemy, and erase the effects of sin for all eternity. A person who never experiences difficulty will be a person with weak faith and superficial hope.
Finally, our trials afford us opportunities to spread the truth of the gospel. We are exhorted in 1 Pet 3:15, be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. This is a classic verse for defending the faith, but the context is about enduring suffering. We are surrounded by a lost world. We are aliens here. And when we suffer, the world is watching to see how we respond. If we do not respond as they would, if we remain faithful to the Lord, never losing hope, they will wonder why. Your specific trial could be the tool that the Lord will use to draw a lost soul to Himself.
All these things together are conforming us to the image of the Son: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom 8:28-30).
Everything…even what you are currently suffering through, is part of His plan for your good and His glory. May we keep this in mind and may we continue to suffer well that Christ might be exalted.
Posted by Greg Birdwell