Here is the devotional I gave in my MOPS group this week. I hope it can speak to your heart.
It feels like here lately I have been confronted with a lot of pain and suffering. Not necessarily in my own life but in the lives of a lot of people around me. October 1st, one of my coworkers, a believer, lost her young husband suddenly. Last week, the girl who leads my Wednesday morning Bible study lost her 23 yr old sister in a car accident. The day before that, my friend, Valerie’s oldest daughter’s teacher also lost her young husband. In my own group of friends, I know numerous people suffering loss, sickness, financial struggles, etc. I have struggled a lot with this, asking God why so much all of a sudden?
Because this is so real, even if it’s not something you’re going through in your own life right now, you have, will or know people experiencing suffering and loss. I have been reading through the book, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. Piper writes an entire chapter called “Magnifying Christ Through Pain and Death.” In it, he looks at pain and death in such a different light than I know I am
prone to look at it in. He focuses on the verse in Philippians 1: 20-21 where Paul states, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The goal of Paul’s life and what should be the goal of our entire life is to bring glory to God in all situations, be they positive or negative. Wonderful or painful. It is also important for us to remember that whatever circumstances God brings us to they are not for our delight or pain, but for His glory, even if we cannot see that. Jesus never promised us the Christian life would be easy.
I believe that what matters is how we respond to pain and suffering and loss. Let’s face it: it is easy to praise God in the good times. But it is how we respond in those hard times that reflects our treasure in Him. Piper says it so well here:
No one ever said that they learned their deepest lessons of life or had their sweetest encounters with God, on the sunny days. People go deep with God when the drought comes. That is the way God designed it. Christ aims to be magnified in life most clearly by the way we experience him in our losses. Paul is our example: ‘We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts, we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.’ (2 Corin 1: 8-9). The design of Paul’s suffering was to make radically clear for his own soul, and for ours, that God and God alone is the only treasure who lasts. When everything in life is stripped away except God, and we trust him more because of it, this is gain, and he is glorified.
Here are a few more very powerful verses that speak to this subject. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, “Therefore, we do not lost heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” I think it is important for us to remember that, just like everything God does, He has great purpose in our suffering. I know for me, sometimes I just can’t understand why I or someone I love must go through this. But the Bible gives a clear picture repeatedly when it says, in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The concepts presented in these verses are not easy. This may be one of the hardest things as Christians to come to in our journey to mature in the faith. Suffering, poverty, illness and disaster are used over and over again by non-Christians as evidence that God does not exist or is not loving and merciful as He is. God would not give us teaching in His Word that is unattainable in His power. He gives us the strength and power to endure hardship through His Spirit. The natural response to suffering is anger, but God says it should be joy. Suffering and tragedy should not alter our faith in God in the slightest, because it doesn’t change who He is. Our faith is not based on circumstances but on God’s Word.
I pray we may all see our trials in this light and be there to encourage one another when we are actually going through the painful times.