My grandma likes to tell about the time my dad, a little boy of five at the time, wandered away from the house and out onto a busy street. He most certainly would have been hit by a speeding motorist, had it not been for his dog. True to his herding instincts, this noble collie walked between the cars and my dad and kept my dad from straying into traffic until the police found him. My dad’s dog saved his life.
We might not think about it like this at first, but trouble and hardship are like Dad’s dog. They keep us from straying into the busy street of sin. We don’t always appreciate their life-saving presence in the moment. Trials feel to us like that collie might have felt to Dad: annoying at best, painful at worst. Trouble sticks so close, it shoves so hard. It keeps us from going where we want to go. At times, trials knock us to the ground. We long to be free from their troublesome presence.
But the Psalmist views his trials as a life-saver: “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” he confessed, “but now I keep your word” (Ps. 119:67). To hear the Psalmist tell it, he’s actually glad that he experienced affliction! Now no one—least of all the Psalmist—is saying that affliction is pleasant or we should enjoy pain or hardship. But in the mystery of God’s ways, we should see each and every trial as a blessing. Afflictions are divine herd-dogs, sent by our gracious heavenly Father to protect us and keep us from sin.
For one, trials protect us from pride. They keep us humble; they keep us needy and dependent on God. It’s hard to think too highly of yourself when you are brought low—and that’s a blessing. Affliction can also keep us from straying out into the shiny streets of worldliness. We realize something of our frailty and our mortality when we suffer. We get a glimpse of the emptiness of all this world has to offer, and so we don’t rush headlong into sinful pleasures. And trials, when we respond to them as gifts from God, can keep us from being callous others. We are more compassionate, more caring, more understanding because we know a little of what pain feels like. Each trial in our lives—big or small—protects us from sin and leads us back to God. And to joy.
Wait, did you say joy? We think of our trials as joy-takers, not joy-bringers. “Before I was afflicted I was happy, but now I am sad all the time” is how we put it. But there is a difference between trials being unpleasant—which they are—and trials robbing us of our joy. Our afflictions are sent by God to lead us joy. Listen to Joni Eareckson Tada, quadriplegic and in chronic pain since she was in a diving accident at age 17. “I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Savior. And that’s where the joy is.”
Trials not only keep us from sin, they push us back to the arms of our Savior. And that’s where the joy is. The Psalmist doesn’t just get back to the duty of God’s Word, now he delights to keep God’s Word. Now he has joy! One of the things we lose in our Stoic-slanted view of the Christian life is how to find joy. We think all the delight and happiness is out there, on the busy byways of sin. So we go wandering from home, we stray from Christ. And affliction, by the grace of God, brings us back. It keeps us safe. It leads us back to where the joy is.
So if you feel followed by that “shadowy companion” Affliction, if Trial is always nipping at your heels, if Trouble keeps shoving you to one side, give thanks for your “bruising of a blessing.” May your trouble, major or minor, push you into the arms of the Savior. May your affliction lead you back home—to joy.
“No one is exempt from suffering, but not every Christian is prepared for suffering. And if you aren’t prepared, you will be blindsided by suffering. It will feel as if God is distant from you and indifferent to your pain. Therefore, you will need your best theology for your darkest moments. [The book of] Job is one of the best gifts from God to man to prepare us for suffering and sustain us in the midst of suffering. In this book, Job reaches out in agony to God and God graciously reveals himself to Job.”
Some of you may be suffering right now. Others may need to be prepared for suffering. Either way, your soul will be strengthened by this remarkable book of the Bible. The God who graciously revealed himself to Job wants to reveal himself to you as well. We hope you will follow along with us in this series. You can subscribe to the Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville podcast feed or visit the church website each week for a new sermon.
Also in this sermon you will hear CJ mention the commentary Job: The Wisdom of the Cross by Christopher Ash. This book may be the most encouraging and helpful book on suffering I have ever read. I highly recommend you read it for yourself.
Last Thursday morning, we received the agonizing news that our friend Rebecca’s husband, Wade, went home to be with the Lord after being killed in a car accident. Since that day, our church family has been grieving with Rebecca and her children. Our hearts are breaking for their loss. Wade was a godly man who served alongside our husbands in the church, a man who was greatly respected for his passion for God, his faithful and sacrificial service, his humility, and his kindness. He is already missed so very much.
On Sunday, my father and pastor, CJ Mahaney, sought to care for Rebecca, her children, and our church family, as we “made our way to the house of mourning together” (Ecc. 7:2-4). He shared words of comfort from Scripture as well as instruction on how to care for those who have lost a loved one. May these words serve your soul as well.
We have a Savior who not only feels the effect of death in our lives and weeps with us, we have a Savior who was willing to bear God’s judgment for our sin so we will be forgiven of our sin and spared judgment for our sin. “Death is swallowed up in victory.” And the one who wept by the tomb of Lazarus will one day personally wipe away every tear from the eyes of His people.
I was very happily married for nearly thirty-two years until my husband passed away from a cancerous brain tumor. We have five children and twelve grandchildren, with number thirteen on the way, a little boy due in early June.
To carry on without my husband, day after day, I must abide in Christ. I am not just surviving, not just existing; but I am abiding, resting in the arms of my Lord Jesus Christ, wondering and excited about the plans he has for me for the rest of my life. He is in charge of my future, a future that doesn’t at all look like what I thought it would, but one I can be sure that my sovereign Lord has under control.
As a widow, I have the perfect opportunity to show the world that my God is faithful and loving and merciful; my God walks beside me; He leads me and carries me; and He provides for my every need. Through me, because I am a widow, God can be glorified. I have been called to be a widow for now, just as I had been called to be a wife for almost thirty-two years. I am one hundred percent sure that none of you wants to join this club I belong to called widowhood. But I am also one hundred percent sure that no matter what the Lord calls you to do, He will be right there to guide and lead as you abide in Him, just as He is there for me.
That’s not to say that embracing widowhood was anything like becoming a wife. In fact, I prayed and begged and pleaded not to become a widow, and the Lord answered my prayers for healing for my husband with a “no.” He said “no.” That doesn’t mean He hasn’t cared about the pain and suffering I’ve endured. His comfort and care are constant. And He has collected all my tears in a bottle, a huge bottle, I might add. What it does mean is that I am privileged to give Him glory as I seek Him in my sorrow, as I am joyful even in my pain, and as I rest in Him and his love for me.
I guess I understand better than most people that life is short, not as short for me as for my husband, but nevertheless short. He’s been gone for more than eleven years, but sometimes I still can’t believe he’s not here to share my life. Everyone knows it is difficult to lose someone you love. But the truth is, the real difficulty lies in losing someone who loved you. We can direct love anywhere we choose, but to lose someone who actually chose to love us is devastatingly painful. My Bud chose to love me, and I have lost his love. But there is one who will always love me, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. How completely undeserving I am of that love, and how very grateful I am for it. How can I not love Him and trust Him and seek Him wholeheartedly.
So when I became a widow I had a few choices. I could wallow in self-pity, and believe me I struggled with this. Or I could run to the Lord. I could embrace my fears—and I struggled here as well—or I could embrace my Lord. I am happy to say that by his grace, I chose to abide, to rest in Him. I came to Him weary, brokenhearted, and heavy-laden, helpless to do life on my own. And he showered me with love and mercy and comfort and strength to do things I never ever even thought I would have to do. All of a sudden I was a single mom. I raised a teenaged boy on my own. I put kids through high school and college and sat in front of young men asking for my daughters’ hands in marriage. But all the while I knew that apart from Christ, I could do nothing. Yes, I have been weary. But I haven’t had to muster up strength to pursue and know Jesus. He has provided all the strength and all the grace I have needed. By his grace, I have been able to abide with Him.
“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” ~Ps. 27:13-14
Whether 2015 holds suffering or celebration, we don’t yet know. It probably has some of both in store. But this New Year’s resolution from James 5:13 is of the greatest importance no matter what awaits us in the New Year. Listen to yesterday’s sermon from Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville to learn about a resolution every Christian should make this year.
I sat with my friend at the hospital this week while her son underwent a battery of tests. Thankfully, the tests did not reveal anything life threatening, but this is not my friend’s first time in the hospital at Christmastime—over the past few years she has lost her husband, her mother, and her sister, all around the holidays. Life is full of hardship and sadness and it doesn’t take time out for Christmas. In fact, the holidays usually throw our sadness into stark relief, making this a painful time for many.
How do we deal with grief and sadness at Christmastime? How do we celebrate when we feel only pain or fear? Our emotions feel trapped in a kind of no-mans-land where neither sadness nor happiness feel at home.
And yet as Christians living in a fallen world, we can learn what Peter means by “rejoicing in suffering” (2 Cor. 6:10).
These are, as Tim Keller points out, “two present tenses:”
Peter does not pit these things against each other. He does not say that we can either rejoice in Christ or wail and cry out in pain, but that we can do both. No, not only can we do both, we must do both if we are to grow through our suffering rather than be wrecked by it.
To ‘rejoice’ in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what he has done for us. Sometimes our emotions respond and follow when we do this, and sometimes they do not. But therefore we must not define rejoicing as something that precludes feelings of grief, or doubt, weakness, and pain. Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.
Rejoicing at Christmastime is not to deny the pain we feel, but to choose to remember, in the midst of the pain, what Christ has done for us. God sent his son into a pain-filled world to redeem us from our sins.
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them a light has shone…
For unto us a child is born,
To us a son is given…”
(Isaiah 9:2, 6)
Amidst the revelry of the season, we may be full of sorrow; and within our sorrow, we can rejoice.
“In the darkness we have a choice that is not really there in better times. We can choose to serve God just because he is God. In the darkest moments we feel we are getting absolutely nothing out of God or out of our relationship to him. But what if then—when it does not seem to be paying or benefiting you at all—you continue to obey, pray to, and seek God, as well as continue to do your duties of love to others? If we do that—we are finally learning to love God for himself, and not for his benefits.” ~Tim Keller
“Things put into the furnace properly can be shaped, refined, purified, and even beautified. This is a remarkable view of suffering, that if faced and endured with faith, it can in the end only make us better, stronger, and more filled with greatness and joy.” ~Timothy Keller
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. 1:6-7
Last week we talked about helping husbands and happy marriages. But what if a husband doesn’t help, even when you ask? What if you try to make your husband happy but your marriage is miserable?
A difficult marriage is a severe trial for many women, with pain that is ever present and deeply personal. We know that a single blog post cannot reach into the heart of a hurting marriage and untangle all of the unresolved conflicts or hurtful comments.
But there is hope and help for your marriage; and it is closer than you might think. As it says in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
Remember that God sees and that he cares. As we wrote in our hopeful Valentine’s posts, God is with you and he is for you. He is near. You can have hope in God, even when your husband has utterly failed you. God is using this trial to draw you close to himself and to lead you to put your hope in him, where it can never be disappointed again. You will be able to say, with Charles Spurgeon: “I thank my God for every storm that has wrecked me on the Rock, Jesus Christ.”
Seek help from your local church. The church is the best hospital for a suffering marriage. It is where God has told us to go when we need spiritual and relational care. If you are in a gospel-preaching church, avail yourself of the biblical counsel of your pastor or godly saints, for yourself and also for your husband if he is willing. Be prepared: the church’s help may be slower than you want or the process messier than you expect. But if the counsel comes from Scripture, you can have hope that the Great Counselor is present and at work.
Read good books on suffering.In the intensity of marriage trials, you need consistent nourishment for your soul. Books by sufferers for sufferers are a vital means of perspective, encouragement, faith, and strength. Three of our favorites on suffering that we’ve read and re-read and handed out by the arm full are Beside Still Waters by Charles Spurgeon, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller (begin reading in section three), and A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper. Read little bits at a time. Read whenever you can.
May God grant you sustaining grace and may you experience joy, even in the midst of pain, as you look to the Savior who daily bears you up (Ps. 68:19).