I have spent most of my Christian life doing exactly what you are not supposed to do during seasons of suffering. Years heaped upon years have been wasted as I have endured through different times of pain, persecution, and problems galore. Looking back over the past five years, I can honestly say three things have grown me the most throughout. These would be consistent spiritual disciplines, including teaching God’s Word, putting into daily application dying to myself, and the highest levels of suffering I have ever been called to wade through. Today, we will speak to the third in this list and perhaps the other two in the following months.
The first question that helps us face suffering with maturity is understanding why God allows suffering. For help with that, let’s look to the Puritans. Stephen Charnock is my chosen companion for 2024 as I attempt to read through his collected works this year. Listen to what he said about suffering.
“We often learn more of God under the rod that strikes us than under the staff that comforts us.”
As I look back at my times of suffering, I can see more clearly now than ever before how God uses these instances of pain to help me learn more about Him, to open my eyes to reality, and to truly look at my lot and be able to (at times with a grimace) be thankful for the growth that has come from it.
“This God works by afflictions, whereby he makes us exercise ourselves more in repentance; weans us from the flesh, that would alienate us from God; cleave faster to Christ by faith, who is the spring of holiness; more earnestly thirst to draw of the fountain, and pursue those things that are heavenly.”
This might be one of my favorite quotes of the year. God works in and through our suffering to help us to grow in our repentance. Have you noticed this in yourself? My repentance seems so much more pure, a godly repentance as opposed to what it typically is in being a manly repentance (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11). When I was younger in the faith, I always thought of things like repentance in static, unchanging categories. You were either repentant, or you were not. While when it comes to the gospel, this dichotomy is helpful, for the Christian, I believe it is actually unhelpful. It seems at all times that my repentance is either diluted or diseased by sin inside of me. There is almost a daily need to either begin or end the day reading Psalm 51 to help us repent and to have a proper focus on what true repentance looks like.
Not only does God use affliction to grow our repentance, but He also uses it to help us desire the things of this world less. Oh, how I need this! Every day, I seemingly wake up and find myself right back at it again, desiring comfort, the things I don’t have, the list goes on and on. My heart is so prone to wander it can feel like I must be determined to be the #1 lost sheep that Jesus always has to reel back in through the rod and the staff. God, please help me not to despise the rod. Help me to see your perfect, blinding love for me in every stroke. In every painful circumstance, every tear I shed, and every broken moment…may I look up into the eyes of a loving Savior who keeps all my tears in a bottle and wastes none. Take the ugly love for the things of this life that so easily entangle me and rip them out, crush them out, cut them out, whatever is necessary. Please help me, Lord.
His benefits do not stop there; God continues to show His love through affliction in our lives by using it to draw us to hold fast to Christ desperately. Christ is all in all. He is everything. What better thing could I ask for than for God to help me to desire the best thing I could ever desire, the One who fulfills us perfectly, loves us unendingly, and leads us strongly through this tumultuous life? God is so kind that He not only helps me not to desire what will poison and kill me, but He even affects my affections to draw me towards the pure fount of holiness, Jesus Christ.
Charnock ends this quote by reminding us that God uses suffering in our lives to not only help us hold fast to Christ but to desire to drink from the water of the Word earnestly, to seek His face in the Scriptures daily that He has written for us. Sometimes, in a panic, we can find ourselves at the end of our rope in the midst of the storms of life. This is the best place to be. It is at the end of your rope when you’ve got nothing left, all of your talents and strengths have failed you, and no one can seemingly save you. It is at this moment that we can clearly and easily see our desperate need for Almighty God to rescue us, keep us, and sustain us every single day. In these beautiful moments of brokenness, God works best to pull more of the flesh out of our lives to input more of Himself.
Just over a decade as a Christian, I find myself seemingly just now beginning to understand how to be thankful amid suffering. I pray that God would open my eyes to be grateful for suffering in this season and all the ones to come. And I pray that He will do the same for you, my friend. In the midst of affliction, we must learn to turn our eyes to Christ and say, “This is for my good and for your glory. Lord, help me to believe that, to mean that, to grow in that. Amen.”
Grace and Peace,