The Apostle Paul is a wonderful example in the Bible of someone who rested in God’s Grace in the midst of trials and suffering. Paul eventually declared and and found rest in the truth that “God’s grace is sufficient” for him. He had an amazing faith! A faith that sustained him when he was experiencing unbelievable suffering. Paul gives us a short list of his suffering and trials in the following verses.
Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
Paul suffered 5 lashings, was beaten 3 times, was stoned and left for dead once, and was in 3 shipwrecks! He was often in dangerous waters and in peril from robbers, his own countrymen, and others. He found dangers in the cities, the wilderness, and the seas. There were even perils that came from those he thought were his brothers in Christ. Paul suffering exhaustion and pain and was ever on alert. He found himself often hungry, thirsty, and cold. And above all this he had a deep and constant concern weighing down on him for the churches and brethren he loved so much!
It was after recounting all of his suffering that Paul declared “when I am weak, then I am strong” . Yes, Paul was well acquainted with suffering and pain, however, he came to understand that through all of it, God was with him, strengthening and establishing him on the rock that is Jesus Christ.
There is a process at work in all our lives as Christians. It is one part life, with a dash of time, but all through the Holy Spirit. It is our transformation into the spiritual image of our great savior. Yet, our natural man finds little hope or strength in trials and suffering, we want them to be over, and the sooner the better. Paul was no different. He said…
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Don’t think that Paul, or God, through Paul, is telling us we should enjoy our suffering and trials. This is not the point being made at all. Rather, we endure them because in the bigger picture we look forward and know that it is God that will uphold us and strengthen us to persevere. And also, we trust God to bring about His will for our future in spite of and through any suffering and trial we face. God fulfills his promises.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Life is tough. As I write this, untold numbers of people are suffering all around the world. In my own small circles, and certainly in yours as well, dear friends and loved ones are in the midst of trials and suffering. You also, may be suffering right now from trials beyond your control and peace is currently very hard to find. As believers we know where our hope is, yet the great weight of life’s difficulties tests our faith and trust in God’s goodness and grace. Even so… God has not changed, He is still good and gracious! How do we get to the point that we are saying this, and believing it, as the Apostle Paul did?
GOD The suffering savior
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
First, we should remind ourselves that Jesus knows suffering more than we ever will or even could. Not only did Christ suffer physically up to and on the cross, his life was not a life of ease. He was not born into wealth and luxury. Jesus, our creator, co-equal with God , walked this earth as a man, endured sorrows, trials, and temptations. His pain and suffering was real. None of it, however, compared to the suffering Christ experienced when God the Father turned away as He took upon our sins on the cross! That moment is what Jesus asked God to spare him from in the garden. He sweat drops of blood over it, but said to his Father ” YOUR WILL BE DONE”.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Jesus wasn’t asking why God had forsaken him because he was surprised or did not know it would happen. No…he was in the midst of the suffering and it hurt. But even though God turned away for that eternal moment…even in this ultimate suffering, there was an end. Christ’s suffering was turned from unimaginable anguish, to unimaginable glory, as Christ fulfilled all that was required of God’s justice. Because Jesus suffered, sin and death were completely defeated forever. God did this because of His love for all people.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Skeptics ask ” How can a good god, allow his son to suffer in such a horrible way?” But they don’t really know God do they? It is precisely because God is good that he allowed Christ to suffer. God, by hardening the hearts of the Jews so that they would not believe and would crucify His Son, was demonstrating His love in completing the redemption of men. This was God’s direct, purposeful, plan to bring the GOOD news to all people.
God alone is good
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
Jesus humbled himself to become a man like us although he remained sinless and without spot. When he said God alone is good he was speaking in his humanity making a point to the rich young ruler. God alone is all good, all the time! There is no evil or darkness in Him and there can never be.
1 John 1:5
This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.
I made a mistake once when trying to comfort a friend who had just suffered the terrible loss of his younger sister. When he told me, I was stunned by the news, and said something like “God’s plans are perfect even though we don’t know why things happen”. This is certainly true, but not comforting to my friend at that moment. I stumbled over my words trying to salvage some sort of comfort and wisdom out of them, but I failed miserably.
I think it is important to understand that not everything that happens in the world, and our lives, is God’s direct plan. It was not God’s plan for evil to enter the world, for sin, suffering and death to define and rein over His creation. When God was finished creating, He looked at what He had made and said “IT IS GOOD”. There was nothing bad about it until man made a choice to disobey. That is when sin and it’s consequences entered into the story. It is clear that this was not what God intended, it was not His story.
So was it God’s plan that led to my friend’s sister passing so suddenly giving birth to her first child? Probably not. More likely, this tragedy resulted because we live in the fallen, sin soaked, evil world we decided we wanted from the very beginning. I see God in sadness upholding my friend in his suffering, as He does with all who turn to Him. However, God has and does deal with unrepentant sin in the lives of His children. That can include direct intervention I believe. We should never assume this is the reason however, for a brother or sister’s suffering. Only God knows the heart and can judge rightly.
The world travails under the weight of it’s own self corruption and yet most people do not turn to the God of comfort. The world is not good and perfect therefore THIS world was not God’s plan. This does not cancel out the truth that God is still in control of all things. God does not just react to what man does, he works and acts to fulfill His plan in spite of men and their deeds. Does God then ever ordain evil? Paul confirms the answer is NO…God forbid such a thought. What God ordains however, is vastly different from that which God allows. God has allowed the prince of darkness to reign on Earth for a time, He allows us to experience the consequences of our sins. He allows for a time, evil to have it’s way in the world with sometimes unimaginable and tragic results. The state of our world was not God’s plan, but He knew about it all beforehand, and works to bring all things back to Himself, back to HIS STORY, where He will say “IT IS GOOD” again. It is only God who can, and does, turn tragedy into triumph.
The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.
GOD never says “oops”
Some people think that they are right all the time. We’ve all met people like that, and it is usually a bad experience. God actually is right all the time and He never makes mistakes. Just because we know this to be true does not mean we can’t ask God the question “why?” when we face hardships and trials. God listens to His people and is abundant in mercy. He is faithful when we seek Him to provide peace in all seasons of life. Maybe we will not get the answers we seek. But we can know that God is not wrong in letting us go thru whatever comes our way. We are often so focused on life here and now. Just like Job’s wife was. What did Job’s wife recommend after God had pulled his blessings from Job and his family? It was “Curse God and die!” Thanks for the great advice dear! But that advice was in despair, and was a normal human reaction to the great tragedy that was happening to this mother. Was God unjust with Job and his family? Did God make a mistake in letting Job suffer? Job himself had to work through these questions.
Job Questions God Job reviews his good works and questions why God would allow him to suffer, but he sees his pain through the lens of his limited view.
God’s Virtual Tour God responds to Job personally with a virtual tour of the world. He reminds Job that His worldview is infinite while Job’s view is limited.
Job Learns Trust God doesn’t explain his suffering, but He reminds Job that we live in a world made by His hands and asks us to trust His character and wisdom.
Job eventually accepts what God has allowed in his life and says…
I know, LORD, that you are all-powerful; that you can do everything you want.
You ask how I dare question your wisdom when I am so very ignorant. I talked about things I did not understand, about marvel’s too great for me to know.Paraphrase of Job’s repentance
Job had to acknowledge that God was the ultimate authority in heaven and on earth and He was right in all things. Although Job never knew why he suffered, he found peace and was restored and blessed.
We often will not know the “why?” of our suffering and trials. God asks us to trust in Him, His Grace is our only hope.
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
GOD’s glory in his grace
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
The bottom line in our search for peace in life’s suffering and trials in this: Rest comes in the understanding of God’s amazing grace which has made us accepted in the beloved…meaning we are God’s child now. And along with that adoption comes a whole bunch of promises and blessings that establish us, strengthen us, and give us peace in the middle of life’s ups and downs. God wants us to come to Him and abide in Him.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The ability to come to God, falling before our good and faithful Father to seek His peace, is only possible because of His Grace. It is on God’s wonderful Grace we need to hang our hat. And what will happen when we ask for help from our Father rightly? What has God promised to do? He has promised to give us GOOD things.
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Light itself casts no shadow. God the Father’s light blazes forth, removes darkness, and chases away evil. Nothing can’t stand against it. This is our good and perfect Father who only gives good and perfect gifts. He never falters, never drops the ball, and never changes.
Bad things happen to all people on earth…We as Christians, children of God, have a bulwark that stands firm in the face of all our suffering and trials. It is God’s wonderful, amazing, Grace!
Let the following verse be your theme verse when you are suffering in those valleys…
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
May you be settled and find peace and rest in God’s grace.