Ah, Sunday, July 15, 2007. The Lord’s day. The day of the week set aside for rest, reflection and appreciation of all He has set before us. It’s a day of fellowship with friends and family, listening to His word with fellow believers, and giving praise for His glorious works. It is also the day for putting your life purpose in perspective.
As I sit at Lea’s hospital bedside day after day, standing ready to render what assistance I can to make her suffering more tolerable, I constantly remind myself to be open to the message God is sending. The message He is sending to me, and through me. Putting aside all other things to care for the most precious gift God has given me has taught me a lot about suffering.
Lance, my youngest son, wrote earlier this year, “Man! God sure is pouring it on, isn’t He?” I would have to say so. It breaks my heart to see Lea suffer so much. But, as we think about the significance of suffering in our lives, we have to recognize that everyone has suffering they are dealing with every single day.
We all know folks who seem to manage their problems well, while it seems other folks’ problems completely manage them. Just as a little boy who finally gathers the courage to stand up to the school yard bully, we learn and grow from confronting the challenges we face, and suffer through the battle to overcome them.
As I stated in my personal testimony, I walked through the valley of the Shadow of Death straight into Hell, and served a term there while Lea was hospitalized in Hartford Hospital. It was the most horrible thing I have ever experienced, and I certainly don’t want to ever have to go back there again. But, it was my Father’s way of getting my attention, disciplining me, and getting me back on track.
The important life lesson is not what challenges you are given, but rather, how you handle your suffering and any other trials that come. And, they definitely will come! I Peter, chapter 4, verse 12. “Don’t be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you.”
Sometimes something negative happens to us and we say, “Lord, this is so strange that this should happen to me! Why me Lord?” I asked that an awful lot in Hartford. But, you know what? Almost every single day of the suffering I was going through, I would receive emailed messages and testimonies from readers of the Hartford Letter dispatches that gave me just the right amount of support to lift me up and keep me going.
I learned through that to look around, and listen, to all the folks around me and understand that all those other folks around me were suffering through their own challenges. I often would thank God that I was not confronted with the problems others were facing.
I still do today; probably more frequently and openly than ever, uttering, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”( John Bradford) This famous phase helps us understand that things could always be worse for us, and that we should suffer according to God’s will, commit ourselves to Him, and continue to do good. (I Peter, chapter 4, verse 17)
Although everyone suffers, not everyone is suffering according to God’s will. Peter talks about three kinds of suffering; Common Suffering, the kind we all experience because we live in a fallen world. This includes things like sickness, conflict, heartache. Christian and non-Christian alike, some suffering is common to all of us, and much of it can’t be avoided.
Secondly, Peter talks about Carnal Suffering. That is suffering that we bring on ourselves because we disobey the laws of God or the laws of man, which are derived from the laws of God. This kind of suffering you can largely avoid.
But, did you know that if you’re a true Christian, you’re going to suffer for it? This is the third kind of suffering Peter talks about; Christian Suffering. A lot of people think if they join a church and show up for worship service pretty regularly, they have a ticket to heaven, and life will be trouble free. That’s not the case!
God uses persecution in the Christian’s life to purify him, unite him with Christ, empower him, and to persuade others to believe. Christian suffering is a definite sign that we are walking with Christ and in direct opposition to Satan. When you oppose Satan he will attack you directly. That’s why Peter says not to be surprised when you suffer as you walk with Christ.
When you are doing what God wants you to do you are going to encounter criticism and other types of suffering, because this is how God matures you and equips you to be a soldier for Him. For most of us that equipping doesn’t come easily. We often resist Him, preferring to think we can run our own lives just fine.
His plan, however, is for us to become Christ like. He usually has to work on each of us individually to get us there, and He uses suffering to perfect and purify us.
In Romans 5:3, Paul said we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials for we know they are good for us. They help us learn to be patient. And, patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it.
This is a part of Common Suffering. Trials come, divorce comes, heartaches come, financial reverses come, struggles come, disappointment comes, depression comes and God uses all of it. Suffering comes because God is perfecting us and we are not yet what God wants us to be.
God uses suffering to direct you in your walk with Him. This was the case for me in Hartford. I had strayed from the Church, and had to be brought back in line. Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways. (Proverbs 20:30) Sometimes God has to get our attention forcefully. Sometimes He has to let us feel the heat.
I remember my grandfather, Reverend W.T. Vaughn saying that we Christians often don’t change our lives when we see the light; we change our lives when we begin to feel the heat! That was certainly true in my case. God had to let me see what it would be like to lose my precious wife to get my attention. I truly suffered, and suffering never leaves you where it found you. Where it leads you, however, depends on how you respond.
We learn more through suffering than we do through success, it seems. God uses problems to correct and direct us. We can submit to Him, and accept His will for our lives, or turn to Satan. You learn the true value of walking with God when you resist His will, and have to be corrected. God uses suffering to correct us. He uses suffering to direct us when we are going the wrong direction. He uses suffering to inspect and perfect us.
In Isaiah 48:10, the prophet talks about the testing of Israel to see what was in them. God, he said, put them in the fire like a refiner puts precious metal into the pot and turns up the heat until the impure metal becomes so hot it becomes liquid. Then all the impurities that keep the metal from being valuable and precious rise to the surface, so the refiner can skim them away. The refiner knows the metal is pure when the only thing he can see is the reflection of his own face.
The same is true in our lives as Christians. God will turn up the fire of suffering in our life until all impurity has been removed. He’ll know we’re ready when He looks into us and all He sees is the reflection of Jesus Christ. How ready are you to be inspected? I know I’m not ready, but I continue working on it, and just pray that if that inspection comes today He will forgive me of my shortcomings.
Thank You, Lord, for the blessing of being forgiven my sins of commission and my sins of omission. Thank You for the incredible sacrifice of Your son who died on the cross that I might be forgiven. Please keep Your hand in my life that I might serve Your will. Bless my loved ones that they might find peace and comfort in You. In Jesus’ righteous name I pray. Amen.