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Suffering and depending on God

January 19, 2016 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Suffering

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

As I have preached through Luke 4 over the past two Sundays, one recurring theme has been how God allows all kinds of struggles into our life in order to heal us spiritually and make us holy, while Satan, on the other hand, does all he can to get us to elevate the things of this world above God. Satan knows that if we want anything – love, success, respect – more than we want God, he can tempt us to turn our back on God. God, however, often has to remove things from our life – health, job, relationship – in order to help us find our hope and joy in Him and not in anything of this world. As Tim Keller put it:

“If your ultimate love and joy is found in the treasures of this world, then suffering will rob you of your joy and make you sadder and madder. But if your ultimate love and joy is found in God, then suffering will drive you deeper into the source of that joy.”

Carefully consider those words. Consider how so often our anger at God and despair in life comes because our true love is in the things and people of this world, and so when they are threatened or lost, we lose hope and rail at God for taking away that which we love. And as you consider these things, keep in mind that every treasure in this world is unstable and ephemeral – every relationship will end, our stuff gets old and wears out, our bank accounts rise and fall. There is only one safe place, only one solid rock in this world, and that is God. And when He becomes the treasure you desire above all else, then as painful as your suffering may be, it will inevitably drive you deeper into a complete dependence upon the only One who perfectly loves you, protects you, and will last forever.

A song that I have been enjoying recently which captures this dynamic well is a hymn called “I asked the Lord that I might grow,” which was written in the 18th century by John Newton, who is best known for writing Amazing Grace. Listen to Newton’s lyrics, and how poignantly they describe how God uses suffering as the means to bring us to the place of love and faith that we so desire to be (you can hear a version of this hymn here:

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and ev'ry grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

'Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He'd answer my request
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of the heart
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in ev'ry part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I'd schemed
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord why is this I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death
'Tis in this way the Lord replied
I answer prayer for grace and faith

These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may'st seek Thy all in me

How true, how frightening, how beautiful, those words are. We want God to painlessly transform us into people of love, peace, and joy, but God knows that as long as our ultimate joy and love rests in the treasures of this world, we can not have what we long for. And so it is in the furnace of suffering that we see our self-centeredness and pride for what it is, that our grip on the things of this world is loosened, and we find ourselves clinging to God until we realize that He is sufficient for us and the only true and lasting source of love, peace, and joy. May you trust in God’s love for you and believe this truth as you walk through your own fiery furnace.

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