For weeks now I've been hearing, nearly every day, about someone who is going through tough times. I've lost track of the number of people who are grieving the loss of a loved one -- a parent or in-law, a child, a sibling, a spouse. I have friends dealing with serious illness or job loss and those whose children are struggling with life threatening health issues or mental health problems. Folks are facing the fallout of bad decisions. I doubt I know anyone who is not living through something pretty heavy right now.
When I hear the stories of people suffering I want to gather them around me and shield them from the pain. Yet while I'm trying to protect people from their pain, I hear Jesus tell me what he told Peter: You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men (Mark 8:33).
So what does God have in mind when we go through difficulties? Why do we suffer?
There are many answers buried in the pages of scripture, but I this morning I'm thinking about three in particular:
1. To humble us -- As the Lord was reminding the children of Israel to follow the commands God had given, he included these words: Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands (Deuteronomy 8:2).
2. To purify us -- When Zechariah prophesied about the shepherd being struck and two-thirds of the sheep being destroyed (he was talking about his people Israel) he promised of the remaining sheep, "This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is our God'" (Zehariah 13:9). Not only does the Lord desire a humble people, he desires a pure people.
3. To bring us to maturity -- He wants us to grow and become mature, just as we want that for our own children. James even tells us to rejoice in our trials! Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).
Peter encourages us with these words: And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10).
If you are suffering today I can do better for you than try to protect you from the pain. I can lift you up to the God of all grace and trust that he is working in you to humble you, to purify you, and to help you become mature and complete. I can remind you that one day soon he will restore you and help you to stand.
May you know his presence today, even in the midst of your suffering.