BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 2 of an eight-part series by Robert D. Jones. Read Part 1.
What Is God Up To?
What is God up to when we face suffering? In our first post we saw from Romans 8:28-29 that God uses trials to make His people more like Jesus. Yet we noted that even well-meaning Christians sometimes mishandle this passage. Some people miss the promise that the ultimate good that God is working is to make us like Jesus, not some lesser good (e.g., circumstantial change) that we might prefer. Other people let the promise remain abstract, without laboring in prayer to see how God might be fulfilling this promise in specific ways in our daily living.
How, then, does God use our daily hardships to make us more Christlike? In today’s post, let’s consider the first of seven ways. As a memory aid I call them The Seven E’s. Because our names are not written in the Bible, we have no infallible assurance that any one of these seven is God’s definite purpose in our specific situation. But since we see these themes throughout God’s Word, wise Christians should consider how each might apply to them.
First, God wants to use our hardships to enhance our relationship with God. Christians in hardship tend to become more God-conscious and tend to turn to God more often. Suffering believers often seek his face.
Same Adversity, Different Outcomes
Two Israelite kings at the end of 2 Chronicles present a striking contrast. Both kings faced overwhelming military destruction. In 2 Chronicles 28:22 we read, “In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the LORD.”
Yet in 2 Chronicles 33:12 we read a different response from Manasseh: “In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” For Ahaz, hardship became an occasion for greater ungodliness; he turned away from God. For Manasseh, a similar trial became an occasion for repentance; he turned to God.
So, which spiritual condition does a trial cause: godliness or ungodliness? The answer is neither; they cause nothing. Hardships for the Christian are not causative or determinative; they are opportunities for us to turn to God or away from God.
David: Go to God
We see this God-ward perspective in psalm after psalm. (Here you can virtually flip and point throughout the Psalms.) David does not hide the hardships he faces. Enemies rise up against him, friends betray him, competitors plot against him, illnesses accompany him, earthquakes shake his world and, worst of all, God is sometimes silent toward him. Yet in the midst of his woes, David turns to God—not away from Him—and his faith deepens and matures. Consider his plight in Psalm 3:1-2:
“O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’”
How does David respond? In verses 3-4 he draws near to God:
“But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.”
David’s prayer provides us with both hope and an example. Whether our suffering is chronic or acute, we can experience a deepening relationship with our Savior. Difficulties don’t doom us to spiritual failure.
I love hearing the testimonies of suffering Christians: “In my trial, I’ve prayed more, I’ve read my Bible more, I’ve attended worship more, etc.” Even the person’s act of seeking my help as their pastor or as a biblical counselor demonstrates this dynamic. While the trial may remain, we can change. We can turn to God and He will receive us.
Kim’s Fall and Rise
This was good news for my friend Kim. For many years her husband Dan professed sincere faith in Christ and fervent love for her, yet in recent months both attitudes deteriorated rapidly. His interest both in the Lord and in Kim waned. He withdrew from church involvement and spent greater time at work and less time with her and the kids. She in turn began to experience spiritual lethargy. Kim felt the slippage in her soul.
Thankfully, God used the passages above to arouse Kim from her spiritual stupor. Her disappointments became wakeup calls to draw near to the Lord. While Dan didn’t change, Kim did. Her difficult marriage became God’s laboratory to commune with him in fresh ways.
Out of that she was able to handle Dan’s decline with grace and wisdom, without falling into despair herself. With God’s help, Kim heard and heeded his invitation, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Kim found God’s mercy and grace.
How about you? Could it be that God wants to use whatever hardship you face today to enhance your relationship with him? Might the suffering you despise be God’s way to draw you, or re-draw you, to him?
The Rest of the Story
Join us for Part 3 where we learn that God wants to use our hardships to help us experience a measure of Christ’s sufferings.
Join the Conversation
How has God used a hardship to enhance or deepen your relationship with him? In what ways have you drawn nearer to the Lord, or seen others do so, amid suffering?