Monday, March 25, 2013

God's Purpose in Our Suffering

In God's providence, on Sunday, in the Sunday school class we teach, we talked about God's purposes in suffering. On Friday, I read this quote from the book "A Place for Weakness" by Michael Horton -- "The last thing at least some believers need in their trials is the added burden of trying to figure out why it is all happening. And the good news here is that nowhere in scripture are we expected to do that. God’s secrets remain just that. We must try to avoid two extremes: one, suggesting that God’s secret purposes in our lives and in providence generally are available to us; and the other, usually in reaction, concluding that God does not actually have purpose for all of the details of our lives, from the smallest to the greatest." 

Since this topic is on my mind, I thought I'd combine the two ideas. The quote above really hit home for me, mostly because I hear both of those thoughts on a regular basis. Not always, but generally, if I hear either of those thoughts from people it tends to be Christians that will "encourage" me that I am to learn something in my trial; whereas non-Christians tend to point out the unfortunate "fact" that suffering has no purpose and it is  such a shame. Most assuredly their is a purpose in our sufferings and trials. God is not helpless to prevent these trials, and He allows them in our lives for His purposes. I do not believe we are always to learn something from them. While there may very well be something we are to learn, the thought that we somehow have to figure that out to make the trial stop, or that we are even able to discern God's purposes in every trial is simply not true. No where in God's Word (as the quote reminds us) do we have a mandate to figure out the reason for our trials. 

I do realize that people say things to be encouraging. I have spent many a night trying to figure out what I am supposed to be learning. I have been convinced in the past, that I must be the worst student ever. I clearly have not learned what I was supposed to be learning, or so I thought. I spent so much energy and was stressed out over trying to find God's lesson in my struggles, that I missed the greater blessing. How wonderful it is to be able to rest in Him, trusting Him to show me anything I should learn, but not striving in my own strength to come up with some specific answer to a question I didn't even know. I have learned so much about God and myself in the midst of my suffering. Not all has been pleasant, for instance, I have learned that I am independent and stubborn, neither of which are great character traits!

Our Sunday school lesson was an overview of Paul's teaching about suffering from 2 Corinthians.We learned a few thing about trials. Instead of driving ourselves crazy trying to figure out some hidden meaning in our suffering, we can know a few things that suffering can and should do in our lives. This is by no mean a complete list of the reasons we endure trials, but just a couple of things that I have been reminded of this week.

First, the apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 1:4 that it is God "who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble." Going through trials helps us to become more compassionate. We are able to comfort others in their suffering because we ourselves have been comforted.

Also, as Paul is dealing with his "thorn in the flesh" he is told by God that "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9) Trials are a display of the God's strength and power in our lives. We are able to point to others to Him in the midst of our sufferings as our only source of strength.

We know that God works all things "together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). This is important to remember as sufferings are not random and purposeless in our lives. Instead verse 29 goes on to tell us that "He also predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son." Trials are definitely one way God conforms us to his image, as he shows us the sin in our hearts as we walk this difficult road. Trials should turn our hearts and minds to God, and make us aware of our own sinfulness and weakness. May it be that we all would suffer well and be able to point to God as the sole source of our strength. May He be your refuge in times of trouble!

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