2020 has started out to be a year of tremendous difficulties, afflictions, and grief. And in many ways we all have been affected. But the next time you’re tempted to go on Social Media and whine…ask yourself this question. Am I attention-seeking, and eliciting participants in my personal pity-party…or am I like Paul who made his friends aware of the hardships he was enduring in order to show them where his trust rested? For in the next verse, Paul points out that this happened that, “we might not rely on ourselves but on God…” Enduring pain, bearing up under persecution, and experiencing grief are all part of the human experience…no one is immune. But it’s how we react to it that makes the real difference. It’s called suffering well. Of placing our reliance on God rather than man…and of pointing to Him as the one we depend on…so that all the glory goes to Him, not us.
For many of us, we have been enduring the hardships of social distancing and mandatory self-isolation for several weeks now. We are struggling against loneliness, persevering against boredom, and attempting to quell the growing frustration inside. The verses today talk about discipline, suffering, and correction the Lord ordains for the moral and spiritual nurturing of His children, and that it is always designed for their good. So how then can we look at this unique time in our lives in a favorable light not a negative one? It can start by simply asking God, “What do You want to teach me during this time, and how can I most benefit from it?” The other thing to remember is – don’t despise the Lord’s discipline and don’t resent His correction, (Proverbs 3:11-12) and you will come out on the other side of this as a more positive, hopeful, and encouraged person.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but we are not only called to suffer for the sake of Christ, but suffer well. Now man’s way of suffering is to demand why, blame others or turn our backs on God. But suffering well for Christ starts with changing our perspective, by looking at our suffering through God’s eyes not ours. And when we do this, we can then see the purpose, practice obedience, and persevere victoriously through the suffering. The Apostle Paul’s theology of suffering well was this: it produced joy in seeing the Gospel Message advanced, it exalted Christ, and it increased our faith.
One of the realities of life is that we will lose people close to us. And as we get older and older it happens more often. We look around, and all our beloved friends and family are gone…and left in their place is this huge void. This Scripture actually reminded me of the first line of an old Simon and Garfunkel song, “Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again…” And if you read this entire Psalm, you’ll recognize that dark place as grieving and loss. But within this darkness there’s also the hope of God, and the Writer of this Psalm knows this is where he needs to be.
We are not “acquainted with grief” in the same way Jesus Christ was. When illness, injury, or affliction strikes us…we suck it up, endure, and just live through it, waiting for it to end. But Jesus faced sorrow head-on…knowing intimately what it was to suffer. He very plainly explained to His disciples in Luke 18:31-33 how He would be mocked, insulted, spit on, flogged, and killed…personally taking on and experiencing all the pent-up evil of this world. We taste suffering and sorrow…but Jesus is intimate with them.
For many of you today this Scripture may be difficult to accept. That’s because today you’re right smack-dab in the middle of trials, suffering, loss, injury, or sickness…and the idea that any light and momentary trouble is achieving in you eternal glory that far outweighs any trouble you’re going through is just a little too hard to take. (II Corinthians 4:17) Or that you should be rejoicing that you can participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. (I Peter 4:13) In this verse God is not discounting your suffering…your loss…the traumatic experience you’re going through right now. Rather, He understands and He’s giving you the grace and endurance to persevere through it.
In these verses Jeremiah is dejected and overwhelmed by the suffering he is witnessing in Jerusalem. In his head he was acknowledging God’s sovereignty…but he was still confused and disheartened by all the destruction around him. We’re the same way in the middle of trials. We know that God is there and in control…but when we’re overcome by it all, it’s hard to remain rational. Jeremiah was honestly laying all his feelings, concerns and complaints before his Heavenly Father, knowing that God would listen and not judge. And today we too have that same opportunity to speak candidly and openly to God without fear of retribution.
Jacob had worked for his father-in-law, Laban, for 20 difficult years. But despite all the wrongful things done to him, Jacob knew God was watching over and defending him. We sometimes feel like God doesn’t see the injustices inflicted upon us…or the suffering we’ve endured at the hands of others. But He does, for God is with us not only in everything we do…but He also sees all the injustices that have been done to us. We just need to remember that the battle is His, and He will defend and vindicate us.
The only way you can become really good at something is to practice…whether it’s a sport, a musical instrument, or a newly discovered talent, without practice, it’s just wishful thinking. Today, this Scripture wants us to take a new and different attitude when faced with the trials in our lives. It wants us to consider trials as practice. Every time we’re put to the test, we need to realized it’s a God-ordained crucible in which we are being purified. In other words, trials equal refining…trials equal developing patience…trials equal suffering in the faith…trials are a chance to practice what we preach.