Purpose in the Pain

trials

Every Lord’s Day we give the church the opportunity to submit prayer requests on the back of their “friendship cards.” This past week I received one that is either very strange or very profound. It read, “That God would be glorified in all our trials.” How can that be? We thank God for our blessings? How can God be glorified in our pain?

Most of us are familiar with the trials and tribulations experienced by the apostle Paul. If anyone deserves our pity, no doubt he would be a leading candidate. His faithful and obedient service resulted in tremendous heartache. Yet when he wrote 2 Corinthians, an epistle that chronicles his physical and emotional pain better than any of his letters, we find him praising God. After the two verse introduction, Paul begins by saying in verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What?

In the verses that follow we see a rather clear and distinctly Christian explanation. First, Paul knew that God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (verse 3). After he personally experienced the One “who comforts us in all our affliction” (verse 4), he personally was softened and equipped to “comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (verse 4). The Christian mindset: God’s blessings did not terminate on him, but flowed through him for the betterment of others. The suffering ultimately resulted in praising God for His comfort that always outdistanced his sufferings.

In this section Paul also found reason to praise God in the pain because the pain, when submitted to under God’s grace, has the unique ability to humble our proud and stubborn hearts. Describing one unknown trial Paul said, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves” (verses 8-9). In the deep intensity of the Refiner’s fire Paul drew out an eternal purpose. He said the pain came “so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

On our men’s retreat last October we were privileged to go zip-lining. Riding a zip-line is a thrilling experience. The greatest fear comes when you make that initial jump. Will the equipment support me? Will I survive the momentary freefall until the harness line becomes taunt? It’s a test of faith, but once you learn to trust the equipment, you can increase the heights and jump into the unknown without fear.

Likewise, there is a fear of letting go and casting yourself into the arms of God. Do I have faith in Him during my trials to be weaned of my own self-reliance and human messiahs and numbing devices to simply drop? Will God’s hands be there to catch me? Can I fully surrender during the pain and find myself landing in a place of safety?

The apostle Paul learned that God is faithful. He said in verse 10, “[God] delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us.” As God was faithful in the past, He will be faithful in the present. And as God was faithful with the small things, He too will be faithful with the big things.

Anybody can thank God when things are going well. Only the Christian who rightly understands the biblical perspective of suffering can thank God in the trials as well. In our weakness we are made strong, and in our depending ultimately on Him, He is greatly glorified.

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