Sunday, April 29, 2007

What Suffering Produces In Us

For our family, these last six months have been a road filled with questions, sadness, uncertainty, weariness, and more questions. We have tried to walk faithfully, looking neither to the left nor the right, but fixing our eyes on Jesus, fixing our minds on the last "word" we heard... that we are to be in Central Asia. Throughout the months, I have faced discouragement and frustration, but no real sorrow. Up until last week, I have been able to walk this road with joy and faith in the One Who called us to walk this road.

But last week, it all hit, all at once... the waiting that is out of our control, the faithless questions from well-meaning people here, the desire to be back in Asia, the aimlessness we feel here, and the feeling that while we believe we have followed His plan for our lives, the fact remains that here we are, back in America for a time, after all the preparation we underwent to be overseas.

And I would have despaired, had it not been for a solid, unshakable faith in the Rock on which I stand. No matter the storms that wash over me, no matter how high the waves rise, no matter how fierce the wind that wants to knock me over, no matter that I'm holding three little hands and trying to shield them from the storm, my Rock will hold fast. And His Words hold true:

"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; YES, wait for the LORD." -Psalm 27:13-14

All along I have been asking to know Him, to more clearly resemble Him, for His love and light to shine through me. And how could I become acquainted with Christ, the Man of Sorrows, were I not to suffer? Suffering, even this suffering here and now, can be sweet and fruitful.


Our God is not an arbitrary God. He does not spontaneously decide to send suffering upon us. He does not change His mind like the changing of the winds. He has a plan for each of us, and each plan is different. But in each of our lives, if we cling to Him
while we are in the storms, suffering will produce some things we all need: perseverance, endurance, compassion and comfort we can pass on to others, and a greater sense of identification with Christ Himself.

The "high times" of life are not what reveal our true character. The fiber of our character, the strength of our faith, and the degree of growth that we have undergone as a disciple of Christ are all revealed through struggles and suffering.

It is easy to be generous when we are doing well financially. It is easy to "take courage" when there is nothing to be scared about. It is easy to rest in Christ when nothing is jarring or difficult or concerning.

What is difficult is to cling to Him in the sorrow, to run to Him with our burdens, and to have abiding hope and faith despite our circumstances. But if we are learning to take His yoke instead of our own, and if we are learning to praise Him in the midst of a storm, and if we are learning that He is good despite what our circumstances (or even what our acquaintances) tell us, then those beliefs will show up in how we respond when we are facing brutal storms in our lives.

This present suffering is not solely intended for what it is producing in us right now, but for how we will be able to testify to God's comfort for those who suffer, and for how we will be able to comfort those with the comfort we have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5 tells us this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
So "our present" suffering is not really either of those things. It is not only ours-- it is for others as well, so that we may comfort them with the same comfort we ourselves are finding. And it is not only for the here and now-- it is preparing us for who we will be and for who we will meet in the future.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
For each point, I struggled with whether or not to say "Suffering Can be Fruitful Because..." or "Suffering Is Fruitful Because..." But I settled on "Can Be", because Christ does not force us to grow. It is possible for someone in a storm to dig their heels in and war against what God is trying to produce in them.

Yes, the rain falls on both the just and the unjust and the storms come to both the faithful and the unfaithful, but the difference is our response. So we can choose to learn and grow and run to Him in the storms, or we can grow bitter and calloused and harden ourselves to our Father. It is entirely up to us. His call remains the same:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."


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