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That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10).
During suffering, you experience a grace you cannot appropriate at any other time. Grace and suffering are instruments working hand in hand. Though there is grace for suffering, you don’t need it until you are suffering. Have you heard someone say, “I would not want to go through their struggle?” Me, either. What we miss, however, is how God gives grace during those seasons of trials. I hope you don’t have to go through suffering, but if you do, there will be empowering favor from the Lord, buoying you through the crucible. Should the Lord drive you into the crucible of suffering, He will magnify Himself by sustaining you, creating an unforgettable, soul-stirring memory.
A deep intimacy is found in the heart of God that you access through a cross that leads to your death as you anticipate the power of His resurrection to activate in you. I have talked to many Christians who have echoed this truth. Though they never want to go back to their crucible, they acknowledge how they would not exchange their experience with God that came during their fiery trial (Daniel 3:20; 1 Peter 4:12). I agree with them. It’s my story too. After my family had left, I went into a deep sorrow from which I did not fully return for ten years. The despair was unending. The confusion was spiritually disorienting. There are no words to describe the pain of those years. I resigned my life to the lower shelf of the Christian ecosystem.
Looking into my future, I could see nothing but an eternal black hole of emptiness. It was dark, bleak, and endless. Hope was gone as I began to accept how the future would always look like the present. It was in this place where God’s goodness entered my divinely crafted suffering. Like Job, there was a time of radio silence as God appeared to be so far away, but it was only for a moment. He wanted me to see Him differently (Job 42:5). It was ironic. Two Christian undergrad degrees did not introduce me to the Lord in the way I needed to know Him. Education gave me an awareness of theology and an appreciation for God’s Word, but unremitting anguish revealed the suffering Savior to me. Knowing God intellectually and experiencing Him in life-altering pain are radically different.
As He continued to reorient my thinking from inside my crucible of hopelessness, I experienced Him in a unique, unforgettable, and life-transforming way. Intense suffering does this for you, bringing a convergence into your life that wants to tear apart your soul. It is fear and faith going toe-to-toe in a loser leaves town match, and you are never really sure who will win. I began to see that the faith God gave me in my salvation needed fortification to navigate me in my sanctification. He was prepping me for a future of usefulness in His kingdom. He knew the temptation to drift into an unbelieving believer mindset was strong, making it vital to reorient my walk with Him. This battle brought me to a vulnerable place where the Lord deepened His roots in the fertile ground of my sanctification.
The trial opened the way to place something in me that will never leave, for which I am eternally grateful, and many souls will reap the benefits. I began to intuit these things back then, though their reality was still many years later. Having the hope of Him completing what He started was satisfying enough to live another day. This perspective is why a person will reflect on his most painful experience and say, “God was amazingly good to me at that time.” If you have been there, I need not say more. I have just described your pain and your praise. You see the juxtaposition of this fear/faith, pain/praise tension in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet, Batter My Heart, where he pleaded with the Father to do whatever was necessary to transform him into a new creation.
Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
Has God ever battered your heart? I’m not asking you this question to place fear in your heart but to help you think about whatever current or future struggle with a theocentric presupposition. If you have not experienced our heart-battering God in the crucible, what are your thoughts about Him walking with you through that season? It is not like suffering is an option; it’s not. The choice is how you want to suffer: with God or without Him. Donne’s sonnet is one of the most radical prayers a person can pray. Notice the progression of his thought as you reflect on the lines. Initially, he asked the Lord to knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend. Upon deeper reflection, he ratcheted up his desire to be transformed by God into the likeness of His Son when he asked the Lord to break, blow, burn, and make me new. Will you pause to think about what Donne was asking God to do to Him?
Les Miserables is one of our favorite Broadway shows. One of the characters in this play is Fantine, a lady who lived a most miserable life that ended too soon. Her song in the play is, I Dreamed a Dream, where she talks about her idealistic youth and how the darkness of this world stole her dream. Her haunting words represent a temptation for all of us. We dream of how things ought to be, and if you have lived for a few decades, you know that things did not turn out as you hoped. It’s at this juncture you must guard your heart, or you’ll spiral as I did into the pit of despair. Listen to how Fantine talked about the death of her dream.
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed.
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
For many of us, life kills our dreams. After we marry, we launch our covenantal boats toward a glistening horizon. Though we realize the potentiality of dark skies ahead, we dismiss the notion because we choose not to think about such matters. Some of us believe we’re different, more innovative, or know better than those who fell short of the mark of happily ever after. Even when we see the dark clouds forming in our lives and relationships, we do not perceive them for what they are, or we do not understand how the Lord may be about to teach us richer meanings of biblical faith. I saw the dark clouds taking shape in our marriage but never realized how much the winds would break, blow, and burn.
I was working on a Bible degree in my second year of Bible college when God blindsided me while doing good. I cannot adequately explain to you the depth of the pain. I have shared how upon arriving home on April 8, 1988, I realized my family was gone. Within fifteen hours, I lost ten pounds. It was the most prolonged and torturous night of my life. I was in unmitigated fear, desperation, and physical suffering. My desire for a family fully collided with the Lord’s intention to reveal Himself to me in a way that necessitated death. It was my death He had in mind. I was confused and depressed about the story He was writing. During my time in Job, I read, meditated, prayed, and cried through his struggle. It was now my struggle. I will never forget the day when I arrived at chapter twenty-three and read these words:
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him (Job 23:13-15).
My world stopped spinning long enough for me to hang on to every syllable out of Job’s mouth. I was stunned when Job affirmed what I already perceived about God—He was changeless, and what He desires, He does. I had spent years hoping to get a bit part in God’s story. Then it was time for me to go on stage. I wanted to do great things for Him. I did not perceive how the screenwriter was writing a play that would challenge me to the core of my being. Then I read part of Job’s play in chapter twenty-three. My thoughts went wild. As I meditated on those terrible truths, I prematurely jumped to the end of the story—the happily ever after part. I learned how the Lord released Job from the crucible of suffering and how He blessed him with twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).
Then I thought, “Maybe He will release me too.” He’s a kind screenwriter, and all the good American movies end well with the hero defeating the foe and getting the girl. Though I knew the Book of Job was not a prescription for how suffering happens, I desperately wanted his ending to be mine. This desire for a happy conclusion brought immediate hope because it offered a way out of the pain. All I needed to do was inform the Lord what should happen next. It was time to update God. I needed to make Him aware of what I had learned and how I had changed. His mission to mature me was complete. I thought, “Maybe He does not know all the lessons I have learned. Ah, yes, I must inform Him how He can remove the hounds of hell that are harassing me (2 Corinthians 12:7).”
But Job did say, “He is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does” (Job 23:13). Fine! I was okay with His unchangeableness and that I could not budge Him. He just needed to know His desire to change me had worked. “Lord, I am okay down here; everything is cool.” Once He gets the update, He will pour out a different blessing. I prayed:
Thank you, Father, for the privilege of suffering. You have taught me many amazing things, and I am grateful for the life lessons. You are merciful and kind to me. Your work in me has accomplished several good things, and I am now ready to move on to what you have planned for our next adventure. I await release from this suffering while looking forward to the fruitful ministry that it will produce. Your grateful and humble servant. – Rick
He will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind (Job 23:14).
There was a slight problem with my prayer. I knew in my heart that I was trying to manipulate God. The combination of desperation and hurt motivated me to prod God along, hoping He would expedite His plans for me. I cannot say I was wittingly trying to fake out God—like anyone could accomplish that, but that was what I attempted to do in my delusional state. Sometimes the pain can be too much, blinding you to what you’re doing: trying to circumvent God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). At some level of my heart, I knew my creative prayer would not work. I was not that delusional. The Lord was not through with me and knew it, which terrified me. What He had planned for me would not be thwarted, regardless of how many times I prayed (2 Corinthians 12:8).
He was going to finish His desires for my life (Philippians 1:6). My Father knew best, and no amount of manipulative praying was going to sway Him. It is sort of funny as I reflect upon those days. Gaslighting God will not work. He sees in the dark places of our hearts and always gives us exactly what we need, even if we do not want it. The real issue for me was whether I would trust Him enough to cooperate with the necessary surgery on my soul, regardless of how long it would take (Hebrews 4:12-13). It was not permissible to jump ahead twenty chapters because I was not fond of this part of the script. Apart from salvation, this surgical season on my soul was essential, and it became one of the most transformative times in my life. Nothing has come close to the redemptive work the Lord did in me during those days.
I reflect on how hard it was to get on board with His soul surgery. He saw things in me that I could not see (or did not want to see), and He loved me enough to persevere no matter how distracting or dishonest I was. The truth was that I knew how messed up I was on the inside, but I did not want to go through the necessary changes for transformation to happen. Perhaps you are like this too. To some degree, we all have enough self-awareness to know we need the Lord’s intervention. Still, we are afraid of Him. The thought of having the Lord turned loose on our souls is terrifying. Knowing this is why you must be careful. If you are not wise here, you will be intellectually dishonest with yourself, God, and others. You might attempt to do what I did. You can’t fake out God. What He has appointed, He will complete.
My appeal is for you to be honest with yourself. Admit to the Lord what He already knows about you. Do not try to manipulate Him or others by acting ignorant about what He needs to do inside of you. Let Him have His way. I have seen this strategy many times in marriage counseling. The couple comes in as combatants, focusing on the other person’s wrongdoing. Of course, there is always a measure of truth in what they see and say about their spouses. The mixture of truth, no matter how small, becomes the impetus to keep the bullseye on their spouses, fully knowing there is more to the story. Whenever you can attach a truth claim to your story, you have a sense of rightness that might blind you to the whole truth. You need a sturdy friend who will call you on it, so you don’t drown in your shenanigans.
God is that sturdy friend. He is unchangeable, though His character and attributes did not deter me from manipulative praying, at least initially. Some of my stubborn spouses owned the silliness of their manipulations and humbled themselves by acknowledging how they obscured a few facts. These are the moments when grace begins to trickle into our messes. It’s counterintuitive because we want to be strong, not vulnerable. They learn what Paul taught us: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). What choice do we have? The Lord will do what He wants to do to you, and He will complete what He has appointed for you (Philippians 1:6). As Job said, “There are many such things in His mind” (Job 23:14).
I wish I could carry you to the end of Job’s story, where He flips the narrative and blesses, but you already know that is not how it works. God has a plan for you and will advance you when He is ready, not one second before. The best thing you can do is be honest about your life, deficiencies, things that need adjusting, any areas of weakness, or past brokenness that needs God’s reconciliation. It would be best for me to stop listing possible things for you to address in your life, and ask you to take a season of reflection, asking God to help you see what you’re unable to see and agreeing with Him about the things you already know that need to change. Perhaps as you follow through with the questions below, they will assist in progressing you through the unique story the Lord is writing for you.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).