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Three Keys to Help You Look Beyond Your Suffering

Three Keys to Help You Look Beyond Your Suffering

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Does anyone love God because of who He is, or do we love Him for what we can receive from Him? I’m not implying it’s wrong to want things from the Lord because we should desire things from Him, like His salvation. However, there is a priority with all relationships. Do we enter friendships for what we can get out of them, or are we primarily interested in being with and serving that friend? Pertaining to God, it’s vital to examine the quality of our faith, always making our relationship with Him transcendent over self-interest while enjoying the beauty of knowing God for who He is.

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Impure Motivations

Getting to that transcendent place in our relationship with God of loving Him above self-interest is not smooth or painless, which is why the devil’s accusation about Job’s motive resonates with us. If I were not so cynical about Satan, I would give him the benefit of the doubt for asking such a question because I understand the motives of my heart. Parents understand this problem, too. Children are famous for self-interest while using the relationship to accomplish whatever whim is wafting through their little brains. What they want from us is more precious to them than being with us—unless there is a threat. Still, they want something from us. Out of necessity, being with us is essential to getting something from us.

Christians love the Lord, but we are not so self-deceived to discount our tenacious self-loyalty, so back to my question. Why do you serve the Lord? Don’t worry: it’s not a pass/fail test to trick or guilt-trip you but a query to assess where you are in the Christian maturation process. If we don’t know there is something wrong or our need to change (Ephesians 4:22), we won’t change. Though the devil was wrongly motivated about Job, we’re not like him. We want to engage our motives and entertain the possibility of having more self-interest regarding our walk with the Lord.

Personal regeneration does not fully dislocate our depravity or penchant for self-loyalty. There are always other motives lurking in imperfect hearts. Nobody is free from sin’s temptations. The complicating twist is that we want to be free from the complexities in our souls, but we do not want to go through the process because we intuitively know that suffering is the most effective way to be free from ourselves. The sun’s heat is an excellent disinfectant, but who wants to sit under the unrelenting heat, experiencing its purifying fire? Peter thought about these things as he penned a few words to calibrate our minds to our real needs.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).

A New Understanding

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you (Job 42:5).

Nothing will draw out true motivations like personal suffering. Refining fire refines the soul. When God throws us into the crucible of suffering, every good and bad thing in us will eventually be made known. Like the uninterrupted tumbling of a clothes dryer, nothing can hide from the heat or the hurt, bringing us to a good and satisfying end. As you examine the sanctifying power of your most recent difficulty, what was drawn from your heart and brought to your attention? For example, suffering may reveal undisclosed anger, fear, or even weakness of faith. How easy is it to trust God when things are going well? Remember the accusation of Satan. Let a little trouble into our lives, and our faith will rise and conquer the complexity, or the complexity will dislodge what we thought we believed about God.

The dilemma is that we want to be free from these contrivances of the soul, but we fear the process that leads to our emancipation. The tension is our angst, which can freeze us from doing anything about what’s wrong with us. We need Sovereign engagement and the accompanying clarity that helps us learn the lessons we are supposed to acquire through the hard times that come to our lives. Job went to the Lord’s counseling office, and like any good counselor, the Lord drew from Job’s heart what Job needed to know. Collected together, the Lord asked Job seventy questions, all of which Job summed up by talking about what he knew through the ear-gate but now sees clearly through the eye-gate. God gave Job sovereign clarity.

If God is big enough to keep you from suffering, isn’t it true that He’s big enough to have reasons for your suffering—things you have yet to understand? There is wisdom here, but it is the kind of wisdom that does not come exclusively from an intellectual understanding of theology. The type of wisdom I’m talking about comes from a deep, soul-stretching, and exhausting experience with the Lord. God taught Job about Himself, a different knowledge from what Job knew already from Sunday school and Bible studies. He had received the Lord’s instruction previously. He learned how the Lord gives and takes away stuff (Job 1:21). He knew faith comes from hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17). Job, like us, was Christianized enough to have a basic understanding of the Lord. What Job did not know was the difference between knowing God and seeing God. Only after the undeserved and horrific ordeal in the crucible of suffering did he transcend his previously learned basic Christianity 101.

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Intimately Intelligent

God brought Job into a new experience, intellect, and intimacy. You cannot see without hearing, and you cannot hear without seeing. The difference is between being in a religion versus a relationship. Intelligent people who are devoid of relational intimacy with the Divine are religious. Think of the Pharisees, the brightest of the religious elite, but missing the mark when it came to knowing God. Those with a relationship with God take religion to a new depth. Perhaps it would be best to say, a new height. Paul was speaking to these things when he said, “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). He was a bright religious fellow, but there was one thing lacking: he did not know God.

Nobody surpassed Paul’s intellectual intake and purported prowess. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, a pedigree that inspired awe from those like-minded religious zealots. Then God saved this great religious man, and he realized that what he had—religiously speaking—amounted to animal excrement. There was something better: a deeper intimacy in God’s heart that required God to burn away all credit, self-glory, accomplishment, and anything that would tempt a religious man to boast. Intellectual intake is the easy part. Intimate fellowship with God is a walk on the wild side that always leads you into the crucible of suffering. Many of our brothers and sisters sit in church facilities every Sunday and hear great things about the Lord, but their relationship with Him is no more profound than the words they have heard.

If you desire to know God, you must crave a deeper relationship with Him. Christian maturity is taking what we know about God from all the learning we have gained and entering into the crucible of suffering where we wrestle with God, pleading with Him to burn away all that hinders us from knowing Him and case harden the vital truths we must not lose. We meld our knowledge of God and our relationship with Him in the fires of suffering. The Lord took Job deeper into the heart of God, exceeding his knowledge of the Sovereign. It was a place that transcended language—a place where God shattered the idols of his heart and built a new man that approximated Jesus Christ.

My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast (a person who attacks). Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? – C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Unkindly, He Kindly

In every one of us, there are wrong ways of thinking about God, life, and others, and only suffering will root these things out of our souls. In every one of us, there are selfish ways of thinking that we’ll only see when God does not act like we think He should. In every one of us, selfish thinking motivates us to serve God for our good rather than His glory. In every one of us, it’s vital that we change, and though it sounds evil on the face of it, it’s the kindness of God to lead us not into temptation but through the valleys that remove anything that obscures what it means to know God in a univocal, undistracted way. John Piper thought about these things as he was thinking about the Book of Job, and he penned the following:

So you think God was kind to make you sick? Jemimah asked, and take away your health and all your sons, friends, and daughters — all the ones you loved? Jemimah, what I think is this: The Lord has made me drink the cup of his severity that he might kindly show me what I would be when only he remains in my calamity. Unkindly he has kindly shown that he was not my hope alone. (John Piper, Job, Part Four)

John Piper is correct: unkindly, He kindly shows us that our hope is not in the Lord alone. John Calvin said our hearts are like idol factories, never loyal to one deity, but like a lady window shopping, we saunter from one to the other, always loving what we see but never satisfied fully. God created us for this purpose: to worship Him alone, and if we put any other gods before Him or equal to Him, He will act upon us. It will feel “unkindly,” but God’s kindness will lead to our repentance. Having mixed motives is not necessarily our fault. We were born this way. To worship other gods or to want different outcomes more than wanting the Lord, most of all, is part of human cursedness. It does not make us odd but natural, normal, and needy.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot get out of our way, so we need the Lord for our salvation and sanctification. Mercifully, God does not leave us alone after He saves us. He stays with us, always working, sometimes hurting, but relentlessly loving us. He aims to conform us to the image of His Son—an image Adam distorted, and now, because of the gospel, there is hope for a reversal of the curse. There is a purpose in pain. There is a reason you are going through what is happening to you. The Lord is at work for your good. Though you cannot perceive all the good He plans for your life, you must perceive He is proactive, planning, persevering, and preparing future blessings. With that in mind, here are three considerations to help you as you ponder what the Author of your life is writing into your script. As you read these things, ask the Spirit of God to open your mind to receive and respond to how you need to change.

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He Kindly Humbles Us

I imagine you do not want to hear this, but I must say it: we are proud people. We have a high view of ourselves and do not want to lower our self-esteem in any way. Our culture demands that we esteem ourselves. There is an entire corpus for self-estimation, a damnable doctrine that thrusts the individual into the center of the universe. Imagine a world where every person sits at its epicenter, demanding that everyone else esteem them more than they esteem themselves. Proud people want others to like them, accept them, and love them. Anything that shines an unfavorable light on our high view of ourselves or disadvantages us in any way must succumb to the cancel mob. We are most loyal to ourselves, and only the Lord can impose Himself into our lives in such a way as to free us from this self-sabotaging, culture-destroying bondage.

Suffering humbles, and humbling is what we need the most. If you frame this suffering-centered worldview like a loving parent with a proud child, what would be the process to free a boy from bondage? Do you cater to all his whims and wishes? Does he become the sole determiner of what love should look like in his life? The loving parent will pray that the child comes to the end of himself, knowing the most expeditious way for that to happen is for him to land face down in a hog lot. Is the parent unkind? It depends on who you ask. The child will most assuredly believe it’s unkindness, at least initially. It will feel like unkindness because there is no soft landing for proud hearts. The hope is that one day he will see what happened to him as kindness from a loving parent who wanted nothing more than for him to succeed in life.

He Kindly Vindicates Us

During our seasons of suffering, it is impossible to see the future that will come from it. When my time came, I said it was like standing on the edge of time, looking into eternity and seeing nothing but nothing. Each day was like the last, making my future predictable—more darkness. This diurnal exercise of the soul requires us to respond to the call of God upon our lives by trusting in His active goodness on our behalf. If you respond with humility rather than anger or fear, you will have positioned yourself for an excellent and favorable outcome. It won’t happen immediately, but it will happen in God’s perfect time. Job’s vindication in chapter forty-two did not turn into vindictiveness because he accepted the humbling of the Lord. If you try to manage your pain through self-reliant means, you will prolong it and complicate all of your relationships.

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).

Suffering creates a pathway for you to follow. It begins with authentic humility, making you pliable rather than resistant in the Lord’s hands. Your humility allows you to access the Lord’s power rather than rely on yourself (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). As you follow this path, you will be at rest (Matthew 8:23-27). In God’s good timing, He will restore your soul; it happens as you walk down the path of right living that He provides for you, even if you find those pathways laced with suffering. He will restore you because His name is on the line, not yours. You are His child, and He is responsible for you. The Book of Job is not a book about Job but about God. It was the Lord who was on trial and the retribution policy that the devil was putting forth: Job does right, and he will receive good, but if he does wrong, he will receive evil. The Lord took away all Job had, and our old friend held to his faith despite suffering mightily. The Lord was proven not guilty and vindicated His servant when the suffering was complete.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).

He Kindly Blesses Us

Of course, there is a word of caution at this juncture. We want to be careful and not give in, believing we have no role to play. Yes, the Book of Job was about God, but Job was a secondary causal agent responsible for his actions. We don’t want to complicate our suffering by assuming the role of passivity as though God does not want to relate with us. We must give ourselves entirely to God’s total work, proactively stepping into His narrative for us, or we will find ourselves in opposition to His inexhaustible favor (James 4:6). Sinning in response to sin will bring more evil down on our heads, which is what Job did, and the Lord thundered down hard on him. Then Job repented, and he was eventually vindicated.

The blessing of the Lord comes through a person’s willingness to die. That is one of the most stunning pictures of the gospel: Jesus feared suffering in His future (Matthew 26:39). He did not want to experience it. Finally, He did relent by giving Himself entirely over to the will of His Father. After He walked out of Gethsemane, His persecutors nailed Him to a tree. Yes, after humbly submitting to God, things became worse. Do you want God’s inexhaustible, unwavering favor? Of course, you do. Do not be deceived about how these blessings come. It never occurred to me how the loss of everything dear to me in 1988 was the beginning of profound and undeserved benefits that could only come through the door of suffering. Like any loving parent, unkindly, He was kind to me.

Call to Action

  1. Is God humbling you by your suffering, or are you resisting the Lord’s suffering? To resist God is to be proud, and the proud heart meets a warring army. His name is Jehovah.
  2. How are you responding to your suffering—with anger, fear, or faith? Anger and fear are coconspirators with self-reliance, but humility assumes a faith-filled posture that relies on Him who raises the dead.
  3. What do you want that keeps you from resting in the Lord and, thus, hindering His victory in your life? The fear of losing something or a craving for something often tricks us into believing God is against us.
  4. Our responses to the suffering that happens to us reveal our theology—how we think about God. What does your response to your suffering tell you about how you think about the Lord?
  5. Are you confident the Lord will bless you, and out of that confidence (faith), you’re experiencing soul stabilization? I’m not suggesting He will bless you today or things won’t become worse.
  6. How do you need to rethink the suffering the Lord has brought to you, and in what practical ways do you need to change? Will you share your thoughts with a friend?

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