I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge – even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1: 4-8

 

The journey through this life is not easy. This is a fact regardless of spiritual orientation, faith in any form of god, or status and wealth. The earth is a beautiful but deadly place to reside, and it is not getting any better despite all of our best efforts to clean it up or to straighten it out. There is danger lurking in the water and in the air, and there is treachery and deceit to be found in the hearts of people across its surface. Essentially, every activity that we enter into and each of the relationships that we engage has the real possibility of doing us harm. It seems that life should come with a very large and boldly stated warning label: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.

 

Yet, it is also true that we people brought all of this upon ourselves. We took the gift of perfect peace and returned it to its giver with a form of arrogant disdain that told Him that we would prefer something a bit bolder, a little more exciting and a lot more within our control. So, God gave us what we asked for, but the Lord did not leave us alone to suffer the consequences of our demands on our own. Now there is a beast in our forest, a demon in our closet, and God is present in our lives if we choose to allow Him to enter in. That choice is the critical one. It makes all of the difference between life and death.

 

In Christ we are alive. In Christ our lives have meaning and direction. In Christ we still suffer and the brokenness of this world impacts us with all of its fury and senseless brutality. Yet, in Christ, we are never alone, and the painful hours and the grief that our hearts endure work to bring us closer to the only One who both understands it all intimately but also responds to bring us comfort and peace. The harsh air of this world forces Christ’s people to enter into the holy sanctuary of His presence in order to breathe in the pure grace of His love and mercy. Christ’s Spirit gives each of us the gifts that we need to take our personal loss and turn it into gain for God’s Kingdom, and He also provides us with the strength to carry on in that service until our days here are complete.

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;

I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

Isaiah 48: 10

 

This thing that we call life is serious business. Pressures and pain, heartache and heat, it all comes our way, and on some days it seems as if an entire universe of hardship and affliction is being poured out on our heads or upon those of people we love and care about. If God is the one who is doing the pouring, then He must be without mercy. If He is not in charge of the inquisition, then why doesn’t He exercise His authority and put an end to it?

 

We hear others say that suffering and hard times have a purpose. I have said the same thing. Yet, it is really hard to be in the center of it all and actually take some form of comfort from this idea. However, this is a true statement for people who know God. He does, in fact, have a purpose for what we experience in this life. The Lord will redeem all that we are going through for the sake of His own glory, and He is incredibly merciful and gracious in the process.

 

You see, the refining of silver is a process whereby the metal is left in the fire until there are absolutely no impurities left. If it were my life that was placed into that furnace, I fear that all of me would be consumed before the job was finished. God knows that none of us would survive that standard of purification as a single process. So, God brings us to Him and accepts us fully because of the sacrifice of Christ alone. Then His Spirit acts within us to do the work of purification as we live our lives. As the inevitable hardships of living in this broken world come our way, God saves and protects us, and He uses these times to bring us ever nearer to the center of His loving will.

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

1 Peter 5: 10

 

The very word “suffer” is unpleasant. No one likes to do it, and none of us seek it out. Yet, suffering is a part of every life. It comes as if it were an element of the air that we breathe and with a certainty that suggests that it is embedded in the chemicals of our DNA. The components of our suffering can be complex and as diverse as people are distinctive, for it takes on many forms and can come at any season of our lives. Yet, suffering is really quite simple; it hurts with a pain that sears deeply into our hearts.

 

Nothing that we do can eliminate suffering from our experience. We can not buy our way out of it with wealth or intellectual currency, and even the most legitimate of pious acts and works of contrition will not protect us from its onset. Christ had access to all wealth, knowledge, and power; and He was truly righteous in every way; yet, His life was populated by suffering. Just as Christ did, anyone who lives in this world will need to collide head on with the reality of its fractured, warped, and distorted essence. This world has been turned sidewise by sin, and it is continually being shaken by Satan and by the forces that he sets loose in his war against God.

 

Yet, suffering is not all bad. In saying this I don’t mean to suggest that we should seek it out or that we should just try to tough it out or take it lightly. The pain, loss, and grief that it brings a as real as anything that we will ever experience. Yet, it is in these seasons of trial that Christ becomes most real. These are times when all of our personal resource and strength are often stripped away. Days of torment, turmoil, and loss force us to empty out and deplete all of our assets and safety-net reserves. In these hours of physical, emotional, and spiritual bankruptcy we are sustained by faith and trust in Christ. During these harsh moments of suffering, it is Christ who fulfills God’s promise of hope and restoration for all people who follow Him.