A few weeks before last Easter, something snapped in me and let me assure you, it wasn’t pretty. I walked out of my son’s room after a long, exhausting struggle with him, scared by the anger and impatience that his special needs had suddenly provoked in me.
It’s impossible to explain all that brought me to this point, and even if I could, it wouldn’t necessarily be beneficial – because the circumstances aren’t the point. This is one of the many crosses that I’ve been given to carry and no one can fully understand the weight of it but Christ.
But what struck me recently is that the painful circumstances we face aren’t only painful because of the trials themselves, but because suffering draws our sin to the surface.
As I’ve prayed about and considered what broke in me that particular day, I’ve realized that it was not as much the pain of my son’s struggle, but the horror of seeing the ugliness of my sinful heart. I can now see how in that moment, God was graciously allowing the pressure of my circumstances to break through my human resolve and natural tendency to use my pain as an excuse for my response – deepening my understanding of the gospel.
The reality is, we tend feel pretty good about ourselves when nothing is pushing our buttons or threatening our comfort and control. But when trials start to press in on us, sin always finds its way to the surface. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing the of ugliness of our sinful thoughts, actions, and reactions, can be incredibly discouraging and unsettling. Where is this anger coming from, we wonder. I’ve never been an angry person! Did I really just say that? Did I really just think that? How could I possibly have done that?!
We’re shocked by the realization of something so sinful could come out of us. But then it happens again, and again, and again, and we’re left wondering what happened to the good person we once were.
And yet, this is evidence of our Father’s love for us – gently lifting the vail of false perception and opening our eyes to the depravity of our hearts apart from Christ. This season of intense suffering has increasingly led me I resonate with Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 more than ever.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
Although to some this may sound as though I am defeated and “being hard on myself”, the reality is that I am now freer to receive the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ because I see more clearly how desperately I need it. It’s not until we gain an accurate picture of our wretchedness that we’re able to grasp and be changed by the incredible gift of Christ’s shed blood on the Cross.
Suffering, although hard to understand at times, can be the greatest path to understanding the undeserved and glorious treasure of the Gospel. So, rather than viewing suffering as an inconvenient, senseless glitch in the plan, let’s look at it through the lens of gospel truth. From that vantage point we will be better able to trust that, whatever cross God has asked us to carry, it will be used by him to accomplish his good purposes.
I’d like to encourage you with five ways that the pressure of suffering has been used in my life to reveal who I am apart from Christ, and what I have gained in him. I pray these will encourage you to see how God is doing a redeeming work within your own circumstances as well.
The pressure of suffering has revealed pride and the expectation of earthly blessing and comfort.
BUT CHRIST sacrificed his comfort, health, earthly reputation, and life so that you and I could have far more than these temporal desires, which we never deserved in the first place – including a secure identity in him, forgiveness of sins, growing character to reflect him, joy that isn’t dependent on circumstances, a purpose for every moment of our life, and a promised eternity with him. As we see more clearly how little we deserve, we see more clearly how much we have gained in Christ.
In fact, the very trials that have caused me to question God’s goodness for a time, have been the means by which he has shown me just how good of a Father he is.
The pressure of suffering has revealed how conditional and temporal my love is.
BUT CHRIST willingly and deliberately entered into horrific suffering to offer the ultimate sacrifice – his very life – even while we rejected him and lived our lives oblivious of our need for him.
When I react in anger, self-protection, and self-pity to the hurtful words and actions of my child (even though they are out of his control), I am freshly reminded of how Jesus’ response was often the opposite of mine when he was mocked, beaten, and rejected by the very people he was giving his life for. The only way I will be able to offer unconditional love to those who may hurt me, test my patience, or don’t appreciate the sacrifices I’ve made for them (such as my children), is through the sanctifying work of Christ to expand my heart to love others out of his love for me.
We cannot do this in our own strength, but we can do things through him who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).
The pressure of suffering has revealed that my sin is a greater problem than my circumstances.
BUT CHRIST knew the true state of my heart – selfish, prideful, self-exhaulting, irritable, impatient, entitled, and rebellious – even before my life began; and he still chose to love me, die for me, forgive me, and offer me new life in him at his expense.
Sometimes, God allows uncomfortable (or downright devastating) circumstances in order to expose the true state of our hearts and magnify the holiness of his. Until we are willing to face the reality of our sin, we will never fully grasp the freedom and treasure that we’ve been given in Christ.
The pressure of suffering has revealed how much I desire to be in control.
BUT CHRIST has allowed my suffering to free me from the prison of trying to be my own god and to teach me to trust him, lean on him, and find rest in him as the One and only true God who is in control and working out his good and loving purposes in my life.
Trying to control our lives is exhausting and, eventually, we will crash and burn. In God’s grace, he sometimes allows circumstances that strip away our ability to control our surroundings in order to free us from the vicious cycle of self-reliance and teach us to rest in his loving purposes and faithful promises.
The pressure of suffering has revealed how far I fall short of God’s holiness.
BUT CHRIST came to earth to live the perfect life that I fall short of every day. He died in my place to pay the penalty of my sin so that his holiness and perfection would cover my failures, sins, and attempts at self-glorifying morality. Ever so slowly, he is faithfully changing my sinful heart to reflect the holiness of his. As the Psalmist said, “He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday” (Psalm 37:6). We may not see it in the moment, just as it’s hard to see the sunlight gradually increasing as it comes over the horizon, but when we look back, we will see how the light and character of Christ has grown within us.
If you are feeling discouraged by your sin; take heart, and be comforted by the fact that you see your sin and are grieved by it, because it means the Spirit is at work in you. He will be faithful to his promise and will bring your righteousness to completion. And even now, we have the confident hope that as we travel the road of sanctification, we are redeemed and hidden in the righteousness of Christ.
Fix your eyes Jesus.
At first glance, pain and suffering seemed to do nothing more than rob us of joy and happiness. But in time, God uses it to increase and deepen our joy and freedom in him. As he removes the illusion of happiness and exposes the brokenness of our soul apart from Christ, he gradually opens our eyes to the treasure, joy, and hope of being forgiven, loved, and restored by the blood of Jesus.
Christian, Jesus suffered in order that we may know him. If you are hurting today, may it lead you to know your Savior more deeply than ever before. For those who are in Christ, we can trust that, just as his suffering had a holy and glorious purpose, ours does as well.
Today, let’s press on in hope, trusting that the cross we carry on the road of following Christ is immeasurable worth it and eternally valuable.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
To read more on suffering with hope, order “Hope When It Hurts – 30 Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” authored by Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell here or here.