I picked up my creamer to add to my much needed cup of coffee, gave it a shake, and watched in slow motion as my creamer flew all over the kitchen. As the realization hit me that I had already unscrewed the cap, emotions erupted that were messier than the creamer itself.
Like many others – stressors are abounding right now. We just learned that our kids are now out of school until at least May 1st, my husband and I are wondering how we’ll manage the many radio/podcast interviews scattered throughout the month, Jeff is going on 5 months without work, I am barely able to walk and can’t go to the doctor, we have a book launching in a month with extra challenges because of everything going on….and somehow, I have to figure out e-learning for 4 different grades, also with extra challenges.
I know we’re not alone. Life has suddenly been turned upside down for the majority of the world, and it’s impacting all of us in various ways – from cancelled plans to financial loss and fear for our loved one’s safety. The pressures and the effects of quarantine seem to increase every passing day.
However, 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 and intensifies our internal battle as well.
As I’ve prayed about and considered the unpleasant reactions that have come out of me recently, I’ve realized that it’s not only pain of circumstances, but the horror of seeing the ugliness of my sinful heart. As hard as it is, God is 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. Though it’s been painful, I can see his loving hand behind it.
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, sinful responses are often not far behind. Though at first we might blame our circumstances, over time, we’re faced with the reality that our trials are not the cause of our sin, but the magnifier of what was already there. 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’m 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 sacrifice for us.
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 pressures of suffering can been used to reveal who we are apart from Christ, and what we have gained in him. I pray these will encourage you to see how God is doing a redeeming work within your own trials.
The pressure of suffering reveal 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 are humbled and led to worship God for all we have gained in Christ (Phil. 3:8).
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 can reveal how conditional and temporal our love is.
BUT CHRIST willingly and knowingly 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 pressures and trials build and I react in anger, self-protection, and self-pity to those I’ve been called to love, I am freshly reminded of how Jesus’ response was 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 around me, who 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 all things through him who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).
The pressure of suffering reveal that our sin is a greater problem than our trials.
BUT CHRIST knew the true state of my heart – selfish, prideful, self-exalting, 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 gravity of our sin, we will never fully grasp the freedom and treasure that we’ve been given through the redeeming blood of Christ.
The pressure of suffering reveals how much we 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. And these current circumstances are reminding all of us how little control we really have.
Trying to control our lives is exhausting and, eventually, we will crash and burn. In God’s grace, he sometimes allows circumstances (like the current ones) 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 reveal 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 if you see your sin and are grieved by it, 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 seem to do nothing more than rob us of joy and happiness. But in time, God often uses it to increase and deepen our joy and freedom in him as it drives us to Christ and lifts our eyes heavenward. 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 gave his own life in place of ours so that we could once again experience the immeasurable blessings of being in relationship with our Heavenly Father. Knowing this, we need to remind ourselves when life gets hard that, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)? If you are struggling with the many pressures and fears facing us all right now, 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
You can now pre-order Jeff and Sarah Walton’s forthcoming book, Together Through the Storms – Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts (Releases May 1st) here or on Amazon. Or you can order Sarah’s first book, Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Meditations to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering here. To hear more of their story, you can watch the book trailer here-