Hardly a week goes by without someone notifying me that a member of our church, a friend from another congregation or ministry or a family member, whether personal or otherwise related, has come into a very difficult time.
As much as we would all like to think that being in Christ somehow insulates us from the sorrows and sufferings of the world, that just isn’t so. In all of those contacts that I described, when we get a little bit past the surface of the issue, there inevitably seems to be the question of “why” did God allow this?
Rest assured, I’m not going to give you the answer to that question because I don’t think it’s in the realm of human understanding to know and fully explain the things that God does and does not allow. However, there is something rather profound and even profitable if we begin to see these situations as one of the most powerful ways that God brings about growth in faith and character in every one of our lives.
Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life; and so we do well to avoid the trap of blaming God rather than leaning into Him in these times.
It’s fair to say that in my many relationships with sincere people over the years, success generally does not deepen our trust or our character. It tends to make us think more of ourselves and how well we are doing. Likewise, if we simply acknowledge the sorrow or sufferings without leaning into it, we generally fall into spiritual stagnation.
No, the only way to turn sorrow into something productive in our lives is by accepting the fact that God ordained such things to fulfill His purpose in us. Isaiah 53 provides very compelling evidence that sorrow and suffering are part of what God allows even in the most spiritual or godly people that we know. Why do I say that? Because Isaiah 53 in a prophetic proclamation concerning Jesus calls Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:3a)
Isaiah 53:10 goes even farther and says that “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer…” but in the end things actually come out better than before “after the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and be satisfied….” (Isaiah 53:11a)
I would never pray for sorrow and suffering to come to my life, or anyone else’s for that matter. However, something transformational takes place on the inside of us if we choose to embrace the Lord through these times rather than question Him. Jesus himself acknowledges the purpose in these times when He says
“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?” ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” John 12:27-28a NIV
Because the sorrowing and suffering of Jesus is so powerfully described and detailed in the gospels, we come to understand that the purpose of His sorrow and suffering was to provide a pathway of redemption for all the human race. Now, that can be a rather generalized benefit that we see or we can bring it right down to our own personal salvation. That’s when the sorrow and suffering of Jesus really matters the most to us: we can become members of His eternal family by acknowledging the work of Christ on our behalf and with humility and gratitude acknowledge His deep love for us that compelled Him to go through the most profound suffering and sorrow of any human being.
I do know that when I’m in conversation with someone who has had their share of suffering and sorrow, it doesn’t take long to recognize that there is something rather comforting and reassuring in just “who” they are. They listen. They empathize and they almost always lift you up because they do understand what you are going through in your time of sorrow or suffering.
In fact, once you have learned this powerful principle of spiritual growth, God is more likely to use you to help others when they face a similar season in their own lives. In the end, I’m exceedingly grateful and encouraged by the fact that the One that I am called to trust in my times of difficulty has Himself suffered more than I could ever imagine. That is why we can all find amazing comfort and strength by leaning upon Him in those times in our life. It’s the only way to fully become the ambassador that God wants us to be in a hurting world.