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Did your daddy ever make you eat your beans? Mine did. Did you believe him when he said those beans were for your good? I didn’t. Did he ever spank you just after he said it was for your benefit? Mine did. Did you believe him? I didn’t.
What if I told you that your heavenly Father does similar things on occasion, and those difficulties are righteous acts from a holy person. The Lord makes you do things that you don’t want to do and those things are for your good.
I would like to say that my thinking has matured since childhood, but that is not altogether true. Just as it was hard to believe my imperfect earthly father when he told me there were hurtful things that were good for me, it is more difficult to understand my heavenly Father can bring good out of painful disappointment.
This worldview was Biff’s story. His wife left him–after 19 years of marriage–for another man. At some point in the counseling, he asked a question that we all have thought, though we may not have asked it the way he did:
How can a good and loving God allow such a horrific event in my life?
God grants personal suffering to every person who has decided to walk with Him, which is not the best sale’s pitch in your “Evangelism 101” endeavors. We’re called to step on the path of suffering with Jesus. You won’t have to read much of God’s Word before you realize suffering is a big part of the Christian life.
Like a hand in a glove, you and suffering are a perfect match for each other. Do you believe this? If you are like me, when dad said pain was “for my good,” you may question the necessity of suffering. But it is true. Take a quick look at these verses:
The Savior said you must die to bear fruit.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12:24
Paul said suffering is a gift given to you.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
Peter said the Lord calls you to suffer.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21
There is unity here. Peter, Paul, and Jesus agree. Suffering is a proven way to help a person mature in Christ. Personal discomfort is not intended to be mean when it is under the control of a sovereign and merciful God.
The most apparent reason for the Lord’s suffering is to help break us from our independent spirit. Mercifully, the discomfort of pain can bring you to a place of trusting God rather than yourself.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11
It is a good thing if your suffering brings “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” into your life. The person who learns not to rely on himself, but to rely on God alone is a humble, wise, and broken individual.
Biff was learning the wisdom of Paul. The great apostle was tested severely but knew his suffering was for his benefit and God’s glory. Read the two verses below and take note of the four words (or phrases) that I’ve highlighted. These are the four keys that will teach you how to trust God.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
The first big word is ignorant. This descriptor is not a harsh word, but a helpful one. Paul does not want you to miss this significant point, and you will if you are not aware (the opposite of ignorance) of the depths of God’s love and care for you.
Paul is about to open up the Corinthian’s understanding of the suffering he went through in Asia. He perceived they might misunderstand the real reason he and his friends went through their painful disappointments.
One of the things you don’t want to do is miss the point of pain. To not understand the purpose of your pain could mean you will have to walk a similar path of suffering again–because you were ignorant of what God was teaching you.
Don’t be offended if someone is warning you about the potentiality of “resident ignorance” in your mind. Take heed, and don’t be ignorant. Don’t miss the point. This purpose is why daddy said “it” was for my good: he did not want me to be ignorant.
Unfortunately, I stayed ignorant and missed the point of eating beans and getting spankings. I know better now because I’m not ignorant anymore, but it did take me a while to catch on to these more profound truths. I hope you’re not as ignorant as I was.
Missing the point of pain is natural. Sometimes the pain can be such a distraction that you do not factor God into the picture. How many times have you gone through suffering and your spiritual instincts were too dull or too slow to think about how God was working in your life?
Paul anticipated this, which is why he was pointing the Corinthians to the purpose of his affliction in Asia. Anytime there is personal suffering, you must direct your first questions to God rather than over-fixating on the pain or the individual who is causing the difficulty.
Dear God, what are you teaching me at this moment?
This query is a soul-searching and trajectory setting perspective. If you ask it first, you will orient your soul in the right direction. This perspective is for all the challenges that come your way. Let’s suppose you’re at a traffic light. Things are not going your way, and you are in a hurry.
This scenario is a perfect time for you to pop the question: “Dear Father, what are you trying to teach me through this temporary inconvenience?” Do you see how this question can settle your soul while pointing you to God?
To ask the question is an exercise of faith in God, which is the real point that Paul is making. In every situation in life, you are to rely on God and not on yourself. No matter how small the challenge, your habit must be God first and circumstance second.
I dislike the “let go, let God” saying, the way it has traditionally been said. Usually, when people use it, they mean it’s all God and not you, which is unbiblical. We have a responsibility to respond to God about the circumstances in our lives.
Your effort matters because you are in a relationship, which means there are two people involved and you are required to do something. Though Paul is asking them to let God, he is fully aware it will require effort on their part. Trusting God is not easy; it takes work.
Paul is asking us to let go of our self-reliance. This temptation is one of the biggest sins we will ever commit. Self-sufficiency was the sin of Adam and Eve. They chose to rely on their way, thinking, strength, insight, and wisdom. They decided not to rely on God–or to believe God. Self-reliance is anti-belief.
We are just like the first couple. We have many opportunities each day to rely on God rather than ourselves. I suspect we don’t even realize how often we choose “us” over Him. It is so ingrained in us that we rarely sense it. We are ignorant.
But God does see these things. He knows us very well. The Lord knows how stuck we are on our intellect and abilities. He also knows what it will take to break us away from ourselves so we can rely on Him.
The thing that will do the trick is suffering. Personal suffering is the medicine that cures us of self-reliance. Though we don’t like that kind of medicine, it will work if we are not ignorant of its effectiveness and purposes. Are you ignorant?
It is interesting to me that Paul uses “resurrection language” in his appeal to the Corinthians. He tells them the reason the suffering came to his team in Asia was so they would learn to rely on Him who raises the dead. He could have said the affliction was to make them:
There are many ways he could have said what he said, but he chose the specific language–inspired language–of Him who raises the dead. If he had said God was teaching them to trust Him who died on the cross, it would not have been as effective.
There were a lot of people dying on crosses, but there was only one person who came out of the grave the way Jesus did. When Paul used resurrection language, he was pointing them to a single historical event by a unique historical figure. We are talking power.
He was pointing them to the supreme antithetical opposite of the sin problem he was addressing–self-reliance. Though a person could die on a cross, there is no way an individual could resurrect himself from a grave.
The resurrection is beyond any person’s ability to accomplish, and that is what Paul wanted the Corinthians to see. There is someone you can trust, and what He can do is far superior to anything you can do.
Here are the hard facts. Sometimes we can be so determined to do things our way that God has to bring us to the brink of death to save us from ourselves. Paul said they felt as though they had a death sentence written on them.
They even despaired of life itself. I’m not sure if you have ever been to this point. I have asked God to kill me because I was in such despair. The aftermath of losing my wife and two children was beyond my ability to recover–I wanted to die because it seemed like the best viable option.
What I didn’t understand, due to my ignorance, I did learn afterward. God was systematically putting me to death. He was breaking me away from myself, so I would stop relying on myself and trust someone who could do far more than I ever imagine, one who could raise the dead.
I cannot explain this depth of despair, sorrow, hopelessness, and regret, but some of you do know what I’m talking about because you have suffered loss too. Still yet, you have not lost all when you suffer loss.
There is still a God in heaven who is working on your behalf. You must believe this even though you cannot feel it. If you are not ignorant but will pray a prayer of repentance, asking Him to do for you what you can’t do for yourself, you will, in time, experience Him who raises the dead in new and faith-invigorating ways.
Memorize scripture. Let them course over your mind throughout your day, your week. Ask God to help you not to be ignorant, but to give you faith to trust Him who is breaking you from the bondage of personal strength, ingenuity, and confidence in yourself.
God will break you of this. Appeal to Him. And when He finishes with you, there will be a strength you’ve never experienced before. It will be resurrection strength that will sustain you through any difficulty you will ever face.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21