God's Grace in Your Suffering
First of all, I need to comment that every time that I read the Bible, or a devotional, or a chapter of a theological book, I am always astounded by how that chapter or passage always relates to something I’m going through at the moment. Every time! I’m really not lying. Call it coincidence but it’s happened more than 50 times and I see it as one of God’s gracious blessings. It confirms what I’m going through, heals it, and helps me see it from a biblical point of view (or maybe God’s word is so much bigger and deeper than we realize).
A year ago, I started this book, God’s Grace in your Suffering, with my friend because we had discussed previously with each other a struggle we were going through. It turned out we were going through a similar challenge. Our conversations and discussions about this particular struggle was usually about how difficult it was to overcome it. How difficult it was to ask God for help. How difficult it was to even talk to God about our problems. There was a lot of guilt, shame, and doubt involved. Therefore, when I saw this book recommended in my Truth for Life daily app, I immediately called my dad and asked him to buy this book for me. When I saw the description, I knew this was exactly what I needed. (Also, my dad told me he approved of the author.)
My friend and I read the first two chapters of this book and were deeply encouraged. First, it asked us to describe our sufferings. It asked us to describe what character traits we were lacking and where everything seemed to get out of hand. It started out with total honesty and vulnerability which we had difficulty doing; this was very significant to us because it started to guide how we approached our suffering.
Throughout the chapter, the author, David Powlison, reminded us of the context of our struggle. Referring to our sinful history and moving immediately into Jesus and His accomplishments regarding our sins, Powlison reassured us that our struggle was “nothing new under the sun” and that the ultimate punishment for our sin/the most powerful nature of our sin was overcome by our Jesus Christ once and for all on the cross.
Then, the second chapter went on to introduce to us a hymn that so beautifully portrayed the struggles of a Christian following after God’s heart: “How Firm a Foundation”. How often do you pay attention to the lyrics of the hymns we sing at church? How often do you genuinely sing these words to the Lord? Powlison reminds us of our fellow brothers and sisters who wrote and composed the hymns we sing praises to God through and the thought that goes behind each of them. By analyzing the verses line by line, Powlison opened our eyes to the depth and wisdom through which the lyricists viewed their Christian faith. Similar to the Bible, the hymns are richly abundant with references to God’s glory, His goodness, and love, and the life of Jesus that all Christians endeavor to follow. (And this is where I left off for a year. And now I regret not reading further before.)
The third chapter, which I will focus on in this post, moved on in such a chronological way. Powlison is a genius. The way he has structured his chapters is the way that we need to and do approach all struggles in life. First, it comes with realizing we’re struggling, and that’s usually through how we feel. Next, we acknowledge what the struggle is. Then, we have to remind ourselves of God’s love, of His goodness, and sovereignty. Now, Powlison introduces to us: listening.
Most of us stop before the listening part. After remembering God in our lives, we tend to feel brief contentment. And then we fall back into suffering. Instead of coming to God, we try to stop thinking about the struggle and just wait for it to be over (which eventually happens because of God’s grace). But looking back at the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”, I realized that the first verse phrases a very important question about what we’re listening for: “What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”
Often, we look to our Bible during our suffering and wish it had visible magical powers that take away all the pain and negative feelings that result from our suffering. We believe that the right reaction to suffering is to ignore the pain and be blissfully happy. We wish it was clearer, more interesting.
Sometimes, we even wish Jesus had added a few words about certain topics. We think that if God is a little more blatant, we’ll understand and follow wholeheartedly. We think all our problems will then be solved. But let me ask again, “What more can he say than to you he has said?” What more can Jesus say when he tells you your sins are forgiven, that the price of your sin was paid with His blood, that God loves you, and that you are freed from sin? What more can Jesus say when you are grieving that he hasn’t said already? He promises you hope of salvation, that death is not the end, that he lived a perfect life for you so that you may be with him in heaven. He suffered but did not give up because it was you he was doing this for.
When we listen to God’s word, we really have to listen. Something my mom mentioned to my sister and I, when she led our family devotion, was that you need to learn to look between the lines when you read the Bible. We can’t just take everything at face value. Instead of meditating on our sin and stewing in despair when we come to God, we need to meditate on Him and what He accomplished with His love for us. We need to always be critically thinking about our identity not as a sinner but as someone God chose to die for when we go to Him for assistance. And we need to ask ourselves: Do we really want to know what God says? Or is this an easy peasy solution to stress? Or is this our last resort?
So in this chapter, the most important point that I never listened to was that our refuge is in God. Let’s break this down. Our refuge. God calls us his. We belong to him. All that he has done was for us. And in this broken world, God becomes a refuge for us, and we, His refugees. He knows our imperfections. He knows our sins. He knows our weaknesses. And in response, He says he will be our refuge, our hiding place, our firm foundation.
Now, moment of truth that I think a lot of people will admit to with me. I see God as condemning most of the time. He is usually not my refuge but more the emotionless judge while I am standing in the criminal’s platform. But at the beginning of the year, I finally realized that God loved me just like the father of the prodigal son. I know God will not turn his wrath on me because of my sin because Jesus took it upon himself. If God is really just, then He sees me as righteous in His sight because Jesus paid the penalty for my sin and then some.
God provides two things for those of us on earth: discipline and blessings. He knows what we need in life to follow Him just like Christ does. He gives us discipline, usually through suffering, so that we know He is God and that we need Him. And he gives us gifts and talents and other things to show that He can provide and He is generous.
But the most important fact that He calls us to remember is that we are loved by Him. When all is taken away, we need to be assured in that truth. We are His chosen people. We were created to worship and love Him because His love is even greater for us. He calls us to ask Him for help because He loves us and is perfectly capable of meeting our needs. In God we find our refuge, and He will never turn us away.
In this way, Powlison clears away our doubts and fears and presents the truth of our reality as sufferers/refugees. Although we are living in a broken world and are ourselves broken sinners, our heavenly reality is that we are God’s people, dearly loved by God, with the unchanging promise of sanctification and eternal life with God. And in that reality, God is ever with us and meets us where we are to actively provide the grace we need to overcome and grow from our suffering.