As a human being doing her best to survive on planet earth—I’m well acquainted with hardship. The news bleeds stories daily of loss and heartache and my circle of friends has been hit hard this year with unexpected deaths that have shattered hearts and devastated lives.
As a foster parent it’s even more apparent because the children we receive are from homes that have been nearly devoured by affliction. Problems so deep and pervasive they seem beyond repair.
And I would have despaired—but for the Psalmist’s gentle exhortation:
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14
I don’t know what it’ll look like but I pray to see the goodness of the Lord in my life. And I wait for it.
The psalmist blows softly at our flicker of faith, but Paul offers a bold promise—with a contingency.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
“All things Lord? Even this?” I ask.
“All things,” He answers. “Especially this.”
According to the Bible, loving God can transform every sorrow, no matter the depth, duration or causation…into something good. That is a staggering promise.
In All Things for Good, published in 1663, Thomas Watson brilliantly illustrates how the best and worst experiences benefit the soul of a Christian. Here are ten ways affliction serves the believer. The first eight are from Watson, the final two from me.
1. Afflictions to the godly are medicinal. We don’t say “The Lord gives, and the devil takes away”, but the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.* Whoever brings affliction to us—God sends it. (*Watson quoting Augustine). The psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” Psalm 119:71
Joseph’s abasement made way for his advancement. King Manasseh was more beholden to his chains than his crown. The crown made him proud, but the chains made him humble. (2 Chronicles 33:11-13)
2. Affliction teaches us what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning and we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore, God lets loose affliction, and then we feel (its bitterness). A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon.
3. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us to know affliction that we may better know ourselves. We see corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. In prosperity a man seems humble and thankful…but set this man on the fire of affliction and the impatience and unbelief of the heart boils up.
4. Affliction unites our heart. Often in prosperity our hearts are divided, cleaving partly to God and partly to the world. In this way, affliction rids us of idolatry.
5.Affliction conforms us to Christ. He wept, bled and was crowned with thorns. Why do expect to be crowned with roses?
6. Affliction destroys sin. Sin is like the tree that breeds the worm and affliction is like the worm that eats the tree. Affliction by degrees seems to work out the corruption of the heart. The rougher the file, the less rust.
7. Affliction loosens our hearts from the world. When you dig away the earth from the root of a tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth; so God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the earth.
8. Afflictions make way for comfort. God sweetens outward pain with inward peace. “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” John 16:20
9. Affliction grants wisdom. It is a gift to learn from our mistakes. It is a greater gift to learn the first time the mistake is made.
10. Affliction grants compassion and insight. It is a dangerous thing to speak into another’s pain when you’ve not experienced a similar sorrow. Affliction can unite us to others with a giving and receiving of encouragement.
We needn’t seek affliction any more than we need to add sugar to a child’s diet--it will find us, but as Christians we needn’t fear it or crumble in despair under it.
The Apostle Paul give us more. Not only will all things work for good for those who love God, but God Himself will fight for us with His great love turning every hellish dart—tribulation, distress, famine, persecution, nakedness, peril and sword from deathblows to servants. For in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37
There is at least one more way affliction is beneficial. Hebrews 13:14 reminds the believer that she is an exile, seeking a city that is to come. Affliction teaches us to put no hope in the might of the flesh or the power of earthly authority but in Christ alone who is coming again to make all things new.
Are you having fun yet?
It seems our culture—plump with prosperity and inebriated with excess can justify almost anything—if everyone’s having fun. Movie stars and athletes, project managers and Sunday school teachers tend to exalt fun as the chief end of labor.
I’ve done it too. Said it flippantly, casually about things that weren’t fun at all, both as an automatic response and to get people off my back.
You made your kids work all day raking leaves?
Yes—but we had a blast doing it!
You see what I mean? Fun makes everything okay.
But Christian, what if you’re not having fun. What if your pursuit of Christ has lead you down dark and dreary tunnels of suffering and affliction, loneliness and uncertainty?
Take heart, for these light momentary trials are working to prepare far more delight than you can even imagine. And by “light” and “momentary” I mean every trial—no matter the depth or duration for your entire life. *
The notion that to be chosen of God is to be #blessed with all the fun that prosperity brings is an American ideal—not a Biblical one.
Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone, is building his church not with clay formed into bricks for temples decorated with gold—but with people transformed by the Sprit whose bodies are temples—whose faith is more valuable than gold.
“…but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” Ephesians 2:19-22
Surely the recipients of such a promise would be giants among men. Victors. Fun-havers. The God of creation dwells with them, after all. But Peter will speak of a testing by fire that comes to the believer—burning out the dross of his heart. Fire that despite its earthly origin, is sent by Heaven.
Peter, one of the twelve, did not base his life or his epistles on the pursuit of fun, but the pursuit of Christ. He did this living under the threat of Roman persecution and a promise from Christ—not of earthly restitution but an unwanted, painful death—one that would result in much glory to God.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:18
Your path leads through fire Peter, like mine. Follow me.
And he did.
The fisherman became a fisher of men.
Thrice a denier of Christ, thrice an affirmer.
The disciple (student) became an apostle (messenger).
Shimon (to hear or be heard) became Petrus (rock).
Time moved forward, and the once young impetuous boy became a wise and sober man. Persecution was on the horizon. The scent death was in the air. Jesus had told him how he would suffer and now he would tell the emerging church. This was comfort—not cruelty because proof of faith—more valuable than gold emerges in the furnace of affliction. Even affliction works for good for those who love Christ.
So, Peter addresses his first epistle to the exiles scattered throughout the Roman provinces; and to modern believers who hold heavenly passports despite earthly addresses. You are a chosen people—chosen even to be rejected. Your hope is Christ. Your inheritance is incomprehensible! Suffering will come but glory will follow. I know of what I speak…because I know Him. He is worthy and He is able!
In AD 64 Rome sent Peter into the arms of his beloved savior, Lord and friend. Christian tradition says under the Emperor Nero’s authority, Peter was crucified on a cross. Unworthy to die in the manner of his Lord Peter asked that his cross be inverted. The Bible doesn’t confirm or deny this account and Peter would want it that way.
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off but the word of the LORD endures forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25
The apostle quoting the prophet Isaiah with both pointing to the only living hope, the enduring one, Jesus Christ who willingly enters the furnace with us pouring out grace that sustains and restores.
Fun is a gift from God and we should receive moments of levity with joy—but it’s neither a benchmark of God’s pleasure nor a Christian guarantee. Storms are coming and may already be here so rejoice through seasons of bitter affliction knowing that proof of your faith is yielding a reward imperishable. The storm in all its nasty, gnawing fury shall soon pass and its wake will be littered only with the rubbish that was your hindrance. Follow the path to glory for the storm, the affliction, was sent to set you free.
Thomas Watson, the old Puritan, says it well:
“The vessel is first seasoned before wine is poured into it: the vessels of mercy are first seasoned with affliction, and then the wine of glory is poured in. Thus, we see afflictions are not prejudicial (harmful), but beneficial to the saints. We should not so much look at the evil of affliction, as the good; not so much at the dark side of the cloud, as the light. The worst that God does to His children is to whip them to heaven.” -from All Things for Good
*Scripture for this post was taken from 1 Peter 1:1-25
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "