For reasons that are somehow for my good and ultimately for God’s glory, the Lord has written physical suffering into my life story that I would never have chosen for myself.
If I could, I would choose not to go through the anguish I endured, but at the same time, I am very thankful for what I received (and continue to experience) as a result.
By God’s rescuing and redeeming grace, I have greater confidence in his presence and care than I had. I am more compassionate toward people around me who are suffering.
My pride in my ability to plan and keep my life under control was shattered for my benefit. I have learned what it means to pray with genuine desire, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Heaven is now less of an abstract concept and distant promise and more of a concrete reality and tangible gift. Heaven reminded me that suffering is not so much an argument for God’s absence but a demonstration of his presence. He is working on his redeeming plan, and part of that sanctification is to prepare me for what is to come.
Just as heat tempers metal, hardship is one of his most efficient tools of personal preparation (see Romans 5:1–5; 2 Corinthians 4:7–18; James 1:2–4; and 1 Peter 1:3–9).
In my suffering, the promise of heaven encouraged me with the truth that God was near. During those ten days in the hospital, when the agony was so intense, and the doctors had little encouragement to give, it didn’t feel that God was near.
So, again and again, Luella would remind me of the reality of my Savior’s presence. I can’t think of anything that is more powerfully comforting than these words: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
The God of the universe, who created and controls everything, and guaranteed my eternity free from suffering, was with me in my misery.
And he wasn’t going anywhere.
In my moment of most incredible pain, all I could pray was, “God, help me.” No other words would come out of my mouth. The thing that gave me comfort was knowing that the one I was praying to wasn’t distant. He was near.
Suffering tends to do two powerfully dangerous things to us. First, it alienates us from the people nearest to us. It makes us feel that there is no way anyone else could ever understand what we are going through.
Second, the shadow of suffering looms so large that it clouds any sense of God’s presence. Suffering creates a double alienation: we not only experience the horizontal alienation from friends and family, but we also experience a vertical alienation from God.
This is where the promises of heaven and its guarantees of God’s presence in the here and now are so vital. When our souls are in the darkness, we need to keep telling ourselves again and again that the sun is still brightly shining. God is with us, even though the present darkness has blinded us from his nearness.
We are not, nor will we ever be, alone. The God who has promised us eternity has invaded our present so that nothing can get in the way of what he has stored away for us.
He is near, and we are not alone.
Paul David Tripp
1. What suffering or pain have you experienced?
2. During your suffering, did you feel alienated, separated from, or unique to other people? Did you, or were you tempted to, use this feeling of horizontal alienation for selfish gain
3. How has the suffering been for your benefit, even if it took years to see spiritual maturity? How did, or could, your suffering bring glory to God?
4. When someone you know is engulfed in the darkness of their own suffering, how can you reveal the light of God’s presence? Or, how can you point them in the right direction to look for God’s presence? Be specific.
5. In what ways are you treating this temporary life as the ultimate pleasure destination? How are you trying to extract as much enjoyment from each day as you can? Is this dangerous or detrimental?
6. When you begin to view this life on earth as a preparation for your final destination, how does that change the way you respond to hardship? What personal application can you find in Romans 5:1–5, 2 Corinthians 4:7–18, James 1:2–4, and 1 Peter 1:3–9?