Phil had it all. He was a leading executive at an influential engineering firm, getting paid handsomely after working his way up the corporate ladder. He was happily married, the father of three healthy children, and plugged into his local church.
While scrolling the news on his phone one evening, Phil discovered his company was the defendant in a severe lawsuit resulting from one of their faulty designs. Phil’s executive status and previous achievements didn’t protect him; he was laid off a month later and struggled to find another position that matched the job of his dreams.
Dean was the same age as Phil, the father of three boys, and incredibly fit for a middle-aged man. He was always healthy and one step ahead of his kids, so it was easy for him to detect the minor physical dysfunction he was now experiencing. It didn’t stay minor for long; after a series of tests, Dean was diagnosed with a progressive neurological disease that would result in permanent disability.
There is a way in which we don’t live our life, but our life lives us. Many of us get carried along by its locations, relationships, situations, responsibilities, opportunities, and activities without stopping to look, listen, and consider. Huge chunks of time can pass virtually unnoticed.
And then something happens. People who study these things call them “trigger events.” A trigger event forces us to stop, open our eyes, and look around with newfound awareness.
Please pay careful attention to what you’re about the read: the spiritual battle during times of suffering is fundamentally won or lost in how we interpret the things we are now suffering, not the suffering itself.
In fact, it is more powerful than that: our interpretations actually determine what we see and how we see it. As sinners, the problem with our interpretation is that it tends to be narrow and selective. Sin not only affects what we do; it also affects what we think and how we see.
For Phil, he couldn’t believe that a good God would let this happen to him. After years of obeying God, this is what he got? He felt like everything he had ever worked for had been taken away from him.
How could he ever compete with guys half his age who would require half his salary? He saw life as unfair and unjust and God as distant and uncaring. Bitter and cynical, Phil began to isolate himself from his family; he abandoned his faith as well.
Dean was understandably very discouraged to be on disability at such a young age. He had lost his physical capabilities so early in life that he could not imagine what the years to come were going to bring. The day-to-day pain was not as debilitating as the fear of the unknown.
Yes, Dean struggled with doubt, envy, and fear, but he was firm in his belief that God is good. He was humble enough to remember that he did not deserve anything that the Lord had taken from him. He also realized that every day, he still received from the hand of his Savior everything he needed for life and godliness.
How do you respond to loss? Suffering will reveal the ruling desires of our hearts and expose what we have been living for and where we have tried to find meaning and purpose. The death of our dreams has the power to uncover the significant gap between our confessional theology and functional theology that we all have.
May God expose the deepest desires of our hearts so that when we see who we truly are and what we truly want, we may hunger all the more deeply for him!
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, ESV)
Paul David Tripp
1. How have you experienced a loss recently?
2. What was your immediate, knee-jerk reaction to the loss? What interpretative lens were you looking through? What did you say to you about God, yourself, others, and what you lost?
3. Did you trouble your own trouble with the wrong interpretation? In other words, did you make your suffering worse because of what you were believing?
4. Reread James 1:2-4. How did this suffering produce steadfastness? What did you gain from this loss?
5. Who do you know who is in the middle of suffering and loss? How can you come alongside them, incarnate the love of Christ, and alleviate their suffering in practical ways?
6. Who do you know who is in the middle of suffering and loss? How can you protect them from troubling their own trouble by speaking gospel truth into their situation?