If we could be really honest with ourselves, a God who is not concerned with our plans or feelings is not that attractive. For the most part, we feel confident in our own ability to figure out what is really good for us. We don’t need a God who is going to disrupt the good thing we have going or the plans we have made of ourselves. We literally cannot imagine a better scenario than the dreams and plans we already have. For anyone who has come to know Christ and found ourselves saved by His grace, we have know that God is happy to unravel our future plans and dreams that we may cling to Him. Not only does God often redirect our plans for the future, but He will also use trials and affliction to make us more like Christ, much to our dismay. I have yet to meet the Christian who would like trials and affliction to come their way. Trials and affliction are an acquired taste, as it were, for the Christian. But Paul’s exhortation at the end of Ephesians chapter 3 is extraordinarily helpful for those still baffled by the work of sanctification accomplished through trials and affliction.
He is ABLE
Most of us have been raised with a self-focused understanding of experience. We have been trained to react to fear, pain, struggle, and/or the unexpected in negative ways, namely by avoidance. When I was growing up, I learned quickly (or not so quickly depending on the situation) what behaviors were allowed in our home and what behaviors were not allowed. Wrong behavior was punished and right behavior was either seen as the norm or rewarded. Most people I know can share that type of experience in their home. But even those who had less discipline in their homes learned very early on to avoid situations that would bring negative consequences. All of us learned how to get what we wanted from people or situations. This very often translated into how we wanted to relate with the God of the universe. It did not enter into our wildest dreams that God would ever want to use difficult circumstances in our lives to make us more like Christ. Most of us assumed that becoming Christians would actually make our lives easier because we now had an all-powerful being to help us be happy or good or whatever the goal would be. We may not have verbalized it this way but most of us assumed something along these lines: Christ has taken pain and suffering for me, so that all I get now is comfort and peace. The Bible, along with many other experiences, teaches us that God has a much bigger plan for us than mere happiness or comfort.
One of the most miraculous works that God does in the lives of His children is use difficult experiences for His glory and our good. I know no one likes to hear “Everything happens for a reason” when they’re in the middle of a trial, crisis, or affliction, but there is no denying the truth. There is nothing that touches the life of a believer that is not given by God for a purpose. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” There is no tragedy, no suffering, no affliction, no trial that God does not use to prepare glory for His children. We may not see it or understand it in the moment, but we can trust that He is able to do it.
It goes far beyond our human understanding to think that difficult things, even harmful things, could ever be used for our good. And yet, that is what God has done and will continue to do. To adjust our thinking on this, we need look no further than the Cross. The Cross on which the perfect, spotless Jesus died to redeem His rebellious, wicked enemies. Christ endured what would appear to be the gravest injustice at the hands of the Father — if it had not been for the purpose behind it all. Christ’s suffering and sacrifice purchased sinners – reconciling them back to the Father. Those who were once far off are now able to draw near – those who were in darkness are now walking in light – those who were once dead are now alive. All because Christ endured unimaginable suffering because “it was the will of the Lord to crush Him.” (Isaiah 53:10) We must always hold dearly the suffering of Christ because in it we have joy for eternity. Similarly, in our own sufferings, which do not even begin to compare with Christ’s, we can find joy knowing that they are preparing us heaven. This, simply put, is far beyond what we could ever imagine for our lives.
Growing in Christ is a constant transition from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness – from the avoidance of all suffering and discomfort to the enduring of suffering with joy. Christ has set such an example for us. May the Lord continue to sanctify us in such a way that we see the sufferings of this life as preparation for glory and not the neglect of the Father. He is able to use even the darkest of days to show us the unimaginable brightness of His majesty.