Growing up Southern Baptist, I learned at an early age that God wanted to give me stuff. It was simple. All I had to do was name it and claim it and have faith that God would do his part. For the first half of my “Christian” life, this is how I treated our Lord and Savior—like a cosmic butler. I ignored him when things were good and rang the bell when the going got tough.
But something was wrong. For years I’d prayed for God to bless me with a husband and while all my friends were getting married, I was encroaching upon thirty with no prospects. I prayed that I’d land a good job after college but only received rejection letters. I prayed for peace in my home but there was only chaos. I wanted the American dream but was living my worst nightmare.
This led me to one of two conclusions:
- There was something wrong with me
- There was something wrong with God
I decided that there was something wrong with God. After all, I’d been a good Christian. I went to church, sang in the choir, remained abstinent throughout college…God wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain. Pointing the finger at God, I plunged headfirst into years of anxiety, depression, and bitterness that destroyed my faith.
He could have let me remain in that darkness—let it swallow me whole. But God showed me undeserved favor instead and delivered me from that pit, not by giving in to my list of demands, but by correcting my skewed theology.
That correction came in the form of a small, reformed Irish church in Savannah, Georgia. Under dynamic, solid teaching, God began the process of removing the scales from my eyes, replacing my calloused heart with a teachable one, and revealing to me a simple yet profound TRUTH that changed my walk with Christ forever:
God is not concerned with our happiness. He’s concerned with our holiness.
It was like waking from a coma. The Christian life isn’t about me or getting what I want. It’s about denying myself to glorify Christ.
As John Piper so eloquently put it “…weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you.” And weep and mourn I did.
I mourned the husband I might never have. I mourned the family I always wanted but might never get. I mourned the job that might never be mine.
And what do you know…understanding that I might never get what I want has brought me more peace, more joy, and more contentment than when I believed God was going to give me a slice of this fallen world.
How different a mindset from the “best life now” garbage wreaking havoc today in modern evangelical churches. The natural inclination of man is to avoid suffering and these churches capitalize off that sentiment by sanding down the sharp edges of God’s word to painless nubs.
And as we’ve seen (as many of us have experience firsthand), this dulling of God’s Word produces self-obsessed, vapid Christians who cut tail and run at the first sign of trouble. As if the Son of God humbled himself by becoming a man, lived a life of suffering, and was then betrayed, mocked, tortured, and killed so you and I could live a peachy-keen life.
That’s NOT the gospel Christ presents in his word:
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”Matthew 16:24
The cross for Christ was suffering and we’re called to partake of that cross. Jesus NEVER told his disciples that following Him would make their lives easier. He told them that they would suffer, they would be hated, and they would die for his name’s sake (Matthew 24:9).
The moment that we, through faith in Christ Jesus, pick up our cross and follow him, we give up our right to having the life we always wanted. We give up our right to comfort and convenience. We give up our right to be islands bearing no one’s burden but our own.
But just as Christ’s suffering was not for the sake of suffering but for the salvation of the Elect, so too is our suffering not in vain. It’s God’s way of sanctifying and equipping his people for their earthly ministry (2 Corinthians 1:4):
“When you’ve passed through your own fiery trials, and found God to be true to what he says, you have real help to offer. You have firsthand experience of both his sustaining grace and his purposeful design. He has kept you through pain; he has reshaped you more into his image. . . .”David Powlison, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 166
Suffering also prepares us for glory. When we deny ourselves, we stop living for this world. The trappings of this place lose their luster and we’re able to see Christ clearly. Paul saw Christ clearly, calling his suffering a “momentary light affliction preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
And through it all, we learn what only suffering can teach us: That God is the source of our strength.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”2 Corinthians 4:8-9
The inconvenient truth about Christianity is that we will suffer. It’s not a popular notion in modern churches but Christ doesn’t sugarcoat the cost of following him. So, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you’re going through, as if something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12). Bear your cross well brothers and sisters, live in light of the glory to come, and when your earthly mission is complete, go JOYFULLY to thy Father’s house.
Until next time, salutations and selah.