I previously wrote that Christians aim to live a life that is centered on God, but you can also avoid one. I want to discuss this by looking at the life of Jonah so that you won’t avoid a God-centered life but cultivate one. You can avoid it for a...
“Oh Lord, for years I have prayed for answers, healing, and understanding in this suffering you have allowed. Yet they have seemed not to come. Many have prayed to you on our behalf, as we have sought wisdom from the doctors you provided, and have longed for redemption of what’s been lost. By your grace, we have persevered through trial after trial, trusting that you would uphold us and bring forth good from all our pain.
Yet, many answers we have hoped for haven’t come in the ways we desire. The world’s solutions to our pain have left us discouraged, confused, and fighting hopelessness, while the trials, burdens, questions, and uncertainties remain the same.
I have longed for, cried, and pleaded for you to bring us out from under the pain and heaviness of these trials into a place of abundance. I have asked you to lift these crushing burdens, and carry us through the pounding waves and the raging fire that threatens to consume our hope, testimony, and lives.
However, in my desire for answers, I have missed something wonderful. You have answered our prayers, though different than I expected. You have been near, intimately working deep within our hearts as we have laid down our hopes and desires. While you have chosen not to remove the heartache and overwhelming circumstances from our lives, you have done something greater. You have brought us into a place of abundance. For while I have been waiting for this place of abundance to come in the form of relief, you have instead brought it in the midst of the very trials I desired to be freed from.
This place of abundance has been found in the presence of Christ, not in the absence of pain.”
For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. (Psalm 66:10-12)
So often, when we go through a season of testing, or our lives are suddenly struck with suffering or tragedy, we can become so focused on waiting for the pain to end that we miss the life-giving place of abundance that can be found in Christ, right where we are.
By the grace of God, he has allowed the trials in my life to continue, and maybe even increase, in order that I would see that he alone is where the abundance of joy, peace, rest, hope, and satisfaction is found, rather than in my circumstances.
Could Christ also want to bring you out into a place of abundance through the very circumstances you desire to be freed from? Let me share with you three ways that God has used suffering to bring me into his rest, that they might encourage you to remember that your hope does not lie in better circumstances, but in a quiet and confident trust in Christ.
Christ has used suffering to cause my love for the things of this world to fade, and my love for him to grow.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting Rock. (Psalm 26:3-4)
My desire for success, the hope of earthly happiness and comfort, the pursuit of wealth and security, the desire for outward beauty and health, the pursuit of fulfilling my expectations of marriage, family, jobs, dreams, and the need to be loved and accepted by others, have been tested and tried. Not for the purpose of making me miserable, but for the purpose of finding an all-satisfying joy in Christ, which cannot be taken from me!
At times, God allows the loss of our hopes and expectations in order to open our eyes to how shallow and temporary they really are. As we die to our love for the world and our desire for comfort, temporary happiness, and control, we can experience satisfaction and joy in simply resting in the trustworthy presence of Christ.
When our self-confidence fades, our God-confidence grows. When our self-protection fades, our rest in God’s protection grows. When our love for self-glorification fades, our joy in Christ’s glorification grows. When our need to be loved and accepted by others fades, our satisfaction in being loved, accepted, and intimately known by our Savior grows. God allows us to be tested and tried in order to bring us out into a place of abundance within himself, breaking our hopeless pattern of searching in places which cannot satisfy, including easier circumstances.
Christ has used my suffering to quiet my anxious and fearful heart by growing in me a greater trust in his good and loving plan.
For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
I have been plagued by anxiety and fear for most of my life. The last 10 years of nearly constant trials have given me every reason to be anxious and afraid. Will I ever be healthy on this side of heaven? Will I ever be able to care for my family with energy and strength in the way that I long to? Will my marriage be able to endure the weight and stress of exhausting daily struggles? Will we ever be freed from the pain of my son’s struggles and the ripple effects that it has had within our family? How long can we carry the financial burdens that continue to come upon us? What’s next? What if I reach a breaking point and just can’t endure anything else?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I am in awe as I reflect on how these very fears and anxieties, which used to control me, have lost so much of their power. These trials have not been purposed to grow in me an anxious and fearful spirit, but instead to free me from the bondage of it. In God’s goodness and grace, he has quieted my heart and taught me to rest, and has allowed burdens and fears beyond my control in order to bring me to my knees in utter dependence on him. As I have come to the end of myself, he has graciously brought me out into a place of abundance, a place of confidence, trust, and rest in him alone. God has purposefully allowed these tests, trials, waters, fire, and crushing burdens. He alone can change me through them, save me from them, and sustain me through them.
Friends, if you are weary, suffering, and desperate for your trials to end, let me encourage you to look at your circumstances, as painful as they may be, with different eyes:
Rather than looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, begin looking for the light within it.
For this place of abundance, a place of true rest and confidence in Christ’s presence, is a precious place to be. It frees us from the anxiousness of trying to save ourselves from the circumstances we are not powerful or wise enough to control. It frees us from trying to make sense of the heartache, pain, and loss in this sin-stricken world. And it frees us from the joy sucking trap of “what if” and “if only.”
There is such life-giving peace that flows from a heart that fully trusts both the joys and sorrows to God’s sovereign and purposeful hands. Our trials are not meant to harden our hearts and destroy us, but rather to soften our hard hearts in order to give us life, allowing the fruit of Christ to grow within us.
Truly, God has tested and tried me as silver and, by his grace, has brought me out into a place of abundance in his trustworthy hands.
Christ has used my suffering to teach me to rely on his faithful provision through the trials, rather than his ability to rescue me from them.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; of you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:5-8)
As my trials have continued long beyond what I ever imagined, my prayers have gradually changed from prayers for relief to prayers for more of his strength, wisdom, and presence. Only God can change a heart like mine, and he has done so by allowing the loss of worldly hopes, replacing them with the unshakable, eternal hope of knowing and loving Jesus more. Oh, the sweetness and satisfaction of letting go of our temporary hopes, fragile dreams, and desire to be made much of in this world! Nothing can compare to the joy of knowing and believing that the Lord sees, knows, and loves us intimately.
He is not far off, unaware of the pain that shatters our hopes and dreams. Rather, he is working within each and every moment, faithfully working to grow us up in him, training us to take our eyes off what won’t satisfy in this momentary life, and helping us find our joy and satisfaction in knowing him and bringing him glory.
Friends, God can change your circumstances in a moment if he chooses to. For me, he can restore my health, heal my son, remove the hurt and confusion in my other children, restore the home and income we walked away from, and provide the answers that we pray for. But for now, he has chosen not to. Therefore, instead of fixing my eyes solely on our desired outcome or a change of circumstances, I can fix my eyes on his provision, guidance, nearness, and heart-changing purposes in the moment and place he has me. For it’s in the wilderness journey that we often see his faithful provisions most clearly.
Are you being tested and tried as silver? Have you prayed for answers, plead for relief, or desperately sought a way out of your suffering?
My prayer is that you will be encouraged to press on. Relief will come in the presence of our Savior for eternity (if not before). However, for now, trust that Chris wants to lead you into a place of abundance right within the circumstances you find yourself. He is our place of abundance and, in him, there is rest, peace, hope, and joy, even as the waves crash and the fires rage.