As I worshiped among brothers and sisters in church recently, we sang a song that has been my personal prayer for many years. All I Have is Christ, by Sovereign Grace, is an expression of gospel gratitude and surrender to God’s eternal purposes. With heartfelt zeal I sang, “Now Lord, I would be Yours alone and live so all might see, the strength to follow Your commands could never come from me. Oh Father, use my ransomed life in any way You choose, and let my song forever be, my only boast is You.” As I sang it suddenly struck me that God has been answering this very prayer through the tumultuous and deep waters of suffering.
In his letter to the Philippians Paul confidently proclaims; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain resurrection from the dead” Philippians 3:7-11. While Paul’s letter to the Philippians is most widely known by his expression of gratitude and rejoicing, we can’t miss the theme of suffering and loss that is undeniably linked to the theme of joy.
As I sing songs that reflect Paul’s prayers for Christlikeness, I am convicted by my own heart’s resistance to God’s answers to those prayers when they are costlier than I ever imagined. As our family endures circumstances that offer little or no earthly hope apart from God’s powerful intervention, I am forced to ask myself some tough questions:
Is Christ really all I want? Am I willing to receive whatever circumstance or trial that God chooses to use to demonstrate His strength and mercy in my weakness and hopelessness? Have I failed to understand that to know Him and the power of his resurrection, and to boast in Christ alone, might mean being stripped of all earthly hopes, treasures, and ambitions?
As I honestly assess my heart in light of these questions, I’m humbly reminded that nothing good lives in me apart from Christ. My flesh will always resist what is uncomfortable or threatens suffering. As pressure and sorrow mounts in my life and the lives of those I love, it exposes the ongoing battle between flesh and spirit. For, while I truly desire Christ above all, at the same time I reel against the loss of other things I love. In other words, there remains this tension between our love of God’s good gifts and obtaining the greater glory of Christ Himself. As believers, we do want more of Christ but, in our humanness, we also desire (even expect) a certain status of health, comfort, financial security, protection from danger and diseases that cause chronic pain or death. We also expect God will give us godly (conflict free) marriages, fulfilling jobs, and happy (successful) lives for our children and grandchildren.
Yet even in the midst of this real and ongoing battle, my heart felt prayer for decades has been: “Lord, increase my love for you and use my life to bring you glory. As I submit to your love and authority, I ask you to do whatever it takes for my husband, me, our children and grandchildren to know, love and obey you. Help us become wholly dependent on you and to love and serve you with undivided hearts.” While I prayed with faith that God would hear my prayers, it never seemed to occur to me that God would test and try my heart and faith in ways I couldn’t imagine.
And yet, right in the midst of life’s ongoing stress and afflictions, God was (and is) answering countless prayers I have prayed for myself and my family -or at least the ones that really matter for eternity. He is answering by using trials to loosen our grip on this world while teaching us more about what it means to follow a suffering Savior. He is illuminating His Word more clearly, reminding us that death paves the way to greater fullness of life in Christ. And with increasing anticipation, we are setting our minds on things above and the glory that awaits the faithful.
Our gracious Father entrusts His children with circumstances that allow us to share in Christ’s sufferings, so that, as we become like Him in His death, we might also know the power of His resurrection. And yet, while we have stunning glimpses of the holiness our loving God is achieving for us, some of the classrooms He chooses for us, to that end, feel very unloving.
As I grapple with the devastating effects of our fallen world upon our family and others I care about, I grow increasingly grateful that Jesus left heaven to live a perfectly obedient life and then overcome evil by his death on a cross so that, one day, we might live life free from sin and all its tragic out-workings. Christ died so that we might one day live and reign with Him in freedom and everlasting joy!
But what about now, today, in the midst of the valley we’re in, when the darkness won’t lift? How do we press on through the harsh realities of life when our weak bodies are riddled with pain, our weary hearts feel faint with worry, we helplessly watch as loved one’s suffer, we grieve a great loss, our worst fears have come to pass, or our hopes have been crushed once again? While I am still very much working this out in my own life, the truth of the gospel is what enables me to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, our labor is not in vain” 1 Corinthians 15: 58. What follows are some of the labors God calls us to in times of suffering:
- By faith, we believe and trust in God’s sovereign goodness. To that end we must know and stand on God’s promises. Remembering the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us to their reward, we meditate on who God is, what He has done, and His faithfulness to all who are in Christ.
- By faith, we view all of life’s circumstances through the lens of the Cross and the Gospel. Romans 8:32 assures us that; He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? God is wholly committed to our eternal happiness!
- By faith we willingly surrender to God’s eternal purposes with a submissive heart. We confess our sin of resistance and stubborn rebellion, accepting and trusting that what God gives is out of love.
- By faith we resolve to live a life of faithful obedience to God’s Word. To that end, we read His Word, believe what it says, and depend on His grace to walk in His ways.
- By faith we pray without ceasing. When fear creeps in, we pray. When despair threatens to settle in, we pray. When all hope seems to flee, we pray. Prayer releases God’s power and peace as He works on behalf of those who look to Him alone.
- By faith, we patiently wait for God to demonstrate His power and glory through the darkness of our circumstances. God’s story is far from over in my life, your life, and in the world He created. Jesus will come again and, when He does, He will wipe every tear from our eyes and reward every act of faithful waiting and trusting.
- By faith, we worship Jesus Christ who is strong and mighty to save, who gave up everything to ransom us from sin and save us from God’s wrath; who gives us eternal life and empowers us by His Spirit to live lives that are pleasing to Him. God is worthy of our praise even when He seems indifferent to our suffering (although He never is!) and we can’t see His hand in the fog of our pain.
The truth is that I really do want God to use my life in any way He chooses because He is my Lord and Savior and I wholeheartedly trust that my life (and yours) is somehow being woven into His glorious gospel story of redemption. It’s true that He might not answer our prayers in the way or timing that we wish He would. It’s possible that we may never fully understand what He has allowed for His purposes this side of heaven. But, when we look at the nail scarred hands of the perfect Son of God that hung on the cross on our behalf, by God’s grace, we can endure whatever He allows so that we might gain Christ and be found in Him.
What about you? Are you willing to entrust your sorrows, fears, disappointments, anxieties, dashed hopes, and unmet expectations to the one who paid the penalty for your sins, sparing you from eternal suffering and darkness? Will you patiently wait for the return of our Savior who, right now, is preparing an eternal home in glorious light for all who stand firm in the faith?
Don’t be afraid to pray bold prayers because of fear. Although God may, at times, answer with trials and tests that bring unexplainable suffering in this life, this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
Today is a vapor. No matter how endless our struggles may appear, they will suddenly be gone and, one day, in the light of eternal joy, we will celebrate them as God’s divine instruments of grace that served to make us spiritually mature believers with enduring faith.
James exhorts us to “Consider it all joy 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” (1:2-4).
We can rejoice because Jesus is with us and also interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. He is upholding us with His sustaining grace even while He works out His purposes in our lives, the lives of loved ones, and the world around us. He has already won the victory and we can rest in knowing that very soon He will bring us safely home to our reward.
Father, please give us faith to quietly trust You, remembering that you are the Potter and we are the clay. As you answer our prayers to be conformed to your likeness (often in unexpected ways), help us to lie still and believe that what seems might possibly break us is actually serving to make us trophies of grace fit for your heavenly kingdom. And when we cry out that the Refiner’s Fire is too hot for us to bear, help us trust that you will not forsake us as you purify our lives from everything that keeps us from reflecting your glory. Glorify yourself in me and those I love, O Lord, that our song will forever be, our only boast is You! Amen.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,