Three Ways God Uses Suffering in Our Lives

perseverance

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

The sufferings we endure are not meaningless within the hands of God. This is true regardless of whether we have brought the suffering upon ourselves or whether it has come upon us through the hands of others or our environment. When we put ourselves in the hands of God by faith, our sufferings are invested with another purpose. As the Apostle Paul outlines here in Romans 5, God takes us in the midst of our sufferings and shapes something valuable into our lives.

First, Paul writes, God shapes perseverance into our lives. This is the capacity to keep going, even in the midst of adverse circumstances. Perseverance does not just magically appear in our lives. It is something that we must develop, like a runner suffering through training until she can run a full marathon. While none of us desire suffering, when we submit our suffering to God we free Him to develop perseverance into our lives. Without perseverance, nothing else will come because we will continually push against our circumstances and against God. But as we grow in perseverance, God can have His way in developing us for His glorious purposes.

Along with perseverance, Paul tells us, God uses our sufferings to shape character into our lives. Character is not an abstract gift from God—just an idea about virtue—but is something tangibly confirmed in our lives through the furnace of our trials. If you want character without suffering, you are looking for something else; perhaps a good reputation. If you want character without perseverance, you really want something else; perhaps informational knowledge of what character is. But if we really want character, there is no other way than through the furnace of suffering. Character is developed through trying and testing, like a precious metal refined in the fire as the dross is burned away to reveal its highest quality. Our character is developed and revealed through the fires of suffering combined with our willingness to persevere.

Third, Paul tells us that hope follows character and perseverance when our suffering is given into the hands of God. Hope arises as we persevere amidst the fires of suffering in which character is shaped. Without hope we give up in life, as we know from those who lose a will to live in dire health circumstances or imprisonment. But with hope, we can find meaning in life and keep going. It is by clinging to God by faith amidst suffering that we begin to see that God is indeed doing something else as we bear up in the challenges of life. Contrary to what we perceive with our eyes, God is at work, and this revelation that God is at work brings hope into our lives. We walk by faith and not by sight, as Paul writes elsewhere (2 Corinthians 5:7), but it is hope that keeps us walking. When we yield our sufferings to God, letting Him shape Christlike character in us, hope simultaneously springs up as we realize God has not left us alone and is working in our lives.

All of this meaningful work of God amidst suffering is sustained not by sheer human willpower (although the will is significant), but by the Holy Spirit who is the bond of love tying us into the presence of God through Christ. God is at work, completing what He begins in us (Philippians 1:6). God is working within us with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). And so, even as Christ’s suffering was powerful significant, so, too, when we yield our sufferings to God they bring forth a harvest of righteousness for His glory.

Worship in the Beauty of Holiness

 

This past weekend at at Eastbrook Church I concluded our series, “Roots,” on certain non-negotiable characteristics of the church, and Eastbrook Church in particular as we celebrate 40 years. This final weekend took us into an exploration of worship based in Psalm 96:9. I admit that I still love the way that the King James Version states it:

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

Rooted in this idea, I explored how worship is both a gathering and a lifestyle, how worship is rooted in the Triune God, and leads us into the extravagance of eternity around God’s throne. Some folks know that started out in ministry through music and worship ministry, so this is admittedly close to my areas of greatest passion and concern for the contemporary church.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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A Crash Course in Knowing Christ (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Ephesians

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued our new series walking through the New Testament book of Ephesians, entitled “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity.” This weekend, I continued with the second half of chapter 1, which offers us a “Crash Course in Knowing Christ.” This is really a prayer of Paul that unfolds for us how prayer in gratitude, intercession, and worship helps us know Christ more fully in our lives.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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Re-speaking God’s Good Words

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If blessing means “to speak good words over something or someone,” what a powerful message of blessing comes to us from Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:3-14. He tells us that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3). Every spiritual blessing. Just that one word sets the tone of this entire letter. God has not held anything back but pours out the full extent of all His blessings upon believers. So, God speaks good words to the full extent possible upon us. Paul enumerates those blessings one after another:

  • chosen before creation
  • predestined to adoption to sonship
  • redeemed through Christ’s blood
  • forgiveness of sins
  • lavished with God’s grace
  • knowledge of God’s will
  • sealed with the Holy Spirit

It seems not that Paul has run out of blessings to mention, but rather that he has run out of room in the sentence he is writing to contain any more blessings. God speaks all these good realities into us through Christ.

If God speaks so many good words – so many blessings – over our lives, why is it that we speak so many bad words over our lives and the lives of others? Why is it that we fill our moths, our ears, and our lives with all so many negative messages? Why do we erode the abundance of God’s blessings through the poisonous waters of human cursing and negativity?

If God speaks so many good words over our lives, what might it mean to know those good words and to echo them into our lives by recounting them and speaking them forth daily? The old hymns says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” Counting our blessings first of all means knowing those blessings, some of which Paul listed for us in Ephesians 1. We need to know the content and significance of the good words that God has spoken over our lives. Secondly, it means speaking those good words over our lives again and again. Maybe today we just pick up those words of blessing and say, “I have been lavished with God’s grace. I’ve been forgiven. I’ve been redeemed in Christ.” When we re-speak God’s good words over our lives it keeps us centered in what is true. Thirdly, counting our blessings means giving God praise with our mouths for the blessings He has given to us. God blesses us and we bless Him back. God speaks good words over us and we speak good words over Him in return.

When we not only hear the blessings of God but re-speak them over our lives, our outlook changes. We are not limited by our circumstances but are transformed through the truth of God’s blessings. Even if many things do not change, we know who we are and whose we are in God through Christ.

Praying with Paul: Ephesians 1 [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” (Ephesians 1:15-16)

There are two exemplary prayers of Paul in the letter known as Ephesians. The first prayer arises in 1:15-23 and the second in 3:14-21. Today, we will explore the first of those prayers, so open your Bible and read Ephesians 1:15-23.

Although more brief here than in Colossians 1, notice that Paul once again begins his prayer with thanksgiving before turning to his requests. Gratitude is an important entry point for prayer. It shapes our thinking and praying with an attitude of plenty, as opposed to merely an attitude of need. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). There is always something to be thankful for in prayer.

As is often the case, there are many parallels between Colossians and Ephesians, and that is seen in Paul’s prayers within Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1. However, the prayer in Ephesians seems to go deeper in its request for understanding (Ephesians 1:17; cf. Colossians 1:9). This request expands with the penetrating prayer “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” Paul wants the believers to have an inner revelation that comes into their hearts from God. That revelation consists of three things: 1) the hope of our calling, 2) the riches of our inheritance, and 3) the incomparable power of God at work within us.

One of our greatest, recurring problems in life is a lack of understanding. There are many times when we feel confused. Paul knows that it is not just the answer to general questions or getting some sense of direction that we most need. No, what we need even more is a deeper, “heart” awareness of all that God has made available to us through Christ. Paul’s prayer shoots like an arrow into the presence of God on the believers’ behalf toward the bullseye of divine revelation and knowledge.

Near the end of his prayer, Paul gets so carried away with the wonder of what God has given us in Christ, that his words cascade forth into a fountain of praise to God in Christ. It is no wonder that this happens to Paul. He lives in the reality which he is praying will come alive for others. Knowing the greatness of the hope, inheritance, and power of God available to the believer, and ministering out of that place, Paul finds himself regularly overcome by all of who God is and all that God has done.

May our prayers also launch with gratitude into the throne room of God. May we ask for what we most need, which is a divine unveiling of wisdom within our hearts that comes from God. And may we regularly be overcome by the goodness and greatness of God even as we approach him for what we need.

Take a moment here at the end of this devotional to personalize the prayer of Ephesians 1:15-23. Pray it back to God, inserting your own name, and then the name of your local church, into the prayer.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]