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.

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 2)

This is the second in a series of posts in which I reflect on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

Paul looks at the motivations behind how we live. He wants his readers, and us, to live worthy of the gospel, be like-minded, and have a Christlike attitude with each other:

  • “Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27)
  • “Not only to believe in Him, but to suffer for Him” (1:29)
  • “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (2:2)
  • “in your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had” (2:5)

It seems like our motivation for doing this should come from understanding our heavenly citizenship and from Christ’s example. At times, we may be motivated by the presence of a godly leader or mentor, like Paul, but that should not be our primary motivation.

Instead, Paul tells the Philippians, we should derive our primary motivation in life from a firm focus upon Christ’s example and our eternal destiny. When we face struggles in our life, just as Paul was enduring imprisonment when writing this letter, these larger realities will keep us going in life.

What motivates you to keep going in life? How has Christ’s example or focus on your eternal destiny helped you to keep going?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

Family Camp at Fort: The Art of Prayer

IMG_3117.JPGIn the last week of June I had the opportunity to speak at Family Camp 2 for Fort Wilderness in McNaughton, Wisconsin. If you’re not familiar with Fort, you should definitely consider their amazing range of ministry opportunities throughout the year. Every Winter our Student Ministries takes a group for Winter Retreat up in this beautiful place.

Since I have been spending so much time thinking and speaking on prayer, I kept that theme for the Family Camp, speaking on “The Art of Prayer.”

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 5.28.47 PM.pngFort has posted those messages online here. The five messages I gave were:

  • “Making Space for Prayer” – a look at the way that Jesus’ ordered His life around His relationship with the Father through prayer
  • “Jesus on How We Should Pray” – beginning to look at Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6
  • “Praying Like the Master” – specifically walking through Jesus’ teaching on what is known as the Lord’s Prayer
  • “Praying in Difficulty” – learning from Jesus’ approach to pray in John 17 in the midst of stressful circumstances
  • “Praying with Paul” – looking at one of Paul’s notable prayers in his letters from Philippians 1

 

I am so thankful for the staff team at Fort that I had the chance to work with during the week, as well as all the families that gathered for a week in the Word and in the woods together.

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

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” (Philippians 1:4)

It is fitting that this last day of the 30 Days of Prayer devotional ends with Philippians. This letter of Paul is jam-packed with lived theology as the Apostle writes an epistle of joy from prison to believers suffering greatly. It is not without reason that this letter of joy has lifted the spirits of believers throughout history in diverse places. Neither should it be missed that Paul’s prayer near the beginning of the letter encapsulates all the themes of the letter in one great prayer saturated with joy and concluding with praise.

Open your Bible to Philippians 1:3-11 and read this section of the letter. Take note of the gratitude and tender love which Paul expresses to the Philippian believers in verses 3-8. Paul’s prayer arises from meaningful relationships that have history and shared experiences. As you read through the entire letter you sense that the Philippian church has a special place in Paul’s heart. Maybe you could stop right now and thank God for the believers in your own life who mean so much to you. Consider the ways that God has blessed you through others and with others in your life. Thank Him for those who hold a special place in your heart.

The meat of Paul’s prayer begins in verse 9 as he asks God to increase their love. If Jesus said that people would know we were His disciples by the way we love one another (John 13:35), Paul takes this seriously in prayer. The increase is not at random, however, and is connected to a series of requests related to knowledge, insight, and discernment. All these wisdom requests are like links in a chain leading toward Paul’s prayer that the believers’ lives would ultimately be filled with the fruit of righteousness. Thus, growth in the love of Christ toward others is paralleled by growth in the character of Christ within their lives. Do we need to grow in love? Do we need knowledge, insight, and discernment about God’s will? Do we need increasing fruit of righteousness in your life? I do. Why not stop right now to pray that God would shape those things within your life, in the life of your friends, and the life of your church fellowship?

The end of Paul’s prayer here is “to the glory and praise of God” (1:11). Every time I hear this final phrase in the prayer, I cannot help but think of the ending of the Lord’s Prayer: “For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.” All our praying concludes with praising. This is not just a formula that we apply to our regular prayers. No, this is truly a theological and eschatological reality. One day, all our confessions and petitions will cease and we will, at the end of all things, be caught up in the greatest praise of the Living God for eternity. At that day, we will join in with the elders, and the living creatures, and all the hosts of heaven around the throne of God in our eternal praise: “Holy, holy, holy, are you Lord God, Almighty….You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 4:8, 11; 5:13). As we conclude the 30 Days of Prayer, why not spend time now in praise of our God who deserves more than we could ever give?

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

Joy that Gives

As we continued our series “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church I walked us through Philippians 1:27-2:11, where the Apostle Paul shifts his attention from his present circumstances to the situation of the Philippians.

You can view the video and sermon outline of this message, “The Joy of Faith,” below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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