Four Anchors in the Crucible of Pain

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Last August I resigned my post as pastor for discipleship at a church I deeply loved. Uncertain if I would again land in a fulltime vocational expression of ministry, I accepted a job in the marketplace in an unfamiliar city with very unfamiliar people.

A day before the orientation process began at my new job, I answered an emergency phone that my 66-year-old father had fainted and was in need of an emergency quadruple bypass. Due to the severity of the situation, he was bumped up in the surgery queue and underwent the procedure on a Wednesday.

While in surgery, he suffered a septal-wall heart attack that caused his heart to endure ventricular fibrillations three times. His liver went into shock, his kidneys went into failure, his heart scarcely worked, and the doctors inserted a mechanical heart pump to sustain his life.

Now on full life support — with a ventilator to support his breathing, 24-hour dialysis to remove the waste from his body that was accumulating due to his failed kidneys, and the pump that was running his heart — the doctors induced medical paralysis and downgraded his condition from critical to grave.

I felt lost.

Prayer to Plea

What began for me as a simple prayer for Jesus to sustain my father on a Wednesday became, by Sunday, an all-out plea for the sovereign power of Christ over life and death.

Dad remained in a medically induced coma for 21 days. It was no small thing to see the strongest man I have ever known rendered utterly incapacitated by the failure of his own body. And in that hospital room, I hardly had time to process the disappointment and disillusionment of leaving ministry as a vocation.

My life was in need of an anchor, and like never before I felt as though all the anchors of familiarity I had held on to were now wrenched from their footings. Life for me felt very adrift.

In that place, my often repeated plea — “Come, Lord, Jesus!” — became my tutor, bringing me back to Romans 5:1–5, and tightening my grip on four anchors holding me in place in the crucible of pain.

Anchor 1: Peace in the person and finished work of Jesus

“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). We all suffer this side of heaven, but in these moments we see that our pain does not shape the finished work of Jesus; rather, the finished work of Jesus shapes our suffering.

The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, who was faithful to finish the work his Father set before him, is the plan of restoration for God’s elect. This reconciling work transfers us from condemned enemies deserving of the full weight of God’s wrath to adopted sons and daughters who are inheriting an unblemished kingdom.

For the Christian, it is of utmost importance that we grasp this understanding of faith and how it not only secures our past, present, and future peace; it is our peace. The second coming of Christ will consummate a glorious new beginning in which evil, suffering, and death will be eradicated as far as the curse of sin is found. Our hope in that glorious day is intimately linked to the belief that Jesus has fully and perfectly justified us in his finished work in the here, in the now.

Anchor 2: Peace in the accessibility of God

“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Not only do we stand in all of the benefits that justification brings; we stand in Christ. We were justified in our embrace, by faith, of the justifier himself. This is unmerited, unwarranted, and unadulterated grace. This is what it means to be united with Christ.

Not only does our union with Christ affirm future promises of the restoration of all things, it also enables us to firmly stand in deep grace despite a world currently subjected to the curse of the fall, and in all of the daily insecurities and questions we will face along the way.

Anchor 3: Peace leading to unfailing hope

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4). There is a peculiar way in which suffering shapes us. As we are united with Christ in his life, we are united with him in his sufferings as well, and as Hebrews 2:10 tells us, Christ was perfected through such hardships.

Suffering is a worker: it works for the good of God’s children (Romans 8:28). We should expect no less; rather, we should pursue joy in the midst of pain, for God is using it to shape us into the image of Jesus.

Glorification awaits for when Christ returns to consummate all things under his rule and reign. And we long for this day! But we also take great hope in the present that he is transforming us from one degree of glory to another in the here-and-now (2 Corinthians 3:18). Once again, as we are united with Christ even in our sufferings, it is Christ who is transforming us. And if it is Christ who is transforming us, then we have all we need, for we have all of Jesus.

Anchor 4: Peace in the presence of God himself

“Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Of all the anchors that held my soul in place in those critical moments of life, perhaps the strongest one was God’s commitment to give me all of himself.

God is the gospel — even in the pain. He is the one we get. He is the prize. He is the treasure. He is the everlasting anchor.

The Father sent his beloved Son to reconcile us to himself. Because of the Son’s work, we now have the Father. And because of the Father we have all of the Son. As if this was not enough, then the person of the Holy Spirit joins in to make the love and security of the triune godhead a reality inside of our hearts.

God gives all of himself to us so that, when it feels like all of life gives way and everything is desperate and unfamiliar, he is then my hope and stay.

As the old hymn says, “His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood; when all around my soul gives way” — when everything in life seems desperate and unfamiliar — “he then is all my hope and stay.”