I didn’t know how I would feel when we drove past the spot in the parking lot where it happened.
My wife parked our van a short distance away, and I walked over to the corner of the lot where asphalt meets a row of palm trees. It happened nearly ten years ago, and we live 150 kilometers away now, so when we visited a new church plant in that city, I knew I had to try to find that spot where everything changed.
I remember it was the beginning of the local religious holiday, and everyone was out for their evening shopping. There was no parking available, so I dropped off my wife and drove around in circles in the parking lot. At one point, I made a left-hand turn and nerve pain shot down my arms, they succumbed to weakness, and tears flooded my face. I had a sinking feeling of what was to come. I was right. My doctor discovered that the nerves in my arms weren’t working — firing off chronic pain signals to my brain and twisting themselves into painful neuromas. The next eighteen months would be one of the darkest times in my life.
“When I am suffering it feels impossible to keep my head above the water, much less kiss the wave.”
On my recent visit to that spot, the memories of my depression and disability came rushing back. There were flashbacks to the dark nights of the soul in our village home where I would pace back and forth many nights fighting for hope. I looked at my hands and remembered the boil-like wounds on my fingertips and the anxious moments wondering if I would ever be healed. During those days on the couch, it felt like God had brought us to the desert to destroy us.
Fighting for Faith
We all agree that we ought to persevere through trials, but how? How do we fight for faith?
A big help to walking with God in my trials has come from a quote often attributed to Charles Spurgeon: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” What does it mean to “kiss the wave”?
When I am suffering it feels impossible to keep my head above the water, much less kiss the wave. My tendency is to hate the wave and to run away from God. I am tempted to reject God or be angry with him, not embrace him during my trial.
Spurgeon’s advice is key to suffering well. Our trials are God’s means of drawing us to himself, the Rock of Ages. The wave is a vehicle transporting us to the very doorstep of God Almighty. It is not flippant advice from the prince of preachers. He is not pretending that suffering is easy and we should simply try harder to persevere. Spurgeon is not saying pain, trials, and death are good things.
Death and suffering came as a result of the fall in Genesis 3. And the prophet Isaiah encourages us to identify clearly the things that are evil: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). We don’t call disease and death good. We call them what they are: evil and wicked. Jesus didn’t celebrate death, but at the tomb of Lazarus, he wept for his friend (John 11:35), even though he knew he would soon raise him from the dead.
Kissing the wave means we stop flailing our arms in panic and embrace the God who has sovereignly designed our circumstances for our good and his glory. Romans 8:28 is not just a verse for a Christian greeting card, but one to have branded on our hearts: “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Pain and suffering are not good, but somehow, miraculously, God uses them for good for his people.
God Is Not Wasting Our Trials
The apostle Peter tells us not only to expect trials, but to rejoice in them. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12–13).
“During those days on the couch, it felt like God had brought us to the desert to destroy us.”
When we suffer like Christ, and have the wherewithal to rejoice, his glory is revealed as our faith is tested. Earlier in that chapter, Peter says that our trials purify us and show the genuineness of our faith. James says something similar: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). Our sufferings grow us in our faith.
Our trials also allow us to comfort other hurting people. Paul writes, “Blessed be . . . the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5). God proves our faith in suffering. God matures us in our suffering and makes us more like Christ. God uses the comfort we receive in our trials to comfort others and, as Paul says in Galatians, to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
Rejoice and Kiss the Wave
These are only a few reasons why suffering comes to us. There is only a shallow joy we can receive when we tie our joy to our ever-changing circumstances. It’s a joy that gets rocked as it’s blown and tossed by the waves of our pain. It’s a joy that only rejoices when our life is perfectly manicured according to our desires. But true and lasting joy comes when we find our joy resting on the Rock of Ages.
Ultimately, what suffering does for true faith is take us to God. If God himself is the good news of the gospel, then trials are not something to run from, but something we ride to our Maker. We share in Christ’s sufferings and shine the spotlight on him in our pain. And they make us more and more like him. None of God’s purposes can be frustrated. Our suffering is not an accident.
“If God himself is the good news of the gospel, trials are not something to run from, but something we ride to him.”
There is great suffering in this world. Many have been the victims of assault or adultery. Others have faced disease, disorders, or disability. We have lost loved ones and seen death up close. And yet as followers of Christ, we press on. We don’t give up or wallow in our suffering. We kiss the wave. We don’t do this necessarily with a smile on our face, but with a deep-seated joy in our hearts. We can go to sleep at night confidently knowing that our good and sovereign God is doing ten thousand more things in our suffering than we can see right now. This is a subterranean joy that comes when the waters crash over us.
Let the waves of your suffering take you to Jesus.