God’s Good Design in Our Suffering
What is God’s good design in our suffering? What’s he doing in us, and for us, and through us, in our pain? These are the kinds of questions every Christian will ask at some point, and they were answered by Pastor John in a sermon exactly seven years ago. The sermon was preached at Christ Community Church in Houston, Texas. Kevin, a podcast lister who attends the church, has been trying to get me to play the following clip for five years now. Here we are. And here it is. Here’s Pastor John in Houston, seven years ago, preaching on Romans 8:12–17.
No pain, no gain; no cross, no crown; no suffering, no inheritance — that’s the way God has set it up. In other words, when it says in Romans 8:23 that we’re groaning, I would say all the groaning experienced on the path of obedience is what the suffering refers to in Romans 8:17. Because if you limit it to only hard things done to you from others because you’re a Christian, you’re missing a big piece of your suffering.
Suffering with Jesus
Every pain in your life, every frustration in your life, every conflict in your life, every difficulty in your life that you experience walking on the path toward the inheritance is suffering with and for Jesus, because it is being used by the devil to threaten your faith and used by God to strengthen your faith. And if you will embrace it the way verse 17 says, as your pathway to glory, God is triumphant and the devil is defeated.
I don’t care if it’s a stubbed toe on the way to go shopping. How you handle a stubbed toe in relation to God Almighty bears witness to your faith in his providence. If you’re in his face, saying, “I’m so tired of getting stubbed toes; I don’t need another problem today; this is a bad day” — look, if you’re not in hell, it’s a good day.
“All of our hardships are designed to make our faith stronger, to make us rely more on God.”
Why would God ordain that the pathway to the inheritance be suffering, and only suffering? I mean, there is no other path of suffering-free access. This doesn’t mean everything on the path is suffering; you know that. We’re sitting here in a very nice place, and I’m feeling really good right now. I have no stomachache, no headache, no backache. I don’t mean there aren’t good things on the way; I mean there will be suffering: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). There’s no other way.
Rely on God Who Raises the Dead
Now, why would that be? Why would God set it up that way? Here’s a clue from Romans 5:3: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.” Endurance of what? Faith. How does that work? Every hardship, from the tiniest stubbed toe to the loss of a spouse or the loss of a child — from the smallest to the biggest — every hardship in your life is the kicking out from under you of a prop that was supporting your happiness. You can either curse God or fall on God, and God is kicking them for you to fall on him because that’s what makes you strong.
Do you remember Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9? “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” God brought Paul to the brink of death for one reason: there was only one person to trust now — the God who raises the dead. All of our hardships are designed to make our faith stronger, to make us rely more on God — from the littlest to the biggest. That’s why it’s the pathway to glory. We’ve got to trust him.
Faith is the only way to heaven, and tribulations serve our faith — if the Holy Spirit is testifying that he’s your Father. If he’s not, you get angry at God. “I don’t want this anymore; I’m out of here. If this is the way the children get treated, I’m out of here.” You don’t have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit says, “Father, I need you. This is hard; this is really hard. But you’re my Father, and Jesus is my Lord, and this is the pathway to the inheritance, so I’m all in. Help me!” That’s the way the Holy Spirit talks. So, if you respond to hardship with “I need a Father and Jesus is my Lord,” the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.
Road to the Inheritance
I’m going to close with a story from John Newton. I come back to it over and over to convict myself of my murmuring. Paul said in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without murmuring.” Is there any more condemning verse in the Bible? All things without murmuring?
This is John Newton, writing in the eighteenth century. There are no cars; there are only carriages. So, picture a horse-drawn carriage. A man is on the way to New York to get his inheritance. Here’s what happens:
Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate [let’s just say it’s worth $5 million], and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way [this is where we are in our walkway toward heaven]; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him wringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!”
He’s on the way to an inheritance worth millions of dollars. He can fix the carriage.
Weep with Hope
Here’s my addition to the story: sometimes your kid falls over the cliff when the wheel comes off the carriage, and you fall out of the carriage and so crush your knee that you never walk normal again on the mile that’s left in your life. That happens.
“Faith is the only way to heaven, and tribulations serve our faith.”
So, I don’t want to make light here of broken carriages. We all can laugh at a broken carriage. It’s not as easy to say, “I lost my kid when he was 5,” or “I lost him at 21 of leukemia.” I’ve buried so many kids. There are whole sections of Woodlawn Cemetery with little teeny places. And to watch a dad carry a white box like this is a carriage that you don’t make light of that’s broken.
But he can know for himself, for this child, for his wife, he can know just a mile over the hill: I get the child, I get the wife, I get the health, I get the world, I get God, I get a new body to enjoy it all. And that’s how his tears will not be the tears of those who have no hope. He will weep. We will weep. But we won’t weep as those who don’t have an inheritance.
So, my prayer for you now is that God would awaken the witness of the Holy Spirit, causing you to call out, “Abba! Father!” and causing you to hate the sin in your life that murmurs against the Father and betrays the Father. And if those two things are happening, the Spirit is speaking loud and clear into your life, “You’re mine.”