Podcast listener John Anders writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I’ve had various physical injuries over the past several years that have drastically (and positively) impacted my life. God has done so much through my suffering and sorrows. How can I most magnify the gospel through my every day actions in the midst of a debilitating injury so that others see his glory and come to delight in Christ?”
Well the first thing I want to say is that in asking the question this way John has been his own answer. “How can I magnify the gospel through my everyday actions in the midst of suffering?” Whoa. I mean, he has already done it for me, anyway. He has caused me to be thankful for God’s grace in his life. “My sufferings have drastically and positively [that is an amazingly gracious word] impacted my life.”
So what can I say to him when he has already been his own answer? It seems to me like anything I would say here would be building on a very good foundation. So let me just draw attention to some biblical things that I am sure John knows and may just be an encouragement to hear me say. “How can I magnify the gospel? How can I magnify Christ in suffering so that others see Christ’s glory and delight in him?” he asks.
There are two kinds of answers to that question. One is how John can maintain his own faith and hope and joy in suffering because without that he would be of no use to others. And the other way of answering the question is to think with him about the sorts of things he might do to help others enjoy what he is enjoying. So the two halves. How does he maintain his own faith and joy and then, maintaining it, what kinds of things might he do or say that would help others? So here is my answer to the first half.
John, this is how to maintain your faith. I mean, you are doing, obviously, a great job of it, but let’s do it more and more. Recall that Christ, by his gospel work of dying for us and rising again, has secured all the promises of God. All of them find their yes in him according to 2 Corinthians 1:20.
Second, learn from Paul’s own suffering that God’s good purpose in it all is that we will rely on God who raises the dead (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. That was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.”
So every horrible thing that comes into our life is meant to cause us to fall on the Christ who raises the dead and increase in our confidence that we would be raised and we should rely on nothing but him.
Third, take heart from the biblical assurance that suffering is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). “We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction [namely lifelong affliction in John’s case] is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” So take heart. Everything we walk through is working and preparing and increasing a weight of glory in the age to come for us.
And embrace Paul’s experience that when he asked the Lord to take away the thorn and doesn’t give it, he glories in the all-sufficiency of the grace of Christ, which is what you are doing. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord that he would take it away from me, but he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness and insults and hardships and persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8–10).
In those verses, John, we have already moved to the second way of answering the question, haven’t we? Namely, not just how can you maintain your joy, your hope, your faith, but what sorts of things might you do that would help other people see and enjoy Christ, because Paul just said in those verses, “I boast in my weaknesses. I am content in my weaknesses.” And so that is the sorts of things we should do. We should exult in Christ in our weaknesses.
So I would say maybe here are three concrete suggestions. And who am I to talk? You know these. First, don’t murmur against God. The sheer freedom of murmuring against God Paul says in Philippians 2:14–15 is a light shining in a dark place. When we don’t murmur in our lives when hard things come, we are like lights shining. And that is exactly what John said he wants to be.
The second thing is, give expressions of praise to the goodness of God. There are a few people in my life — I think of one woman in particular who lives with chronic pain and chronic disability — and I know no one who is more full of praise than she is. And it is a powerful witness of God in my life every time we are around each other. So give expressions of praise and attributions of the goodness of God.
And the third one I would mention is, live your life focused on others. Don’t draw attention to your own injuries or disabilities, but take thought for others. This is what Paul said is the very essence of the mind of Christ in Philippians 2:4–5. Don’t just take thought for yourself, but take thought for others even when everything in you may be crying out, “I hurt. Pity me.”
So thank you, John, for already causing me to be more thankful for Christ in your life. And may God grant you great grace as he said. “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). May it be so for you and for all of those who suffer.