The Good We Never Ask For: What God Does for Us in Suffering
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and 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 5:3-5)
It seems the older I get the more amazed I am at just how quickly time passes. Over Christmas break in 1993 my best friend at the time invited me to join him on a snowboarding trip to Utah; I emerged battered and bruised in my attempts to learn, but determined to master this new sport. Little did I know I’d spend 16 years flying down the slopes in places like Colorado, California, British Columbia, and even Austria and Zermatt, Switzerland! (Yes, I couldn’t resist the urge to shout “Ricola!” at the top of my lungs)
When I started dating my wife back in 2009 I quickly learned she did not like skiing or snowboarding; so out of love and a desire to connect with my wife more deeply I gave up the sport of snowboarding and picking up some snowshoes instead - something we both enjoyed. I got rid of my snowboard but kept my coat, jacket and gloves; last weekend I donned my old gear for the first time this season and took my kids sledding. My wife noticed a lift ticket from Stevens Creek, a resort just north of Seattle. The date - March 22, 2009. It so happened the last day I would ever snowboard nearly 10 years ago would also be the day my first child was born. Out with the old, in with the new - snowboarding or being a dad? It’s no contest! :-)
It still blows my mind a decade has passed since I last strapped a snowboard on my feet; it’s equally surprising - and humbling - to consider what I thought my life path would look like 10 years ago vs. the reality of the path God has chosen. Never in a million, billion years did I think something like chronic pain and debilitating depression would enter my life at the age of 38, or that my wife and I would be forced to leave the home we loved in Seattle and move back to the Midwest to a place neither one us wanted to be. Yet, we’ve found a home here in Pella, and God has carved a unique niche for both of us. I never cease to marvel at the way God brought me to KCWN, and how he would use this radio station to change my life and that of our entire family!
Still, I wonder if the path might have been a bit less bumpy if my theology had been aligned correctly. Specifically, if I’d taken to heart the numerous “heads-up” in Scripture that suffering and hardship was not a matter of if, but when. Who knows? I’m just glad I understand that now, and that God has opened my eyes to see the ways he’s used suffering to help me grow in mature in areas like perseverance, patience, and commitment. For most of my life I’ve given up and/or run away when life got tough; with chronic pain I couldn’t run - I had to stand and face my biggest fears.
Randy Alcorn has an awesome blog entry called “The Good We Never Ask For: What God Does for Us in Suffering.” His wife was diagnosed with colon cancer a year ago, so the road of suffering is not a hypothetical or something they’re observing from a distance on TV or computer screen. They are walking this path, but doing so together, one step at a time, with Jesus by their side. Reflecting on that journey, he states this profound truth: "Our Father sometimes answers our prayers to relieve our suffering, and each time He does we thank Him wholeheartedly. But when He answers no, we must honor His desire to work in us more deeply."
What he says next goes even deeper - If asked, “Do you want to be closer to Jesus, and more like him?” we all know what we should say. Yet, if God answered all our prayers for relief from suffering, He would be delivering us from the very thing we say we want. Christlikeness is something to long for, not be delivered from. It’s not easy to pray, “Please do whatever it takes to make me more like Jesus.” But when He does whatever it takes, we should trust Him.
How many times in my life have I asked God to make me more like Jesus? Too many to count! What is the means God often uses to accomplish that goal? Ease? Convenience? Pleasure? Nope. I think we all know the answer - hardship. Pain. Suffering. Loss. The very things Jesus experienced when he was on this earth are the same tools our Heavenly Father uses to send us through his refining fire. Easy? Not at all! What I would choose? Not a chance! God using all things for good? Absolutely.
Don’t wait until you’re in the midst of trial and suffering to align your hearts to God’s truth; I wasn’t prepared, and it nearly destroyed my life. Get ready - and in the process, start living with joyful expectation now as you put your confidence in a God who is worth trusting!