Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Finding Satisfaction In God During Suffering

"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation" (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

As I said in the last post my reason for responding to Bill Johnson's statements was because he was undermining a truth that is very precious to me, namely that God has a purpose behind the suffering of His saints. The God who is sovereign over the entire world (Dan 4:35), ordains the suffering of His loved ones (Ex: Paul):
"For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 4:35)

This is only half of the story, the other half is the God who sustains His loved ones in the midst of trials that they may rejoice in Him. God is glorified by His saints being satisfied in Him in the midst of affliction. God's grace is promised to be with His own to the end, John Piper speaks of sustaining grace like this:

"Not grace to bar what is not bliss
Nor flight from all distress but this
the grace that orders our trouble and pain
and in darkness is there to sustain"

The testimony it is to the worth of the glory of God when in the midst of trials His saints are satisfied in Him is immense. This is spiritual warfare in the truest sense, finding satisfaction in God when all earthly comforts are removed. This is not natural it must be a work of grace. Of course as I said in the previous post it is immensely unpopular to talk of a God who designs trials for His children. This is entirely against the spirit of the age where the gospel is treated as a commodity to be marketed and consumed and thus must be made as palatable as possible when all earthly comforts are removed. This is not natural it must be a work of grace. Of course as I said in the previous post it is immensely unpopular to talk of a God who designs trials for His children. This is entirely against the spirit of the age where the gospel is treated as a commodity to be marketed and consumed and thus must be made as palatable as possible for consumers to accept it (Thus we have all sorts of things attatched to "coming" to Christ ex: good self esteem, healthy marriages/family, health, financial security etc). However suffering is one of those things we try to avoid attributing to the Christian life "Strive (agondidzo Gk) to enter in by the narrow gate..." and "All who desire to live godly will suffer..."

is from John Piper that I have been richly blessed to see God as both the designer of our suffering and our comfort in the midst. Piper has pointed me time and time again to men of a different era, speaking with uncommon voices in our day. C.H. Spurgeon spoke very strongly of the needfulness of knowing God had designed His suffering.

"It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think
that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity"
(The Anguish and Agonies of Charles Spurgeon)

To Spurgeon to say that God had not ordered and designed his sufferings would be to a blow to his spiritual health. He also goes on to say that it is out of his sufferings that he has received the most good.

"I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable ... Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister's library"

Spurgeon also gives a sharp assessment of those who would say that God would have nothing to do with ordering the suffering of His children for a purpose (powerful!):

"One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, 'My God, My God, why has
Thou forsaken Me?' and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself. On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, 'I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.'
By God's grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay. I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God's servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge ... You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds"

I think that this testimony is amazing, the purpose of God in Spurgeons' suffering is so evident. Honestly what place do the Joseph's, Jeremiah's, Hosea's, and Paul's (to name a few) have in a view of God who would never order trials for a greater good? In case there be any doubt to the truth that it is God who orders and designs our trials, John Bunyan gives us a nice list of scriptures showing otherwise:

God has appointed who shall suffer [Rev. 6:11 the full number of martyrs]. . . . God has appointed . . . when they shall suffer [Acts 18:9-10 Paul's time of suffering was not yet come; so with Jesus in John 7:30]. . . . God has appointed where this, that or the other good man shall suffer ["it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" Luke 13:33; 9:30f]. . . . God has appointed . . . what kind of sufferings this or that saint shall undergo [Acts 9:16 "how great things he must suffer;" John 21:19 "by what death he would glorify God"]. . . . Our sufferings, as to the nature of them, are all writ down in God's book; and though the writing seem as unknown characters to us, yet God understands them very well [Mark 9:13; Acts 13:29]. . . . It is appointed who of them should die of hunger, who with the sword, who should go into captivity, and who should be eaten up of beasts. Jeremiah 15:2,3.

I think ultimately the fact that God orders our suffering is a great comfort, for He has designed all the details and He is not biting His nails as trials beset His church. Also as Bunyan points out as Christian is in Doubting castle the "key" that unlocked the door and set the prisoners free from the dungeon was "promise" which was located in Christians bosom. The promises of the word stored up within our hearts is a opener of grace upon the suffering saint.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,
and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
(Heb 12:11-14)

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Heb 10:32-34)

***(Spurgeon and Bunyan quotes taken from

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