Carrots and eggs reveal insightful glimpses into human nature. If you boil a carrot and an egg, the carrot will soften while the egg will harden. Likewise, two people can respond to similar trials in drastically different ways with drastically different implications for themselves, their families, their friends, and their eternal impact.
While on life’s lofty peaks, it is easy to believe that “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Yet as history and scripture demonstrate, the true test of faith arrives, not on elevated crags of optimism, but in the valley of the shadow of death. It is in these valleys that God refines us as we trust His purpose.
The Refinement of Suffering
After losing his children, his livelihood, and his social status, Job stated, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Though Job did not fully understand the reason for his suffering, he trusted the Master Goldsmith to refine him. “But He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Sadly, the same trial that softened Job hardened his wife, as evidenced by her bitterly reply, “Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). Like Job, Peter believed that God used trials to strengthen the believer’s faith.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6-7).
Edmund Clowney once said,
“Trials should not surprise us, or cause us to doubt God’s faithfulness. Rather, we should actually be glad for them. God sends trials to strengthen our trust in him so that our faith will not fail. Our trials keep us trusting; they burn away our self confidence and drive us to our Savior.”
Trust in Suffering
For her entire life, my pastor’s wife prayed to have twins. Soon after marriage, she and her husband joyfully discovered that God had answered their prayers. About four months before the due-date, her labor contractions began. The twins, a boy and a girl, were born shortly thereafter. Both died within minutes of birth. Though devastated at the loss of these precious lives, my pastor’s wife turned to her husband and said, “God makes no mistakes.” Since that time, God has blessed them with six children and used their testimony as a source of comfort to others experiencing pain.
Born in 1850 in England, Louisa M. R. Stead came to America in 1871. After marrying, she gave birth to a daughter, Lily. Tragedy soon struck. As Kenneth Osbeck narrates,
“When the child was four years of age, the family decided one day to enjoy the sunny beach at Long Island Sound, New York. While eating their picnic lunch, they suddenly heard cries of help and spotted a drowning boy in the sea. Mr. Stead charged into the water. As often happens, however, the struggling boy pulled his rescuer under water with him, and both drowned before the terrified eyes of wife and daughter.”
Out of her heartbreak flowed the following words, which have been a source of inspiration and hope to many a Christian:
‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “thus saith the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
God’s promises hold true in every valley, no matter how dark it may be. Though he experienced countless trials and hardships, Paul claimed, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God still cares for His children in their deepest grief. “Like as a Father pitieth His children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Psalm 103:13).
The Ultimate Purpose of Suffering
Christ never assured an easy or comfortable life to His followers. In fact, He promised, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The presence of God does remove suffering; rather, it provides peace in the midst of tribulation.
Regarding Lazerus’ sickness, Christ told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” Lazarus’ sickness was about much more than Mary, Martha, or Lazararus’ suffering.
When Christ finally arrived, both Mary and Martha voiced an understandable sentiment, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21, 32). They could not see the purpose in this suffering. Mary and Martha’s pain was but a small stroke in a painting of grandeur, the glory of God. Before summoning Lazarus from the tomb, Jesus asked Mary, “Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).
True purpose is not found in all the comforts, pleasures, positions, and rewards the world offers. The noblest, loftiest, and only eternally worthwhile purpose is found in glorifying God.
Our great Savior did more than simply sympathize with Mary and Martha. He exemplified what it means to find purpose, joy, and hope in suffering. For the joy set before Him, He “endured the cross despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Christ accepted His suffering as the means to the end of glorifying His Father through the provision of redemption (John 17:1-5).
The Power of Knowing Christ
In the valley of suffering, the Christian can either question God or trust His unchanging purpose and goodness. The Christian can either focus within or look above.
Irish poet Joseph Medlicott Scriven’s soul flooded with grief when his fiance drowned on the eve of their wedding. He later penned a poem to his mother entitled, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” This beloved hymn birthed from the depths of his struggle between despair and hope.
The depth of one’s relationship with God is inseparably linked to the level of one’s trust in God. The more you know Him, the more you can trust Him. Those lost souls who have not repented of their sin and believed solely on Christ will never find peace in their trials. Saints who stand aloof from their Friend will not find peace either. Is He your Savior? If so, are you drawing nigh to Him?
Paul desired, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Philippians 3:10). Truly, those who know and trust the Master of the seas can find peace in the midst of the stormiest gale.
A. B. Simpson made the following observation:
“There are two ways of getting out of a trial. One is simply to try to get rid of the trial, and be thankful when it is over. The other is to recognize the trial as a challenge from God to claim a larger blessing than we have ever had, and to hail it with delight as an opportunity of obtaining a larger measure of divine grace.”
Question: Someone once noted, “You either are going through a today or will be tomorrow.” How can we prepare for trials today so we can trust God when they come?