No one likes to think about trials, and suffering, and persecution, and hardship. They are not a fun subject to talk about. But I recently found myself preaching on the subject of persecution and suffering as we went through the book of Galatians, and I found myself thinking about how they work in our life, and the thing I was reminded of again was that God uses them. They are God’s instrument for our refining and good. It's so easy to forget this, and doubt His goodness. We forget that He’s not interested in leaving you as you are. He’s interested in making you something glorious for his kingdom.
C.S. Lewis once put it like this.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
What this means is that if you are dealing with trails of various kind, with suffering and persecution, and hardship, it’s because He’s bringing it into your life as part of His work to reshape you into the image of His son. 2 Corinthians makes clear that where the presence of God is, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (3:17-18)”.
As followers to Christ, we need to remember this. When things get hard, we often get whiny and start to complain and doubt God. As Americans, we’re in love with our comfort, and we don’t like things to be hard, and when hardships come we usually say “Why is this happening?” and accuse God of being cruel, and unjust (At least that’s how my heart works- but 6 years of pastoring and several years of ministry before becoming the pastor says I’m not alone in this). And why do we say this? Because deep down, we don’t trust God. We don’t believe that God’s at work. We have a real lack of trust in the sovereign love of God, and naturally think he’s being cruel, even though He’s decreed his children guiltless and spotless in Christ, we don’t trust him. Even though He’s saved us at incredible cost, we often think He’s being cruel when He brings hardship.
But that’s not the case. Think about what is more cruel than bringing hardship into your life: God leaving you where you are, and allowing you to live as someone who defaults to self- reliance. All of us naturally default to self reliance; and one of the things God does by bringing pain into our life is to destroy our self reliance. He destroys our ability to prop ourselves up and say, “all I have needed my hand has provided”. He does it in love, He does it because you are His (Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines those He loves and calls sons and scourges all of those who are His children), and He does it for you good. By knocking out your props of self-reliance and puts your reliance completely on him, He’s making your trust Him, because while you and I feel He is being cruel when He brings trials and suffering and persecution and hardships, the thing that would actually be far crueler of God would be for Him to just allow you to continue to prop yourself up though your own damnable good works. Which means that in the end, these things are God’s loving gifts. As Matt Chandler, president of the Acts 29 church planting network once observed “It’s not cruel of God at all to take from you what might lead you into an eternity of sorrow, to give to you sorrow now that leads to an eternity of ever increasing joy.
He has your best in mind as he works, trust that. There’s a line from the Reason For God that has impacted me profoundly… “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows”. We need to get that into our bones. As your loving father, He’ll only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows. Therefore, we need to trust Him, and look to Him with hope no matter what kinds of hardship come. These things are instruments in the Redeemers hands for your good, because He’s working not for you happiness for a moment, but for your joy for all eternity. In light of this, my encouragement to you is no matter what happens, don’t lose heart. When trials, and suffering, and persecution, and hardship come, don’t lose heart, don’t doubt God. Remember, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (4:16-17).