Sunday, 9 November 2014

Is There Any Purpose to Our Sufferings?

I was tidying my room up the other day and I came across a collection of sermons. My grandfather was a pastor for a number of years and when he moved into a retirement village, he gave me a bundle of some of his sermons. In amongst them I found this one, appropriately titled "Is There Any Purpose to Our Sufferings", which I thought might enocourage some of you just as it did me today. :) (I have ommited some sections for confidentiality but other than that, this is pretty much exactly as the original sermon).

Is There Any Purpose to Our Sufferings? 

Text: "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

Reading: Romans 4:18-5:11 

There are those who see trials and suffering in the life of the one who believes in Jesus Christ as the exact opposite of the blessedness expected in Christian life and experience. There are those who busy themselves and even parade themselves as the removers of trail and suffering through so-called faith healing. Then there are those like Job's friends. When they at last found their voices they accused Job of sin. Surely he must have sinned greatly to have attracted so much trouble. So such people have reasoned if there is sickness or adversity or trial or suffering it must be due to personal sin.

But I want to suggest that God, in His great wisdom, can employ the tribulations of life, the troubles, the sickness, the sufferings of life to refine and polish these lives of ours as believers. Indeed when the divine Potter takes our lives, He takes the most unpromising and unlikely materials to produce beautiful vessels for His own honour. 

The modern western mind usually equates what is comfortable and pleasurable and settled with what is good and qualitative. Trials and suffering on the other hand are disturbing and make one uncomfortable so therefore they are undesirable and bad. As God's children I would urge us to relook at our attitudes to suffering and trial and ask; can it not, in the hand and the providence of God, be employed for our good? To be certian, God made a world that was good, a world that was unblemished, without decay, without death, without suffering. Man's own rebellion has introduced to our world the rougue element of sin with its attendent pain, suffering and death. But then the Divine Potter takes the blemished material to fashion something beautiful from it, to shape from it a trophy of His grace....

We are so slow to learn from the beautiful and appealing events and circumstances of life! It often takes the severe and the adverse event s to thrust home to us a truth. It even seems that we learn more effectively and more certianly from personal suffering and personal tribulation. 

1. Suffering is not an end in itself but produces patience, character, hope. 

The Apostle indicates that suffering/tribulation does not stand by itself/alone/as an island. There are products that flow from it. Perserverance/patience, character, hope.

The translation provided here in the word "suffering" is too soft, for it does not reflect the idea of pressure and even afflictionthat is in the original. The adversities of life for the believer are wide-ranging and certianly involve sufferings.

As with all the experiences of life including trial or oppression or suffering or adversity, it is not so much the nature of the experience that matters most but the response that we make to it that counts. Two people may have an almost identical experience and yet react in entirely different ways and therefore benefit from it in different ways and measures. We see that demonstrated in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. His message excited some to faith while the same word in others brought determined opposition.

In every day life even apart from faith we see this principle at work. A deceased's will may leave some members of a family without an inheritance. One family member may accpet the reality with bitterness and rancour and evern seek to overturn the terms of the will, while another member accepts it philosophically. Those who are in Christ carry the nature of their Father in heaven and know that He is providentally dealing with them and that nothing is gifted to them for their impoverishment. When I think of this  I think of one special person in my acquantince of the past, a person who more than most was so accepting of the events of life. It seemed that each day and each hour she walked with her God and was so deeply aware of His control of all events and was happily resigned to them. She, with her husband, had been a pioneer missionary. together they had given an aggregate of 90 years to the Church's mission enterprise. Over the years she had learned that God had all things in His hand, that nothing escaped His control and that in big things and little things He was working things out for good.

2. God employs suffering to turn our hearts to Himself.

God employs these adversities, the tribulations, the trials and the sufferings to turn our hearts to Himself.

The metalurgist working with his material uses the furnace not only to melt and render the metal malleable but also to refine it and purfiy it by the extraction of rubbish, to seperate the dross. Tribulation and suffering can be the searing furnace in our experience, the fire that refines us and enables us to live closer to God.

From Pinterest
The shared adversties of life serve to bond us, to bond us more tightly together. And the adversities of life can bond us more firmly with our God when we recieve those trials from Him as instruments in His hand to refine us and cause us to cast ourselves upon Him.

[Someone] was sharing with me about a time in her life when she was greatly troubled (I don't know the nature of the trouble). She found strength in the constant awareness of the Psalmist's words in Psalm 121: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills ... My help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth. The Lord watches over you."

There are no accidents with God - only incidents. Incidents that He employs to draw us into a closer relationship with Himself.

3. God employs suffering to prove to us that His fulness is more than enough to meet our greatest and our every need.

There is another outcome of our trials and sufferings in life not divorced from what has already been said.

God shows us something of Himself through them. the apostle Peter writes (in 1 Peter 5:6) "Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you." God demonstrates to us that He is the Caring One, the All-sufficent One. He is the one who can provide the help that we most certianly need. He can meet those special needs, the needs encountered in our trials and tribulations. He can supply to the full and most perfectly. Of course we should be able to learn this (in an academic way) simply by looking at history or the experiences of others but alas we seldom do learn this lesson thoroughly. We can learn much about this by reading the biographies of believers and how God used adversity in their lives. There are the stories of Bible characters and missionary biographies.

I think of Abraham taking his son to make a sacrifice at Mt Moriah in obedience to God's instruction. He went believing that in spite of that sacrifice God could still fulfill all His own promises that appeared to be bound up with this one son Isaac who was to be sacrificed. Indeed God did provide. This resulted in Abraham naming the place "The Lord Will Provide". How true that is and yet we often have to rediscover this for ourselves within our own personal experience. Our extreme needs in suffering, of whatever sort, become God's opportunity to once again sho that He is The Provider. The life of Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Israel, is one where we see adveristy and difficulty. Hated in his own family, sold into slavery, years of wasting in a miserable prison. But all of that was experience that God used to create a humble leader and man of authority.

4. Suffering for the believer is a means in God's hand for our sanctification.

So does suffering have a place in God's providence?

I'm sure that many have suffered gratly and whould have wished to be without those painful experiences, yet of these there are some who have found God in that suffering and have found Him to be very real and very close precisely in the midst of their sufferings. So much so that afterwards they see the sufferings as blessed sufferings, experiences through which God has shown Himself, and drawn very close to them, and used their circumstances, and their need, to refine thier life and their faith.  I think of Xions in Europe during the second World War. Those in accompanying countries saw how that in this trial they were more alive in their faith. Their obvious need of God brought them closer to God. In God's hand our sufferings/tribulations/trials are for our sanctification, are for the fashioning and the shaping of us more after the likeness of Jesus Christ our Saviour who Himself suffered for our sakes to bring us to God and to make us perfect.

While our text is applied to the believer I think we may have already seen how that God cna also use the the trials and adversities in the lives of those not yet believers to alter the direction of their lives and turn them back to Himself.


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