The church must embrace the truth that God uses more than positive, formative means (e.g., preaching & Bible studies) to sanctify His people. Sanctification (growth in holiness; mortification of sin) is exquisitely accomplished in suffering. If God intends on using suffering, indeed ordaining suffering, for our good, then we (the church) must develop a theology and methodology of responding well in the trials. The problems of life are always theological (all secular psychologies leave out God as the central Person); and thus belong to the church.
Thomas Case, A Treatise on Afflictions, (originally published 1652; republished and condensed as When Christians Suffer, 2009), found profit in pain. The cross always precedes the crown, but we would have the latter without the former. “We are great strangers to the cross, and when we suffer we either despise the chastisement of the Lord or we faint when we are rebuked by him” (Introduction by Thomas Case, When Christians Suffer, 9). Notice how Paul and James view suffering:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not [will 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.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
“Whatever they be, trials are to be considered by the believer as an occasion for rejoicing.” Why? “Suffering is a means by which faith, tested in the fires of adversity, can be purified of any dross and thereby strengthened” (Moo, James, 60). We need trials. Paul’s passion in ministry was to present everyone mature in Christ (Col 1:28-29).
“When suffering sandblasts us to the core, the true stuff of which we are made is revealed. Suffering lobs a hand-grenade into our self-centeredness, blasting our soul bare, so we can be better bonded to the Savior. Our afflictions make us holy. And we are never more like Christ, never more filled with his joy, peace, and power, than when sin is uprooted from our lives….In short, one form of evil—suffering—is turned on its head to defeat another form of evil—my sin—all to the praise of God’s wisdom and glory” (Joni Eareckson Tada, “God’s Plan A,” 33, 35, in Be Still My Soul).
Only in the Bible is sense made out of suffering. Suffering reveals what or who we treasure. Then suffering becomes the crucible of change. Through the lens of the cross one finds the truth to trust God in the midst of the storms of life. The person of Jesus and His passion redefine suffering. Now suffering serves our greatest need—the mortification of sin and the magnification of our Savior.
Do you know how to help someone in suffering? What might God be doing when painful circumstances knock at your friend’s door? Can you help them to see their suffering as the crucible of change? Please, will you consider being equipped with the hope giving, joy producing, God honoring, living Word to help others live a life that is pleasing to the Savior and satisfying to the soul? It may be helpful to explore our training curriculum, course fees, and course dates for 2015 on our website. Please, let us know if we can help answer any questions you may have about biblical counseling and the training we offer. We look forward to hearing from you.
10,000 Blessings in The Wonderful Counselor,
Rod and Staff Ministries
*Compiled from Semester One: Principles of Biblical Counseling. 2nd Edition. Lesson Three.
Photo: Baja Lake Sunrise; CC2.0 BY Wolfgang; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bafa_lake_sunrise.JPG