Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change
Three excerpts at a time from the new book by Brian G. Hedges

Friday, August 5, 2011

Excerpt 19 of 22

Tailor-made Trials

The problem is that suffering usually seems so random. It appears to be without purpose. It feels harmful to us, not helpful. While we want to thank God for the good things, we sometimes forget that his providence embraces bad things, too.[i] We often talk about how God's timing is perfect with respect to blessings, but somehow we don’t see our trials that way. But it's really all one package, one purpose, with all things pointing in one direction: God is at work to conform us to the image of his Son.

Of course, discerning the loving purposes of God in the afflictions of someone else often seems easy! (Although we are as often wrong as we are right in our diagnosis – remember Job’s friends?) But it is not so easy to trust the Lord when the heat is on in our own lives. Our own trials always seem unusually difficult. Why is this? 
Because God tailor-makes our sufferings. Gene Edwards writes,

What kind of person can best endure suffering? Quite frankly, once suffering takes up residence, it seems none of us are qualified. Why? Suffering that comes from the hand of God seems to be so selected, so tailored for the one to whom it is sent. The thing you might shoulder the easiest may never come to you; but that one weakness you were never prepared for, that one hidden portion of your life you probably didn’t even know about – there is where the blow will fall . . . What kind of Christian can best endure suffering? He doesn’t exist. I could handle your problems easily. You could handle mine with a yawn. But it didn’t happen that way. I got the ones I couldn’t handle; so did you.[ii]

I find this helpful. It reminds me that the tough stuff in my life doesn’t just happen. No, my circumstances are sifted through the fingers of a wise and loving Father. As a master artisan who designs to restore his image within me, he knows which tools to use in my life, precisely where to use them, and exactly how much pressure to apply.

God is too wise to be mistaken.
God is too good to be unkind.
So when you don’t understand,
when you don’t see His plan,
When you can’t trace His hand,
Trust His heart.[iii]

A Gospel-Shaped  Perspective on Trials

But how do we know we can trust God’s heart? Because of the gospel. The promise of Romans 8:28-29 isn’t built on sand, but on the rock who is Christ. The cross and empty tomb of Jesus are the ultimate unveiling of God’s love for us. God has shown his love in giving us his Son, and he has shown his infinite power in raising Jesus from the dead. That is why we can rest with confidence in God’s goodwill toward us.

The language immediately following Romans 8:28-29 is lavishly embedded with promises that are ours in the gospel. Consider these: 

•   God has not only predestined us to become like Jesus, he has called, justified, and glorified us (v. 30).
•   God is for us (v. 31). He is in our side!
  God has demonstrated his love for us by not sparing his Son, but giving him up for us. Since he has already given his greatest gift, we know he will graciously give us everything else we need (v. 32).
  No charge can be brought against us, for we are justified. The verdict of the judge is in. We are declared not guilty (v. 33)
  No one can condemn us, for Christ has died and was raised on our behalf (v. 34a). 
  More than that, he is our advocate at God’s right hand, pleading our case (v. 34b).
  Therefore adversity should never threaten us, for nothing can separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ (v. 35-39).

We cannot always readily perceive the love and goodness of God in our circumstances. But the gospel invites us to look beyond our situation to the sacrificial love of our saving Lord. As one author discovered:

More than anything else I could ever do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me conformed to the image of Christ.[iv]

How God Uses Suffering

So the cross and resurrection are the ultimate answer to suffering. And we really can trust the good purposes of God in using suffering to make us more like Jesus. But it is still helpful to inquire further into the specific ways God uses trials in our lives. Understanding God’s various purposes will help us better cooperate with him in our responses.

Let’s explore Scripture to discover six ways God utilizes suffering in our lives, understanding that each of these uses serve God’s ultimate purpose of glorifying himself by restoring his image within us....  

[i] Jerry Bridges notes two errors we often make when we talk about the Providence of God. First, “we almost always use the expression ‘the providence of God’ in connection with apparently ‘good’ events . . . But you almost never hear anyone say something such as, ‘In the providence of God I had an accident and was paralyzed from my waist down’. . . The second problem with our popular use of the expression ‘the providence of God’ is that we either unconsciously or deliberately imply that God intervenes at specific points in our lives but is largely only an uninterested spectator most of the time.” Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1994) 24-25.
[ii] Gene Edwards, The Inward Journey: A Story of God’s Transforming Love (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1993) 61-62.
[iii] Babbie Mason and Eddie Carswell, “Trust His Heart,” 1989 Dayspring Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.).
[iv] Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2008) 31-32.