I think we can all agree that sometimes life is just painful. Some seasons are filled with joy, laughter, and rejoicing. Others are riddled with tears, mourning, and angst. Both are useful in our walk with the Lord, but we can’t simply ignore the fact that we are made of flesh, and suffering hurts.
Scripture is filled with story after story of trials that don’t make sense in our human terms. Men thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to turn on the one true God. Daniel thrown into a pit with lions for following his convictions. Father Abraham told to sacrifice his son Isaac, the very one God promised to give him in his old age. Mary who faithfully bore the Savior from her own womb, facing the scorn and shame of bearing a child out of wedlock, then to watch him suffer and die on a roman cross.
Whether we realize it or not, these stories all have a similar thread throughout. There are four things we see in scripture that are true for all of us:
- You will experience times of testing
- God will be faithful to you
- Trials will be custom fit for you
- He will provide a way of escape causing you to be victorious
1 Corinthians 10:13 says this (I love the passion translation or this one):
“We all experience times of testing, which is normal for every human being. But God will be faithful to you. He will screen and filter the severity, nature, and timing of every test or trial you face so that you can bear it. And each test is an opportunity to trust him more, for along with every trial God has provided for you a way of escape that will bring you out of it victoriously.” TPT
It can be easy to allow ourselves to fall under the illusion that we can escape suffering. I know I have believed this lie myself. I thought if I just had enough control over my life and my circumstances that I could prevent or at least minimize suffering. “If I control what my children eat I can prevent them from getting sick.” “If I am generous and give to my church I will be safe from financial hardship.” “If I just do what God wants and obey the simple commands of scripture I can avoid pain and trauma in my life.”
These are all reasonable and normal thoughts, in fact I have thought many of these things for many years and attempted to control my life through formulaic means. If I put A+B I will always get C. The problem with this is that it puts God in a box, we limit God with our own human terms and assume that he will always abide by our manmade formulas. Simply obeying God doesn’t avoid pain in this life. In fact I know many Christians who would say following God actually ensures more trials, I can definitely attest to this in my life. The fact is we will suffer as Christians, Luke 9:23 Jesus says to his followers:
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” NLT
We are called not just to give up our own way, but to take up our cross. Suffering is a part of following Jesus, but we shouldn’t lose hope, because what comes next in this passage is so concise and important: “But God will be faithful to you.” We can’t lose hope because God promises to be faithful. He never just abandons us in our pain. We have a guarantee that he will be faithful, he will bring comfort, strength, and encouragement. Faithfulness is a part of his character as we are reminded in 2 Timothy:
But even if we are faithless, he will still be full of faith, for he never wavers in his faithfulness to us!
2 Timothy 2:13 TPT
He never wavers in his faithfulness to us, isn’t that a sweet promise? There is something about ongoing suffering that can really foster a sense of weariness and exhaustion. I can’t tell you how many times in the midst of a trial I just want to throw in the towel. I don’t believe God is surprised by this. He knows us, he knows our frame and how we are made. In our suffering he shows himself faithful because he is a compassionate Father. It’s who he is, and he can’t deny that part of himself, not for one second.
The next part addresses trials being custom fit for us. Trials aren’t randomly selected. God doesn’t just throw them out to see what happens. Trials are carefully selected for each of us. We serve a sovereign God who rules and reigns over all things. We can hear Jesus described as “holding all things together” in Colossians 1:17. We serve a big God who sees all, knows all, and holds all things together in his might and wisdom.
This year I faced a series of trials with my four kids. They were all hit one after the other with various illnesses that had them all laid out for weeks. This happened several times over the course of several months. I began to waver and wonder “why is this happening!?” Is this the enemy, or is God punishing me? Finally after several months of this I realized we had prayed for healing and for protection from the enemy. We had welcomed others into the trial to pray with us and for us. We had faith God could deliver us from this, and he hadn’t. What this proved to me is that God was calling us to endure this with faith. I finally believed he was refining us, not punishing us.
In a place of total surrender I gave myself fully to the trial and my prayers changed from “just deliver us!!” to “do whatever it is you want through this pain!” The pain and inconvenience was still there, but my heart had changed. There was a shift in my belief and I saw that God was in the process of sharpening and refining myself and my family. From these trials I now can see the beautiful work God was doing. I saw my nine year old daughter’s faith deepen in a way that I never could have imagined. I saw her press into the Lord for comfort and I saw him meet her. The fruit is now so evident, the Lord in his kindness knew what he was doing and he never works by accident.
Finally, we have the way of escape. Escape has a bad connotation these days, there are so many opportunities to run from our problems. Some of my favorite ways have been Netflix binges for days, a glass of wine or more, scrolling through endless pages of other people whose lives seem perfectly put together, that delicious treat that sounds so good when I’m feeling stressed. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for self-care especially in times of difficulty. But I think that care shouldn’t take the place of the biblical way of escape. Any other form of escape will fall short and can only sustain us for so long. If we begin to use these false means of escape we almost begin to try to medicate our pain which can in turn lead to bondage, depression, isolation and even more pain in the end.
What is the difference between our measly attempts to run from pain and God’s way of escape in the midst of pain? God’s way of escape is the only way that leads to victory! We have a guarantee laid out here that he has a way of escape as custom fit as the trial itself. God is not a God of chaos or confusion (1 Cor 14:33), he delights in delivering us and setting us free. I would encourage you to ask him to show you the specific way of escape for the trial you are enduring. I can promise you our God will show you. When all is said and done, I believe you will find yourself in a place of awe and wonder at the big God we serve as you find victory in the most unexpected places.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
James 1:2-4 NLT