“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb 12:5-7)
Ever since the days of Job saints in all ages, have been asking the question – Why has the Lord dealt with me in such a way? Our Heavenly Father uses chastening (suffering) in our lives for various reasons. His purpose is always “child training” for our spiritual development. Let us look at several reasons why God takes His children through suffering.
Divine Relationship: Chastening (suffering) is a mark of special divine relationship between God and His children. The fact that this is true is made clear from the following scriptures: “For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb 12:6); “For the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prov 3:12).
A Christian blacksmith had a farmer friend who did not believe in God. The farmer kept pointing out to the blacksmith that he (the blacksmith) always seemed to be going through severe difficulties which he (the farmer) never seemed to have. The blacksmith listened very quietly until the farmer finished speaking. He then invited him outside the furnace area. Lifting a piece of old iron from the heap of scrap lying there he said, “Here is a piece of iron which is of no use to me. I have put it in the fire, plunged it in the water, but it refuses to be tempered. Here it lies on the scrap heap.” Reverentially he then turned his eyes to Heaven, and in the hearing of the skeptic prayed: “Lord, put me in the fire, and plunge me in the water, but do not throw me on the scrap heap.”
Purpose of Suffering: Let us discover now several reasons why divine chastening is permitted to come upon God’s people, each of which has a specific purpose in view.
To Teach Obedience: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I have kept thy Word. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps 119:67-71, David). Right through our growing years we know that some lessons are never learned without the whip. Because sin dwells in us, we tend towards wrongdoing easily and if the rod is spared, the child is spoiled (becomes wayward).
To Deepen Our Spiritual Lives: “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (Jn 15:2). The pruning knife (of suffering) cuts deeply and shaves off that which is not needed for the purpose of bearing more fruit. So often the child of God is senselessly running around looking for healing and deliverance instead of waiting upon God and inquiring what his Heavenly Father is trying to accomplish. The Gardner’s purpose in pruning us is that we may bear fruit in such a way that we (the branch) draw attention to the Vine (Christ) and not to ourselves. We must decrease as He increases – a crying need in many ministries today. This is the main purpose of the Cross (God’s pruning knife) to produce the “Not I, But Christ” Life. How impossible therefore to be Christ-centered without being Cross-centered.
To Produce Humility: There are some sufferings that God purposely allows in the form of a life-long trial. Sometimes, when it achieves its purpose, the suffering is lifted, at other times it is allowed to remain life-long like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7-9). Due to the abundance of special revelations given to Paul, he had to be given a thorn to keep him humble. In the passage above, we are wisely not told what the thorn was, simply because the nature of the thorn itself was not important and would always differ from person to person. But three things are indicated: (a) It was given by God (b) It was a physical affliction (c) It was through the instrumentation of Satan. At first, Paul (with his eyes on God alone) cried out to have it removed. Then, when told by God that His grace was sufficient, Paul realized that when he was made weak through the thorn, the heavenly Father made up for the weakness by supplying more divine power, so that every task was accomplished with greater results, and Paul having nothing to do with the results was in no danger of becoming proud but was kept humble instead.
To Increase Patience: “Suffering produces endurance” or patience (Rom 5:3). “We have need of endurance” (Heb 10:36). Patience is a much desired virtue (fruit) that cannot be learned from a book or in a classroom, but must be learned only in God’s school of training. With today’s mania for instant answers, many a child of God falls into the trap of expecting immediate spiritual results and is quickly depressed when disappointed. Not only are such instant spiritual answers impossible in the spiritual realm – for God’s processing is deep and thorough and has eternity in mind – but being a Christ-like fruit, it is learned and worked into the child of God through the agency of the Holy Spirit as He takes us through the daily exigencies of life and hence time is of essence. Therefore James exhorts us to “count it all joy brethren when you meet various trials for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (patience), and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
To Comfort Others: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4). We have a dying, bleeding, confused, hurting world out there in need of a Saviour and in need of life giving ministry. It is not we who can minister to them, but it is the Spirit of Christ who ministers to them through us. To do this effectively, He puts us through various sufferings ourselves – so that after we have experienced it first hand ourselves, we are in a position to help others. Often, God may afflict his own child, causing him to go through deep sufferings. The child ponders to see if there has been anything to cause the affliction but failing to discover any answer asks the question – Why Lord? Why is this happening to me? Before long, he meets another brother or sister who has passed through a similar affliction. He has sympathy (fellow-feeling) for his suffering brother, and as they share what they are going through, the comfort that one brother received from the hand of God is now conveyed to this other brother. Here lies the essence of true sympathy. The origin of the word sympathy is derived from two words: sum (with) and pathos (feeling). The idea is to be a channel of divine comfort to others in their affliction thereby drawing them closer to Christ.
To Test Faith: The difference between a true Christian and a sinner is faith. Faith is life a muscle, it develops when stretched. The work of the Holy Spirit in a believer is to develop our faith, and the means sometimes employed are the trials of life. The Bible states that “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). Abraham’s life was a life of crisis, where his faith was constantly tested. First, he was asked to sacrifice his country. Second, he must sacrifice his nephew, Lot. Third, he must sacrifice a son, Ishmael. Fourth, most difficult of all, he must sacrifice his only Isaac. (Gen:12, 13, 21, 22). His faith was tested and tried, and developed and grew strong through each test. Finally, when Isaac inquired about the sacrifice (Gen 22:8), he was able to say with faith, God will provide the sacrifice – God will make a way where there seems to be no way. He had learned to rest his “inner eye of faith” upon his heavenly Father, counting on Him to provide every need and he went home triumphant. Rejoice, though now for a little while, you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith more precious than gold may redound to the praise of his glorious name (1 Pet 1:6).
Suffering Produces Oneness with Christ: When we suffer, we share in Christ’s sufferings – a most precious thought. “Beloved be not surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you as though something strange were happening to you – but rejoice – in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet 4:12). “If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him” (Rom 8:17). The KEY thoughts here are being counted worthy to suffer with Him.
The Grand Conclusions of Suffering:
Metals are Precious: You are not your own, you are bought and redeemed not with perishable things like gold and silver but with the imperishable blood of Christ (1 Pet 1:18). Digest this home truth – that you are precious. The point is that only precious metals are put through the flame (suffering).
Dross alone is burned: God is not out to break your spirit, He is only out to destroy your flesh which is of no use anyway. Pride, conceit, inflated opinion, love of praise, secret desire to be noticed, self will, stubbornness, unteachable spirit, headstrong disposition, jealousy, anger, impatience, love of money, selfishness, etc. all have to be broken. The furnace of Daniel Ch. 3 into which the three Hebrew princes were thrown into, served only to loose the ropes (bondages) that bound them. Likewise, suffering is a blessing that frees us from the self-life which otherwise binds.
The fire is gauged: “Lord I cannot handle this suffering, it is more than I can bear” is the lament of many a child of God. Remember 2 things – (1) The same amount of testing and trials are required of all the brethren all over the world and (2) God is faithful and will not let you be tested and tried beyond your strength, but with it will provide a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13) – Grace. Your heavenly Father controls the thermostat at all times.
The Refiner sits by the fire: The Father watches you and the flame intently. Nothing can snatch you out His right hand. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. I will never let go of thy hand” (Heb 13:5). This is the only verse in the bible that means the same thing when read forwards or backwards:
I will never leave thee nor forsake thee
Thee forsake, nor thee leave, never will I
He watches for His Image: God originally created us in His own Image (Gen 1:26). This image was corrupted by the “fall”. When we repent and believe in Christ, we become a new creation positionally (See 2 Cor 5:17). But experientially, this change is wrought through God’s daily working in our lives. Just like a goldsmith refines the “gold ore” in the crucible and waits for the moment when he recognizes his clear reflection in the pure gold, so also the Father refines us in the crucible of suffering till we reflect not our own fallen image anymore, but the perfect image of His own dear Son, hallelujah!