Tag Archives: suffering

Preparing for Affliction

 

In his treatise exhorting believers to the duty of meditation, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, Puritan John Owen (1616-1683) sets forth the following proposition on the benefit of meditating on eternity,

“There is nothing more necessary unto believers at this season than to have their minds furnished with provision of such things as may prepare them for the cross and sufferings.  Various intimations of the mind of God, circumstances of providence, the present state of things in the world, with the instant peril of the latter days, do all call them hereunto.  If it be otherwise with them, they will at one time or another be woefully surprised, and think strange of their trials, as if some strange thing did befall them.  Nothing is more useful unto this end than constant thoughts and contemplations of eternal things and future glory.”

What he is saying here, in a way that only Owen does, is that for believers, key to preparing for the coming sufferings, afflictions, and trials of this world is continual meditations on eternity.

Similarly, note the words of God through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Here we see the relationship between affliction and eternity, namely that the former is preparatory for the latter.  How so?

  1. Affliction is preparatory because, as we have seen with Job, it is a refining, purifying act of God to further cleanse the believer of defilement, strengthen faith, and develop perseverance (see Romans 5:1-5).
  2. Affliction is preparatory because due to its temporary nature, we anticipate its conclusion, knowing that it will not last forever.  Therefore by their very nature afflictions cause us to look forward to a day when they will end and eternity will begin.  This is sometimes called having an eternal perspective.

Similarly, in this passage we see that our focus should not be on the temporary, earthly, and visible things of this world, instead our focus should be on the eternal, heavenly, and invisible (at present) things of the world to come.  Having this focus constantly and consistently, as Owen states, prepares us for the arrival of affliction. It therefore does not take us by surprise, nor does it sink us into depths of despair, though we certainly may have “fear of and aversation* from great, distressing sufferings, that are above the power of nature to bear.” Nevertheless we persevere knowing that the suffering and sorrow is only temporary.

Finally, moving from a general statement on the positive benefits of meditating on eternity to a more specific look at what exactly that entails, we may note at least three objects upon which to set our minds

  1. The Restoration of All Things
  2. The Renewal of our Earthly Bodies
  3. The Christ of Eternity

For our first point we note that we must allow our minds to fix upon the restoration of all things, namely that this world, which is fading away, will one day be restored such that it will no longer be subject to the fall.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:21-22 

Second, we must allow our minds to fix upon the renewal of our earthly bodies.  “50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”” 1 Cor. 15:50-55

Finally, and most importantly, we must allow our minds to fix upon the Christ of eternity, for we shall finally see Him as He is.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

Our best preparation for affliction is to meditate on our eternal state in glory, as such it is also the best object of our meditations during affliction. Turning to Owen for the final word, we read,

“Eternal glory is set before us also; it is the design of God’s wisdom and grace that by the contemplation of it we should relieve ourselves in all our sufferings, yea, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

 

*turning away in dislike

For additional study and meditation, read Revelation 21.

Preparing your church for Suffering

In a world where suffering of any kind seems so prevalent, natural disasters are becoming more frequent, disease strikes those closest to us, and death is eminent for us all, it’s important to look to the Bible to understand how and why God uses suffering in our lives.  The Apostle Paul was a man whom God set apart to suffer for His sake and we can look at how he handled it in his life for encouragement during times of our own suffering.  Upon his conversion on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul was temporarily strickened blind.  The Lord appeared to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias and told him to find Paul and lay hands on him for healing of his sight.  The Lord declared to Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:10-16 ESV  And suffer he did.  Paul summarizes in II Corinthians 11:21-30 ESV

“But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.  Are they servants of Christ?  I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak?  Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?  If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

Despite the many sufferings, Paul kept his focus on the Lord Jesus Christ,  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Romans 8:18 ESV The Apostle Paul maintained an eternal focus, even in the midst of a life dedicated to suffering for the cause of advancing the Gospel.

But why does it happen?  Why are we allowed to suffer?  The first answer is that we live in a fallen, sinful world and the result of this sin is death (Romans 6:23).  Those of us who are in Christ are not exempt from suffering, but we do have the assurance that Jesus Christ will carry us through if we rely upon Him as the Rock in our life.  Secondly, when we look to Him, we can rejoice in the refining or purifying that suffering brings.   As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5 ESV “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 put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  We have a choice in the face of suffering, we can allow it to harden our hearts toward God, life, and the people around us or we can look unto the Lord and allow Him to work in our lives, sanctifying us in preparation for future glory. 

Paul’s attitude and focus on Jesus is the same type of approach we should take in our own lives and corporately in our churches.   This is the same type of focus you’ll see in the video below.  Matt Chandler, pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, TX details his diagnosis, surgery, and on-going battle with cancer at the recent Together For the Gospel Conference.  Since the video is in it’s original format from the conference it may be slow to download, but it is worth the watch.  C.J. Mahaney summarizes suffering after Chandler’s testimony. 

Sometimes it’s difficult for us to accept that God allows suffering and sometimes we question to the point of allowing ourselves to become hardened toward the Lord, by asking how He could allow such things to happen.  In a fallen, sinful world we need to understand that at some point suffering will occur, either directly or indirectly, and we must be prepared for this by having Christ as the foundation of our life, focusing on the eternal glory to be seen in heaven, and realizing that God allowed His Holy, sinless Son to endure the suffering of the cross for our sake and we can rest our hope in that.

 

T4G 2010 — Session 8 — Matt Chandler from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.