On Valentines Day 2006 I awoke early in the morning to a massive pain in my chest. It felt as if an elephant was sitting on my chest. After several minutes of resistance I reluctantly called 911. When the paramedics arrived they gave me a little pill to put under my tongue. Instant relief! Yet I knew something was radically wrong.
“Heart Attack” was the first words I heard the Doctors say when I arrived at the hospital. Sure enough after a battery of tests I was diagnosed with having an enlarged heart. My heart was about to burst. I was quickly put on a helicopter and flown to Phoenix Arizona for emergency surgery.
While flying to Phoenix I remember thinking, “Man, I don’t have time for this”. I was in the midst of planting a new church, coaching football and a million other things. But God had other plans.
Over the next several weeks I learned some of the most profound spiritual lessons of my life.
Once I got over my initial frustration, I asked, “Lord, what are You saying to me? What do You want me to learn?”
I learned that the adverse stuff in life is God’s way to advance spiritual growth in His children.
This life principle led the Apostle Paul to say: “All things (or stuff) work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NKJV).
This is a conditional promise. For the person who doesn’t care about spiritual growth or a relationship with the Lord, there’s no guarantee that all things will work for good. After all, “good” may refer to character development or a faith lesson that results from adversity— someone who does not love God or care to know Him probably wouldn’t consider such benefits positive. But the Lord values these things far more than wealth, prominence, health, and many other blessings we cherish.
Romans 8:28 does not promise that a believer who loses his job will get a better one. The blessing may lie in his coming to a greater understanding of what it means to trust God daily.
The reason so many of us struggle with adversity is that we often don’t understand God’s perspective and priorities. As you read about the lives of biblical characters, you will notice quickly that their stories typically don’t end with “and they lived happily ever after.” Moses died in the desert outside of the Promised Land, Paul was probably beheaded by Nero, and most of the disciples were martyred.
Are we to conclude from these examples that God has no interest in the happiness of His children? No! We are told that heaven will be a place of great rejoicing. But God wants far more for us than a stuff free life. The happiness God desires for His children is a state of well-being that reaches deep into our souls as we mature spiritually.
If we don’t keep the Lord’s priorities in mind, we will find trials more difficult to handle. We will tend to blame God for our stuff and become bitter. Instead of seeing adverse stuff as a tool God uses for our benefit, we will see it as something He does to us. When our priorities are ease, comfort, and pleasure, we have little tolerance or patience in difficult times. Instead of seeing our circumstances as part of God’s plan for our lives, we consider them unwelcome interruptions.
But when we allow the Lord to shape our priorities, adversity can take on a whole new meaning. We learn to see it as an integral part of what God is doing in our lives. We begin to understand that suffering sometimes leads to greater joy and peace. We no longer panic and assume God has forgotten us. Why? Because according to Romans 8:28, He is in the process of bringing another blessing into our lives.
Mature spiritual men and women emerge from stuff excited about what God has taught them. Carnal thinkers, on the other hand, often end up bitter and angry with Him. They are quick to point out that “all things don’t work together for good,” conveniently ignoring the second half of the verse, which focuses on God’s purpose in the life of a believer.
The Bible gives us plenty of reasons to believe that God could erase all difficulty from our lives with just a word. He is God and He can do anything He desires. But my heart experience tells me that He chooses not to work that way.
Most people don’t know that God uses pain to fulfill His purposes in their lives. But you have to cooperate with God for that to happen in your life.
Most people waste their pain. Most people don’t profit from their problems.They don’t advance from their adversity. Most people don’t learn from their losses, they don’t improve from their injuries. They waste it!
God doesn’t want you to waste anything you experience both good and bad. This is what Paul’s talking about in Galatians 3:4, where he says, “Have you gone through all this for nothing?”
Paul says in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.” Paul is saying the most normal thing to do is to walk in fellowship with Christ in our painful times.
I have learned that one of the greatest things I gain in Christ is a companion to fellowship with me when I suffer.
Somebody to fellowship with me when I suffer, somebody who has suffered far beyond any suffering I will ever know, far beyond any suffering I will ever feel or experience to walk with me, listen to me in the midst of my stuff. That person is Jesus. Wow!
Any Christian on the face of the earth will tell you that the deepest moments of spiritual fellowship with the living Christ are the direct result of intense suffering. No question about it.
Suffering should always drive us to Christ. Why? Because in our suffering we find Jesus our sympathetic merciful high priest who cares, our friend who feels our pain and who has been in all points tempted just like as we are, who knows our weakness and our infirmities.
I know a lot of us don’t like the idea of suffering but listen up! A trouble free life is is a shallow life.
Sorrow can turn out to be one of life’s greatest fellowship enhancers.
Jesus can become real to us in suffering! It is an intimacy that you can experience during the stuff of life that you will never get during the lighter times of life.
One of my favorite poems is by Robert Browning, he said, “I walked a mile with pleasure, she chattered all the way, but made me none the wiser for all she had to say. I walked a mile with sorrow, and never a word said she, but oh, the things I learned from her as sorrow walked with me.”
Sorrow will walk with you, but even better Jesus will walk with you through the sorrow, that’s the fellowship of his suffering that Paul spoke about.
Think about your life up to this point.
Have you grown more spiritually mature from the stuff you have experienced in your life? Or has the stuff in your life never really made any difference?
God is in the process of teaching believers about His faithfulness, goodness, compassion, and love. Our spiritual growth is more important to God than our ease, comfort, or pleasure.
I have learned that the Lord allows stuff in our lives to teach us how to rely upon Him instead of ourselves. That reliance on God allows us to grow strong in our stuff.
1 Peter 5:10 says, “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Wow! What a promise of hope and encouragement we have for us to receive when we face the stuff of life.
Don’t give up! God knows exactly where you are and what you need. Just trust Him. Be patient. He is working on your behalf!
Walk in Grace
Pastor Rick Edwards