If a stranger approaches you and says they know your buddy “John,” but all their facts are wrong concerning him, you could safely conclude they are referring to a different John. Mark Spence uses this illustration to show why many non-Christians say they “know” Jesus Christ.
December 30, 2020
Alas, 2020 is close to taking its final breath, and most earthlings are more than eager to sabotage its ventilator and bid it a vociferous good riddance. From COVID, to economic crisis, to widespread riots, to natural disasters, to a turbulent presidential election—there is very little havoc that this tumultuous year has not wreaked upon its helpless captives. As Christians, we find ourselves caught in a Twilight Zone of sorts—wandering around in the “fifth dimension,” somewhere in the “middle ground between light and shadow.” We’re pilgrims and sojourners, citizens of another eternal world, and yet temporary residents of a fallen one—whose maladies harass us as much as they do those who don’t know Christ. And here’s where we find ourselves assailed by a niggling dilemma. How do we grieve our way through pain, suffering, and disappointment while simultaneously obeying the biblical directive to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4) and avoid a grumbling spirit (Philippians 2:14)? Is there a way? It has been rightly said that God never calls us to do anything that He does not supply us the power through which to do it. And so, as paradoxical as it may seem, there is a pathway to grieve righteously and to find joy amid the sorrow.
“God never calls us to do anything that He does not supply us the power through which to do it.”
There are a few key things that will help you actualize this essential dynamic in your life. First and foremost, remember who you are—better yet, remember who you are not. Scripture makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 6:19,20 that you are not your own, but you were bought at a price. Christ paid the highest price for anything ever purchased, in the history of the universe, when He shed His priceless blood to redeem your soul from Hell and self-destruction. Coupled with that, 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” When you consider the fact that you don’t belong to yourself and Christ purchased you, you begin to accept the reality that you’re not on this earth to fulfill your own agenda or to chart your own course. You’re here to live a life fully surrendered to Christ—come what may.
Second, don’t be surprised when a fallen and cursed world functions like one. I’ve always been perplexed when Christians say they don’t know why there is so much suffering in the world. Of course we know why. Ever since Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God’s command in Eden, paradise was lost, and the promised judgment of death and suffering on them and their progeny was unleashed. And related to that, Paul and Barnabas made it clear to the earliest Christians that through many trials we will enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Additionally, Jesus plainly declared that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33). This is why the apostle Peter said, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12). In light of that, his words at the end of that same chapter make a whole lot of sense: “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).
“Keep in mind that your trials are your servants. You have not sustained one moment of pain and suffering in vain.”
Third, keep in mind that your trials are your servants. You have not sustained one moment of pain and suffering in vain. God promises that your various trials are shaping your character through the cultivation of perseverance (Romans 5:3,4), and are producing endurance in you, so you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2–4). Moreover, we know that God will cause every trial to work together for our good as He conforms us to the glorious image of Christ (Romans 8:28,29).
Fourth, your sufferings—no matter how severe—are temporary and they’re not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in you when you enter God’s eternal Kingdom (Romans 8:18). Peter tells us that we have a priceless inheritance reserved in Heaven for us, and on the basis of that knowledge we are able to “greatly rejoice” even though we are currently “grieved by various trials,” confident in the fact that we are “kept by the power of God” until that day (1 Peter 1:3–6).
“We must never forget that we are never forgotten—and never forsaken—by our precious Savior.”
And finally, we must never forget that we are never forgotten—and never forsaken—by our precious Savior. When the author of Hebrews wrote to the embattled saints who were in the cauldron of intense anguish and suffering, he exhorted them to let their conduct be without covetousness and to be content with what they had. In other words, he wanted them to forgo coveting different circumstances for their lives and to contentedly accept the providence of God amid their suffering. But then he tells them why that was possible: “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
“Jesus plus nothing equals everything.”It’s true that “Jesus plus nothing equals everything.” In possessing the presence of Christ, according to whose will it had been granted to them to suffer (Philippians 1:29), they possessed everything they needed to withstand the fiery furnace of tribulation. And while God welcomes the heartfelt groanings and cries of His saints in anguish—and their sincere prayers for divine deliverance, which He sometimes grants—He graces them with something far greater than reprieve from temporal upheavals. He gives them the ability to emulate their Redeemer, who in the heat of His distress in the Garden of Gethsemane, after asking the Father to take the cup of suffering from Him, surrendered by saying, “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
So, as you follow in the footsteps of the “Man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with much grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and who “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2), may you be sustained and buoyed by a divine joy as you remember that:
- You are not your own, but are called to live a life surrendered to your Redeemer’s orchestrations.
- Suffering is the outcome of a cursed creation and a promised part of the Christian life.
- Trials are your servants that are producing endurance and character in you while conforming you to the image of Christ.
- Your tribulations are temporary and Heaven’s glory awaits you.
- Christ Himself is your prized and permanent possession—even in the crucible of affliction—enabling you to live passionately for His will.
This is the way—God’s pathway—to grieve righteously and to find joy amid the sorrow. It’s the road less traveled, but the only one that enables you to reach your destination without regrets.
John Piper put it aptly when he said, “Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that He’s given you.” When you do that, you’ll find yourself unhindered in fulfilling your ultimate calling in life: to bring God glory by worshiping Him in spirit and in truth as you faithfully represent Him as His ambassador to a lost and dying world.
As we forge into 2021, and whatever it may bring, Living Waters is committed to come alongside you and your local church to help you in this endeavor. Whenever Ray Comfort is asked what his vision is for our ministry’s future, he often says he wants to continue doing what we’ve always done—only more of it. So here’s to a new year of inspiring and equipping Christians in fulfilling the Great Commission. We’re looking forward to linking arms and hearts with you in this exciting adventure that awaits us.