"After You Have Suffered..."
By Rich Carmicheal
"When God wants to do an impossible thing, He takes an impossible man, and crushes him."
How does that statement strike you? Does it seem too strong? Does it seem to go against God’s character to state that He would "crush" someone?
I first heard the statement several years ago in a message by a well-respected preacher, and I have pondered it many times, considering how the Bible might or might not support it. I must admit that there have been times in my life when it seemed as though the Lord was crushing me, turning up the pressure on me to squeeze out pride and other sin, bringing me to the end of myself so that I might become more aware of my dependence upon Him. As a matter of fact, I was in the midst of such a difficult time when I heard the preacher share those words. The statement has actually brought much encouragement and hope to me. Yes, a time of "crushing" is very difficult, but how wonderful to consider that God may be working through it for His glorious purposes – "to do an impossible thing."
Perhaps you are in the midst of great difficulties even now. Have you considered how the Lord might be using this time to prepare you for the life and ministry He has in mind for you in the future? Is He developing your character? Your faith? Your perseverance? Your abilities? Your appreciation for life? Your relationship with Him? Perhaps you will find great encouragement in the following examples from the Bible that illustrate how periods of difficulties and sufferings give way to great blessing as the Lord accomplishes His greater purposes!
Joseph… Joseph’s suffering started as his jealous brothers staged his death and sold him into slavery. While serving faithfully in Potiphar’s household, he was falsely accused and imprisoned. The Lord, however, worked through all of this to raise Joseph to great prominence in Egypt. Joseph recognized the Lord’s hand at work through his sufferings and shared with his brothers: "...You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children" (Gen. 50:19-21).
Moses… Moses faced separation from his family as he became the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Later, because of the accusation of a fellow Hebrew, he had to flee Egypt as Pharaoh sought to kill him. The writer of Hebrews states that when Moses had grown up, he "refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:24-27). All of Moses’ difficulties helped prepare him to be the one to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. These difficulties may have also played an important role in helping Moses develop great humility: "Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3).
Naomi… Naomi suffered the loss of her husband and two sons, and her bitterness is captured in her words to the women of her hometown: "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me" (Ruth 1:20-21).
And yet, the Lord eventually blessed Naomi with a grandson, Obed, who became the grandfather of David. At the birth of Obed, the women rejoiced with Naomi: "Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age…" (Ruth 4:14-15).
Job… Though Job was an exceptional man of his day, a man who "was blameless and upright" and who "feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1), his suffering was severe. He lost his livestock, servants, children, home, and then on top of all this, he faced incredible physical suffering. Yet, though Job was already such a righteous man, the Lord worked through all of this to deepen Job’s awe and respect for the Lord, creating even greater humility in Job. Listen to Job’s confession to the Lord near the end of his great suffering: "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…. My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:3-6). The Lord then made Job prosperous again, greatly blessing the latter part of his life.
David… One of the hardest struggles David went through was experiencing terrible guilt over his sin with Bathsheba. Note the crushing weight in his prayer, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me…. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity…. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (Psa. 51:3,8-9,11-12). What a time of great distress for David. Perhaps you have felt the conviction of great sin, and wondered if the Lord would ever enable you to find forgiveness, peace and joy. The Lord helped David recover from his great sin, and brought him through many other times of great difficulty. David later testified: "He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place..." (2 Sam. 22:17-20).
Peter… Peter faced great agony in his soul as Satan sifted him as wheat and he disowned Jesus three times. How bitterly he wept when the Lord looked straight at him following the third denial (Luke 22:61-62). And yet, even before the test had come, Jesus shared with Peter, "I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32). The Lord later reinstated Peter to ministry (John 21:15-17) and on the Day of Pentecost, used Peter to preach a Gospel message that was accepted by about three thousand people. The Lord used him to take the Gospel to the Jews and to open the door for the Gospel to the Gentiles. Although he faced such failure when he disowned Christ, and although he faced suffering throughout his ministry, he could write by experience in his first epistle, "And the God of all grace…after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast..." (1 Pet. 5:10-11).
Paul… When the Lord called Ananias to go and minister to Paul (Saul), He shared that Paul’s ministry would be marked with suffering: "This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name" (Acts 9:15-16). Paul did indeed suffer greatly in a number of ways. At one point he pleaded with the Lord to take away "a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan" but the Lord told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Paul went on to say, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Paul understood the value of suffering as he shared with the Philippians, "I want to know Christ and...the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings…" (Phil. 3:10).
Jesus… It was the Father’s will that Jesus suffer in order to take up our infirmities and to carry our sorrows. He "was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). Although this suffering was on our behalf, Jesus also learned something from the suffering He endured: "Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:8-9).
Are you in the midst of great difficulty? What lesson(s) may the Lord have in mind for you to learn during this trying time? How might He be preparing you for His present and future purposes? Difficult times can help us develop greater faith, humility, character, reverence, obedience and appreciation, as well as increase our heart and ability for ministry. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, "…do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline...God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:5-11).