I just got out of one of the most difficult seasons of my life. The Lord had me in the furnace for several months. I’ve dealt with physical ailments, tensions within friendships, family drama, and the pressure of major life-decisions. Most days, I could barely think straight, and some days, I could scarcely lift my head.
I received encouragement from Lecrae’s song, Far Away. The song is about the devastating Earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. The unapologetic premise is God’s perceived absence amid hard times. That’s how I felt. I stopped asking, “How long, O LORD?” And started asking, “Are you even there, O LORD?”
How the Bible Sustained Me
Things began to slowly change. In this season, the last thing I wanted to do was read, but I did. In God’s Providence, I had a copy of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering laying on my desk. Reluctantly, I opened it, and right away – in the Introduction, before I started the actual book, Psalm 34:1-2 was on the page: “I will bless the LORD at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and be glad.”
And that’s when, as they say, everything changed.
I must have read those verses a hundred times, and they never meant a thing to me. But this time — they did.
What changed my perspective was verse two: “Let the afflicted hear and be glad.”
I was quickly reminded of a John Calvin quote, “There is nothing in afflictions which ought to disturb our joy.” My heart changed. All I wanted was joy, and I thought I couldn’t have it because of my life’s circumstances. I was wrong. “Let the afflicted hear and be glad.” The afflicted! Not the person in success, but in suffering. Not the one in prosperity, but in peril. And that person was me.
This one phrase changed my thinking, and reminded me that, even in afflictions, I have unspeakable joy in Christ. Indeed, afflicted people are not only allowed to have joy, but commanded to do so.
The Lord is Near to The Brokenhearted
Still, life was hard. The past few weeks have been dark and empty. I was also plagued with a serious viral infection, so I could hardly pray or read or do anything for the next 10 days. But I was desperate, so I continually went back to my Bible, again and again to Psalm 34.
This time it was verse 18: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in Spirit.”
This verse carried me through the next few weeks. My heart was broken, and my spirit, crushed. And even though at times it didn’t feel this way, I knew – because the Bible says so – that Lord was near, and he would deliver me.
It didn’t matter if my friends and family and job left me, God wouldn’t. He is near to me, and the preciousness of this truth, for the first time, came alive to my weary soul. Though painful at the time, I don’t think I would have learned the beauty of the Scriptures this way, apart from my trials.
John Piper’s mother passed away when he was 28. She was hit by a bus. After the phone call of hearing of his mother’s death, he told his wife, Noel, and then wept at his bedside for two hours. What came to mind as he wept was Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
These two things, which seem diametrically opposed, were a living reality for Piper for the first time ever. And it was only learned through suffering.
“Walking through suffering enables us to experience things the Bible talks about, which, until then, you only read about,” says Piper.
There are some joys in life that you can only learn through the school of suffering.
Christian, do not despise your suffering. Instead, rejoice in it, and cling to your Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your heart, and the Bible’s words, and then cling for dear life. There’s so much beauty and power and joy and wonder in the Bible that you can only see when you’re hurting. And if you look long enough in the Scriptures, your life will change, even if your circumstances don’t.
I’m in a better season now. Things seem on the rise. I look back on this past season in faith, but I’m still perplexed. I don’t understand why I went through everything I did. I don’t know why the Lord sent so many trials my way. I don’t know why I experienced so many seemingly senseless difficulties. There’s a lot of things I don’t know, but there is also one thing that I do know: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues” (Psalm 119:71).
This article was originally published at gospelrelevance.com. Used with permission.
Publication date: September 9, 2016