This blog has been quiet for several months as the coronavirus has significantly impacted our lives and I have been involved in other writing projects during this time. This week I went to get a Covid-19 test as I was having some mild symptoms. While I wait for the results and self-isolate, I decided this would be a good time to update you on some Bible passages I have been dwelling on over the past few months. The principles from these scriptures have greatly helped me to maintain an eternal perspective and to anchor my hope in the Lord. I trust they will encourage you in whatever trials you are facing today.
Suffering is normal.
We are often shocked and confused when trials appear. If we have wrong expectations in this area, we will be set up for great disappointment. Paul says that believers have been subjected to the sufferings of this present life by the will of God¹ (Rom. 8:20, 23). We know God has all power and could end our sufferings at any time, but he allows us to suffer for “a little while,” even if we are resisting Satan and standing “firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9-10). We see many other guarantees in scripture that Christians will suffer (Matt. 10:38; Romans 5:3-4; Phil. 1:29).
Leon Morris comments on Paul’s teaching on suffering in The Epistle to the Romans: “Paul holds that the believer must expect sufferings in this present age. There is suffering that is the direct result of our sinning and there is suffering that we endure for Christ’s sake, suffering that arises directly from our Christian profession in a world that rejects Christ. But beyond that, there is suffering that arises simply because we are in this imperfect world. Paul is realistic; there is no reason to think that Christians will be free from troubles in this present life. It is important, therefore, that they learn how to bear them.²”
The comforts, conveniences, and religious freedom of the Western world are not normal, either in terms of the majority of the world or the history of the church. My husband and I spent some time serving overseas, and we were put in many challenging situations. Even then, it was nothing compared to what some people have to deal with on a daily basis for their very survival. Many Christians have experienced far more challenging situations than these. Those who have a biblical expectation of suffering seem to respond in a more Christlike way to the difficulties they face.
Suffering is a wonderful tool.
The Lord uses our trials in many ways: to mature us (James 1:3), to reveal the genuineness of our faith for his glory (1 Pet. 1:6-9), to humble us (2 Cor. 12:7), to teach us patience, develop our character, and produce hope (Rom. 5:4), to equip us to minister to others (2 Cor. 1:4), etc. In times of ease, we often become complacent and attached to idols. Through my grieving of an unfulfilled longing, God has been teaching me how to find joy in him alone, even in the midst of my sorrow.
1 Peter 4:1 says “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.³” My ESV study note says “when believers are willing to suffer, the nerve center of sin is severed in their lives. Although believers will never be totally free from sin in this life (cf. James 3:2; 1 John 1:8), when believers endure suffering for the sake of Christ they show that their purpose in life is not to live for their own pleasures but according to the will of God and for his glory.”
This global season of suffering due to the coronavirus can be a tool for the church’s refinement as we each search our hearts to see if we are truly delighting in Christ himself, or, rather, the benefits he provides. If everything else was stripped away, would we still be satisfied to have Christ alone? Can we really say with David “Your steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3)? Or with Paul “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8-9)?
We should expect more suffering.
For many Christians down through church history and in much of the world today, persecution, including the threat of death, continues to be normal. The Western world has been a strange exception, and no one knows how long it will last. According to the Bible, persecution is to be expected for followers of Christ. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). 1 Peter 2:21 says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."
Bible scholars are not in agreement on how to interpret the book of Revelation, but I lean toward the view that chapter 13 is primarily referring to a future time. On this view, a day is coming when the people of God may need to make a choice between worshipping a false god or being killed for their faith (Rev. 13:7-15). Due to the present uncertainties, my social media feed has been filling up with speculation about how the current events could be leading us in that direction very soon.
Regardless of one’s eschatological views, however, we should stay focused on sharing the truth (not rumors) and live with a willingness to lay down our lives for the sake of Christ and his gospel (Matthew 10:39; Luke 14:26-27). 1 Peter 4:1 says, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…” This is a good time to search our hearts and ask ourselves, are we truly prepared to be put to death, even tortured, for the sake of Christ?
Renewing our minds restores our hope.
Psalm 94:19 (NIV) says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” God doesn’t always remove our trials, but he does walk with us through them (Heb. 13:5). He assures us that we can have joy in his presence (Psalm 16:11). We are also taught that a future day is coming when our inheritance will be revealed (Eph. 1:14; 1 Peter 1:4-7), he will wipe all our tears away (Rev. 21:4), and our present sufferings will be completely eclipsed by the glory that we will receive (Rom. 8:18). Morris comments, “the path of suffering is the path to glory.”⁴ By anchoring our faith in these eternal truths, we can say with complete confidence in the face of any trial “My God will deliver me!” “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
When I have struggled to find joy in the midst of trials, I have been encouraged by being reminded of these and other scriptures. I have also been comforted by discerning and rejecting unbiblical advice. Rather than trying to avoid adversity or achieve a pain-free existence, we must learn to pray, as our Savior did “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). As we pray in this way, our union with Christ deepens so we know what to ask for in the midst of our trials (Rom. 8:26, 12:1-2; James 4:3). God has been teaching me how to ask for guidance in this way: “Make me know the way I should go…Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!” (Psalm 143:8, 10) As we delight ourselves in God and his ways, he transforms our desires to align with his (Psalm 37:4); because his thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isa. 55:8-9).
Here are a few questions to help us evaluate how well our present activities may be renewing our minds in God and his truth:
- How much time are we spending meditating on God’s word vs. scrolling social media feeds, watching YouTube videos, or taking in other sources of potentially unbiblical opinions and information?
- Are we cultivating time alone with the Lord to pray, study his word, or simply rest in his presence and reflect on his ways?
- Are we taking time to reflect on the fruit in our lives? (Reading and praying through Gal. 5:19-23 has become a powerful renewing tool for me.)
Finally, if you are going through something really deep and dark and struggling to find any hope, be encouraged. Remain patient with yourself. Take time to grieve and lament as many biblical writers did. You can pour out your heart to God. You can also remind yourself, as the Psalmist does, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 43:5).
1. While the text doesn't specifically say God is the one subjecting us, the context makes that implication explicitly clear and many translations state this directly. According to Morris, most commentators agree that "Paul means God, but some see a reference to Adam (Robinson, O’Neill), whose act was responsible, to Satan, or to Adam or Satan (Godet). But Scripture never assigns to Adam or to Satan the power to bring about such a far-reaching change. We must think of God (cf. Gen. 3:17). And this accords with the note of hope on which the verse ends. There is no reason to think of Adam or of Satan acting in hope for the future of the race, but hope is characteristic of God, who may indeed be called 'the God of hope' (15:13). The cosmic fall is not the last word; the last word is with hope." Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 321–322). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.
2. Ibid., 319.
3. ESV used here and throughout, unless otherwise noted.
4. Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 318). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.