Faith Triumphs in Trouble
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Pain and Patience
“To him who is afflicted, kindness should be shown by his friend, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. “ (Job 6:14 NKJV)
My wife was angry at God yesterday because a dear friend “Just can’t get a break.”
She was overwhelmed by yet another medical disaster that our tender-hearted sister in the Lord had experienced just that day. The woman was having a reaction to medication that had turned her foot into a dead lifeless looking appendage. My first thought when I saw the picture was her foot was going to have to be cut off.
Our friend is a Godly handmaiden of the Lord and had not forsaken the fear of the Almighty. Yet, after a lifetime of medical issues, now she had this scary reaction. My wife showed her overwhelming worry in a brief anger attack.
I was proud of my wife having an honest tender heart instead of the self-righteous attitudes of Job’s friends. They were quick to assume if a person was allowed by God to suffer it was because they were not righteous enough. And Job called them out about that hard-hearted attitude in today’s reflection verse. A friend is to “show kindness to our friends that are afflicted,” which will demonstrate to them they are not alone during overwhelming times. Then, deep trusting prayer for help can take over and the peace that passes understanding through Christ our Lord can result as we are taught in Philippians 4:6-7:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (NKJV)
Summarizing Job’s message to God’s children about pain and patience:
- The Bible has a lot to say about pain. One of the key lessons found in Job is the Lord God is Sovereign during times of overwhelming trials.
- Satan is heartless and mean in pursuit of his goals. Remember the evil one’s schemes, terrorizing, and murder.
- Satan often uses self-righteous people when we are at our lowest. Aloof, judgmental people make things worse.
- Job overcame and found a better future by holding onto his belief that the Father knows best no matter what happens. This attitude is a trusting heart’s strength and is often necessary to survive overwhelming trials.
- The Lord understands when we get angry at Him. He “pities His children as He knows they are dust,” Psalm 103:13-14. He understands that we are weak and human.
- We become stronger through pain or we are crippled by it when we blame the Father. Only our Father knows the big picture and the future. Our Father knows best.
- Pain comes to both the righteous and the wicked, permitting opportunities to develop relationships with God Almighty. Pain is not our enemy as it provides a chance to learn and grow.
The New Testament agrees with Job:
- Tribulation brings about patience. Romans 5:3.
- God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. Romans 8:28.
- God will never leave or forsake you. Hebrews 13:5
Suffering and Patience
“As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10).
– James 5:10–11
So many of the situations that we find in life are endurable because we know what their end will be. For example, women can endure the pains and changes associated with nine months of pregnancy because they know the joy that will come when the baby arrives.
In his epistle, James reminds us that we can be obedient to God and endure suffering because of what will happen at the last day. At the Father’s predetermined time, Jesus will return as judge and reverse the fortunes of His people (5:1–9). Only the confidence in God’s final deliverance at Christ’s second coming enables us to rejoice in the trials that produce perseverance (1:2–3). As well, it helps us to understand that in the final analysis, our wealth will not give us any advantage in the kingdom of God (vv. 9–11; 2:1–10; 4:13–17).
In that final day, our trust in God will be vindicated before all men. In today’s passage, James continues to exhort us to wait patiently for this day by pointing us to the prophets and to Job as examples of patient servants (5:10–11).
The prophets are good examples of patience because in the midst of trials brought by those who hated God, they persevered in their callings. At one point in his life, Jeremiah was imprisoned (Jer. 37:11–38:13). Tradition testifies that Isaiah and many of the other prophets were martyred. Yet they patiently preached repentance to hardened sinners, calling Israel to embrace justice and mercy even as the people stubbornly refused. And if they could do this without actually seeing God’s promises in time (Heb. 11:39–40), how much more can we, having seen God’s full revelation in Jesus, do the same?
Some might question why Job is given to us as a second example of patience since he did impatiently demand that God explain his sufferings to him (for example, Job 6). But Job is an excellent paradigm for us because though he questioned God, he never gave up his faith. Also, if Job is our example we can see that even the most patient of God’s servants will not be perfect until they are glorified. Finally, because Job was one of the first to anticipate the final judgment, he serves as an example for us who also await that day (Job 19:25–26).
Patience in Suffering
I hate pain. I try to avoid suffering, and I don’t go out of my way to look for affliction. But pain, suffering, and affliction find me. They find all of us. If you are free of these things, brace yourself and be patient. All you have to do is live long enough. Suffering and affliction are human conditions. And when suffering and affliction come, be patient, remembering that God is sovereign.
And thank God that He is sovereign over suffering, using affliction first for His glory and secondarily for our good. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it, nor is patience easy in the face of suffering and pain.
But, remember, the important things in life are generally formed over time. The strongest tools are forged by the hottest fires. The most beautiful artistic expressions take the most energy and care to create. So it is with the beautiful thing called “holiness.” It is not achieved quickly, or without effort, or in the absence of pain. In our instant society, much to our disappointment, there is no such thing as “microwave holiness.” Metaphors abound.
God is described by Jeremiah as a potter, and we are described as clay (Jer. 18). The most pliable clay is that which has been most thoroughly mixed, beaten, rolled, and, finally, pushed and pulled on the wheel. Only then the potter, with care and patience, begins to pull and shape the clay into something beautiful. But it is painful to be pulled and drawn into a new shape. Do you feel pulled in every direction, drawn thin and fragile, left out to dry, placed in a fire of unimaginable heat? The Potter is having His way with the clay, and the vessel He makes will be beautiful in His hands.
God may be seen as a weaver, creating in us individually and corporately a breathtaking tapestry of His glory. But the design only begins to take shape after the threads have been spun, wound, spooled, and drawn through the warp. Only then is the thread thrown through the woof and beaten by the bar into a tightly knit design. Do you feel like life spins around you, like you are being thrown and beaten? The Weaver has His way with the cloth, but the resulting fabric promises to be a stunning display of glory.
In John’s gospel, God is portrayed as a vinedresser, cultivating His vineyard to maximize His harvest (John 15). But the cultivation of grapes requires pruning the vines, pulling the dead brush away to be burned, tying the branches up to allow growth and nurture. Only after this grueling process may the vine achieve its potential of rich and satisfying fruit. Do you feel like parts of your life are being cut off, pulled away, burned up? Do you feel like God’s hand is personally tying you to a wire? The Vinedresser will have His way with His field and the harvest will be succulent and rich. The writer of Hebrews says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (12:11).
Joni Eareckson Tada writes of God as a painter, a master artist. She says that, along with the bright colors, “God brings the cool, dark contrast of suffering into your life. That contrast, laid up against the golden character of Christ within you, will draw attention … to Him. Light against darkness. Beauty against affliction. Joy against sorrow” (Glorious Intruder, p. 158). Is God bringing dark shades into the portrait of your life? The light of Christ in His children is made more manifest to the world through the dark colors of suffering, borne through patient endurance.
James tells us that trials and testing develop perseverance resulting in maturity and wisdom: “You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:3–5). In J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive legend The Lord of the Rings, made popular again by the recent films, we see a subtle example of this hard truth. In The Silmarillion, the story before the story, Tolkien speaks of the creator of Middle Earth, Iluvatar, and the process of creation. Of the race of Elves, we read: “Though the beauty of the Quendi was beyond all other beauty that Iluvatar has caused to be … sorrow and wisdom have enriched it.” Do you see it? The Elves in Tolkien’s legend are portrayed as most beautiful. But these qualities are magnified and enriched by sorrow.
Affliction and suffering have been appointed by God as instruments He uses to make us more holy, to make us more like Jesus. They remind us that we are weak and we must rely not on ourselves, but on Jesus. They remind us that this world is not our home but that we are only passing through toward our real home in heaven with our Father, our Savior, Jesus Christ, and our Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
The Scriptures say that we are the height of God’s creation, made in His image (Gen. 1:26–27). Affliction and sorrow — almost never brief, almost always difficult — are necessary elements in our Creator’s hand to bring His people, over time, to a place of wisdom, joy, and holiness. Though we are often impatient to get to the destination, the deeper the affliction and sorrow, the greater the wisdom, joy, and holiness at journey’s end.