“Affliction, Friend or Foe?” A Sermon by Albert N. Martin

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One of the common experiences of all the people of God is this matter of affliction. In this study we will look at Second Corinthians 1: 3– 11 under the general theme of affliction, friend or foe?

2nd Corinthians 1:1-11

(1) Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia: (2) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; (4) Who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. (5) For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. (6) But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: (7) and our hope for you is steadfast; knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort. (8) For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: (9) yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead: (10) Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver: on Whom we have set our hope that He will also still deliver us; (11) you also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.

It is obvious that the theme of this passage is the subject of affliction. For the very thing which triggers this eulogy, this blessing of God the Father, is that the Apostle and his companion, Timothy, have experienced a peculiar measure of the consolation and comfort of God in the midst of affliction. So the Apostle begins with those words, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Father of mercies, The God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction.” It opens up the whole subject of affliction in which there are given to us some very helpful perspectives concerning the experience of all the people of God.

Introduction

In introducing our study of the passage, it is necessary to understand several things about affliction.

First of all, the meaning of the word affliction, as it is found here in the passage before us. The word itself literally means, that which is pressing or pressure. Hence it is come to speak of oppression, affliction or tribulation. It refers to distress brought upon men and women, particularly by outward circumstances which in turn create this inward distress. It’s translated numerous ways in the New Testament. In some places it’s translated tribulation, in others, as it is here, affliction; sometimes persecution; other times trouble; but it is that which God reveals is the portion of all of His people. This pressure, this oppression, this tribulation, this inward distress brought about by outward circumstances, our Lord says, will be the portion of all of His people. 

John 16:33 “In the world you shall have [and this is the same word in the original] affliction. You shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” One of the very elementary messages that the Apostles used to give on their missionary follow up tours, concern the whole subject of affliction. 

We read in Acts 14:21-22, “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and to Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations [afflictions same word in the original] we must enter into the kingdom of God.”

AFFLICTION IS ONE OF THE COMMON DENOMINATOR’S OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD

The Apostles were very, very concerned that believers understand, early in their Christian lives, that affliction and tribulation were part and parcel of normal Christian experience. It is for this reason that our Lord in His parting words spoke the words previously quoted, in the world you shall have tribulation. He had given them some tremendously encouraging promises about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Some promises concerning His ministry of comfort and consolation and illumination; and the impartation of gifts and graces in power, but less they misunderstand this, to think that they would come to some level of experience in the Holy Spirit that would either immunize them from, or totally lift them out of the realm of tribulation and affliction, our Lord says, toward the conclusion of those wonderful words of John 14, 15, and 16, In the world you shall have tribulation. 

John was so confident that tribulation was as much a part of the Christian life as faith in Christ, that when he addresses the believers of Asia Minor in Revelation 1 this is how he addresses them: Revelation 1:9 “I John your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus.” He looks upon all believers as fellow partakers, not only of the kingdom and the steadfastness that are in Christ, but also of the tribulation, the affliction, the persecution, that are in Christ. So it is not surprising that our Lord tells us in the parable of the sower that some apparent converts are caused to wither in their profession, when they come into contact with their first real affliction. In Matthew 13:21 Jesus said, when tribulation, and persecution, when affliction and persecution arise because of the Word, they stumble. It was affliction that caused the consternation of the Psalmist in Psalm 73. He was afflicted and he saw the people of God afflicted, and it didn’t make sense to him, because the people who were not committed to the worship of Jehovah and to the law of God seem to be wonderfully insulated from affliction, and this he could not understand.

And so in the light of the fact that the Scripture teaches, that affliction is one of the common denominator’s of the people of God, and that affliction can be the occasion of stumbling and consternation, it is necessary for every Christian, to learn how to confront affliction.

One of the great problems that we face, as in many other areas, we carry over into the Christian life worldly, carnal views of affliction. You see the unbeliever looks upon affliction as his or her greatest enemy. Every affliction that comes into their life is a roadblock in the pursuit of their carnal and temporal goals, and therefore affliction is always their enemy. They can never hug affliction to themselves and say welcome, my God-sent friend. He looks upon affliction says, “Who are you? My enemy!” They do all within their power to get affliction, out of the way. The unbeliever looks upon it as enemy, all enemy, and nothing but enemy and yet sad to say, many children of God, to some degree or another, have absorbed that mentality and do not understand the purpose of God in affliction. But now, for the child of God, there should be a totally different perspective concerning the subject of affliction.

In this study as we consider this passage in second Corinthians we will seek to layout THE DIVINE PURPOSE OF GOD IN AFFLICTION which, when understood by the child of God, will help them to embrace their afflictions rather than to run from them as an unwanted enemy.

ILLUSTRATION

Let me illustrate the difference that this perspective will make. Try to picture a little child who’s been involved in a serious accident. He’s been knocked unconscious and has a compound fracture. He’s got a bone sticking right through the skin which will demand not only the setting of the bone, but also some sutures, and the first time that he awakes out of his unconsciousness he looks up, and there is a man with a mask on his face, and a skullcap on his head, a big needle in his hand and a scalpel in his other hand, and the poor child coming to consciousness thinks he’s awaken in the midst of a horror movie. He’s scared and he screams out and begins to fight to get himself off that table until he is quieted down. His mom or dad, with a nurse or the doctor, explains to him that the person standing there with the needle is going to put the needle in so that he won’t feel any pain when he takes the scalpel and begins to patch him up and put the arm back in place. Once the child understands, that which in his first reflex looked so foreboding, something to be resisted, then he will welcome that which upon first sight he utterly rejected. In the same way, the child of God many times –when they wake up as it were and see afflictions standing before them with his long needle and with his scalpel– their reaction is one of wanting to run. It’s at that point that they need to be still and to understand what God is saying, “This is the purpose that I have in this affliction for you.” Then the heart of the child of God is stilled to submit to that affliction.

FIVE DIVINE PURPOSES IN AFFLICTION

What then, according to 2 Corinthians 1: 3 – 11 is the divine purpose in affliction?

I would suggest that the Apostle indicates that there are at least five divine purposes in affliction, and we’re limiting our observations just to this passage. We could range far and wide in many other portions of Scripture, but we want to stick with this portion and lay out these aspects of the divine purpose in affliction. Our purpose is that you, as a child of God, may recognize this, so that when affliction comes, and it will come, you may be able to confront it biblically, and not look upon affliction as your foe, but as your friend.

What is the first purpose of God in affliction? It’s set before us in verse 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort;” As the Apostle Paul breaks out in praise to God, he praises God with specific reference to the revelation of God’s character that has come to him in the context of affliction, therefore:

(1) THE FIRST PURPOSE OF GOD IN AFFLICTION IS TO GIVE US A FULLER REVELATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD.

In this text God is called three things: first, He is called the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, secondly, the Father of mercies and thirdly, He is called the God of all comfort.

When the Apostle addresses Him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is indicating that God has been revealed to him in the saving revelation made, in and through, Jesus Christ the Lord.

In other words, when the Apostle thinks of God, he not only thinks of Him as the God of creation, not only as the God of Providence, but he thinks of Him particularly, as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He thinks of Him as the God Who has revealed Himself and His way of salvation in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, whatever follows in this text, whatever other revelation is made of God, it’s made in the context of that fundamental revelation of God as a saving God, in Jesus Christ, the Lord. That’s the starting point. If you do not stand in a saving relationship to God, through the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ, this message is not for you. This is God’s Word to believers who know God as 

(i) The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostle further says in verse five, as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us even, even so our comfort abounds through Christ. All of the consolation of God to His suffering saints is in terms of their vital union with Jesus Christ. But now notice, the Apostle not only knows Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, but he calls Him, in this place, and it’s the only place that I know of in the New Testament where God is addressed in these terms, the Father of mercies, or literally the Father of the mercies, or the compassions and the God of all comforting. Let’s look at those two ascriptions of God for a moment.

(ii) The Father of all compassions or mercies. The word mercy, means pity to those who are in distress. Remember in the life of our Lord and in His ministry needy people would encounter Him and cry out, ‘Son of David, have mercy upon me. Look upon me with Pity.’ In Psalm 103:13, like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear Him. The Psalmist addresses God in terms of God’s inward disposition in the face of the afflictions of His people. 

When God beholds the afflictions of His people, ordered by His own divine providence, how does He behold them? He doesn’t behold them with a stoical indifference saying, ‘Well I’ve decreed it, and it’s for their good. Let them work it out.’ No. In all their afflictions, the Scripture says, He was afflicted. He is not only the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who’s revealed a way of forgiveness and acceptance through the Lord Jesus, but He’s the God Who, having brought us into His family and given us the Spirit of adoption, is to us the Father of mercies and the God of all comforting. Where the reference to mercy focuses upon the disposition of God’s heart, the reference to comforting points out the activity of God. He not only has an attitude of pity and compassion, but He puts forth that attitude in positive comfort of His people. In the midst of the pressure of their distress, He is the God Who comforts them.

How did the Apostle Paul come to know God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ? That revelation was made to him in the way that it’s made to all sinful people. He must first of all be brought to a sight of his sin. He must be brought to a sight of the mercy that God extends in the Lord Jesus. You can see that in Romans 7. I had not known sin unless the law said you shall not covet and he details how God dealt with him to show him that in spite of all his external morality and religiosity, he was lost and undone. Then he came to know God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

You see, just as no one knows God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, apart from the experimental knowledge of sin and of grace [inward moral transformation] so you cannot really know God as the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, unless you are in the experimental crucible of affliction. You don’t have pity upon those who are well off. You don’t need to extend comfort to those who are completely at ease. Pity, is for the afflicted. Comfort, is for the distressed, and the Apostle tells us in this passage, that the first purpose of God in affliction, with reference to His children, is to give them this further unfolding of His Own character. To bring them into an experimental awareness, of the God that He is, and so if you pray as a Christian, ‘O God, help me to know You better.’ Perhaps you find yourself praying in the words of Philippians 3, ‘that I may know Him’. Would you have further revelation of the character of God? Not in the abstract, but in the real stuff of human experience? Then child of God don’t look upon affliction as your enemy. It’s in the context of affliction that you will come to know Him as the God of all mercies and the God of all comfort, and if you’re going to be so self-sparing that you say, God, don’t touch me with affliction what you’re saying is, I want no further revelation, experimentally, of the depth and the breath, the height and the length of Your Infinite Character. So the first purpose of God in affliction is to give us a fuller revelation of His Character.

The second purpose is laid out in verses four through seven of 2nd Corinthians. 1:4 “Who comforts us in all our affliction, that [here’s the purpose] we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. 6 But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: 7 and our hope for you is stedfast; knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort.” The Apostle is saying that:

(2) THE SECOND DIVINE PURPOSE IN AFFLICTION, FOR THE CHILD OF GOD, IS TO EQUIP US FOR A MORE USEFUL MINISTRY TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

Notice that thread of thought, God comforts us, that we may be able to comfort others. Sufferings abound in us, comfort abounds through us. If we are afflicted for your sake, if we are comforted for your sake, and you can reduce the basic thought of verses four through seven to this simple equation, all that happens to us happens for your sakes. All that comes to us, issues in blessing to you. In the context, the primary reference to this is to the Apostle and his companion Timothy. 

Whatever particular trials they were passing through by virtue of the problems at the church at Corinth and in the light of their overall ministry, the Apostle wants the Corinthians to know that what is happening to them is for their sake, but in the light of passages like Romans 15:14, in which the Apostle speaks in such broad terms of the ministry that believers have one to another, we cannot give this an exclusive reference to the Apostle. He said, Romans 15:14 “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” 

He says of the Romans, I’m confident that as brethren, you’ve come to sufficient experimental knowledge, that you are able to admonish one another, and so we see the second aspect of the divine purpose in affliction. How is God going to equip you for a more useful ministry to others? I’ll tell you what He is going to do. He’s going to put you into the fires of affliction that in those fires of affliction, as you experimentally become acquainted with the comfort of God, you in turn, may be an instrument of consolation and comfort to others. 

We do not exist in the body of Christ for our own sake. God has placed us in the body of Christ that we might be an instrument of maturity and development in the lives of the other members of that body. 1 Corinthians 12 deals with this very clearly. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. When one member is comforted all are comforted with it. Ephesians 4, the body is built up by that which every joint supplies. It makes increase of itself in love. How are we going to be made more useful in our ministry to others? It’s going to be in the midst of affliction. If affliction is the common experience of all the people of God, in all ages, then one of the great needs that they have, is for people to be able to console them and comfort them in their affliction. Who is going to be able to do it? Those who themselves have proven the consolation of God in the midst of affliction. Those who have experimentally learned how to face the needle and the scalpel, and instead of screaming and ranting and raving to get off the operating table, say instead, Lord, put in the needle and do your work with the scalpel. 

May I prove you to be the God of all comfort, the Father of all mercies, to the end that I may have a more useful ministry unto others. There are few things which reveal the depth of our selfhood more clearly than the quickness with which we reject affliction. We complain, ‘Lord, this is doing this, and that, and the other to me.’ 

Instead of just saying, ‘O God, if this is the price that I must pay to be an instrument in Your hands, to be a blessing to others, I am willing to submit to anything that I might be an instrument of consolation to my fellow believers.’ Isn’t that the true mark of divine love? Love seeks not her own. Isn’t that our big problem? The moment affliction comes all we think about is what it’s doing to me, to my name, my comforts, my plans. The Apostle Paul didn’t look upon it this way. When afflictions came tumbling in upon him he said, ‘Well hallelujah, there’s a lot more people out there that are going to be helped!’ As the afflictions abound so the consolations abound and he welcomed affliction knowing that it was going to equip him for a more useful ministry to the people of God. 

So let me encourage you, Child of God, some who may, this very instant, be in the midst of an unusual discipline of affliction and tribulation, and you found it so difficult, you’ve cried out, ‘Lord is there something in me? Is it some chastisement? Is it some sin?’ You’ve been open and honest before God and you’ve drawn a blank. Perhaps this is the perspective that you need to bring into the total picture, ‘Lord there are no accidents with you. You know every single person to whom I must be an instrument and means of grace all along the way from here to glory. Lord I embrace all of your disciplines to me that I might be a source of blessing to others.’

The Apostle goes on to give us a third purpose in affliction that helped him to look upon affliction, not as a foe, but as a friend. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, “For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead:” What was the third divine purpose in affliction according to the Apostle?

(3) THE THIRD DIVINE PURPOSE IN AFFLICTION IS TO SHUT US UP MORE FULLY TO THE POWER OF GOD.

Notice his words; ‘I don’t want you to be ignorant, you Corinthians, concerning this tremendous affliction which came to us in Asia.’ What he’s referring to nobody knows for certain. The commentators all make their guesses and most of them disagree, but whatever it was, it’s not important what the trial was, but what the purpose of God was. Notice, he says here what was God’s purpose. We had this affliction come upon us that brought us to the place where we despaired even of life. He said yes, we had the very sentence of death within ourselves. We were as good as dead. To what purpose? That we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead. In other words, the Apostle Paul says, we were brought to a place, where the only way out of that circumstance of affliction was a manifestation of divine power equal to the power that raises dead men to life. In any other kind of exercise of divine power there may be great divine assistance, but there may be already something there to work with. If a lame man came to the Lord Jesus, He straightened out a leg that was already there. If a blind man came, the Lord gave sight to eyes that were already there. But when the Lord Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb there was nothing there. There was a direct intrusion of life from without, and Paul said we were brought to the place where our confidence was in an exertion of divine power that was equal to the power that raises men from the dead. Therefore, he says, this affliction was not our foe, but our friend, because it shut us up more fully than ever to confidence in the mighty power of the living God.

We can have a very romantic view of the Apostle Paul as though he didn’t have to wrestle with indwelling sin and corruption, yet Romans 7 is an eloquent testimony to the fact that this was not true. Look at 2 Corinthians 12. Paul had a tendency to be proud and God, seeing that tendency to be proud, said lest you be puffed up beyond measure because the revelations given to you I’m going to allow this messenger of Satan to buffet you. And Paul says, ‘Lord, I can’t complete my ministry with this thing. It hinders me, it cripples me, it weakens me.’ The Lord said, ‘No. If I take it away your pride would weaken and cripple you, therefore, I’m going to allow this affliction so that in the midst of your physical weakness you’ll be conscious of where your dependence is; and in the midst of your weakness the power of Christ will be manifested.’ So the Apostle needed, as we do, to be constantly pushed away from the subtle temptation of self-confidence and to look more upon God’s work as the work of Him assisting us in the exercise of our own cleverness and our own abilities; so when this affliction came, Paul said this was the divine purpose: that we should not trust in ourselves but in God.

If the Apostle Paul needed affliction to shut him up more fully to confidence in the power of God, who are you and who am I to think that we will be shut up by any lesser means? That which God brings upon us that makes us consciously embrace our weakness and comes like scissors to cut the cords and the nerves of creature confidence and carnal confidence, these things, the Apostle says, are the divine purpose in affliction.

Sometimes the Lord has to do it with regards to monetary things. It is pretty hard for some of us to pray ‘Lord give us this day our daily bread’ and really mean it. We’ve collected our check week in and week out, month in month out, until suddenly we are laid off. Affliction comes. And then we begin to know what it is, as we never knew before, to look to God to supply our daily bread. Suddenly those words are no longer pretty words in a prayer that you memorized as a child; they become the experimental petition of our own hearts. ‘Loving Father, look down upon us and our family in our need; give us this day our daily bread.’ And what happens with that affliction? It shuts you up to the power of God and the intervention of God.

Sometimes it comes with health. Some of us know weeks and months and years of getting out of bed with two sound feet and a sound mind and a body that can carry us to our work. Though we halfheartedly say, ‘Lord give me strength for this day’ and at the end of the day thank the Lord, it really doesn’t come from the heart. We pretty well think we can get along on our own steam until God allows that strength to be shriveled. Then we know what it is to lay there on a bed of weakness or sickness and say, ‘Oh God, if I’m to even get through half this day, You must sustain me. You must strengthen me.’ Then we are shut up to the exercise of divine power for our daily strength in a way that we never were before. How did this come about? Affliction was Gods means to shut us up more fully to His power.

So it is with the matter of wisdom or with the matter of patience. God puts us in situations where all of our natural resources are utterly depleted and we say-–as far as that duty is concerned and what I must have to perform it–-I’m as good as a dead man. The sentence of death is upon me. And God says, ‘It’s about time that you understand what I’ve said. All along, without Me, you can do nothing, but you didn’t believe Me. I told you right along, cursed be he that trust in man and makes flesh his arm but you didn’t believe Me.’ Now affliction has come and what has been its effect? To shut us up to the exercise of divine power. Christian, don’t look upon affliction as your enemy. That which shuts you up more fully to the exercise of divine power is your friend.

The fourth divine purpose of affliction is found in 2 Corinthians 1:10. Having spoken of this trust in God Who raises the dead, he goes on to say, 1:10 “Who delivered us out of so great a death, and [now he makes a prophecy] will deliver: on Whom we have set our hope that He will also still deliver us.” Do you see what Paul is doing? He’s left the realm of testimony and now he’s making an affirmation of faith. Looking back upon this circumstance, whatever it was, that shut him up to the exercise of divine power, he says:

(4) THE FOURTH FUNCTION OF AFFLICTION WAS TO INCREASE HIS FAITH IN THE PROMISES OF GOD.

Way back when God called the Apostle Paul, He made a promise to him and we read that promise in Acts 26:16 “Arise and stand on your feet for to this end have I appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness, both of the things wherein you have seen Me and of the things wherein I will appear unto you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom I send you, to open their eyes…” Here was the promise of God: ‘Paul I’m commissioning you with this gospel commission, and in the accomplishment of it I will deliver you from every opposition until my purpose for you is accomplished.’ And again and again the Apostle Paul was brought into circumstances where it seemed his life was going to be snuffed out. One time he was stoned, other times plots were laid to take his life, but again and again when these afflictions came and God fulfilled His promise, what did it do? It increased his faith in the promises of God, for faith is strengthened in two ways: 

1st – IT’S STRENGTHENED BY LOOKING TO THE GREATNESS OF THE GOD WHO MADE THE PROMISE, and

2nd – IT’S STRENGTHENED BY EXPERIENCING THE REALITY OF THE FULFILLMENT OF THAT PROMISE.

Faith is strengthened in those two ways. Beholding the God Who makes the promise. That’s the emphasis of Paul in Romans 4. Abraham waxed strong in faith. How? Being fully persuaded that what God had promised He was able to perform. As he conceived in his mind the character and might and power of God, he could look at his own body that was as good as a dead body and say, this body will yet father a child because the God Who made the promise (in Isaac shall your seed be called). God is able to father a child through the dead body of Abraham. And He’s able to do something with Abraham’s body to make it able to father a child.

But the Apostle in this passage is focusing upon the second way in which faith is strengthened. Faith is also strengthened by the experiencing of the reality and the fulfillment of those promises. So the Apostle says, ‘When we had the sentence of death in ourselves, we despaired of living unless God put forth the mighty arm of resurrection power.’ Once He did, Paul said, ‘We have confidence that the God Who has delivered, will still deliver, and continue to deliver, until His purposes for us are accomplished.’ Notice how that faith became even stronger when, as he’s about to lay down his life in 2 Timothy 4, he makes a similar reference to the delivering power of God. 2 Timothy 4:16-18, “At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom: to Whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul said, ‘This past deliverance strengthens my faith to believe the Lord will yet deliver me from every evil work and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom to Whom be glory forever and forever.’ Your faith is not strengthened by pulling your promises out of a promise box. Your faith is strengthened when that promise in the promised box goes with you into the fires of affliction. That’s when your faith is strengthened. You prove God in terms of His promise in the midst of affliction. Then you’re able to come forth with that ringing affirmation, the Lord has delivered, He will deliver, He shall deliver from every evil work. It’s quite easy to pray, ‘Lord increase my faith.’ Then when God begins to put you in the context of affliction you say, ‘Lord this doesn’t have anything to do with my prayer.’ But that’s the very answer to your prayer. It’s by affliction that our faith in the promises of God and the God of the promises is strengthened.

The fifth divine purpose in affliction is found in 2 Corinthians 1:11, “You also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.” Now, whether the Apostle is referring to the past prayers of the people of God [the grammar in the original is uncertain] or whether he is saying, ‘In the light of what I’ve told you, you will now have a renewed prayer involvement with Timothy and myself in our ministries’–- whether he’s looking to a past deliverance or thinking of future deliverances in which their prayers will have a part–-the end result will be this: Thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf. In other words, as Paul is delivered from affliction, preserved in the midst of affliction:

(5) THE 5TH DIVINE PURPOSE OF AFFLICTION IS TO PROVOKE CORPORATE PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING TO GOD FOR THE DELIVERANCE WROUGHT FOR HIS SERVANTS.

One of the great delights of being a child of God and scripturally identifying oneself with a visible community of God’s people (the visible church) is that when we enter that affliction we do not enter it alone. We have not only the presence of our Lord Jesus by the Spirit, but we have the presence of the Lord Jesus in the members of His body and Christ and His union with His body is not a mere theological concept. That union is so vital that Paul says, if you sin against the weak brother, you sin against Christ. The weak brother is a member of His body like a finger is a member, and Christ is saying, ‘If you touch My finger you touch Me. That’s a part of Me. When you hammered that finger, you hammered Me.’ The Lord Jesus said, to Saul, ‘Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ when Saul was persecuting the church. When he touched the church he was touching the Lord. The concept of this organic life union between Christ and His people was so real in the mind of the Apostle Paul that he says, when we are afflicted and in answer to our prayers deliverance is wrought and we are preserved, then the end result will be corporate praise to God for the comfort and consolation ministered unto us.

The testimony of the people of God who have entered into unusual periods of affliction is almost always at the top of the list. They’ve said this: The concept, the biblical principle of the unity of the body of Christ, has become precious to me in my affliction in a way I’ve never experienced it before that affliction came.

With a couple who lost their little girl, this concept came through so clearly, the sense that when they passed through this trial of their faith, this affliction, they did not pass through alone. There was not only the Lord Jesus ministering His own grace directly by the Spirit to their heart, but there was the Lord Jesus ministering through His body that supportive role of love and intercession and sympathy and understanding. There’s a realization that the body of Christ is not just a theological term. It’s not just that we meet under the same roof to hear the same sermons and sing the same hymns. There is a bond of identification of love and compassion which when God is pleased to undertake, results not just in the person who was afflicted and has received comfort rendering praise to God, but as the whole body of God’s people entered into that affliction, by their supplications. So, now they enter into praise and rejoicing and God is magnified not by just the one, but by the many. Notice how that is the clear emphasis of the text, “You helping together on our behalf by your supplications to this end, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.” This scripture says, ‘Whosoever offers praise glorifies Me, and if God is glorified by the praise of one of His people, He’s glorified more intensely by the whole body of His saints rendering praise onto Him.’

So we learn from this passage that there are at least five distinct divine purposes in our afflictions. In light of these, can that which gives you a fuller revelation of the character of God be your enemy? or is it your friend? Can that which equips you for a more useful ministry to God’s people, can that be your enemy? or is that your friend? Can that which shuts you up more fully to the power of God be your enemy? or your friend? Can that which increases your faith in the promises of God ever be conceived of as your enemy? or your friend? Can that which provokes corporate praise and thanksgiving to God be your enemy? or is it your friend?

Child of God, be done with carnal views of affliction, looking upon affliction as a dreaded enemy. Look beyond the temporal, beyond the immediate and oft times flesh weathering disciplines of affliction, and realize that through affliction you will come to know God experimentally in a way that you could not otherwise know Him. That through affliction you will be made a more fit instrument of blessing to God’s people. That through affliction your faith will be strengthened by your sense of the certainty of the promises of God. Then your involvement with the people of God in praise will be increased. This is the divine purpose in affliction. So, if you are presently in the midst of affliction, may God help you to view that affliction scripturally. If you aren’t presently in the midst of it, don’t breathe too easy, for in the world you shall have affliction that through many afflictions we must enter the kingdom of God. If you’re a child of God, as sure as you sit here, you’re going to pass through affliction. May God help you and may God help me to view our afflictions in the light of divine revelation.

To those who do not know God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then you cannot know Him as the God of comfort. You cannot know Him as the Father of mercies. It will not do in the next affliction to go whimpering to God and say, ‘Oh God, Whoever you are, wherever you are, comfort me!’ No. If you’re indifferent to God’s demands with reference to your sin, to repent and believe the gospel, that you acknowledge yourself to be undone and standing in need of His mercy; if you live in impenitence and unbelief and despise the gospel, do not think you can come crying to God and somehow snatch to yourself the comfort that He has pledged to His children. No. If you would know Him as the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort, I entreat you first of all, to know Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent of your sin. Believe the gospel. Embrace His gracious promise, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

But thank God if, in grace, He has brought us to know Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of all mercies and the Father of all comfort to us. May we prove Him to be that in our experience and all of the theory that we have of these things God will make real to us in the crucible of affection.

When we begin to scream and holler and jump off the table when we see the syringe and the knife, may God help us to quiet one another down and remind one another of the principles of this passage, the divine purposes in affliction that we might know that affliction is not our foe, but our friend in the purpose of Almighty God.

Whether it is the death of a loved one, having an unsaved child, marital issues, loss of a job, etc. It’s all made to increase our awareness of the frailty of life and press us further into Him so that when these same things hit others we can understand and help them through with a real compassion and understanding.

About Albert Martin: Pastor Albert N. Martin concluded 46 years of ministry at Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, New Jersey, in June 2008, and he and his second wife Dorothy relocated to Michigan (he lost his first wife Marilyn in 2004 after 48 years of marriage and a six-year battle with cancer). A recognized evangelist, counsellor, pastor and preacher, Al Martin had his first experience of street preaching before the age of eighteen, under the guidance of elders at the Mission Hall he attended. He taught all the courses in Pastoral Theology in the Trinity Ministerial Academy for 20 years until it closed in 1998. He went to be with the Lord in 2017. Al Martin is the author of four booklets published by the Banner of Truth Trust – A Life of Principled Obedience, Living the Christian Life, The Practical Implications of Calvinism, and What’s Wrong with Preaching Today? He has also written several helpful books: The Forgotten Fear: Where Have All the God-Fearers Gone?; You Lift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges; Preaching in the Holy Spirit; Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Dies; and Two Volumes on Pastoral Theology entitled: Vol. 1: The Man of God: His Calling and Godly Life & Vol. 2: The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors. In a labor of love Pastor Brian Borgman wrote a book on Albert Martin’s Theology of Preaching called: My Heart For Thy Cause.

SCRIPTURES TO HELP YOU WHEN YOU ARE SUFFERING

Sola Scriptura open Bible

Because we live in a fallen world, going through difficult times is inevitable:

JOB 5:7 – but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.

JOHN 16:33 – I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

ROMANS 8:18-23 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

1 PETER 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

4 Purposes for Suffering

(1) It makes our faith stronger.

1 PETER 1:6-7 – In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

(2) It helps us grow into the kind of person that God wants me to be.

JOB 23:8-10 – Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

PHILIPPIANS 3:7-8 – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

JAMES 1:2-4 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for 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.

(3) It causes us to think more about eternity in Heaven.

2 CORINTHIANS 4:16-18 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

(4) It disciplines us for our sins.

HEBREWS 12:10-13 – For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all disciplines seem painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

PROVERBS 3:11-12 – My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

How Should We Respond To Suffering?

(1) Recognize that God’s grace is sufficient for me.

PSALM 55:22 – Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

2 CORINTHIANS 12:9 – But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my own weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

(2) Remember that God is sovereign over our adversities.

PSALM 33:13-15 – The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks at the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.

PSALM 71:20-21 – You have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.

ISAIAH 43:1-2 – But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

(3) Know that God is always there to listen and respond to you.

PSALM 3:4 – I cried aloud to the LORD and he answered me from his holy hill.

PSALM 9:9-10 – The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

PSALM 31:9-10 – Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.

PSALM 61:2 – from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

PSALM 86:3 – Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O lOrd, do I lift up my soul.

(4) Use the help God gives you to help others.

2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-4 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

(5) Know that adversity results in God’s reward.

JAMES 1:12 – Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

1 PETER 5:10 – After you have suffered awhile, the God of all grace, who has called you to eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Biblical illustrations – Job – whole book; Joseph – Genesis 37-50; Stephen – Acts 7; Paul and Silas – Acts 16.

SOURCE: Adapted from the Quick Reference For Counseling. Grand Rapids, Baker, 2006, 217-219.

Don’t Waste Your Cancer: An Interview With Matt Chandler

Tabletalk (The Monthly Magazine of R.C. Sproul’s – Ligonier Ministries) And Matt Chandler on His Battle with Brain Cancer

Tabletalk: By way of offering a brief introduction of yourself and your family, when was God’s call to serve His people confirmed for you (Matt, cancer free, recently pictured above with his wife Lauren and their three children)?

Matt Chandler: I think my story is a bit strange in that my awareness of God’s call on my life to serve His people was a bit lost in me serving His people. I’ll try and explain that. I was very frustrated with my church experiences heading into college. I loved sharing the gospel and loved the God of the Bible, but it appeared to me (probably my immaturity) that my church and I were seeing different things in the Scriptures. I saw atonement and the fear of the Lord, and at church they were teaching us not to drink beer and not to have sex. To be truthful, I wasn’t drinking beer or having sex, and could see that drunkenness was sinful and that God had a plan for sex in marriage. Yet it appeared to me that those were secondary issues that should be addressed after the atoning work of Christ was communicated and understood. I started teaching at an ecumenical gathering while I was in college and assumed I would finish school, become a good lawyer, and teach Sunday school at the local Baptist church wherever I settled (I was hoping for the West Coast). The Bible study blew up numerically, and we were running around one thousand to fifteen hundred students every week. A young woman from that study asked me when I received the “call of ministry.” I was honestly confused by her question. I thought she was asking if the Baptists had literally called me on the phone and let me teach the Bible study. She clarified her question, and it sent all my dreams and plans into another direction altogether. It was at this time that I came to understand that I wouldn’t be spending my life doing law and teaching Sunday school but rather teaching and leading God’s people into maturity by the Spirit’s power and by the proclamation of the Word.

TT: What counsel would you give to a believer on the day he or she is diagnosed with cancer? How about six months after the diagnosis?

MC: One of God’s big mercies in all of this has been allowing me to pastor a young church. I have done multiple funerals every year I have been here, and only one has been for a person over the age of fifty. I learned very early that people need to have a good grasp of God’s goodness and God’s sovereignty. On the day that a person is diagnosed, I try to encourage them in God’s knowledge — that this hasn’t surprised Him or caught Him off guard. I want to remind them that this isn’t punitive, but rather that God is on the move and He can be trusted. Six months after the diagnosis is harder to answer because cancer can go one of two ways. If the man or woman is still in a real fight, I want to draw his or her attention to Hebrews 11 or the story of Abraham being promised a son or even David being anointed king and then running from Saul for all those years before sitting on the throne. I think it’s important to remind people after the initial shock of diagnosis wears off and the wear and tear of treatment settles in that victory for those who are children of God is guaranteed, although difficulty, pain, and waiting might all be very present.

TT: In what ways has your cancer sanctified you?

MC: It’s made me look long and hard at my motives and has drawn me deeply into God in prayer. I am an excellent studier and researcher, and before all this began, I would say a decent man of prayer; but I learned after they told me I only had two to three years left that I knew much more about God than I actually knew Him. The bulk of my sanctification through this ordeal has been the birth of a deep desire for intimacy with our great God and King.

TT: How do you counsel Christians to face death and disease (both those who are personally facing such crises and those who are currently enjoying robust health)?

MC: I simply have tried to point out that we shouldn’t be surprised by death and disease because the Bible is filled with it. As I stated above, an understanding of God’s goodness and His sovereign power are necessary to cope with life in a fallen world. I want to teach people that life is extremely fragile and that there isn’t a person in our sanctuary or listening to a podcast who can’t have his or her whole world change with a phone call or, as in my case, getting up one morning and getting a cup of coffee. Those are heavy truths, and I know they don’t make for feel-good sermons, but it’s better to know these truths than to pretend it’s not reality.

TT: You’ve written that if you had not heard John Piper’s answer to the question “For whom did Christ die?” at the 1997 Passion conference, you would not have had ground to stand on years later when you heard the words “brain cancer.” How did your understanding of the atonement help you deal with such a devastating diagnosis?

MC: Actually, I think my wife, Lauren, said that in a blog she wrote after my prognosis was given to us. That sermon was significant for both of us because up until that point, I’m not sure we grasped the size and holiness of God. That sermon changed the trajectory of both our lives in that it shifted how we saw God and understood Him.

TT: You’ve also written that there were moments last year when you felt you were “punched in the soul” but that you were reminded nevertheless that the disease with which you’re dealing “isn’t punitive but somehow redemptive.” Could you unpack that a little?

MC: I have been very blessed by God in my life. My cancer has honestly been one of the more difficult things to deal with. Lauren and I have tried to trust the Lord in everything, and when we’ve stepped out in faith He has been beyond gracious to us. People come to hear; they give generously to the church, and almost every “idea” we’ve had God has blessed and grown. I can honestly say that ministry and life were pretty easy for us up until Thanksgiving 2009. After I had the seizure and they found the tumor, I thought it would be like everything else had been — easy and would end well. When I first met my neurosurgeon on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, I was ignorantly and maybe even arrogantly thinking that nothing would come of it and that we would just need to watch this thing and see.

I was caught completely off guard when Dr. Barnett told me that it didn’t look good and that we needed to do surgery immediately. That was one of the first times in my life, if not the first time, that things went “worst-case scenario” on me. The Holy Spirit was quick to remind me of great passages on God’s sovereignty and goodness in difficulty. I thought of Romans 8, Hebrews 11, and several others. I wasn’t being punished with brain cancer because I didn’t tell that guy at the gym about Jesus or because I hadn’t read Piper’s latest book, but rather God was at work. He was doing something, and I could be sure that He loved me and in the end I would have increased joy and He would be glorified. Here we are over a year later and that’s exactly what’s happened.

TT: How has dealing with your disease affected your view of God’s sovereignty (or, how has your view of God’s sovereignty affected how you view your disease)?

MC: (Pictured above Matt on a video update to his church after chemo treatment – having lost his hair – which has since grown back) I believe the Scriptures teach that God is aware of every act at every level of the universe. From a star exploding to the rate at which our planet spins to a cell dividing, He knows. I don’t believe in the end that God gave me cancer, but He certainly could have stopped it and didn’t. So I have to believe like Joseph, John the Baptist, and Paul had to believe when they were in prison — that God is working, and what the enemy means for evil, He will turn to good. There have been multiple occasions when God has used this tremendously. The Associated Press let me preach the gospel in an article that ran worldwide. The story has caught the imagination of the media here in Dallas, and we’ve been able to talk about the atoning work of Christ on TV as well as in newspaper articles. That has led to a ton of men and women surrendering their lives to Christ after wanting to talk with me through their own sufferings. If my life gets “cut short” but we get to see new births in the kingdom, then I don’t feel slighted or robbed in the least.

TT: In the late summer/early fall of 2010, you went to Sudan. How did that trip impact your life?

MC: I was deeply moved by my trip to Sudan. I’ve traveled quite a bit internationally but have never seen anything like it. It isn’t even a Third World country. That’s what they want to be. We are connected with some extremely godly men there, and the opportunities for the advancement of a Christ-centered, biblically-strong faith growing in southern Sudan are very real. On a side note, if I had not been diagnosed with cancer, I would not have been able to make the trip. The original diagnosis had us clear my external speaking schedule and opened that time frame for us to go.

Article Information:

From: Tabletalk Magazine – From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. Interview published on July 1st, 2011.

 About Matt Chandler:

Matt Chandler serves as lead pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. He has become a leader in the evangelical world through his ministry at the Village Church, the Acts 29 Church Planting Network, and his teaching at multiple conferences. Matt is known to a wider audience most recently through his faithful witness to Jesus Christ while battling a malignant brain tumor. Chandler is also the author of the teaching series Philippians: To Live Is Christ & to Die Is Gain; and his excellent first book published by Crossway, entitled: The Explicit Gospel.

3 Principles To Remember Concerning Trials By George Sweeting

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for 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.” – James 1:2-4

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:2-3a

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7

(1) Trials are a common experience of all of us. No one is immune. Trials are a part of living.

(2) Trials are transitory. Greek scholar C.B. Williams translates 1 Peter 1:6 this way: “In such a hope keep on rejoicing, although for a little while you must be sorrow-stricken with various trials.” Trials, though difficult, are “for a little while.”

(3) Trials are lessons that shouldn’t be wasted. Though not enjoyable or necessarily good in themselves, trials constitute a divine work for our ultimate good. Jesus never promised an easy journey, but He did promise a safe landing.

“God incarnate is the end of fear; and the heart that realizes that He is in the midst…will be quiet in the middle of alarm.” – F.B. Meyer

“Adversities do not make a man frail. They show what sort of man he is.” – Thomas A Kempis

“Sometimes your medicine bottle has on it, “Shake well before using.” That is what God has to do with some of His people. He has to shake them well before they are ever usable.” – Vance Havner

“We are always on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things.” H. W. Beecher

“Pressure produces! As we face the pressures of life, let it not just be a passive acceptance, but rather a positive cooperation with God’s purpose for our lives.” – George Sweeting

 

About the author: DR. GEORGE SWEETING is a former president and chancellor of the Moody Bible Institute He received a diploma from Moody Bible Institute, his B.A. from Gordon College, and his Doctor of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Sweeting has served as a pastor in several churches, including Grace Church, Madison Avenue Baptist Church, and The Moody Church and also spent nine years traveling the world as an evangelist. Dr. Sweeting has written numerous books, including The Joys of Successful Aging, Too Soon to Quit, Lessons from the Life of Moody, and Don’t Doubt in the Dark. He is the host of the radio program Climbing Higher and a former columnist for Moody Magazine. The above three points were adapted from one of his sermons on the purpose of trials in a Christian’s life.

Andrew Murray’s Formula for Going Through Trials

Anchors to Throw in a Time of Testing

 In Bible college at Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon (now Multnomah University) almost three decades ago I was going through a very difficult trial. Since that time I have encountered “trials of various kinds” as James calls them in his epistle. My godly father (now 89 years old) sent me a cut out containing the following advice from Andrew Murray. I have kept this cut out in my Bible ever since and have referred to it countless times:

*(1) He brought me here. It’s by His will I am in this straight place. In that fact I will rest.

(2) He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.

(3) Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn.

(4) In His good time, He will bring me out again—how and when He knows. So let me say: I am

(a) Here by God’s appointment.

(b) In His keeping.

(c) Under His training.

(d) For His time.

*From a Sermon by Andrew Murray on Acts 27:28-29 entitled “Anchors to Throw in a Time of Testing.” Andrew Murray was a Dutch Reformed Church missionary sent from Scotland to South Africa. Andrew pastored churches in Bloemfontein, Worcester, Cape Town and Wellington, all in South Africa. He was a champion of the South African Revival of 1860.

In 1889, he was one of the founders of the South African General Mission (SAGM), along with Martha Osborn and Spencer Walton. After Martha Osborn married George Howe, they formed the South East Africa General Mission (SEAGM) in 1891. SAGM and SEAGM merged in 1894. Because its ministry had spread into other African countries, the mission’s name was changed to Africa Evangelical Fellowship (AEF) in 1965. AEF joined with SIM in 1998 and continues to this day.

He died on January 18, 1917, four months before his eighty-ninth birthday. He was so influenced by Johann Christoph Blumhardt‘s Möttlingen revival that he included a portion of Friedrich Zündel’s biography at the end of With Christ in the School of Prayer. Over the years he has influenced many, including Jessie Penn-Lewis, a key figure in the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival. His writings have greatly influenced the writings of both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.

4 Good Reasons We Go Through Trials by Warren W. Wiersbe

“A Land of Hills and Valleys”

Excerpt from Chapter 1: From the Wonderful Devotional book Turning Mountains into Molehills by Warren W. Wiersbe (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987 – Only changes are that the Scriptures are from KJV to ESV)

For some reason, I have never enjoyed geography. Perhaps I didn’t study hard enough in school. But as I study my Bible, I find myself becoming greatly interested in God’s geography, particularly something that God said about the Promised Land He was giving to His people, Israel. “But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven (Deuteronomy 11:11).” I can’t think of a better description of the Christian life—a land of hills and valleys.

Christians today have a great deal in common with the nation of Israel back in Moses’ day, even though there are some radical differences. For example, there was a time when the people were in bondage; and God set them free. Once you and I were in bondage to sin; but God has set us free. God set Israel free by the blood of the lamb; and God has set us free by the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Lamb without spot or blemish. God led the nation with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and God leads us today through His Holy Word. God brought His people to the border of their inheritance and told them to go in and possess the land by faith; but, unfortunately they fell into unbelief and failed to posses the land.

The Lord has given Christians today a wonderful spiritual inheritance in Christ, and all we have to do is possess it by faith. The Bible is the divine road map that describes our inheritance for us; and God says that our inheritance is “a land of hills and valleys.”

Now, this fact may come as a surprise to some of you. Many people have the idea that the Christian life is an easy life—that once you are saved, your troubles are over. Well, once you are saved, many problems are solved; but many new ones appear. Jesus never promised that it would be easy for us to claim our inheritance. “In this world you will have tribulation,” He warned His disciples. “If they have hated me, they will hate you.” The Christian life is a land of hills and valleys.

Let’s begin with the valleys. Have you ever noticed that most of the great people in the Bible went through valley experiences? In Genesis 15 I find Abraham going through “the horror of a great darkness.” I find Isaac trembling because one of his sons has tricked him. I see Jacob wrestling all night until he is willing to surrender to God. I hear Moses crying out to God, “I am not able to bear all this people alone…kill me, I beg you.” I see David hiding in a cave a wondering if the crown would ever be on his head. I hear the prophet Isaiah lamenting, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain!” (Isa. 49:4). I watch John the Baptist in prison as he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for another?” Yes, I even hear the great apostle Paul saying, “For we would not have you ignorant, brothers, or our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” These men knew what it was to go through the valley.

Why does God permit these valleys to come into our lives? For one thing we learn some lessons in the valleys that we could never learn on the mountaintop. Do you think that David could have written those wonderful psalms if had never known the trials in the valley? How could he have written ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I know that you are with me,” if he had not gone through the valley himself? Suppose Jeremiah had never gone through that terrible valley that made him the “Weeping Prophet”? Could he ever have written, “His compassions never fail; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22,23)? Suppose Paul had never gone through the valley with his thorn in the flesh? Could he have written, “My grace is sufficient for you”? When we go through the valley, we learn lessons we could never learn any other way.

And, we grow in character in a way we could never grow apart from the valley. Great Christians are made by great trials. A man does not become patient simply by reading a book or praying a prayer. He becomes patient by going through the valley. Faith is cultivated in the darkness of the valley. God may teach us in the light, but he tests us in the darkness. This is why Paul wrote: “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” The Christian graces are developed as we walk through the valley.

But God has another purpose for the valley: as we go through the valley, we learn to help others. Psalm 84:6 puts it this way: “Who passing through the valley of weeping makes it a place of springs.” Here is a pilgrim going through a difficult valley, so difficult he is even weeping; but he leaves behind a well to refresh the pilgrims that will follow him. Perhaps the reason you are in the valley today is that God may comfort you so you in turn may comfort someone else. He wants you to leave a well behind. Paul had this in mind when he wrote, “God comforts us in all our tribulation that we may comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort we have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

The Christian life is a land of hills and valleys. God ordains the valleys that He might teach us lessons we could never learn any other way. He leads us through the valleys so that we may grow in our Christian character, and so that we may help others when they go through the valley. But there’s a fourth reason He permits valleys, and it’s this: you cannot have hills unless you have valleys.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life were just a series of mountaintop experiences? Wouldn’t we be happier if there were no valleys in our lives? The Christian life is a land of hills and valleys, but we must never forget that you cannot have hills unless you have valleys.

God knows how to balance our lives. All sunshine makes the desert, says the old proverb; and all hills, without valleys, will make an immature and shallow life. If you and I want to enjoy the hilltops of happiness, we must be willing to experience the valleys of trial. It’s comforting and encouraging to know that at the end of every valley there is a hill, and atop that hill is a new experience of blessing from the Lord.

I can’t help but notice that the lives of God’s people in the Bible were made up of both hills and valleys. Abraham received a great promise from God one day, and the next day the land was plunged into drought and famine. Isaac was born, and Abraham’s joy was complete. A few years later, God told him to offer his beloved son on the altar. The great prophet Moses experienced his hills and valleys. No sooner had he led the nation out of Egypt when they began to complain and ask to go back to bondage! Moses met God on the mountaintop and saw His glory; then he came down and discovered Israel dancing before a golden idol. Hills and valleys!

It was true even in the earthly life of our Lord. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the Father spoke from heaven and the Spirit came down on Jesus like a dove. What a mountaintop experience! But then the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. What a valley to go through! See Him as He enters Gethsemane, as he prays and sweats great drops of blood. See Him hanging on a cross! What a valley He endured! But then, see Him risen from the dead—radiant in the glorified body! What a mountaintop experience! Then He ascends to the highest heaven and sits at the right hand of God!

This is God’s word of encouragement to you as you go through the valley. He has a glorious blessing waiting for you at the end of the valley. The Christian life is a land of hills and valleys; and wherever you find a valley, you will always find a mountaintop at the other end. This is true because our Lord Jesus Christ has already gone before us to prepare a way. Every valley that we go through, Christ has already traveled before us.

I’m glad the Christian life is a land of hills and valleys. There is nothing monotonous about it. Every day presents a new challenge to grow in grace, a new opportunity to help others, a new privilege to receive grace and strength from Jesus Christ. It is a land of hills and valleys, and our God is a God of the hills and a God of the valleys.

*Warren W. Wiersbe is the Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, Warren Wiersbe is the author of more than 100 books. Billy Graham calls him “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation.” Interestingly, Warren’s earliest works had nothing to do with scriptural interpretation. His interest was in magic, and his first published title was Action with Cards (1944).

“It was sort of imbecilic for a fifteen-year-old amateur magician to have the audacity to write a book and send it to one of the nation’s leading magic houses,” Warren says. But having a total of three books published by the L.L. Ireland Magic Company—before the age of 20—gave him a surge of confidence. In later years, he applied his confidence and writing talent to the Youth for Christ (YFC) ministry.

Warren wrote many articles and guidebooks for YFC over a three-year period, but not all his manuscripts were seen by the public eye. One effort in particular, The Life I Now Live, based on Galations 2:20, was never published. The reason, Warren explains with his characteristic humor, is simple: it was “a terrible book…Whenever I want to aggravate my wife, all I have to say is, ‘I think I’ll get out that Galations 2:20 manuscript and work on it.’” Fortunately, Warren’s good manuscripts far outnumbered the “terrible” ones, and he was eventually hired by Moody Press to write three books.

The much-sought-after author then moved on to writing books for Calvary Baptist Church. It was during his ten years at Calvary that Expository Outlines on the New Testament and Expository Outlines on the Old Testament took shape. These two works later became the foundation of Warren’s widely popular Bible studies known as the Be series, featuring such titles as Be Loyal (a study on Matthew) and Be Delivered (a study on Exodus). Several of these books have been translated into Spanish.

His next avenue of ministry was Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church, where he served for seven years. He wrote nearly 20 books at Moody before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Betty, now live. Prior to relocating, he had been the senior pastor of Moody Church, a teacher at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a producer of the Back to the Bible radio program.

During all these years of ministry, Warren held many more posts and took part in other projects too numerous to mention. His accomplishments are extensive, and his catalog of biblical works is indeed impressive and far-reaching (many of his books have been translated into other languages). But Warren has no intention of slowing down any time soon, as he readily explains: “I don’t like it when people ask me how I’m enjoying my ‘retirement,’ because I’m still a very busy person who is not yet living on Social Security or a pension. Since my leaving Back to the Bible, at least a dozen books have been published, and the Lord willing, more are on the way.”

Wiersbe’s recent books include Your Next MiracleThe 20 Essential Qualities of a Child of GodThe Bumps are What You Climb OnClassic Sermons on the Fruit of the SpiritClassic Sermons on Jesus the ShepherdKey Words of the Christian LifeLonely PeopleA Gallery of GraceReal Peace: Freedom and Conscience in the Christian Life, and On Being a Leader for God.