Suffering Glorifies God
Originally published 9 December 2009
In my last post I reflected on what God’s purposes are in the hardships faced by His children. We are running the race of life, the purpose of which is to share in God’s holiness. The writer to the Hebrews tells us to “endure hardship as discipline” (Hebrews 12:7). God is disciplining us to run the race with perseverance, to keep on running.
I referred to a helpful hymn by John Newton, which soulfully acknowledges that God often answers our prayers for a deeper relationship with Him in ways that are often confusing and painful. It’s worth repeating the last verse of the hymn, in which Newton shows what he believes is God’s reply to his complaints about his temptation and inner suffering:
“These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”
But there is a deeper purpose. If we find our all in God, through Christ, then we glorify God. When we draw from Him everything we need, and when we realise that everything that we really need is in God, we magnify the Creator, we magnify His grace and His love and His power. As John Piper, of Desiring God Ministries, has often said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” And God’s deepest concern is that His glory be seen and appreciated.
So I have a further reflection. A few days after I posted the previous article, sharing my long unemployment and the hardships I was feeling, I managed to secure some work that could keep me occupied full-time for up to a year. I may say more about that job in the future. Suffice to say for the moment, it is located such that it involves a huge amount of commuting and staying away from home, so I am feeling as if one kind of hardship has been graciously replaced by another! It’s as if I’ve graduated from one kind of exercise, under God’s training, to another!
Does that sound ungrateful?
Well, consider this: When I communicated my new job to my friends and family, there was an overflow of joy. The comments of my Christian friends were all variations of “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah!” Not many of my status updates on facebook draw much comment. But when I posted my news, the amount of praise for God for His goodness that was posted as comments was overwhelming.
It made me think, if I had moved straight from my last job into a new job without an 8 month gap, would it have prompted so much praise? I don’t think so. Therefore, that difficult time of unemployment has resulted in more praise to God! And more praise to God is pleasing to God.
Now, at times I confess that I have complained to God that He does not seem to answer my prayers. I read Jesus’ promise that, “If you ask for anything in my name, it will be given to you.” And – forgive me, Lord – quite often I have laughed! “I have prayed for months for a job, in order to feed my family, and you say that you care about me and will answer my prayers!”
But I guess I conveniently forgot the times I have prayed, “Hallowed be your Name, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done!” I have asked the Lord on many occasions to glorify Himself through me.
So my sin is shown up yet again, because what I’m really praying is, “Glorify yourself in me, but in my way!” Without knowing it, our prayers are often out of line with our underlying good desire to glorify God. We think so simplistically!
So I have learned (until I need to learn it again) to praise God for finding me paid employment, but also to praise Him for unemployment because He has graciously used me to bring Him more praise. And therefore I will not be ungrateful for a job that brings other hardships, because I know that He has a good purpose in that too, and that He will again bring praise to Himself through it – and that is good. I may not always show that gratitude in everything I say and do, any more than a record breaking athlete looks like he is enjoying his training! But deep down I have to learn every day to trust the Lord, knowing that because He cares about His own glory He also cares for me. He not only gives us everything we need to live and serve Him, but He gives us more than that – He gives us Himself.
“… I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11ff)