The presence of pain and trial in our lives is a matter of when not if. James tells us: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). Pain and trial are not mere possibilities on the landscape of the Christian life. They are certainties.
Given the certainty with which we should expect pain in our lives, what truths should we set our minds and hearts upon before and as we endure trial? I can think of at least five things we should remember as we consider how the Lord uses pain in our lives.
1. The Lord uses trial and pain to sanctify us. He uses hardship to refine us and make us holy. He uses pain to sand down the rough edges in our character. Trial refines and purifies in a way that other seasons of life do not. Spurgeon once quipped that just as corn, to ripen, requires all kinds of weather, Christian character requires every season of life in order to be prepared for the life to come. We need seasons of plenty, when the sun is shining, and we need seasons of adversity, when the storm clouds are dark and troubling, if we are to progress in our sanctification.
2. The Lord disciplines those he loves. To be sure, trial and discipline are not one and the same. From our vantage point, however, it might be impossible to discern the difference. When we experience trial, it is tempting to think that the Lord has abandoned us, that his love for us is diminishing. But when we remember that the Lord disciplines his children like a loving father, we can then see his heavy hand as a sure sign of his presence in our lives, and of our relationship with him. If I pass a child I don’t know having a meltdown in the supermarket, I walk the other way. But if I pass my own child in that same situation, I discipline him in love. My discipline is proof of my relationship with and commitment to him. In the same way, the pain we experience can be a sign of the Lord’s love for and commitment to us.
3. The Lord uses trial and pain to advance the gospel. When God’s people suffer but remain faithful, when we endure hardship but continue to trust in his sufficiency and goodness, then his beauty and glory are seen more clearly by the watching world. Just as a starving man will delight over the simplest of meals, when we delight over the goodness and greatness of God in the midst of our trials, the Lord’s reputation and name redound.
4. The Lord himself knows trial and pain. Because of the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus, the Lord can know and sympathize with us in our pain and weakness. Our High Priest can feel what we feel when we suffer. He can hurt as we hurt. Hebrews tells us that it is precisely because he has known and felt our weakness that we can approach Christ with confidence in our weakness: We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:15-16).
We can be certain that God will not forsake us in our pain precisely because he forsook Jesus in his.
5. Pain and trial can never separate us from the love of God in Christ. Jesus was forsaken by the Father (cf. Matt 27:46). In his greatest moment of pain and weakness, the Father turned his face from his Beloved Son. But because of this, we can be sure that he will never abandon us in our moments of pain and weakness. Because of this, we can be sure that the Father will never turn his face from us. Meditating upon this, the apostle Paul rejoiced: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).
This article is adapted from the message The Lord is with His Anointed One, preached at Capitol City Christian Church on 6/16/2019. To watch or hear the whole message, click here.