I got the text around 5:30am
My friend, Emily, was on her way to the hospital with contractions. Usually this kind of news would bring about joyful anticipation… but not today. She was only 24 weeks and 1 day with her precious baby who desperately needed to be inside her mama until she was big enough to receive the kind of extensive medical help she would need upon entering this world.
All day was spent praying, pleading with the Lord, asking Him to do a miracle. But that evening we received the news that He had allowed little Anna Nicole to come, and she had lived 13 minutes outside the womb before entering eternity with Jesus. Waves of sorrow rolled over my heart and the hearts of many others who had been praying for weeks that the Lord would preserve this little girl to live and grow into girlhood and beyond.
This young couple, Alex and Emily, had already walked through more trials than most in their first few years of marriage, and I’d always marveled at their faith and trust in the Lord. In the past year especially, I had had many sweet conversations with Emily and been so blessed by her unwavering gaze on Jesus even in the unknowns. But as the story with their tiny, unborn baby girl was unfolding, I found myself often thinking that this trial seems like more than one couple can bear. And in reality, it is. Apart from Jesus, this is an impossible trial.
Even though everything in me wishes this excruciating suffering could be taken away from these dear friends, I have been a witness to something that takes my breath away. Their surrendered, broken, suffering, poured-out lives have put Jesus and the Gospel on brilliant display. I would never, ever choose the kind of suffering they are walking through for myself, but I find myself watching in awe and saying, “Lord Jesus, I long for that kind of faith. Whatever it takes for more of you.”
God’s number one tool for sanctification in the Christian’s life is suffering. More than anything else, it causes us to be smoothed so the reflection of Christ can be more clearly seen in us. But this tool hurts. It hurts tremendously, and naturally we want to push it away. But when we surrender to it, trusting our pain into the Lord’s loving and tender hands, He takes it and uses it for our good and His glory in stunning ways.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.”
Those who have walked through the deepest of waters and still worshipped and proclaimed Jesus are those who have had the greatest impact on my own walk with the Lord. As someone who struggles with fear of the future and what may come, it has been these people who have come to mind, knowing that if I were to go through the same trials and sufferings they have walked through, God would be just as faithful to me, too.
In this day and age when the prosperity gospel is so prevalent, it can be easy to fall prey to the idea that those who are walking through suffering must have very little faith. But there is absolutely no evidence for that in Scripture – in fact, the opposite is true. As my husband said about our friends at church this past Sunday, “Alex and Emily have God’s favor all over their life.” God is using their suffering to point many to Him because of their faith. What greater privilege can anyone have in this life than to be poured out for the glory of the King of all kings?
We don’t know when and how suffering will come in this life. But we need the example of others in the Body of Christ who have learned how to grieve with hope. Alex preached this past Sunday – the Sunday after his daughter died – and said, “We stand on the shoulders of those who have suffered before us.” And in the years to come, God will use this couple to strengthen those of us who have yet to walk through such suffering.
(If you want to follow along on Alex and Emily’s journey, visit their blog Homemaking in Heaven)
As I was praying and thinking through this post, I looked up quite a few quotes and Bible verses on the topic of suffering. I’ll leave those below, and pray they encourage all of us as we ask God to give us a correct theology of suffering and how to walk through suffering with others.
“Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.”– Tim Keller
“Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.”– Henry Ward Beecher
“At the timberline where the storms strike with the most fury, the sturdiest trees are found.”– Hudson Taylor
“Most of the verses written about praise in God’s Word were voiced by people faced with crushing heartaches, injustice, treachery, slander, and scores of other difficult situations.”– Joni Eareckson Tada
“This is God’s universal pattern for all Christians suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world.”– John Piper
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”Romans 5:3-5
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”Philippians 1:29
“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