I had a box delivered (school supplies for Kindergarten) which I placed atop my washer in the garage on my way out the door. Two days later, when I could no longer avoid the growing pile of laundry, I decided to move the box to the floor of the garage as it had been months since my washer leaked (it likes to do this from time to time).
I start a load of laundry, and an hour later something brings me out to the garage where I look in horror at the water streaming all over the garage. The bottom of my box is soaking wet. Frustrated, I scramble to pick up anything that might be at risk of damage and I roll my eyes—not at the water, not at the soggy cardboard box, but at God. Really? I literally just said (in my mind) that my washer was behaving normally, and the box surely wasn’t at risk. Why do you do this to me God? The words slowed awkwardly as they escaped my heart. I halted.
That laundry room fiasco wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced ridiculous circumstances that seem so pointedly and precisely arranged that it would be denial not to acknowledge a Sovereign plan. This sort of scenario happens to me frequently, and it was just recently I sensed the Lord addressing the way I perceive these events. God wanted to adjust my perspective.
I was missing something in those moments of divine frustration. Angry and fixated on blaming someone, I resented the plan because I was blind to the purpose. Subtly folded into my difficult circumstances are unique gifts of grace and glimpses of glory, strategically designed to produce perseverance.
Gifts of Grace
In those moments of crisis (there are much bigger ones than my laundry scenario), if we pause, we can identify the grace of God. Things we mindlessly attribute to quick thinking or coincidence are more accurately saving graces the Lord orchestrated beforehand.
Just days before my washer leaked, I reorganized the area next to it. My husband helped me lug a giant old cabinet to the dumpster and we replaced it with a slim shelving unit (the lowest shelf hovering just an inch above the floor). We cleaned and organized nearly everything that day; how much easier it made things when the flood of water cascaded down the garage floor! Grace.
Glimpses of Glory
When we are walking in the spirit, we not only recognize gifts of grace, we also recognize that the moment all the questionable vocabulary in our repertoire wants to fly out of our mouth is the same moment we have a distinct opportunity to glorify God in our response. This is a one-of-a-kind moment. There will be plenty of other trying days to come, but the Bible tells us that we will give an account for every word (Matthew 12:36), so it is this moment and these words that can either be wielded for glory or for grumbling. When the moment passes it can be learned from, but it cannot be regained.
Scratching the Surface of the Doctrine of Sovereignty
It’s a tricky doctrine, the sovereignty of God; everything is within His control, His knowledge, His consent—but He is not to blame for everything bad we experience (1 Peter 5:8, Genesis 3:17-19), nor is He vindictively doling out consequences (Lamentations 3:32-33), and neither is He unwilling to discipline us (Hebrews 12:6-11). This makes for a complex understanding of everyday life, and it isn’t easy to categorize our experiences. It’s always a risk to try and simplify a complex biblical doctrine, so the disclaimer here is that I’ve only scratched the surface. But when it comes to suffering and sovereignty, here are seven truths I am certain of:
7 Truths About Suffering
- God redeems difficulties in my life and uses them for my good (Romans 8:28)
- Trials are not an excuse for sin (Hebrews 12:3-4)
- I can ask God boldly and expectantly, for grace in the midst of my weakness (Hebrews 4:15-16)
- Affliction produces endurance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-5)
- Experiencing suffering is essential to experiencing glory as coheirs with Christ (Romans 8:17-18)
- Earthly suffering is essential to eternal rejoicing (1 Peter 4:12-13)
- To know suffering is to be in fellowship with Christ (Philippians 3:10)
Questioning Our Response Instead of Our Circumstance
When we allow truth to direct our understanding of adversity, we can move the focus from our circumstances to our response. When difficulties arise, here are a few questions you may find helpful to ask yourself:
- Where can I recognize God’s provision?
- How is my response revealing where my hope lies?
- Does my weakness in this moment propel me to pray?
- How is this situation an opportunity rather than a hurdle?
- How do I magnify God in my response right now?
- Does the brokenness in this world increase my gratitude for the Savior?
- How does this trial increase my joy as I look to the return of Christ?
- How can I recount these events to others in a way that glorifies God?
Asking “Why me?”, “Why now?” or, in those raw and unfiltered moments, “Seriously God?” are all questions that originate from a man-centered universe and are often, at least in my case, spoken with the attitude “It’s not fair!” (Side Note: The Psalms provide many good examples of prayers that ask God questions, but they end with a humble resolve). Colossians 1:16-18 describes the universe with a very different focus:
“all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together… He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything.”
When faith is at work, opening our eyes to the preeminence of God who is brilliantly working all things together, we see life from an entirely different premise. Our trials are sovereignly orchestrated to result in our ultimate joy which is found in the Son’s ultimate glory.
As messy, uncomfortable and ugly as suffering is, when we glimpse the majesty and wisdom of God, like Paul, we too will joyfully suffer the loss of all things and consider them filth “in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Philippians 3:8).