Thursday, October 3, 2013

The God Who Uses Pain

     I have read through the book of Acts multiple times in my life, and my church just finished doing a verse-by-verse study of Acts on Sunday mornings. But apparently, I do not pay enough attention. About two weeks ago, I was reading though Acts again in my quiet time, and I was struck by a verse from the story of Paul's conversion. I have read this verse I don't know how many times, but this time it finally struck home. This time, I actually started to think through the implications of this verse.

     In Acts 9, after Paul's encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Christ appeared to Ananias and instructed him to go and restore Paul's sight to him. Christ explains to Ananias, "For for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Acts 9:15-16).

     I accepted Christ when I was about seven years old. I went to my Dad and told him that I was ready to follow Christ. We had a discussion about sin and grace because he wanted to make sure that I understood what I was doing. I wonder what my response would have been if my Dad had looked at me and said, "Becky, I want you to know that God is going to ask you to suffer to bring glory to His name."

     This is essentially the experience that Paul had. Paul knew that when he placed his faith in Christ that the result was going to be suffering. Paul still had the choice to reject the truth that he had seen in the resurrected Christ, but he chose to acknowledge the truth even though it meant he would endure suffering. Yes, Paul still experienced joy and awesome blessings from God, but the man was familiar with suffering. Yet, we never really see Paul moping about his call to suffer. Paul probably had a better understanding of the universal call to suffering for all believers as promised by Christ in John 15:18-21, John 16:33, and ultimately demonstrated by Christ in His death. But Paul chose to accept the Truth regardless of what he would suffer or what it would cost him. And Paul did suffer. He gives an account of his sufferings when he says,

"Five times I received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 24-28).

As a result of these hardships Paul experienced, we now have some of the most powerful versed on suffering and endurance including:

Romans 5:3-5 "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."

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 "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. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we  know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort."

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies."

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."

2 Corinthians 12:10 "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Philippians 3:8-11 "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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

     This same man also wrote Philippians 4:4 "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." Paul who was no stranger to pain, heartache, and rejection; Paul who would ultimately die for the name of Christ, tells us to rejoice! How amazing! How convicting! That is a faith worth imitating.

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