God's Good in our Suffering
Note: This blog is a sermon excerpt from “Joseph and the Sovereign God Over All History.” You can stream the audio of the sermon or find the full manuscript HERE
What is this “Good” God is Working Out?
We say that God works all things together for good (Rom 8:28) and we saw in the life of Joseph that what others meant for evil against Joseph God meant for good (Gen 50:18-21), but what is this “good” that we keep hearing about? There are some who look at this story and would say if you will have enough faith as you wait on God He will raise you up just like Joseph and give you riches and power just like Joseph. Or if you wait on God in faith like Joseph did all your life is going to work out like you have been dreaming. You will have that picture perfect family you wanted with the house with the white picket fence and the 2.1 children and the cushy office job with the ever-growing 401K, where you call the shots and the weekends on the lake that are carefree. Is that was Joseph meant when he said that God meant it for good? Is that the principle that we can walk away with? Is that what Paul meant when he wrote the New Testament version of that verse and said that “God works all things together for good”?
Below is a list survey of many of the “goods” that God is working out in our times of suffering. While the list below isn’t comprehensive it does provide a great starting point as we consider the good that God is up to in our pain.
1. Conforms Us to the Image of Christ (Rom 8:28-30)
First and foremost, God’s goal is to conform you to the image of Christ. This comes from the passage that we have already referenced in Romans 8 – “God works all things together for good.” Paul continues on this thought by saying His goal in this is to make us like Jesus. So when suffering comes your way or you are sinned against as Joseph was the first thing you should ask yourself is how is God helping you to become more like Jesus in your life and character? That’s right, God uses pain and hardship in our lives to help mold us into the image of Christ. When we understand this we can start to see purpose in the pain in our life. It is not senseless, but it is God working as a potter molding the clay, a gardener pruning the tree, a sculptor chiseling away at the stone and when He is all done we will be more of who God wants us to be and that is most certainly good!
2. Helps Us Experience the Comfort of God (2 Cor 1:4)
Something else that God does in the midst of our pain and suffering that is good is He gives us an opportunity to experience His comfort at a deeper level. When life is comfortable often we forget the goodness of God b/c we get caught up in the goodness of His gifts. Suffering strips that away and we are reminded that the only true and lasting comfort that we are going to find in this life is in God Himself. That is a good reminder that we need.
3. Equips Us to Serve Others Who Are Suffering (2 Cor 1:4)
Suffering and pain bring about a lot of learning, don’t they? We learn to walk through hard times, we learn how to lean on God more, we learn where to find comfort in the Scriptures, we learn the blessings of having a church family to rally around us, we learn how to pour out our hearts to God in prayer. As we learn all of these things, and so much more, God is equipping us to help others who are suffering. The reality is that if you have suffered a great deal in your life that is b/c God is going to use to help someone else who is suffering. Your pain is not pointless, it is purposeful. Your growth in suffering is going to be the means to someone else finding comfort in God in their suffering and this is undoubtedly good.
4. Forces Us to Rely on God Over Self (2 Cor 1:8-9)
God uses pain and suffering to remind us that life is bigger than we can bare on our own. Some people have said that God will never give you more than you can handle. This isn’t really true, it is partially true at best. The reality is that God often gives us more than we can handle so that we are forced to look up at Him for our help and deliverance. Paul says in 2 Cor 1 that he felt as if his suffering was going to kill him and death was immanent, but that was just to make sure that he stopped trusting in his own ability, and in God’s alone. This truth is why Charles Spurgeon was able to say…
“I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” -Charles Spurgeon
5. Glorifies God by Displaying His Sufficient Grace (2 Cor 12:9-10)
While it isn’t accurate to say that God will never give us more than we can handle, it is accurate to say that God will never give us more than His Grace can handle. God will give you more than you can handle all the time, but His grace is always up to the challenge. His grace is undefeated in rising to the occasion. This is what we see as Paul prays to God to alleviate some intense suffering he faced and Christ comes to him and says the suffering will stay, but His Grace is Sufficient. That is always true for every situation you are in. God offers you abounding grace that is sufficient, up to the task for whatever situation you find yourself in. This is good!
6. Reminds Us of the Utter Greatness of Eternity (2 Cor 4:17-5:2)
God also reminds us in our suffering of the brokenness of the world that we live in. The world we live in now isn’t Heaven is it? Some people live that way though. They live as if this is all there is, but suffering reminds us of just how broken this world is and how much we really long for eternity where all wrongs are righted and everything that was crooked is made straight.
7. Purifies Our Faith (1 Per 5:7)
Trials serve God’s greater purpose of purifying our faith. While we may trust God, flecks of unbelief gather, little growths of self-confidence take root in our hearts and pollute our faith in Christ. Trials, tribulations, suffering and pain offer to strip us of these impurities as a fire purifies gold by separating the impurities so they can be removed. This is painful, but it is good.
8. Brings about God’s Sovereign Plan for History (Gen 50:20)
Finally, what we saw in Joseph’s life is that suffering is often God working to bring about His sovereign plan for history. We won’t see this in the moment, just as Joseph didn’t, but when we look back on our lives in eternity we will see how all the little tiles of our life came together to create a beautiful mosaic that heralds the glory of Christ! Just b/c you don’t understand your suffering doesn’t mean it isn’t purposeful and being used for a greater good. Joseph learned that much later in life. More than 22 years later. We may not understand until we stand in front of our Savior. Regardless He is good and His purpose is good.
All of this builds up to remind us that our pain is never pointless, it is purposeful. It is at work to shape us, lead us to bless others and most importantly create opportunities for Christ and His infinite worth to be magnified.
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