Last year I had the first time opportunity to attend The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference in Indianapolis with my husband. What an experience! Singing a mix of the beautiful old hymns with gospel rich newer ones in a crowd of that size brought chills of delight – a small foretaste of what it will be to sing with all the brethren in heaven I am sure. The breakout sessions were fantastic and the general sessions powerful. I highly recommend attending at least once in your life!
At the time, there were so many hurting, suffering people in our church and I was desperate to bring healing to their hurt and hope for their future. One of the breakout sessions was called Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul Tripp. I signed up to attend. Wow, there are no words to describe the impact, the power, the hope that the session had. I bought the book, I shared the link with so many sufferers to watch the session for themselves, and then my life went on as usual. As a busy homeschool mom of four and a pastor’s wife, I simply did not take the time to read the book. It sat in the bag in my closet along with all of the other fantastic resources I found at the conference.
Having been involved in ministry since High School, I was not naïve to the suffering so many people faced in varying degrees. My awareness increased during my years as a missionary wife/mom in Brazil. That experience left me thanking God on a daily basis for the “expected things” in life – a bed to sleep in, clean clothes to wear, and more than one outfit, hot water, electricity, shoes, and the list could on. It also left me begging God frequently to come and rescue His children who were hurting deeply. “Even so, come Lord Jesus” Revelation 22:20.
Becoming a pastor’s wife brought the awareness of suffering to a whole new level. When you watch faithful followers of Jesus lose loved ones, lose health, suffer abuse, face wrong accusations, lose children from the faith, it hurts. I had a front-row seat to watching the way fellow believers processed their suffering. Some suffered well and stayed the course no matter what came, some became embittered and walked away from it all. The Bible is clear that our earthly lives will not be easy or pain-free (Romans 5:3, Acts 7:11, I Thessalonians 1:6) but it also offers great hope during the pain and suffering (Psalm 32:7, Romans 8:35-39, John 16:33). My understanding and total commitment to the sovereignty of God grew by leaps and bounds. I knew that at any moment, I could get the phone call or experience the event that would alter the course of my life.
And suddenly there I was, in bed so weak from a near-death miscarriage, it took all my strength to turn over. Before I was fully recovered from that, I faced surgery with a 4-6 week recovery time. The irony was that now I had heaps of time to read the book Suffering by Paul Tripp. I couldn’t put it down or stop talking about it to everyone. I resisted the urge to underline and highlight until the very end otherwise, 75% of the book would have been multi-colored! If someone was going through a hard time, I sent them quotes or simply ordered the book to be delivered to their front door.
Paul Tripp has been gifted with a unique and powerful use of words. He puts in the black and white the feelings and emotions we cannot find words to describe. I will admit that this is the first book I have read by Paul Tripp. I am sure that he has always been an amazing writer, but I do not doubt that his suffering lent richness and depth to this book unlike any others. I surmise this to be true because after my husband experienced severe burnout, his preaching took on a depth and richness like never before. Suffering does that.
We want to avoid it at all costs, but ironically it is the going through it that turns us into the compassionate, sovereignty of God believer, humble, non-judgmental person we all long to be. It is the tool that God uses to shape us into His Image! Any creation we make with our hands whether it be a beautifully decorated cake, piece of pottery, hand-sewn outfit, something whittled out of wood, the common factor is that removing something is required to make it beautiful. An uneven cake is trimmed before decorating begins, or pottery smoothed down by removing excess clay, or perhaps fabric is cut and discarded that is unnecessary to the outfit, so wood is cut so the desired shape can be acquired.
We are no different. In our suffering, God is busy removing the unnecessary and that which detracts from His Glory from our lives. In John 15-17, Jesus lays out the suffering and hardships that believers can expect in this life and then immediately goes into a beautiful prayer on our behalf to the Father. I can only imagine that for the disciples to be in the presence of Jesus during His prayer was a mountaintop experience and then in chapter 18, they are plunged into the most confusing and difficult suffering they have faced. As we see from the rest of the New Testament, their suffering was for their good and ultimately for our good as we reap the benefits daily from the reading of their words that God inspired.
That surprised me the most about my season of suffering. I knew that it would be good for me and shape and change me for the better if I was willing to let it. What I didn’t know was the benefit my suffering would have for so many others. That it would be good for them and shape and change them for the better. Isn’t that just like our amazing God to give us layers and layers of blessing during our hurt that helps the whole body of Christ? As Paul Tripp so wonderfully states over and over in his book, we are not alone, God has given us the body of Christ to rejoice with us in our joys and hurt with us in our sorrows. And both bring equal encouragement and are as necessary as our next breath.
Romans 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”