One thing that I have learned in my years here at Covenant is that finding hope in the midst of affliction is possible. Not only have I learned this from my personal experiences or from the instruction of the teachers, but I have also seen it proved to be true in the lives of so many of you here.
Many of you, if not all, have struggled with some type of affliction in your life. There are some of you who have battled against anxiety or depression. Some, difficulties within the home. Others of you have had a family member brought low by illness, such as cancer. And still more of you have experienced the sorrow and grief that come with losing a loved one. The list goes on.
Sometimes these afflictions that we face can overwhelm us. They can take control of our lives and bring us to confusion as to what we are supposed to do. There are many sinful things that we might go to for an escape, but they are all the wrong way out.
Some of these diversions would be things such as drinking, smoking, or doing drugs, sex, cutting yourself, or forcing upon yourself an eating disorder. I can personally say that I know and understand that if you do any of these things, or other things, as a way to try to dull your pain, it might seem at first that it’s working. It might seem like these things take away the suffering that your affliction is causing you. But the truth of the matter is, they don’t. They simply give you another kind of pain, a deeper pain, to focus on. And in the end, they only add to the pain that you felt before.
I know that some of you are probably thinking, “Well, what else am I supposed to do? No one cares about my pain. No one can help me. I feel so alone.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought the exact same thing. But when we think this, we are so far from the truth.
The first thing I want you to realize, yet not the most important, is what we’ve been gifted with while we’re here on this earth: friendships. So many of us just go through our daily live as if they were an act. We put that fake smile on our faces and just pretend like everything is great, when in reality we are going through one of the most difficult times in our life. But God doesn’t give us friends so we can pretend around them. They are gifts. The purpose for which they are given to us is especially for encouragement and support in hard times, and also for rejoicing with us through the accomplishments. To be honest, friendships are one huge thing that have gotten me through high school. Conversations that I’ve had with people, little gestures of kindness I’ve been shown; those moments have really encouraged me. There was a conversation I had with one of my good friends this past weekend that really caused me to grow in my appreciation and gratitude for the people God has given me. While we were talking, one thing we discussed really struck me. We were talking about prayer, and how God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want, but he answers them with what we need. We have times where we just want a trial gone from our life right here and right now so we can move forward. But God says, “No, child. This trial is part of my plan for you, and I have a purpose in it.” This person also reminded me that as much as I would desire to do so, I can’t change things myself. The perspective this person gave to me was this: “You’re not the Holy Spirit. You can only do so much for people. You can be there for them, but you can’t fix their problems. Only God can provide that turning point, and all you can do is pray and trust him.” This wasn’t a foreign idea to me. But it’s something I know I need to be reminded of time and time again. This is just one example of the reasons I am SO thankful for friendships. Friends are truly one of the most precious gifts from God. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to tell your friends how much their love and support means to you.
Aside from the gift of friends, I want to talk about all the ways that God has shown me the hope that I am able to have in Christ. First, in his perfect wisdom, he has a purpose for giving to us our affliction. This purpose is for his glory, for our good, and to strengthen our faith. He is directing all of our suffering toward the specific goal of eternal glory. We can know that he is in control of every moment of our lives. Before any heartache can so much as touch our life, it has to go through his hands.
We must also remember that we are not alone in our suffering. For one, God is ALWAYS there. He’s holding us at all times. But we can be confident too that Jesus knows and understands our pain. His suffering was much more than we will ever have to face, and he did it out of love for us.
By this we can be assured that anything we are afflicted with is absolutely nothing in comparison to the love that God has for us. He loves us so much that he sent his own Son to die so that we might have eternal life. Not only did he give us eternity, but he gave us much more that we can even experience in our life here. Through the death of Jesus, we have the ability to approach God in prayer with confidence. Through his death, we also are able to call God our Father, because he has adopted us as his own children. We must view ourselves in the light of what he has done for us. We are the handiwork of God, a masterpiece bought with the price of the blood of God’s Son.
The final point that I want to make is this: all of the affliction that we face is not meaningless, but is totally meaningful. I don’t know about you, but for me, the question that I most often ask when it comes to my affliction is, “Why me? What’s the point of all this pain? If God is SO good, then why do I feel like I’m drowning in an endless sorrow?” To answer these questions, I want to read to you an excerpt from a sermon by a man named John Piper.
“Not only is all your affliction momentary. Not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity, and the glory there. But all of it is TOTALLY meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something. It’s not meaningless! Of course you can’t see what it’s doing! Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, Don’t say “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It is working for you an ETERNAL weight of glory. THEREFORE, do NOT lose heart! But take these truths and day by day, FOCUS on them. PREACH them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and PREACH His Word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are NEW and CARED FOR.”
You see, the sole purpose of our affliction is to work for us the eternal and peculiar glory, of which we are undeserving, yet with which God has so graciously blessed us. God promises us that every moment that we spend suffering is not meaningless, but is working for our good, and that he will never forsake us through it. We see this very promise in our class text, Joshua 1:9 “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.” It is inevitable that in this life we will suffer. It’s part of being a child of God. We are in a place that is not our home. The devil is going to try with all he has to use our affliction to turn us against our God. But he will not prevail. We already have the victory. Knowing this, that glory awaits us, where there is no pain, no tears, no sin and no suffering, we can live our lives, even in the midst of our affliction, with a bold confidence and a burning passion for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, who is our calm in the midst of the storm.