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The Testing of Your Faith

Greetings All,

     This week's "thought" comes to you from one of my regular (and favorite) contributors -- Charles Spurgeon. It is found in one of the best daily devotionals I've ever purchased -- Beside Still Waters, Words of Comfort for the Soul.
     His words are based on James 1:3 where we read, "Consider it pure joy, brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."
     If you happen to be going through one of those times of trial or testing right now, I pray Spurgeon's words might bring new courage and spiritual resolve to your heart. Enjoy.

The Testing of Your Faith
     "The safest part of a Christian's life is during a trial.  How we pray in adversity!  At those times we cannot live without prayer.  We carry our burden to the mercy seat again and again.
     When we are depressed, we read our Bibles. We do not care for deceiving light literature. We want the solid promise, the strong meat of God's kingdom.
     In adversity we listen.  We do not care for flowers and fine bits of rhetoric. We want the Word. We want the naked doctrine. We want Christ. We cannot be fed on whims and fancies now. We care less about theological speculation and ecclesiastical authority. We want to know something about the eternal love, everlasting faithfulness, and the dealings of the Lord of hosts with the souls of His people. We walk lightly in the world and hold it with a loose grip because in the pain of trials it loses its attraction. I greatly question if we ever grow in grace unless we are in the furnace.
     This is the way it should be: the joys and blessings that God gives in this life should make us increase in grace and gratitude. These joys should be sufficient motivation for the highest form of consecration. As a rule, however, most of us are only driven closer to Christ in a storm. There are blessed and favored exceptions, but most of us need the rod of correction. We do not seem to learn obedience except through the Lord's chastening."

     Spurgeon's take on suffering grates against some schools of modern theology, yet his words are echoed by many wise believers of the past. Flannery O'Connor said it well when she wrote: "One of the tendencies of our age is to use children's suffering to discredit the goodness of God... In this popular pity we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more."
     She's right. In a culture where people run on feelings far more than they should, they become short-sighted and find it hard (or nearly impossible) to look beyond their present sufferings and view them in light of God's good and eternal purposes.

     They lose hold, so to speak, of the interpretive lens through which one must gaze in order to rightly understand many portions of Scripture and countless aspects of our earthly sojourn.

     "When I was in distress," says the psalmist, "I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands..." (Ps. 77:2).  His agony or distress drove him to pursue God with an untiring earnestness.  Likewise, Psalm 119:67 reads: "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word."  Affliction brought about obedience.

     That's why he can follow that statement up with these words in v. 72: "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."  Certain portions of God's Word and His sovereign decrees in providence cannot be understood apart from the experience of suffering. Struggle and suffering are necessary ingredients in the soil from which certain spiritual fruits grow, like patience, empathy, compassion, and so forth. Some of the most godly people are those who have suffered much.

     St. John of the Cross (1578) wrote: "Suffering out of love for God is better than working miracles."  Martin Luther (1535) wrote: "God builds out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him."   Henri Amiel (1882) wrote: "Suffering was a curse from which man fled, now it becomes a purification of the soul, a sacred trial sent by Eternal Love, a divine dispensation meant to sanctify and ennoble us, an acceptable aid to faith, a strange initiation into happiness."  And Anne Lindbergh (1973) adds this helpful reminder: "I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable."

     I would add to her words those of Peter Abelard (1125) who encouraged us not to grow bitter toward God under suffering, but see by faith that we, "may not doubt that these things (our sufferings) have happened to us by divine dispensation."  As with Job, no sufferings can come our way lest they pass through the providential filter of the Sovereign One who loves His people with such a profound love it is beyond the limits of the human mind to fully search it out or understand its unfathomable depths.

In His Service, Pastor Jeff