No, that’s not a typo or a mistake. I freely admit I am trying to capture your attention and encourage you to read further.
Perhaps many of us have heard or shared that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
It’s true. Absolutely.
God’s long-range plan for those who know and obey Him truly is wonderful. God’s ultimate plan for His children is incomparable to anything we could dream or imagine. Just consider what is means to be invited into Gods presence—into the very throne room in heaven—and to be over whelmed by His majesty and to be surrounded by people that we have read about in the Bible and by loved ones who have passed on before us.
But prior to that future amazing reunion, God’s plan for us is to experience life through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Having been justified by faith–pronounced righteous and holy—we can experience victory over sin’s power. Paul captures this “wonderful plan” in Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”*
God has loved us, chosen us, justified us and will someday complete the transformation when He glorifies us in heaven. Then we shall be perfect. In that moment, we shall fully experience this wonderful life He has promised.
However, in the middle of that marvelous description about God loving us, redeeming us, reconciling us, indwelling us with His Spirit and promising to glorify us, Paul inserts another aspect of God’s plan for us.
Suffering, you ask? Yes, suffering is part of God’s plan for His children. Ponder Paul’s words: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:16–17*)
Note the conditional statement that we are joint heirs with Christ, “providing we suffer with him.” Consider also Paul’s certainty about suffering: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time…” Paul writes as if suffering was normal, and for him it was. That’s what Jesus promised him at the moment of his conversion, when He commissioned Paul to be an apostle. And it certainly worked out that way.
Suffering is par for the course for a follower of Jesus in this world. No suffering, no glory to follow.
Jesus often cautioned His listeners to first consider the cost before choosing to follow Him. To become His disciple was to voluntarily “take up a cross.” Cross bearing always includes suffering and death.
Paul would eventually lose his life after suffering severely. Listen to this litany of his painful experiences: “with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the 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 11:23–28*).
But Paul was not an exception.
We don’t know for certain who wrote Hebrews, but consider these words about suffering as Christians: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:1–13*).
Pause to chew on those words about God’s discipline. God purposefully disciplines and chastises His children because He loves them. His discipline is always for our good. Discipline promotes holiness and righteousness—two attributes that we will finally share when He has glorified us.
Until then, let us say with Paul: “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.… 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 4:8-10,16–18).
Yes, God loves His children and has a wonderful plan for each one. Even so, the road to glory passes through seasons of sorrow, pits of pain, and detours of discouragement. Each painful experience along the journey is to be received as a gift from God to prepare us for what is yet to come.
Here’s the way Paul wrapped it up: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39 *)
What confidence! What assurance! What love! Nothing can separate God’s children from His love and His protection.
So yes, God loves and has a wonderful plan for His sons and daughters—a plan that includes purposeful suffering. Those who offer a gospel of health and wealth fail to tell the whole story. The road to glory winds its way through the valleys of suffering.
As Mary and I reflect on our lives, we affirm that God has been good. The summits have been filled with pleasure. The valleys with His presence. Throughout the six months recovery from my serious accident in 1984, God was there. When we add up all the hard experiences and compare them to the hope before us, they are insignificant. Mary is presently going through radiation treatment after cancer surgery several weeks ago, but life remains a blessing because we know God has a plan. We don’t know all the details, but we know His purpose is for our benefit.
History is replete with stories of people that suffered severely but continued to trust God. People that came to reflect graciousness. In the Old Testament, Joseph is an unforgettable example.
Hated and abused by his ten older half-brothers, Joseph endured years of suffering that helped mature him into the man that God used to preserve the nation of Israel. Israel exists today, preparing to defend itself once again, because Joseph became their deliverer through severe suffering.
But that’s another story for another blog post.
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*All quotes from ESV Bible.