God Loves You and Has a Painful Plan for Your Life 

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. 

Stay tuned. 

Thanks for reading this post. If you appreciated it, why not pass it on to your friends.


*All quotes from ESV Bible.

Lessons from an Ostrich

Several weeks ago I asked my friend, Larry Libby (he also volunteers as my editor, for which I am deeply grateful), what he thought about working on a post about frogs and ostriches. He was game to try, so here goes.

Two familiar sayings—“the frog in the kettle” and “bury your head in the sand”—illustrate two potential responses to our rapidly changing secular culture. I have discovered that both frogs and ostriches are listed among the unclean foods in Leviticus 11:13-19. You’d never find frog legs or an ostrich drumstick on a Kosher menu. A practicing Jew would never say, “Frog legs taste like chicken.”

The fourth plague in Exodus 8 was an infestation of frogs. The sixth bowl judgment in Revelation 16:13 is described as “three unclean, demonic spirits, like frogs.”

The ostrich doesn’t fare much better in Scripture. Their meat, like that of vultures, ravens and birds of prey, was considered “detestable.” These giant birds are included among hyenas and jackals and other assorted creatures that inhabit deserted places (Isaiah 13:19-22; Jeremiah 9:39, 40; Job 30:24-31:1; Micah 1:6-9). 

In the last few posts on the Front Porch Swing, I have challenged my readers to invest in projects like providing safe drinking water in developing countries. I have encouraged you to pray for those suffering religious persecution and become an advocate for the unborn at risk in the womb. 

Living as we do in America, or in almost any Western nation, most of us are wealthy compared to millions of people struggling in abject poverty. Many people will go to bed tonight hungry. Some live in tin shacks. Some will sift through garbage dumps to tomorrow. Others will be arrested and imprisoned for having a Bible in their possession.

Currently, like many of you, I am frustrated by not being able to gather as a church family on Sunday. More tragic are the millions who dare not even gather quietly in their own homes, in fear of arrest or martyrdom.

I could go on and on about our affluence. My purpose is not to bring shame or guilt, because we live where we do. But my goodness, we—of all people—ought to be lavish in our praise and gratitude toward God, the giver of all good gifts.

That’s a very good start. But if I all I do is offer thanks, I would be remiss. The Bible frequently calls for getting involved. Jesus illustrated it so well in His famous “Good Samaritan” story. Two religious leaders, probably quite well off, passed a wounded man lying in the middle of the path. Both recognized the man was in desperate straits and would undoubtedly die without assistance. Both passed by anyway. Did they whisper a prayer for the victim as they passed? Probably not, or Jesus would have said so. Bottom, neither got a hand dirty or lost valuable time or spent so much as a dime to help him.

A third man, a despised Samaritan, soon came upon the bloody scene. Seeing the victim lying in the path and hearing his barely audible groans, the Samaritan felt compassion. Ignoring the risk that he too might be victimized on that dangerous stretch of highway, he stopped to offer assistance. He got involved. After cleansing the wounds and making bandages from his own clothing, he placed the man on his donkey and hastened down the path to the nearest lodging place. Before continuing his journey the next morning, the Samaritan gave the host money—essentially his Visa card—to care for the victim.

That’s why we call people who stop to help others in trouble, “Good Samaritans.” You may have met some of these good people along life’s pathway. Perhaps you were stuck in a snow bank or parked on the shoulder in a disabled car in the middle of the night as vehicles roared past. Then, to your vast relief, a car stopped and the driver offered to help you—or call for help—to get on your way again. I’ve been there. I’ve even been the Good Samaritan a few times. More often than not, however, I drove on by. Somebody else will stop and help them, I’ve told myself. Everybody has a cell phone.

Life in today’s world is filled with suffering and wounded individuals. She may be curled up on the sidewalk on a cold night wrapped in cardboard. He may be huddling in a thin blanket on a concrete floor in a North Korean prison. She may be widow in India, grieving her husband’s death at the hands of militant Hindu terrorists, wondering how she will feed her children. She may be pregnant, married or not, considering a lethal option.

You get the point; people are suffering and dying and living in fear. There is no shortage of opportunities to be a Good Samaritan. Nor is there a shortage of resources. 

The question is, how will I respond? I can’t really say that I have nothing to offer. We all have something to offer. Nor can I claim ignorance. To do so makes me either a frog or an ostrich.

We’re all familiar with the famous frog-in-the-kettle story. Put him in a large pan of cool water and he is right at home. Put the pan on a kitchen range and turn the fire on low to gradually, almost imperceptibly, heat the water. The environment changes so slowly that the frog doesn’t notice—until it’s too late.

Have I become too comfortable with contemporary culture? Do I watch on TV what I once would have walked out of in a movie theater? Do I justify purchasing what I once considered excess? Am I being conformed—molded like lime Jell-O—by the culture, rather than being changed by the living Word of God?

You’ve heard of culture shock? It’s a real experience. It isn’t easy dropping into an underdeveloped country and witnessing the abject poverty of the people, or perhaps the scars of severe persecution. For me, however, the greater culture shock was in coming back to America after a lengthy global mission trip. It takes weeks or longer to adjust to what it means to live in a nation blessed with over-the-top abundance of everything. But those feelings eventually, almost imperceptibly, fade. Life returns to normal, in our world of safe highways, newer autos, supermarkets and medical clinics everywhere. It’s what we expect.

Am I a frog in the kettle?

Or maybe I have a greater resemblance to the ostrich, with my head buried in the sand. But I really can’t plead ignorance about the injustices and evil around me. Our culture seems hell-bent on discarding traditional morality. Evil has too often elbowed out good. We may adjust our vocabulary, but wrong is still wrong by any name. The assault on the institution of marriage has been relentless. Less than a quarter of a century ago, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, and President Clinton signed it into law. Even Barak Obama ran on the defense of traditional marriage, before “evolving,” once in office. Today, that good law has been trashed. The once sacred covenant of marriage has been defiled. Anything goes. Except, of course, insisting that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman intended to remain intact until death.

Words like fornication and adultery are rarely heard in today’s era of sexual freedom. Restrooms are in danger of no longer being gender specific. Men, supposedly “transformed” into women, unfairly compete against women in sports.

A female ostrich, when compared with jackals, receives an even poorer rating, because of her careless maternal instincts: “Even jackals offer the breast; they nurse their young, but the daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness” (Lamentations 4:1-5). 

The legend of the ostrich sticking its head in the sand isn’t really true. Some believe the ostrich, seeing danger, may hunker down and duck its long neck and head to disguise itself as a bush. 

An ostrich may not immerse its head in the sand, but do we, if we know something is wrong but fail to respond? We plead ignorance. We are like children hiding behind a blanket. 

To know there is another person, created in the image of God, living in the womb, but call it a “mass of tissue” is to put our heads in the sand. To know there are children starving to death and not respond is putting our heads into the sand. To know Christians are being persecuted and slaughtered and remain silent is putting our heads into the sand. Like children, playing peek-a-boo, we pretend (by our actions or lack thereof) that we didn’t see anything. 

One thing is certain, Someone saw! 

We will stand before Him one day. It won’t be a Zoom call or on FaceTime, it will be face-to-face, and we will give an account of our lives. In that day, however, it won’t be about frogs and ostriches. We will be identified as a sheep or a goat, based on our response to the injustices around us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Let’s be sheep, following our Good Shepherd through a broken world…and all the way Home.