by Mike Ratliff
7 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? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 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? 10 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. 11 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 12:7-11 ESV)
Only a fragment of the visible Church is holy. Only a Remnant is truly saved. There is actually a great gulf fixed between this Remnant and professing Christians who are in apostasy and/or unbelief. This gulf has many aspects, but one of the main things that separate the two groups is that the Remnant is made up of those who are true worshippers of God. They worship the Father in spirit and truth. Those in apostasy may very well have stirring worship services and sing praise song after praise song in their “Sunday Worship Services,” but that is as far as it goes. It is simply music, and in God’s ears it is nothing more than a clanging gong. Genuine worship of God in spirit and truth comes from the heart of the regenerate who worships Him with every part of their lives. They serve God in all they do. He is their all-in-all. They do not seek for God to make them happy in all things. Instead, they seek to walk holy before the Lord.
“Eudaemonism is an uncommon word for which I should perhaps apologize. I use it because it is the only word I know that fits. It has nothing to do with demons. It comes from the Greek for “happy,” eudaimon, and Webster defines it as “the system of philosophy which makes human happiness the highest object.” I use the word as a label for the view that happiness means the presence of pleasure and freedom from all this unpleasant. Eudaemonism says that since happiness is the supreme value, we may confidently look to God here and now to shield us from unpleasantness at every turn, or if unpleasantness breaks in, to deliver us from it immediately because it is never his will that we should have to live with it. This is a basic principle of much contemporary religion. Unhappily, however, it is also a false principle. It loses sight of the place of pain in sanctification whereby God trains his children to share his holiness. Such oversight can be ruinous.” – J.I Packer from Hot Tub Religion, 75
God’s will is not that we should every moment feel happy, but that we should every moment be holy. If we live holy lives then we will also worship the Lord our God in spirit and truth with our lives. These holy lives are not guaranteed to be free of suffering. In fact, the opposite is true.
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30 ESV)
In my younger days I was a long distance runner. In the warmer months of the year I could easily run over 40 miles a week. I competed in races that were anywhere from 5K to 10 miles long. To do this, I had to train. I had to build my endurance. There is no way to build endurance for long distance running other than running long distance. However, no matter how much I ran to train for racing, I could not compete unless I had the desire to do so. When I trained well I believed that I could do well and I wanted very much to excel in it. Christian endurance is the ability to live lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, and patiently under conditions that we wish were different. Another way to describe this is Walking by Faith. Suffering builds endurance because it builds and deepens our faith. We often think of suffering as persecution or illness or horrible family problems. However, suffering is getting what you do not want while wanting what you do not get. Christian suffering is an integral part of biblical holiness. In fact, if we are those who worship God in spirit and truth then we can expect to suffer.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 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 4:16-18 ESV)
Suffering is a natural and necessary part of the Christian life. It is the Christian’s road home. That road goes through the Valley of Humiliation. There is no road around it that also leads to Heaven. There is part of the apostate Church that is in love with health, wealth and prosperity. They preach that it is possible to be free from pain and trouble as if God is wringing His hands because His people won’t pray the right prayers or have enough faith so He can heal them and make them rich. I have seen prayer meetings where those who were suffering were nonplused that God would allow them or their loved ones to be ill or in pain or to suffer loss. Instead of rejoicing and requesting prayer that they might be found worthy by going through the fire, they want God to give them freedom from the suffering as if it is their right. However, if we learn to take the Holy Spirit seriously, He will convince us of the naturalness of suffering in the Christian life by probably leading us into a higher degree of it than we ever thought we could bear.
No one enjoys suffering. However, if we learn to walk this walk by faith then we will also find that the Valley of Humiliation is the place where we learn to draw near unto God who then draws near unto us. (James 4:8) In many cases those whom God uses mightily are also those whom He hurts severely first.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:10-16 ESV)
God mightily used Paul, but before He could use him He had to knock him off his horse and blind him. Then Jesus promised Ananias that He would show Paul how much he must suffer for the sake of His name. I’m sure Paul didn’t enjoy suffering anymore than you or I, but he saw the role it played in making God’s people holy. He knew that God’s grace is sufficient for those who are suffering. (2 Corinthians 12:9) It is those believers who accept that they are the ones who progress through the Valley of Humiliation on their way to becoming the holy believers God wills for them to be who are the living sacrifices that live for God’s glory alone.
Soli Deo Gloria!