Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: In the midst of suffering, it’s human nature to cry out to God and ask, “Why?” Deborah Howard says that when we enter eternity, we won’t have to have all the answers.

Deborah Howard: Because, faced with His holiness, our faith will be purified and perfected, and then we’ll be able to trust in Him wholly and know that whatever He brought into our lives was for the good.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, July 27.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Jesus tells us in John’s gospel, “In this world you will have tribulation.” We can count on that being true, and we’ve all experienced that in small or large ways. I remember one writer saying that suffering can be anything from traffic jams, to taxes, to tumors, and everything in-between.

The question is, how do we respond to that suffering, how do we grow through it, and how do we let God use it in our lives to make us more like Jesus? We’re talking today with Deborah Howard, the author of a book called, Where Is God in All of This? Finding God’s Purpose in our Suffering.

Deborah, thanks for being back with us on Revive Our Hearts and helping us to explore some of these tough questions, tough issues, but ones that we’ve got to wrestle with, with the Lord, if we’re going to have the kind of relationship that He wants us to have.

Deborah: It’s nice to be here with you.

Nancy: Deborah is a hospice nurse, which means she cares for people who are in the latter stages of this life. In fact, she’s written a book on that subject called Sunsets, and it has to do with walking through life’s final journey.

So, as a nurse, dealing with people who are facing these critical end-of-life issues, you must have seen people grappling with the “why?” questions, the “Where is God in all of this? Why me? Why am I going through that?”

Deborah: “What did I do to deserve this?” is another one I hear frequently, even when it’s not them—it’s a family member. I’ve heard, “What did he to deserve this?” or “I wish it were me,” because this other person who is a family member has lived an exemplary life. It’s almost like they think that by living an exemplary life or a life devoted to Christ that we’re exempt from suffering.

It is surprising, even though Peter tells we should not be surprised by these trials, we are to expect them. Jesus says, “In this life you will have trouble.” But He doesn’t leave us there. He says, “Rejoice, I have overcome the world.” The victory is already assured, and that is why we can rejoice in our sufferings, because He doesn’t leave us there. He leaves us victorious in the end.

Nancy: Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt; it doesn’t mean there aren’t tears. Recently in my own quiet time I was reading again through the book of Job, and you see here the anguish of a man who is in excruciating pain, huge loss. One after the other, wave upon wave of loss, and friends who don’t know how to be helpful in those circumstances.

And you hear him asking those “why?” questions: “God, where are you? Why is this happening? It would have been better if I’d never been born,” grappling with just deep groanings of soul and being very honest before God.

Deborah: Right, these are all justice issues, we’re questioning the justice of God when we’re asking these questions.

Nancy: And you’re saying in this book that it’s not necessarily wrong to ask those questions.

Deborah: No, it’s not wrong to ask the questions, but we shouldn’t stay there. That’s why I wrote this book, so I could try to come alongside people who are asking these questions, and move them along in their understanding of the purposes of suffering . . . to move them past their doubting and back to faith. The more you understand about the way God works in your life, the better you’ll be able to go through any kind of trial.

When you look at it, you take somebody like the apostle Paul, who was probably the most exemplary Christian we’re told about in the Scriptures, and look at his life. It was not roses. No, he had more suffering than any of us will have to undergo.

One might get the idea, “God’s kind of got it in for this guy, look at what He’s doing and how he’s suffering.” But that’s because our suffering does not depend on how good or how bad we are. Our suffering is brought into our lives by a just and good God who has planned our lives, who has interwoven this suffering into our lives to bring about a result.

It’s like somebody who’s creating a sculpture and they chisel away on that marble until the sculpture resembles what they’re after. That’s what God does with us. The suffering is like a chisel in His hand, and it chips away at all of us until He conforms us to the image of His Son.

Nancy: And that process is painful.

Deborah: That process is just about always painful.

Nancy: I think we have to start by saying that there are some questions for which we will not have answers this side of eternity and that our trust in God needs to be such that we can live with mystery, that we don’t feel that He owes us an explanation for everything that He is doing, or for anything that He is doing.

Yet, in His Word, He has revealed some of His purposes to us. You explore a dozen or more of these purposes in your book, Where Is God in All of This? We talked in the last program about a mega-purpose of God, and that is that suffering is a tool for our sanctification, for conforming to the image of Christ.

But there are other purposes for our suffering. Let’s just talk through what some of those are and how suffering can have a really rich benefit and purpose in our lives. What’s another purpose that God may have in our suffering?

Deborah: I’ve divided this book into two groups, one has several listings of the purposes of suffering, and they are common to every time we suffer. We are going to experience these things as a result of our suffering.

The second list is a more specialized list. We may not go through all of these purposes of suffering with every suffering, but they are purposes that are found in the Scriptures, so I’ve included those in here, too.

The ones that are common to all kinds of sufferings—of course the first being what you’ve already mentioned, Nancy, to complete our sanctification—but also, through our suffering, we get to a place where the suffering itself drives us to God because we realize that we are not in control of anything really, ultimately. God is in control of our lives, and we realize that He, as the only One who can make a real difference in our lives, is the One who is faithful to keep the promises that He’s made to us.

Through suffering, it drives our soul to Him.

Nancy: And you mentioned God’s promises. It’s the suffering that helps us to prove the promises of God and to trust that they are true.

Deborah: And repetition here is something that is a big aid for us. The first time we go through trials, we find out that God is faithful to bring us through that trial. Then, with subsequent trials, He is always faithful. Well, eventually we get to the point where even before the trial is brought  into our lives, we know that whatever He brings to us, He is going to be faithful to bring us through, and that the result of that will be for our good and His glory.

Nancy: I found myself even within the last week, in just some very small areas of suffering, challenges that I was facing, being reminded of how in past trials and troubles God has been so faithful, He has proven Himself. I have a track record with God. He has never failed to come through before; He has kept His promises.

I found myself singing a couple of times, “All I have needed Thy hand has provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.” It’s been an encouragement to me in these, “momentary, light afflictions”—that I’m enduring for that moment—to be reminded, He has provided in the past at desperate moments everything that I’ve need, so I can trust Him now to provide what I need for this moment.

Deborah: That’s exactly right. Another purpose that I wanted to mention is that through our sufferings God teaches us to rely on Him over and over again, and He gives us opportunity to witness to others. People don’t realize it, but there are always people looking in at your life. They’re looking for your attitude; they’re looking for the way that you respond to things, and suffering gives us a great opportunity to witness to others.

Do we go through that with a sweet, submissive attitude, humbly submissive to whatever is His will for our lives? Or do we doubt Him, curse Him? Do we spend time turning away from Him? People are going to be watching, and to a watching world it’s important that we keep in mind the promises of God, that we keep a submissive attitude when He brings suffering into our lives.

And the way that we can do that is when we remember who we are and Who He is.

Nancy: I love that quote by Oswald Chambers, who says in My Utmost for His Highest that “our circumstances are the means of manifesting [manifesting to others] how wonderfully perfect and extraordinarily pure the Son of God is.”

So as they see our response of trusting the Lord, loving Him, responding to Him in these tough circumstances of life, we’re reflecting on Christ. If we go through the circumstance with the doubt, with the anger, with the resentment, with the demanding spirit, what we’re really reflecting is that the God we serve and the Christ that we say we belong to is not a worthy Lord.

So our circumstances, our suffering, really does become a powerful means of witnessing to others—sometimes without a word—witnessing to others what God is really like.

Deborah: I remember Spurgeon, in one of his sermons, was talking about how Christians, in the midst of dire sufferings, can reflect more joy than healthy people without the love of Christ.

Nancy: How powerful it is.

Deborah: How powerful it is to others who are witnessing this. So sometimes without saying a word, we speak volumes.

Nancy: You mention in your book Dr. Josef Tson, who is a friend of mine . . .

Deborah: Oh, really!?

Nancy: Yes, I’ve known him for many years, and he was, as you know, persecuted for many years for his faith under the Ceausescu regime in Romania, before Communism fell there. He was subsequently exiled to the United States. You had a chance to hear Dr. Tson when he spoke at your church. He shared an illustration of how God uses suffering to provide a means of witnessing to others.

Deborah: Dr. Tson was a very powerful witness, to me for instance, talking about the persecution that he had suffered. He told a story about a time that he was held at gunpoint, and He told his oppressor, “Go ahead, kill me, because the second you kill me [now, he’s much more articulate than I am, but he said], the moment you kill me, my words will take flight and be more powerful and spread farther than I ever could have written them before.”

This soldier realized that what Josef said was true. He had talked to his superiors. The weird twist was that they understood that by martyring this man, what he said would be true. They didn’t want to martyr him, so he ended up with the Communist regime actually protecting him to make sure that he was okay.

In my book I used an illustration taken from this, that he provided great encouragement to me. I thank God for the witness that he provided for me. If he had never gone through the suffering that God had brought him through, nobody would ever have heard of Josef Tson. His witness would not have been as powerful.

So it’s through the act of suffering that he accomplished, through God bringing it into his life, that he was able to encourage and strengthen the faith of millions of people.

Nancy: Yes, and me as well. It makes you wonder, “Who does God want to encourage and strengthen in their faith, someday, as a result of my willingness to embrace the hard things God brings into my life?” So, there’s purpose not just for me, but for those who will be touched as a result.

Deborah: A friend of mine was dying of cancer in the hospital, and the nurse came in and said, “Poor thing, you must be so scared.”

She said “I’m not scared; I’m a Christian,” just very matter-of-factly. And then through the days that followed, she was able to—this nurse was a non-believer, but that impressed her so much that she came back in and talked to her, and my friend was able to witness to her several times.

Nancy: So suffering is for God’s glory. It’s for our good, and it’s also for the benefit of others. We can’t write that script; we can’t see the whole picture that God is painting, the whole tapestry as we said in the last program. But we can be sure that it is a beautiful picture, a beautiful tapestry, and that His purposes can be trusted.

Now, you also address in your book some purposes of God that apply in certain types of suffering and in some certain situations that have do with God disciplining us, or chastening us, or purifying us of sin. How does God use suffering as a means to discipline us when we’re wayward as His children?

Deborah: You just need to remember in your own life when you were disciplined as a child, it served a purpose. Even in your life, Nancy, don’t you remember times as a kid when you were disciplined for breaking one of the household rules and regulations?

Nancy: Yes, I think every one of us can relate to times when—anybody who’s had wise parents knows what it is to be corrected for disobedience.

Deborah: And as such, God does that, too. Our parents, though they may mean well, though they may be very good parents, they’re not perfect. Well, God our Father is perfect, and His discipline of His children will be perfect.

He will not mete out more discipline than is due, and in fact, we should be honored to be considered His children.

Nancy: What you’re describing is exactly what is talked about in that wonderful passage in Hebrews chapter 12 that says, “If we don’t experience chastening and discipline, we’re not even children of God. Everyone who is a child of God is going to experience that chastening.”

Deborah: In fact it says, starting in verse 7,

Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating is you as sons, for what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined, and everyone undergoes discipline, then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

Moreover, we’ve all had human fathers who disciplined us and we’ve respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live? (NIV, paraphrased)

It also brings up the fact that our fathers disciplined us for a little while, as they thought best, but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. Then, in verse 11, this famous quote, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” Isn’t that true?

Nancy: Yes, absolutely.

Deborah: And, as children of the Father, we can become wayward, we can move away from a life that glorifies Him, but isn’t it reassuring that when we do that He brings us back to the fold? Sometimes He does that through His discipline and through the discipline we are brought into, as it says, that we may share in his holiness.

We are more and more conformed to His Son, and that even takes place through discipline.

Nancy: And let me just read again that verse 11 of Hebrew chapter 12, because that wraps up this whole point, “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.”

So, it’s talking about someone who has not resisted or resented the discipline, not pushed it off, but has received the discipline, and once we’ve been trained by it, once we’ve received it, once we’ve accepted it, once we’ve let it accomplish its purpose in our lives, then later—how much later? I don’t know, God knows how long—but later it will yield that peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Deborah: If it depended on us, we would never reach that point, really, but because we can rely on the grace of God, the grace of God is what brings us to the point where we can realize those things.

Nancy: And, in fact, this passage goes on to say in verse 15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and by it many become defiled.”

So God has grace that He wants to give us in our time of suffering. He wants to give us the ability, the desire, the power, to grow through this. But if we reject the grace of God, if we say, “I want to handle this on my own, “ or  “I won’t receive this suffering in my life,” then we fail to obtain God’s grace, and as a result, a root of bitterness springs up in our lives, it causes trouble, and many become defiled.

So we really face a choice as we face these sufferings. Will I receive this and let it have its God-designed objective fulfilled in my life, so that I can become a blessing for others, or will I reject it, will I let a root of bitterness spring up, and many as a result will become defiled?

Deborah: Right, and there are so many lives that have been destroyed by bitterness. In fact, there are a lot of people who say that in the midst of trial they can’t pray, they turn away from God, and that’s a very sad situation. They’re moving away from the one source of true comfort and strength in their lives. If they are true believers in Him, God will bring them back and give them the ability to see where they need to confess their own sins, and will bring them back to a position where they can have their faith in Him restored.

Nancy: I don’t know where God finds you, as you’re listening to this program today, but I know that we all face times when we wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” and “What are His purposes in our suffering?” I mentioned that recently I had read the story of Job and the horrific suffering that he went through.

It’s just interesting that you have chapter after chapter after chapter in that book of Job and his friends asking the imponderable questions, throwing up the questions, challenging, “Where is God? Why me? Why is this happening?” The friends are trying to give their answers that prove not to be very help. But in the final analysis, what really made all the difference in Job’s life was when God spoke, when he heard God say, “This is Who I am.”

God didn’t explain everything He had done, or why He had done it all. I think sometimes we get this picture that when we get to heaven, God’s going to take out this great big PowerPoint presentation and explain to us all the reasons He did everything.

God certainly is capable of doing that, but I just have the sense that when we get to heaven and we see Him for who He is, we won’t have to have all the answers.

Deborah: No, those things won’t matter to us anymore, because faced with His holiness our faith will be purified and perfected, and then we’ll be able to trust in Him wholly and know that whatever He brought into our lives was for the good. That’s something we have to struggle with sometimes.

The bottom-line answer to “Where is God in all of this?” is He’s right in the mist of it. It is His plan, it is His excellent mind, it is His wisdom, and it is His power to bring forth the things that He has ordained for us in our lives. He will also give us the grace to come through these things and to trust Him more.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Deborah Howard have given hope and perspective for anyone in the middle of suffering today. Deborah is the author of a book called, Where Is God in All of This? If you’re in the middle of suffering, this book will point you to eternity and give you needed perspective.

If you’re not in the middle of a crisis, this book will prepare you for any storms still to come. We’ll send you Where Is God in All of This? when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Your donation will help us keep encouraging women over the radio and online.

Ask for the book from Deborah Howard when you call with your donation. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com and take advantage of this offer.

We’re so thankful Revive Our Hearts is available to you day by day, but this radio program is no substitute for your own church. I hope you’ll be involved this weekend, then join us again Monday.

A few years ago, Karen Loritts experienced what she called an emotional meltdown. During that time, God used deep friendships with other women to help her. Karen talks about developing meaningful friendships, next time. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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