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pastors' blog

Three Dimensional Suffering

Posted on February 1, 2011

This past Sunday we studied Deuteronomy 8:1-5, in which Moses reflected upon Israel’s forty years of wilderness wanderings. Moses identified several purposes behind Israel’s trials in the desert for four decades. God led Israel through the wilderness 1) to humble them (8:2-3,16), 2) to test them and so reveal their character (8:3,16), 3) to provide for them (8:3-4,15-16) and 4) to discipline and teach them (8:5). The text is a great encouragement to us as Christians as we face trials and suffering. God has purposes for us in the midst of pain, deprivation and hardship.

But there’s another layer of purpose to consider. God doesn’t only have purposes in suffering for me as an individual Christian. He also works out these purposes in community with other Christians for the good of the local church. God’s lessons are not two-dimensional (between God and me); they are meant to be three-dimensional (between me, God, and the rest of the congregation). Think about God’s purpose for our suffering, as revealed in Deuteronomy 8:1-5, in light of this third dimension:

Humbling – God doesn’t simply humble me through trials. He also humbles me in front of you, when we live together in the fellowship of a local congregation. Seeing me brought low humbles you as well, and encourages you as you see that God is still at work in our lives. We should never underestimate the powerful influence that one Christian’s humble submission to God’s will can have upon the whole church family.

Testing – God doesn’t simply test me in order to bring to my character flaws to my own attention. He also tests my character before your eyes. As members of a church together, you will see my flaws, my short-comings and my sins as I face trials big and small. How incredibly humbling!

This dimension of church life turns some people off. They see other Christians and church members failing under pressure, and they eject from the church. “This church is full of hypocrites.” Yes it is, and you’re one of them!

Instead of giving up on a church, let’s have the faith to see that God is refining us together. He is using the church to provide accountability and so surface sins that we might never face if we lived as detached, individual Christians. And he’s giving opportunities for us to learn how to grant forgiveness, grace and mercy to one another when trials expose our character deficiencies, sometimes in hurtful ways.

Providing – God doesn’t simply provide for me personally in the midst of trial. He provides for me through you. God often shows his reality and power through the community of faith. When we drop the stoic New Englander routine and speak honestly about our suffering and need, God will provide for us by means of his body. How will we learn compassion and self-sacrifice if we have no opportunities to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn?

Disciplining – God doesn’t simply discipline me as his son. He also disciplines me and teaches me along with you, his whole family of sons and daughters. God will use your adversity and your responses to that adversity (both good and bad) to instruct me.

Don’t withdraw. Don’t pull back, get defensive, fake it or leave the church when life becomes excruciating. God has a purpose for your pain, and that purpose extends beyond yourself. Bless the body of believers with your brokenness, so that together we might see God’s power as he sanctifies and purifies us in community.

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