This year my resolutions smacked of self-reliance and gracelessness. I sought to control the free-fall of my health, thinking I could handle it. Instead, Jesus used His own tools, no formula required. His Holy Spirit is gentle, gracious, and effective. I wrote about it here.
I’m thankful that the Lord pursues me, overwhelming me with His grace. He loves me, so He relentlessly strips away my strength and opens my eyes, using all the tools at His disposal: art, music, podcasts, articles, pictures, and His own Word.
Why? Because not only is my growth His responsibility (I’m merely working out what He’s willing and doing), but because my growth affects the rest of His body, and so does yours.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. . . For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11, 16-18).
Jars of clay break. Frequently. Devastatingly.
God gave us fragile bodies to show beyond a doubt that change toward true godliness is through His power, not our own. True holiness is not generated by us. We are given over to sickness, pain, and death to demonstrate this. When we rely on Jesus, His life and power is revealed in our mortal, ailing, and dying bodies.
This is all about Jesus and the working out of His grace in our lives. We struggle when we turn our hearts and minds away from Him. If my mind is set on Christ’s goodness and sustaining grace, I can look on the bodily carnage and rejoice in the eternal benefit of the results. Physical pain has the potential to produce true spiritual growth and eternal blessing that far outweigh anything I might attempt to orchestrate myself.
But there’s more. God superintends suffering for these reasons as well:
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9).
See those words in bold. They point to why Paul’s trials occurred and why ours occur – so we can learn to rely on God rather than on ourselves, the underlined results. We don’t know how to do this, so God brings great pressure into our lives to teach us.
“If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:6).
The underlined words show another reason we suffer: So that those who know us, read our words, or hear of us will learn of God’s faithfulness to us. This will then provoke growth, comfort, and endurance when they also suffer.
God teaches us to rely on Him for our spiritual and personal growth, thus storing up eternal reward, all of which enables others to grow.
Relying on God and yielding in our suffering, therefore, can be far more effective than our own puny efforts. Our pain affects our own growth and maturity, and it matters crucially in the lives of others. Since our growth through trial is so important, this warning is significant:
“If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (Corinthians 10:12-13).
If I’m self-reliant, I have already fallen. No reliance on God, no real growth, no eternal benefit, and no encouragement for others result. Learning to cooperate as the Lord works through and in my suffering, to lean hard on Him for enablement, and to simply trust Him are the most important tasks of my life. Truly.
This will require me to give God my worries, to release all that is lost, and to come to love and trust Him with all my heart.