Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sweet will be the flower

Please forgive me for my feeble words on the topic of trusting God in the midst of suffering and trials in the believer's life. What little suffering I've been through in life has been so light in comparison to many believers that I wondered if I ought even broach the topic in such inexperience and likely naivety. Nevertheless, I'll try, and if God would so bless it, I hope the following might at least be of some encouragement to believers facing difficulties and trials, whether small or great. And if anything I've said is amiss, please feel free to correct me. I wouldn't want my brethren to have false ideas -- and especially not during a difficulty or trial. Thanks.

In the midst of our trials, God is trustworthy. The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

As Christians, we can trust the Lord because of who he is and what he has done for us. Who is he? What is the character of our God? God is sovereign and has control over the most minute details of our lives. God is wise and knows what's best for us. And God is so good and loves us so much as his children. Thus, because God is sovereign, wise, and good, we can trust him.

What has he done for us? We can consider what he has done for us in our own lives. We can consider what he has done in the lives of those we know. We can consider what he has done for other Christians around the world we don't personally know but have read about. We can consider what he has done for the saints in the past as we read their biographies. We can consider what he has done for the saints in the Old and New Testaments, which are recorded for our edification.

But most of all, we can consider the most wonderful thing he has ever done and could ever do for us when we survey the wondrous cross of Jesus Christ, when we consider how the Father gave up his only Son in order to save sinners. God loved us so much that he was willing to allow his dear and precious only Son Jesus Christ to die so that we would be saved. When we consider this, when we give serious thought to this, how can we not trust such a God? After all, "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?" (Rom. 8:32). What more could God have done to demonstrate his love for us than to give up his only Son to die for our sins? Is there anything more we can think of that God could've done to demonstrate his love to us? If God was willing to give up his Son Jesus Christ to show us he loves us, if God was willing to sacrifice his very Son whom he loves with a love which we will never be able to fully know, then of course he is willing to do anything else for us which he deems for our good, because "anything else" he does for us would be less than giving up his Son. We can trust God.

Of course, this is not to say that we deserve anything from the Lord. Even if nothing else "good" were ever given to us again in this life, we have Christ, and he is more than enough. We were sinners, without hope and without God in this world. But God spent his holy wrath on his Son Jesus Christ so that he would not have to spend it on us. We are saved from eternal death and condemnation because Christ stood in our place and died for us. As my pastor rightly says, anything short of hell is infinitely more grace than any of us deserve. Thank God for his grace toward us sinners in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior!

Moreover, not only can we trust God, but we must trust God if we desire to glorify him in all things. If we do not think we have enough "faith" to trust God's word and do not trust it, rather than simply trusting God's word, we are not somehow being humble but we are being the direct opposite: we are being proud. If we do not trust God's word, then we do not trust God himself who spoke those words to us. And if we do not trust God himself, then we do not honor him as the faithful and true God as he has revealed himself in his word. And if we do not honor him as such, then we make God to be less than God. Thus we impugn God as God by our unbelief. We must trust God and his word if we seek to honor and glorify him in all things.

We must not ultimately trust other people because people are like grass, and the best of men and women are but lovely flowers growing in the grass. They might have much wisdom and knowledge, much strength and beauty, and much else we could rightly admire and respect. But even the best fail us. In the end, the grass withers, and the flower falls. Only the Lord our God is eternal and only the word of the Lord remains forever (cf. 1 Peter 1:24-25).

We must not trust our ever changing circumstances, but we must trust our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who never changes, who abides forever, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and who will never leave us nor forsake us. For he who promised is faithful (cf. Hebrews).

We must not trust our subjective feelings which constantly change, but we must trust the objective reality that is God's revealed word. We must not trust our feelings which can pass from happiness to sadness or from peace to anger or from gratitude to complaint from one moment to the next, but we must trust God's word which never passes away. We must not trust our feelings because they can change at the smallest whim, perhaps due to what we ate for breakfast or someone looking at us the wrong way, but we must trust God's word because the Lord has spoken it and it is firm. After all, God is not a man that he should lie. Nor does he ever change his mind. Rather, God has spoken, and he will accomplish what he said he would do (cf. Num. 23:19).

Thus, when our feelings about a particular circumstance(s) or person(s) or whatever else seek to overwhelm us, rather than listening to our feelings and giving in to them, we must talk back to them, as David did throughout the Psalms, such as when he argued with his soul: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." Rather than listening to himself and his feelings (which caused him to be "cast down" and "in turmoil within"), David talked back to them, and told himself to "hope in God," to trust the Lord, because the Lord alone is faithful and true.

On a more practical level, then, the first question we must ask ourselves when we read the truth and promises in the Bible is not, "How do I feel about God's truth and promise?" but "Do I trust God's truth and promise?" Once we first trust God's word, then we put God's word in its rightful place of preeminence in our lives, and we likewise put our feelings in their place after the word of God. Our feelings will often and later follow. But we must first trust God's word, no matter how we feel, because it is the truth.

Again, our feelings do not reflect reality but rather what God tells us in his word reflects reality.

Therefore: choose to trust God and choose to trust his word.

Now, if I recall, it was Martin Luther who once said music was God's greatest gift to people after the Scriptures (or something along those lines). So, by way of further encouragement, I want to mention how I love the hymn "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" by William Cowper. His words stir my heart to trust in God through the difficulties of life, through its many pains and sorrows, through its achingly real, palpable heartbreaks and sufferings.

What's even better, Sovereign Grace Music has done a beautiful rendition of Cowper's hymn. I would commend it to my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. You can listen to a sample of the song here.

And here are the complete lyrics:
God Moves

Verse 1
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm
Deep in His dark and hidden mines
With never-failing skill
He fashions all His bright designs
And works His sovereign will

Chorus I
So God we trust in You
O God we trust in You

Verse 2
O fearful saints new courage take
The clouds that you now dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

Chorus II
So God we trust in You
O God we trust in You
When tears are great
And comforts few
We hope in mercies ever new
We trust in You

Verse 3
God’s purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain
God is His own interpreter
And He will make it plain
In addition, some people might benefit from John Piper's sermons on both Cowper as well as his friend John Newton. These sermons are, in my opinion, such a refreshment and encouragement to God's people, especially to those who are weary and fainting, to the heavy-hearted pilgrims journeying homeward to the Celestial City, where they look expectantly for Christ their first love to wipe away every tear from their eyes, and to shine his face upon them again. I often find Piper's sermons, particularly the biographies in the series "Men of Whom the World Was Not Worthy," to be healing medicine for wounded souls.

May the grace of our Lord God in Christ Jesus be with you, dear brothers and sisters.


  1. Well said, Patrick, and I agree with your recommendation of John Piper's material. He recently spoke on the subject of suffering at a conference in Wales: