Little by little and the discipline of suffering

Our God is a God of the “little by little.” God usually does not remove our troubles suddenly and in one fell swoop. He can do that, of course, and there may be times in our own lives where He has done that, when He has miraculously wiped away our troubles or removed what was threatening us in a moment. But while He can do that, and He may have done that for you or for me, that is not how He usually works. Normally God takes away our troubles and our threats and our enemies little by little (Deuteronomy 7:22; Exodus 23:29f). And this process, which leaves us dependent on Him for His ongoing grace and help, is consistent with the idea of what can be called a discipline of suffering. As we look to the Lord over an extended period of time, the persistent low level suffering both allows us to fellowship with the Lord Jesus (Philippians 3:9) and to have our faith strengthened.

It is almost that our world would be a blander and more tasteless place if there was not the stress of long-term suffering and extended troubles which drive us to our knees and cause us to cry out to the Lord for His help and His presence. Like many aspects of the Christian life, this idea is counter to natural thinking, but a moment’s reflection will remind us that those times when we wrestle with difficulty; when we bear the burden of conflict and we are doubtful about the outcomes and when we have occasional feelings of helplessness are times when we feel the sweetest fellowship with the Lord and know what it is to have a “very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).” “O grant Your strength to Your servant (Psalm 86:16).” “. . . “I will yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God (Psalm 42:12).” In my suffering and my anguish, in the midst of my troubles, my patience and my perseverance are nurtured. Spiritual strength is purified in the furnace of adversity. Since that is the case, the disciple of Jesus should not shrink back from difficulty, but should rather lean into the pain of suffering and should face whatever threats the Lord allows knowing that our Dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11) is leading us on into the fight.

So the Lord raises up adversaries so that He can prove His faithfulness when we cry out to Him and so that He can give us the context that is most conducive to our spiritual growth. The threat comes into our life and we fall on our knees and suffer the affliction of adversity, while savoring the opportunity to be immersed in the fray with the Lord at our side. Our human flesh groans under the effort and the pain of the conflict and our human frailty causes whispers of doubt to enter our mind, as we wonder if the Lord will indeed again be faithful to us and if He will again deliver us from the cords of death. Yet at the same time the Spirit inside of us encourages us to press forward into the battle and insists that we trust the Lord and that we act in spite of our fears and doubts. And so we persevere and continue on and we trust, and each time we do that, we increase our faith and grow stronger in the Lord.

The Lord clears away our adversaries little by little and in the midst of that extended time of effort and dependence and conflict, our spirit grows stronger. This is the discipline of suffering or the discipline of perseverance, and even in the midst of bearing up under the strain of this discipline, there is the savor of a godly effort and the sense that the flesh is groaning and weakening its grip on our heart. For those who persevere and who spend time in the practice of this discipline, it really does yield the peaceful, sweet fruit of righteousness.

SDG     rmb     7/27/2016

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