Three Ways Suffering Sanctifies Us
As we are social distancing to decrease the spread of COVID-19, let us aim to spiritually connect with God and one another. Let us draw near in our hearts and our homes. And let us be sanctified through all degrees of suffering, from the mildest of inconveniences to the harshest of realities.
To sanctify means to be set apart, to declare holy, to purify and set free from sin. Sanctification is a divinely-directed process that shapes us spiritually. Only God can do this.
Let it encourage you that while you are in physical lockdown, your heart can be spiritually unlocked as you abide in Jesus.
There is no door that Jesus can't walk through. Are you angry? Weep and rant to God. Are you fearful? Seek solace from God. Are you exhausted and on edge? Press into God for strength and peace.
As we “shelter in place,” we can dwell in the shelter of the Most High (Psalm 91:1).
Below are three ways, of many, suffering can sanctify and set us free:
1. We realize we are not in control
As we all work to flatten the curve of this virus, let us ask God to flatten the curve of our egos. Erase the illusion of self-sufficiency. Puncture our pride. Heal our hearts.
Help us surrender and submit to the only Sovereign, the Leader of leaders, King of kings, and Lord of lords (I Timothy 6:15).
May we lie flat on our faces in surrender to Him.
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.... Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ ” (James 4:13-15).
Like many around the nation, my family had travel plans for spring break. We didn’t pray about it. We just assumed it would be so. But those plans changed in an instant.
One minute we were packing and the next we were canceling flights. No one could have predicted the shutdown of companies, schools, and states. It was, and still is, a startling reminder that God directs our steps even as we make plans deemed as good.
The Creator of the heavens and the earth, who ordained our days before a single one of them came to be, is always in control (Psalm 139:16). He is always on His throne.
Any delegated authority God has given us can be withdrawn with a whisper.
Let this crisis change our hearts so that we are assured by God’s sovereignty, not scared or resentful of it.
Let us yearn for the Lord to direct our steps even before we make our plans (Proverbs 16:9).
Let us gain humility and say with the psalmist, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Let us cherish that God is in control.
2. We realize where we have excess
As I stalked the empty aisles of the grocery store looking for my favorite brands, I was struck by my own greed and sense of entitlement. Petty preferences and sheer convenience had weakened me, fattened my heart, so that it was less tender towards those in need.
When news of school closures was announced, the realization that many food-insecure children would not receive breakfast or lunch ricocheted throughout communities. What Westerners typically view as a third-world problem - hunger - almost immediately became a first-world issue. This is a mercy in disguise.
Jesus said whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me. Conversely, then, whatever we do not do for the least of these, we do not do for Jesus (Matthew 25:45).
I repented right there in the supermarket, knowing the realization of how spoiled I am was just the tip of the iceberg in this period of refinement.
Those who have been battling cancer and other immune-altering diseases have been disinfecting and social distancing long before it was mandated. Yet, so many of us, feeling indispensable and invincible, usually plow ahead when we’re contagious. Instead of seeing this as dogged determination, we now see it for what it really is: selfish.
We love our neighbors as ourselves by putting their well-being and preferences above our own. Never in my life has this been more apparent than in the midst of a global pandemic.
My children and I have spent the last several days cleaning out drawers and organizing toy chests. While I don't consider myself to be a person of excess, the forced spring cleaning proved otherwise. Favors from birthday parties, gifts from Christmas morning, Valentine’s, Easter baskets, every job well done reward. Let’s face it. There isn’t a holiday I can’t find reason to celebrate with a little goody.
But these material objects don’t shepherd my children’s hearts. I knew this to be true before, but seeing all of the items spread out before me somehow made me know it more deeply. These “gifts” can’t tuck my children in at night or dry their tears.
Most of them are unnecessary entertainment, and they very well could be taking food out of another child’s mouth.
We are called to be good stewards of what God has given us (Luke 16:10).
And of course, Jesus warns us about this:
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
With schedules excessive in activities, there are days I’m not even sure I have looked my own children in the eyes. Social distancing can actually help us connect with those with whom we are sometimes most distant. The most important ones.
All this stuff, the excess, can stifle a home and empty relationships of their true joy.
Because family isn’t just about shared commodities but strong community.
Two things will last when this time on earth comes to an end: the souls of humanity and the Word of God. These are the treasures of heaven. This is where our hearts should be.
Let this crisis remind us to give God, our loved ones, and the least of these the abundance of our time and resources.
3. We realize where we have lack
As the shortage of ventilators is putting lives at risk, the shortage of studying the very breath of God is suffocating souls. Do we know where to turn for hope? For truth? For comfort?
As a nation, even as a Church, we lack Biblical literacy. We lack a desire to spend time with the One who exhaled the breath of life into Adam (Genesis 2:7).
And it shows. In our marriages, our divorces, our work habits, our childrearing, our “choices” for what is life, what is love, what is gender. We are confused from a lack of heaven’s oxygen.
We are breathless from not abiding in Jesus.
Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli presented the problem bluntly: “Americans revere the Bible - but, by and large, they don't read it. And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates."
The Bible is God’s greatest revelation of Himself and His greatest gift to us.
“All Scripture is God-breathed,” “living and active” (2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 4:12). Jesus is the Word who became flesh, after all (John 1:14).
The Bible is how we know Him and make Him known.
God’s Word is “a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). How do we choose a career, a spouse or a school, a course of treatment for a loved one, a church, or a leader for our country - or even our next vacation - if we aren’t tapping into the light Who illuminates life?
We are deficient in Divine substance.
Our greatest lack is not toilet paper but passion for God’s Word and way.
But if you ask anything according to God’s will, He will give it to you (John 14:14). Ask God to make you ravenous for His Holy breath, the Bible. He will answer with a resounding “Yes!”
Remember this blessed provision: “God will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
God wants you lacking nothing you need to serve Him and to satisfy the deepest desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
Let us inhale His Book, so that we can exhale it into a world suffering from a shortness of peace and perspective in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Let us reorder our lives and our loves, asking God for wisdom on what to keep and what to release.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
God will settle for nothing less than total surrender of our hearts. Let us pray to not be lukewarm Christians or a lukewarm Church. Let us pray to not lack zeal.
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous..." (Revelation 3:19).
Where are you being hindered from holiness?
Suffering helps us to see what areas in our lives are being hindered from holiness. When we realize we aren’t in control and uncover the places in our lives where there is excess and where there is lack, we can be on our way to becoming more like Jesus.
Famous 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon said of sanctification, “The saints persevere in holiness because God perseveres in grace.”
Suffering is a form of sanctification and, therefore, a grace and gift from God.
May it be at the end of this quarantine, if God wills, when restrictions are lifted and routines resume, that we will forever be changed. May we want more of Jesus and be more like Jesus. May we be able to say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).