- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

The following is an excerpt of a sermon given recently at Temple Hills Baptist Church by pastor David Gough:

Living the Christian life begins with trusting God with everything that has been entrusted to us, starting with our very lives. Perhaps because eternity seems so distant to us, it’s much easier to trust Him with our future than with our present, with our tomorrow than with our today. Experience demonstrates this as we face daily challenges to our faith. We can parade our spiritual piety on Sundays when we meet together collectively, but how real is our faith when the cracks of that piety are revealed Monday through Saturday?

There is a notion, unfounded in Scripture, that is trumpeted by some televangelists and proponents of the so-called “prosperity gospel” that when we give our lives to God, He enters into our existence like some rich and benevolent grandfather, just waiting to fulfill our every desire.

“Name it and claim it,” they tell us. It’s as if He has been sitting around, just waiting for us to respond to His invitation and when we do, He lavishes upon us all of His treasures. Such preachers promise us the mother lode or the gold vein of God’s resources if we will only come to Him.

Now, I want to be careful this morning, and I want to be clear. It is true that when we surrender our lives to the Savior, we receive an inheritance that includes the promise of an eternal life then and the prospect of an abundant life now; but that does not mean that our present lives will be strewn with rose petals or that we will perpetually lie on beds of ease. You see, although the Heavenly Father is deeply interested — every minute of every day — in the well-being of His own, our present comfort is not His primary concern. God has no other plan for us more important than our sanctification, orchestrating the circumstances of our lives in the best possible way to conform us to His image, to give us His mind and to make us more like Him. It is then — and only then — that we most glorify Him.

The apostle Paul knew that if he was going to experience the power of Christ’s Resurrection as the dynamic force that could transform his own life, then he had to endure what he called “the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.” (Philippians 3:10) We don’t hear that text preached very often in today’s church, do we? We prefer our comfort to His conformity. But if we want to mature spiritually, then we must expect that times of suffering will come.

Suffering as a follower of Christ is one of the predominant themes of the Bible. Paul told Timothy, his young son in the faith, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Jesus Himself said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

No matter what the source of our suffering — whether directly from God’s discipline, or from the hand of another person, or simply from the evil that is part of the fallen world — it is all under the control of God. In His omniscient wisdom and infinite love, He allows suffering to come our way for His ultimate glory. He permits us to suffer either for our own spiritual transformation or so that He might glorify Himself in the world through us.

The Lord places a limit on our suffering. He knows just what each of us can bear in each circumstance. He knows our strengths and weaknesses in every area of our lives — physically, emotionally and spiritually — and He promises that He will not allow any suffering or any occasion that we cannot handle with His grace. We can, therefore, say with confidence that the will of God will not take us where the grace of God will not sustain us.

God does not always bring an immediate cessation to our sufferings, but we can count on the fact that He will give us grace to stand up under our suffering until it is removed. The Psalmist did not say, “Cast your cares on the Lord and live in comfort and ease,” but rather, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22) In a similar way, Paul does not tell us that the causes of our anxieties will be removed, but that we can be guarded in the midst of them by God’s grace and peace.

In terms of the suffering that He allows to touch our lives, God seldom gives us a “preview of coming attractions.” The reason for that is if we knew what we were about to go through, we would probably do everything we could to avoid it. Consequently, we would never grow. God doesn’t show us what’s on the other side of the door for that very reason. Remember, God makes everything right in the end, yet our reward may not be in this lifetime. One day, when life on Earth is done, I believe that we will be able to look back and say that we are glad God took us down the path He did, even though it was at times painful and hard.

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