Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, was talking to a young missionary who was about to start work in China. “Look at this,” Taylor said, and then proceeded to pound his fist on the table. The teacups jumped and the tea was spilled all over the table. While the startled young man was wondering what was going on, Taylor said, “When you begin your work, you will be buffeted in numerous ways. The trials will be like blows. Remember these blows will bring out only what is in you.”
Taylor was right. Most of us think that trials cause problems, however trials actually reveal problems. When things go “sideways” in life, we find out what kind of person we really are. Are we patient or impatient? Are we humble or prideful? Are we trusting or fearful? We learn a lot about a person not only by their actions, but their reactions; especially when suffering comes like a wrecking ball. Job was a great man of faith. He endured a terrible, God-ordained crisis, yet at the end of his ordeal he learned some ugly things about himself that he had to repent of. “Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
Chief among God’s manifold purpose for our suffering is the cultivation of Christ-like character. Joni Eareckson Tada compares this process to sandblasting. She wrote, “There is nothing like heart-twisting hardships to strip off the veneer that you and I so carefully cloak ourselves in, right? Suffering is hard hitting, just like a sandblaster: it goes beyond the veneer, below it, below the façade and the surface of things, sandblasting you to the core of who you are. When pain and problems press you up against God, it’ll strip away years of dirt. Affliction has a way of jarring and ‘jackhammering’ our character, shaking us up and loosening our grip on everything we hold tightly.”
Does that describe you today? When you are reduced to the basics by suffering, and have nowhere else to turn, and when you are empty and exposed, God can then fill you up with Himself. James says to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (Jas. 1:2-4).”
Suffering doesn’t teach you about God from a textbook, it teaches you from experience. And there’s nothing like the experience of Christ in you, filling you and shining out from your life. If you are full of Jesus, then when the trials of the world toss you about people will see Jesus spilling out. -DM