“Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces. Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions.” – Matthew Henry
As I look back over more than 14 years as a Christian, I can testify that the greatest times of personal growth came during the times of greatest sorrow and disappointment. In November of 2010 my grandmother who was taking care of me since when I was born died just three months after I lost a job. The world I had known disappeared the day she died and another world took its place. Things have never gone back to what they used to be. Just months later, my grandmother’s house where I lived get wiped out by the Typhoon, I was diagnosed with a lung problem and for that I had no way to support my own. For months I felt suspended in mid-air, with no clear direction for the future and no money to pay any bill. Day and night I pray and cry for things to be changed any time soon. But I learned the hard way the truth of four simple words: “You can’t rush God.” He won’t be pushed and he doesn’t take kindly to those who try to rush him. As I look back on those experiences, I am aware that God worked in my life to produce needed change and to prod me to personal growth. I can truly testify that it was good for me to be afflicted in order that God might do his work in my life. Consider this. Perhaps God has not changed your circumstances because he first wants to change you.
This is certainly contrary to our natural mind, isn’t it? Afflictions are good? How so? The psalmist wrote that “it is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Notice that afflictions can teach us things, in particular, God’s statutes. Statutes are laws enacted by God Himself that declare, proscribe, or command something specific like loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Afflictions are necessary to humble us and help us to learn more about God. When we’re afflicted, we often run to the Word of God like a chick runs to its mother’s wings for protection. For me, afflictions often make me run to the psalms, and thus I learn more about God and His ways.
Second Corinthians 4:17 says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Paul wrote this so that the church at Corinth would see afflictions in the perspective of the coming glory to be revealed and that no amount of suffering today can compare to what’s coming (Rom 8:18). This affliction prepares us for the coming glory, which we will finally see at Christ’s second coming, just as Paul stated, that “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities” (2 Cor 6:4).
Everything that happens to us, both the good and the bad, works out for our best (Rom 8:28). No affliction is ever wasted, as Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Phil 1:12-13). How so? Paul answers that it was “by my imprisonment [we] are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil 1:14). Paul was chained to Roman guards, and each time there was a change of the guard, Paul had new guards to proclaim the gospel to and was all the bolder, so this advanced the gospel. Why? He was already in chains, so what more could happen to him when he told others about the Savior?
Paul understood that all believers are appointed for afflictions, writing “that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thess 3:3-4). Paul writes that we’re destined for afflictions and that we shouldn’t “be moved by these afflictions.” Every believer will have them, but when they come, they are simply shadows of God’s wings for us to take refuge under.
There is no surprise when afflictions come. None of them are ever wasted. They prepare us for the kingdom, and they also help us run to God and His Word. Like the frightened little chick, they make us seek shelter under His wings, as He is a strong tower and shield to those who trust in Him.