It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Ps. 119:71)
A few days back, I had the privilege of meeting Joel Tay over dinner, a brother who truly is passionate about the things of God. Anyway, one of the thoughts that came to me as we talked and shared with each other was the idea of the affliction of the righteous. A common theme in our lives was the hand of God in using various trials and tribulations in our personal lives to mold us into what we now are. Whereas we were once carnal and proud, the Lord saw fit to crush us and bring us to even to the breaking point. He does this in order to wean us off the things of the world, and for His ultimate design — our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3a).
Meditating on this, although the experiences most definitely were not nice, but truly through adversity the Lord used them to bring us closer to Him and His Word. Through afflicting us, He drove us to cling to Him and Him alone as we draw closer to Him in His Word, so that we can claim the truth of Ps. 119:71 as realities in our lives.
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14: 21-22)
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12)
Suffering, trails and tribulations are indeed normal for those who truly desire to follow Christ. The Apostles themselves not only proclaim that it is normative for those who desire to enter the Kingdom of God, but that we as Christians should not find it strange to encounter trials and tribulations. The Christian life was never meant to be a life of roses, or health and wealth and kingdom-now dominion, and those who say or teach otherwise are liars.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons ... For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12:7-8; 11)
The affliction of the righteous is the hallmark of their status as children of God. God as our heavenly Father disciplines us children for our own good. Those who have not partaken of the Lord's discipline are not truly Christians, being illegitimate children not true sons and daughters of the King. This discipline will obviously be painful, but it would produce in us the peaceful fruit of righteousness as stated in Heb. 12:11.
As stated, God's goal in our lives has always been our sanctification, NOT how much we can do for Him in ministry, how many people we have reached for Christ, whether we have reached set ministry goals etc, much less how much money we can give to God for His work. After all, God IS the Sovereign One who does not need our help to do His work; our ministry unto Him is our privilege but we are not necessary and indispensable. The LORD who is able to raise up children of Abraham from inanimate stones (Mt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8) can raise up evangelists from anywhere and use anyone and anything He pleases to accomplish His will and does not need us to do His work, yet is is our humble privilege to join Him in His work. Similarly, the whole earth is owned by the Lord, so it is pathetically laughable to hear prosperity advocates talk about how we need to focus on money because then we can give more to God's work, as if God needs your money otherwise His plan will fail! Why should God need your puny $1 million donation when He owns all the wealth of the entire world and more?
We can see that God sends trials and tribulations to us who are His children. In fact, if God desires to use you as His instrument in ministry, the trials and tribulations you will experience would probably increase. God is pleased to use clean vessels (cf 2 Tim. 2:21) and to prepare the vessel, God may subject the vessel to severe trials and testing by fire. (Anybody interested in ministry now? You can start to experience more trials and persecution for starters)
In conclusion, therefore, let us not find it strange to face trials and tribulations when (not if) they come. As long as you are truly a Christian, the world will hate you (Jn. 15:18-19), and even professing Christians in the visible Church (not excluding pastors, elders and seminary professors) may attack you in the name of God (Jn. 16:2). Nevertheless, rejoice in your afflictions, for this is how you will be sanctified by God and to know Him more through His Word. God will be with you and strengthen you in your time of need. Truly there is no place more blessed than to be with the Savior even amidst severe trials than to be without God in the midst of prosperity and popular acclaim. May we lean to rest in Him, knowing that in all things He will work them for our good (cf Rom. 8:28). Amen.