A Firm Foundation

A recent book, God’s Grace in Your Suffering, by David Powlison, is based on the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” This is a solidly biblical hymn from 1787 that is probably neglected in many churches, or may be sung with little thought given to the words. Much of the text comes directly from Isaiah 41:10 and 43:1-2. As I read through the book and meditated on the hymn, I have been particularly drawn to the third verse:

When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

Powlison commented on this verse:

“God himself calls you into the deep waters. God sets a limit on your sorrows. God is with you, actively bringing good from your troubles. In the context of distressing events, God changes you… In other words, your significant sufferings don’t happen by accident. There’s no random chance. No purposeless misery. No bad luck. Not even (and understand this the right way) a tragedy. Tragedy means ruin, destruction, downfall, an unhappy ending with no redemption. Your life story may contain a great deal of misery and heartache along the way. But in the end, in Christ, your life story will prove to be a comedy in the original sense of the word, a story with a happy ending… Life, joy, and love get last say. High sovereignty is going somewhere… He is working so you know him, so you trust him, so you love him” (62-63).

We rarely can see God’s purposes while we’re in the midst of suffering. It is in hindsight that we start to see the good that God has brought out of difficult experiences. I’ve only recently begun to see some of the ways that God has used trouble from past decades not only to sanctify me but to open doors for me to encourage the struggling and to edify and exhort the church to protect the innocent and care for the wounded. Though the experiences in themselves were not holy, God has sanctified them for His good purposes. That doesn’t mean the struggles are any less difficult or painful, but I can learn to endure them with the hope that there is a purpose in them that will one day be revealed. The Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:18-39 and 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 point us to this purposeful hope in suffering:

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now… And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose… to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:22, 28, 29b ESV).

“If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we share” (2 Cor. 1:6).

In the midst of writing this post this week I listened to a podcast from The Allender Center that reminded me that when we are struggling with the difficulties and events of life it doesn’t really benefit us to keep it to ourselves or try to power through as if nothing is wrong. We need others in the Body of Christ to support and encourage us, and likewise, we need to do the same for them.

Powlison concluded his book with this thought:

“Finally, you are prepared to pose—and to mean—an almost unimaginable question: ‘Why not me? Why not this? Why not now?’ If in some way, your faith might serve as a three-watt night light in a very dark world, why not me? If your suffering shows forth the Savior of the world, why not me? If you have the privilege of filling up the sufferings of Christ? If he sanctifies to you your deepest distress? If you fear no evil? If he bears you in his arms? If your weakness demonstrates the power of God to save us from all that is wrong? If your honest struggle shows other strugglers how to land on their feet? If your life becomes a source of hope for others? Why not me? … If all that God promises only comes true, then why not me?”(116-117).

A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice… I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:3, 6-7).

© 2019 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from pixabay.com. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.

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