The Christian life is made of ups and downs. Sometimes the sky is blue and sunny, and the presence of the Lord seems almost palpable. We receive in abundance what we have not even asked for. Other times, everything appears so dark and stormy as if a leaden blanket was blocking every prayer. It then appears so difficult to see the end of the tunnel as bad news keep coming one after the other. And as we seek peace, war seems to break out. How many of us found ourselves in painful and absurd situations that were totally confusing?
We then take a deep look within and the outcome is often mind boggling. In such despair, we are even ready to repent of sins that we did not commit as long as we can find grace before God. However, the Lord remains silent, while problems keep getting worse and piling up on us. Exhausted, discouraged and even angry, we end up asking ourselves: Is the Lord really with me?
A thousand ‘whys’ run through our heads when everything goes wrong. In fact, we continue to perceive suffering as something out of the ordinary and unjust, forgetting that it is the human lot to suffer. It is impossible to find a single creature that has not experienced suffering to some extent during her lifetime.
We can often be led to believe that others live a blissful life, without any trouble. And then we ask ourselves ‘why not me?’ A perfect life without any troubles only happens in fairytales. Some people can be more skillful than others at hiding their misery, thus giving way to an illusion.
The Word of God gives us a clear explanation concerning the reason why we suffer.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Romans 8: 18-22
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved,Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. 1 Peter 4: 12-19
All creation is suffering because of sin. Both heathens and Christians cry and wail in secret. The former because of their iniquities, the latter because it is the will of God.
When I gave my life to Jesus, a few years ago, I experienced an overwhelming repentance. The Lord opened my eyes and led me to understand how filthy, serious and destructive sin was. I then realized that the sufferings that I had endured until then were the result of my sins. I was thus relieved to know that God had forgiven me, and I welcomed my new life in Christ with great joy.
As I was firmly committed to sanctifying myself, I was under the impression that because I no longer sinned, I should not suffer anymore. I said to myself: “Great, the only thing left to do is sanctify myself, go to church on Sunday and wait for the return of Jesus or death to go to Heaven”. This is how I conceived the Christian life, aspiring to live a sanctified and simple life.
How confused and angry was I when I realized that the life in Christ was far from being a fairytale (I so wished that it would be the case!). As soon as I gave my life to Christ, I received attacks coming from the kingdom of darkness. I was under all kinds of demonic assaults. Satan himself came to intimidate me. I experienced scenes straight out of a horror movie. In spite of it all, I was able to see how much more powerful Jesus was, as His peace came over me and I was empowered to confront the forces of darkness in His mighty Name (Philippians 2: 10).
Like many people, my conversion caused some misunderstanding and sometimes even those closest to me became hostile. In a matter of weeks, my social life was over. I had no friends left except maybe one or two. At first, I was not bothered, and I even looked on the bright side: I was able to choose my acquaintances from then on.
Later on, people at work started being disturbed by my integrity. On more than one occasion, I found myself facing people that hated me for no reason (that is still the case today). Shunned by my colleagues, I was now having lunch alone. With time, I learned to take advantage of such circumstances. Instead of listening to their gossip or jokes, I would fast, pray, meditate, run errands, go shopping, or even go to my hairdresser.
I felt the need to stress this so you would not think that I am perfect. However, I wish that things would have been different; as it is not always easy being rejected and alone.
For many years I wondered: Why am I being attacked and hated for no reason?
The Lord answered me. The whole world and its inhabitants are darkness (Matthew 6: 23).
When we gave our lives to the Lord, we were delivered from the power of the wicked one and translated into the kingdom of God (Acts 26: 18, Colossians 1: 13). Furthermore, we used to be darkness and are now children of light (1 Thessalonians 5: 5).
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 14-16
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Philippians 2: 14-15
When there is a birth from above, a light is lit in the world. And as it is impossible to light to go unnoticed in the darkness, it is equally impossible for a Christian to go unnoticed among demons, satanists, and pagans. From the very moment one becomes a Christian, he/she is immediately identified as such by the kingdom of darkness. All hell breaks loose in an effort to win that person back, or even kill him/her right away. Let us not forget that the world hates children of God and it shall persecute all people who wish to live godly in Jesus Christ (John 15: 19; 2 Timothy 3: 12). Why? Because the light we are is likely to illuminate those around, and thus deliver those held captive out of the enemy’s camp. We cannot imagine the number of attacks Jesus keeps us from on a daily basis. Let us remember to give Him praise for it. Therefore if you are attacked and persecuted, rest assured, this is proof that the Spirit of God is upon you (1 Peter 2: 14).
Demonic attacks are not the only cause for our suffering, as there is also brokenness that comes from God.
THE PRUNING OF BRANCHES
Jesus criticized the Pharisees as they were more interested in their outward appearance than in the state of their heart (Matthew 23: 25-28). It shows that a religious person is just a heathen among others. Pharisees showed a love for adding large phylacteries and fringes to their garments, just as some would love wearing jeans nowadays. Anyways, it is unbelievable how people would inconvenience themselves, even go through discomfort just to have an appealing appearance: diets, hair removal, cosmetic surgery, workout…
We willingly suffer in order to be handsome and beautiful to please men, why should we not instead suffer to please the Lord?
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15: 1-2
Pruning is a practice involving the selective removal of parts of branches and sometimes the tree-top in order to boost the growth of the foliage and new leaves. This process helps get rid of dead branches and remove the unnecessary ones for a healthier tree.
Interestingly enough, if the tree survives after that process, its wood becomes harder and thus more resilient. With the parable of the vinedresser, Jesus gives us a great and beautiful message that should put us at ease and cause us to praise Him. The pruning we are subject to is instrumental in making us stronger and delivering us from our sins. Like a patient letting a doctor operate on him to get rid of cancer, we should also let the Lord free us from our impurities and superficiality. It is certainly impossible to be operated on without wounds and bleeding. But isn’t the Lord the one who wounds and heals (Deuteronomy 32: 39)?
It is important to note that the vinedresser only prunes the branches that bring forth fruit, and the ones that don’t are cut and thrown into the fire. This means that only the true children of God bearing the fruit of the Spirit are pruned. Fake Christians are removed. Jesus uses His word, a double-edged sword, as a tool to accomplish this (Hebrews 4: 12). The Word of God brings eternal life to some and condemnation to others. Therefore if you bear even one fruit, be ready to be broken by the Lord to bring forth more fruits. So the Lord is with those who are pruned.
THE CUTTING AND ENGRAVING OF STONES
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2: 4-5
Obviously, you have noticed that we, Christians, are compared to stones and Jesus is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2: 20). In the Old Covenant, the same metaphor was used for the sons of Israel (Exodus 28: 9; Joshua 4: 3-7).
Stones were specifically used to build altars and houses. Regarding altars, God gave specific instructions in his Law: ‘And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it’ (Exodus 20: 25). The Lord desired that the stones used to build the altars be rough, in other words uncut, free from any human religious and philosophical ideas. The stone also symbolizes the hardening of the heart of man (1 Samuel 25: 37). Now the Lord’s plan for every man is to give him a new heart, made of flesh.
Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 10: 19-20
The Tables of the Law symbolized our hearts. Interesting fact: God Himself has engraved his Law on them.
And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. Exodus 31: 18
A stony heart is gradually transformed into to a heart of flesh. God teaches us His Law and engraves it on our hearts through His Word and brokenness. Every trial is a lesson taught by the Lord. Once again this cannot be without pain since it is necessary to use a sharp and pointed tool to do so. Therefore each moment of suffering that God allows in our life is a hammer and chisel blow that God strikes on our hardened hearts, in order to break us and permanently write his Law on our hearts. Blows to the heart are the most painful ones, aren’t they? Although we do not enjoy being broken-hearted, this is beneficial to us as God leads us down that path.
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man. Mark 7: 21-23
“Is not My word like a fire?” says the Lord, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23: 29
It thus appears that a cut and engraved stone has inevitably undergone a transformation. As opposed to ink, once something has been engraved, it cannot be erased unless something else is engraved on top of it (i.e belief in another gospel or backsliding).
The heart of flesh will only appear once the entire Law of God will be engraved in us. When the process would have been completed, it won’t be necessary to tell people about our Christianity, as that would be obvious. Heathens shall be taught without a sermon; the fruits that we will bring forth shall speak loudly for us and be a testimony bringing honor to the Lord.
Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. 2 Corinthians 3: 3
Have you noticed that precious stones are always cleaned, cut and polished? God causes us to go through the same process to transform us into one of the precious stones adorning the heavenly Jerusalem.
The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. Revelation 21: 19-20
Whoever is presently being engraved upon and cut should not worry, God is with him.
Thus, if we are suffering while we are not willfully sinning, let us not ask the question: ‘Is the Lord really with me? ‘The answer is yes, the Lord is there, and His hand is upon us.