I love woodworking. That’s the one hobby that I spend any significant time on. My grandpa can fix or build anything, and as a kid I used to follow him around and “help” whenever he was working on a project. Now, God has blessed me with a little workshop in my garage, and I enjoy building custom furniture for our home and for others.
Some tools (like my table saw) are my favorite ones to use. Other tools (like my tape measure or my power drill/driver) I use for just about every project I build. But there are a few tools I own which I’ve only used a couple times, but they are indispensable because when I need to use them, nothing else will do the job. One of those indispensable tools is called a BoWrench (pictured here), and it’s used as a lever to straighten and hold long deck boards in place as they’re fastened to the joists.
God has many tools that He uses to bring change & transformation in the hearts of His children. God’s Word is a powerful tool to change our hearts. Corporate worship is a tool God uses to draw our hearts to Him. Community—life with one another—is an effective tool in God’s toolbox, that He uses to shape us more into His image. Prayer, solitude, accountability, service…there are all kinds of tools that God uses to form us. But there is one tool He uses that I believe is indispensable, not because He uses it for everything, but because when He uses it, it accomplishes what no other tool can accomplish. That tool is suffering.
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, the apostle Paul is describing some severe affliction that he underwent, which caused him to feel hopeless and to despair of life itself. Though I may not have experienced similar circumstances as Paul, I certainly have experienced that same feeling of intense pressure and being “stuck” with no options and no way out. That is the kind of suffering Paul is talking about.
But what he says next is huge. He says that the suffering happened so that they would rely not on themselves but on God. The suffering was not random or pointless—in fact, the implication is that God actually brought the suffering as a tool to produce some needed change in their hearts. The suffering was to make them—persuade them, convince them, even force them—to rely on God, and that was a very GOOD thing. So even though the suffering was not comfortable or easy, it was good, because it brought about good transformation in their hearts.
If we’ve been a Christian for any length of time, we know that we’re supposed to rely on God. We know we were made to live in intimate relationship with God. We know that life works best when we do rely on God. But the reality is…we don’t do it. Until, of course, suffering comes along and we are flat on our faces (sometimes literally) crying out to God saying “I can’t do this!” “I can’t love this person the way You want me to love her (or him).” “How am I supposed to tell my little children the diagnosis my doctor just gave me?!” “How am I going to provide for my family?” And it’s in that place of desperation and pain that we move from merely knowing we should rely on God to actually relying on Him. When we are on our face before God saying “I cannot do this!” we are NOT relying on ourselves. When we are alone crying on our bed at 2 in the morning, and all we can say is “God help me!” we ARE relying on God. Suffering forces us to rely on Him because we have nothing left in ourselves to rely on. Suffering convinces us that we cannot make it on our own, and therefore we move from intellectual acknowledgement of our need to rely on God to actual experience of relying on Him. And that is a very good thing.
So whether it’s little everyday pressures and problems, or whether it’s big life-altering circumstances, I am beginning to realize that suffering is not something to immediately run away from or constantly try to avoid, because maybe God is using that suffering as His indispensable tool to bring change in my heart that would not happen in any other way. Our God is good. Our God is gracious. And our God is sovereign. No suffering we go through is random or pointless, but is under the control of our strong and faithful Father, so we can trust that when He uses suffering as a tool in our lives, it is always for our good. Therefore we can say with the Apostle Paul, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:3-5)