Dear Christian, I desire to write you about something with which you are well acquainted: affliction. Much has been written on affliction by godly Christians of previous times. A good part of it you have known for a long time. For example, you may know that all affliction is ultimately traceable to our tragic fall in Adam. You know, too, the grievousness of affliction. After all, who enjoys suffering?
Yet you also may know that all affliction is sent by a wise, fatherly God. Perhaps you even know—as the whole book of Job and the Puritans never tire of teaching us—that the important thing is not the amount of affliction we receive, but how we respond to that affliction.
Isn’t it just here that your deepest questions about affliction and trial lie? For you want to respond to affliction in a God-glorifying manner, but you feel you often fall inexcusably short. You desire that your entire life may serve God’s praise (Isa. 43:21), but somehow when you enter the heat and heart of affliction you find yourself losing grip on your firm intention.
To respond rightly to affliction before it comes is hard; to look back on it gratefully after it is over is harder; but to live Christianly in affliction is hardest. Hence you ask yourself again and again: how may I live through affliction more Christianly—in a way that is more like Christ? How may I grow in grace while—yes, while—suffering affliction?
You are not alone in such wrestlings. Countless times God’s children have been there, begging to be made conformable to the image of Christ through the furnace of affliction. The prayer is simple (“Lord, grant me grace to live through this affliction Christianly”); the wrestlings, are often agonizing.
Through years of encountering affliction (including times of running from wrestling with, resolving against, and—by grace—submitting to and bowing under it), I have gleaned a few thoughts on how to live Christianly through affliction. These I wish to share with you.
But as you allow me to provide several practical hints on this eminently practical subject, please bear in mind that we are always dependent on the sanctification of the Holy Spirit at every juncture for real spiritual benefit under affliction. Without the Spirit’s gracious influences, affliction may readily lead us away from rather than toward God.
I wish to focus my suggestions to you around one major theme that, sad to say, took me many years to learn even in small measure: The most effective means for living Christianly in affliction is to consider Christ, the fountainhead of all vital Christianity (Heb. 3:1). To live Christianly in any sphere or aspect of life necessitates Spirit-worked faith to look to Him, to feast on Him, to depend on Him—yes, to find both our life in Him (on Calvary’s cross) and our death in Him (as exalted Lord, to whom we belong).
Consider Christ—that’s the crux of the whole matter of affliction. But how, you ask? I will attempt to answer that question in the next few posts.