After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. — One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:1-6, ESV2011)
Have you ever noticed that there was a multitude of blind, lame and paralyzed, but only one was healed that day by Jesus? Interesting.
Many of us live in a society that places little value on suffering. If you watch the evening news you see a continuous stream of pill advertisements that promise relief from whatever ails us. The drug industry seems to have a pill for everything and they have the ears of the medical professionals who prescribe their wares. These modern-day hucksters even offer pills to counteract the side effects of their other medicines, but of course the fixes have their own side effects and the beat goes on.
If we live out our lives as true followers of Christ, we soon find out that God uses suffering in our lives to help bring us to His goal for each of us–to be conformed to the image of His Son and He learned obedience to His Father by the things which He suffered! But many of us at one time or another have heard the anti-cross gospel if we hung around churches long enough. You know the line, “God love you and He does not want you to suffer.” “We are the King’s kids and we should live prosperous lives.” Then there is the old faithful twist of logic that blames those who suffer for their own problems, “Jesus did all the suffering for us on the cross and we don’t have to anymore. By His stripes we are healed. If you are sick and suffering it is because of your lack of faith!” Has it ever occurred to these people that the healing that God is interested in comes through putting that old Adam in us to death and raising His Son up in us as the “Last Adam”? Those things that are seen are temporary, but those things that are not seen are eternal and God’s heart is on the things which place HIS eternity in us.
A while back I shared that I have had two compression fractured vertebrae that have given me much pain. After much prayer I had a non-invasive procedure done that has helped alleviate some of the pain, but as it is with most back surgeries, it was not a perfect fix. The aching and spasms continue, but to a lesser degree than before. “Getting old is not for sissies.” If I hadn’t been outside Pentecostal circles for so many years, I would have expected a couple of comments I got, chastising me for not being healed because of my “lack of faith.”
What value does God place on negative experiences in our lives? Do we grow in faith, as some preach, by living lives of comfort and in opulence with God as our “Sugar Daddy” in the sky? Paul did not seem to think so.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us. (Rom 5:1-5, KJ2000)
Wow! What a chain of events God wants us to go through that we might experience His glory! The world has an expression that is close to the truth, “No pain, no gain. No guts, no glory.” This chain of God’s actions in our lives all starts with suffering that is a result of having faith! How backwards is this line of drivel that is heaped on those who suffer that it is because of their lack of faith! Regarding this passage from Romans, T. Austin-Sparks wrote:
So experience is the very sum of what is practical. It is experiential, experimental, it is the practical side of knowledge. That is almost too obvious to need saying. Tribulation is very practical, very real, you cannot get away from that. The demand for patience in tribulation is very practical; that is no theory. And if the object of the tribulation in its working of patience is steadfastness, is experience, it is exceedingly good. We may lack many other things, we may not have great knowledge or learning, great capabilities or cleverness, by which the world sets such store. Should it come to our being tested by this world’s standards of ability, and we were to answer and say, ‘I have only experience’, it would not go down at all. They would say, ‘What degrees have you, what examinations have you passed?’ …But it is not like that with God… We may not have many things, we may not be very much, we may be despised when it comes to what we have accomplished in the academic way, what titles we carry, what degrees we have – we may not be much in that world, but remember that God puts a very great deal more importance upon experience than upon all the rest, and that is a thing we can all have. From the least to the greatest, we can all have experience, and because in the sight of the Lord it is so important, He sees fit to let us know a good deal of tribulation. “Tribulation worketh… experience”.
Have you got the full meaning of that word that is translated into our English word ‘tribulation’? Tribulation is a picture word in the Greek – the picture of a farm instrument that we call the harrow; and you know what we mean when we say we have had a harrowing experience. Oh, the tearing and the cutting and the lacerating from the harrow! That is the word here, literally, actually; the harrow going over our backs, and it works experience. Experience is of such value. (1)
A harrow is a farm implement that is dragged behind a tractor to break up the clods left behind by plowing, making them into pliable soft soil again, ready for the planting. I about choked when I read these last two sentences by Sparks. Little did I know that all this back pain I have suffered has been part of the process of Him answering that prayer. He has literally been harrowing my back! I thank our Father for Him going ever deeper into my heart to root out all that is not of His Son.
The work He is doing in us through experiencing suffering has no value in this world nor in the carnal churches of man, but to those who have spiritual eyes to see, spiritual ears to hear, and His Spirit in their hearts to feel, His saints who have been through great suffering in this life are a very precious find. These are the ones that have reached the goal in the above verses from Romans, “…the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.”
Finally, I want to share an observation that Sparks made with his final paragraph in this article that I have found to be very true and a sign of the stronghold the enemy has on our culture, even in the churches where youthful ministries are considered everything and the old people are to be pushed to the rear.
“What more can one say other than that it [experience] must be of eternal value? The value must be eternal, otherwise life is an inexplicable mystery and an enigma. The time may come when you young people, having passed through deep experiences and having bought your experience at great price, and thus having in your possession something of very great value, find that younger people do not want your experience, nor think anything at all of it, and never consult you. When what you have through deep experience has very little outlet in this world, a very limited scope for expression, what an enigma! All this you have gone through, all you have bought at so great a price, what is the value of it? It must be eternal. God must be working to get something with a longer range than this poor life. With tribulations increasing perhaps as you get older, what is it all for? Well, He is working with a longer view, and there must be something that counts with Him beyond time, and so He allows the tribulation to produce patience, and patience experience; “Whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away”; but experience shall abide and serve in the eternal ages.” (1)