Editor’s note: Yesterday, we added a new audio resource to BLB: 270 sermons from Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile. In today’s blog post, BLB staffer Andy shares about how one of these sermons personally ministered to him.
I was recently blessed with the opportunity to review a much-recommended audio sermon by Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile entitled, When the Pain Won’t Stop. We would soon be adding this message to our BLB audio commentaries, so I was eager to review the much anticipated message. It certainly lived up to the hype! This will be one of those classic messages on suffering, and I think you’ll also find it helpful in your personal life and ministry.
That day, in the BLB offices, as I was finishing up work, I received a text message from my wife. She invited me to come straight to the pool from the office, which sounded refreshing as ever on such a hot August afternoon. The pool time with her and our three little was just that—a refreshing end to the work day.
But then, the unexpected happened.
As the evening drew near, I turned to dry off our 9 month old boy. I wrapped him in a towel, unwrapped him, and began to change him. That’s when a large black spider jumped out and sat on his stomach. Thinking nothing of it, I immediately swiped the spider away, but my curious wife—a great mother—followed the spider and turned it over only to find the dreaded red hourglass stomach.
That’s when I heard the words a parent would never want to hear, “It’s a black widow!”
I immediately checked our boy to see if he had been bitten by the infamous venomous spider and saw what appeared to be a small puncture. We called our close friend and pediatrician, who advised us to immediately take him to the emergency room.
I was scared. I felt helpless.
It was one of those moments, as a father, when you realize that your children are truly in God’s hands. We prayed. And in the midst of the scramble to get to the hospital, I considered the message on suffering I had just heard earlier that day, and it ministered to my soul in the most incredible ways. In the middle of the madness, God gave me a peace that transcends all understanding.
My guess is that you’ve been in situations where you felt discouraged or helpless too. I’ve included a few key points with commentary from Pastor Thabiti’s message that were helpful to me. I’d encourage you to listen to the message yourself and to pass it on to others who are in need of encouragement.
Job’s Pain. Job’s Perspective.
When pain and suffering strike, even Christians can question God’s goodness and power. “If God is good, then why does He allow suffering?” Or perhaps, “Why would a good God allow my suffering to persist?”
Pastor Thabiti begins the message with a powerful truth: “The surest way to waste your pain is to believe your pain is meaningless. The surest way to benefit from our pain is to look beyond our pain to God’s purposes.” He goes on to present the biblical account of Job, and a perspective on suffering that brings comfort, joy, and hope. No one wants to enter into suffering but every Christian, to one degree or another, will. How will we respond to this suffering?
The story of Job is much more than an historical narrative. It is a story of God’s total goodness and power in the midst of intense suffering. Job underwent incredible pain including: financial pain, family pain (loss of children), marital pain (loss of wife’s respect), physical pain, and mental pain. Isn’t it interesting to know that the pain Job experienced, in one way or another, relates so directly with the pain we often experience in our own lives? There’s much to learn here.
Admittedly, we may be tempted to blame God for our suffering. However, the Bible teaches that God contains absolute power and sovereignty over all things, even Satan himself. Job understood these truths as evidenced by his response to suffering:
1. Job blessed God.
2. Job accepted the sovereignty of God in good times and bad.
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Job 1:20-22 ESV
3. Job proclaimed his hope in God beyond this life
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” Job 19:25-27 ESV
Through Job’s pain, God showed Job that his happiness and hope was not to be in his family or in his cattle, but in God alone. Thabiti shares,
“To live a life, even if you are a Christian, as though your happiness depends upon your things in this world is to always be putting your happiness right in the lap of your enemy. And all he would have to do to destroy your happiness is to change the circumstance of your life. To introduce a little bit of pain.”
He goes on to say,
“And because He [Jesus] rules in heaven, and because He is our joy, our happiness, and satisfaction, and glory – if it is in Christ – it is beyond the reach of Satan and hell, kept safe for us until we’re with Him for all of eternity.”
What a tremendous joy to know that the enemy cannot touch our greatest happiness, when our greatest happiness is in Jesus Christ!
To assume that God is not good in our pain and suffering is to assume that pain has no purpose. Consider Pastor Thabiti’s points regarding God’s purpose in our suffering:
1. God is keeping us humble and showing His power in our pain.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV
2. God is getting our attention off ourselves so that we rely on Him.
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV
3. God is showing us that pleasure in Jesus is far better than the pleasures of this world.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:7-8 ESV
4. God is revealing that His love is enough in our pain.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 38-39 ESV
Pastor Thabiti shares this about God’s purposes in suffering:
“If our highest happiness is found only in God through Jesus Christ, then it is ultimately loving and kind and good of God to remove the lower happinesses, so that we might have this ultimate happiness…It is ultimately loving and kind and good of God to allow pain, from time to time, in this life, and interrupt the happiness we enjoy in this life so that we might be awakened to happiness that cannot be taken away…Here’s why it’s humbling: God is pleased to receive us even after we have tried to seek our happiness everywhere else.”
Is Jesus Enough When Black Widows Strike?
My wife and I sat in the emergency room holding our little boy’s fingers and praying for God’s goodness and power over his tender little life. That day, we were encouraged, even in the midst of the pending news and unknown consequences. We were reminded that God was no less good and no less powerful to allow this moment to occur. No matter what would happen, we were reminded that God has a purpose in suffering—even our suffering—and that God’s purposes are perfect.
You’re probably wondering what happened to our little boy. Thankfully, what appeared to be a puncture was in fact not a black widow bite. Nevertheless, we were deeply helped through this circumstance because of the Bible’s reminder that God is good. He is always good. He is always all-powerful. He always purposes our suffering for His ultimate glory.
Is Jesus enough when black widows strike? Absolutely. He is enough when anything strikes. And when Jesus is our ultimate happiness, then our ultimate happiness cannot ever be taken away. May we encourage one another that Jesus is always enough.