I want to talk to you about something that everyone wants. Whether you’re a Christian or not, you want this and chances are you want this very badly, especially during seasons of suffering. The greater the suffering, the greater the need for it. I’m talking about peace. The kind of peace we all imagine will comfort and ease our minds about the suffering and pain. Sadly, it seems like the majority of both Christians and non-Christians never experience that deep peace. Yet Scripture promises the Christian alone can experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding; an unnatural peace, a supernatural peace from the Person of God Himself. The Apostle Paul said “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”[i] This is the peace we so desperately need, especially during times of intense pain and anguish. So you’re in a season of pain. Friend, there is hope and that peace the Apostle Paul writes of is coming, God promises you’ll receive it. Keep reading.
There comes a point in every season of suffering when the sufferer realizes that God is fully in control. This time is a moment of clarity. It comes only when you have suffered through a certain amount of pain and anguish. So when does this “clarity” take place? Well, that’s the mystery. Only God knows when this moment will take place, but one thing you can be sure of is that it will indeed take place if you persevere. You see, even if you persevere poorly, this moment of clarity will still come. So rest assured, for what it’s worth, that your time of mental and spiritual peace is coming.
I remember when this moment of clarity hit me. I was on house arrest and living in Sandy, Oregon. DHS had forced me to move out of our family home and I could only visit my children when a DHS approved supervisor was present. I was in my room, alone, and just sitting and thinking. I wasn’t reading or watching T.V. I wasn’t browsing Facebook or Twitter. I was just sitting, thinking about the last four and a half years of unjust suffering. I remembered two attorneys who didn’t know each other both recommend another attorney, one of the very best in the state of Oregon. This attorney would not only represent me, but believed wholeheartedly in my innocence. I remembered the trauma of being arrested and imprisoned for a year and how it destroyed most everything that was inside of me, leaving only a tiny crumb of what appeared to be the naked me. I lost all sense of identity and purpose and came to the realization that I could only exist in life’s simplest form. I remembered grieving my own death, in a sense. I remembered the night terrors every single night, between two and five per night religiously. I thought of how I felt as though I were nothing at all, absolutely nothing. I felt unloved by God, unwanted by God, and abandoned by God. Then I thought about all of the guys I met in the Tillamook County Jail and how many of them came to Christ because I shared the Gospel with them. I thought about how the courthouse had flooded the week I was supposed to have my trial. It was rescheduled even further out. I was devastated, but had the trial not been pushed-out, we would not have discovered some key evidence that would help us win my case. I remembered how the authorities considered this flood an “Act of God” (I still have the piece of paper a Sergeant in the jail wrote it on). I remembered singing “Thrive” by Casting Crowns in the small holding cell before each day of trial and walking out feeling covered by the grace and mercy of God. I remembered the support that the inmates gave me each and every day I came back from court, how they prayed with me and cried with me. I am convinced it was the prayers of the inmates, their intercessions for me throughout the day, that helped give me the strength I needed to face the possibility of unjustly going to prison and losing everything. I remembered the deputies who took care of me throughout my stay at the jail and who cared for me throughout the trial. I remember being found not guilty and all charges being dropped, in the words of the Deputy District Attorney, “in the interest of justice.” I remember walking out of the jail a semi-free man (I was placed on house arrest to await the next trial).
These memories are just the tip of the iceberg of what I remembered on the day clarity hit me. And after I recalled the major happenings over the last four and a half years, a peace from the Lord was rooted deeply within me. It was as if the pieces of the 10-piece puzzle that had been scattered over a thirty square mile radius had miraculously come together to make an almost complete picture. I saw the near-finished picture of my season of suffering that day. I say “near-finished” because I still don’t know how the rest of this situation plays out, but I know one thing for sure. I know that God allowed this season of suffering, I know that God was with me the entire time, and I know that God will pull me through all of it so I can fulfill His purposes for me. I have absolutely no doubts about any of it and the worry that once haunted me has been eroded by faith; His faith and His power, not mine. But it took time. It took suffering. It took continually looking at Him when I didn’t want to. It took forcing myself to believe in Him, looking like a fool at times, even though I wanted to doubt Him. And when the time was right, His time, all of the shaping that took place over the last four and a half years prepared me to receive the long-awaited peace I had begged for so many times. The pain and suffering has not ceased, but within the daily anguish I find the peace and strength to continue having faith.
And when this peace, this clarity took root, I was never the same again. I stopped being afraid of nightmares, police officers and deputies, the District Attorney’s Office, prison, and injustice. It was as if I had a confidence, a humble confidence, that consumed all fearful things. I no longer looked at my enemies with a defensive attitude, but with a compassionate and understanding attitude. I began truly and wholeheartedly praying for my opponents. I couldn’t explain it, but looking back I understand it completely. You see, when God fills your heart with peace it drowns all of the unhealthy fear that once paralyzed you and caused you so much stress and anxiety and sickness. It doesn’t mean that you quit feeling the pain of suffering, but it means that you receive the pain differently. What I mean is that now when pain and suffering collide with you, the pain breaks apart instead of you breaking apart. You receive the pain with a deep felt strength. And as the pain makes contact with your life, you are
able to absorb it without falling to pieces. Because you are strong in the Lord and His might and you are now capable of absorbing the suffering the way Jesus absorbed it and you are able to look upon your enemies with compassion…just like Jesus did. In the midst of Jesus’s suffering on the cross, He wholeheartedly prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[ii]
You see, all the suffering you encounter in your life is allowed by God in order to shape you into the likeness of His Son, Jesus. And when the peace of God consumes you after a time of suffering, you no longer see suffering or those who cause it the same way again. You have begun developing the mind of Christ, the eyes of Christ, and the love of Christ for all your neighbors. The greatest progress in the transformation of the mind comes through pain, anguish, and suffering. Too many times we try to avoid the very suffering God has allowed in order to do a magnificent and supernatural work within us. The Apostle Paul tells us that “we are children of God, and if children, then heir-heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”[iii] So if you’ve suffered before or if you’re suffering now, keep approaching God, keep asking God to humble you, keep believing God’s promises to work it all for His glory, and keep receiving life’s pain with open arms knowing that the completion of your faith only comes through the door of suffering. You will experience the God’s peace that surpasses all understanding when the time is right. Trust Him, it’s coming, so hang in there as faithfully as you can.
[i] Philippians 4:6b, 7 (English Standard Version)
[ii] Luke 23:34 (ESV)
[iii] Romans 8:16, 17 (ESV)