One thing I've learned as a disciple of Yeshua Messiah is that He doesn't do anything "normally". What I mean by that is everything in His Gospel, everything He has done, and will do, seems backwards to us. God Almighty should be high and lofty, showing off His Glory, telling people how wonderful He is. But Christ said He's gentle and humble at heart (Matthew 11:29). How can grace be unmerited? How can God give it freely, and to anyone? Surely it is based on how we love Him, or our performance as a Christian? Surely WE have something to do with our own salvation?!
But the Lord says, "No. Salvation is not YOUR work. You are MY workmanship." (Ephesians 2:10) Indeed, salvation belongs to our God (Revelation 7:10).
This line of "backwards" logic got me thinking. All throughout the Bible, we're told to rejoice no matter the circumstance. We're shown an example in Paul, who suffered his way through shipwrecks, snakebites, whippings, and imprisonment, all the while singing HYMNS to God. How many of us would shake our fists at Him for all He's heaped upon our heads? How many of us would wonder what we did to incur God's wrath? But no, Scripture says, "Count yourself blessed" when you're persecuted in Yeshua's name (Matthew 5:11). Paul says to "Rejoice always" and "give thanks in all circumstances" for it is "the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
It would seem this is another instance of something that is backwards to us. Could it be that sufferings are actually blessings in disguise?
I meditated on this idea for quite awhile. It really would seem Scripture is telling us this. I once took the idea behind rejoicing in suffering to mean that we should take everything that happens to us with a smile, because NOTHING can take our inheritance in Christ. God still looks upon us in favor and we are still loved as sons and daughters of the Most High. And surely, that is a wonderful way to look at trials.
But there's another layer here. The more I thought on it, the more it became clear. God teaches us through trials. They are His way of refining us and disciplining us. But what is the end goal? To become like Christ. To be conformed into His image (Romans 8:29). Why doesn't God take us home to Heaven when we wish to be taken out of this world? Why would He keep us here on earth when Heaven is so much MORE?
God revealed to me that this temporal life is the ONLY place we can learn humility. It is the only place we can learn how to be totally dependent on God. Think about this. Heaven is a perfect place. There is no sorrow, no pain, no sickness, no death. It's a utopia. God calls it our "rest". There, we see God Face-to-face. No longer can we rely on faith. There, pride doesn't overcome us, and thus we cannot deepen our relationship with God by repenting and striving for change. There, sickness doesn't overcome our bodies, so we don't learn to lean on God's strength when we are weak.
I don't believe we'll ever stop learning in Heaven, but our capacity for learning things through trials will be gone. When we each leave this world for the next, we are as prepared for our spiritual lives as God wants us to be.
The person we are now is vastly different then the person we were when we were children. We grew, matured, and left childish things behind (1 Corinthians 13:11). I believe it is the same for maturity in the spiritual realm. God keeps us here in the temporal world to mold us and shape us into the mature, spiritual person we will one day become. Because once we cross over into the next world, we can no longer learn the lessons we learn here through painful experience.
In this way, when seen in this light, God is merciful for letting us remain in the flesh for as long as we can. It's backwards, I know. When a person is being wasted away by cancer, when the ends just aren't meeting, when enemies scoff, the roof leaks, your husband leaves you, or you survive a horrific car accident, they are all God's mercies.
Unless a person is eaten away by pride and they don't understand how God is moving in their life, they will get closer to the Lord in their suffering. Pain brings us to such a point that we cling to Christ's robes. There's no hope anywhere else. There's no one left to turn to. No magical safety net. In that place, we're right where God wants us to be. He can shape us, teach us, mold us, and create us into the mature spiritual being He wishes us to be when His Kingdom comes.
I've often wondered why God saw fit to give me a lonely childhood. My parents divorced when I was 12, and I spent my nights, every night, alone in my house until I was 18. My mom left, and my dad worked the swing shift at a casino. I had no one. God found me early, and kept me close. In those tender years, He taught me how to never let go of Him. He taught me that He is my Best Friend. He taught me that He looks after me. In short, He made me lonely so that I could know the FULLNESS of knowing Him.
When I was a kid, I broke my wrist in three places. When I grew up, I had trouble with the ligaments. Eventually, I had to have surgery on it. Then, the very next year, I contracted cellulitis in my leg, which gave me a huge, purple scar on my calf. In the grand scheme of things, these aren't scenarios that cannot be lived through. But I often thought...WHY is this happening to me?
In the middle of it all, I was PRAYING. I was on my knees (figuratively with the cellulitis lol) all the time, wanting to know what was going on, asking God to take my pain, fully leaning on HIM.
My trials with my wrist and my leg taught me patience. It took months before I got the surgery on my wrist and months before the pain went away in my leg. They taught me perseverance. I wasn't going to let them get me down. They taught me endurance. When I thought I couldn't take anymore, I plodded on. They built my faith. I couldn't see the end-goal, but I was determined to trust and leave it in God's hands.
They taught me humility, because now I have scars in both places. Not too pretty to look at. But despite it all, God still loves me. And despite it all, my faith survived. I still love God. And oddly, even more so. Sound a little backwards?
In the end, when you look at that list -- patience, perseverance, endurance, faith, humility, love -- Who does that remind you of?
Could it be that pain, trials, sickness, persecution.... are BLESSINGS? Is this what Paul was trying so hard to convey in his Epistles? Is this why martyrs sing on their way to die? Is this why we should count it all as LOSS in order to gain Christ? Is THIS how God can take what the enemy means for evil and use it for good?
Is our good to become more like Yeshua?
In this, I believe it is so. It's hard to grasp, but when you do, all kinds of new possibilities to worship open up for you. Your faith will never waiver in the hard times. Everything that is happening to you, either good or bad, is a blessing from God, shaping you into the person you will one day become when you cross into Glory. Shaping you into the reflected image of the glorified Christ.