“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, NKJV).
In the middle of the pain, no one enjoys the experience. Only in looking back – at some distant day – do you see how God used it.
Life is understood only in looking backward, the saying goes. But it must be lived going forward.
It doesn’t work that way for everyone, Hebrews 12:11 is implying. For some, the trials are fatal. It just depends. “To those who have been trained by it” surely means the people who have learned to give their woes to the Lord for His purposes.
We can wallow in our defeat, be chained in despair by our sorrows and troubles, or we can rise above them by putting our trust in the Savior and finding His purposes.
In her book Character, Gail Sheehy tells of the lengthy rehabilitation Bob Dole endured after his World War II injury. (German machine gunfire hit him in the upper back and right arm. Medics gave him the largest possible dose of morphine, then wrote “M” (for morphine) on his forehead with his own blood, so no one who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.) Dole went through multiple surgeries and experienced recurring blood clots, life-threatening infections, and long periods of recuperation and therapy.
An interviewer once asked Senator Dole, “How did this delay your career plans?”
He answered, “Before my injury, I didn’t have any career plans. I had been a C student in high school, and not motivated. The truth is this injury is what gave me my career.”
The injury, he added, “inspired me to focus on what I had left and what I could do with it.”
Without asking Senator Dole, we know the injury accomplished several things:
- It stopped him in his tracks and gave him massive amounts of quiet time to rest and recuperate.
- It gave him time to think – to assess his life, his direction, and his goals.
- It gave him the necessity to make different plans for the future.
- It forced him to reassess everything about his life.
Anything that does that is not all bad.
The Psalmist said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted; that I may learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71).
Good that you were afflicted?
It didn’t feel good, that’s for sure. And in the middle of the suffering, the last thing you wanted to hear was “this is going to work out fine” and “someday you’ll look back at this and give thanks.”
But it was true.
I have sometimes said to friends who had suddenly found themselves unemployed, “This is really tough, I know. But I’m going to make a prediction. One day you will look back on this as the best thing that ever happened to you.”
I’ve been there and done that.
A church that was completely erased from the map by a hurricane had to start from scratch in relocating and rebuilding. These days, they minister from an all-new campus located near the high school and visible to everyone. The pastor told me, “I don’t say this publicly, but that hurricane was the best thing that ever happened to our church.”
Many a congregation has a similar testimony.
A friend was abruptly terminated from the church he had loved and pastored for years. I said to him, “I pray that the day will come when you and your wife will look back on this as the greatest thing that ever happened to you.”
Only God could work that kind of divine alchemy.
Only He can turn the scars into stars.
But for that to happen, we have to give the pain to Him and wait upon Him. Some nights we just have to get through, and there is no going around them.
His schedule is not ours. The waiting can be brutal.
Dr. Dale Oldham, a celebrated pastor and radio preacher for the Church of God for many years, used to tell how he and his wife Polly were struggling in their first pastorate. They were overjoyed when they learned they would become parents. After months of excitement and planning, the day arrived. But the child was stillborn. They were devastated. Polly turned her face to the wall, Dr. Oldham remembered, and refused to be comforted.
“Lord,” the young pastor prayed, “it’s so difficult. We have worked for you so faithfully; we serve this church for starvation wages, and we were so excited to be having a baby. And now this. Lord, it does seem you could have let us keep our baby.”
Eventually, he was able to pray, “But Father, I know You. I know You could never do a mean or hurtful thing. So I’m going to give this to You. We will trust You to use this for Your glory.”
Only then was Dale able to go to Polly and comfort her.
“I cannot tell you,” he would say to his hearers, “how many times over the years I have ridden in the funeral procession with a young family having to bury a child. I have been able to say to them, ‘Give it up to Him. Trust Him even when you don’t know why. Just trust Him.'”
I do not know O Lord, why it should be Thy will, for me to walk this valley road so filled with pain;
I do not know O Lord, why it should be Thy will, for me to suffer loss when I had prayed for gain;
But I do know Thou wilt not let me go; Thy way is always best, no matter what the test;
And I do know if I’ll but trust in Thee all the darkness soon will pass and I shall see.
(Those are lyrics to a gospel song I learned to love over 50 years ago and haven’t heard since.)