Suffering That Strengthens Faith

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2–3)

Strange as it may seem, one of the primary purposes of being shaken by suffering is to make our faith more unshakable.

Faith is like muscle tissue: if you stress it to the limit, it gets stronger, not weaker. That’s what James means here. When your faith is threatened and tested and stretched to the breaking point, the result is greater capacity to endure.

God loves faith so much that he will test it to the breaking point so as to keep it pure and strong. For example, he did this to Paul according to 2 Corinthians 1:8–9,

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 in ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

The words “but that was to” show that there was a purpose in this extreme suffering: it was in order that Paul would not rely on himself and his resources, but on God — specifically the future grace of God in raising the dead.

God so values our wholehearted faith that he will, graciously, take away everything else in the world that we might be tempted to rely on — even life itself. His aim is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence that he himself will be all we need.

He wants us to be able to say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26).

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From John Piper’s Future Grace, page 347

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The Love of Christ

I know people who have said: ‘I would follow Christ, but I do not think I can keep it up. I do not trust myself. I think he’d get tired of my failures.’ Please look at him in the garden. Look what his love for you has already enabled him to endure for you. If he had turned away from suffering and the cross, we would have been lost, but he didn’t do that. Hell came down on him, and he would not let go of us. His love for us has already taken everything that the universe could throw at it and it held fast— and you think that you are somehow going to upset him? Is Jesus going to look at you and say, ‘Well, that does it! Infinite existential torment was one thing, but I can only take so much!’? If this suffering did not make him give up on us, nothing will. So Paul can essentially say, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ’ (Romans 8: 38– 39). The Lord says, ‘I will never leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).

This is the love you have been looking for all of your life. This is the only love that can’t let you down. This is bombproof love. Not friend-love, not personal acclaim, not married love, and not even romantic love – it is this love that you are after, underneath all your pursuit of those others. And if this love of active obedience is an active reality in your life, you will be a person of integrity; you will be a person of prayer; you will be kind to people who mistreat you. If you have this love you will be a little more like him. Look at him dying in the dark for you. Let it melt you into his likeness.

~ Tim Keller (from The Obedient Master)