Practically every conversation I’ve had in the last week has contained a phrase like, “These are strange times.” Strange times, indeed.
Never in our lives have we walked through so much uncertainty. Our health, careers, and security all seem to be dangling on a precarious cliff. Regardless of how much news you consume, the future remains uncertain and unpredictable.
As a follower of Jesus, I’ve pondered, “How should I pray?” For several years now, my heart has been burdened for revival. As a nation and as a Church, we have wandered so far from the fear and care of God, becoming arrogant in our assumption of self-rule. We don’t deserve God’s blessing and healing. Instead we cry out for His mercy.
Do you find it ironic that a microscopic virus has brought the world to its knees? The greatest minds and most powerful rulers are helpless to stop its rampage.
My one prayer for us as individuals and for our world is this: “God, don’t let us waste this pain.”
I don’t believe that pain is arbitrary. As the book of Job illustrates, pain and loss have invisible spiritual purposes.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” How do we hear and respond to God with this megaphone of pain?
One of my favorite Bible passages has become Hebrews 12 because it gives us both perspective and direction when we experience hardship.
We often read Hebrews 12 without remembering what comes right before it—Hebrews 11, the Hall of Fame of Faith. I live very close to the NFL Hall of Fame. Many years ago, I visited this iconic museum. It consists of display after display of the most celebrated athletes of our time. You can see film clips, read biographical sketches, and experience other echoes of football heroes who lived decades ago.
I imagine a wide-eyed child touring through this Hall of Fame with dreams of similar glory. Perhaps he asks his father, “How can I become like that?” The answer: Many years of sacrifice and training!
In a similar way, Hebrews 11 recounts the great men and women of faith and the ways in which these imperfect people lived through difficulty by trusting in God. Having just toured this hall of fame, we are prompted to ask, “How can I become like that?” The answer? Many years of sacrifice and training!
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”
You see, God’s Hall of Fame of Faith is still being written. His eyes search the earth for those who would say, “Come what may, my eyes are fixed on you, Jesus.”
Our coach in Hebrews 12 tells us that we become such people of faith by the way we handle great hardship. In fact, trials like the ones you may currently be facing are the training and testing ground of faith. The coach calls it divine discipline of a loving Father.
“As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as His own children … God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.”
A potential football player spends years in strict training and preparation, undergoing grueling workouts to strip fat and build muscle. In a similar way, our faith grows when we are stripped of all of the distractions that keep us from knowing Jesus. We need to be reminded of the sins that so easily trip us. Often this work is done only in sobering moments like the one with which we are now presented.
“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”
Pain doesn’t always make us better people. Not everyone who walks through an illness or job loss clings tighter to Jesus. In fact, pain can turn us away from the Lord rather than toward Him. And so our coach in Hebrews gives us instruction on how to be sure that our pain is not wasted.
At first, his advice seems aspirational, but not too practical. “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.”
What does this mean? Our coach is referring back to his earlier words. We set our gaze on Jesus. We resolve as David, Job, Joshua, Habakkuk, and Paul once did, “I will put my trust in the Lord. He alone is my salvation.” We accomplish this by disciplines like meditating on His word, spending time in worship, and seeking encouragement from other believers. Just like a football team spurs each other on during training, we remind one another where our gaze is fixed.
Our coach becomes more specific as he instructs us to work at living in peace and honoring God with our choices. He tells us to watch out for our teammates and to stomp out roots of bitterness and immorality. All of Scripture is a training manual for us in this pilgrimage of faith (2 Timothy 3:16)!
But here’s the point, my friend. God is doing something in our world, in our Church, and in our communities. There is a difference between punishment that crushes and discipline that refines. That difference is determined by how our hearts respond to hardship. Will we repent and submit to the sovereign God, asking him to work all things together for our spiritual growth? Or will we waste our pain by succumbing to the fear of COVID-19?
I pray for me. I pray for you. I pray for our world. Lord, please don’t waste this pain.
Here are some very practical things you can do today in the training camp of holiness and faithfulness:
You may also find these resources helpful:
God Says Not to Judge … Right? (blog)
Drowning in Shallow Christianity (blog
Java with Juli #192: Engaging in Restorative Relationships
Java with Juli #265: The Hard (and Hopeful) Truth About Losing a Spouse (member exclusive)
When Your Greatest Fears Come True (webinar; member exclusive)