Some days my suffering felt as if I were sitting next to Job in sackcloth and sharing his ashes.
"Pass me that clamshell there Job, I need to scrape this boil."
Also like Job, there were times when God was so close I could smell the sweetness of His breath on my shoulder. Up there on the spiritual mountain, where His presence is so real and loud, it's easy to have faith. But the bulk of my growth, in a spiritual sense, didn't take place there. It took place in the difficult valleys of hardship.
As anyone could imagine, I wasn't enjoying those low points in life. I certainly wasn't having any fun in the midst of those tough circumstances.
Suffering through a separation from my wife thirty-five years ago, I lost my means of employment as well. I became a pauper and a social outcast. Even my church family shunned me.
What happened? How did I go from the exhilaration of sharing glorious moments with the creator of the cosmos, to here? I was stuck in that dismal place, where jagged gray rocks of loneliness, emotional pain, hard toil and suffering were my clinging companions. I was quickly feeling rather disillusioned. Had God failed to follow through with His promises? Was He unfaithful to His word?
Once a person experiences the ecstasy and elation of close fellowship with Jesus, they forever seek to reproduce that experience. Nothing else can measure up to that wonder and joy. And I was having trouble finding my way back up that mountain to where I could feel those wonderful sensations again. I'd had a taste of spiritual heroin and I was instantly addicted to the Lord. His love is like no other.
"By night on my bed I sought him who my soul loveth: I sought him, but found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him but I found him not." (Song of Solomon 3:1-2 KJV)
I had yet to unravel the splendid mystery of truth, which lie right there within me. Desperately I would try to manipulate circumstances, cramming them together in the shape I was certain would bring back that sensation of nearness to God. Heaven is perfect and so my circumstances must be perfect if I hoped to attain that paradise. Though I'd never actually assembled those words in my mind, that's what I thought; my actions proved this to be my belief.
Fervently I prayed and fasted, pleading with God to ease my suffering. I was weak. But it would be through the weakness, and in the hardship, that I would come to discern His strength and comfort, because of those storms. You see, He had never left me. I just couldn't feel Him. I've never seen God, but I've seen His omnipotence at work and felt Him most powerfully.
How did I eventually perceive His working in the bad times? How did I come to feel His powerful presence while beneath the black clouds of stormy circumstances? It was the same way that in spirit I stood face to face with God the very first time, up on that glorious mountain of elation. It was through faith, mixed with knowledge from His word.
Immediately upon coming to Christ and placing faith and trust in Him, grace is bestowed upon the believer. That first encounter will be forever cherished as a wonderful epiphany, the apex of elation and joy. It is upon that first moment of standing in close proximity with God, that because of our faith, God reveals Himself to us in all His loving character and divine virtues. Instantly all of the promises of God are ours; the promise of eternal life, the promise that He will never leave or forsake us, and the promise of peace that goes beyond all earthly comprehension. In a nanosecond the entire myriad of promises for supernatural benefits are delivered unto us, the fruit of the Spirit, the hope and joy and strength and comfort. The list goes on and on. It's a package deal and all these things come along with salvation.
When I first purchased a new laptop, which had been preprogrammed with all sorts of software, I had no idea what to do with most of that stuff. I didn't even know how to enter data onto a spreadsheet. But I owned it. All those programs were mine. I simply had to learn how to access and utilize them. I'd bought a package deal. And it was the same for all of those precious promises of God. He'd delivered them to me the very first moment I decided to believe and trust Christ as my Savior.
I'm now able to do a lot of things on my laptop, which previously I never dreamt possible. I have the power of those technologies at my fingertips. And I am now, finally, learning to access and benefit from all those promises I've received from God as well. I'm becoming adept at finding His presence within the storms of life—within the hardships. Sometimes, He even allows me to perceive some of His jaw dropping purposes in allowing those difficult circumstances to come upon me.
If I never knew how lifting weights would increase my strength, I certainly wouldn't waste my time and wear myself out like. That work would be for naught. But I do know, and so I lift weights. That's what my hardships are for too—only the difficulties are spiritual weights—to strengthen my faith in God and teach me how faithful, trustworthy and able He really is. And there are more reasons that only He knows. But we don't need to know everything. It is enough to be convinced of God's faithfulness. He is trustworthy. Life experiences through the eyes of faith, combined with the knowledge found in God's word allows us to experience that closeness to God always. That elation and joy can be ours regardless of where we are or what we are going through.
God's word equips us for every contingency in life. (See 2 Timothy 3:15-17) It is a part of the package deal of salvation, just as my computer came with an operator's manual. When we begin a new life in Christ, it is necessary to learn and grow before we can benefit from all of the glorious benefits of God. Every Christian already has all they will ever need. It is merely a matter of learning to use it. Life experiences, whether times of elation, or hardship and suffering, are all a part of learning to wield our faith, trusting Christ in every circumstance.
"Have you seen the one my heart loves?" (Song of Solomon 3:3b NIV)
"His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem."
(Song of Solomon 5:16 KJV)