In my last post I shared something from some years ago in my life, now I jump to a very present struggle – sin. It’s not like this is something I’ve just started struggling with recently… it’s been a permanent problem! These last few weeks I have been remembering things God taught me through illness, and learning them again as I continue to wrestle with sin.
One of the things I have found most discouraging with illness, is the way that suffering exposes our sin. When I am tired or in pain, my patience levels plummet, I can be irritable, grumpy, joyless, selfish, struggle to pray or praise God, the allure of self pity becomes very strong, and I can be more critical of others who have “lesser problems”. This is NOT because of the illness. This is because of my sinful nature. The circumstance does not produce the sin, it merely exposes it. I just no longer have the energy to hide the sin that is in my heart.
This was incredibly depressing! I used to wonder is this the “real” Hephzibah coming out now? Maybe this selfish, prideful, irritable person is who I truly am?
Perhaps here you see the combination of truth and lie…?
Truth – I am a sinner in need of God’s grace (daily!) The sin that is exposed is really mine! It is not the fault of anyone or anything else. I sin because I am sinful. Fullstop. And suffering sometimes exposes the true state of my heart in a way nothing else does – and it’s not pretty.
Yet is this who I am?
Peter wrote about this in his first letter:
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7
Here Peter is talking about the effect of suffering on our lives, and the way God uses it to refine and purify us. I can tell you now, that the sin exposed in me when I suffer makes me feel anything but genuine and pure. But then I started thinking about the process of refining. Very simply, it is where gold is heated and melted causing the impurities within to separate and rise to the surface… Now, hold that picture there… That sounds very much like what suffering does to us. It causes the impurity hidden within to rise to the surface. At this point the gold will look uglier than before. And if the refining process stopped there, it would only result in ruined gold. And indeed, without God’s grace, this is what suffering does – draws out the ugliness in our hearts and brings it to the surface. But with nothing to then remove it, it remains ugly. Without God’s work in us, this would be where it ends – ruined gold.
… But God!…
But God reaches into our mess and skims the dross off the top. He purifies. He does not leave us. If we will allow him to work in our lives, if we will be soft and pliable in his hands and have the humility to submit to his work in us, and if we will respond to the conviction of His Spirit with repentance, then he uses suffering to draw out, expose, and remove our sinfulness!
He sees past the dross on the surface. He sees gold. He sees precious gold worth refining and purifying. He sees all that he has made us to be, all of the image of God that He had placed in us and that he longs to see unmarred by sin.
I have shared from the perspective of physical suffering. But there are many other trials that God can use the same way. I have been incredibly challenged and inspired by a friend recently who has a difficult and hurtful family situation. It has exposed sin and weakness in her, yet she has taken responsibility for her actions, and through every challenge she has persistently sought God and His way. And from a circumstance of hurt and anger she has grown in gentleness, forgiveness, strength, and grace.
God can use anything to work in us. It does not even have to be any great trial to expose our sin… It may be an irritating child, not enough sleep last night, a morning of minor frustrations, a hurtful word or inconsiderate comment, too much noise, or a disappointment in our lives. Anything that exposes the sin in us is also an opportunity for growth.
My prayer is that, as I see Him expose the ugliness of my heart, I will both take responsibility and acknowledge that my sinful nature is the source of this ugliness, but that I will also rejoice in hope that beyond the ugliness and sin is gold that is being purified and refined to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ for all eternity!
I pray that you too will be encouraged, brothers and sisters, to look to and live for the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you!
Because of Jesus,
Illustration by Valerie Martin