A friend brought a book to my mind today, Thomas Boston's book A Crook in the Lot, or The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God in the Afflictions of Men Displayed. I picked it up to read this afternoon, since it also relates to the theme of tomorrow's sermon.
This is the opening paragraph:
"A just view of afflicting incidents is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment under them; and that view is to be obtained only by faith, not by sense; for it is the light of the word alone that represents them justly, discovering in them the work of God . . . . When these are perceived by the eye of faith, and duly considered, we have a just view of afflicting incidents, fitted to quell the turbulent motions of corrupt affections under dismal outward appearances."
The implications of that paragraph are stunning.
1. We will not suffer rightly or well unless we view our sufferings in the right way. "A just view of afflicting incidents is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment under them." One reason suffering gets wasted on us is because we adopt the wrong perspective on it. The only way to fully benefit from trials is to adopt God's perspective on them.
(I say "fully benefit" because who knows how God might use sufferings to help us, even when we're going astray in our thinking. After all, he does discipline his straying children, see Hebrews 12).
2. But we cannot view our sufferings in the right way without faith. "That view is obtained only by faith, not by sense." When we attempt to use common sense or mere reason to figure out what God is doing in and through our trials, we're bound to go wrong in our thinking. How much more will we stray, if we are governed by our emotions, "the turbulent motions of corrupt affections under dismal outward circumstances." In other words, human reason and emotion alone will always lead astray in assessing our sufferings. We must have faith.
3. But faith is dependent upon God's Word. "That view is to be obtained only by faith, not by sense; for it is the light of the word alone that represents them justly, discovering in them the work of God." Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ. The word begets faith. When faith is absent, it is because the word has not taken root in our hearts. Which means that we cannot expect to suffer faithfully unless we are constantly conforming our thoughts and affections to Scripture.
4. The only way to bring our minds and emotions under control when we're suffering, therefore, is to fill them with the truths of Scripture. "When these are perceived by the eye of faith, and duly considered, we have a just view of afflicting incidents, fitted to quell the turbulent motions of corrupt affections under dismal outward appearances." We simply must give time and attention to Scripture, if we want to suffer with faith.
I have seen people suffer incredible hardships well. There are people in my life right now who live with tremendous pressures and ongoing trials, and do it well. And, I have seen myself wilt and wither under stresses that are insignificant in comparison. Why the difference? Because sometimes (not always, by God's grace), I fail to to keep God's perspective. I fail to believe.
What are your trials? How are you handling them? If "turbulent motions of corrupt affections" are bringing you down (emotions, that is, such as fear, despair, anxiety, depression, anger, and worry), perhaps it's because you are not exercising faith.
Look to the Word. Only there will you get God's point of view on your afflictions.