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Recap: 1. You are not the main character, God is. 2. God has a plan, it’s for good, and it will be accomplished in your life.
3. God wants to use your suffering
Another theme that shows up often on this blog is God’s redemption of our pain and how He uses it for good. Pastor Israel brings out three ways God uses our suffering for our good and for His glory: in the universal church, in the local church, and in our own lives.
In the universal church
The purpose of the universal church is to be presented to Christ. Brothers and sisters, in this universal plan, your pain and my pain, what? Perhaps it doesn’t matter that much. Now I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter to God, be careful. In the universal plan, of presenting the precious and perfect and purified and washed church to Christ, God is going to use whatever He needs to with the church in order to bring her to that point.
Pastor Israel goes on to provide an illustration from a nearby place along the river called Lavadero, where women used to wash clothes in the river. The rocks are curved, not flat, because of all the years of clothing being scrubbed on those rocks. The cleaning process was abrasive and rough on the clothes, but it was the only way to get them clean.
The objective of all that God is doing is not your happiness. There are some who want to claim that, “Happiness is the goal of Christianity.” I’m really sorry, that’s not the goal. The goal is that the church be purified and washed.
In the local church
You are also a part in the work of this local church. Everything that happens in your life on the first level affects the universal church, on the second level affects the local church. And I repeat—and we don’t like to hear it—but the local church is above the individuals. If God has to step on individuals in order to perfect the local church, He’ll do it. If God has to bless in order to perfect the local church, He’ll do it.
Pastor Israel gives a rather humorous illustration of a common soldier in battle: when the soldier twists his ankle and falls, does he call a ceasefire and ask for the fighting to stop so his buddies can carry him off the field? No, because he’s a small figure in the bigger war, and he doesn’t have the authority to end the war.
In the same way our pain is only a small part of the bigger picture, and this bigger picture–the church–is under God’s direction, not ours.
God is working a plan in your life, and you form part of this church. Which is why we ought to understand that our actions also affect the church. . . . The things we live personally as individuals, as husbands, as wives, as neighbors, as family members, as employees, at the end, God wants to use it to edify this church.
Everything we go through, good or bad, God can use to edify and help His church.
In your life
And of course, everything we go through can be a useful tool in God’s hands to cultivate our own spiritual growth–but only if we have the wisdom and humility to seek out and understand what God wants us to learn. Pastor Israel says,
Do you know what happens with this part about the plan for our lives? That sometimes we deceive ourselves with this. When we pray to God, we say, “Lord, show me the plan that You have for my life.” And I suspect that sometimes, we don’t understand what has happened in our lives.
Absolutely each thing that has happened in your life, if you are a child of God, you ought to look back and say, “I learned from this, God shaped me through this.” Not everything, because there are things we’ll discover when we’re in His presence. But when God has hurt you in your life, cry to God for Him to teach you why and for Him to teach you what use this pain has in the life of the local church and in the life of the universal church.
Personal pain can turn into good for everyone. . . . And the pains of the past become comfort and edification to the church in the present. For this reason you should cry to God for the wisdom to understand the pains of the past that have come. Perhaps if we hadn’t gone through pain, we wouldn’t put our total trust in Christ. Perhaps if life had always smiled on us, our faith today would be weaker. God wants to use what He has done in the past.
Pastor Israel also points out that God isn’t the only one who wants to use our pain–Satan wants to use it too, but to destroy us and to hurt the church.
He wants to burden you with the weights of what has happened and that your entire life be marked by what has happened in the past. Without understanding, without forgiveness. With a heart full of bitterness against God. With a fist raised to heaven saying, “God, you are bad.” This is what Satan wants to do.
When you’re looking at the darkness of your valley, whose nudges are you going to follow: those of the master deceiver who wants you destroyed, or those of your Heavenly Father who loves you eternally?
Takeaway: Ask God to help you understand what He’s doing in your life. Reach out to comfort other hurting believers with what you’ve learned. Don’t let Satan’s lies weaken your trust in God–instead, cling to your Heavenly Father no matter what’s happening in your life.
I love how Pastor Israel concludes his sermon:
Why? We return to the beginning. Because you’re a part in this and what occurs in your life affects the church. Joseph was simply a part in the story of reconciliation. And that’s why when we look at Joseph, we don’t have to worship or give glory to Joseph. We admire him because he was a great man. But behind him was God.
Like Joseph, you’re just one small part of God’s larger work. Like Joseph’s, your suffering is part of God’s unassailable plan for good. Like Joseph’s, your suffering can be used not just for your own growth but also for the benefit of others around you.
And behind us–behind it all–is God, working all things, even those meant for evil, for good.