Recently I saw a pleasant picture of Puritan pastor John Bunyan in an antique store and was reminded of this one man’s sacrifice and the lessons we can learn from his life. Bunyan was born in Elstow, England on November 30, 1628. England was coming into the midst of great division over things religious and political.
Bunyan was caught up in the religious persecution and imprisoned in the Bedford County Jail from 1660 until 1672. At any time he could have secured his release by promising not to preach. But with a wife and four children (one blind) at home, he refused the demand. His life was marked by a constant difficulties, personal loss, and intense persecution.
How did Bunyan respond to this painful life? Better yet, how should we respond to what seems like senseless suffering, distress, difficulty? What are the possibilities in pain?
Read Bunyan’s own words:
“Doesn’t God often take advantage of the hardest things that come to us, using them to visit our souls with His Spirit’s comfort, leading us through them into the glory of His Word, making us taste the love He has had for us from before the world began? Think about these things—and then let us learn to kiss the rod that disciplines us.”
The early church leader Paul wrote, “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself!’—2 Corinthians 12:7. Paul learned to “kiss the rod.” Here are truths from that passage that can help us during our time of suffering:
We kiss the rod when we see that difficulty restrains arrogance in us.
Paul clearly understood that this pain in his life…this “torment”…this “blow with a fist” had a real purpose to restrain his personal pride. Bunyan also felt he could not do without these holy arrangements. We are a blessed people. So suffering is necessary for us, just as it was for Paul and John Bunyan, to restrain our pride.
We kiss the rod when we see that difficulty restores grace to us.
Paul begged the Lord for relief. In that relief Paul may have known personal sufficiency, but only in pain did Paul experience God’s sufficient grace. We kiss the rod because without it we see God only in the distance. Pain is a magnifying glass that reveals the glory of God.
We kiss the rod when we see that difficulty perfects power in us.
Only in the web of weakness is power perfected. The word for “perfect” means to bring close, to finish, to perform, to accomplish. God cannot perfect us until He wounds us. Although weakness is seldom praised by others, it is powerfully used by God.
We kiss the rod when we see that difficulties exalt Jesus in us.
As Paul (and Bunyan) became weak, Jesus became strong in their lives. This is the principle of depletion. When we decrease, Jesus increases. John the Baptist showed us that truth.
What can God do with our pain? You may remember the book The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s not Bunyan’s only book, but only the Bible rivals the popularity of The Pilgrim’s Progress.
But George Whitfield said of The Pilgrim’s Progress, “It smells of the prison. It was written when the author was confined in Bedford jail. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory then rests upon them.”
In our difficulties, God does His finest work. And in our difficulties, we discover no other work matters.
QUESTION: What has God produced in you during your season of suffering?
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