Whenever God works in our fallen world, there is friction, and when He works in us, we are the ones who feel the heat. It can be excruciating at times, so much so that we often don’t have the heart to keep going. The aching weight of life is too much for our fragile hands to carry. And we long for a way of escape. But what we often forget is that the greatest blessing comes only with the greatest difficulty.
Consider Joseph. In dreams, the Lord showed Joseph a glimpse of how He would make him great one day. But the pathway to the fulfillment of God’s promise didn’t look too promising. It began with a strained relationship with his brothers that culminated in their selling him as a slave. Imagine the rejection he must have felt as he was carried away by strangers to a pagan land.
But God was with Joseph, and even as a slave, God blessed him and gave him favor with his master, Potiphar. Everything seemed to be going well until Potiphar’s wife tried yet again to persuade him to commit adultery with her. As usual, he refused. He would not sin against his God. But this time, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape, and his master sent him to prison. His job and his reputation had been stripped by one person’s lies. Where was God’s justice?
Still, the Lord was with him, and the chief jailer entrusted the running of the prison to Joseph. Joseph worked faithfully in the prison, and then the day came that looked like freedom might finally be within reach. Pharaoh’s cup bearer had been thrown into prison. After being troubled by a dream, he shared it with Joseph, and Joseph interpreted it for him: the cup bearer would be restored to his position. Joseph explained to the cup bearer how he had been sold into slavery and then imprisoned unjustly, asking that the cup bearer mention his case to pharaoh. It must have seemed like the perfect opportunity for God to deliver him. But the cup bearer left and promptly forgot about Joseph for two whole years.
In the end, God did great things in Joseph’s life. Pharaoh appointed Joseph a ruler in Egypt, second only to himself in authority. And God used Joseph to save the land of Egypt and his own family from a seven-year famine. In retrospect, God’s grace is written on every page of Joseph’s story—in the hatred of his brothers that sent him to Egypt as well as in the deliverance that God ordained through him. Joseph’s will to do good work no matter where he was and his commitment to God in the face of temptation paid off. Through all the years of pain and waiting, God had been with Joseph, laying the groundwork for great things.
Samuel had anointed David with oil, signifying that David was God’s choice to be the next king over Israel. But it would be many years before God fulfilled this promise. And although the waiting started off on a good note—favor with Saul and victory over Goliath and the Philistines—this was only the beginning.
The victories that God gave David early on were quickly overshadowed by betrayal. His king, Saul, who had loved him so much at the beginning and whom he had faithfully served, became his enemy. Saul embarked on a campaign to hunt David down and kill him. Many of the psalms express David’s anguish as a man continuously on the run, but they also express his relentless leaning upon the mercies of God. Despite the fact that David encountered opportunities where he could have killed Saul, he refrained. He respected God enough to know that God would accomplish His promise in His own way and time, and that it would be a grievous sin for him to take the life of the king God had set in authority over him.
Even when God finally fulfilled His promise to David, the fulfillment came borne on the back of sorrow. Any relief that David’s long-time enemy was finally out of the picture was complicated by the fact that David had actually loved the man. Saul had been his king, and they had been close before Saul succumbed to his jealousy and fear. And worse, Jonathan, David’s dearest friend and possibly the only person who understood David’s heart for God, was among the fallen. The sweetness of God’s deliverance was mingled with the bitter taste of loss.
These are only a small sampling of the troubles that David faced in his lifetime, but his perseverance under the weight of trouble was not wasted. In the end, God gave David a title far greater than that of king. Inscribed eternally in the pages of His Word, it reads, “David, son of Jesse, a man after my heart,” (Acts 13:22).
The greatest suffering the world has ever known happened at the cross. Jesus faced a death that any of us would find formidable—being beaten beyond recognition and then pegged up naked for the world to mock. That cruelty alone would devastate. But Jesus’ agony went far beyond the physical.
For the first time, God the Son, who had been unified with the Father for eternity past, felt the weight of condemnation. His spirit must have throbbed as He sensed His Father’s displeasure. Judgment was about to fall, and it was the guilt of our sins, not His—sins so contrary to His unfailing goodness—that brought the wrath of His Father down on Him like fire.
With the world above glaring and the world below mocking, Jesus died alone. There was no God above to walk with Him through the valley of the shadow of death. His dying words were ones of anguish: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
Jesus had seen this moment coming. Every step of His earthly life had brought Him closer to this purpose. And yet as the time came, Jesus agonized over the prospect. He cried out to God, pleading with His Father to deliver Him from this suffering—if it were possible. If not, He would accept it.
Why would Jesus willingly subject Himself to such an excruciating death? He could have called it all off (not that He ever would have), but He didn’t. He obeyed the Father. He looked beyond the suffering to the joy that it would accomplish. Our Lord did the hardest thing that has ever been done, but in doing so He secured the hope of salvation for mankind—the greatest blessing in all of human history.
Life is hard. Sometimes the pain swallows us like a black hole. Sometimes we get lost, wandering through night after night, looking for the sun. Sometimes we forget the happy ending, hidden in the promises of God, far, far away. And we wonder—does God really have a purpose in all this?
But you know what? God has given us examples—stories of real people who followed Him, people like Joseph and David—to prove that there is purpose in the pain. These people faced dark times too—fear, loneliness, rejection, physical pain.
But they kept going.
Step by step by step, they kept walking through the darkness, and God was with them all the way, placing their feet in the right places at the right times so that He could accomplish His plan. And what He did with them was always far bigger and far more amazing than anything they could have planned or accomplished for themselves. They were blessed.
God wants to bless us too. The troubles of today are not meaningless. In all of our circumstances, God is at work, crafting a story that blazes with His glory. We don’t know how the plot will twist and turn or how long the conflict will last, but we do know that He writes glorious endings for those who choose to trust him through it all.
“And you will know that I am the Lord; those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame,” (Isaiah 49:23b).
We are weak people. Too often, we are overcome by our own troubles. We can’t see a way out of our misery. We forget that You are strong and kind and fiercely loyal to Your people.
But You are.
You love us beyond our comprehension. If you gave Christ for us, how could you hold anything less back? What You give us is good for us. Always. We rest in Your love.
Teach us to follow You in dark places where we cannot see. Help us to trust Your power to bring beauty out of pain. Give us the grace to live even our hardest days for You. Strengthen us to resist every temptation because we love You.