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Is There Blessing in Suffering?

All right, you are listening to this podcast in the last week of August. I am recording this podcast near the end of July, anticipating my recovery from my third brain surgery for a compressed nerve in my brain. I don’t know, as I record this, exactly what shape I’m in as you’re listening to this in the fourth week of August. But after two brain surgeries on this same exact nerve, I kind of have a sense that no recovery has been exactly the same. They’ve each been a little bit different. I suspect that this third one will be the case. But with what I know from the previous brain surgeries is that by this fourth week, I’m starting to get back to normal. I’m scheduled right now in July to be returning to a full ministry schedule at the first of September. I’m scheduled to be back preaching on the first Sunday in September. The Lord knows how all that will work out, and as you’re listening to this in the fourth week of August, I don’t know exactly what that looks like from there. But from here, that’s what the plan is. And so I hope here in July that as you are hearing this, things will be a lot better. I don’t know if the problem will be resolved. I’m having this surgery because the doctors told me I have to have the surgery to resolve the problem. More than believing them, I believe that the Great Physician is going to use this to help me and to heal me. I have a lot of confidence in Christ. And yet I don’t know. I’m not certain I’m going to have to go through this journey as I think about going through another journey of physical suffering and recovery from the suffering of surgery to try to deal with the suffering that I’ve had with this nerve. I’ve been thinking about the blessings of suffering.

There are a lot of blessings in suffering. I feel like my life has been one of learning the divine blessings that God gives when you go through hard times. If there’s any lesson from the life and ministry of Jesus, it is that the path to glory and the path to blessing is always through the path of suffering. Jesus Christ is the most glorified individual in human history; he’s the most glorified individual that will ever be because of his suffering and death for sinners. Jesus tells us that if he suffered, we are to expect suffering. We learn in the book of Hebrews that Jesus endured his suffering for the joy that was set before him. We go through suffering with the promise of blessings. And I feel like I could speak to you for a very long time about the blessings I have learned that accrue to those who endure suffering. We don’t have all the time in the world, so I’m just going to talk about one of those blessings. It is in Psalm 119:71. I love this verse. Listen to what it says. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Now, that’s a shocking verse. That’s a shocking truth. It talks about affliction. It talks about pain and turmoil and suffering, it talks about brain surgery and spasms and pain, and it talks about cancer and all the rest all those things that fit into the category of affliction, abuse, and mistreatment and all the things. It says it was good for me that I was afflicted. It doesn’t say affliction is good. It doesn’t say affliction is righteous. It says that God, in the midst of affliction, is doing something amazing. It’s doing something to demonstrate his power. It says that in the midst of affliction, God performs a miracle, and he brings about something good; he brings about a blessing.

Suffering Pushes You to the Word

In Psalm 119:71, the blessing is when you get afflicted; you learn the statutes of the Lord. One of the blessings of suffering is for all those faithful people who have turned from their sin and trusted in Jesus. The suffering brings you closer to Jesus. It doesn’t push you further away. The suffering drives you deeper into the word, not pushing you away from the word. I mentioned that, as I record this, I’m anticipating the third brain surgery. These surgeries are not fun. I don’t want to have them. When I first learned in late 2019 that surgery was going to be the only fix for this problem. And we started visiting other neurosurgeons to try to get other opinions, and we kept hearing the same thing. When we agreed on a surgeon and we agreed on a date, we did it because we thought that surgery would fix it. Well, I woke up from that first surgery, and I was better for a little while. But after a few months, my symptoms came back and were worse. Then we started talking about a second surgery. And we did the second surgery because we thought the second surgery would fix the problems that the first surgery didn’t. And so we went back to surgery, and I woke up from the second surgery. The moment I woke up, I’m telling you, my symptoms were worse than they’d ever been. My first conscious thought when waking from the second surgery was that I was way worse than I was before. There was an explanation for that. And we went through the recovery period with the promise and the hope that things would get better, and it didn’t get better. It didn’t get better; my problems have gotten worse. Now we’re having this third surgery with a different doctor, a different neurosurgery team at a different hospital, with the promise that these guys really will fix the problem. But I wouldn’t do it if they weren’t certain that they could do some good. And yet I know that there are no guarantees in this life. There are no guarantees in modern medicine. And you look back, and you say, oh my goodness, here’s this guy, and you’re getting ready for a third surgery.

By the time you’re listening to this, I’ll have had the third surgery, and you’re doing it because the first two were failures, right? I want you to know that the first two surgeries were not failures. Did they fix my medical problem? No, they didn’t fix my medical problem. But the Lord is in sovereign control of my life. The Lord is good. The Lord loves me. The Lord wants my good, not my ill. The Lord has plans to prosper me, not to fail me. He led me into those surgeries. Why? Well, that wasn’t to fix my problem. As I record these words, before the third surgery, I’m having a pretty significant spasm as I speak to you, and I’m hurting right now while I speak to you. The surgeries didn’t fix my problem. But Psalm 119:71 does not say, it is good for me that I was afflicted so that I might get fixed in this life. It’s not what it says. It says it’s good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. I did not get healing on the other side of my previous surgeries. I don’t know, as I record this, if I have healing on the other side of the third surgery. But amazing things happened in the aftermath of those surgeries. Each time I encountered the Lord in his Word in powerful ways. Between the first surgery and the second surgery, I read the Bible through completely. I’m committed every year to reading the Bible from cover to cover. And in between those first two surgeries, I read the Bible from cover to cover with insight and with closeness with the Lord like I’d never experienced before. One day, I’m going to tell you all the things that the Lord showed me in that year. Part of it in recovery, but in that year of searching the Lord in his Word, I’m telling you, I know I know the Word of God better. I know God better because of those months of recovery. And then, after the second surgery, I did the same thing again, I read the Bible again. I prayed through the Bible and had specific concrete passages that I was praying through. I’m telling you, the Lord showed up in ways that were so meaningful and so precious, I have to tell you that I don’t like the surgeries, and I don’t want to have any more. But if you told me you have to have a surgery a year, and you’ll know the Lord that way, it would be worth it. And I would do it. What I discovered in the Word and how I encountered the Lord was so precious to me that it’s worth 100 surgeries.

Growth in the Word

The Bible says it’s good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. This is a guarantee. Not that there’s healing on the other side of our suffering, not that there’s healing on the other side of a first, second, or even a third surgery. This is a guarantee that when you suffer, God is going to guide you in the Word. He’s going guide you into a deep relationship with him, and you’ll know him, and you’ll know his Word better. There’s something that God does to meet with us in suffering that is so precious that it can only happen when we are weak and afflicted. I just want to speak to you from my heart today. As you listen to this, I’ve got a clearer picture of where I am on the road to recovery. As I record, I have no clue, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to be afflicted. I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow in my relationship with the Lord and to grow in my knowledge of the Word because one of the precious blessings of suffering one of the great graces of affliction is to grow in the Word of God, and that growth is worth any price and any surgery.