Suffering deepens and enriches our experience of grace in ways that can only happen by suffering. Oftentimes suffering is the tool that God uses to stir up a passion for Jesus and the gospel that has grown cold. I don’t need to suffer to understand and believe the gospel, but I’ve noticed a pattern in myself and in others close to me with similar experiences in their own gospel wakening, where suffering in some form is what God brought into our lives to gently awaken us to the sweet aroma of the gospel and a renewed passion for the beauty of Jesus. Sometimes he brings us back to our first love by the tough things we go through and the ugly things he lets us see in ourselves. But even then, he is gentle and compassionate. Look at this description of Jesus from Isaiah.
…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3)
Sometimes God bruises us to give us eyes to see things and a heart to love things that had we not been bruised, we would never perceive and understand from the heart. Sometimes he bruises us to deepen our love for him and our compassion for others. Our bruising gentles us down and magnifies Jesus in us. But even in our bruising, he is kind, compassionate, and gentle. Isaiah’s description of Jesus is comforting because in my bruised condition, he will never break or destroy me. There are times when my wick may be dimly lit and little more than a faint flicker, but he’ll not put it out. He takes this bruised reed and smoldering wick and fans it into a new flame that is unlike the old one. I like what Jared Wilson said about this in his book, Gospel Wakefulness,
Puritan writer Richard Sibbes captures the sanctifying work of gospel wakefulness well in his classic book The Bruised Reed when he writes: Let us remember that grace is increased, in the exercise of it, not by virtue of the exercise itself, but as Christ by his Spirit flows into the soul and brings us nearer to himself, the fountain, so instilling such comfort that the heart is further enlarged. Sibbes is not talking about conversion in this instance…. He is writing within the context of depressions like grief or pain or despondency, so what he is referring to is how God works in and through our “bruising” to bring us closer to him, to make us more dependent on him, and to “enlarge our heart.” That is a good phrase for gospel wakefulness. In conversion we receive a new heart, a resurrected heart. As we abide in Christ, the fruit of the Spirit of that new heart results in qualities dead hearts do not produce—things like kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, patience, etc. Our hearts get larger. They suffer what Thomas Chalmers calls “an expulsive power of a new affection.” In the gospel wakefulness God often grants in and through moments of intense bruising, our hearts undergo a growth spurt! Maybe, like the Grinch who didn’t really understand Christmas at first, our heart grows three sizes in one day.
Those moments of intense bruising do lead to a growth spurt of the heart as it is captured in new ways by the grace of God and a deepened experience and interaction with the gospel. These are things only God can do as Jared Wilson reminds us,
Really, there are only two steps to gospel wakefulness: be utterly broken and be utterly awed. But neither of these things are things you can really do. They are things only God can do for you….For many of us, Jesus won’t be our absolute treasure until we are out of options.
From my experience, he is right. When we are bruised by grace, gentled down by suffering, and our hearts are enlarged with a renewed affection for Christ and the gospel, the only thing I lose is another piece of my ugly pride. It’s a win-win!
Is it possible that God is trying to stir up revival by a gentling of us? Is it possible that the only thing really ruined is human pride and self-confidence? -Jack Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader