Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.
You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
–Psalm 119:67-68, 71-72
We do not want to suffer. However, there are things in life which seem to require suffering as the price, and some for which that price is worth paying. Obedience to Jesus is worth suffering to learn.
I contracted COVID-19 this past week, and as I write this, I am in isolation. It has been an uncomfortable sickness, made more anxious by the looming possibilities of breathing complications. If I knew that those things would not occur, I would be much more relaxed. I have asthma and had a tough respiratory sickness in January. I do not know what will happen—which is an important place to be. I am convinced God teaches us and grows our faith by putting us in places where we do not know the outcome.
The apostle Paul was imprisoned for his faith while he wrote Philippians. He did not know if it would end with his release or execution. Paul told the Philippians, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this (his imprisonment) will turn out for my deliverance, that Christ will be exalted in my body whether by life or death” (Philippians 1:19-20). Without knowing the outcome, Paul was able to say with confidence that his imprisonment would turn out for his deliverance and Jesus would be exalted. If he lived, it would be for fruitful work that would honor God. If he died, it would be gain to be with God.
Now in my case, most likely I will make a full recovery. Even the uncertainty I am feeling is a blessing. This taste of suffering, as Psalm 119 says, can have a valuable role in teaching me to obey God. I know many of you have suffered in significant ways this year. I pray the fruit of that hardship is a closer walk with Jesus.
One day, we must remember, you and I will not recover. It will be the last moment or the last sickness. I want to be ready to die well. One way a pastor’s job can be described is to be the means of helping others die well with hope in Christ. I pray that you are ready. If we know Jesus, to die will be gain.