I look up to one of my greatest sisters with unfathomable admiration. By looking at her baby blue eyes and gentle, glowing smile, you’d never guess the terror she’s seen. She’s experienced horror that I could never endure. Yet her faithfulness to Jesus surpasses that of many friends that I have who’ve never gone through such trials. What an encouragement that is to my faith.
There are times when experiencing hardship makes us more aware of God’s presence, but there are also times when the suffering causes us to doubt God’s nearness. We, as believers, forget who He is, that He’s promised never to forsake us (Joshua 1:5). Sometimes doubt grows so loud that it even causes some people to lose faith.
But what about those who’ve faced such anguish yet continue to cling with a death grip to the Jesus?
It should encourage us, revealing the faithfulness and realness of God.
In the Scriptures, we’re told that while Paul and Silas were traveling throughout Europe, they were preaching the Gospel of Christ and making disciples. They were unashamed and bold in their faiths, so much so that while in Macedonia, they were brought to the chief magistrates, accused, and stripped of their clothes before beaten with rods. They were then thrown into prison.
What would I have done? Wailed. Screamed. Questioned God. Doubted His nearness and goodness. Yes, I very well may have lost faith. But that’s not what Paul and Silas did.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25
WHAT!? Singing hymns? I would not have been worshipping after being beaten with many blows and imprisoned. But they trusted the Lord. Their faith was strong. And what more?
They taught the message of salvation to the jailer and his household, and they were saved.
“Then they spoke the message of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house….and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household.” Acts 16:31,34
And ya wouldn’t believe what they did when the Lord delivered them from the prison in the morning: continued traveling and sharing the good news.
What’s my point? Think about this: seeing that they were able to endure such pain and persecution, yet remain steadfast in Christ and in the mission He’d given them, what does that say about God and who He is? Would you be beaten and imprisoned, cursed at and taunted, isolated and hated, for a God that you didn’t trust, or let alone believe existed?
Either you wouldn’t, or you’re crazy.
Paul and Silas (along with the many other soldiers of God who have endured strife) were able to do this because they believe so strongly that He is real, and that He is who He says He is. Otherwise, they would have gone through a whole lot of trouble for nothing.
So what does this mean for us? It means that we can be encouraged by our brothers and sisters, observing their unflinching faith in the Lord even through all of the trial they’ve faced; that we can trust that He is real, because who would go through such horrors for a non-existent, untrustworthy God?
Not only can we be encouraged, but we can be the encouragers. We too, when we undergo suffering, yet fasten ourselves to Christ without wavering, are testaments to His absoluteness and credibility. Yes, there are people who will be watching – especially nonbelievers – and waiting to see how we will respond to God when we are experiencing trouble.
In the same way, we are testaments to who God is and that He is when we don’t feel Him, yet continue to praise and follow Him. We aren’t experiencing Jesus the way that we want to, whether that be visions from the Spirit, or tingles up and down your spine from the knowledge of the Holy Ghost piercing through your soul, or tears sliding down your cheeks from the overwhelming truth of what Christ has done for you on the Cross. What does it say to the rest of the world, to unbelievers and believers, when we continue to worship and seek Him despite feeling that He’s distant?
The Lord is intentional about everything that He does, even when He seems to have cut off His presence from us. He doesn’t allow us to feel Him for many reasons, and one of them I truly believe is to use us as a testament to who He is, and that He exists.
“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For by it our ancestors were approved.” Hebrews 11:1