Christianity and theology

A Review of God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison

Crossway asked me to consider applying and joining their Blog Review Program. I gladly did and was approved hence from time to time you will see or read reviews of their books on this blog. I trust and pray that these reviews will be helpful to you as you consider reading or recommending books. My reviews will focus more on books about Bible studies/devotions, spiritual growth, theology, Christian living, Christian leadership, and pastoral ministry. God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison is my first review in this program. Crossway has provided me with a complimentary copy of the book.

One wise and godly man once noted that there are always three groups of people in this world. Those who are just coming out of hard times, those who are passing through hard times, and those who are about to enter into hard times. He was very right. We are all acquainted with suffering, pain, sorrow and hardship. None of us is immune to it and God never promises immunity to suffering even for his own children as David Powlison rightly observes at the beginning of his book, God’s Grace in Your Suffering.

However, although God does not guarantee immunity, he does assure and provide his children with grace and help in their suffering. This is the point that Powlison is driving home in his book by answering two key questions: “When you face trouble, loss, disability, and pain, how does the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ meet you and comfort you? How does grace and goodness find you, touch you, work with you, and walk with you through deep waters?”

Powlison ably answers these questions by taking the reader through the verses of that famous hymn which is a favorite to many Christians, “How Firm the Foundation.” As he makes his way through the hymn Powlison also shares his personal experiences of how the truths of the hymn have positively impacted him. Although most words of the hymn are direct quotes from the Scriptures, the book could have failed miserably if it focused on the hymn alone. But I am thankful that Powlison takes us beyond the hymn to the Bible itself and to the Christ of the Bible as the true source of encouragement and comfort in our trials.

Another recommendable thing about God’s Grace in Your Suffering is that it is very practical. Powlison has endeavored to accomplish this by engaging the reader and asking probing questions that enables the reader to apply the truths of Scripture to his own situation. True to its own assertion, this book is a workshop of an afflicted soul.

I think I would be right to say that when passing through hard times one has no time for jargons or hard reading and would greatly appreciate a book that hammers the nail right on its head. Powlison has also managed to do just that in this book. God’s Grace in Your Suffering is an easy reading yet full of profound truths hewn from the ever-trustworthy word of God.

 

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My Life as a Christian

Lecture #3: The Minister’s Fainting Fits

In this lecture, pastor Spurgeon discusses depression in the life of pastors and indeed we might extend these truths to the life of every Christian. He notes, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually as cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

Spurgeon observes five reasons that would cause depression in pastors.  First, they are human. “Being men, they are compassed with infirmity, and heirs of sorrow.” Secondly, as humans most of them are in some way or another unsound physically. By this he implies physical challenges especially sicknesses. Thirdly, he notes lack of enough rest from studying and work. A painter takes care of his brush but often a pastor ignores to care of his important tool, the brain or mind.

Fourthly he observes the following: “Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without, sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied, consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. How often on Lord’s Day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.”

Lastly he notes: “Our position in the church will also conduce to this. A minister fully equipped for his work, will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond and apart from others. In the ranks, men walk shoulder to shoulder, with many comrades, but as the officer rises in rank, men of his standing are fewer in number. There are many soldiers, few captains, fewer colonels, but only one commander-in-chief. Like their Lord in Gethsemane, they look in vain for comfort to the disciples sleeping around them; they are shocked at the apathy of their little band of brethren, and return to their secret agony with all the heavier burden pressing upon them, because they have found their dearest companions slumbering.”

Basing on his personal experiences, Spurgeon goes on to highlight moments that pastors are prone to be overcome by depression.  “The times most favorable to fits of depression, so far as I have experienced, may be summed up in the a brief catalogue. First among them, I must mention the hour of great success. When at last a long-cherished desire is fulfilled, when God has been glorified greatly by our means, and a great triumph achieved, then we are apt to faint.” He illustrates this point with the life of Elijah who gave in to depression soon after a great victory for the Lord on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18-19).

Secondly, “Before any great achievement, some measure of the same depression is very usual. Surveying the difficulties before us, our hearts sink within us. The sons of Anak stalk before us, and we are as grasshoppers in our own sight in their presence. The cities of Canaan are walled up to heaven, and who are we that we should hope to capture them…This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison.”

Thirdly, “In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor, the same affliction may be looked for…Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we. Hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when he said to his disciples, “Let us go into the desert and rest awhile.” What! When the people are fainting? When the multitudes are like sheep upon the mountains without a shepherd? The Master knows better than to exhaust his servants and quench the light of Israel. Rest time is not waste time.”

Fourthly, “One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. Judas lifts up his heel against the man who trusted him, and the preacher’s heart for the moment fails him. We are all too apt to look at an arm of flesh, and from that propensity many of our sorrows arise.  Equally, overwhelming is the blow when an honored and beloved member yields to temptation, and disgraces the holy name with which he was named…the trials of a true minister are not a few, and such as are caused by ungrateful professors are harder to bear than the coarsest attacks of avowed enemies. Let no man who looks for ease of mind and seeks the quietude of life enter the ministry; if he does so he will flee from it in disgust.”

Fifthly, “When troubles multiply, and discouragements follow each other in long succession…If there was a regulated pause between the buffetings of adversity, the spirit would stand prepared; but when they come suddenly and heavily, like the battering of great hailstones, the pilgrim may well be amazed.”

Lastly, “This evil will also come upon us, we know not why, and then it is more difficult to drive it away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings.” Spurgeon emphasizes that in this case just as in all the other cases, our only hope is in Christ. “The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and hold our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back; and when that hand is seen we cry with the  Apostle, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4).”

Wrapping up the lecture, our professor has the following words of wisdom. “Be not be dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.  Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsake not his saint.

“Put no trust in frames and feelings. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a falling world. Never count on the immutability in man. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers.

“Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide.”

Please mark these words of comfort from pastor Spurgeon: “Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head (God). In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.” Amen!

Taken from Lectures to my Students by C.H. Spurgeon

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Christ our Victory

Sometimes when things are not going on well, we are tempted to question if Christ is really in control. These are the times when all things seem to be falling apart.

However, Christ has a sure word for us in such times. In John 16:33, he tells us: “In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world.”

It is assuring that Christ is not hiding the truth from us. He, clearly, tells us that in this world, we will have trouble.  As a Christian you are not immune to hard times. Tribulations and difficulties will surely come your way. But “But take heart,” Christ says, “I have overcome the world.”

In these words, we have the assurance of victory. Because Christ has overcome, we will also overcome through him.  Victory is ours in Christ Jesus. As a matter of fact, Christ is our victory. Therefore, take heart.

I believe it is out of this realization that Rev. Martin Luther King could say: “And now to Him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the valley of despair to the mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to Him be power and authority, forever.”

So, don’t doubt it, Christ is still in control and he alone is our victory.

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