Every so often, I come across a hymn which gets the Christian life with all its joys and mourning. The following hymn was written by John Newton and is a beautiful testament to the Lord's purpose in sending us difficulties and afflictions:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
I don't want to comment too much on this, instead letting it speak for itself. But there are a few things I want to say. In the first verse we see an earnest seeking after God, there is no better prayer than the one of a Christian who is seeking to grow because within that prayer is a recognition that we fall short of what we should be. We need to grow in faith, love, grace and knowledge of salvation because our faith is often small, our love temperamental, our grace depleted and our knowledge light.
And we do always hope, as in verse three, that we would find such a growth easy. After all, it's such a good prayer to be praying, surely the Lord will answer it with great blessing. But then we often find that instead of finding rest we come close to despair; instead of peace we feel the evils of our heart; instead of blessing we seem to find the Lord's hand against us.
We ask to grow thinking we ask for blessing and ease. The Lord answers our prayer for growth by sending on us the difficulties and afflictions we actually need to grow - he "blasts our gourds" as Mr Newton so wonderfully puts it. The fact that the gap between our opinion of what we need and God's opinion is really another testament to how little we know ourselves. For really, the Lord is blessing us by his tender discipline of us to wean us from the vain world and fix our eyes more firmly on Christ.
My final reflection is simply that the outcome is worth the cost. If we do find growth in our faith, hope, love, holiness, and closeness with God and if sin, pride, and obsession with earthly things decline then this is a great answer to prayer. If growth comes at a heavy price then let us bear it with good courage and trust that it is not in vain. If through great hardship we find more of our all in God then that is to our lasting joy and God's glory.
Think back to past difficulties; yes, they were hard and we often, perhaps, despaired. But what did they achieve? Did you not end up closer to God? More reliant on him and less on yourself? Was not some sin uncovered and dealt with? Did it not humble you? Did the Lord not achieve much good? And if he did this all in the past; has he changed? Will he not also bring good from your present suffering?
"And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son." Hebrews 12v5-6