In the series entitled "The Sovereignty of God and Suffering" by Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr., he said something outstanding about his special needs daughter whom he had recently lost. He said that she had not come for them to teach her, but she came to teach them many things about themselves. As some of you may know, Dr. Sproul, Jr. lost his wife to cancer not long ago, and he has also battled cancer which is currently in remission. I cannot think of anyone better to speak on the subject of suffering than this man. That statement about his special needs daughter jumped out at me. Indeed, I can identify with what he stated. As a family, we learned more from Branson than we ever taught him.
God's plan for us is to grow us into the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. When we become a Christian, we do not have an instantaneous transformation into a mature, stable, godly believer. I wish that were true, but it is not the way in which God works. I confess I do not always understand God's ways and scripture backs me up on that point: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). So, if someone told you that coming to Christ would take all your troubles away, they were sorely mistaken.
Jesus Christ clearly told us that this life would be full of trials and tribulations, but He also told us to take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Rather than looking at our difficulties we need to look, instead, at the lessons God is using to refine us. He is, after all, the potter and we are the clay.
As I spend time talking to others in our congregation who have lost children, grandchildren, spouses and other relatives, I have found a common thread. While the loss is heart rending at the time, God has used it to deepen their faith, move them out of their comfort zone to reach out to others who are also grieving, and to pour their energies into serving the Lord. Certainly, the loss of a loved one means we have all the more reason to look forward to heaven.
Yesterday, I encountered a brother in the Lord at the grocery store. He and his wife are caring for special needs children which they have adopted and as we shared about Branson's life, he said something I think is so wise. He said that we focus too much on this brief life that we have here and now and do not think about heaven with the anticipation we should have in Christ. That is true. When we focus on our loss, it keeps us from looking forward to all that God has in store for those who love Him. So what can we learn when we go through suffering and loss?
First, we learn to pray. Dr. Sproul, Jr. said that he and his family spent a good deal of time in prayer talking to God about the circumstances they faced. Our family has done the same. For every crisis that Branson encountered, we developed a deeper prayer life.
Secondly, we come to acknowledge that we may never know the "why" of things that happen, but we know that God is sovereign in all situations. From the beginning, Dr. Sproul, Jr. and his wife knew that their daughter Shannon could die at any time. Yet God made her unique and precious by His design as He did Branson. These special children brought special joy and happiness. As Dr. Sproul, Jr. said so well they come to teach us how to live and how to love.
Finally and most importantly, we learn to praise God in the storms of life. In fact, we are drawn closer to Him and to one another as we huddle together to weather the loss. We turn to the Word, to our church fellowship and find great relief in worshipping Him. He has the answers we seek, so we lean upon His everlasting arms and praise Him even though we do not fully comprehend His ways. Again it comes down to trust in Him, and we are learning this more every day.
At this point, we take every day one step of faith at a time. I highly encourage you to go to Ligonier Ministry and download the free podcasts on "The Sovereignty of God and Suffering". There is so much wisdom and encouragement in this series for any going through the trials of living. We must remember that God brings good out of all that Satan means for evil. Look to Him for the answers and the lessons we need to learn in every situation. Selah!