Spurgeon Audio: The Sweet Uses of Adversity

You will all perceive at once that there must be love even in this apparently angry word; that this contention must, after all, have something to do with contentment, and that this battle must be, after all, but a disguised mercy, but another shape of an embrace from the God of love. Carry this consoling reflection in your thoughts while I am preaching to you; and if any of you are saying to-day, “Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me,” the very fact of God contending with you at all, the fact that he has not consumed you, that he has not smitten you to the lowest hell, may thus, at the very outset, afford consolation and hope.

Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 283: “The Sweet Uses of Adversity”

The title of this sermon is truly countercultural. I say that because I don’t know of any culture that embraces, loves, and celebrates adversity. Hard times are rarely anticipated with the same kind of excitement as a day at the beach or a family holiday. Certainly the kind of adversity seen by Job would not be something anyone would see as a joyful experience that they would desire to pass through.

Therefore we can understand Job’s anger and his sharp words. God’s mercy shines through in that, rather than ignoring an impertinent question or even more justifiably, punishing such a creature, He hears Job’s words and (as we’ll see in later sermons and as we work through the book in Scripture Sunday) even answers him. Whether that answer is satisfying in a human sense is up for discussion in a later episode as well.

Job the self-justified

If you’ve been listening along as we’ve read through Job on Scripture Sunday, you’ve heard the increasing frustrations of Job and the befuddlement of his friends as they try to apply their notion of retributive justice to God’s actions in Job’s life. His friends insist that Job surely must have done something wrong, because after all, God doesn’t do things with no purpose or with malice. Job insists that he has done nothing, and rests his increasingly self-righteous anger on his own actions.

How often do we wrestle with these same ideas about God? The old question “why do bad things happen to good people?” has gotten the response from Christians that “That only happened once,” because of course we recognize that there has only been one truly good man, Jesus. But this isn’t a satisfying answer for most, and I don’t think that should be surprising, because that kind of answer doesn’t actually help us wrestle with the bigger questions that press on us each time we watch the news.

In a world ruled by a just, holy, and good God, why do babies die? Why are children born into third-world nations with not enough food, clothing, or medicine, only to starve to death or die of a disease that hasn’t appeared in the rest of the world for decades? Why are innocent civilians in Yemen losing everything as war consumes their country? Why are innocent civilians in the United States losing everything because of a turn down the wrong street, an encounter with the wrong person, the wrong thing said?

We look at these horrors of our world and we look at ourselves, and I think it’s safe to say we often feel like Job is fully justified in his frustration: “I know I’ve never done anything nearly bad enough to warrant this. Why is this happening? Why doesn’t God hear us?” The psalms are full of similar laments, aching cries to understand even as the psalmist admits they will never know the full wisdom of God.

The answer is not simple

We don’t get a nice, clean answer to this either in the book of Job or elsewhere in the Bible, outside of this: these things happen because our world is stained by sin, and its child death follows gleefully behind. Yet as Christians, we ought to be sure that the standard by which we engage these is not following after the ways of the world. I have seen people trying to wrap the faith up in ideas that are borne of the angry cynicism of the world towards injustice, while lacking true faith in God’s eternal and perfect justice. Look to Paul’s words in Romans 8:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25, CSB

I’ve been reading a book that Jarod recommended to me, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings. He writes this book as he battles a form of incurable cancer, and his struggle with this issue is palpable. I am not finished, but I have been tremendously ministered to by this book. In one section he speaks to the struggles Job and his friends have with viewing God’s justice as purely retributive. Job believes he deserves good things because he does good things. His friends believe, if he’s receiving bad things, that must mean he’s done something bad. But Pastor Billings wrestles that idea into perspective:

While sometimes a rigid form of retribution theology makes us search for what we did to “deserve” a tragedy (in retrospect), at other times it relates more directly to how Christians view the future. Many Christians don’t seem to expect to suffer–assuming that if we are “good Christians” who “obey God’s will,” then we might face obstacles, but not great tragedies that appear senseless. But in this form as well, the book of Job breaks through our illusions, for it “shatters the myth that our own righteousness can protect us from unjust suffering.” God has not given us a bargain such that he would spare us of unjust suffering if we seek to obey his will. To the contrary, in Jesus Christ, we are called to take up our crosses daily and follow the path of the One who was unjustly crucified.

Rejoicing in Lament, by J. Todd Billings, p.25

This is why on Kings Highway Radio, Jarod and I have been so insistent on the importance of Scripture as the foundation upon which we must build our lives and our views of who God is and what He is doing in our lives. Left to our own devices we can find ourselves “tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” I see this so often as Christians struggle with how to engage the world’s discussion and debate surrounding issues of race. We find ourselves torn apart as we find one side or another more appealing, and we lose perspective on what Christians must keep central: who Christ is, and who we are in Him.

Job’s only hope

Though Job is deeply confused about his righteousness compared to God’s, he does know where his hope ought to lie, and that will be the subject of the next sermon in this series. For those who look to their Redeemer, suffering is a transformative experience that leads us to greater faith and hope, and “hope does not bring us to shame” when it is fixed on the perfect Object that is Jesus and Him crucified.

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Scripture Sunday: Job 19 thru 21

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“I know that my redeemer lives.” These are the words of Job we hear in this passage that ring through the millenia into today, and that Christians everywhere echo in their times of suffering and doubt.

Listen in and be sure to listen to the companion sermon series on Spurgeon Audio as we dig into the deeper questions raised by Job and his friends.

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Spurgeon Audio: Satan Considering the Saints

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Put not your trust in anything beneath the stars; remember that “Change” is written on the fore-front of nature. Say not therefore, “My mountain standeth firm: it shall never be moved;” the glance of Jehovah’s eye can shake thy mountain into dust, the touch of his foot can make it like Sinai, to melt it like wax, and to be alttogether on a smoke. “Set your affection on things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and let your heart and your treasure be where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal.”

Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon 623, “Satan Considering the Saints”

The weight on the hearts of believers everywhere is of a sort that I don’t know we’ve experienced in the lifetimes of any but a few currently living. We have become accustomed to individual struggles and sufferings, but it seems to me that few of us have a real concept for mass or cultural sufferings that is actually our own.

For Western Christians we have been used for a long time to having the sufferings we face be more limited in that way. Though our culture may regard us with a general side-eye of distrust, they don’t actively oppress or persecute us. Though they may say silly and ridiculous things about “hate” regarding our theology, they don’t turn away from hospitals with denominational names emblazoned across the front. And we have enjoyed, for the most part, a great deal of liberty to worship our Lord. Many have preached the gospel boldly and at the same time sought to encourage human flourishing by demonstrating that a culture that may disbelieve, yet still practices life in line with His commandments at least to some extent, succeeds and enjoys the benefits of His grace more than one that practices pagan unbelief as a matter of course.

Now we are face to face with what is, at the very least, a time of extreme discomfort and uncertainty, which threatens to grow into a time of greater disease, possibly followed by poverty, and a loss of many freedoms as well as lives. Like with Job, it seems to have come upon us rather suddenly. I know personally, I was spending the beginning of this year making plans for what I wanted this year to include, only to see so many of them dashed to pieces as businesses closed and all the ways we have been able to divert ourselves suddenly are shuttered.

Yet even though our whole culture is affected by this suffering en masse, each individual has their own particular story. I wanted to take this time, as we all walk through the frustrations and losses and heartaches that each of us finds ourselves assigned to in this time, to point to the story of Job and his dark night of the soul, as it were. I know my tendency when encountering hard times is to grit my teeth and just try to sit it out until it goes away. I am willing to bet that experience is true of a lot of people out there.

Job the Faithful Servant

The book of Job is one that I think is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. I would encourage that if you haven’t watched it already, you should take a few minutes and watch the Bible Project’s video on the book:

The Bible Project: Job, from the Wisdom series

Job is found in the Bible alongside Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as a part of the wisdom literature. It isn’t set in an identifiable time period, although it is explicitly set in a land that was not Israel (the land of Uz), and Job was ostensibly not an Israelite. Whether or not he actually existed is unknown, but the story of Job ties together the other two wisdom books in a way that Solomon’s wisdom could not: a man who walks in the way of the wise in Proverbs seems to be reaping instead the fruit of the way of the foolish, prompting him to begin to experience the frustration and cynicism of Ecclesiastes as he pours out his deep pain to his friends.

What is more remarkable is the fact that we see clearly that God has, in fact, allowed his suffering! There is no room for debating the control God may or may not possess over evil in this narrative. We see God on the throne, allowing the enemy latitude to attack a man who God regards as a faithful and beloved servant. The question is: why? We tend to view suffering of this sort, if God is involved at all, as something that is targeted at the deserving. Surely Job is who God says he is: a faithful servant who walks in His ways joyfully.

Refining fires

Without spoiling too much of what is to come as we get further into the book, I want to set the theme for everything by pointing far past it deep into the words of Paul to the Romans: “All things work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.” This sentence is a load-bearing beam in the house that is the truth of Christ we call our home, if one is truly a believer. It is not my design today to answer all the questions I have set out about Job, but rather to lay them out before you. I would propose that we all spend time considering them in light of our current experiences, and lay upon them the truth of Romans 8:28.

This is not light work, but neither is it dreary and joyless. On the contrary: when suffering comes, when the enemy has been loosed to wreak havoc, we as believers must take heart in two key truths. First, as Charles Spurgeon noted, the enemy is on a leash. The Lord may give him latitude but every blow he strikes will fall short of its mark, and in fact will serve the devil’s opposite purpose: it will sharpen and refine you, as the Lord brings before your eyes the idols you may have been clinging to until this time. Let them go and let them burn, and rejoice that God has not let you keep them.

Secondly, in the end we will see His purpose and know His glory in ways we cannot fathom now. Just as Jesus went to the cross for the joy that was set before Him and in full disregard for any earthly shame that hung on such a death, so those of us who follow after Him endure our own particular sufferings in faith that He is so much more beautiful and valuable than anything here on earth, and so much more worthy of our worship.

I hope that this series will be an encouragement to my listeners, and be sure to follow along with the Scripture Sunday podcasts as we continue to walk through the text of the book itself. Those of you who are engaged in hardship, I would invite you to reach out for prayer, whether in the comments below or through email.

Support and notes

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In addition, if you would like to help us build out our work here, please consider becoming a supporter of ours on Patreon. Three dollars as month is all it takes, but I caution as always not to give if it will impact your ability to support your local church.

Scripture Sunday: Job 7 thru 9

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We are continuing through the book of Job, as we see Job’s lament and frustration with his suffering rising. His friends continue to insist that he must have sinned in a way to anger God and bring evil on himself, yet Job insists that’s not the case.

Have you experienced this in your own life? How have you worked through it? Please leave comments or feel free to email and we will pray for and encourage you. As we continue through Job both here and on Spurgeon Audio, we will try our best to wrestle through this question we all wrestle with: why do bad things happen to those who don’t seem to deserve any of it?

If you like this translation you can purchase your own CSB Spurgeon study bible.

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Episode 57: The Glory, Unity, and Triumphs of the Church

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Our first consideration should not be, “Now I am here, how can I be comfortable?” but “I am here, how can I please others for their good? How can I relieve the distressed, help the weary, or cheer the sad?” It is a grand thing to do good in little ways. It is a glory to be the sweetener of life at home, the self-forgetting friend of all around. The world before long confesses that Christ is in such a man. The true Christian is Jesus Personified.

Charles Spurgeon, sermon 1472: “The Glory, Unity, and Triumph of the Church”

This sermon was honestly one of my favorite ones to read so far, and especially so because it’s rooted in such an important passage in my favorite book of the Bible, the gospel of John. Likewise, it has also been a tremendously convicting one in many positive ways, and I would echo my good brother’s words in that I “confess that I have not yet attained all that I have said to you.” Indeed, I feel that I am a lot farther from that than Charles Spurgeon would have been at this time in his life. But it is in pursuit of that, that we all continue to run towards the cross as we do.

And it is of that unified goal and unified struggle that I want to continue speaking on in this podcast. I want to look at two passages that sit heavily on my own heart. As Charles Spurgeon said in this sermon, I as much as anyone else am very sensitive to the ways in which I have fallen short, and must trust to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit for my desire to grow more in step with these words of Scripture. The first passage, like our sermon text, is from John, the words of Jesus:

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 CSB

The second is from Romans 12, where Paul talks about the outworkings of this, what it really looks like for the disciples of Jesus to love one another:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But
If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing
you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21 CSB

Unity in grace

This is why unity has to begin with the gospel and therefore work out into our lives; our works must bear the fruit of our faith. So how is it that we can live in such a way that we may reflect that need, in such a way that we can carry out the words of Paul, while engaging with each other over issues that bring deep divides, in calling for repentance from sin?

We must realize that it is entirely God’s grace that we have what we are able to enjoy in this life. And, we must look to showing that grace out in how we use what we have in light of the human divisions that we still have. I think that it’s important to lay a foundation of love and service. And I have to press myself most of all on this: where am I seeking to directly serve and share with those whom I disagree with, to display our brotherhood that runs deeper than an opinion? Where am I hiding from either my own sin or from speaking to a brother to encourage him to repent of his own? Where am I failing to love a brother or sister? Where am I being lazy in seeking to root out the hypocrisy of my life? Where am I not hating what is evil and not loving what is good?

Unified in abundance and in suffering

The struggle is real to remember the unifying factor of the cross between believers. What’s the difference between engaging error or heresy, and being a divider of the brethren? It seems to be a fine line, and all the harder to discern when the primary mode of engagement is 280 characters a pop rather than seeking to truly know someone. It won’t be my place to try to establish that in full here (though there will be future episodes of King’s Highway Radio to discuss some of the issues that bring that division). But let’s look at a few of the things from those passages just to get an idea of what I think it should look like:

Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. These words of Jesus lay the standard from the beginning: Himself, and His love. What greater example of the self-sacrificial love is there than Jesus giving Himself up to the horrors of death by crucifixion? And after that, His loving forgiveness and restoration of Peter for his betrayal, displaying the depths of His mercy not as simply an impersonal setting aside of wrong, but of a personal act that transforms the hearts of His people in ways that we can scarcely consider.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. This is truly a challenge in our modern world, where the idea of something being evil or good is convoluted beyond belief. Indeed, the words of Isaiah in “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” echo throughout the world today. But let’s take a moment to think about, how do we apply these words to a situation where sin has entered into the life of a member of our church?

What is evil? This sin is evil, and its destructive power is clearly seen in the impact it’s having on the life of this person and those around them. I don’t think I need to be more specific than that to have anyone listening to me be able to instantly bring to mind an example they’ve personally experienced. We are to detest it, to abhor that sin, to hate it and desire its destruction. Yet we are also to cling to the good, to hold fast to it and not let it go. What is good? It’s what we remind that struggling saint of in calling them to repentance. It’s the foundation that we as believers have to call out sin in the world as a whole: we are made by God, in His image, and it is that image that shines through and demands to be seen in the light of His glory. Sin dims that glory, it takes what is beautiful and turns it into an evil mockery of God’s goodness. We are to hate that evil, but to love the good and call for repentance on that foundation: let your lives be made not on twisted sinful distortions of God, but truly in His image, seen perfectly in the person and work of Jesus.

Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Finally, let’s truly rely upon God in all circumstances. The pain of persecution was fully upon the early church often, yet they endured it in the hope that was rooted in Christ and poured out in them through the Holy Spirit. Their rejoicing was in the finished work of Jesus, but also in knowing that they had a hope that was stronger than any meager temporary reprieve from discomfort the world might offer them. And this is the conviction that rests on my heart, that I’m going to share with you all now: am I truly being patient when affliction comes, or am I griping and groaning under it until it passes? Am I persistently seeking the Lord in prayer, or am I being lazy in exercising this amazing right I have as a child of the Living God to enter His throne room and seek His face?

Brothers and sisters, I think we all need to wrestle with these questions, yet in hope, not in despair. Do we fall short? Then trust Jesus. Cry out with the words of the father of the possessed boy, “I believe, help my unbelief!” God is happy to hear our cries and always gives good gifts to His children.

Conclusion

So here’s my challenge to my brothers and sisters in Christ: let’s apply these words to our walk, to our conversation, to our thoughts. I hope we will all put ourselves into positions to be accountable to our brothers and sisters of our local church in seeking holiness and obedience in showing this love. We cannot separate God’s love from holiness, or vice versa. Let’s encourage one another in showing gracious love through enduring the suffering of this present life, knowing that we have a hope that shines far beyond anything we could ever have in this world.

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Episode 52: Susie – An Interview

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A few months ago I heard about an upcoming book from Moody Publishers, a biography on the wife of Charles Spurgeon. Naturally I was excited as that sounded exactly like the kind of thing I should be reading and talking about. I went on Amazon and set up a preorder and then, on a whim, sent off a note through the book’s website to see if I might get to talk with the author for the podcast.

Not only were they able to arrange an interview with the author, Ray Rhodes Jr., but they were also gracious enough to send me a review copy to read ahead of time and prepare. I wound up absolutely loving the book, and still purchasing another copy to give to my mom.

This book is a detailed and well-resourced biography, but it is also a devotional in the life of someone who knew a great deal of both joy and sadness, success and suffering, and who walked through all of it by God’s grace through faith. The book is wonderfully detailed both with lots of notes referring to other sources for the interested researcher, as well as many pictures of locations and people surrounding the Spurgeons and their work to minister to the heart of the city.

The book is chronological but not strictly so, and focuses on different threads of events within a particular issue in particular chapters rather than trying to be strictly chronological. This makes it a little easier to understand how different events work together, as the author revisits where one event started to talk about how another one began.

I can’t recommend this book enough, and if you are looking for a gift for someone who enjoys reading this is a wonderful choice. You can follow the link below to an Amazon page to order, but of course there are many sources you can purchase this book from:

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon at Amazon.com
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Episode 37: The Novelties of Divine Mercy

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Read the full sermon text at Spurgeon Gems

I want to again thank all of you who have been patient through this last hiatus, and especially for those of you close to me who have been actively praying for and ministering to me during this time.  This was not a “I’m just really busy” hiatus.  I mentioned in the last episode that there was some turmoil ongoing, and unfortunately it ended in the worst possible way: my wife and I are no longer married.  I have no intention of divulging more information than that, but to answer the questions I know many of you concerned will have: yes, this is the end of a process that involved church elders and it is something that was not entered into lightly in any way.  I will not say more than that, out of respect for privacy.  Those of you who do know us, I appreciate your constant prayers and the loving support that you all have shared through this.

I’ve waited to continue this podcast and blog until after everything was officially finalized.  I plan to move forward continuing to trust God in my darkest times, continuing to pray for Jessica, and continuing to rely on the support of His people.  I am particularly grateful for the godly men and women who have gathered around me to minister to me through all this.

The fact is that this has been a deeply tragic event for me, and I have struggled with understanding it and with my own emotions, both in trying to figure out exactly how I should feel and think, as well as finding constructive ways to work through my deeper feelings.  I have been hurt down to my deepest parts, and I have lost my partner.  The pain I have had to endure, the sadness and anger, has been of a kind I can scarcely hope to describe meaningfully.

But as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, I do not grieve as a person who has no hope.  Through all of this, God has held me steady and been true to His promise to provide a way of escape from the temptation to sin.  I picked this sermon because the chapter it is from, Lamentations 3, was a strength to me in this dark time.  It is a reminder that even though God ordains the darkness, it ultimately serves to the purpose of greater joy when the light comes.

I won’t say that the light has reached me yet, at least in this matter.  I will say that God is good, and God is gracious, and I will trust Him with each new step in life.  To my listeners who have similar struggles, I would say to you: Do the same.  Trust in the goodness and mercy of God.

I have had a few people talk with me about this that clearly expected me to have become embittered towards Jessica in particular, and towards the institution or concept of marriage in general.  But I have no intention of letting a root of bitterness grow down into my heart towards either, for several reasons: Firstly, because that would be an incredibly selfish position to take, that would make my marriage all about what I want and what I get out of it, rather than glorify God or honor my wife even in the aftermath of all this; secondly, because I am aware of the ways in which my own sinfulness has contributed to this regardless of other circumstances and such an attitude would be completely unrepentant and un-Christian on my part; and thirdly, because I have not become a different person as a result of this.  I still desire to represent Jesus with the way I live and work and speak.  I still want to grow in love, and in the grace and knowledge of God–even more now, I would say.  I still want to put my sin to death.

On a purely personal level…this has been the most tragic time I’ve walked through in my life.  I am deeply grateful to those who have gathered around me during this time, to hold me up in my weakness, to remind me of my true strength in Jesus, and to pour out love onto one who was feeling deeply unloved.  But this has been the darkest moment of my life, and I have had to continually turn to prayer and to the strength of my brothers and sisters to help me deal with the enormous weight I have felt upon my shoulders.  I have been wrestling day by day with the myriad ways I have sinned and contributed, and having to drag it to the foot of the cross each time.  There has been no time for self-pity.

All of this may seem very vague in a sense to many, and honestly it should.  Those who need to know more details of my and Jessica’s personal lives know them.  To the rest of the world, I would simply ask for prayer.  I intend to press forward into Jesus regardless of anything else.

To those listening who are facing darkness, for whom hard times come hard and fast, and who are feeling the weight of despair on their shoulders: I want to urge you, do not hesitate.  Do not hide in the dark, because there you will only find more of what afflicts you.  Turn to Christ, and run to Him.  Make yourself and your struggles known to His people, to those who can love you and gather close to minister to you in those times.  The reason the Scriptures are so full of good texts to apply to suffering is because suffering is something that all humans have in common as long as we live in this world.  Trust the goodness of God even in your darkest times, and do not hide your struggles.  Drag them to the light!  Leave them at the foot of the cross, and do it every day!  Trust to the renewed grace of God every morning, and never believe that God is tired of you, or that His church has better things to do.  This is what it is for: to weep with those who are weeping, and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  We are called simply to trust Him in all things, and that is all I can do in this time of deep pain.

Sermon text