God Uses Everything
Why Our Suffering Is Never Wasted
Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner
Recently I was hurt by a friend over an insensitive comment she made. My first response was to get upset, and then I began mentally cataloging a list of grievances — remembering all the other times I’d been hurt by her.
It might have ended there, but when I came across these words from A.W. Tozer, I started thinking differently about the situation:
When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.
Everything that is happening to me is to make me more Christlike. Nothing is excluded. Joy and pain. Peace and turmoil. Fullness and emptiness. Suffering and ease. People who love and care for me. And people who hurt or ignore me.
God Governs Every Detail
Being aware that God is using everything to make me more Christlike does make me less anxious. My struggles, in Christ, are not God’s condemnation (Romans 8:1). God is always for me (Romans 8:32). He designs all my circumstances for my everlasting good (Romans 8:28). Everything in my life can direct me to Christ. Indeed, it should.
Suddenly, I stopped fretting about my friend’s comment and pondered why God might have brought this situation into my life. It was a simple question, but the answers revealed more about my heart than hers. My friend’s actions were an avenue for God to reveal a layer of sin in my life that I otherwise would have glossed over. As I saw the sin in my response, I was able to confess it to God and repent.
Whenever I feel annoyed or frustrated or angry, perhaps God is inviting me to examine my own heart instead of focusing my attention outward. Perhaps my irritation is an invitation from the Lord to go deeper with him. God may be doing something far more important and more lasting in me than what is happening to me.
“When we lose what is most dear to us on earth, we value our heavenly Father’s embrace even more.”
And because God governs everything that comes across my path, no experience is ever wasted. It can all be used to turn me to Christ because ultimately he works all things for good. My difficult circumstances can cultivate a dependence on Christ. Teach me to pray more fervently. Give me the opportunity for ministry. My successes can lead me to praise and thank God. To give him glory. To see my sin of pride and confess it. To learn humility by taking the low seat even in the limelight. Everything can be a stepping-stone to holiness.
Blessed at the End of Your Rope
Being hurt by a friend’s thoughtlessness is a world apart from being betrayed by a spouse or suffering from a debilitating disease, but the invitation from God is the same. I have experienced all three trials, and I can testify that God has used each of them, though it’s often through tears, to draw me closer to him. And as I draw closer, and I’m embraced by my Lord, I become more like his Son.
Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the Beatitudes echoes this idea beautifully. In his Message paraphrase, Matthew 5:3–4 reads, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”
Blessed at the end of your rope. Blessed when you’ve lost what’s most dear. In the eyes of the world, that sounds insane. It is the opposite of the world’s definition of “blessed.” To the world, being blessed is having everything you want and more. It is having your dreams come true. It is not being at the end of your rope and not losing everything that is dear to you.
But in God’s economy, being blessed takes on new meaning. We are blessed when we have no human resources. When we have nothing of our own to turn to. No human to rely on. When nothing seems to be going well. That is when God and his rule increases in our life. There is less of us. And more of God. When we lose what is most dear to us on earth, we value our heavenly Father’s embrace even more. His embrace is more dear, more precious, more spectacular than anything we could possibly have lost.
See His Loving Hand
Madame Guyon, a French Catholic writer from the 1600s, had a difficult life, marked by illness, neglect, and humiliation. At age 16, her father tricked her into marrying a man who was 22 years older and afflicted with gout. She became his nurse and cared for him tirelessly, living in her mother-in-law’s home, even after she spread vicious lies about her daughter-in-law.
Guyon’s prayers reflected her deep faith and trust in God’s character. She wrote, “O my God, you had my father deceive me when I wanted to be a nun so I would turn to you and let you love me.” She also penned, “O my God, you allowed my mother-in-law to spread those lies about me so that I would turn to you in humility and see how much you love me.”
Rather than growing bitter at the pain she’d endured, questioning the goodness of God, she chose to see God’s loving hand in it. She saw all her life as in God’s hands and all her circumstances as opportunities to draw closer to him. She was willing to trust God completely and surrender everything to him.
All Things His Servants
Psalm 119:90–91 says, “You have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.” All things are God’s servants. All things can, and will, be used by God to accomplish his good purposes for the everlasting joy and glory of his people.
“Everything that is hard and seems wrong in our lives is a divine invitation to turn to God.”
Everything that we face can make us more holy. Our annoyances can reveal our sin. People who hurt us give us opportunities to forgive. Our physical ailments teach us to depend on God. Our rebellious children train us to pray without ceasing. Everything that is hard and seems wrong in our lives is a divine invitation to turn to God.
To fully live out that perspective, we need to be present to each moment. To actively seek out and ask God what he is trying to show us. To be aware that God is always at work in our lives and to trust that every circumstance can draw us closer to him.
For everything that happens to us can make us more like Christ.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.