It was raining the day her book arrived — fitting for the story of a woman who’s learned to dance in the rain. Vaneetha’s story is of grace that sustains not after one hard, but a second and third. As I learned Vaneetha’s story, I learned part had been captured in the song Held, a song so special to us in our own hard. What a joy to have Vaneetha Rendall Risner share deep truths when we walk through the fire.
Watching Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they were thrown into the fiery furnace must have been astonishing.
Their bodies were engulfed in flames yet they were unharmed. When they emerged, not a hair on their heads was singed and they didn’t even smell of smoke. Witnesses observed that “the fire had not any power over the bodies of those men.” (Daniel 3:27)
These men were miraculously delivered by God as they trusted him. Yet their faith did not rest on their deliverance. They confidently went into the furnace, not knowing whether God would spare their lives.
And in the furnace, they discovered that God does not always rescue us from trials but rather rescues us in them.
We can see the same phenomenon ourselves when we see Christians who suffer in their own fiery furnaces, yet the fire has no power over them either. They emerge from the flames more resilient, with greater joy and a stronger faith. Without a hint of bitterness. They love God more, not less, when their health, their livelihoods, and even their very lives are taken.
How is that even possible? And why does God allow those flames? I have asked that question numerous times and have discovered that trials ground our faith, encourage the saints, convert unbelievers and make our faith three-dimensional.
Trials grounds our faith in experience
As a young Christian, I was passionate about God, telling everyone about the Lord and his grace. But after a while, my excitement waned as I began pursuing achievement and success harder than I pursued God. Faith had an important place in my life, but Jesus was not my first love.
I often wondered whether the Christian life was simply duty. I found myself going through the motions of faith, wondering if there was anything more. It was smooth sailing in spiritually shallow waters.
Then calamity came. In wave after endless wave. After losing my son, losing my health and losing my marriage, my view of a comfortable God and a comfortable life radically changed. I realized there was much more to knowing God than I had ever understood. I went from a largely academic understanding of God to an intimate walk with him that could withstand the storm.
Reading that God is a comforter is not the same as knowing the comfort of God. Understanding that God is a deliverer is vastly different from experiencing his deliverance. And knowing that Jesus can save cannot be compared with worshiping him as my Savior.
For me, suffering made God real. Because in suffering, pat answers were not enough. It was not enough to read Scripture and learn about God. Checking off the box for my quiet time didn’t help me. I wanted to taste God’s goodness. To experience his comfort. To sense his presence.
So I cried out to God. I begged him for help. I leaned on him in ways that I never had before. And when I did, I experienced a life-giving relationship that I had only read about before.
Watching other believers suffer well encourages the saints
Amidst trials, it was most encouraging to hear from people who had suffered. Who loved God and drew close to him in their pain. I desperately needed to see that it was possible to be thrown into the fire and not be destroyed.
Their examples gave me courage to press on. When my world fell apart, I wanted to see that joy could exist even in great suffering. I needed to see that others had walked difficult paths and emerged whole.
Those were the people I wanted to talk to. And those were the stories I wanted to read about. That’s why Christian biographies are so powerful. They put flesh on our theology. We can see what it means to serve God in the trials of life.
AW Tozer said, “Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aid to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.” I completely agree. When I read biographies, I see faith lived out. I see both the triumphs and the failures of people who trusted God. And when I see what God can accomplish through frail and often faltering saints, I dare to believe that he can use me too.
For unbelievers, watching Christians suffer brings theology to life.
Seeing faith lived out in the midst of suffering can be astonishing to unbelievers. Rather than being told, they are being shown the beauty of faith. One of the first principles of writing is, “Show me, don’t tell me,” which is important in sharing the gospel as well.
The world is full of people talking about God. But talk alone is not enough. The Pharisees were excellent at telling people about God and how to live a righteous life. But as Jesus pointed out, they preached but did not practice. So their words had little impact.
When suffering Christians speak of hope and trust in a sovereign God, their words are credible and convincing. Their faith is not theoretical anymore. It becomes intensely practical.
Especially because no one is shielded from suffering. Not in this life. In the world we will have tribulation. The same sun beats down upon the righteous and the unrighteous. All of us face the same struggles. Death, disease, disability. Shattered relationships and shattered dreams. All of the byproducts of our sin-ravaged world. But in Christ we can have peace because he has overcome the world. He alone can give us joy in the midst of sorrow and hope in the midst of despair.
Suffering makes faith three-dimensional
Trials make the faith of Christians three-dimensional. For sufferers, it makes their relationship with God more real and deep and life-giving. For Christians watching other believers suffer, it gives them hope to press on in their own struggles. And for the watching world, it gives them a front row seat to the power of God at work.
Our skeptical world needs to be shown the sustaining grace of God.
Merely telling them isn’t enough. For when others see true faith lived out, they cannot help but be amazed. Just like those watching Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who worshipped God because “no other god is able to rescue in this way.” (Daniel 3:29).
When believers walk through the fiery furnace, and the fire has no power over them, their faith is strengthened, onlookers are startled and doubters are converted. And all the glory goes to God. For he alone sustains us in the fire.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is passionate about helping others find hope and joy in the midst of suffering and loss. She is the author of the recent book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering and is a regular contributor to Desiring God. Vaneetha and her husband Joel have four daughters between them and live in Raleigh, North Carolina where she blogs at www.danceintherain.com, although she emphatically doesn’t like rain and has no sense of rhythm. You can find her on Facebook here.
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