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Desiring God Conference - Session Five

The third session of the day features David Powlison who will be speaking on “Christ’s Grace and Your Sufferings.” David is editor of the “Journal of Biblical Counselling.”

He wants to put us to work by asking the following question: in your life, what is the single most significant experience of suffering that you have gone through? It could be the most painful or intense. It could be only short in duration, but which never went away. It could be the most pervasive, touching more areas of you life than any other. It marked and changed you, perhaps both for good and for bad.

The structure for the session will be the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” This hymn is somewhat unusual in that it focuses not on what we say to or about God. The first verse is an exhortation where we talk to each other. The rest of the hymn is God talking to the believer.

First Stanza - The basis of our faith is what the Scripture has said. God’s Word is excellent and sufficient. When it comes right down to it, what more could God say than what He has said in the Bible? And what’s more, this Word become flesh and dwelt among us. The stanza also says that we are refugees to have fled to Jesus. This shows our dependency on the Lord, for we need someone outside of ourselves to protect us and take care of us.

Second Stanza - Take in hand the greatest suffering in your life and allow this stanza and that suffering to talk to each other. “Do not be afraid; I am with you. Do not be dismayed - overwhelmed, panicked, distressed or upset. I am your God.” What would it mean if God’s voice of comfort were allowed to penetrate every crevice of that hurt or suffering? We are so absorbed with ourselves and our sin that we often close out to the voice of God as He brings us His comfort.

Third Stanza - Once again, take in hand the greatest suffering and hold it against the words “when through the deep waters I call you to go.” This is a statement of God’s sovereignty. At the same time there are words of comfort for we know God controls the extent of suffering and He will not allow the rivers of sorrow to overflow. God will be with us to bless us through our greatest trouble and will santify that suffering in the life of the believer.

Fourth Stanza - The fiery trials cause the gold to seperate from the dross. So as we examine our sufferings, that is it that rises to the surface? As we pass through the furnace we can have confidence that God’s grace will be sufficient for us. The suffering is not meaningless but stands to refine us.

Fifth Stanza - This stanza deals with aging and all of us, should we reach old age, will deal with suffering as our bodies age. Should you live so long you will lose just about everything: friends, family, health, money, relevance, the ability to work, and so on. But even in aging good seeks to comfort us.

Sixth Stanza - The hymn ends with God giving us confidence that He will not let go of the soul that has turned to Jesus. Despite any amount of suffering, God is still present. The hymn writer captures God’s fierceness for us in the repetition of “never, no never, no never.” Powlison calls this “pastoral genius.”

The session concluded with the corporate singing of this great hymn.

Quote of the Session: “God’s the sun and we’re the three-watt nightlight. But in a dark house a three-watt light makes a big difference.”