There are many ways we may respond to the sudden onrush of some new pain or the sudden onset of some fresh sorrow. There are many options set before us when health fails and uncertainty draws near, when wealth collapses and bankruptcy looms, when a loved one is taken and we are left alone. There are many forks in the road, many paths we can choose when we face such heavy trials. Some who seemed to be living so well grow angry at God and man, then sink into bitterness. Some who seemed to be so strong in their faith grow despondent, then stop pressing on. Some who seemed to be so vibrant grow dull and disillusioned, perhaps shrugging off a God who would ask them to pass through a dark valley.
But there are others who respond to their trials in different ways, and it’s these people who have so often blessed, encouraged, and inspired me. These people have understood that God’s sovereignty is active in and through their pain and that somehow even this trial fits within his providence. They have understood that through their time of sorrow, God has given them a kind of platform, an opportunity to glorify his name. And they have willingly accepted and embraced it.
One friend was told he had a form of cancer that was usually fatal. He used every treatment and every hill and valley to proclaim his trust in Jesus to the doctors, nurses, and his friends. When told he had only a short time left to live, he made it his purpose to give his last days to calling his Christian friends to encourage them in their faith one last time and to calling his non-Christian friends to tell them about Jesus one last time. “After all,” he told me, “everyone will listen to a dying man.” His suffering gave him a platform and he used it to proclaim the glories of God.
Another friend saw his daughter suddenly struck down by a terrible and mysterious illness. Though this was a heavy blow for him and for his family, he diligently wrote dispatches from the hospital that went out to believers and unbelievers alike. In them he expressed his confusion but also his trust, his sorrow but also his faith. His time of agony was also a time of proclamation. He ministered to others even when he was suffering so deeply.
Generations have benefitted from the books and poems of Amy Carmichael, most of which were written from her sickbed—her sickbed that doubled as her podium before the world. Millions have heard Joni Eareckson Tada speak and sing of the glories of God—Joni, whose entire public ministry has been carried out from a wheelchair. Both embraced their circumstances as a God-given platform. There was pain, to be certain. There was sorrow and toil. But there was also opportunity.
We grieve our losses, of course, whether that’s the loss of health, wealth, ability, or loved ones. We rightly weep and mourn. And we certainly don’t wish for those times of darkness to come upon us. But because we are never outside the providence of God, we can have confidence that we are never outside the purpose of God. We can understand that God has purpose in our pain and we can know that in even our darkest moments and hardest days, we can praise and glorify his name. We can know that his providence has given us a platform, whether it is from the heights of joy or the depths of sorrow, whether it is before many people or few. And surely it is only right that we use it to tell of his goodness and grace.