I started reading this book last week called "The Inward Journey" by Gene Edwards, and it's really blowing my mind right now. In a nutshell, the whole book talks about suffering. But wait; it's not just one of those run-of-the-mill books that tells you if you're suffering you should pray more or change something in your life or to ask for more of God's victory in your life. No, this book talks about how suffering is the tool that God uses to make you into His image.
How is gold purified? How are diamonds formed? In unbearable heat and immense pressure. Only in these kind of extreme circumstances will the impurities and hindrances finally relent their hold and allow beauty to come through. It's the same with us. I'm reminded here of the story of Jacob in the Old Testament. This guy was a real weasel, manipulating every person and circumstance to work to his own advantage, and for much of his life nothing could break him of it. Then he meets God face to face in the desert, and wants God to bless him. When God says no, Jacob starts beating Him up...I mean the guy literally wrestled with God for hours (look it up if you don't believe me)! Can you believe this guy? He's trying to even manipulate God to his advantage! Finally, God sees it's getting late and basically says "alright, man, let me go". "No," Jacob tells him, "not 'till you bless me!". I imagine here that God might have chuckled a little bit, because he replies by finally saying, "Ok, you really want me to bless you?". Then without warning God shatters his hip bone, and Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. How's that for a blessing!?
Some of you might say, 'how cruel of God to do something like this!'. Others may say, 'what do you expect; the dude tried to man-handle God!". But it's really interesting, because after his encounter with God, Jacob was a changed person. He became humble, forgiving, accepting; in short, he finally surrendered to God. Why do I tell you this story? Because it would seem that the way that God truly blesses us is very contrary to how it is often talked about; it seems that the way God blesses us is to find the strongest and most secure place in our life, and then break it! Why? Because that's the only way that He can find a place to seep through! Suffering is how God chips away at all the armor around our soul; it's how He makes us into His image. It's how He makes us His. Keep this in mind; even God Himself has suffered, and He didn't just "stick His toe in the water". In Jesus He took upon Himself everything that is evil and disgusting and wrong and hurtful that has ever taken root in creation. Have you felt betrayal, pain, agony, rejection, emptiness, hopelessness? God has felt it more.
At the times when we feel just completely broken and helpless and at the end of our rope, I think we just might be far closer to the heart of God than we realize. It's through the uncomfortable pain of suffering that selfishness and pride are burned away, and God's Spirit is finally able to shine out.