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Scars for Jesus

Alistair Huong

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In December 2007, Alistair experienced a sudden and life-threatening illness that left him paralyzed from the neck down.  He shares this story of God's miraculous healing in his life, and presents seven reasons why God permits His people to endure trials and afflictions.

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Alistair Huong

Executive Director of AudioVerse

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Recorded

  • August 17, 2013
    11:30 AM
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Paralysis!

It was the morning of December 19, 2007. I woke up in a hotel at GYC, which was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota that year. I was Vice President of Logistics for GYC, which meant I was responsible for the coordination of all the nuts and bolts of the convention: All the hotel rooms, registration, the meals, the rigging of the lights, the stage, the chairs, and the hotel, transportation, security, and all the rest. So it was a big day. GYC was to begin that day and I had spent most of the previous year getting ready for this convention. 

That day I was in the hotel room with my friends sitting on the couch working on my computer, when all of a sudden I felt this strange sensation in the back of my neck. It started off sort of itchy and then it got more painful. It became this shooting, burning sensation that radiated down from my neck into my shoulders into my chest into my back into my arms and I thought, “This is strange!” So I put my computer down and tried to get up out of my seat only to find out that my legs were wobbly and I couldn't even hold myself up. I collapsed on the floor. My friends rushed over and said, “What's wrong, what’s wrong?” Within a few minutes I couldn't move my arms. My legs were still a little bit mobile so they tried to pick me up but I couldn't stand. 


My friends literally had to carry me and set me on the bed and started frantically calling all the doctors they knew. As they shared the symptoms that were being manifested in my body to the doctors, one of them said, “Let me talk to him.” So I got on the phone with this physician, I don't know who he was, never met him. He said, “From what your friends are telling me you have a very serious problem.” He said, “I don't know what it is, but you need to get to the emergency room right now.” And he even warned me. He said, “You need to be prepared that based on what I am hearing, it is likely that they will have to intubate you. Which means sedate you, stick the tube down your throat to help you breathe.” And so my friends scattered, trying to get a wheelchair, trying to find a car to transport me, getting all the things worked out. And meanwhile, as they were pushing me through the hotel, I was on my Bluetooth headset calling all of my associates and telling them to do this, do this, and do that. We had to make sure all of these things are working because GYC was starting and we were going to have 5-6,000 people come, and this was not a good time for this to be happening. 

And so they whisked me off from the hotel to the hospital, which happened to only be ten minutes away – fortunately. And as I got wheeled into the emergency room, the friend who went with me, he is actually my current brother-in-law and a physician as well, told them exactly what my symptoms were, and immediately they brought me into the back room and they started to analyze my situation. 

Well, before long, before GYC began that evening, I was completely paralyzed from the neck down. I could no longer breathe on my own and just as that doctor told me on the phone, they sedated me and intubated me. For the next three days I was unconscious and the doctors did all the tests that they needed to do to try to figure out what was wrong with this young man. 

My parents were already on the way and arrived on Wednesday, right after I was sedated. And through the course of the next few days as the doctors tried to figure things out, the doctor had the unpleasant task of telling my mother that “Your son may not survive. “ They had localized the damage, it was in my spinal cord. And the spinal cord is such a small area that any damage there has huge consequences. The doctor said, “Even if he were to survive, he likely will never recover. He will never be able to move again.” Not the words any sensible mother would want to hear.

The Turning Point

And so Friday evening came. GYC was in full swing, Sabbath was coming, and a group of friends came to my hospital room to conduct an anointing service for me. Pastor Mark Finley was there as one of the speakers and so he led out in the anointing service. 

The very next morning, Sabbath morning, during Sabbath School time of GYC, all 5-6,000 people had a special prayer session specifically for my healing. It was broadcast on 3ABN. As I travel around the world now there are still people that say, “We were watching that day and we prayed for you.” So prayer was being uplifted around the world for my healing. And I believe it was in direct answer to those prayers that on that Sabbath day, I began to recover. I had gone down down, down, down, down until Sabbath and then I began to pull back up. So by the end of GYC on Sunday, the very next day, I was able to breathe on my own and they were able to extubate me (they took out the tube). The next day on Monday, they moved me out of the ICU into a step down unit. By the end of the week, I could actually stand on my own, and I could walk. And within 2 weeks, I was discharged out of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis hospital, and I was flown back to Loma Linda where my parents lived for inpatient rehabilitation. I was there for a few more months and then in outpatient rehabilitation after that. And so from that time my recovery just took off. I had gotten sick in December, and by the month of May I was able to go speak for graduation at Laurelbrook Academy where I actually was a teacher right before I got sick (I’ll tell you more about that in a little bit). And then that summer I was able to travel to Malaysia and Singapore to speak for youth conferences. And exactly one year and one day later from the day I got sick I was standing at the pulpit on Sabbath morning at the next GYC telling this story and encouraging that group of people saying, “Look, it is because of your prayers, that I'm standing here alive before you.” 

What Was It?

And so all of you medical nuts out there are probably wondering, “So, what happened? What was your condition?” Well, the doctors diagnosed me with what’s called transverse myelitis. Transverse means that it affected both sides of my body. Myelitis is inflammation of the myelin, the insulating cells around the nerves in my spinal cord. But what caused it, the doctors don't fully know. The best guess, they call it post-viral, an autoimmune response to some virus that I had, but that’s the best guess that they have. So I have been recovering ever since. I still have lingering effects in my upper extremities, but for the most part I survived and I'm alive and I’m a normal functioning human being, and I praise God for that. I'm a living, breathing testament of God's healing power and His answer to fervent prayer. 

The Question

So, I share this story to set the backdrop because I want to use this story to discuss the question that I think plagues a lot of Christians. In fact, when I was in Loma Linda as a patient there, I would have visitors come in and many of them had this question that just irked them, that just wrung inside of them. They just could not get over it and in fact it seemed this question bothered them more than it bothered me! The question goes something like this: If God is all-powerful and if God is all-capable, and if God is so good and so loving and compassionate, why would He allow this to happen to you? To generalize the question a little bit, it goes something like this: Why would God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why would God allow evil and suffering to enter into the experience of His people? Isn’t He capable of holding back all of that pain and misery? Why would He permit this? In fact, I have a friend who left the church, who turned his back on God because he could not find an answer to this question. As a young man, he had a friend nine years old, who died of cancer. And this young man, this friend who is still alive, he said, “I simply cannot accept a God who would allow that to happen.” And now he is a faithless, Godless man. 

It’s an important question to have an answer to, don’t you think? And notice, I'm limiting the topic not to the bigger question of why is there evil and suffering in the world at all, in a general sense. That is a discussion for another time. Neither am I saying, why do bad things happen to bad people? I mean, that’s pretty sensible, you suffer when you make stupid decisions. There is a law of cause and effect and if you make a bad choice, you reap the bad oats that you sow. I’m not dealing with that either. I’m specifically dealing with the scenario where there is a good upstanding righteous innocent person who, to no fault of their own. suffers pain, loss, injury, persecution, what have you. That’s the question I'm trying to answer. 

A Rarely Claimed Promise

But before we go there, let's take a look at 2 Timothy 3:12. It says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus might suffer persecution.” Is that what the verse says? Does it say they might, they mayperhaps, some time? No, they shall. Do you realize that this is a promise that you can claim in the Bible? Have you ever claimed this promise? “God, you have said that everyone who takes your name will suffer persecution. I'm not being persecuted right now, Lord, so I claim that promise.” We don’t claim that kind of promise, but nevertheless it is a guarantee. It is a guarantee that if we choose to follow Jesus Christ, somewhere along the way, not some of us, all of us will suffer persecution in one way or another. 

So rather than coming to God with this sense of entitlement that sometimes we have, saying, “Lord, don't you know how much I had to give up to follow You? Don't you know that I had to give up this scholarship to this campus to this school? I had to quit this job? I had to quit this relationship because I chose to follow You? How dare you let me suffer like this!” That’s the wrong question. Because God made it very clear that if you follow Him, you must take up your cross. There will be pain. There will be loss. There will be difficulties. Make no mistake. So the question really is, so why does God allow that? Why must this be the case? I want to share with you seven reasons why God allows bad things to happen to His people. 

 

Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen to His People

#1  To Reveal His Goodness and His Mercy

Now you're probably thinking, “What? God uses pain in our lives to demonstrate how good and merciful He is? That doesn't make any sense.” But have you ever heard of this saying that says, “You don’t know how much you have until you lose it.” You know, sometimes life is so good, life is so easy,

the path is so smooth that we take it for granted. 

Reminder from an Itch

When I was laying there in the hospital room, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even twitch.  And I had this tube down my throat. I couldn't even breathe on my own and I'm laying there on my back and then I would develop an itch on my nose. What does a guy who is paralyzed from the neck down do when he’s got an itch on his nose. I couldn't talk. I couldn’t say anything, so I lay there with an itch on my nose and it would DRIVE ME CRAZY! And I would get grumpy, I would try to make gurgling sounds so people would come over. They would be like, “What’s wrong?” and I couldn’t say anything. So here’s the point. How many of us this morning woke up and thanked the Lord for the ability to scratch our noses? 

Sometimes God has to take away certain things for us to recognize just how much we’ve been given. When we can’t even scratch our nose then all of a sudden everything is a blessing and a gift from God. We realize how much we depend on the Lord for everything. And so sometimes God has to come down and give us a kick in the rump and say, “Don’t you forget that all of the good things you take for granted is only because of me.” 

Fingerprints of God

And so God permits bad things to happen to His people for us to remember where all good gifts come from. And here is a Bible verse I think we all know, but there's more to this that I want to dig into. Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Another way of saying this is that in all things, God is working for the good. It’s not saying that everything that happens to us is necessarily good, because sometimes it does hurt, sometimes it is painful. But everything that does happen, God can use to do something great, something good at the end of it. But another way that I read this passage in that through all experiences, through all circumstances, no matter how dark it might be, we can see the fingerprints of God, IF we are looking.  

God’s Goodness Demonstrated

So in my experience, I told you that I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As I was being wheeled around the hospital, I was looking up at the banners and it just so happened that the hospital that I was just ten minutes away from was one of the leading neurological medical centers in the country. They were more qualified and better equipped to deal with my specific illness than even if I was home in Loma Linda. I couldn't have picked a better hospital and I've never been to Minnesota before. Not only that, just twenty four hours earlier (I told you I was at GYC) I was living up in the mountains of Dayton Tennessee teaching at a school called Laurelbrook Academy. I was living by myself in the house out in the country, no roommates, neighbors far away, an hour away from the closest hospital. What would have happened if I had gotten sick just one day earlier? Who knows? Moreover, at the time I was still under my parent’s health insurance coverage, which was set to expire in just a few months. Not only that, I got sick during GYC of all times! How often do you get sick right when 6000 of God’s people are gathered together conveniently to pray for you? How often is it that Mark Finley is down the road to come have an anointing service for you? And how often is the prayer service for your healing broadcasted around the world on 3ABN? 

Can you see that even in whatever loss I might have experienced, it was as if God in heaven was orchestrating everything so that it happened at the best possible time at the best possible consequence. I just imagine in my sanctified imagination, God is sitting on throne of heaven, and he sees Satan about to do his work, about to touch my spinal cord or whatever (you know, I believe Satan is the cause of illness, God doesn’t cause it, He simply permits it). And God says, “Wait, wait, wait! Hold on just a minute, let me check his schedule. Hmm….this day is not good, this day is not good, OK this day. You can go now.” It’s like God said, only within these bounds can you work. And in the midst of all that, I can’t help but see that God’s fingerprints are everywhere. And of course I had friends there. My brother-in-law was there, he’s a doctor. And another friend of mine came to be with me in the ER, he was a neurologist.  So he saw everything that was happening and he was able to go call when I needed oxygen. There wasn’t a moment that my brain had no oxygen to it. I mean one thing after the other. It was as if  God allowed it to happen in the best possible way. 

So why does God allow His people to suffer? God allows such things to happen to demonstrate and to reveal His goodness and His mercy. Even in the midst of pain, we can see that God is still there, IF we train our eyes to look for Him.

Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen to His People

#2  To Teach Us To Pray

Notice, it’s not to teach us HOW to pray. It’s to teach us simply to pray. How many of you had an experience like I have: Life is going well, it’s generally in the middle of the semester, some time right before final exams, some time after the beginning of school, we’re settled, we’re in the groove, finals is still a ways off, and the prayer life of the saints sort of just evaporates. It's sort of like lower down the priority list. But when troubles come, final exams are next week, all of a sudden all the students are the holiest people on earth. Because we remember all of a sudden, oh we got to pray. You see, God sometimes realizes we forget these things. So he has to give us some rough water, some difficulty so that we will not forget to pray. Of course, we have to pray even when the going is good, but it's helpful sometimes to be reminded. 

Prayer for the Sick

In James 5:13 it says, “If any among you is afflicted, let him pray. Is any merry, let him sing songs. Is any sick among you, let them call the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up.” So specifically in illness, God calls us to prayer. 

Now I want to make a special note here. Notice that it doesn’t say that the prayer of faith will HEAL the sick, because that's not necessarily the case, but if there is faith attending the prayer of the saint, he shall be saved, and it says “if he has committed sin, it shall be forgiven him”. That’s an important distinction. God can save the soul but that does not necessarily mean that He will heal the sickness. 

In fact, Mark Finley when he was in the anointing service mentioned something I'll never forget. He said, it is always God 's plan, it is always in God’s will to heal His people. Now that sounds contradictory to what we just read but hear me out. The question is when. When will God heal His people? 

  1. Sometimes God heals immediately, miraculously, instantaneous. 
  2. Other times He heals over a period of time, usually in natural means, in natural courses of events. 
  3. But other times He may heal on the resurrection morning.

And so if you take that application of this passage in James 5, indeed God will heal the sick, it may be on the resurrection morning, but He will heal His people. And of course my mom was standing there next me and she was praying, “Please let it be number 1 or 2, please let it not be number 3!” But the point I was going back to is to teach us to pray. God wants us to pray and so he allows bad things to happen to us, sometimes. In the Great Controversy, page 525, paragraph two, this is what I read: “It is a part of God 's plan to grant us in answer to the prayer of faith that what He would not bestow did we not thus ask.” So what is this telling me? That there are certain things that God simply will not do. He’s chosen somehow, I don't fully understand it, to not do certain things unless we ask Him to. 

And so I just imagine God sitting up there longing to open the windows of heaven and pour out the blessings so we have no room to receive it. But he’s saying, “I can't give it unless you ask for it.” So he’s thinking, “How am I going to make them ask? How am I going to get them to ask? I hate to do this, but I’m going to allow some pain into their life so they’ll remember to pray for those blessings.”

A Revival of Prayer

I got a letter while I was in the hospital from a friend of mine. This is what she wrote:

I first heard about your sudden paralysis Thursday. It really shook me up how sudden it was. None of us were expecting it, as I know you weren’t. It left me with this urgent sense to pray for you. Now I have to tell you, I’ve been struggling with my prayer life recently. Somehow it seemed like my prayers weren’t getting past the ceiling. It had seemed as though they were just empty rituals. But suddenly, with the urgent sense to pray for you, I made time for real prayer. Al, I don’t know how much good it did for you, but it changed me. I learned the secret to a meaningful prayer life – praying for others. God felt nearer to me when I was praying for you than He ever felt when I was praying for myself. It has made me ask myself how much of the rest of my spiritual life would be revived if I started focusing more of it around others instead of myself. So I just wanted to tell you thank you. You’ve helped bring life to my prayer time and helped us all to believe in the miracle of prayer again. 

God allows bad things to happen to His people sometimes to teach us to pray. And that’s exactly what happened in my friend’s life. But this letter also illustrates point #3.

Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen to His People

#3  For the Benefit of Others

I was a student teacher at Laurelbrook Academy where I taught Bible and had a number of students. For those who have ever been in high school in Bible class, you know that there are always those trouble-makers. Not everyone is converted in Christian school. Of course, we all know that. 

Students’ Lives Changed

I was praying earnestly for my students. And in fact, one night I specifically I prayed, “Lord, do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to save these young people. Even if it’s sickness, disaster, calamity, whatever it takes!” You better be careful what you pray for, because that’s exactly what happened. 

I was supposed to go back for 2nd semester after Christmas break but was sick so didn’t return. My students were left wondering, “What happened to our teacher? What happened to him?” And all of the things that I was trying to convince them of all of a sudden they began to take more seriously. A good friend of mine actually went to that school for a Week of Prayer later that year. And as he allowed the students to share testimonies of what God had done in their lives, my students one after another said, “I didn’t really believe, I didn’t really take Jesus seriously until He took our teacher from us. All of a sudden all of the things I learned in Bible class I had to know for myself.” 

Another student, a Catholic, came to class and did a research paper for me on the teaching of hell. At Christmas break she went back to her priest and had all these questions, and they had no answers. At the end of Christmas break she had planned to come back to school and tell me that she wanted to study to become an Adventist. But of course, I wasn’t there. She made a commitment that she was going to be faithful and true. And several years later, she got into a car accident and now she is paralyzed from the waist down. But she is a faithful Adventist still to this day. 

A Life Spared

Just last week I was in FL and met up with a friend of mine that I went to elementary school with back in Hong Kong. We’ll call him John. John always knew me by my Chinese name, Hsiao Chun. We lost contact with each other and fast forward a little bit. Around the year 2007 he had an Adventist girlfriend and they were living together. Having grown up in the church and knowing it was wrong, he was burdened with a guilty conscience. He was a nurse and decided that he was going to kill himself. He managed to gather all the necessary drugs and lined them all up in his bathroom. He knew exactly what he was going to do to take his own life. Then he got a call from his parents. They said, “Please pray for your friend, Hsiao Chun, who you went to school with in Hong Kong.” And so John dropped his plans and he started to pray. And as he started to pray over the next few days somehow miraculously the desire to kill himself started to go away. Through the next few weeks and months he broke up with his girlfriend and he changed his life. That December he met me at GYC when I shared how a year before I had gotten sick and been miraculously healed. He had heard of a guy named Alistair Huong, heard me preach before, but only now realized that I was his friend Hsiao Chun! So years after my sickness, he came to me and said, “You haven’t seen me in years. But I want to thank you for saving my life.” 

Sometimes God allows bad things to happen to His people for the benefit of others. You may never know. But in heaven we’ll know. And I praise the Lord that I was able to hear this story of my friend years later. 

Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen to His People

#4  To Demonstrate His Power

Remember the story of Lazarus? Lazarus was sick. A messenger was sent to Jesus, but instead of going right away, what does Jesus do? He waits. He waits until Lazarus has rotted 4 days in the tomb. Let’s see what Jesus says specifically in John 11:4: “Jesus [fill in] this sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God that the Son of God might be glorified thereby”. So you see, Jesus has a purpose in allowing things to progress. Sometimes we even get this sense of impatience where we say, “Lord, things have gotten bad enough, you’ve got to do something!” But things go from bad to worse! 

When There’s No Mistake

And that’s exactly what happened in this story of Lazarus. Jesus allows things to go from bad to worse. But let me ask you this question. Suppose that Jesus when He heard the news of Lazarus’ sickness immediately picked up everything and went and healed Lazarus. Whether He touched him or did some natural remedies or whatever! Or even if He just sent the prescription. Why don’t you just take some Echinacea, do a hot foot bath, charcoal, and call me back in 3 days. What if He had done that? What if He had healed Lazarus in that way? Would it have been as great of a demonstration of the power of God than when Jesus came 4 days after he’d rotted in the tomb and brought him back to life? The contrast is stark. It’s clear, isn’t it? The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes God permits things to get so bad, so difficult, so hopeless so that there can be no mistake when God arrives.

God’s Healing Power

In my case, remember the doctors very emphatically looking at my mother and saying, “Your son probably won’t survive, but if he does, his injury is so severe that we don’t think he will ever move, ever recover again.” And there I was a week or 2 later in the hospital walking around talking at the nurses station and walking around the unit. The doctor came in and my mom, who is a nurse, looked at this doctor thinking, what do you say now? You know what the doctor said? “He’s young. His body is just spontaneously healing itself. And that happens all the time.” Those are her exact words. My mom and dad sort of looked at each other like, “Uh-huh right.” The doctors were definitely singing a very different tune now rather than credit the healing to God. When there’s no way to explain it, some people would rather credit things to chance. But we know better than that. It was a demonstration of God’s power. Things got so bad that when God arrived and stepped into the situation, we could not deny that He had moved. 

Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen to His People

#5  To Reveal Our Character

Ask yourselves who you really are. Doesn’t it come out when things get rough? When things get bad? You know, we’re looking good and happy and clean cut and friendly and nice at church on Sabbath, right? We’ve got our suit on, our ties, and everything looks so prim and proper, and we say, “Happy Sabbath”. But we go home and there’s something that goes wrong. All of a sudden it seems like we sprout horns and a tail and a pitchfork and our true colors come out. Even in the Bible when Jesus was taken captive in the garden of Gethsemane, the disciples’ true colors came out. They said, “We’ll die for you!” but they ran away as cowards. 

Jesus’ Character

Isn’t it the same with us?  Just think about Jesus for a moment. When was the character of Christ the most clearly revealed? Was Jesus’ character most clearly revealed when He was a baby in the manger? I don’t think so. When He was baptized? When He was transfigured? Or do we really get the clearest picture who Jesus was on the cross? When He suffered the keenest pain, when He was separated from His father. When things were the darkest and the most hopeless the character of Christ shone the brightest. And shouldn’t that be the way with us?

A Nurse’s Response

When I was in the hospital, I mentioned how I couldn’t even scratch the itch on my nose, I couldn’t do anything, so I became quite a grouch. Being bedbound you don’t get a shower, you don’t get bathed, they just sort of sponge you down. I could smell my stinky self, I was in bad shape. So I was not in the happiest mood. But when I was moved out of ICU down to the stepdown unit, I was pushed into my room and my nurse was there waiting for me. She did all of her assessments, neurological exams like, where are you, what day is it today and all that stuff. Then she looked at me sort of funny and left the room. When she came back she quietly, kind of sheepishly, asked, “Um, what church do you go to?” I croaked out, “I’m an Adventist.” And she said, “Really?!” She jumped back, clapped her hands, and said, “I knew it! I knew that you weren’t normal!” Hmmm….was that a good thing? I supposed it was since she looked happy. She continued, “I’m an Adventist too! I’m the only Adventist I know of in the whole hospital and the moment you came in here, I knew there was something different about you.” I thought,  oh mercy. Like, I stink? What is it? Of course I was naturally shocked by what she said considering how grouchy and grumpy I was. But the point is this, even when we are paralyzed from the neck down, when we haven’t been bathed in over a week, when we are emaciated as I was, when we are quadriplegic, on our beds in the hospital, even in that day, shouldn’t the world be able to look at us and say these are God’s people? 

Trial’s Revelation

In the same way that Christ revealed Himself on the cross, should we not demonstrate a Christlike character in the midst of our pain? But how often it is that it is through these painful experiences that we realize just how bad we are. It’s like a mirror gets lowered down and we cringe at how bad we are, right? In fact, this is what it says in Ministry of Healing, 471: God, in His providence brings these persons into different positions and varied circumstances. (Meaning: difficulty) That they may discover in their character the defects which have been concealed from their own knowledge.

You know, we can be self-deceived when everything is going well, we think we’re pretty good people. But then certain situations happen that push those hot buttons and we realize, oh maybe I am still impatient, maybe I do have a weakness in this area. And God is trying to reveal these things to us. But He doesn’t leave us there, and that’s reason #6.

Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen to His People

#6  To Develop Our Character

In MH p. 471, it says, “He gives them opportunity to correct these defects and to fit themselves for His service.” So God reveals to us our weaknesses but does so in order to help us to grow out of them, to improve upon them. In history, every holy person of God (Elijah, Jesus, Moses), before they could stand to perform the duties God intended for them, had to go through a period of test and trial and suffering. Some of them, very intense and keen suffering.  God permits these things because it is the best school in which to train us for greater trusts, to larger responsibilities, to do big and mighty things for Him. 

The Way to Success

In MH p. 471, it says, “Trials and obstacles are the Lord’s chosen methods of discipline and His appointed conditions of success.” So how many of us here today want to be successful? If so, there’s only one way to get there: Through trials, obstacles, pain, suffering. God recognizes it is the only way for us to learn certain lessons. And so He permits it. 

You Are Valuable

But there’s a promise here. The passage continues: “The fact that we’re called upon to endure trial shows that the Lord Jesus sees in us something precious which He desires to develop. If He saw in us nothing whereby to glorify His name, He would not spend time in refining us. He does not cast worthless stones into His furnace. It is valuable ore that He refines.” Let me put it another way. Are you going through pain? Have you experienced suffering, trials, obstacles in your life? That does not show that God does not care for you. In fact, it shows the very opposite! The fact that you are going through the fires of affliction show that God thinks you are valuable enough to refine! If you are worthless, He won’t bother. He won’t even spend the time. But the fact that you are valuable to Him, He doesn’t want to see us unrefined. But there’s only one way for that refining to take place. “All who would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” of some kind. So God wants to develop our characters, to refine us for greater trusts. And it is a demonstration, a revelation that we’re valuable in His sight. 

Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen to His People

#7  For His Own Sovereign Purposes

This is perhaps the most significant of all. That is sometimes, God permits bad things to happen to his people for his own sovereign purposes. What do I mean by that? I mean that there might be a reason out there that’s bigger than what we can understand. It just might be a reason that God alone understands and we just can’t. 

Taking the Knife Out of Our Hands

Let me try to explain it this way. We are living in the great controversy. And there is evil in the world, there is a picture that is bigger than what we in our small spheres of influence can understand and grasp and see. And so there are things that God has to do that affects the greater good of His universe that we simply cannot fathom. 

A friend of mine had a young son and she was cooking in the kitchen using a big knife to chop vegetables. For just a moment she turned her back to wash some things in the sink and by the time she turned back around, her little 4-5 year old boy had climbed up on the table and had the big knife in his chubby little hands. Seeming him unsteadily teetering way up there on the table was enough to stop that mother’s heart. But she kept her cool and realized she needed to act fast. 

She said, “Now, Daniel, give that to Mommy.” 

“No! Mine!” 

She said again, in a more forceful tone. “Give me the knife.”

“No,” he said as he held it tighter.

The mother moved slowly over to him and then quickly grabbed the child wrenching the knife out of his hands. What do you think that kid did?

“Wahhhhhh!” Persecution! Suffering! How could you take this from me? My mother is so evil! I was just an innocent kid and she took that knife out of my hands. I wasn’t doing anything wrong! 

But for those of us who know better, we understand that sometimes you cause a little pain to prevent a greater problem. And in the same way, God is in heaven seeing the bigger picture, and we’re that little child holding a knife standing on the edge of the table. Sometimes God allows certain painful situations to happen to wrench the knife out of our hands. And it might not even be injury to ourselves that He’s preventing. It might be injury to the greater good of the universe. We simply don’t fully grasp it! But we just have to understand that there is a God up there who is bigger than us, who knows more than us, who is more loving and capable than us to make the right call. 

Questions for Job

There’s actually a story in the Bible that illustrates this point. You remember the story of Job, right? Any sermon about suffering for the Christian probably is going to talk about Job a little bit. But think about it with me for a moment. Job was a righteous man, he was perfect the Bible says, upright, escheweth evil, then all of these calamities fall on him. Of course, we see God permitted them to happen, he didn’t cause them to happen. 

But fast forward to the end of the book of Job, the last few chapters. You remember God comes down in the whirlwind and God says, “Job, gird up yourself like a man, and answer Me.” Then God rattles off a long list of questions that there’s no hope for Job to answer. Things like “Who has put the stars in their places, can you loose Orion’s belt, can you hook up leviathan?” God is saying, “Hey Job, if you got all the answers, why don’t you try to answer a few of my questions.” Of course, Job couldn’t answer any of them. 

But what was the point? The point is, God is trying to show Job, you don’t understand everything. And at the end of the story of Job, do you realize that God never explained to Job what happened? God never sits down and says “Job, you know, this is what happened in heaven. Satan came up and he was accusing me of this and I’m just trying to defend myself, and you’re my demonstration of what righteousness by faith looks like and how faithful man is”. 

No explanation! God simply asks a lot of questions to Job and says, if you know these answers then you have the right to question me. Job feels about this small, right? And at the end of the story, Job just says, “Lord, whatever you think, whatever you decide is fine with me. Because I understand that you have your own sovereign purpose.” 

God on the Line

But we have the benefit of seeing behind the veil. Do you recognize what would have happened if Job had failed? Do you understand that God had staked His entire government, His entire reputation, on the shoulders of one man?! He said to Satan, “I am making this statement in front of all the watching universe. Job WILL remain faithful, he will not sin, and he will be righteous no matter what you do to him.” So just imagine if Job had failed. What kind of mud would have been on God’s face? And yet, God never explained to Job what happened. 

Celestial Purposes

So here’s the point. Are you going through suffering? Perhaps there is a celestial reason. Perhaps God in heaven is counting on you to make a point to the universe that you may not even fully understand but is critical within the scope of the great controversy. You are important in God’s plan even if it makes no sense. Because God has His own sovereign purposes. The Bible tells us that His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts than the heaven is higher than the earth. In MH p. 479.2 it says, “God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as coworkers with Him.” So even if we were to know the full story, God’s way is the best way and it’s best we learn that lesson now and to submit ourselves to Him now.

Scars for Jesus

A couple years ago I heard a story about an elderly Chinese Bible worker laboring in the country of China. He was a faithful worker for the Lord and had been imprisoned over 40 times in his ministry, mercilessly beaten many times. His body was covered with scars from the beatings and lashings he received in prison. But every time he came out, he went right back to work. 

One night he was sleeping at a convert’s house and in the middle of the night he started thrashing and yelling in his sleep, “I do, I do, I do!” Of course, his friend was awakened and he went over to the Bible worker and said, “Are you OK?” The Bible worker awakened, took a deep breath, and said, “I’m fine, I just had a dream. And in my dream I saw Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven. I saw the clouds depart and He was coming seated on the throne. Everything we’ve worked for was about to come true! But suddenly, Jesus stopped. And He asked a question to all of us looking up from this earth. He said, ‘Who of you have borne scars for Me? How many of you have borne scars for Jesus?’” And that Bible worker rolled up his sleeves and said, “I do, I have scars for Jesus.” 

The Highest Honor

This elderly gentleman died shortly after. But he not only died in the hope of the resurrection he died with scars for Jesus. The Bible tells us that “all who would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”. But I leave with you this final promise found in MH 478: “Of all the gifts that heaven can bestow upon men, fellowship with Christ in his sufferings is the most weighty trust and the highest honor.” 

I want to have scars for Jesus, don’t you? Not because I enjoy or relish the thought of pain, but for me to be ready for Him to come, inevitably as a soldier for Christ, I will have scars and I want those scars to be the testament that I have been faithful regardless of the cost. 

Gracious Father in Heaven, we thank You that You are a God of mighty works. And while we understand that You are more than capable to heal and even to prevent disaster and calamity and disease, we thank You that You work not as we work, but You see the bigger picture and You care for us and You allow things to happen to us for the best good. Now today, Lord, we commit ourselves to You, asking that You will grant us that faith like Job, the faith to be faithful even when we don’t fully understand. And may You give us the courage to face obstacles and trials in our lives that we might have that success that comes from meeting those trials. Go with us we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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