I often tell our church children—kindergartners through college students—that they think they are going to live forever, but, I faithfully add, “You are not!” In fact, I say, you are going to die, and you may even suffer physically before you die. You certainly will suffer emotionally. We all suffer in some way at some time in our lives. We may suffer physical hardship, deprivation of physical goods, and/or emotional distress, and this sometimes because of our faith. Our Lord said: “In the world you have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Tribulation includes suffering.
I watched my godly mother suffer in many ways, often emotionally as she reared three children who didn’t always walk in the ways of the Lord. I watched her suffer the death of my wonderful father, her husband of fifty-eight years. Finally, I watched her suffer the loss of her health and her mobility, and finally the pains of cancer. In and through it all, her refrain to me was simple: “I trust the Lord, son.” That was not some quip derived from pietism. That was faith talking. That was real, and that helped her live an exemplary life—a patient resolve, a sweet disposition, and longing for her Savior—through all her suffering that impressed everyone. She lived with the hope of heaven and Christ, and it was real. All her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will remember Nana’s trusting disposition through all the hard times as long as we shall live. She lived with the blessed hope of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
Hope—not “I think,” but genuine hope—doesn’t just happen. It is cultivated and lived by faith in Christ alone.
Two years ago, the doctors told us our nineteen-year-old son had “a growth on his brain.” The “growth” turned out to be an abscess the size of a turkey egg. Three surgeries ensued within a week. A fourth surgery came one month later due to a medication failure. On the night of the initial diagnosis, I had that “talk” with our son. I asked if he understood how serious this was. “Yes,” he said. I said, “I know you must be scared, because I sure am.” He said: “Dad, we’ve trusted the Lord for everything else. We can trust Him now.” I wept and said, “Amen.” He then said, “I’ll be OK no matter what happens, Dad.” I won’t tell you that my faith and that of the family was strong enough to move a mountain that night or over the subsequent months. It was weak. How often I prayed, “Increase my faith, Lord Jesus,” and He did. Sometimes a little; sometimes a little more. We hoped in the Lord, and the Lord was all we needed. Oh, by the way, the Lord spared our son, and he just graduated from college and is headed off to grad school. But even if He had not spared our son . . . praise the Lord for the hope we have in a sovereign God.
For my young readers, my mom was eighty-five years old. You’d expect her to suffer and die. But, my son was nineteen years old, and he did suffer (and still has to take medication that has side effects). He could have died so easily. But the point is this: you can face suffering—those bullies at school, those fashion critiques from “friends,” those relational disputes with best friends, cancer, brain abscesses—with your best friend always by your side. That is, if your best friend is Christ Jesus. “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24) and Jesus claims to be that friend—“I have called you friends” (John 15:15). He is our hope.
My mother had this hope because she knew the Savior, Jesus Christ. Her faith was in Him alone. My son had this hope in his sufferings because he knows the Savior, Jesus Christ. They both knew their Bibles and the promise of the hope we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. They both attended worship faithfully and soaked up the means of grace—Word, prayer, and sacraments. They loved and enjoyed the communion of the saints found in His church. Hope—not “I think,” but genuine hope—doesn’t just happen. It is cultivated and lived by faith in Christ alone. Prepare well, young friends, for the sufferings ahead, so you can glorify God with your hopeful life, even in hard times.
Dr. C.N. Willborn is senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and adjunct professor of church history at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.