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Spurgeon's Sermon and my Suffering
Listen to a Sermon that Changed my Life
In my last article, I shared some verses1 that the Lord has repeatedly used to encourage and sanctify me over the past few years. These verses were especially heartening during a prolonged period during which I was housebound, and largely confined to my bed. Lying there, in vast amounts of pain, unable to sleep or even to find a single comfortable position, I struggled against a persistent sense of pointlessness. The enemy would come and remind me of just how frail I was, and how useless I felt. My only visitors were the people who lived with us, and I had no pastoral support at the time.
I felt very alone.
It was not the first time I’d been seriously ill, and, therefore, I knew that the Lord would be perfecting my suffering for his glory and for the good of his people. There were times though—sometimes due to spiritual drought and other times because of the wretched medicine I had to take—that the truth became hard to hold onto.
During this time, I had continued to disciple a number of young men in the church, (albeit on Zoom…and horizontally.) One day, between one call and another, I brought my struggle before the Lord and asked:
“What is the point? What am I good for now?”
After I had prayed, I picked up a book of sermons that sat by my bedside, and I began to read. I’d love to tell you about the sermon I stumbled upon that day, and about how God used it to transform my suffering once more, to change my life, and to renew my mind. In addition though, I wanted as many people as possible to be able to access this sermon, and so, I have recorded the sermon in full so you can listen on YouTube:
Burdens and Bedsides
That day, whilst reading the sermon above, the following words were an answer to prayer and a warm embrace:
There lies, at Dundee, at this present moment, a man who has been confined to his bed, I think it is now fifty-six years. I have his photograph at home, and the friend who sent it to me wrote, “I send you the likeness of the happiest man in Dundee, and one of the most useful, too, for he is a great soul-winner though he cannot raise himself from a constantly prostrate position. He talks so sweetly of Christ and of the upholding power of divine grace, that he leads many to put their trust in Jesus Christ.
I was six months in to what would be almost a year spent mostly in bed—though I didn’t know it yet. In that moment, my prayer railing against my uselessness was replaced by one petitioning God to use my bedridden state; even if it was to last another fifty-six years. The truth is, that often when we’re in states of suffering, we’re the first to declare ourselves a lost cause, even when we would never do such a thing to others.
Spurgeon goes on to say:
All over this land…there are bed-ridden men and women who are the saintliest among the saints. It is an atrocious lie that some have uttered when they have said that the sickness is a consequence of the sufferer's sin. I could not select, out of heaven, choicer spirits than some whom I know who have not for twenty years left their bed, and they have lived nearer to God than any of us, and have brought to Him more glory than any of us.
It is true that there are some out there who will blame suffering saints for their status, I’ve met some personally. In the past, however, I’ve become that person myself, blaming and shaming that which God has declared righteous and called to a life of service, all because I happen to meet that saint when I’m holding a mirror.
In this sermon, Spurgeon speaks of and to “burden-bearers” of various sorts, comparing them to the Gershonites spoken of and to in the book of Numbers—a family in the tribe of Levi called to bear holy burdens and responsible for the moving of the priestly ornaments. As I’m presently one of these Gershonites—no longer bed-bound, but still in a daily state of suffering—it is not enough to view myself as “not worthless” but rather, to stand as a witness of God’s goodness in and through that suffering.
This passage in Numbers 4 starts with the words, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…” before going on to describe the service and the life the Gershonites were to live. They were not an afterthought, nor were they they “less than” but, rather, were directly appointed by God for their task. Likewise, we who suffer, or who have been given a tough lot in life are not afterthoughts, relegated to lesser service, but are called to the very same commission, to make disciples of all nations.
How are we then to do that with a burden in hand?
Bringing Beauty to Bear
I once went sailing on the Thames River with my Scout group. I don’t know the names of the ropes, but let’s call one of them the “DON’T LET GO” rope. I was busy steering, and my companion was holding the “DON’T LET GO” rope. He’d been holding it for some time and didn’t want to hold on anymore, and so, when a gust of wind came, he decided that would be a good time to move to a different part of the boat. I moved too and suddenly found myself outside of the boat and rather wet.
I floated for a while.
He’d been given a burden and had chosen to drop it. We both found out that day the importance of bearing a burden well. I might have been steering the boat, leading us where we ought to go, but it mattered little once he decided to let go of the “office appointed” to him.
Beyond merely shouldering a burden, those of who are like the “Gershonites” should do more than just grit out our teeth through the experience. Spurgeon says:
…the burdens, which are borne for the Lord, educate the bearer. I should suppose that the man who carried the golden candlestick knew more about that candlestick than anybody else did…as He bore that precious burden, it should have been his desire that his brethren should know what it was that he was bearing, and also what was its spiritual significance.
This encouraged me more than I could have hoped. Learning to receive that education, to be taught by the Spirit through the pain was enough to help me see that what I’d thought was a fire burning away at me was actually a golden candlestick. Beyond just receiving this education, it is now my duty to educate others. The western world seems obsessed with focussing on fires, oblivious to the candlesticks beneath; we as Christians ought not to follow suit.
In the service of God, this I know…whenever God puts a burden upon the Shoulders of any of his children, it is an educational Process. We always learn much more by our griefs and woes than by anything else. God has often produced in us much richer and sweeter fruit by pruning than by any other process of His divine husbandry.
I can attest to this, and have done time and time again. I try not to write about my suffering more than I should, and I may or may not get that balance right, but even sitting here, feeling the slipped discs in my spine, and losing the feeling in my legs, I know if this encourages just one person, on one day, or in a single moment, then it is worth it.
I must make it clear that none of this is to say that life as a burden bearer is easy, it isn’t. I struggle and I know others who have far more upon their shoulders. Tim Shorey, a Pastor from the States currently battling stage four prostate cancer, explains this beautiful agony in a series called, “Faith Reflection from a Cancer Oven.” He talks about the terrible panic and the temptations, but he ended on this note in his last article:
“He will not fail, for he absolutely cannot.”
The Quiet Lessons We All Learn in Our Waiting Rooms - Tim Shorey
It has been my experience that what Spurgeon says, that “We always learn much more by our griefs and woes than by anything else” is true and will be until the final day of this earth, when all suffering will finally cease. Until then, I have been given only two choices, follow the father of lies into a downward spiral, or my Father in heaven into a greater understanding of his love in order to help others to do the same.
This sermon helped to show me that. I have made my decision.
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”