What We Can Learn From Hard Times

Weeping and Joy

Psalm 30 tells the story of someone who had faced difficult times. Listen to the litany of sorrows experienced by this song writer:

  • Verse 1 mentions enemies, indicating the presence of interpersonal conflict in the psalmist’s life.
  • Verse 1 also says that God had lifted the psalmist from “the depths”, pointing perhaps to a personal struggle with depression.
  • Verses 2 and 3 state that God had healed the psalmist and rescued him from death, meaning he had faced severe physical illness.
  • Verse 11 speaks of wailing and sackcloth, both symbols of bereavement, hinting that the psalmist may have experienced the death of someone he loved.

What did the psalmist learn through all this suffering? According to this song, he learned two things.

1) He learned that human strength is temporary.

When I felt secure, I said, I will never be shaken.”
Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.
  (vv. 6-7)

Before he faced suffering, the psalmist felt self-confident and secure. “I will never be shaken” was the unspoken assumption that carried him through life. It is easy to feel this way when everything is going our way. When our health is good, when there is money in the bank, when we are surrounded by friends, we can easily reach the conclusion that our hard work and personal virtues are the reasons life is going well. Our hearts can swell with pride. We might grow indifferent to the sorrow of others. We easily forget to pray. 

What the psalmist did not realize, however, was that what made his “royal mountain stand firm” was the hidden favor of God, not his own personal merit. It was not until God temporarily hid his face and allowed the psalmist to suffer that the limitations of his own strength were revealed. It was not until he faced a trial that he began to call out to God in prayer (vv. 8-10).

This is often the way it is. We do not fully realize our weakness and need for God until we suffer. The puritan author John Flavel wrote, “Let a Christian ... be but two or three years without an affliction, and he is almost good for nothing.  He cannot pray, nor meditate ... but when a new affliction comes, now he can find his tongue, and come to his knees again ....”

When viewed from this perspective, times of suffering can be seen as an act of God’s mercy. Were God to allow us to sail through life without facing any problems, we might easily end our days without ever really getting to know the Lord. As Andre Crouch used to sing, “If I’d never had a problem, I’d never know that God could solve them. I wouldn’t know what faith in God could do.”

Uninterrupted success can produce impenetrable pride, blinding our eyes to our need for God. Suffering and pain, as hard as they are, are often the only antidote to human pride, increasing our hunger for God.

2) He learned that God’s love is eternal.

When suffering finally drove the psalmist to call out to God, what did he learn? He learned that even if everything else in life failed him, God never would. The Lord heard his cry and restored him. God “turned [his] wailing into dancing” and “removed his sackcloth and clothed [him] with joy” (v. 11). The psalmist learned that God’s “anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime” and that “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (v. 5).

How did the psalmist learn these important truths? By reading a book? By hearing a sermon? No, such gems of wisdom are only learned in the school of suffering. What first appeared to the psalmist to be a sign of God’s rejection (his raw experience of sorrow) eventually proved to be an open door to deeper joy. God used sorrow to draw the psalmist into a fuller knowledge of Godself.

If you are enduring a difficult season in life right now, do not assume that God has rejected you. It may be that God has allowed trials into your life because he plans to reveal himself to you more deeply than ever before. Ask God not to let your sorrow be wasted. Invite him to use suffering to draw you closer to him. Your weeping is real, but it will not last forever. Your night may be dark, but it will eventually end. Joy comes in the morning. God’s love is real.