Updated: Sep 14, 2021
As our Church gathered for corporate worship yesterday, the Lord’s Day, we sang the hymn, “Trust and Obey” in response to the Word that had been preached.
The second and third verses struck me as particularly applicable in light of both the text of Scripture that we had just heard, but also in light of the sheer amount of suffering we are currently living through. The verses read…
"Not a burden we bear,
Not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doeth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss,
Not a frown or a cross,
But is blest if we trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows
Are for those who will trust and obey."
It can be easy to fall into thinking that God blessed His children with worldly wealth and happy lives...and as long as things are going well in my life, God must be blessing me. And, if things go poorly...if I get sick, if someone dies, if I lose my job, etc...God must be punishing me.
When this is our idea of God and of the Chistian life, not only are we suffering from misunderstanding, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Such an idea of faith will sustain no one; it cannot hold any water.
This hymn helpfully reminds us of a few truths.
First, Life is Hard.
Life is difficult. It is full of struggle. It is full of heartache. We will struggle, hurt, fight, get sick, lose people, and we will all die. No one is promised an easy life. No one is promised a life without struggle. Such a life is offered in Jesus Christ, but it awaits us in heaven. And while we remain on the earth, we are not yet there.
-Paul talks of…
Despairing of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8).
And being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and even struck down (2 Cor. 4:8-9).
Suffering is real and it comes in a variety of forms. This is why the hymn uses words like burden, sorrow, toil, grief, frown, and cross. These are all words of struggle. One of them, cross, is a word of death. Life is hard, and we ought to remind ourselves of it.
Part of discipleship is keeping our eyes fixed on reality, and not buying into a delusion. It is delusion to think that life is not hard. It is a delusion to think that Christians do not suffer. This hymn disciples us back to reality.
All this suffering comes from the Fall of mankind into sin. Not only did Adam and Eve gain an awareness of their nakedness (a realization that they were now incomplete and morally stained), but the whole experience of mankind in the world changed. Man began to age, get sick, decay, and die. Our bodies struggle. We get injured; we get sick; we feel anxious and worried; we get headaches and back aches; we recognize the limits of our own power, and often feel powerless. We die.
Paul tells us that the creation, too, fell under the effects of sin (Romans 8:20). Storms, tornados, hurricanes, floods, ice storms, earthquakes, mudslides, and the like are all evidences of the created world's groanings. The world is literally groaning out loud.
Life is hard. We ought to remind ourselves of it.
Second, the song reminds us that Jesus saves and repays.
Life is hard, and following the way of Jesus is hard. But in the song, we remind ourselves, and remind each other that Jesus repays all of our struggles and sufferings. The hymn leads us to sing, “But our toil He doeth richly repay.”
This all comes right out of the Bible…
Mark 10:29-31, - “Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Matthew 16:24-25 - “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
2 Timothy 4:8 - “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Life is hard. But Jesus is worth far more. Anything the world takes from us will be richly repaid in Jesus.
Third, the song reminds us of the Cost of Discipleship and that the Cost is Worth It.
Everyone desires to be repaid for their sufferings. Everyone wants to gain the riches of heaven and eternal life. There is no one who would deny wanting such promises. Yet, those promises come at an earthly cost for us.
The cost is this: Letting Jesus be in charge. Letting Him call the shots in our lives.
The song says, “But we never can prove the delights of His love until all on the altar we lay…” Jesus does not invite us to accept Him as Savior while we, ourselves, go on trying to be the lords of our own lives. To follow Jesus is to recognize that He is both Savior and Lord. He alone is Lord and He alone has the words of eternal life, as Peter notes in John 6:68. He alone is the One Who calls the shots.
Proverbs 16:9 - "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."
Following Jesus is not about having the greatest earthly life we can ever imagine. It is not about having an easy earthly life. Following Jesus is about following Jesus.
Sometimes, suffering and hardship drives us away from Jesus because we cannot figure how Jesus could ever bring blessing and suffering together into one experience. If we suffer any measure of stress and struggle, we think it must be all bad. After all, none of us ever plan to struggle and suffer...
And yet, in His kindness, Jesus guides us back to the cross where He suffered the worst suffering in history and, at the same time, achieved the greatest good in history. Sometimes Jesus leads us down dark paths of suffering and hardship. And while we're on those paths, it can be hard to see how any good or any blessing could come from it.
How can good come from the loss of a job?
How can good come from bankruptcy?
How can good come from this cancer diagnosis?
How can good come from the death of my child?
How can good come from the death of my spouse?
How can good come from the death of my parent?
Jesus, how can good come from these things…?
Instead of pushing us away, Jesus holds us tighter and keeps us near to Himself...even as we sometimes struggle against Him. And as we follow Him along the path of hardship and suffering, we will find it to be more meaningful, more satisfying, more joy-filled than we ever thought possible. The paths of suffering almost never bring happiness, but they are never devoid of joy. Along the paths of obedience, Jesus promises to prove the delights of His love to His children.
He does not invite us to know everything He knows. Rather, He invites us to trust what He knows and to trust what He chooses while we walk in obedience to Him. "He is good, and what He does is good" (Psalm 119:68). He invites us to know that and to trust that. Which is why the song leads us to say, “For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for those who will trust and obey.”
The song is a call to discipleship. Will we hear? Will we follow? Will we do it together?
I’ll close with a prayer that I read recently at a funeral…
“LORD, you know the deep places through which our lives must go: Help us, when we enter them, to lift our hearts to You; help us to be faithful when we are afflicted, to be humble when we are in distress; and grant that the hope of Your mercy may never fail us, and the awareness of your lovingkindness may never be clouded or hidden from our eyes; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.” (Harold Sienkbiel)