Every serious Christian I know—myself included—has asked the question at some point in his life, “God, what are you doing?” What you thought God was supposed to do, he didn’t do. When you thought God was going to show up, it seemed like he didn’t. And it left you confused, disappointed, frustrated—maybe even doubting God altogether.
In times like this, many Christians begin to question God: “God if you’re supposedly working in my life, then why aren’t you being a little bit better to me? Why does it seem like life is harder then when I was going my own way?”The problem with those thoughts is that they assume that being chosen by God means being chosen for comfort and success. But more often than not, being chosen leads to opposition and hardship. For an example of this, look no further than the Apostle Paul.
In Acts 9:15-16, God tells Ananias to go talk to the recently converted Paul (at that point “Saul”), saying, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” There’s a combination we don’t expect: God declares that Paul had been chosen…to suffer.
We normally assume that suffering is what the enemy causes. Or maybe it’s what happens when we do things wrong. But God declares that the greatest missionary and theologian of all time (besides Jesus) was being hand-picked for suffering. Not because he had done something wrong, not because Satan was after him, not because God was angry with him.
So what was the point behind Paul’s suffering? If you’re a believer, what is the point of your suffering? As much as we bristle at it, suffering is one of God’s primary training tools for his people. As A. W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” That is what is happening to Paul in Acts 9. Through suffering, God is preparing Paul
And don’t miss this: sometimes what God is preparing you for is mainly himself. As God says in Acts 9:15, Paul is “a chosen instrument of mine.” Not every bad thing works out with some amazing silver lining. (“Oh, I thought it was bad that I didn’t get in to med school at UNC, so I went to Elon. But that’s where I met my wife!”) God does often use our bad circumstances for some specific good, but it may be that God simply wants to prepare you for himself. He wants to strip you of your idols, to purify your heart, to bring you to the place where you treasure and trust him above all. Because what God is doing in you is just as significant as what he is doing through you.
Paul got this. He spent his best years in obscurity, many of them in prison. He never made any money. When he died, people were slandering him and saying he was an egotistical maniac. He was executed and his body was probably eaten by dogs. From our perspective, we can see how God had chosen him for something greater. But at the time, Paul couldn’t see that. Yet he was able to press on, knowing that whatever the purpose, God had chosen him.
If you have placed your faith in Christ, then rest in the fact that God chose you. When life is hard, believe that God is working something mighty in you. When life seems unfair, believe that God is preparing you. You’ve got to cling to the promise that God will be faithful to you as he was to Paul. So when suffering comes, you can declare with Paul: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”