Few of us get through life without having the winds of difficulty blow through our lives at some point—cold and unrelenting winds that threaten to knock us down for good.
When the winds of suffering blow in our lives, what we need most is something secure to tether ourselves to, something strong and unmovable that will keep us from being swept away in a storm of questions, fear, discouragement, and disillusionment.
I suppose that’s why collecting great writing on God’s perspective, purpose, and provision in suffering has been such a joy to me. Scriptural truths elucidated by respected classic and contemporary theologians and Bible teachers have been the solid foundation under my feet in the storms of suffering and sorrow in my life.
I pray the following excerpt from A. W. Tozer will provide that for you as well—that it will shape your thinking, steel your resolve, and still your soul:
It was the enraptured Samuel Rutherford who could shout in the midst of serious and painful trials, “Praise God for the hammer, the file, and the furnace.”
The hammer is a useful tool, but the nail, if it had feeling and intelligence, could present another side of the story. For the nail knows the hammer only as an opponent, a brutal, merciless enemy who lives to pound it into submission. To beat it down out of sight and clinch it into place.
That is the nail’s view of the hammer, and it is accurate except for one thing: The nail forgets that both it and the hammer are servants of the same workman. Let the nail but remember that the hammer is held by the workman and all resentment toward it will disappear.
The carpenter decides whose head shall be beaten next and what hammer shall be used in the beating. That is his sovereign right. When the nail has surrendered to the will of the workman and has gotten a little glimpse of his benign plans for its future, it will yield to the hammer without complaint.
The file is more painful still, for its business is to bite into the soft metal, scraping and eating away the edges till it has shaped the metal to its will. Yet the file has, in truth, no real will in the matter, but serves another master as the metal also does.
It is the master and not the file that decides how much shall be eaten away, what shape the metal shall take, and how long the painful filing shall continue. Let the metal accept the will of the master and it will not try to dictate when or how it shall be filed.
As for the furnace, it is the worst of all. Ruthless and savage, it leaps at every combustible thing that enters it and never relaxes its fury till it has reduced it all to shapeless ashes.
All that refuses to burn is melted to a mass of helpless matter, without will or purpose of its own. When everything is melted that will melt and all is burned that will burn, then, and not till then, the furnace calms down and rests from its destructive fury.
With all this known to him, how could Rutherford find it in his heart to praise God for the hammer, the file, and the furnace? The answer is simply that he loved the Master of the hammer, he adored the Workman who wielded the file, he worshiped the Lord who heated the furnace for the everlasting blessing of his children.
He had felt the hammer till its rough beatings no longer hurt; he had endured the file till he had come actually to enjoy its biting; he had walked with God in the furnace so long that it had become as his natural habitat. That does not overstate the facts. His letters reveal as much.
Such doctrine as this does not find much sympathy among Christians in these soft and carnal days. We tend to think of Christianity as a painless system by which we can escape the penalty of past sins and attain to heaven at last.
The flaming desire to be rid of every unholy thing and to put on the likeness of Christ at any cost is not often found among us. We expect to enter the everlasting kingdom of our Father and to sit down around the table with sages, saints and martyrs; and through the grace of God, maybe we shall; yes maybe we shall.
The flaming desire to be rid of every unholy thing and to put on the likeness of Christ at any cost is not often found among us.
But for the most of us it could prove at first an embarrassing experience. Ours might be the silence of the untried soldier in the presence of the battle-hardened heroes who have fought the fight and won the victory and who have scars to prove that they were present when the battle was joined.
The devil, things, and people being what they are, it is necessary for God to use the hammer, the file, and the furnace in his holy work of preparing a saint for true sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.
Without doubt, we of this generation have become too soft to scale great spiritual heights. Salvation has come to mean deliverance from unpleasant things.
Our hymns and sermons create for us a religion of consolations and pleasantness. We overlook the place of the thorns, the cross, and the blood. We ignore the function of the hammer and the file.
Strange as it may sound, it is yet true that much of the suffering we are called upon to endure on the highway of holiness is an inward suffering for which scarcely an external cause can be found. For our journey is an inward journey, and our real foes are invisible to the eyes of men.
Attacks of darkness, of despondency, of acute self-depreciation may be endured without any change in our outward circumstances. Only the enemy and God and the hard-pressed Christian know what has taken place.
The inward suffering has been great and a mighty work of purification has been accomplished, but the heart knoweth its own sorrow and no one else can share it. God has cleansed his child in the only way he can, circumstances being what they are. Thank God for the furnace.
This article is adapted from Nancy Guthrie’s Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain) (Crossway, 2010). The A. W. Tozer excerpt was taken from The Root of the Righteous: Tapping the Bedrock of True Spirituality (WingSpread Publishers, 1983).