Do you feel fear or anxiety rise up when you think of suffering? Does a large part of your thought life consist of worrying about what might happen to you or someone you love, or losing some form of comfort in your life? Do you fret over the lives of your children, doing everything you can to protect them from pain and disappointment?
If you answered yes to any or all of these, be assured, you are not alone. Just because I am writing on suffering does not mean that I always respond graciously when it comes. I have had plenty of moments when anxiety, frustration, complaining, anger, and fear have been my reaction. I have questioned God’s love, goodness, and sovereignty. I have felt like giving up. I have been weary, broken, and afraid of the future. Yet, despite and through it all , God has been graciously and lovingly freeing me from this fear of suffering, and opening my eyes to the blessing that it can be. I know that this heart change has only come as a result of what Christ has done in me through what He has allowed me to endure.
There are two facts that I believe are true about every one of us.
- We don’t desire or enjoy suffering and seek to avoid it at all costs.
- We need suffering.
By nature, we typically see suffering as harmful, inconvenient, and something to be avoided at all costs. And apart from the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, that is all that suffering would be. The Bible, however, teaches us to rejoice in our sufferings. Yet before we can understand how that is possible, it’s important to know God’s character and perspective on suffering.
Suffering is not our purpose, being saved and sanctified are.
However, whether we want to accept it or not, much of our sanctification (the process of the Holy Spirit changing us to be like Christ), comes through suffering. So while we are not to seek pain or do nothing to improve our situation, (believing that we are holy simply because we suffer), we can rest in knowing that God uses suffering as a sanctifying tool of grace in the lives of those He loves.
This is incredibly important to grasp, because how we view suffering will impact both how we live and how we respond to others who experience hardships.
In Romans 5:1-5, Paul gives us this encouragement.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Paul reminds believers that, since we have been justified by faith (declared righteous in before God and no longer objects of wrath), we have peace with God through His Son. The basis of our hope in suffering begins and ends with the our promised eternal glory with Jesus Christ. No trial we endure can ever destroy this secure hope.
But how can we rejoice in the pain we endure on this earth? To many, even this thought seems crazy. The anguish of losing a loved one, battling infertility, a child with special needs, a life of singleness when marriage is longed for, financial woes, persecution, and physical pain seem far from something to rejoice in.
Clearly we do not rejoice in our pain, but what is produced in and through us as we endure and learn to trust Christ more fully.
I’d like to share how I have seen these verses in Romans come to life within my own circumstances and how they can speak hopeful truth into yours as well. I will also give three ways that Christ can use suffering in our lives for our good, which can enable us to look back in awe and thankfulness of God’s love, faithfulness, and grace through even the most difficult of circumstances.
~ First, suffering produces endurance. Enduring through suffering reveals the genuineness of our faith and, once proven genuine, it’s roots begin to grow deeper and stronger within us.
John MacArthur explains that the use of the word “suffering” in this passage refers to troubles that come to Christ’s followers because of their relationship with Him, rather than the normal pressures of living. Such difficulties produce rich spiritual benefits.”
A little over 8 years ago, my husband and I went into parenting, confident with godly expectations and hopes of how we would establish our home and raise children.
When our first child was born, in our desire to trust the Lord completely with his life, we chose to dedicate him with 1 Samuel 1:28; “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
It didn’t take long for our faith to be tested. Only 7 weeks after our son was born, he spiked a high fever and we found ourselves in the hospital facing the real possibility of losing him. With the possibilities of leukemia, spinal meningitis, a severe blood disorder, or a bacterial illness threatening the life of our newborn, my husband and I sat in shock as we tried to process how quickly life could change.
As we wrestled through fear, confusion, and the uncertainty of what might lie ahead, we had to ask ourselves whether we would trust our son’s life to God, even if death was what it meant. Was He really worth following if He would allow us to lose our son?
We reached a place of brokenness. Although we were scared and grieving, we knew that we needed to commit his life and ours fully to the Lord’s control and trustworthy plans, no matter the outcome. With surrendered hearts, we took a step of faith into an unknown future, with a growing confidence that God would carry us through whatever it held.
After 5 days, each looking more dire than the first, our son suddenly improved, leaving doctors utterly perplexed. It seemed nothing short of a miracle as we left the hospital, still in shock, but changed people.
As I look back on those days in the hospital, filled with a huge array of emotions, questions, and the prayers of family and friends, I can now see God’s hand in every moment of it. Little did I know that those 5 tremendously hard days merely served as a testing ground, and a foreshadowing of the journey that was to come.
Moments like these, which come in various forms and intensities, test our faith and reveal where our confidence and trust really lies. With each test as we choose to rely more deeply on the promises of God, in the midst of our difficult circumstances, we grow in our faith and capacity to endure.
~Second, the process of enduring through disappointments, trials, and even tragedy, often forces us to let go of certain expectations, desires, and plans, redirecting us down a path we never would have taken otherwise.
When my son was about four years old, behaviors we had noticed in his first few years of life began to intensify, reaching a nearly unbearable state. He was increasingly defiant, exhibited strange behaviors, and would have extreme and violent tantrums lasting an hour or two. Our confidence as parents left as quickly as it had come and, this precious little boy, who we had dedicated to the Lord with great hopes, left us feeling helpless, confused, scared and, at times, angry over shattered hopes and plans.
The next 3 years seemed to bring nothing but one trial after another, touching every area of our lives. Pressures came as a result of my husband being on call 24/7 for work, my debilitating health problems, the wearing effects of our son’s illness, and increasing financial pressures. These things impacted our marriage and family, often leaving us feeling confused and, at times, nearly hopeless. We saw no way out, no end in sight, and yet somehow, the Lord faithfully and continually equipped us to endure, even when it meant simply the strength to get out of bed each morning.
Where was God in all of this? Did He see my pain? Did He hear my cries for help? Was He really in control of all of this turmoil? While I believed He loved me, I struggled when my circumstances didn’t seem to reflect that truth. Many moments, I could say nothing except, “Jesus, I can’t do this anymore. If you won’t rescue me from this, I need you to carry me through it.”
And that is exactly what He did. The work that God was doing in us as we endured these trials, was preparing us to willingly let go of all that we felt we needed in life, and to trust His provision, protection, and faithfulness, despite how hard it seemed.
Through God’s leading, my husband took a new job to relieve his schedule, (taking a huge pay cut to do so). This radical choice meant we had to sell the home that we’d planned to grow old in and move into my parent’s house until the Lord provided a rental home in a new town. It felt as though we were being stripped of all earthly hope, comfort, security, and control.
However, as hard as this season was, something incredible happened through it as we were filled with an unimaginable peace. Of course we went through phases of grieving the loss of our home and the future that we had planned, but it was worth it all to receive the blessings that God poured out on our family.
While we were still in the midst of dealing with our son’s intense struggle and many other trials, my husband was home with our family, we were relieved of the burden of owning a large home, we were closer to family and friends and, more than anything else, we felt an incredible peace, joy, and contentment in the nearness of Christ. Those things were clearly not found in what we owned, or in ease of circumstances but, rather, in receiving the blessing of following Christ, no matter the cost. He never leaves us wanting more.
- Have you lost something in life that seemed like a good thing to desire?
- Have you struggled to understand why the Lord would allow a certain trial in your life?
- Is it possible that Christ has allowed the removal of something you love, or has allowed pain to touch your life for the purpose of drawing you near to Himself to fill you with what only He can give?
Rebecca Petrie wrote that “Change and loss are not usually a choice. But how we face the unexpected events, and what we allow the Lord to do with them, will determine the quality of our lives! The Bible says that the Lord is always working for our good. Sometimes we must redefine what ‘good’ is. Often these crises become the springboard for a deeper relationship with the Father.” Oh how true this is. I encourage you today to view your circumstances through the unchanging love and goodness of the Father, who sacrificed His Son for our eternal salvation and all-satisfying joy in Him.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)”