Life is far from easy at times and most of us at some point will experience suffering or trials of one kind or another. In my life….I’ve faced loss, financial disaster, bereavement, betrayal, rejection, attacks, loneliness, periods of incredible stress and anxiety, burnout and have even reached the point of despair where I wondered whether things would ever change!
We will all experience suffering as Christians. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: ‘The state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship or the misery resulting from affliction or misfortune.’
How do we deal with suffering? What is the biblical perspective?
Does God always rescue & deliver? Why not?
How does God want us to respond to suffering and difficulties?
Is it possible to ‘suffer well?’
The Bible Is A Narrative Of People’s Lives
The Bible contains lots of incidents of suffering in individual lives: women dying in childbirth, rape, incest, murder, poverty, betrayal, kidnap, bereavement & loss, famine, wars, persecution, stoning, martyrdom, sickness, death, barrenness…and of course Jesus is described as the ‘suffering servant’ (Isaiah 53). Paul actually boasted of his sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-30) and any reading of Hebrews 12 would inform us of the terrible sufferings of those amazing early Christians.
It’s interesting that, in this generation of victorious living and prosperity teaching, the bible seems to suggest a different viewpoint. It speaks of those great saints saying they,
‘Were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:40)
Should We Really Expect A Perfect Life?
Some preachers would have us believe that we can actually live a perfect life where there is no suffering, no sickness, poverty, financial lack, or even death…..and that, should we not receive what we’re entitled, to that this is because of a lack of faith. Try telling that to someone in a third world country!
And please…don’t forget that Paul didn’t lack faith and neither did any of the early church believers and yet they suffered – many of them being martyred.
Not all the heroes of the faith experienced immediate triumph over their circumstances, but they were all blessed and sustained by God. The fulfilment for them was discovered in eternal glory in Christ Jesus.
So How Should We Live?
Yes….keep praying, keep believing! God works miracles!
Yes, ask God to deliver you from your difficult circumstances and trials. Of course.
Yes, keep going, keep believing in the face of suffering…
But remember two things:
1. We’re Called To Share in Jesus’ Sufferings
Paul said something absolutely crazy!!! Steady…….are you ready for this?
‘I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Philippians 3:10-11)
Paul’s life had been so transformed by the love of God and His relationship with Jesus, that his desire was to suffer with Christ – nothing was too much for Paul. There is a sense in which as sons and daughters we are called to share in his sufferings and as a result we are allowed to share in His glory.
‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.‘ (Romans 8:17-18)
Of course many are suffering for their faith around the world. Persecution is increasing. We should regularly pray for persecuted and suffering Christians.
2. Remember that the same power that delivers – sustains!
‘Too often we marvel at the delivering power of God and overlook His keeping, strengthening and enabling power.’ (Joyce Meyer)
Never forget that His power is not simply for deliverance and that His grace is sufficient during suffering, difficulties, trials and temptations.
‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9)
As I look back at my life – there have been some horrible times where God simply hasn’t delivered me…but he has sustained me through every situation I have faced. He has given me His incredible peace and the strength to get up each day and go again…. I can think of numerous situations where God has been my absolute rock and my fortress. I would never have got through without his daily strength and sustenance. During those difficult days I found Psalm 18 and Ephesians 6:10-17 a great help.
What if God allowed suffering and trials to take place for our benefit?
What if, what the devil meant to cause harm and destruction, God worked for good?
I’ve discovered that there are some clear benefits to suffering and that in fact, it is possible to ‘suffer well.’
Benefits of Suffering & Trials
Paul suggests that suffering is productive for us;
‘Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.‘ (Romans 5:3-5)
Here are some benefits of suffering for Christians:
Force us to pray
There is nothing like a trial to get you on your knees! It’s one of the reasons I know prayer works!! Suffering builds your relationship with God! If the only time you pray is when you need something from God what kind of relationship is that…
Force us to trust
We have to somehow learn that God can be trusted!
No shortcuts. As I reflect on my times of suffering – I know that I didn’t thank God at the time – but I thank God now for every trial and time of suffering I have been through…..those experiences have moulded me and caused me to deeply trust God!
Force us to develop patience and perseverance
Sadly these qualities are only learned through trials, suffering and difficulties. James confirms this;
‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ (James 1:2-4)
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.” (Helen Keller)
Sufferings and trials are allowed by God to:
- Mould us into the image of His son
- Help us learn wisdom
- Develop the character of Christ (fruit of Spirit: Gal. 5:22)
- Add to who we are (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Whatever you’re going through right now – you are GROWING!
Reinforces Our Faith
Ask Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego what their faith was like after they’d been through the fiery furnace! (Daniel 3:13-14, 24-25)
God was with them in the fiery furnace. He didn’t stop them going through it – God allowed it and Jesus was with them going through it. Image those guys after they had been through the fiery furnace! Wow – they would trust God to deliver them from anything! (Isaiah 43:1-2)
‘Great faith must have great trails’ (Charles Spurgeon)
Makes Us More Secure In Him
It’s easy to become our own God – all our security is in us or our bank account, job, family or others rather than God. When you come through a tough trial – you know that God will carry you through the next one. God has taught me this. But you cannot learn that by having a quiet life or by reading a book….
Prepare us for greater things God has prepared for us in future
“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?’ (Jeremiah 12:5)
There are no shortcuts to what God has prepared and He wants you to be ready for the next level and greater challenges. He’s setting you up for future successes! ‘
There is no victory without suffering’ (JRR Tolkien)
Glory is revealed in us
‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ (Romans 8:18, cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
This verse points towards the future glory when the Kingdom comes in all its fullness…but it also applies to the present. Every time we successfully come through suffering well – God is glorified! It’s a great testimony to unbelievers as they witness our great faith and hope in difficult times.
So can I encourage you today to ‘suffer well.’ Of course – pray for deliverance and a breakthrough, but while you wait, why not say to God;
‘Lord I choose to embrace what I’m going through right now….help me to grow, mature, learn, develop a big faith, be transformed and to be more like Jesus. Lord give me patience during this trial. Please help me, strengthen me, sustain me and help me to keep going each day and to never give up! Through the abiding power of your Holy Spirit. Amen’
Here’s a final promise from God’s Word,
‘And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.’ (1 Peter 5:10)
I hope this helps and encourages you. It is a vast subject. If it has then please feel free to comment and why not use one of the social media buttons and share it so that someone else can be encouraged. God bless!
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