In my previous post, Everything Sad is Coming Untrue, I talked about how, though no one is free from suffering, knowing what it looks like can help us love others through suffering, persevere through our own suffering, and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who loves us, knows our frame, and knows what it’s like to suffer. Romans 12:12 commands us to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer. I found this to be a helpful reminder as we endure trials of many kinds.
REJOICE IN HOPE.
How do you rejoice in suffering? How do you rejoice in hope?
- Remember the gospel and where (who) your identity is. It was because Job did not put his identity in health or family or reputation or wealth, etc, that he was able to worship and say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” when he lost everything. He lost everything that most people find their identity in. If we lose something we believe we need or even deserve, we become bitter. But if we have our identity anchored in Christ, then loss and suffering will drive us deeper into our source of joy, not away to something else we think will fulfill us (even good things can become idols). What we lose will be nothing compared to having Christ. Suffering does not rob us of joy, idolatry does.
- Be thankful. Suffering is not only meant to draw us toward God in our weakness, but it is also assurance that God knows the end of our story. He would not allow us to go through something hard without giving us the strength to handle it. I have found seeking thankfulness in the midst of suffering to be so helpful to keep a right perspective.
- Know that there is an end to suffering. Ultimately, the only final end to suffering is death. And death is not the end! Death is what God uses to ultimately bring you to life and fullness with him.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
- Allow emotion. Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. (Job 1:20) I just think Job’s response is amazing. I can so often hide my emotion under the pretense of looking strong, or thinking that because this is for my good it shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. But look at the patterns of Job and the psalms…grief and anguish are so often in the same breathe as the rejoicing. Grief and worship are not opposed to one another. We can be free to experience our grief and still rejoice in the goodness of God.
BE PATIENT IN TRIBULATION.
How is suffering fruitful?
What does it look like to be patient in tribulation? Although suffering is not what we were made for, it can bring fruit in ways we could never imagine. I love Genesis 50: 19-21—But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
God meant it for good.
It is important to note that we may not see every (or any) good outcome, or all the fruit of our labors or suffering. Moses didn’t. Abraham didn’t. For me, because I know that God has a purpose in suffering, I want to know why he gives a particular trial, or how he will be glorified through this suffering — how will he use it for good??! I want to know! It seems like it would make the suffering more bearable.
But when Job asked why, God did not give an explanation; instead he reminds Job of His greatness and power. If God had explained to Job what was going to happen, and how everything was going to turn out, then Job would not have been relying on God alone in those dark trials. He would have been placing trust in the outcome in order to have strength to persevere. And God knows that the only way we will make it through the hours of darkness, through the silence and pain, is to trust him no matter what. Not in the outcome. Not in the explanation. Explanations are ultimately a substitution for trust, just like having faith in something you can see, is no faith at all. (Romans 8:24)
I always want to know the why and the how and the when…but his ways are higher than ours, and we don’t need to know them in order to trust Him. Here are a few of the ways we can see some of God’s purposes in suffering, as he shows us in his Word.
- To rely on Christ. Suffering makes us cry out to God for help in a way we may not when life is going well. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
- To learn obedience. “Although he was a son, he [Christ] learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
- That the works of God may be displayed. “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” (John 9:1-3)
- To produce steadfastness. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
- As discipline. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7. 11)
- To remind us to remember the gospel. It’s hard not to think that we’ve had our fair share of suffering and it’s time for a break. But there is no “fair” in the Christian life. Well, there is, but we don’t want it. In the past I have been told that I “deserve” certain things, and was actually encouraged in sin because of it. But the reality is we deserve hell so everything else is not only mercy, but it is actually better for us than any alternative we can think of, because God has designed our steps and he is for us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
- God’s comfort enables us to comfort others. Because we have received comfort from God, we can comfort others in any affliction. We don’t have to have experienced the exact suffering they are going through, or even anything close. We are sharing the very comfort of God. Just as we carry each other’s burdens and share in each other’s sufferings, we also share in comfort. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)
BE CONSTANT IN PRAYER.
Plead to Father. Cry out in weakness. Sometimes all I can say is, “Oh God, please help.” At times all you may hear is silence. But He is a loving Father and hears the prayers of his children. And His purposes for you are good. Always.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. (James 5:13)
Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! (Psalm 66:16-20)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)