Suffering is one of the topics that most people, including myself, want nothing to do with. However, there is a great deal that Jesus can teach us through our times of suffering. Here in the US we certainly do not suffer like our early Christian brothers did. For some, suffering is not getting something we want. For others it is loosing a loved one, and yet others being beaten or abused. There are different levels of suffering with various degrees of pain and hardship. We need to understand that suffering has an important role in our lives.
Let’s look at it from my daughter’s perspective. She is twelve years old. I love her with all my heart, but in her mind I cause her suffering every time I tell her to take a shower, every time I ask her to clean her room, every time I train her to say something in a more polite manner, and every time I compel her to do something she does not want to do. As adults, we can see the bigger picture. Obviously, my daughter needs to take a shower because it is for the greater good. No one wants to smell an active twelve year old child and there are health risks involved with not showering.
The truth is, God sees our suffering and knows it well. He wants the best for us, he wants to give us good things. Scripture illustrates this concept in the Gospel of Luke: “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”(Luke 11:13, NASB) No one in their right mind would ask for suffering. However when you are going through the valley of the shadow of suffering you do ask for it to stop. Suffering isn’t bad if we turn to Him, it is hard, but not bad.
A friend of mine 5 years ago dove into the ocean. He hit his head on the bottom and broke his neck. He was never supposed to walk again. This truly was a tragedy. Through a series of healings from God, and a lot of hard work he now can do many things. He isn’t completely better, check out the process http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DivRJm65ADc. What you don’t see in the video are 2 things. 1. How athletic and active he was before the accident. Jamie truly suffers every time his kids do sports, because (while he can walk) he can’t be active with them. 2. You don’t see the inner struggle with God. A few weeks ago He told me that asking “WHY” was the most harmful part of the process. He would go over and over it in his head—”God why did this happen?”—the dark places this took him to were not worth asking the question. It’s best to look to Jesus and say, “Now what?” “Now what are we going to do, how do I need to respond?”
Suffering in today’s post-modern American society is a matter of perspective. Suffering is closely linked to our feelings, specifically our deep desire to be happy in every circumstance. It is important to know that suffering is okay. Perhaps it is better to say, we don’t always have to be happy. J.P. Moreland writes that, “Pleasurable satisfaction makes a very poor lifetime goal; it is, however, a wonderful by product of striving after happiness in the classical sense.“ (J.P Moreland and Klaus Issler) My striving for happiness motivates me to do all kinds of things that aren’t good for me. For example, I like to be happy before bed, so I would eat, because when I am full I am happier than when I am hungry. Well, that kind of thinking got me to a weight of 305 lbs. If I find happiness in food, then I will become obese. At one point in my Christian walk, I believed that if I was happy, I had to be doing things the way God wanted me to do. I bought into this thinking and believed that it was the truth, but the truth is that God is not concerned about us being happy all the time.
Part of the Christian walk is going through hard and difficult times and learning and growing from those experiences. In the last few years, I have been learning that suffering is okay and that suffering is good, and that suffering makes me more like Jesus. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” What James wrote about is that it is a good thing to go through difficult times. It builds character. In fact, if our eyes are on Jesus He will use the suffering to build character. Just like the scriptures say, “all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.”(Romans 8:28, NASB)Through my character-building times, I have learned to be at His feet. Without doubt, I want to be at His feet all the time, even in good times.
Peter Fitch of St. Stephens University says, “Some suffering is due to the fact that we live in a fallen world, some because of evil or selfish acts, but there is some suffering God gives to wayward people in the hope that they will truly return to Him and cry out in their time of need.”I believe to survive suffering one must realize a Biblical truth: God likes me; He is for me, He is on my side. Wow, He really is, and if I take my moments of suffering to Him, he will turn it for the good. Without this fundamental truth, relationship with Him is lost or on the verge of loss.
We need to get away from the culture that tells us that if we are not happy, then we should change what we are doing. This is why the divorce rate is so high, this is why most church growth is from people moving from church to church, and this is why drug and alcohol abuse is on the rise. We search for things to make us happy. When we don’t find happiness, we continue to look elsewhere when we should be looking to God. The main point I want to get across is: don’t give up so easily. The road to true Christian maturity is through following Jesus no matter what you’re experiencing, not through happiness. God is on our side. Lance Pittluck, senior pastor at Vineyard Anaheim, always says, “God has a plan for every man.” Let’s learn to believe this, let’s get this into the core of who we are, let’s trust that God truly knows what He is doing.
What are your thoughts on suffering? Also, what about suffering for those that don’t follow Jesus? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment.
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I’m in your mother’s Bible Study group & we share her happiness in your longterm goals being achieved & those of your wife, Jen. She is very proud of you both. The article is wonderful and emphasises much of what we’ve been studying & you have the gift to put it on paper so well.
I’ve been editing my husband’s writings for years & being anal, I catch things. In reading your article I found two items & hope you don’t mind me mentioning them. Paragraph 3, line 6, the word their is spelled thier. Paragraph 6, line 7 you may want to omit “to” in order to read ‘all things work together’…Blessings & continued success. Vicki
Thanks Vicki, I appreciate the corrections. So, what are your thoughts on Suffering? Have you allowed God to use suffering to shape your character? any thoughts on those that don’t follow Jesus, and what suffering accomplishes in their lives?
Hi Dave, It took me 4 or 5 recent years to realize that through each trial that I went through God was refining me. I was brought to my knees in some of the stuff I’ve been through, but there was only one way to go and that was straight to the cross! I delved into Gods word and prayed, and cried out to Him so intensely and grabbed onto him so tightly as if I would fall of this planet if I let go. In this, God gave me revelation of who I am in Christ and the tools to endure the next trial with confidence that I will be ok, because he loves me and I was able to hold onto his truth and the wisdom I gained by pressing in. Now 5 yrs. present, yes I have trials but as quick as one comes I can already fill his peace knowing he is moving , and I look forward to see what he is going to do .. As far as a non believer, I don’t know how they could ever feel any peace through trial , cause who can they lean on, or trust . Where does there faith come from? There can’t be any faith and without faith there is no hope !!
Wow, Tammy that’s awesome. I agree, as i consider the trials that someone without our Christ centered faith, i realize the hopelessness they must feel.
Ditto…. Well said Tamara=)
Standing firm with the greatest Commandments …to love God and love others, suffering is necessary, yet bearable with God’s grace, for us to learn how to bless others by sharing our stories and experiences…we were created to not waste the pain but to use it to advance the kingdom by comforting those around us and encouraging them and preparing them to go through the same types of trials and to always give glory to God and be aware of His presence and experience his grace and to learn first hand that God is always working for the good of those who love him…. To those who do not know Christ, my heart weeps for the unimaginable task of dealing with these trials without the unending power of Gods love, mercy and grace…
I think one of the things that is always missed with suffering is the seeming randomness and unfairness of it all. As you said the suffering we suffer here in the United States is very different than that most of the world. There are people in Congo getting absolutely massacred, the Middle East is an absolute mess. Those are a few global examples. On a personal level suffering seems to be evenly distributed between believer and none believer alike. Does this mean God is indifferent between his followers and non-believer? I don’t think so I think he loves all equally and as the Bible states many times and you quoted just a few suffering is part of this world. The difference is in what we do during the trials I like Jaime’s quote
“Now what are we going to do, how do I need to respond?”