I was 34 when I used the word “chronic” in front of the word “pain” for the first time. I said it in a small voice, wondering if five years of suffering was long enough to merit the phrase. When this door of suffering opened before me, I didn’t understand that the path to growing in faith could hurt so badly.
In the apostle Peter’s first letter, he encourages believers to persevere through suffering for its faith-refining effect. He points us to the weight of eternal glory to come, making our sufferings smaller than they first appear. He gives us confidence to entrust ourselves to a loving Father.
Peter makes me squirm, though, when I read that there are lessons the Christian must learn in the refining fire of suffering. “You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6–7 HCSB, emphasis added).
When the next step of sanctification puts us squarely in front of suffering’s door—whether it’s labeled “breast cancer” or “Lyme disease,” we can respond in one of two ways. We can either waste the opportunity to grow in godliness by becoming bitter, or we can cross the threshold confident that what we receive from God’s hand is for his glory and our good.
If suffering is the door you must walk through, then take heart in the ways God will use it for good in your life.
We learn the true nature of our faith when it’s braced against pain, sorrow, or persecution. When our hearts are weighed down with sorrow, or when our bodies are ravaged by disease, God can secure our trust. I used to fear my faith in God’s goodness wasn’t strong enough to withstand years of physical pain, but chronic suffering burned off any illusion that salvation depends on me.
I used to fear my faith in God’s goodness wasn’t strong enough to withstand years of physical pain, but chronic suffering burned off any illusion that salvation depends on me.
We persevere, and it’s God who preserves us. In the worst moments of pain, my faith in God’s goodness seemed so flimsy. I couldn’t think about long-term faith, only the next step in front of me.
But God used the breath-by-breath moments of perseverance to teach me that it was safe to trust him for the next step. He may not have removed my suffering when I wanted him to, but he was with me in the midst of it. My suffering revealed that it was God who kept me, protecting my heart for eternity (1 Pet. 1:5–7).
Suffering has a way of taking up residence in your life and mind as the only thing that matters. It’s difficult to pull your thoughts away from aching joints that flare up every night or the draining side effects of treatment and medication.
But God can still work in our tunnel vision. He used the persistent pulse of pain to wither my self-sufficiency. When disease had stripped my body of its former confidences and fogged my mind with confusion, I had nothing left to stand on beside the work of Christ within.
The world watches how we Christians handle suffering. It may feel awkward to say to your unbelieving friend that God hasn’t removed your pain though he could, but the opportunity to speak of his faithfulness in your suffering is fertile soil for gospel witness.
I had just such an opportunity when an unbelieving friend pondered my confidence in God’s goodness, though I still dealt with chronic pain. “I wish I could believe in something so solidly,” she told me. This was the door I had long prayed to walk through, and I did so armed with the good news of Christ, grateful for the hinge of pain on which the door swung.
Looking to Christ
Peter points us to Christ over and over in his letter as one who suffered unjustly but victoriously. Christ suffered for us—showing us how to suffer well. And Christ suffered because of us—hanging on the cross in our place. He exhausted God’s wrath for our sin so we can enjoy the limitless, eternal, imperishable weight of glory that comes after we’ve suffered a little while. He will certainly keep us until that Day appears (1 Pet. 1:5).
I could finally walk through suffering’s next door with confidence that the road beyond was paved with God’s care.
Because he has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ, we can tread the path of suffering knowing that Christ traveled it first and shows us how to press on (1 Pet. 2:21).
Though my years with chronic pain were the most difficult of my life, God’s faithful work produced the fruit of perseverance that prepared me for the next trial. I could finally walk through suffering’s next door with confidence that the road beyond was paved with God’s care.
If God has ordained a door of suffering for you to walk through, you can trust he’s invested in both your perseverance and also your restoration (1 Pet. 5:10). You can step across the painful threshold knowing that the road beyond is incomparably short in light of the inheritance that has been bought and kept for you.
One foot in front of the other, Christian. You don’t suffer without purpose, and you don’t suffer alone.