Suffering is inevitable.
We are constantly reminded by our friends, family, and media of that suffering. Believers are not exempt; every follower of Christ will experience some kind of trial or suffering.
We're guaranteed to suffer for two reasons. The first is because sin infected everything in our world. When sin entered, nothing in the realm of creation escaped its destroying touch. It ushered in general suffering, such as natural disasters and disease. The second reason is because suffering is a part of being a Christ follower.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet. 4:12-13)
Christians need not wonder why we are suffering. Rather we rejoice that we are allowed to follow in Christ’s example of suffering.
In his last hours on earth, Christ reiterated the certainty of suffering in a Christian’s life by stating, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). This verse would be incredibly difficult to bear if that is all Scripture said about the subject. However in the very next breath, Christ gives the ultimate encouragement when he says, “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”
Whatever kind of suffering you are experiencing, take heart knowing your Savior has overcome the world. The one who died for you experienced the ultimate suffering, leaving his heavenly throne, stepping into human flesh, living a perfect live and then dying in your place to take the wrath for your sins. In Christ we have the greatest example of how to suffer well.
Purpose of Suffering
For Christians enduring this fallen world, suffering has two purposes: God’s glory and our good.
When we respond to suffering well, we practically demonstrate to the unbelieving world that Christ is more glorious and precious to us than any pain and difficulty we might endure. We have the opportunity to show where and in whom we find our true treasure. By placing our ultimate hope in Christ rather than in the temporary things of this world, God receives the glory.
Yet while we can maybe see how suffering well gives glory to God, we find it hard to imagine how suffering can possibly be for our good. The body sick with cancer, the paycheck that didn’t quite cover our expenses, the grief over an unsaved family member, the late night phone call that changes our life forever. The list of trials and sufferings many of us will endure is extensive. It may seem unimaginable, yet even as we ask God for deliverance, suffering as a Christian serves several purposes for our ultimate good.
Suffering sanctifies and purifies us. When earthly pleasures, things, and people are stripped out of our lives, it reveals where we have mistakenly placed our hope. Suffering draws us closer to Christ, because we don’t have the worldly comforts to rely on. The Lord knows that we have no greater good than to gaze firmly upon him and not the things of the world. So do not waste your suffering! Instead of throwing yourself a pity party (although I have thrown and attended several grand ones for myself), seek the Lord’s glory for your good in seasons of trials.
Our natural first reaction to suffering is frustration, fear, or anxiety. When your heart is breaking, and your world is falling apart, take heart! Remind yourself your God has overcome the world! Trust in his character. Remember that God loves his children and that he is ultimately good. Do not forget these truths for they are your lifeblood in times of suffering.
Regardless of your present . . .
Circumstances or crisis,
Pressures or pain,
Suffering or sorrow,
Failures or frustrations,
Danger or disease,
Memories or misery,
Temptations or trials,
Problems or persecutions,
Burdens or brokenness . . .
As you evaluate the pain in your own life or in the world right now, meditate on these questions:
What is the Lord teaching you about himself?
How can you use your suffering for his glory?
Remember that our situation is temporary compared to eternity. In the closing chapters of the final book of the Bible, God makes a beautiful promise to his children: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3).
If this present world were the end of the story and we had no Savior in which to place our hope, we should be pitied. But praise God, that is not our situation! Cling to your Savior and the rich promises he has given, and you will find comfort in the midst of your pain.