“It feels like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
I sat on the edge of our bed with tears in my eyes, attempting to describe to my husband the silent, simmering fear that had been plaguing me. I was in perpetual dread of getting re-injured and of the new pains that so easily come to those recovering from chronic Lyme disease. After my body had been weakened for years upon years, it would now be left vulnerable to even the slightest stressors. When would the next ache come? When would the other shoe drop?
As physical discomfort seems to be my constant companion, I wrestle with what it looks like to be ready for it, rather than fretting over what the next pain will be. So I’ve wondered, What makes the difference between preparing for suffering and anxiously fearing it?
While reading 1 Thessalonians recently, I was stunned by the confident way Paul wrote to the church about standing firm amid persecution:
We sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. (1 Thess. 3:2)
Paul wanted his brothers and sisters prepared for suffering, so that their faith wouldn’t falter when the pain arrived. So he sent Timothy to “establish and exhort” the church; for the opposite of preparing for suffering is fearing it, and the fruit of fear can only be a faltering faith.
So, establishing and exhorting our faith will prepare us for suffering. But what does this mean?
Establishing Our Faith
Establishing our faith means rooting ourselves in God’s firm and eternal Word of truth. This truth is the gospel of our salvation. It’s everything we need for life and godliness. It protects us from sin and foolish living. And it never changes, even though our circumstances do.
Establishing our faith in the truth looks like:
- Reading God’s Word on a regular basis to receive his truth and hide it away in our hearts.
- Meditating on what Jesus Christ has done for us, believing him by faith, and asking God to amaze us with the gospel.
- Opening the Word with other Christians, teaching and admonishing one another in it.
- Sitting under sound, biblical preaching in a local church.
- Praying in response to what God has shown us in his Word and asking him to establish our hearts in the strengthening grace of Christ.
- Telling ourselves the truth despite difficult emotions and circumstances.
Yes, we take action to establish our faith in what’s true by opening our Bibles, praying, and meeting together; but only Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, so we cannot boast even in these actions. He gave us hearts to believe by faith in the first place, so we continue by faith, in dependence on grace, as we establish ourselves in truth. God is the one who speaks—and then gives us ears to hear and respond.
Exhorting Our Faith
If establishing our faith means rooting ourselves in God’s firm and eternal Word of truth, exhorting our faith means applying this truth practically, moment by moment. It’s exercising our “faith muscles” in preparation for suffering.
Here are three examples:
1. Knowing Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all things, including our earthly bodies, we need not fear sickness, injury, or death.
In the words of George Whitfield, “We are immortal until our life’s work is done.” Our times are in God’s hands! We can live unafraid, then, of what might happen to us. When we encounter physical pain, we can remember that Jesus, the God-man, suffered in the flesh; that he knows the number of our days; and that he grasps our lowly, tent-like condition better than we do.
2. Knowing Jesus is the advocate of sinners and the sinless judge, we need not fear relational tension, strife, or violence.
Though our enemies—even our friends—may assail, accuse, and betray us, we know the Lord of the universe will hide us in himself in the day of trouble (Ps. 27:5). And since we know Jesus the judge sees every man’s heart and will uphold justice on the Last Day, we’re freed from the burden of vengeance. We can live unafraid of what might happen in our relationships and communities because justice belongs to God, and our lives are hidden with Christ in him.
3. Knowing Jesus was tempted in every way, yet never sinned, we need not fear the battle against sin.
Rather than bracing ourselves to fall into sin, we exercise our faith by asking God for grace to overcome temptation, by removing any obstacles or triggers that would cause us to stumble, and by walking in the light with other Christians. We exhort our faith to hope and rest in the perfect life of Christ that was freely given to us, not in the success or failure of our attempts to be holy. Jesus is our righteousness!
Though suffering is a sure reality in this world, we need not anxiously fear it. Instead we must prepare for it by establishing and exhorting our faith now, through the living and abiding Word of God. As he gives us grace through his Holy Spirit, may we be found to have rooted ourselves in the truth of his Word, applying it by faith, so that we may not be moved by the suffering that is to come.
Editors’ note: Register to hear Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton address “Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections that Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” in a workshop at our 2017 National Conference, April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis. Browse the full list of speakers and talks.