Suffering and trouble are a part of life in this world. We may bring it upon ourselves, have it thrust upon us by the sins of others, or a more noble source – suffering because of our allegiance to Jesus Christ.
Every Christian then, needs to be willing to suffer, simply for being a Christian (1 Peter 4:14-15 ). We live in the midst of evil (Galatians. 1:4), in a liberal, ungodly world that opposes Christ (1 John 4:3). Jesus called it a troublesome world. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
There is no exemption for suffering and there is mystery in the proportion of its allotment. I’ve been baffled many times by the fact that some people seem to be immune and manage to dodge hardship, while others seem to receive more than their share. “Why that person or that family? They are so Godly.” In the midst of it all, I love this promise: “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:19). There is a rescue available for me, every time.
I love the insights given by Alicia Chole in 40 Days of Decrease:
“A troubled soul is not always the sign of a faith deficit. A troubled soul is sometimes the signature of obedience-in-the-making… Process can be a troublesome thing. It disrupts us and disorients us and we would much rather skip to the end. But to live true, we must allow process to run its course. Question it, weep through it, agonize over it… but, for the sake of our souls, we dare not truncate process because time alone makes its work soul-deep… Resist tidying up when you are in the muddy middle of the process… Befriend undone. Name the trouble. Like Jesus, talk to yourself and your Father God. Ask Him if alternative routes exist again and again and again… until you push through resistance, pass around resentment, press past resignation, and emerge into willful (even if tearful) partnership with God.” (emphases mine)
Process. I love that word and all it entails, especially when I’m on the back end of it, seeing the fruit it bears. On the front end, or in the middle, it’s challenging. Thankfully, “Gethsemane seasons”, as I call them, are intermittent, versus ongoing. (This is not true for some who chronically suffer.) Lord have mercy. He does delight to heal and deliver, and rightly do we contend for it.
Allow me to share a few recently gleaned views on suffering that have bolstered my faith.
Suffering impregnates my faith for a future revealing.
Suffering is a vehicle for mature character. James 1:3-4 and Romans 5:3-5. Suffering may even be God initiated, as an escort from the “better” we enjoy, to the “best” He has prepared. “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7 )
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Suffering is my opportunity to display courage and tenacity, inspiring those around me. Philippians 1:14 – Every person’s “chains” are unique. They may represent literal persecution for your faith, physical challenges, vocational stress, family division, bereavement, or a fragile emotional state.
Paul alludes to his prior experiences (Philippians 1:29-30) and presents suffering as an opportunity. It has been “granted” you; the word meaning here is “to grant as a favor.” It’s a gratuity – no matter what the “chains” may be, I am favored with the opportunity to stand strong in the midst of them. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25)
Suffering, and my being comforted therein, transforms me into a conduit of comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Suffering will be a normal occurrence to those who follow after Christ. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22). Another translation says, “Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.” (MSG)
The source may be external (Paul was stoned by a hateful Jewish mob in the reference above) or internal (our human appetites). “Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh [and died for us], arm yourselves [like warriors] with the same purpose [being willing to suffer for doing what is right and pleasing God], because whoever has suffered in the flesh [being like-minded with Christ] is done with [intentional] sin [having stopped pleasing the world], so that he can no longer spend the rest of his natural life living for human appetites and desires, but [lives] for the will and purpose of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2) (AMP)
Far from a morbid exercise, suffering in the course of pleasing God, is a joy and a privilege, and was wonderfully modeled by Christ. “Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do. Then, having arrived at the full stature of his maturity and having been announced by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who believingly obey him.” (Hebrews 5:8-10) (MSG)
Living a life of vision, refined and restrained unto the assignment and call on your life, is often a call to suffering in the flesh, a divine discomfort, outright hard at times, but culminating in a more abundant release of God’s glory in your life. This encompasses the way I am called to grow in character, love my family, and do works of ministry.
Any hardship I encounter in the course of living for the will of God, is worth the cost of passage, to arrive on the other side, and hear the “well done” of Him who endured all.