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No one likes to suffer. We resist and try to avoid it at all costs. Yet…it is inevitable. Somewhere, at some time in your life, you will suffer. Now, the degree of suffering certainly varies from circumstance to circumstance; however, I think if you searched the world over and questioned anyone who has lived long enough, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say that they have never experienced some kind of sorrow or difficulty.
Suffering comes in many forms: it can be physical, certainly, or mental, emotional, relational… And there is a spectrum of intensity from which we would all be compelled to describe as a state of suffering or distress. Surely it always includes some degree of pain, loss, grief, hardship, and mental or emotional anguish. Another facet of suffering that makes it such a deep thing is that it also usually implies something that is ongoing in that it is not ended quickly.
An Unlikely Juxtaposition
As is so frequently the case, the word of God puts suffering in a unique light. I was surprised to discover that often when suffering is mentioned in the Bible, joy is also mentioned. It seems counter-intuitive, right? Whoever thinks about suffering and joy together?? Not me! I’m with all of you: I try to avoid suffering at all costs! I do not consider it a joyful thing! But this is where the wisdom of the Bible puts me in a place where I’m compelled to contemplate: can there really be joy in the midst of suffering?
James tells us to consider troubles an opportunity for great joy. Really, James? I really feel like wallowing in my hurt and shutting out the world….that hardly seems like an opportunity for great joy. Yet James teaches us that our suffering, our trials, present us with opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s more than “looking at the bright side,” or a “silver lining;” the word of God urges us to lean into our trials and our hardships for all that may be gained if we faithfully come through them. Beauty for ashes.
Paul came to a place where he said he would glory in his sufferings, hardships, and weaknesses. There’s that contrast again. My suffering is a cause for pleasure? Here again, though, we see that Paul is teaching us that it’s a truly wonderful thing to be weak so that we can depend on the strength that only God can give.
How to Have Joy in Suffering
As with so much in our work of becoming true disciples, the call to be joyful in suffering is hard. Like real hard. But like He always does, the Lord has given us instruction through His word on how we can accomplish this. And even though it’s still difficult, the Holy Spirit enables us. Remember what Paul said? His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Here is some counsel from God’s word on how to walk through suffering with joy:
1. Focus Your Attention on Jesus
Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us to run with endurance the race that God has set before us and that we do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus. 2 Corinthians 4:18 reminds us to fix our gaze on the heavenly realm, to a time when our present troubles will be passed. A difficult season is a chance for us to re-focus on what matters most, a chance to get our priorities straight again. When life is hard, the superfluous things of life fall into unimportance.
2. Consider the Fellowship of Suffering
Sometimes it’s just helpful to be reminded that you are not alone. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun! Hebrews 11 would also remind us that we are in good company when we are facing trials.
And even though it might be hard to reach out, times of suffering shouldn’t be faced alone. A mentor, a close friend, and even some Christian social media outlets about grief and trials could be helpful and a reminder that you are never alone.
3. In Light of Eternity, Remember that Our Troubles are Small and Fleeting
When we are suffering, many times the cause of our grief consumes all of our waking (and even sleeping) thoughts. It becomes a constant – and unhappy – companion. 2 Corinthians 4:17 reminds us that our present troubles are small and fleeting when considered in light of eternity. No matter how deep the pain, it will pass away….even if it takes until eternity.
4. Determine to Grow
Like James said, however counter-intuitive it may be, suffering provides us with opportunities for personal growth like nothing else. Like you, I wish there were an easier way! I am truly always striving to become better, but I can honestly say that nothing really forces that growth to happen like pain. The Bible tells us that the suffering is for glory!
5. Remember You are a Child of God (He disciplines those He Loves)
Though not pleasant to consider, sometimes trials and pain are our own doing. The word of God tells us that the Lord disciplines those he loves as a loving father would a wayward child. Again, the discipline is ultimately for the saving of our souls! I would much rather the Lord lovingly correct something in me that would cause me to go astray rather than allow the vice to steal my salvation. I love the practicality of the Bible when it reminds us that no discipline is enjoyable while it is happening – it’s painful! (And all of us who were spanked as children can attest to this!) But we can be assured that if we allow ourselves to be trained by the pain, on the other side of it all, it will be worth it.
6. There is a Purpose for the Pain
In God, we can be confident that our suffering has a purpose. The Lord is not sadistic as some would paint Him to be; He is not rejoicing at our hurts and pain. The Bible says that He is near to the brokenhearted. The joy that is be found in suffering occurs from the endurance, growth, and complete-reliance upon Jesus that happens in the trial.
I came across a glorious scripture in Isaiah 61:3 that applies to this:
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.
I’ve heard the “beauty for ashes” part of this scripture quoted hundreds of times, but I’ve never really seen the last part about those who mourn becoming like great oaks planted by God.
This truth hit me between the eyes: wind is a factor in producing a strong, stable, and mature tree. 1 Yes, wind. It’s not a coincidence that there is a coined phrase: “the winds of adversity.” Do you see the beauty here, as I did? These winds of struggle and pain are for our ultimate strengthening. As we bend and sway in the midst of our trouble, we are learning to persevere and to become stronger. 1 Peter 1:7 reminds us that the testing of our faith is purified like gold as we come through trials. This is all works together to bring glory to God!
7. Take Up Your Cross Daily
It’s hard to remember because perhaps we’d rather forget, but the essence of the Christian walk is self-denial. We Christians who live in an affluent society where we are free to worship as we please often find ourselves expecting our lives to be easy. And compared to many across the world, they are easy!
Yet the Lord never promised us a life of ease; He promised us that He would never leave us, whether life is easy, or life is hard. He also promised us eternal life when we receive salvation and walk according to God’s ways.
We can be confident that God’s plan is perfect, even if our lives are difficult at times. In this present day, our faith is constantly under attack. (I recently posted about that here.) We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that every single day, we must renew ourselves spiritually and shoulder our cross.
8. Our Perseverance Encourages Others
God called us to be a family of believers. Why? Among many reasons, so that we could encourage one another and care for one another. How many times when someone has shared a testimony of faith during trial have you walked away feeling uplifted? Feeling a bit more confident in your ability to withstand a difficult season?
When we go through a hard time and come through in faith, we encourage all of those around us. It’s human nature to generally think: If she can make it, so can I. I love what 2 Corinthians 1:4 says:
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
This is actually another purpose of our pain: to be able to comfort and encourage others. We don’t live our lives in a vacuum. At the intersection of our life with the lives of others, let it be said that they were uplifted by our example!
The Ultimate Example
And Who better to be the ultimate example of joy in suffering than Jesus Christ, Himself? Hebrews 12:2 tells us that because of the joy awaiting him, Jesus endured the cross. He knew that His suffering was the only way to bring about salvation and fellowship for us. So, He endured.
I love how the word says that He did this while disregarding or despising the shame. That says to me that He, too, hated the hurt in His flesh. But He knew that it would be worth it; that what He was accomplishing was far greater than any temporal suffering and injustice.
I love the passage in Isaiah 53 that foretells Jesus’ death, but I was arrested by the New Living Translation of verse 11:When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied…
That pretty much sums it all up, don’t you think? When he sees all that is accomplished… When we can, like Jesus, focus our eyes on what could be accomplished by our suffering, then we, too, can be satisfied. No, it doesn’t take the pain away immediately. Yes, we still have to go through it to the end. But, praise God! What satisfaction can be ours when we persevere and are able to stand before our Lord and say, I did it! I made it! I came through and it was worth it all.Thanks be to God.