One of the key beauties of the gospel is the ability to speak throughout generations and time. As Solomon proclaimed in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. The Church has faced plagues before and, if God wills, the Church will face them again. In a broader sense, we ourselves have faced many trials in this life and until we are called home, we will continue to face trials and suffering.
As we discussed last week, though we face many trials… we are not without hope! When David wrote in Psalm 23:4 that he feared no evil walking in the shadow of death, it was because he felt God’s guidance as a comfort. Today, we can feel the same comfort in the midst of suffering through God’s guidance by His Word and Holy Spirit.
This week, we will look at 5 more ways that God uses suffering for our good. This week, consider how God receives glory through our sufferings and then uses that same suffering to sanctify us. I want to repeat the same prayers from last week and hope that you will receive God’s Word with an open hand as you reflect over the scripture and these principles found in it.
I pray that you be so encouraged during times of suffering that you would seek to praise and glorify God through your suffering and not in spite of it.
I pray that you would learn to suffer well and be able to answer both why God allows suffering and why you have hope in the midst of suffering.
I pray that you would not shy away from suffering, but seek the benefits it has to offer by living a life radically shifted from self-preservation to God-glorification.
10 Ways Suffering Works for Our Good
6. Suffering magnifies Christ’s power.
God makes a habit of choosing the least for serving His kingdom the most. Paul was very aware of this, calling himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and protecting against his own growing fame in the way he spoke and taught (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9). God delights to use those who are weak because it most clearly demonstrates who is at work. When Paul himself pleaded with God to remove a thorn from him, God replied that Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Our real strength, Christ’s power, is most clearly seen when we are weak and suffering. When you face suffering or are left with a thorn in your side, instead rejoice that God is protecting you from the welling up of pride in your own accomplishments.
In John 9, we read a story of a blind man healed by Jesus after the disciples ask why the man was born blind. Jesus answers that it is not from a specific sin, but that this man suffers with blindness so that the works of God may be displayed. It may be that you are suffering for God’s glory to be revealed and to increase the faith of others. When we suffer well, we put God’s glory and works on display and so magnify Christ’s power for the world to see. What greater joy could there be than to be used for advancing the most powerful and good kingdom? Pray and seek to be a vessel that magnifies His glory in your weakness.
7. Suffering helps us lean into Christ.
I recently asked our Pulse students how they were doing with a Bible reading plan, to which one of them responded that they mostly just read when something is wrong in their life. What a dangerous way to live! They are asking for God to either keep Himself at a distance or for Him to grant them suffering over and over again. Yet, I reflected on how similar I am… how I turn to prayer more fervently in times of need or pain.
It is innate human nature to look for a greater power when chaos strikes and we lose all control. When we have nowhere else to go, we are at our most vulnerable and the least absorbed with our own pride. Reading David’s innermost thoughts throughout Psalms shows a very broken man… yet he is described as a man after God’s own heart. This is because his suffering caused him to lean into God all the more. When he suffered, he prayed fervently that God would deliver him and praised God in the same breath. As we read earlier in Psalm 46, God is our refuge and helper, but we often need to suffer in this life to recognize our need of a helper and a savior in this life and the life to come. Making much of Christ in our lives is far easier when our own pride has been moved out of the way.
8. Suffering keeps us from loving this world.
It is difficult to love the coronavirus. It is not difficult to love a big win at work or watching college football games. As Paul begins laying out our need for a savior in Romans 1, we see the dark exchange of loving God’s glory for loving the things of this world, all the way back to the very beginning of sin. As Eve stood tempted by the serpent, she saw that the fruit was a “delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). We daily make this same exchange, trading God’s glory, of infinite worth, for something that looks pleasing right now. Apart from suffering and God’s intervention, we would make this trade day after day because we are in love with the world and in love with ourselves. We buy bigger cars instead of tithing or giving to the poor, we gossip instead of loving those outcast, we sleep late instead of rising early to serve at church on Sunday mornings… until suffering comes.
Suffering reminds us that the world has nothing to offer us by making the world difficult to love. Suffering also reminds us that true beauty and value lies only in God’s glory. It gives us the chance to look up from the fruit that is pleasing to our eyes and see the source of all good fruit and all pleasing things. This is not to say that we should not enjoy the blessings God has given us, but that we should enjoy Christ through the blessings God has given us. This is very difficult to do, as Matthew 19:24 teaches, and so we are often granted suffering to keep us from loving riches and loving the world.
9. Suffering refines us.
You may have heard the churchy term of ‘sanctification’, or at least the common phrase, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. This common phrase emphasizes that even the world understands the importance of trial by fire. We learn and grow through experience and failure and trials.
This concept is taught throughout scripture. Job, a man whose sufferings may be the most documented, clearly understood that his sufferings would serve to refine him like gold (Job 23:10). Refinement of gold requires heating and melting to remove all the impurities. We require much the same thing to become more like Christ. This is perhaps most clear in James 1:2-4 where James teaches that we ought to respond to suffering with joy because it is making us more like Christ… provided that we remain steadfast to Christ under the trial. Suffering does not equal godliness, but suffering well leads us to godliness.
Some trials may also be consequences of our own sin. Rather than receiving the due penalty of death for our sin, God is often gracious to instead discipline us as a father disciplines a child. This is done as an act of love toward us so that we might share further in His holiness (Job 5:17-18, Proverbs 3:11-12, Hebrews 12:10-11, Revelation 3:19). When we face suffering, we so quickly look to the enemy to blame and so play the victim. I encourage you to instead consider how God may be teaching, growing, or disciplining you out of love. While the evil one is certainly at work for a time in this earth and means many things to hurt us, God means for those very sufferings to be for our good (Genesis 50:20). Rather than play the victim during quarantine, proclaim triumph over evil by seeking the ways God can grow a family with quality time together, the ways God can grow a church that is united in a goal of reaching needs, the ways God can reach the hearts of those on a deathbed who have spent their life rejecting Him, the ways God can give us more time to pursue Him, or many many more ways God could mean this for our good.
10. Suffering allows us to share in Christ’s sacrifice.
If you are a follower of Christ, suffering ought to remind you of how Christ suffered for our sake and His namesake. Though we deserved eternal punishment for rejecting God, Christ bore the punishment for our sins, humbling himself to death on a cross. There can be no greater suffering and no greater love than Christ’s willing acceptance of undeserved punishment in exchange for our eternal life. 1 Peter 4:12-19 teaches that we should rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings in this world because we then get to also share in His glory revealed and eternal life. Christ has risen and conquered the grave, therefore for those who are in Christ, suffering in this world can only bring death of the flesh and has no power over our souls! We are now treasures hidden in jars of clay, suffering through light and momentary afflictions to prepare us for the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).
The single greatest thing you and the Church can do during these times is to suffer well. To suffer well, we must look to all of the benefits of suffering and respond by glorifying God, sacrificing ourselves, and loving others. Be careful to not only seek Christ in turmoil because of what He can offer us. Instead, realize the beauty of the suffering so that we seek Christ because He is worthy to be sought. Rejoice in the good works He is doing through us by our suffering, knowing that our suffering is often the means by which God is working all things to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
For more resources, I highly encourage you to read through Philippians and 1 Peter. Pray in the spirit of James 1 for wisdom while reading them that God would grant you perseverance to suffer well for His sake through His Word.
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
Yours in Christ,