Sunday, January 10, 2021

Understanding Suffering

This morning, during my quiet time, I was in the book of Philippians. A verse in chapter one caught my attention: :For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him."

This is a rather unsettling verse. Paul says it has been granted unto us to believe in Christ and also to suffer for him. Few believers probably have any issue with the first half but with the second half, that's a different story.

The word “granted” means “to show favor, grant, bestow, graciously confer." We've been given the privilege of suffering for Christ. Now generally we don’t think of suffering as a privilege. But Paul does. Why?

Perhaps it has to do with the suffering Christ did for us on the cross. Since He underwent such agonizing pain and suffering for us, shouldn't we be willing to gratefully accept suffering into our lives?

Suffering is never pleasant, but the Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12 "all who would live godly lives will suffer." Instead of complaining about suffering, shouldn't we be proud to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake?

In Romans 8:17-18, Paul helps us understand a little better by connecting our sharing in the suffering of Christ with sharing in His glory. He expresses the glory to come will far outweigh our current suffering. Here's what those verses say:

17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Could it be the ones most privileged to suffer here will experience the most glory in the age to come? If that's the case, then living free from the threat of much suffering may not be as big a blessing as we suppose it to be.

God has used suffering in my life to help me grow. Through my physical trials, He's taught me so much more about His grace and mercy than I would have ever known; therefore, I can truly say I am thankful for the privilege of suffering. 

But when someone I love is suffering and I can do nothing to help or fix the situation, it's a different story. All I can do then is ask God to be their strength and trust them into His care. 

Suffering is merely a tool God uses to teach us more about His love and compassion. He always wants the best for us and if suffering is a way to accomplish that, we should be willing to accept it with open hands.  

Psalm 22:24 says, "For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help."

This helps us understand when Jesus permits suffering to enter our lives, He doesn't leave us alone in it. He is there with us answering our cries for help, comforting us and caring for us. 

Consider the valuable lessons Job learned during his time of trial. God used suffering to strengthen his faith and bless him. 

No, suffering is never easy and when it comes into our lives, we want to push it away as quickly as we can, but next time you're faced with a physical, spiritual, or emotional trial of suffering, hopefully you'll be able to consider it differently. 

And finally, 

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-8

Finding joy in suffering seems like an oxymoron but from personal experience, I can tell you, it's doable. And that joy is more precious than any other if you can understand sometimes suffering is a gift from God's hand. 

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