What if Scripture tells us God is a divine multitasker and that this hurt doesn’t only affect us? What if we aren’t suffering because God is cruel but because He’s equipping us to help others in ways we couldn’t without it?
We all suffer. What separates Christ-followers from the world is the way we respond. And with hearts and ears anchored in the Gospel, we can hear the sermon suffering preaches.
Suffering tells us we’re all groaning for full redemption and that we’re not alone because no life is untouched by difficulty. The poison of sin has slithered into the DNA of every human and with it comes suffering—the proof of our brokenness.
Perhaps God walks us down roads filled with potholes and trials and grief so we can learn the streets and one day drive others down them, helping them to navigate the curves to get to the finish line.
ADVERSITY FOR GOSPEL GROWTH
As we run, walk, and sometimes crawl to the marathon’s end, we help others most by loving Christ supremely and valuing Him above our comfort while enduring trials and affliction.
Limping down the road, we feel it. We identify to each other through adversity. We ache with others because we have ached. We cry with others because we have cried. We carry the burdens of others because we have carried burdens.
Suffering unites the human race as one of our greatest points of identification, and for the believer in Jesus it’s one of our greatest tools of evangelism.
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. –C. S. Lewis
The way we respond to pain tells others what we believe about God. It’s a tool that exposes our hearts to any disconnect between knowledge and acting faith and it’s an automatic platform to share the Gospel. It matters how we suffer.
If God called us to live in isolation it wouldn’t make a difference how we lived through our pain, but He calls us first to Himself then to a community of believers so it matters a great deal how we suffer and how we use our suffering in the lives of others.
How do we not waste adversity but leverage it for the glory of God and the service of others? How can we suffer missionally?
To suffer missionally, we first remember suffering exists because we’re broken people in a broken world.
Sin brought us low but suffering puffs us up as it causes our eyes to move introspectively to follow the pain instead of following Jesus. But, in his first letter, Peter teaches us a better way.
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. -1 Peter 4:19
Suffering is not passive. It involves deliberately entrusting ourselves to our faithful Creator while laboring for the kingdom. We don’t stop our lives until the pain stops. We keep running our race. We keep making disciples. We keep watching for God’s activity and joining Him there.
We let others in. We don’t hide our pain or act like life isn’t hard or things don’t hurt as much as they do, but neither do we mourn or hurt like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We view trials not as inconveniences but as vehicles that drive us to Christ, who ordains even our suffering as a mercy and instrument of sanctification.
We stand firm, endure, count it all joy, and learn as much as we can in the fire so we can strengthen others as they walk through the flames.
We suffer well by looking to the One who suffered best.
The Suffering Servant King is acquainted with grief and sorrow and has shed His blood in love and humiliation to bring us into His glorious triumph over death.
Suffering unites us to Jesus because He, more than anyone else, identifies with our pain. He doesn’t stand aloof, far off, or unaffected. He came near, got in our sickness, and swallowed the poison so we could be healed.
Jesus identifies with your misery, pain, and hurt (Hebrews 4:15-16). And He identifies with those struggling around you. As His representative, perhaps God is furnishing you with the means to identify with them as part of filling up the afflictions of Christ (Colossians 1:24).
This points us back to the character of God. We’re not praying or hoping in a God who doesn’t understand. He is trustworthy and faithful and has the scars to prove it. Trust His heart. He doesn’t afflict His children from vengeance.
Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. –Charles Spurgeon
In the reality of the cross we see that God doesn’t hate us so suffering can’t mean He doesn’t love us.
THE SANCTIFYING SOAP OF SUFFERING
Jesus suffered, not that we might not suffer but that when we suffer, we could become like Him. –Tim Keller
Looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith reorients us, replacing anxiety with peace, and gives security in the middle of uncertainty. It refocuses our gaze on what is important and extends the necessary strength to carry on because the One who carried our curse is carrying us.
Choose to see beyond the circumstances into the hope and comfort in suffering. Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus and when we allow our perspective to be shaped by the Word of God, we see suffering actually takes us closer to Him.
Come, let us return to the lord; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. –Hosea 6:1
Every moment of our lives, God is working toward the goal of bringing each member of His body to unity, maturity, and the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Suffering propels us to that goal as it sanctifies, cleansing the junk of lesser loves out of our hearts, causing us to see our need for a Savior more clearly, and equipping us to walk with others through their suffering with compassion and comfort.
Paul puts an exclamation mark on that reality in 2 Corinthians 1, telling believers that we do not suffer alone or endure trials for ourselves only.
The following verses are lit with grace, perspective, hope, and clarity for the hardest battles.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation: and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. -2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Do you share your suffering? Do you share in the suffering of others? Do you look for ways to employ your suffering for the Gospel? Paul did.
THE SURE & STEADY SAVIOR
In times of hardship, our lives feel like a tossed salad so we instinctively begin grasping for something sturdy for equilibrium.
It is the unwavering love of Christ that stabilizes our souls, anchors us to our Refuge, and fuels us with joy (Psalm 16:8-11). By clinging to our Rock and pushing others to Him, we help them find security amid the shifting sands of suffering.
When we cling to Christ in affliction, we counter-culturally proclaim that our hope is not in circumstances or even in relief from our trials but in the One who sustains us through them, even if things never change.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit… -1 Peter 3:18 (emphasis mine)
And therein lies the reason for His suffering. He suffered to bring us to God. Perhaps we suffer to bring others to Him?
THE GREATEST GAIN
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ… –Philippians 3:8
To suffer the loss of all things and count it as gain can only happen when we understand that Jesus is worth more than anything He might ask us to give up.
Death takes away our earthly delights, and then resurrection restores them in spades. Nothing good will ever finally be lost. It’s not just that all the best joys here point to joys there, but that many of the best joys here will actually be there, only glorified, transfigured, and heightened beyond our imagination. -Joe Rigney
[Some mortals] say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. -C. S. Lewis
There will be a day when we no longer suffer and we are told it will be so spectacular it’s not even worth comparing to our struggles now (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). In light of that day, as we look to what is unseen, we draw perspective to endure, wait, and remain steadfast, because we know who has sovereignly orchestrated our exact circumstances for His glory and our joy. Hope rises when we know that soon all of this will be but a brief memory, like a half-remembered dream, and one day the True and Better Aslan will crush the head of the snake once and for all (Revelation 21:1-5).
With that in view, we suffer missionally in order to bring others to the throne room of grace for help and mercy in their time of temporal and eternal need.
Originally posted in the November/December 2017 issue of RTM Magazine.