There is so much pain in the world. It seems that everyone is suffering in some way these days. Many have parents and other loved ones who are ill or dying, causing them emotional pain as they watch the people who mean so much to them suffer physically. This is just one example of suffering in today’s world. There are children who suffer through difficult years, spouses who suffer emotional turmoil, and many who are suffering financially due to hard economic times.
How can we minister to those who are suffering? While it is not necessary for us to experience all kinds of suffering to minister to one another, God in His providence allows us to endure trials of many kinds so we can do just that. in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 Paul says this:
“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 with 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.”
My own life has not been without its challenges. There have been times I despaired of life itself — the darkness was so deep. I have wanted to cry out to God and tell him that this is all too much, and indeed there have been times where I have done just that. I didn’t believe I could take another thing happening to me. Yet, as I by God’s grace have overcome each of the things that caused me to despair, I have learned that what I believed was false. During these times, God has been completely faithful. In the darkest of hours, when I told Him I just can’t take another thing (“God, You have to lay off!”), He continually reminded me of 1 Corinthians 10:13:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
According to the 1 Corinthians verse, our sufferings are common. Is it a comfort to you to know that no adversity that has overtaken you is new or original? The world leads us to believe that each person’s problems are unusual or unique. The truth is that no matter how tempted I am to believe that my situation is different or abnormal, the Bible tells me to think carefully and biblically about it and to realize that God says they are common.
Our trials are common, and God is faithful. He will not afflict you in suffering to the point where you lose Him. He is holding you, and He is keeping you. What is it about suffering that is common? The situations are common, and our thoughts, feelings, and responses to suffering are also common. These are some things that I have decided about suffering:
- Suffering happens to everyone. I don’t know of anyone whose life is untouched by suffering or trials of some kind. Even the Hollywood celebrities with much wealth have trials and hard times! Much of it may be brought on by their own foolishness, but they are not exempt. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
- Suffering comes in all forms. It is diverse in nature according to Scripture. It is non-specific as to what the trials are. The NIV even says “trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2)
- Suffering is wrenching. It creates anxiety and disaster. I think our response to suffering dictates some of this, but when bad times hit, the physical response seems to begin the same for everyone. (Job 9:16)
- Suffering causes us to fear. A variety of words in Hebrew have direct reference to this kind of fear. (Psalm 105:38)
- Suffering causes us to lose faith or gain faith, to doubt or have hope, to trust or to flounder. Job 3 is an example of this point. He wished to never have been born, questioned why he didn’t die at birth, and complained that he wants to die, but God will not take him. As we read through the subsequent chapters we see that he has lost faith because he does not understand, he has lost hope because even death seems to elude him, and his faith begins to flounder. We could find verses, passages and chapters in Job that display each of these aspects of suffering. In no other book in the Bible do we see suffering as we do in Job.
- Suffering will cause you to either look to God or be angry at Him. Which of these is your most common response? Does it cause you to run to Him or run away from Him?
- Suffering causes us to evaluate what is truly important to us. In those times of suffering, how much money we have is not important, our social status is not important, and having the newest car is not important. What we find is truly important to us is resolving the problem at hand. (Philippians 3:7-10)
- Suffering causes us to be self centered, be self-pitying. We look at others who we believe have it so much better than we do, and wonder why them and not us? This is especially true in the case of unbelievers. We think that we are somehow entitled to relief or should never suffer because of all we do for God. We feel sorry for ourselves and sit in a pile of self-pity, waiting for things to change and begin to go our way. (Psalm 25:16-17)
- Suffering causes us to isolate. I like to be alone to wallow in my misery when I’m suffering. However, that is completely counterproductive! (Psalm 6:6)
Suffering causes us to wonder if God loves us. Many women have said they wonder if God loves them as they suffer with a sick child, unbelieving husband, or other long standing crisis. They cannot see God through the pain of their circumstances. (Psalm 22:1-2)
So you can see that when we suffer, it can really shake our faith to the core and cause us to throw everything we know to be true by the wayside. Over the next few weeks, I want to discuss how we can suffer biblically. Meditate on these things; ask yourself how many of the above things you are prone to do when life deals you a bad hand.
Only by examining your heart, and by seeing this through the faithful and unchanging lens of Scripture, can we continue to glorify God in the midst of suffering.