Often we suffer, through no fault of our own, nor does someone intentionally try to cause us pain. It comes through the circumstances of life.
Take a look at Ruth 1
3 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
Naomi had everything important to her taken. Her husband and her children were dead; to say she was suffering is an understatement. When she returned home and the people greeted her, she told them: (Ruth 1) 20 "Don't call me Naomi, “she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.
Like most people in life Naomi was bitter. She has hardship enter not at the hands of anyone around her, but just by the circumstances of her life.
We also have to remember that there is a battle going on for our very soul. While the Lord might not directly inflict pain, the devil will. Think of Job. By all accounts Job was a righteous man. The Lord said so, his friends said so, and the devil agreed. So the devil sets out to create hardship in Job’s life so that Job might turn from God. We know that God allowed it, because the Lord knew that Job would endure. Try as the devil might, he could not get Job to turn away from the Lord, yet Job suffered greatly. This happens in our lives as well. The devil wants you…..no …needs you to turn away from the Lord. If he is to win even one soul, it must come from that soul turning from God. He will get directly involved in your life to pull you off the path. Suffering will come directly from him, so that you might be moved.
The last way I want to look at suffering is as part of our Godly, righteous lives. If you follow the Lord, you will encounter suffering. Not because of the Lord, but for the Lord! In acts 9 we see the Lord speaking to Ananias about going to Paul after his encounter on the road to Damascus. We read: 15But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
In Philippians 1 we read: 28without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him
In 1 Peter 4 we are reminded: 14If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Part of fulfilling God work will involve suffering. We will be singled out; we will be ignored, in some countries even today people are still being killed for it.
Lastly yes we cause our own suffering. As little sense as that makes we as humans are very good at it. In Hebrews 12 Paul tells us: 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
The psalmist tells us in psalm 119 71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
When we choose to walk in a direction that is opposite of the Lord, life will become hard, not out of resentment from God, but out of his love for us. Think of Jonah He fled from the Lord. He was called and instead of following the Lord he ran as far as he could in the opposite direction. We all remember the story; He spent some time in a whale’s belly! Just like Jonah it is never too late for any of us. We can always change our course, and we too will find that we can escape the trouble we have found ourselves in.
The big question is the attitude we have about suffering. As you look at your life and assess the suffering in your life, you know that unless you are the direct cause of the suffering you might not be able to control it. If it is you, well that is an easy fix…..correct the problem! But what about when it is not? How should you approach life when you are suffering, and struggling? Should you be like Naomi? Do you let yourself become bitter? I think not. I think Proverbs 24 says it well: 10 if you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength! It is during our times of strife that our faith should be the greatest. God is at his strongest when we are at our weakest.
The bible has much to say on this topic:
If any man suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf . . .I Peter 4:16
1 Peter 4: 9So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
How should we act?
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.
I Thessalonians 3:3 3so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them.
Most of all do not be surprised by it.
12Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
To sum up our how our attitude should be we only need to read 2Corinthians 4:16-18 16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
But the question remains what good can come of suffering?
Lets start with suffering will test your faith. It is a chance to show the world how great our faith is, and a chance to glorify God
1 Peter 1:7
7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
We all have times in our lives that give us great opportunities to test, and prove our faith. It is easy to have faith when life is sailing along, but it is when life gets hard that our faith will pull us through, as well as show those around us how much more our faith is capable of accomplishing.
Our suffering allows us to comfort others when they are struggling:
2 Corinthians 1: 3-4
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
Without suffering ourselves we could never help others through tough times. If we never suffered and experienced the comfort of God’s love, then how could we ever relate that love and comfort to anyone else?
Maybe most importantly we learn not to count on ourselves, but to trust in God
2 Corinthians 1: 8-9
8We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
Things in our life come up, road blocks, and suffering. Things that we not only cannot get around, but will never get through on our own. It is these times in our life that we understand that without the Lord we cannot do much, but with him we can accomplish anything. For many of us if we did not encounter suffering, we would never learn to trust in the Lord. We would stay convinced that we are the ones driving, and, all things in life are possible, only be cause we will them to be!
We know that the best example of suffering is found on the cross. In Jesus’ last moments it is written in Matthew 27 and Mark 15 that he cried out "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" They both also record that Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and then gave up his spirit. But what was said. Few remember that Jesus’ last words were words of submission to God in hi suffering. It is recorded in Luke 23 what his last words were 46Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. As his final act, Christ gives his spirit to God. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, Christ is not bitter, he is not resentful. He Turns his spirit over to God, and submits to the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings.
We will always have struggle in our lives; we will always go through suffering. These are nothing more than tests, and opportunities. They are chances to right our wrongs, correct our course, and Chances to glorify God. When we take the time to understand the suffering in our lives, see where it comes from, and use it as a way to glorify God; we start to understand that suffering is not always a bad thing. It is a welcomed opportunity. This is why Paul often looked back on his struggles with fondness. Not because he enjoyed pain, but because he saw the suffering for what it was just another trial of faith, just another way to show the world his love for God. Suffering will come in to each of our lives, directly or indirectly. It is how we handle it that will determine how much we grow in our relationship with the Lord. Will we allow ourselves to become bitter, or will we rise to the challenge, and fight on behalf of the Lord? We can be defeated, or we can defeat the suffering. We can rise to new heights with the Lord, hand in hand using each struggle as a stepping stone over the creeks and rivers of our lives. We might get wet along the way. The stones might be slippery, but when we navigate with the Lord at our side, we will never be swept away by the current.
May the Peace of the Lord rest upon you,