Blog, Living in the Abundance of Christ

In Your Suffering, Take Heart

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 

I have attempted to write something about suffering several times now, as the topic often swirls around in my head. Maybe because of the way suffering is often portrayed, someone physically suffering from abuse, torture, or imprisonment, I feel inept and inadequate to speak on this topic. We can agree that those are extreme cases of severe suffering, and they are easier for us to see or take notice of. But suffering isn’t limited to extreme scenarios. We all experience some degree of suffering at some point in our lives, and usually it’s varying degrees of suffering, at many times and seasons of life.

Suffering: the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.

Suffering takes on many forms: physical suffering, through abuse from another person, illness that ravages our bodies, or limits in our physical capacity (what we are able to do, where we are able to go); emotional suffering, like painful relationships, financial loss or hardship, or being a caretaker of someone who has an illness or long-term disability.

When I started my walk with the Lord, I thought it would mean an end to my suffering. I thought a life lived with Jesus meant a life free of pain. I was wrong.

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, Who committed no sin,nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;…” 1 Peter 2:22-23

I searched feverishly for the answer to end my suffering. I knew my answer could only be found in Christ. I read and listened, listened and prayed. Prayed. And the more I did this, the more I realized, my answer was Jesus. His answer to my suffering was not in taking it away, but in walking me through it. It is not without purpose. He uses it to refine me, to make me more like him.

I didn’t want that to be the answer. No one does, initially. I wanted what the world wants, comfort, health, wealth, and prosperity. But, this wasn’t God’s plan for me, and if you belong to him, than it’s not his plan for you either. Not here, not on this earth.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

Suffering makes you realize that, in this current life, everything may not be OK.

As I began to lay down my desires, my wants, before the Lord, he changed me, and he continues to change me with each thing I lay down. What do I mean by laying something down? I mean, giving up all control (the illusion of control) or the desire to control that thing, to the Lord. I mean, determining in my heart and mind that even if the Lord does not deliver me from this suffering, I will still serve him with my whole heart. I mean, to be like Job and share in his proclamation, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).

Some things are harder to lay down than other things. I could easily lay down wealth, and comfort, and eventually my health (that was a little bit harder), but what about certain relationships. Sometimes we are to lay down certain aspects or expectations of a relationship, without letting go of that person, we remain in relationship with them. Confusing, confounding. At times like this it seems there is suffering in suffering.

In my suffering, the things I had once held onto dearly, I laid down before the Lord, and in place of those things, he gave me more of himself.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

A couple of years ago, during a particularly hard time with many difficult things going on, I remember saying to a friend, ‘I now know what the phrase “when sorrows like sea billows roll“, means’. If you have not heard the song “It is Well with My soul” then you can read all the lyrics here. I’ll share the first part, but I encourage you to read and listen to the whole song.

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Up until that point I didn’t understand what the phrase or the song meant, not really, because all my previous experiences with suffering hadn’t come from a perspective on knowing God and being known by God. He changes your perspective on suffering. And in the midst of it, he meets you there, and you also experience a profound joy, peace, and comfort that can only be found in and through him. There’s really no way to adequately explain it unless you experience this for yourself, but I will try.

If you have experienced any type of pain, then you know that it ebbs and flows. It hits hard like waves and then retreats. Whether physical pain or an emotional burden, you feel the hit, it’s an almost unbearable intensity and a deep sinking feeling in your stomach, and then it backs off, retreating, the pain lessens. Sometimes you even have a reprieve, a rest from the pain. Maybe a good day physically, or a small triumph emotionally, and you just breathe out a sigh. He is there in all of it. In the most intense moment, and in your sigh of relief. He is fully there.

Jesus was referred to in Isaiah 53:3 as “The Man of Sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.”

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15

Although, as Christians, we are not guaranteed a life free from the pain of suffering, we are guaranteed that “he will never leave us, or forsake us” (Deuteronomy 31:6), and we can rest in that assurance.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

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