Suffering: how to steward God’s most feared blessing
SOURCE: Rick Thomas/Counseling Solutions
I think we can agree on this one:
Personal suffering is the thing we fear the most.
Think about it for a minute.
There are certain things that come to mind that cause or tempt you to fear.
Maybe you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about those things and that is probably a good thing.
However, if you do think about your fear, even if only for this article, you do fear something.
What if the thing you feared came true? What if personal suffering did come to your life? How would you respond? Job put it this way, For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. – Job 3:25 (ESV)
Prayers answered through suffering
Janice prayed for 13 years that her marriage would change. She prayed more specifically that her husband would change. Amos was a half-hearted husband and a half-hearted Christian. The main emphasis in his life has been to work hard and long hours. If you asked him, he would say he was a good husband because heprovided for his family.
The “providing for the family” card is one of the most over-used, sinful justifications for a man who is a lousy husband, but loves to get his love cup filled by finding his identity in his work.
As the years rolled on, his hours became longer and their marital distance grew wider. Jancie knew there was more to the story, but she could not put two and two together.
Then finally her suspicions were validated when a text from Amos inadvertently went to Janice’s phone. He meant it for a female colleague three states away.
Janice’s initial confrontation with her husband was met with denials. Amos was feeling her out. He was trying to discern how much she knew. Once he knew that the evidence was irrefutable he came clean about his 19 month affair.
Though the counseling took several months and there were many ups and downs along the way, the place we finally came to with Janice was a Gospel-centered, sovereign view of suffering that released her to freely forgive her husband and to pursue genuine reconciliation.
For Mature Audiences Only
The remainder of this article will be speaking to a high-level, mature Christian response to personal suffering. It could be that you have not come to this place in your Theology of Suffering. Do not be discouraged, but be prayerful and ask God to give you the grace to understand what is being said here so you can properly steward this most feared gift to you.
Your suffering, no matter what it is, did not come to you without God’s allowance. The primary place for you to work through suffering is between you, the sufferer, and God. If you don’t do this, then you’ll never have a right perspective on what happened to you.
Suffering is inevitable for every human on the planet. It is unavoidable. We all are going to die. Because of the imminent and painful reality of suffering, it is all the more important that we see suffering through the lens of God’s sovereign plan for our lives.
[W]hen pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all. – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Progression through pain
John 12:24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
The Savior is teaching us that the only way we can live is by dying. Fruit bearing comes through the door of death. There is no other way if you hope and desire is to be fruitful. I am not trying to be mean or unsympathetic toward what you are going through. This is hard. This is true.
Part of the maturing process has to include a purifying process because the truth is we have many sinful ways, attitudes, and patterns in our lives. It is a mercy of the Lord to love us enough to purify us, to remove the things from our lives that hinder us from knowing Him in a more profound way.
Philippians 3:10 – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
Knowing Christ is an expensive, challenging, and painful process. It will cost you your life. Do not be deceived about this. Do you really want to know Christ? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected of men (Isaiah 53). Do you really think that you can “know” Him in a detached and unaffected kind of way?
No, never, not in this life.
If you are a person who loves the Savior and your desire is to know Him more deeply, then there is no other choice for you but to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. You cannot and will not enjoy the power of His resurrection until you participate in His sufferings.
Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
There are two gifts that you receive as a Christian. The first gift is the gift of salvation. When you first encounter God in a salvific kind of a way, He grants you the gift of salvation. It is a beautiful thing.
But salvation is not the only gift under the Christmas tree. Imagine gathering around the tree this Christmas and, to your delight, you discover that there are two gifts for you. You open the first and find out that you have been born from above. Joy!
Then you ask, “What is the second gift under the tree?”
That gift, my friend, is the gift of suffering. This is the point of Philippians 1:29. God gives all Christians at least two gifts: (1) Salvation; (2) Suffering. I’m well aware this is not a good Evangelism 101 approach: Hey, you wanna suffer? Become a Christian.
No…we typically leave the suffering part out. Sadly, we should not. We should be more forthright with what it means to become a Christian. The more serious you take your faith, the more you will suffer. The Bible could not be more clear.
1 Peter 2:21 – For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
Part of the calling for every Christian is to suffer. Have you ever wondered what your calling in life is? I’m not totally sure all that God has called you to, but I do know this much: He has called you as a believer to suffer.
The word Christian means Christ follower. And what did you think following Christ was going to be like?
1 John 3:1 – See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
My friend (doctor) put stitches in my face last week. Why did he do this? In part because he loves me. He cares about my health so he asked if he could cut a growth off the side of my face so he could have it checked out.
The process was a bit painful, though not nearly as painful as many other procedures that people have, but the point is that sometimes love means I need to hurt you before I can help you. You need to know this about our loving heavenly Father.
Sometimes the manner of love that He bestows upon us comes in a package that we might not initially understand as love and most definitely not embrace as love.
What did John tell us in another place? That God so loved us that He [executed] His one and only Son (John 3:16). Our Father is a radical lover.
Isaiah 53:10 – Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief;
If the Father believed it was necessary to crush His one and only Son in order to save you and me, do you think that His love for us will always be plush carpet, stocked pantries, and soft beds?
“You will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross.” –Samuel Rutherford
Sometimes the love of God will crush us. The billows will come over us and we’ll be so disoriented, that the love of God will be the furtherest thing from our minds.
Job 38-42 – Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding – Job 38:4 (ESV)
Though Job understood, to a degree, what was happening to him, he did not fully get it until the very end of the book named after him. Prior to the turning (or restoring) of his captivity, God stepped in and gave him some counsel.
God was lovingly hard on Job as he put him in his place. Job had become way too whiney, entitled, and disgruntled about what had happened to him. This is my danger also. At times I forget my place. I think that I deserve better than what I have, regardless of what I have.
I forget that I was a rebel before God, bound for hell. Sometimes I actually think that I am somebody, as my arrogance is unleashed and I begin to prance around like I deserve better.
It is a mercy of the Lord to put me in my place. I cannot say that anything that has ever happened to me was not a mercy of the Lord. Though there have been many harsh, hard, and unkind things done to me, I see the helping and loving hand of God in all of it.
Job 42:5-6 – I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Job got it. He finally understood. God stood on his neck for four chapters, hardly letting up at all and the scales finally fell from Job’s eyes. Formerly, he had heard of God, but now, in the context of personal suffering and stern counsel from the Lord, he finally found his place.
He was rightly and completely affected by God.
Like it or not, it was a divine beat down. He was put in his place by the power of God’s Words. Job was dead. The grain of wheat had fully fallen into the ground and Job had died. Though he did not know it, he was only a few moments away from incredible blessing. God was about to turn things around for His friend.
Job 42:10 – And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
The big word in the text is “when.” God turned Job’s captivity (restored) “when” he prayed for his friends. The word “when” means an element of time. God turned Job’s captivity “when” Job came to that time in his heart where he could freely intercede for those who had hurt him. Can you do this?
This kind of praying is not intellectual ascent. It is purified praying from a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
Maybe you need to ask God to do a work in your heart. Ask God to give you the grace that will enable you to freely pray and serve those who have hurt you. “When” you can do this, then you can expect God’s inestimable favor to flood your life and soul.
Proceed with caution
Janice will not be able to process, understand, and most definitely apply what I have written here. She will be too hurt, too angry, and too un-forgiving. She will be too offended if you try to bring this up. Remember, this view of suffering is for mature audiences only.
You will have to be patient with her.
She will not be able to see that what is happening to her is a carefully prepared blessing from her loving heavenly Father. And even if she did see it, she would initially be unable to accept it.
Think about how difficult it was for the Savior to fully embrace the crushing from His Father, the crushing that had been planned for all eternity. We sing about it and call it “amazing love,” but it was amazingly hard for Him to die.
“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:38-39 (ESV)
She will not be able to initially steward God’s most feared blessing.
Janice had been praying for a biblical marriage for 13 years, but she could never have a biblical marriage because her husband did not have a heart for God. He had a heart for himself.
Though Janice would have been happier if Amos would have repented without an affair, she needs to be careful not to overlook how God brought her husband back to Himself and to her.
Amos was not only dissing Janice, but he was trashing God’s name. God is a jealous God and Amos professed to be His son. God would not allow Amos to continue in the way he was going. Not only did God answer Janice’s prayer by giving her the biblical marriage she longed for, but He made a significant correction in Amos’ heart.
Amos did repent of his sin and began the long process of restoring his relationship with God and with his wife.
My hope and prayer for the Janice’s of this world is that they will embrace and appropriate God’s grace in their lives. They must come to the place of understanding that what happened to them in their horizontal world was not the main issue.
It was what God was doing in their vertical world that they need to address first. The pain of others can be profound, but the love of God working through that pain is the victory.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. – Matthew 10:39-40 (ESV)
Suffering is no doubt God’s most feared blessing. How are you stewarding the gift?