A Christian woman had served in her church for many years. Singing in the choir, visiting the sick, and teaching a Sunday School class were just a few of her happy labours for Christ. The doctor informed her that because of a serious illness, she would be confined to bed for five years. Gradually her outlook on life grew dark and bitter. “I know problems come to everyone, but why did God let this happen to me?” Like many Christians, she was at a complete loss as she now faced the problem of suffering. In her Bible, she not only found the answers, but the secrets of greater service.
1. The Challenge of Suffering
Often we feel that simply because we are born again, we no longer must face the burdens, problems, and sufferings of life. Life is somehow looked upon as a feather bed for a windless sea. But it just isn’s true. Yet, God does have a reason for every trial and testing the comes into our lives.
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations”(James 1:2). The words “joy” and “temptation” appear on the surface to be exact opposites in definition and experience. In this day and age, the world’s standard of happiness is generally based on the absence or total elimination of trials from our lives. Yet, God’s Word declares that trials and sufferings should exist and produce joy in the Christian heart. Why is this true? How can a Christian count hissorrows and sufferings as a source of joy? What causes trials to serve as a means of lifting our minds and spirits up to God?
Paul tells us that“for whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son”(Romans 8:29). This reveals the ultimate purpose of suffering in the Christian life. God permits these hardships to come our way that we might resemble the very likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Job, a man whose life was filled with sickness and tribulation, was boldly able to explain,“Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth”(Job 5:17). To the Christian there are no accidents, only incidents, and no stumbling blocks, only steppingstones. When each of us possesses the inner confidence that our life is totally embraced by the Father’s hand, then we properly regard all our sufferings as God’s personal discipline, teaching, and as expressing His all-wise love.
James asserts that every experience of testing and suffering, large or small, does something for us.“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”(James 1:3-4). This is a priceless treasure.
Another reason why God permits hardships in the daily life is that we might fully recognize the true source of our strength. Concerning our salvation, we quickly exclaim that it is Christ who died for our sins. However, regarding our growth and victory in daily life, we frequently take our eyes off Jesus and look to ourselves. The Psalmist realized that when we come to the end of our human strength, only then are we ready to move forward in God’s strength (Psalm 71:17).
As we Christians are surrounded by various helps and gimmicks, people may wonder whether we are leaning on God or self. But should these pillars be removed, do we like Job have an unseen, powerful Friend who will ever support and sustain us? God only allows these sufferings that He might teach us patience, produce character, and inspire hope.
2.TheComfort in Suffering
There are many different types of suffering. They can affect the spirit, mind, or body. Yet, God assures us that whatever problem comes into our life, He offers sufficient comfort to face and control the trial.
We very often call God “our Father.” However, we proceed to regard Him as a grim, stern-faced policeman in the testing time. The Scriptures clearly teach us this must not happen. If God permits troubles, sorrows, and suffering to enter our lives, we have the right to ask Him the reason why.“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him”(James 1:5).
One of the most common traits of father and child is the why-relationship. “Dad, why must I eat all my supper? Why must I do my homework? Why must I go to bed? Why? Why?” The experience is the same in the spiritual realm. God has perfect reason for every happening in our lives. In fact, He freely invites us to make known our desire for fuller explanation. When we are afraid, perplexed, or confused in the time of suffering, we may ask God the why and wherefore. God will not scold us for asking. The Bible promises that He will never upbraid us, but will lovingly reveal all that is wise for us to know.“He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints”(Proverbs 2:7-8).
The great King Solomon found the real secret of knowing God. It was not though some fine work of service or valiant deed of courage. Solomon asked for an observant, understanding mind. In the midst of problems and dilemmas, many of the most mysterious, the Christian too may ask God for an understanding and discerning mind. In the possession of such, the believer may find comfort and rest in knowing the mind of God, the Father, who does all things well.
Be assured that God understands our burdens. He sees, knows and cares. Are we not similar to the baby chick who strayed through the hole in the barnyard fence? After a short time, the little creature discovered that he was lost and frantically began to peep for help with all his might. During this time, the concerned mother hen was faithful clucking the directions of rescue to the confused baby chick. It was all to no avail. The chick kept going away in the opposite direction of the barnyard. Observing the dramatic scene, the farmer remarked to his wife, “The little fellow is making so much noise to himself that he can’t hear a single sound that his mother is making for the safe return.” Often we are like that baby chick. As the problems mount and the sufferings increase, we cry so loud for God’s help that we fail to hear His voice tenderly calling,“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”(Hebrews 13:5).“And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it:(Isaiah 30:21).
3.The Conquest Over Suffering
Contrary to popular opinion, there is something we can do about suffering. Like an insurance policy, the Bible includes a small clause, one about receiving the help of Christ in affliction. It is simply this. If you ask God for His aid, then you must depend entirely upon Christ’s strength and power to accomplish the work.“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways”(James 1:6-8).
How are we to take God at His Word? The answer is the elimination of all doubts in both heart and mind. This is the prime area where most of us fail. As the hours grow long and sufferings persist, our faith begins to decrease. We are similar to the little boy who was trying to step from his rowboat to the dock. Just as he had one foot on the pier and one foot in the boat, the skiff started to slip from under his feet. First, he tried to hop back into the boat. Then, he tried to leap to the wharf. The final result was a loud splash as the youngster fell headlong into the water. As Christians, we must not skip back and forth from the boat of self to the dock of faith. God says that“If thou canst believe, all things are possible to win that believeth”(Mark 9:23). Yet, we often slip to and fro in our lives with asuppose,what if,but, orI wonder.
The Bible describes a doubting individual as a double-minded person (James 1:8). This literally refers to person who has two souls. There is no unity of purpose or direction in his life. This inner restlessness brings no peace of mind or victory of faith. The Christian must run from his doubts and claim the promise of God’s Word.“For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee…Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble…”(Psalm 32:6-7).
The experience of suffering should not cause the Christian to complain, “why did God let this happen to me?” Instead, sufferings should change us into a greater likeness of Christ, reveal the mind of God in a fuller way and bring total victory to all abiding in His will. The sorrows and sufferings of life will eventually come, but they will not crush our spiritual lives if we follow Jesus Christ.“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths”(Proverbs 3:5-6).