Suffering.

It’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been hearing some truly heart-wrenching stories. More than one acquaintance losing their babies at just a couple months old. Another losing hers at 41 weeks pregnant, just hours before she would have met her baby girl face to face, and still having to endure the delivery. A sister losing a new love. An elderly friend losing her son. Strangers across the country and across the world enduring trauma.

I don’t know much about suffering personally and can’t claim to understand what some people endure. The things I’ve experienced seem pretty small in comparison. And though I am someone striving to know and follow God, am someone who grew up in the church and even got a master’s degree in counseling from a seminary, I can’t say I have a solid personal or theological understanding of suffering. I’m just like everyone else, struggling to wrap my mind around it all, to make sense of it, to dig up some threads of hope in a hurting and hurtful world.

I’m pretty sure that most of us are going to experience suffering in this life, in some form or another, at some time or another. I think that means me. And there are lots of little “sufferings” in our daily lives that we can either bear with grace or bitterness. That’s where I’ve been lately, at the crossroads of bitterness and grace, with an eye on the future, wondering what real trials might be ahead for me.

How would you prepare, if you knew suffering lay somewhere ahead on your path? That’s the question I’ve been pondering. Can you prepare for the unknown, for the hard? How? Should we, if we know that it’s pretty much inevitable?

There were just two ways I could think of to prepare for suffering, to suffer well, if that term makes any sense:

1. Learn to endure those little daily sufferings with grace, to build endurance and habits in the small trials and inconveniences so that handling something bigger might be a little easier than it otherwise would have been.

2. Scour the Word of God to gain a good perspective on suffering, and write down what I learn, both to look back on in the future and to be learning now, to develop an accurate, constructive, and hopeful perspective so that it’s already engrained in me once I need it.

As you know, I’m continually working on #1, continually failing at it, but still striving. How I would love to master it. Not fakely pretending everything’s rosy, just enduring all those little daily inconveniences, insults and injuries with strength, forgiveness, forbearance, perseverance, a mouth that utters gratitude and grace rather than complaint.

As for #2, I’ve begun working on that one, too, and am going to share some of my findings below. Please know that this list is not directed at anyone else. If you are suffering, I am not telling you that you should be doing these things. I don’t really feel like I have much of a right to tell you anything in that regard. This list is for myself, to prepare me for future suffering, which I believe will come at some point. It was designed as sort of a letter to my future self to remind me of what God says about suffering, what its purpose is, how I am to respond to it, and how I can find the good in it. Because I know that during times of suffering there may not be much physical or emotional energy to search for those things myself.

I hope that someone might find something helpful in what I’ve written below. That’s why I’m sharing it rather than keeping it to myself, even though it wasn’t intended for anyone but myself. And I do believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, useful and applicable to our lives, so some of these things very well might contain something you need to hear. But again, my goal is not to make statements to anyone else about suffering. My goal was to search the Scriptures regarding suffering and see what I could glean for myself. The thoughts written in bold are not my ideas that I’ve tried to back up with Scripture, rather I looked for all the passages I could find about suffering. The statements in bold are the principles I came away with based on those passages (which may or may not be the same ones you, or biblical scholars, would come away with from the same passage). Some of these passages might need to be examined more carefully in context, and some refer to specific types of suffering, so they may not transfer perfectly to a different type of situation.

All that said, here is what I’ve been learning about suffering so far:

Suffering is inevitable.

My troubles are temporary.

There will be a reward for enduring them with faith.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” Hebrews 10:34-35

“See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” Isaiah 52:13

“I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!… Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” Revelation 2:9-10

God comforts me in my suffering.

I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.” Psalm 31:7-8

“Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

Suffering prepares me to be able to minister to others.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

God’s Word is what will comfort and sustain me in suffering.

“Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
but I do not turn from your law.
I remember, Lord, your ancient laws,
and I find comfort in them.” Psalm 119:49-52

“If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.” Psalm 119:92-93

“Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands give me delight.” Psalm 119:43

Suffering teaches obedience.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.” Psalm 119:67, 71

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” 2 Timothy 2:3-5

“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” Hebrews 5:8-9

I am to be patient and persevering in affliction.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

“Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” James 5:10-11

“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Revelation 1:9

There can be joy found in suffering.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Colossians 1:24

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” Hebrews 10:34-35

“Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands give me delight.” Psalm 119:43

“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

Bearing suffering well can allow me to be a model for others.

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

Healing comes through faith in Christ.

“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.'” Mark 5:34

Suffering for the sake of Christ is an honor.

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” -Acts 5:41

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:16-17

“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 1 Peter 4:16

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” Acts 9:15-17

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” Philippians 1:29

Suffering can be beneficial.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

Suffering allows me to know Christ better.

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” Philippians 3:12

Suffering can enable me to understand mysteries.

“Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.” Lamentations 3:32-33

“After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied” -Isaiah 53:11

There is no shame in suffering for Christ.

“And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”  2 Timothy 1:12

Knowing what it is like to suffer can enable me to have compassion on others who are suffering.

“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering…Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 10:32; 13:3

Suffering can be an opportunity for deeper community.

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:24-27

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…” Philippians 1:27-28

If my suffering is unfair, then it is commendable and an honorable calling, to be like Christ whom I follow and who suffered for me.

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.'” 1 Peter 2:20-22

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed…For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:14, 17

Entrusting myself to God will enable me to overcome anger about my suffering.
Loving others will help me take my eyes off my own suffering and find purpose.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.” – 1 Peter 2:23

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done…” Genesis 50:20

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” 1 Peter 4:19
Suffering is a test of the genuineness of my faith.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

Suffering enables me to overcome sin.

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:1-2

Suffering leads me to utter dependence on God (“faith”- which he greatly desires for me and is the best thing for me), rather than dependence on my own strength.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

What I’ve listed here is only scratching the surface. You’d be amazed at how much of the Bible talks about suffering. In fact, a lot of it is about the suffering Jesus himself endured, and what that means for us. One of the things it means is that we have a God who honestly understands us in our suffering, even when no one else does.

“He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering…
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…” Isaiah 53:3-4

“When no one else knows how I feel,
Your love for me is proven real.
When no one else cares where I’ve been,
You run to me with outstretched hands,
and you hold me in Your arms again.” -Building 429

Advertisements