Today I would like to talk about suffering.
Jesus said in John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
In the world, we are going to have tribulation. Isn’t that wonderful? Let me tell you a story. Several years ago, a little boy who was about five years old at the time had to learn something about suffering. This little boy lived with his little sister and parents. The family was poor but they loved Jesus. The mother was pregnant with a third child and, when the time came, the parents went to the hospital to have the baby. However, there was a problem. The baby was too big for a normal delivery and he was birthed by C-section. They discovered that the baby had an inoperable brain tumor. After four days, the baby died. Before the funeral, the little boy sat by his baby brother’s coffin and thought for a long time.
So what does a little boy think when he encounters tribulation? I believe that it’s much the same as when anyone else faces such things. We ask, “why?” Those of us who know the Lord ask, “God, why? Why must we suffer?” I know many of you are familiar with loss such as this. If you haven’t experienced such loss, it’s really just a matter of time. It was difficult for this little boy to understand that, even though Jesus said we could live forever, we would still have to encounter death. Yet, Jesus said in John chapter eleven, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” It is certain that our bodies are dying from the moment we are born. I know, “thanks a bunch for the encouraging word today!” But understand that the encouragement is that, for those of us who are born again, we are born into a second life, and it is this second life that will never die.
However, even with this promise, we face many difficulties in this life. The little boy grew up and had to deal with many other problems. He lost an aunt and uncle tragically. And, later, another uncle similarly. Certainly, it’s expected that the elderly will eventually die, and so the boy lost several grandparents over the years. Around the time the boy started his college education, his father was incapacitated by a tumor of the spinal cord and the family went bankrupt. The temptation to think that our difficulties are too much for us is always present. So again, we often ask “why must I put up with all this suffering?” For me, this is actually a question of pride. There are some monarchial cultures where, when you are in the presence of a king, you absolutely must keep your head lower than his at all times. Now imagine our King, Jesus, and consider just how must honor He deserves (hint: it’s a lot). Yet, Jesus lowered Himself in a tremendous act of humility and service. He’s God and yet He decided to come to this earth to also suffer through trials and tribulation. He has effectively laid Himself prostrate on the floor. How could we continue to stand with our heads higher than that of our King in an unwillingness to take part in suffering? We read in 1 Peter 4:13, “but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
This verse suggests that we should endure suffering with joy. Why? Well, because suffering makes for an opportunity to grow. It says in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” When the little boy from my story lost his baby brother, it was as if he received a deep wound in his heart. I think we all know that wounds of the heart have a tendency to harden and scar. Yet, the little boy remained in the arms of God and his heart did not harden because it belonged to God. Indeed, there was healing, yet with each difficulty, each loss that would come, the wound would open again and bleed. But here’s the thing, every time the wound opened, the heart became more tender. Granted, this was a painful process, but the heart became something soft enough for God to mold. During all the following years, whenever somebody else would suffer or experience loss, the boy could feel their pain because his heart was soft and full of the Lord’s own compassion. This is how it works for many in the body of Christ. From our own suffering, we can see much change and growth in our lives.
This amazing ability to deal with trials comes only from God. Certainly, it’s part of our own growth, but it’s also for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Corrie Ten Boom once said, “[God] uses our problems for His miracles.” This is undoubtedly true! Take the miracle of saving a soul for example. Sometimes we think it’s normal to accept difficulties because we are surrounded by others who know Christ. But think of it this way: imagine a group of people together, each person with a light inside them. While everyone is together, there is plenty of light to see. They all know the light and think of it as normal. Yet, when one person walks out into the darkness alone, though he should think it very dark indeed, the people of the world will see his small light as shining brightly in the darkness. The people of the world only know darkness. This is what it’s like when people see us acting in a Godly way. Imagine what people who do not know the grace of God think when they see us suffer with grace and in obedience to God. Even a small light shines brightly in the darkness. Remember that the world is watching us.
Moreover, we should also have grace for one another. There are many ways in which we suffer in this life. Indeed, there is death, but there are also sicknesses, financial troubles, and bad relationships. Maybe we fail an exam, or think ourselves insufficient, or are just having a rotten day. It’s easy to say that there is something worse or that someone has it worse than you. It may be true, but know that God meets each of us where we are with the same overwhelming grace. Sometimes we pass judgement on others when we think they don’t really have it so bad, but every tiny problem can seem huge in the moment. We should have grace for others as a testimony of Christ in us, and we should certainly have grace for our brothers and sisters in Christ that they may also be built up.
When the boy from my story was a teenager, his family kept the baby daughter of a friend for a few months while she was in Germany for treatment of breast cancer. When this friend finally came home, she was actively dying as all treatment had failed. The boy and his father took the baby girl home to see her mother one last time, and the boy held this baby girl while her mother was dying that night. Later, the boy was sitting alone mourning the loss of the family friend when the father of the baby girl, who had just lost his wife, came over to the boy to comfort him. What an amazing example of God’s grace. In this life there will always be difficulties, big and small. I hope that we will be able to overcome our tribulations with the strength of God, that we might become better servants of God.
In conclusion, I’d like for you to watch this encouraging video:
Our Father,We praise you because you are just, but you give us your infinite grace. We thank you for the opportunity to serve you and for the opportunity to know you better. Help us during the times of our difficulties and give us rest in you. We thank you that you have already overcome the world. We ask you to make our hearts tender. Help make us into your servants and into servants of each other. Bless us today and bless all the work that we do in your name.