Suffering is expected in the life of a Christian.
We are told by our Savior that suffering will be part of our lives in one form or another. Although the degrees of suffering differ from regions and individuals, those of us that claim the name of Christ will at some point in our lives experience a level of suffering. This suffering may be linked to our faith in Christ - as our brothers and sisters experience in the Middle East and Asia - or it may simply be the result of living in a fallen world with fallen people. Whatever the case, suffering is something we all experience. It is not a question of if, but when. Before I continue, I want to make clear that I understand the context in which I live and do not pretend to compare my experiences with those that have been beaten, tortured and killed for Christ. I am not seeking to glamorize or create a hierarchy of suffering. My goal is to simply show how Jesus is sufficient in the hard times and I have no closer or more real experience to draw from other than my own.
Like everyone, I have experienced my share of suffering in this life. I have felt the sting of a sister leave the faith and break off all contact. I have been the recipient of spiritual abuse by men in the position of shepherd. I have had my church family ripped away from me not once, but four times over the past years due to abusive leaders. I struggle daily with anxiety. I have great trouble trusting. I often wonder if my past abusers are correct and I will never be of use for God’s people. I doubt often. I am depressed often. I struggle often. This is my suffering. It is no one else’s. It’s mine. It is a part of me.
Now, I realize that you may be reading this and saying to yourself, “bro, enough with the sob story. Life is pain and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.” (Works cited: one of the best movies ever made.) I understand that. I get that life is tough. This is a fallen world and we live with fallen people. Life hits us on the jaw and we have to make the decision to get back up or take the dive. Although that outlook may create motivation and a warrior’s mentality in those that are more inclined to that lifestyle, I have not personally found that to bring the comfort I need. As much as there is a side of me that wants to pull myself up by my bootstraps, put the war paint on and lace up the gloves, (there are times for this in the Christian’s life to be sure) I do not believe this is the response we should have when suffering knocks us down. Let me tip my hand by providing you a quote from a man that was well acquainted with suffering.
There is no University for a Christian like that of sorrow and trial. - Spurgeon
Suffering is one of the best and most affective teachers God uses to shape, mold and conform His people into His image. Suffering brings with it a humble, gentle and honest spirit. It brings with it a compassionate heart that can only come from a life that has experienced suffering. It brings a love and desire for deep, rich, Gospel centered relationships. It brings with it a desire to listen, understand, help, hope, encourage and a longing to be a vessel for the Gospel to others that are hurting. It makes us more affective in loving our hurting brothers and sisters because we have walked through it as well. In reality, suffering makes us more like Jesus.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
My dear friend, understand this. No pain is wasted when Jesus is your Savior. The sufferings we experience in this life are meant to drive us to the cross that Jesus took for us. Often that suffering drives us into the dust, but we worship there still. We have a Savior that understands our suffering and knows the pain we feel. He is well acquainted with grief and understands our struggles. He meets us on those waves and pulls us from those depths. I know my suffering is not meaningless because of who Jesus is. My suffering has a purpose because the suffering of Jesus had a purpose. When the Lord sees fit to send suffering my way, I am able to rejoice through the pain because I know it is making me more like Jesus. My suffering will lead to His comfort. A hard truth? Absolutely. Yet Jesus meets me there. He is with me in the suffering and the pain. He is walking with me through those storms and gives me hope that I will be able to be affective for Him.
As hard as it is, I would not change what the Lord has seen fit to put me through. I have learned much and I know there is much more to learn. The University of Suffering is necessary, but Jesus is a faithful Shepherd.