Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33
I’ve been thinking about pain and suffering a lot lately. It seems that I am surrounded by people who are experiencing immense pain—far more than anyone should have to handle. Just a few examples:
- A college friend was recently diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer
- A high school friend lost her only child
- Two high school friends are undergoing chemo/radiation for cancer
- A co-worker has lost her 20 year old grandson
- A relative is facing a daunting financial situation through no fault of his own
- A college friend’s wife is fighting thyroid cancer
Those examples don’t even touch on the emails and comments that I receive on my blog telling me stories of adultery and divorce, addiction and abuse. My heart aches to reach out, to hug each hurting soul. I long to take away the pain, to carry the burden myself. Of course, I can’t do that.
If these were people who were running from God, living lives of sin, we might be better able to accept their pain. We might view it as the natural consequences of living an unhealthy lifestyle. Right or wrong, it somehow seems that it would be more acceptable if that were the case.
But, it’s not. One is the pastor of a large church here in Oklahoma. One is a light to her co-workers and faithfully ministers to residents at a nursing home. One is seeking to go deeper in his faith, truly wanting to go all in in his faith walk. These people are all Christ-followers, faithfully serving their Savior, seeking to be light in a dark world.
So why are they suffering?
We live in a fallen world, a world overflowing with sin and evil. Unfortunately, we as Christians—even when we are doing our absolute best to walk faithfully with our savior—are not immune to the trials of this life, to the evil of this world. Christ promised us that in this life we WILL have trouble. He followed up with the promise that he has overcome this world. One day, we will be taken to a place where there is no pain and suffering. One day, every tear will be wiped from our eyes. One day, we will live in a place of perfect communion with our savior. One day…
But, what do we do with the suffering in the in-between time?
I lived a pretty blessed and easy life…until five years ago when everything came crashing down around me. I questioned why I should continue to love and follow God if the reward for obedience was a shattered life, a loss of the one thing (my family) I held more dear to me than anything else. Now that I’ve navigated the initial pain and grief, now that I have a clearer view of the beautiful future God has for me, I can begin to understand what God was doing through the pain and suffering. What Satan meant for evil, God has used for good.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all… 2 Corinthians 4:17
In the midst of my pain and fear, I had no understanding of how God was working or what his plans were. However, on the other side, I realize that he was working things into me and out of me.
Throughout scripture, we see references to how pain and suffering is used to mold us into his image. James 1 tells us to count it all joy when we face trials of many kinds because the testing of our faith develops perseverance which leads to maturity. The above scripture tells us that our troubles are achieving an eternal glory that outweighs every pain we experience. In Deuteronomy 8 we read that the Israelites were left wandering in the wilderness for 40 years to humble them, to test them, to prove their character. And then there’s Job, who after losing everything said, “Before I had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”
In my personal experience, it was in the darkest days of my life that I saw God so lovingly care for my every need. It was during the days of pain and anguish that I came to know the Great I Am, the one who knows my every need and fulfills it at exactly the right time. It was during the pain and anguish that my Savior lovingly pursued me, running after me as a shepherd looking for the one lost sheep that had wandered away. It was in the midst of my greatest pain that I came to understand the love of my savior, that I realized how much I needed his forgiveness, that I was brought face-to-face with the condition of my heart.
The first sermon I heard after learning of my husband’s affair was titled, “You can’t handle it.” The entire premise was the myth that God won’t give us more than we can handle. In all reality, God never promised that. In fact, the burden is often so great that it is more than we can handle. But, don’t despair. God doesn’t want us to handle it; he wants us to release it to him, to throw it upon him so that he can carry it. He wants us to let go of the burdens we carry and trust him to take us through the fire to the glorious future he has planned for us. 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, “…as a result [of our suffering], we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God…”
Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” Job 1:8
The first time I read this passage after my life crumbled, it was if God spoke directly to my heart: Dena, I chose you for this assignment. Somehow knowing that I was chosen to have my faith tested gave me some hope. God had seen something in me, something in my heart that said I would endure the test. I would allow God to purify my heart, to draw me closer to him through the blessings of pain. I would allow God to work in me so he can work through me.
I don’t know if God had that conversation with Satan. I don’t even pretend to be so special as to have Satan’s attention. But, I know that seeing myself as chosen to be tested gave me a new perspective to get through my trial. It told me that God had a reason, a purpose, in my pain.
Today, I hear stories of Christians across our country having their faith tested. I see the hand of God moving, trying to develop an unshakeable faith in Christians whose hearts are pure toward him. I see God trying to break out of the neat little, westernized, Americanized brand of Christianity we have developed. I see God wanting to show off, to turn loose all his glory and his power on Christians across our country.
But, he needs individuals whose faith has been tested and tried. He needs Christians who have seen his hand of provision in the times of their greatest need. He needs Christians who are willing to believe him to move the mountains in our way. He needs Christians who are mature and complete, not lacking anything.
And, if you are suffering, he has chosen you!
Our country is at a crossroads. We are no longer living in a place that values morality, that believes that God should be central to our lives. Christians are being persecuted around the globe, and that same persecution is beginning in our own country. I believe that in coming days, God needs an army of bold believers who will be willing to stand even in the face of persecution. You can only be prepared for that persecution if your faith has been tested, tried, proven.
So often, I see people crying out to God to go deeper, making that commitment that they are willing to do whatever it takes to have more of him. Be warned: while God always honors that sincere prayer, it is often answered by crisis. And, if there is something you are placing your security in other than God, there’s a good chance he’s going to rip it away. My family, ministry, title were my security. Some place their security in their savings account. Where’s your security? If it isn’t 100% in God, it’s in the wrong place.
You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. 1 Peter 5:9-11
There’s so much more that could be said on the topic of pain and suffering. But, for now, I will leave you with hope. One day, God will have you put together and on your feet for good. He does have great plans for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you (Jeremiah 29:11). He will make all things work for good to those who love him (Romans 8:28). He will use this time to mold you into his image, so that you can be mature and complete (James 1:2-4). He will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5); he loves you too much! He is accomplishing in you things you cannot see or understand right now (2 Corinthians 4:17). He is going to comfort you, to carry you through, so that you can eventually comfort others with the comfort you have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is going to repay every pain with two blessings (Zechariah 9:12).
I can’t reach out and physically hug each of you today, but I can offer my love and prayers.
Lord Jesus, there is so much pain and suffering in this world today. I can’t even begin to express how much it breaks my heart to see my dear friends struggling. I wish that I could take each one in my arms, spend some time listening to their hearts, comforting them with the comfort you have given me. But, I know that your ways are higher than our ways. I know that you are working into each one a faith that can move mountains. I know that you are standing ready to pour out your power and love onto each soul that sells out fully to you. I know that you have great plans to carry us through the trials to the beautiful future you have planned for each of us. Strengthen my friends for the battle. Let them know that your strength is made perfect in weakness. Prepare an eager anticipation to see you step in and take over in their situation. Remind them that they are never alone and you have overcome this ugly, evil world. In Jesus’ precious holy name I pray, amen.