My mind has been spinning lately, contemplating my friends, family, and well-known Christians who are struggling with their faith. It’s brought me to a point where I wonder why some people find their faith solidified in the face of extreme trials while others see their faith wither and die.
I remember when I was in the midst of my own battle. My marriage had blown up at the hands of adultery, and I wondered why God would allow me to suffer such devastation. I had faithfully served Him all of my life, and I deserved to be rewarded for my faithfulness. Why should I follow God if His way brought so much pain and destruction?
In the midst of my struggle, I happened across the book of Job.
One day when the angels came to report to God, Satan, who was the Designated Accuser, came along with them. God singled out Satan and said, “What have you been up to?”
Satan answered God, “Going here and there, checking things out on earth.”
God said to Satan, “Have you noticed my friend Job? There’s no one quite like him—honest and true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil.” Job 1:6-8 (The Message)
Immediately, my heart was quickened to the words, “Have you noticed my friend…?” I heard God whisper to my spirit, “Dena, I chose you for this assignment. I chose you to suffer for my sake. I chose you because I know your heart and your desire to please me.”
I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t thrilled about being chosen to suffer. Yet, in the quietness of my heart, I knew God had allowed the suffering for a reason. I knew He had chosen me to be refined by the fire of testing. I knew there was something bigger at the end of this season than I could comprehend at the time.
And that perspective changed me forever.
Yes, having the proper perspective is essential to keeping our faith in the fire. Knowing God had chosen me for a divine purpose was a big step in helping me successfully navigate the trials of this life.
But why do we have to suffer? What is the purpose in suffering? What does God have for those who withstand the fiery trials of this life?
Suffering changes our hearts. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God cared for them tenderly. In Deuteronomy 8:2 we see why they were in the wilderness: “Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”
I hate to say it, but I thought I was pretty OK in God’s eyes. I certainly was in my own eyes…and probably in the eyes of most people. However, as I journeyed through the wilderness, I realized what a sinful mess I really am.
To most people, I have lived a really good life. But God looks at the heart. My heart was prideful and arrogant. I would have never said it, but Christ’s sacrifice was for everyone else’s sin. I was a good person, upright, striving to follow God.
Oh… But then God revealed the ugliness of my heart. I suddenly realized it wasn’t me that was good. I was just as capable of any sin as anyone else. It was only by the grace of God that I wasn’t the one committing adultery or stealing or causing untold pain to my family. God revealed that I truly was a wretched mess…and that He loved me anyway.
The trials of this life are designed to show us the true condition of our hearts. Be prepared. The look inside might reveal more than you ever realized for the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9).
Suffering allows us to help others. I never imagined I would have the opportunity to help so many people through their own trials. And, I never imagined just how rewarding it would be.
Before my divorce, I was a minister’s wife. I had the pleasure of sharing God’s love every day. But, there were so many people I couldn’t connect with. I had never walked through the pain of a divorce or the sickness of a child. I had never watched as a loved one was destroyed by the demons of addiction. My life had been easy, my faith untested.
Today, it’s a different story. I can stand as a living testimony, explaining how my faith survived the fire. I can tell of the faithfulness of my God as He loved me through some of the most painful days known to man. I can proclaim God is good even when life is not.
It’s because I’ve walked through the fire I have the awesome privilege of helping others. It’s because I’ve been there and received His comfort that I can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4). There’s nothing better than knowing my pain has not been in vain, and I believe God will take your pain and allow you to use it to help others if you will allow Him.
Suffering brings glory God. I know in our human brain it is hard to understand how pain can ever glorify God. It’s not the pain that brings glory to God. If it was, God would be some cruel taskmaster that delighted in seeing His people suffer. That could not be further from the truth.
God gets the glory when His children walk through the pain and are able to point the world back to God. God gets the glory when we are forever changed by His presence in the midst of our pain. God gets the glory when we use our experiences to help others. God gets the glory when we give God the credit for bringing beauty out of our broken lives.
When Lazarus was ill, Jesus didn’t rush to his side to heal him of the sickness. He allowed Lazarus to die and Mary and Martha to mourn. It seemed He was too late when He finally showed up several days later. But what did He say? This sickness will not end in death. It is for my Father’s glory (John 11:4). God received more glory from raising Lazarus from the dead than from sparing him and his sisters the sting of death.
In the same way, God gets far more glory for resurrecting our lives from the death of adultery and divorce and addiction and abuse than He does from sparing us the pain of this life. Does He want us to suffer? No, absolutely not. But He knows it is part of the human experience—just as Jesus suffered here on this earth. But, when pain inevitably comes, He wants us to know we can trust Him to overcome (John 16:33) and use our stories for His glory.
Suffering builds intimacy with my Father. Oh, the beauty of intimacy with God! Can I just tell you it doesn’t come over night? We must seek after it as a hidden jewel. We must treasure every moment in the presence of our Savior. We must learn to rest in Him, in His presence, and allow Him to quiet us with His love and rejoice over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).
He tells us to draw near to Him and He will draw near to us (James 4:8). I know sometimes it’s frustrating if we are having a hard time sensing His presence, but I promise He is near. He wants nothing more than to draw you close, let you know the depth of His love for you.
If you are struggling to feel His presence, can I make a few suggestions? Start with praise. Turn on some really good Christian music, and let praises fill the air. Find some friends. God created us to live in community. The times I have been closest to God are the times I’ve had strong Christian friends spurring me on in my walk with God. Incorporate short prayers. I rarely sit and have a long prayer session, but I frequently send up breath prayers. When I wake up in the morning, I ask God to take over. When I get to work, I pray for my husband and kids. I have reminders that pop up on my phone throughout the day to pray for a variety of people and issues. Never long, just quick moments to keep me connected. Make the Bible a priority. I try not to get distracted by the many things calling for my attention in the morning, and I try to make the Word my first priority. Find a Bible reading plan, and be consistent.
I know that if you focus on getting to know the Father—understanding His nature as a good, good Father who wants good things for you—I know you will find the intimacy you’ve always wanted. Don’t give up.
Father, suffering is hard. None of us likes it. You tell us to count it all joy when we face trials of many kinds. Help us to understand suffering from your perspective. Help us remember how you change us in the midst of the pain and prepare us for the ministry you have planned for us. Help us to keep our eyes on the prize—intimacy with you—and to suffer well in this human condition. As we strive to let your will be done, draw us into your presence where we experience your perfect peace even as the waves of suffering crash all around us.