1998-01-02 - Suffering

I was wondering what I should write on at the first of the year, and I wanted it to be a subject that many of us deal with. So I prayed for God to give me a subject, and I feel led to speak about suffering. No I didn't hear an audible voice. But this is what came to mind. So for the next two weeks, we will look at suffering.

Sometimes we seem to have the idea that if we are suffering, if things are not going smoothly for us, we are not in God's will. In actuality, the opposite is often true. Sometimes God lets us go through trials in order to teach us, to refine us, to strengthen us.

(Rom 5:3-5 NRSV) And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Some suffering is simply a result of living in a fallen world. As long as we live on this Earth, we will encounter illness, physical and emotional pain, financial distress, etc. Only in Heaven will there be no suffering at all.

Some suffering is brought on by our own mistakes and sins. For example, unwise financial decisions may put is in debt. Drinking excessively - or at all if we have a family history of alcoholism - can lead us into addiction. Sometimes people too quickly blame satan for financial problems, work problems, marriage problems, and the like. Sometimes he is the cause. But often, it's easier to blame satan than to admit to our own responsibility or do the hard work required, in order to overcome the problem. Blaming everything on satan is heretical theology; the Bible never says that.

However, some suffering is inflicted by Satan, in hopes of discouraging us and leading us off the difficult, narrow path. If we are trying to do things God's way, the evil one certainly isn't going to make things easy for us, is he! Sometimes we underestimate Satan's power.

The Bible tells us that we should expect difficulties. Jesus was unequivocal about this. He didn't say, "you may have trials and sorrows." He didn't say, "if you stray off the right path you will have trials and sorrows." Nope. He says "You will have many trials and sorrows."

(John 16:33 NLT) I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

(1 Pet 4:12-13 NLT) Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad--because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.

So how are we to deal with them? A friend of mine taught me to ask God in every situation - what we consider good, or bad - "What can I learn from this?" A professor of mine told us that we learn more from our failures than from our successes.

In addition, we are to thank in the midst of the situation.

(1 Th 5:18 NLT) No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Paul didn't say "if things are going your way, be thankful." He said "no matter what happens," be thankful.

Next week, we will continue our look at suffering. I hope you all have a blessed weekend.