Suffering the Right Way

I used to have this cute little thought that my life was going to be a breeze if I believed in God. If I just trust him, love him, and seek him, nothing bad would happen. I thought if something bad did happen, it meant I was doing something wrong and being punished. As I became an adult, I realized bad things happen all the time to everyone and it doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not. So, then I started to ask that big question many of us face and many theologians have tackled:

Why would a loving God let me and all these other people suffer?

When this really hit home, it took a major toll on my faith. I would say this is the first thing that shook my faith before I let it go. Ironically, when I found God again, this was the first subject coming up in my bible studies (not even on purpose) and at church. It’s like God wanted to make sure I really understood this one this time so I wouldn’t give up on him again. So, in case you haven’t heard, here’s why you’ll still suffer, and what role God promises to play while you do.

I mentioned in my last post that after we’ve been given a new heart, one with Christ, our main objective in life becomes transforming as close to Christ’s image as we can get. What happened to Jesus? He was ridiculed, prosecuted, tortured, and killed. Sounds like some suffering, right? Unfortunately for us comfort seekers, this means if we are going to become like Christ we need to suffer like Christ. Fortunately for us, not many of us are meant to suffer that intensely.

1 Peter 4:18 says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good,” (ESV).

God’s ultimate will is for you to become like Christ, so if you are suffering so you can become more like Christ, you are suffering for a right reason. Let’s refresh, becoming like Christ means living in love, grace, mercy, righteousness, helping other people, and advancing the kingdom of God. Of course, everyone knows about “growing pains.” Our pain and suffering grows us and molds us. Your suffering is not in vain. It is a healthy tool God uses to help you become more than you believe you can ever be. Just like a coach pushing athletes, God will help us overcome future obstacles, self-doubts, and physical barriers by allowing us to suffer. He doesn’t enjoy it any more than you do, but he is highly aware of the end goal. You need to be too.

I know this is rough. Many of you are thinking, “Why become a Christian than if it basically promises suffering?”

Well, you are going to suffer no matter what. Just think for a moment about all the other things you could suffer for, things that happen when you are living an unrighteous life without Christ. You could suffer from a hangover and something mean you said while drunk. You could suffer from addiction, weight-loss, and health problems caused by drugs. You could suffer from cheating on your significant other or spouse. You could suffer from spreading gossip and hurting others with your words. You could suffer from lying to your employer, your kids, your friends, etc. There all sorts of things people suffer from today that are not beneficial to them in the long run. These things hurt you and the people around you, and they take you away from God’s plan for your life. Christ suffered for people’s salvation, not from drunkenness, addictions, maliciousness, gossip, or deceit.

Personally, I would rather suffer because I’m doing the right thing, not because I’m doing the wrong thing. It’s up to you. Will you suffer for a cause or from bad choices?

So, wait, what about healing? What does this have to do with the series topic at all?

This is a large subject. I will likely write more about suffering for Christ later, but for now, let’s tie this together. Part of emotional healing is understanding what I explained above. You have to keep yourself from thinking that suffering means God isn’t real, doesn’t care, or is mad at you. You will never find peace if every time life gets rough, you turn on God. Unless you are acting in total disobedience and throwing faith in the garbage can, your suffering is not an indicator that you are doing anything wrong or even that your faith is weak. People die, wars start, jobs are lost… it’s part of living in a fallen world. If you follow God, he is going to put meaning to your suffering. He’s also going to bring you comfort and emotional healing.

King David tells us a promise from God in Psalm 34:17-19:

“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

God will deliver the righteous out of their troubles. He’s going to draw close to them. He’s going to save their spirit. It still tells us there will be many problems in life, but if you are focused on God – loving him, serving him, and leaning on him – he’s going to see you through it.

Very important thing to note, he isn’t going to “spare” us from our troubles. He’s not even going to deliver us “from” our troubles. He is going to deliver us “out of” our troubles; this means we still have to go through it, but he is going to walk with us through it. He will be there suffering alongside us and carrying most of the weight. He will not let it crush you. He will only let you struggle enough that it makes you stronger, gives you a testimony, and grows your faith.

In Psalm 28:6-8 it says:

“Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The Lord is the strength of his people, he is the saving refuge of his anointed.”

Earlier in that psalm, David was crying out to God. He was telling him like it is. He told God exactly how he felt and exactly what he wanted God to do. God listened to him, and in the above verse, we see the outcome. God knew David’s heart and when he asked, he received. David trusted in God to help him so God did. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

When it comes to our emotions, when we are in the midst of suffering, it’s hard to just calm down and “be still” and know that he is God. If you’re angry, you probably don’t feel like talking to God right now. If you’re sad, you might not think he cares or wants to hear it anyway. I imagine David yelling in about half of the psalms… Just, “GOD WHERE ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING? LISTEN TO ME!!” or “HEY I THOUGHT YOU HAD THIS ONE?! WHAT HAPPENED?” But wow, God responds to our blunt honesty. I take my prayer tips from David all the way, and honestly, the more I just pour it out and stop trying to sound so “holy” the more God answers me.

What’s also important is that in order to receive God’s help, David not only had to trust in him, but he had to be grateful. Imagine if someone asked you for help, you gave it, they never thanked you, but kept coming back for help. Would you want to help them? No. God will decide what to do regardless, but keep in mind to be grateful, regardless. No matter what he does, he is doing it because it is ultimately what is best. Praise him! Thank him for keeping your best interest in mind!

This brings me to the next big wrecker of all peace and happiness. Want to spoil any good moment? Just dump some anxiety into it. I have an anxious mind. I am constantly tempted to just stew in my worries, even about things I know aren’t even true. For example, I know God’s called me to use my voice to sing for his glory, but then I get some allergies, get sick, and lose my voice and want to totally freak out because how will I ever fulfill my purpose now?!

Our friend, Apostle Paul, has a remedy: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:5b-7, ESV).

When you bring your worries to God, he will give you peace and guard your heart and mind. When we give all of our concerns to God, he promises to bring us peace. It makes sense – if you tell someone who can fix your problem about your problem, doesn’t it make you feel better? So imagine if you tell an all-powerful God about your anxieties. Won’t it bring you comfort to know that you are no longer in control of this thing, that someone who promises to bring good to you is in control?

This is a lot to take in, and I want to put more detail in, but I know it’s long enough already. Most of this is easy to agree with and understand in our minds. Most of us can read this and feel comforted right now. But, when the heat turns up in life and it’s time to endure some suffering, all this just sounds like a cute little idea. When my social anxiety kicks in in front of four people, I want to panic at thought of ever singing in front of a crowd. When my depression tries to come back and tell me I’m not good or pretty enough for my husband, I want to disappear off the face of the earth. But, when I cast these concerns on God, he guards my heart and calms me down. My spirit is healed and I have the strength of God within me. No level of emotional pain or worry is a match for God. We will all still struggle and suffer, but in those moments, know that is when God is closest to you. He will bring you through it.

Verses to Think About:

Romans 8:37-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death not life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (ESV).

Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (ESV).

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