We all exhibit different characteristics. We don’t look alike. We don’t act alike. We don’t dress alike. We have different tastes in food, in music, and in the books we read. We have dissimilar backgrounds, goals, and motivations. We have different philosophies, politics, and religions. Our weights vary. Our heights vary. So does the color of our skin.
But there is one thing we all have in common; we all know what it means to hurt. Suffering is a universal language. We can’t escape its abuse.
What do we do when suffering comes our way?
Don’t be perplexed, prepare.
Don’t be upset when suffering comes. Don’t be frightened, don’t be shocked, don’t be caught off guard. Pain is just part of living a Christian life.
This may come as a surprise to you. A myth has circulated for years that because I am a Christian, everything will be peaceful and calm. Another tale is that if I have everything right in my life, then things will go smoothly. Neither is true. You can do everything right in life and still have problems.
Job, for instance, was a righteous man. He had vast wealth, and in Old Testament times that was a symbol of God’s blessings. He had had robust health, a large and loving family, and a sterling character. He was one of the best men that ever lived. Then through a series of tragedies, he lost everything—his wealth, his health, his children. All hell broke loose in his life, and he was doing everything right.
Jesus, another example, was perfect, sinless, yet was crucified.
Get the point? We are not shielded from the tragedies and misfortunes of this world just because we are right or because we are Christian. We all get hammered occasionally. If life hurt Jesus and Job, who are we to expect exemption?
Mark my words, suffering will come. No one is exempt. So, what are we to do?
Be prepared. The Boy Scouts’ motto is fitting for the trials of life—”Be prepared.” Abraham Lincoln once said, “I want to live in such a way that when I am called, I’ll be ready.” About the trials and sufferings in this world, “I want to live in such a way that when the misfortunes strike, I’m prepared.
Don’t complain, celebrate.
When suffering comes, don’t have a pity party, have a party. Now that may sound a little ridiculous. The Bible is always telling us to rejoice. There is a big difference between enjoyment and rejoicing. Enjoyment means getting pleasure out of something. Rejoicing means choosing to have a positive attitude in spite of it. We are not to enjoy suffering, but to rejoice in it, to keep a positive attitude in the midst of our pain.
It has been said, “No society has ever developed tough men during times of peace.” Suffering is prosperity to those who possess a positive attitude in the midst of their misery.
Few people knew Abraham Lincoln until the enormous weight of the Civil War showed his character. John Bunyan was imprisoned for his faith, but in jail, he wrote the timeless classic Pilgrim’s Progress. Martin Luther was also imprisoned for his beliefs and teaching that ignited the Protestant Reformation, but while confined in the castle of Wartburg he translated the Bible for the common man.
Each of these individuals had reason to complain. Yet they chose to celebrate. To demonstrate a positive attitude in the midst of their suffering.
They knew what we learn as kids. Kites rise against the wind, not with it. When the adverse winds blow, allow it to be to you what a blast of wind is to the kite—rejoice because you have a force that lifts you higher and higher.
Don’t quit, partner.
Often when suffering rears its ugly head, we become overwhelmed and give up. “I can’t take it,” we say. And that is right. But we have never been told that we have to face the suffering and pain of this evil world alone. We have a helper. A confidant. A partner.
Ask any war veteran. The suffering the soldiers went through in war binds them to their fellow soldiers. Or when people go through a disaster together, it brings them closer together. Or when families experience the same problem, it unites them. Likewise, when we suffer, it helps to face it with someone who loves and cares for us.
When we suffer, we have an intimate ally. Jesus suffered, too. He knows what we are going through. He has been there before. During these times of pain and turmoil is the time to connect with him, draw strength from his partnership. He is our partner who has given us a promise of his presence.
When David Livingstone returned to his native Scotland after sixteen years as a missionary in Africa, his body was emaciated by the ravages of some 27 fevers that had coursed through his body during the years of his service. His left arm hung uselessly at his side, the result of being mangled by a lion. Speaking to the students of Glasgow University, he said, “Shall I tell you what sustained me during the hardships and loneliness of my exile? It was Christ’s promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end.’” Then he said, “This is the word of a gentleman of the most strict and sacred honor, so there’s an end of it.”
Don’t be ashamed, praise God.
When we are put down for our faith, refuse to be ashamed. We don’t need to be intimidated by critics or by cynics. We don’t need to run from situations that put our faith on trial. We don’t need to be outraged when we claim to be a believer and unbelievers throw stuff at us just to see how we react.
If we live our lives in disobedience to God and his Word, we will pay the price. When we are faithful to our spouse, when we refuse to cheat a customer, when we are devoted to our word, when we remain sexually pure before marriage, when we are positive about our situation in life—we might suffer because of that stand. In those times, we are not to be ashamed. We are not to be embarrassed about our faith, our convictions, our character, or our values. When those character traits are put to the test, we should praise God. Praise him that we are worthy to be tested. Praise him that there is something about our Christian life that can be tested.
Don’t despair, commit.
Yes, sometimes suffering is a part of God’s will. Why? Because God is more interested in our character than in our comfort. Sometimes suffering is redemptive. God wants us to grow and mature and be a blessing for other people. And for that to occur, we must endure the hard times of pain and disappointment.
So during those times of struggle and suffering, don’t despair. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Instead during those times, commit yourself to God’s plan and his will. Commit to our faithful Creator and continue to do good. The word commit sometimes translated entrust, is a banking term that means to deposit. The idea is that of storing a treasure in safe and trustworthy hands. When it comes to trials, we deposit ourselves into God’s safekeeping. And that deposit yields eternal dividends.
When it comes to depositing yourself into God’s eternal hands, you need to ask, “Am I a trader or an investor?” A big difference exists between investors and traders in the stock market. A trader in stock is making decisions minute-by-minute in the hope of shaving off profits measured in fractions of a dollar. An investor, on the other hand, typically buys or sells a stock based on views about the company and economy at large. In other words, traders are wheelers and dealers. They pursue short-term profits. By contrast, investors are in it for the long haul. They “chain themselves to the mast.” Investors commit their money to stock, believing that over a period of years and even decades the stock will pay substantial dividends and steadily grow in value.
In the kingdom of God, there are also investors and traders. They come to Christ with different goals. Traders in God’s Kingdom want God to improve their lot in this world. If following Christ means pain or hardship, they sell out.
But investors in the kingdom stay true to Christ no matter what happens in this world, knowing that eternal dividends await them.
A final word.
When suffering comes in our lives, and it will, and we ask, “Why are you doing this God?” be careful not to lay the blame for all affliction at the feet of God. Some suffering comes because we are humans living on a fallen planet. Some pain comes because we are sinners suffering from the consequences of sin. But some distress slips through the fingers of God into our lives because we are believers in Jesus Christ. Remember that God never intends to harm us or destroy us.
There is an old story about a physician who was the only surgeon available to operate on his son who was very ill. The father knew that the procedure would cause his son severe pain, but it could save his life. He also knew that the young boy might not understand why his father was hurting him. Trying to explain, he told the boy: “I may hurt you, but I would never harm you.” It is doubtful whether the little boy understood, but the father said it for himself as much as for his son. Then he did what he had to do and saved his son’s life.
The Chinese have a proverb that says, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” When suffering comes, allow God to use it to perfect your life.