Some days it seems as though there is tragedy and conflict all around us…just watch the news for five minutes. However, the older I get, the more aware I become of how much strife is present in my own personal life or the lives of the people closest to me. When I was just coming into adulthood, there was an optimistic part of me that assumed life would go well for me as long as I made the right decisions. No one taught me this. It seemed to be knitted in the fabric of my rule-following personality. So, I set out as a teenager/young adult to make good decisions and soon realized that “being a good person” does not grant a person immunity to the many hard things life can bring.
There are many faults with that type of thinking, namely, the idea that one is even capable of being a “good person.” Romans 3:10-12 tells us that no one is good (not even one), no one seeks after God, and all our worthless. Furthermore, just when we think we are “doing alright”, the Bible tells us that we cannot even judge our own motives because our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). When we tell ourselves we “aren’t that bad”, it drastically minimizes sin and ultimately, the holiness of God. But beyond that, the harsh reality of living in a sinful world is that if you live any substantial length of time, your life will be affected directly or indirectly by something painful: cancer, sudden unexpected death, financial woes, divorce, adultery, addiction, the death of a child, chronic illness, miscarriage, natural disaster, and/or all manner of unexpected tragedy.
Naturally, when these difficult events come upon us, we ask the question why? The answer to this is simple. Sin. While we may recount that when Adam sinned all of humanity fell into sin, we tend to easily forget that sin has drastic consequences. Because of sin, we all must die a physical death. This fact alone is painful because it means that the people we love will die, and we ourselves will all eventually succumb to death, barring Christ’s return. In addition to death, because of sin, the world is not as it should be, and we encounter painful events in life. This is where the good news of Christ comes in. This is where we have such powerfully life-changing news to offer the world around us and also to comfort ourselves with when we experience pain in this life. Today, we will look at two things: what suffering reveals and what suffering should spur us on to do.
Suffering reveals the state of our prayer lives
It may be natural to us to pray immediately when difficult circumstances arise, but how often are we praying otherwise? Suffering may reveal that the state of our prayer lives is poor or very little. If we are only apt to pray when things are difficult, not only are we missing out on the riches of fellowship with God, we are not standing ready to face the world we wake up in each day. In the book of Ephesians, Paul exhorts the church to be prepared to face the schemes of the devil.
“Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:13-20 ESV
Scripture tells us that regardless of whether or not we are facing suffering, we are always in spiritual battle against the darkness in this world as believers. We ought to pray always, as scripture commands, and not only when we are experiencing immediate pain.
Suffering reveals our need for a Savior
It seems that when we are at our weakest, it is most evident that we need help. Many times in life, we may face situations that feel hopeless, and life can seem incredibly grim. Perhaps this is why our prayer lives may improve overnight…we have become desperate for rescue. When we recognize that sin is the reason for suffering in this life, it becomes clear that we need saving from that sin. While as Christians, we are saved once and for all when we repent and place our faith and trust in Christ, we need constant reminding of the good news of Christ. Ephesians 2:12 says that we should remember that we were “once separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” When we remind ourselves of where we once were – dead in our sin and separated from Christ – the joy of knowing that Christ has suffered and died in our place, and removed our trespasses once and for all, surpasses any trial we could face here on earth. The weight of eternity is infinitely (literally!) greater than the weight of our short time in this world.
Suffering reveals the state of our hearts
Many times in the past I have said or done something to hurt those closest to me and have gone to them and said something like this: “I am sorry I spoke rudely to you…I have had a bad day and have not been myself.” The fact of the matter is, in those moments where stress or frustrations take over, and we shoot off the hip with our reaction, our truest selves are revealed. It is tempting to make a good excuse for myself if I’m in the midst of suffering or a trial, and my behavior is less than what it ought to be to those around me. J.C. Ryle, a writer and pastor who lived in the late 1800’s said, “What you are in the day of trial, that you are and nothing more.” I don’t know about you, but that statement cuts deeply when I hear it.
Pain and suffering will ultimately reveal the true state of our hearts. If we have been merely striving to externally appear close with the Lord, yet we are not actively entering the battlefield of this world each day by “putting on our armor” as Paul describes, it will quickly become apparent that we were not prepared when we face hardship. 1 Peter 4:1 (ESV) says, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” This verse tells us that when we consider the suffering and death that Christ subjected himself to, we ought to be willing to suffer in the flesh ourselves…even if it means death, and with the same attitude that Christ had. For a Christian, the worst that can happen to us is that we die, but it is also the best thing that can happen because it means the final end of our sin. With Christ in full view, we should be able to truly encounter all suffering with joy (James 1:2-3).
Ultimately, suffering, which comes as a result of our sinful humanity, provides us with the ability as Christians to share the hope that we have. This is where the good news comes in.
Suffering should spur Christians on to exercise compassion and share the good news
The word compassion is derived from the Latin word, ‘compati’, which actually means “to suffer with.” When the people we love encounter death, illness, divorce, etc., and they will at some point, we have the prime opportunity to actively love them and show compassion to them. This can come in many forms – a meal, praying with/for someone, serving someone in their time of need in whatever ways they need, and then ultimately, if they are not a Christian, sharing with them the good news of Christ’s forgiveness that will change the outlook of their future, regardless of the trial they are facing. One of the most difficult things to witness is someone going through devastating circumstances, whose only hope is in what this world has to offer. If we stop to consider all the lost around us, who do not know Christ, our hearts should be continually burdened to share with them the gospel. I love the verse Hebrews 4:15 (ESV), which says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.”
Ironically, the mentality I once had (and may sometimes fall into on occasion) that following the rules and “being good” would bring me a smooth life, is the same mentality shared by all religions of the world other than Christianity. Our inability to be “good enough” and to save ourselves coupled with God’s grace through Christ’s sinless life, death, and resurrection are what separate Christianity from literally all other belief systems. Where all other religions are based upon being one’s best through following rules and “being a good person” – or having more good than bad in your life, Christianity is set apart completely because it recognizes that we aren’t good, and we can’t be. We need a Savior, and his name is Jesus. His perfect, sinless life, which we could never live, was poured out as a sacrifice for those who would put their trust in him. This is the good news we have to offer a suffering and dying world around us. Friends, this is where the good news comes in. Let us go out and share it with others.
Heather has been married to her husband Don Mark since 2005. They have three kids – 10, 8, and 1 yrs old. Having grown up in Canyon and attended West Texas A&M, Heather has a desire for the people of this community to know Christ. Recently, she started the venture of homeschooling her two oldest children. Heather has a Ph.D. in Agriculture from WT and operates a scientific writing business from home. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors with her family, having coffee with Mark, cooking, and reading.