We can agree on this: personal suffering is the one thing we fear the most. Think about it for a minute. Certain things come to mind that tempts you to fear. Maybe you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, and that is probably good. But if you do think about your fear, even if only for a moment, you do fear something.
You may want to read:
- The Lord Is Systematically Putting You to Death
- When God Hurls a Storm At You
- Beyond Your Strength? God Has You Where He Wants You
Prayers Answered Through Suffering
- What if the thing you feared came true?
- What if personal suffering did come to your life?
- How would you respond?
Job put it this way:
For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. - Job 3:25.
Mable prayed for 13 years that her marriage would change. She prayed more specifically that her husband would transform. Biff was a half-hearted husband as well as a half-hearted Christian. The primary emphasis in his life has been to work hard and long hours. If you asked him, he would say he was a good husband because he provided for his family.
The “providing for the family” card is one of the most over-used, sinful justifications for the man who chooses to be a lousy husband. He decides to get his love cup filled by finding his identity in his work.
As the years rolled on, the work hours became longer. And their marital distance grew wider. Mable knew there was more to the story, but she could not put two and two together.
Then finally her suspicions were validated when a text from Biff inadvertently went to Mable’s phone. He meant it for a female colleague three states away.
Mable’s initial confrontation with her husband was fruitless as he denied her accusations. Biff was feeling her out. He was trying to discern how much she knew, how much he should tell. Once he knew the evidence was irrefutable, he came clean about his 19-month affair.
Though the counseling took several months and there were many ups and downs along the way, Biff repented authentically, and Mable came to a gospel-centered, sovereign view of suffering that released her to forgive her husband freely and to pursue genuine reconciliation.
Mable’s prayers for a good marriage were answered, but only through the crucible of extreme suffering.
For Mature Audiences Only
The remainder of this chapter will be speaking to this kind of high-level, mature Christian response to personal suffering; the type Mable was called to endure.
It could be that you have not come to this place in your “Theology of Suffering.” Do not be discouraged. Be prayerful, and ask God to give you the grace to understand what is written here so you can adequately steward this most feared gift.
Your suffering, no matter what it is, did not come to you without God’s allowance as well as His mysterious concern for you. The primary aspect you must work through is between you, the sufferer, and God. If you don’t do this, you’ll not be able to come to a right perspective on your suffering.
Suffering is inevitable for every human. It is unavoidable. For example, we all are going to die. Suffering is an imminent and painful reality, which is why it is all the more important we see suffering through the lens of God’s sovereign plan for our lives.
When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all. – C.S. Lewis
The following verses, with a brief commentary after each one, are designed to adjust your heart to its proper place as you work through this chapter. These verses will walk you through what I call the “progression of pain.”
Before Mable could properly work through what was going on in her marriage, she had to have her heart adjusted by her kind and loving heavenly Father.
The Progression of Pain
It’s Time to Die
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12:24
The Savior is teaching us that the only way we can live is by dying. Fruit bearing comes through the door of death. There is no other way if your hope and desire are to be fruitful. I am not trying to be mean or unsympathetic toward what is happening to you. Truths about suffering are hard.
Part of the maturing process has to include a purifying process because the truth is that we have many ways, attitudes, and patterns in our lives that need changing. A picture of mercy from the Lord is Him loving us enough to purify us by removing things from our lives that hinder us from knowing Him more profoundly.
It’s Time to Participate
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. – Philippians 3:10
Knowing Christ is an expensive, challenging, and painful process and it will cost you your life—do not be deceived about this. Do you want to know Christ? If so, you must understand Him.
He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected of men (Isaiah 53). Do you think you can “know” Him in a detached and unaffected way?
No, never, not in this life.
If you are a person who loves the Savior and you desire to know Him genuinely, there is no other choice for you but to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. You cannot participate in the power of His resurrection until you engage in His sufferings.
It’s Time to Accept
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
There are two gifts that you receive as a Christian. The first is the gift of salvation. When you first encounter God in a salvific way, He grants you the gift of salvation. To be born again is a beautiful thing.
But salvation is not the only gift under the “Christmas tree.” Imagine gathering around the tree this Christmas and, to your delight, you discover there are two gifts for you. You open the first and find out you have been born from above. Joy!
Then you ask, “What is the second gift under the tree?”
That gift, my friend, is the gift of suffering. This truth is the point of Philippians 1:29. God gives all Christians at least two gifts: (1) Salvation; (2) Suffering. I’m well aware this is not a good “Evangelism 101” approach: Hey, you wanna suffer? Become a Christian.
We typically leave out the suffering part, though we should not. We should be more forthright with what it means to become a Christian: the more serious you take your faith, the more you will suffer. The Bible could not be more explicit.
It’s Time to Follow
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21
To suffer is part of the calling of every Christian. Have you ever wondered what your calling is in life? I’m not sure of all God has called you to, but I do know this much: He has called you and me as believers to suffer.
The word Christian means Christ follower. Part of the reality of being a Christ follower is to suffer.
It’s Time to See
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. – 1 John 3:1
In 2015, my doctor put stitches on the top of my head. Why did he do this? In part, because he loves me. He cares about my health so he asked if he could cut a small growth from my head so he could have it checked.
The process was somewhat painful, though not nearly as painful as many other procedures that happen to people. The point is that sometimes love means I must be hurt to find help. You need to know this about our loving heavenly Father.
Sometimes the “manner of love” He bestows upon us is in a package we might not initially understand as love and most probably not embrace as love.
What did John tell us in another place? God so loved us that He (executed) His one and only Son (John 3:16). Our Father is a radical lover.
It’s Time to Experience
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief. – Isaiah 53:10
If the Father believed it necessary to crush His one and only Son to save you and me, do you think His love for us will always be soft carpet, stocked pantries, and clean beds?
You will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross. –Samuel Rutherford
Sometimes the love of God will crush us. The billows will come over us, and we’ll be so disoriented, that the love of God will be the furthest thing from our minds.
It’s Time to Realize
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. – Job 38:42
Though Job understood, to a degree, what was happening to him, he did not entirely get it until the very end of the book that carries his name. Before the turning (or restoring) of his captivity, God stepped in and gave Job some counsel.
God was lovingly-hard on Job as he put him in his place. Job had become way too whiny, entitled, and disgruntled about what was happening to him. This response to God is also my danger. At times I forget my place. I think I deserve better than what I have, regardless of what I have.
I forget that I was a rebel before God, bound for hell. Sometimes I think that I am somebody when I unleash my arrogance and begin to prance around like I deserve better.
As painful as it is, it is a mercy of the Lord to put me in my place. Biblically, I cannot say the unpleasant things that have happened to me were not a mercy of the Lord. Though there have been many harsh, hard, and unkind things done to me, I do understand the helping and loving hand of God in all of it.
Will You Die?
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. – Job 42:5-6
Job got it. He finally understood. God stood on Job’s neck for four chapters, hardly letting up at all and the scales eventually fell from Job’s eyes. Formerly, he had heard of God, but now, in the context of personal suffering and stern counsel from the Lord, he found his place with God.
He was rightly and wholly affected by his loving Father.
Honestly, what God did appears to be a divine beat down. The force of God’s words put Job in his place, and Job was dead. The grain of wheat had entirely fallen into the ground and Job died to himself. Though he did not know it, he was only a few moments away from an incredible blessing. God was about to turn things around for His friend.
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. – Job 42:10
The big word in this text is “when.” God turned Job’s captivity “when” he prayed for his friends. The word “when” means an element of time. God turned Job’s captivity “when” Job came to that time in his heart where he could freely intercede for those who had hurt him. Can you do this?
This kind of praying is not intellectual assent. It is purified praying from a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
Maybe you need to ask God to do work in your heart. Ask God to give you the grace that will enable you to pray and serve those who have hurt you. “When” you can do this, you can expect God’s inestimable favor to flood your life and soul.
Proceed With Caution
Initially, Mable was not able to process, understand, and most definitely apply what I have written here. She was too hurt, too angry, and too unforgiving. I also knew she would be too offended if I brought these more profound truths to her attention. This view of suffering is only for mature audiences.
I had to be very patient with Mable. Sometimes the best words are not said at the best times.
She was not able to see that what was happening to her was a carefully prepared blessing from her loving heavenly Father. In time, she understood. In time, she experienced a more profound grace from God than what most of us know.
Think about how difficult it was for the Savior to fully embrace the crushing from His Father, the crushing that God planned in eternity past. We sing about it and call it “amazing love,” but it was amazingly hard for Him to die.
“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” - Matthew 26:38-39
Mable was not initially able to steward God’s most feared blessing.
Mable had been praying for a biblical marriage for 13 years, but she could never have a biblical marriage because her husband did not have a heart for God—he had a heart for himself.
Though Mable would have been happier if Biff would have repented without an affair, she began to understand that God’s method to bring Biff back to her was needful on many different levels.
Biff was not only dissing Mable, but he was trashing God’s name. God is a jealous God, and Biff professed to be His son. God would not allow Biff to continue on the path that he was going. Not only did God answer Mable’s prayer by giving her the biblical marriage that she longed for, but He made a significant correction in Biff’s heart.
Biff repented of his sin and began the long process of restoring his relationship with God and with his wife.
My hope and prayer for the Mable’s of this world are that they will be able to embrace and appropriate God’s grace in their lives, especially when their time of suffering comes. To do this, they must come to the place of understanding what is happening to them in their horizontal world is not the main issue.
It is what God is doing in their vertical world that needs addressing first. The pain from others is profound. The physical suffering we endure due to our weaknesses is mysterious. No matter how hurt and suffering come our way, it is essential that we see and understand how God’s love working through that pain is the victory.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. - Matthew 10:39-40
Without a doubt, suffering is God’s most feared blessing. As odd as it may sound, it is a gift, a gift to be stewarded. How are you stewarding the gift?
The remainder of this book will delve into the mystery of Job’s suffering and how God used this gift to bring our old friend into a more in-depth and satisfying relationship with his Maker.
Also published on Medium.