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An example of the world responding to suffering is when a person is not comfortable in their skin. A worldly person will advocate for changing the laws to say that there are more than two genders. Rather than dealing with the legitimate problem that they feel inside themselves, they exchange the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:25).
What they don’t perceive is how legislating morality does not solve the problem but makes things worse. The shalom of the soul they long for escapes them, and what do they do? They double-down by blaming, excusing, justifying, and rationalizing God’s truth, never able to find what they desire.
You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Ephesians 4:17-19).
The believer feels and experiences the exact things as the unbeliever, but rather than their trials dismantling them, they grow in confidence, hope, rest, and peace. Trials should never cause you to doubt God’s salvation, love, or grace through Christ toward you as a believer. Your tests form the backdrop that identifies where you place your hope.
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24).
If suffering tempts you to alter God’s truth so you can get your perceived best life now, you’re not thinking rightly about your trials. But when you look through the lens of God’s caring sovereignty, the suffering that happens to you not only proves His love toward you, but it steadies you through the storm.
For the believer, the tests that come show that you are a Christian; suffering matures your faith. God is growing your faith through the things that you suffer (Hebrews 5:8). You know God is allowing your difficulties, which is why your reaction trials are to be a diligent, enduring, and patient student. I’m not saying you have to like or enjoy what is happening to you. Nobody likes suffering.
The real question is whether you’re going to become stronger or weaker by the things that you suffer. When I went through the harshest trials of my life, I appealed to God to help me learn what He wanted to teach me. Of course, that was not my first reaction. When the pain came, I did not care what the Lord thought; I just wanted Him to stop it. Eventually, He broke me down and I began to realize that God was “in it,” and He had something for me.
The Christian must have this kind of “sovereign clarity” during their suffering, and if they are teachable, they will not only learn the lesson but be better because of the trial. The result of this worldview and practice is the realization of the full assurance of hope. You cannot have “full hope” without suffering. It is the storm that takes your faith to the highest level.
Do you believe that your trials are the crucible in which God forms and matures your hope in Him? Listen to how Paul talked about this life-changing truth in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
In Romans 8:38, Paul talked about it like this:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You know Paul’s story. He suffered in ways that few people can imagine. The Lord permitted affliction, perplexity, and persecution in his life. And the great apostle to us, the Gentiles, is letting us know that none of those things will ever separate us from the Lord. Can you feel Paul’s confidence?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, For your sake we are being put to death all day long, we were considered as sheep to the slaughter, but in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us, I am convinced.
Twenty-first century Christians can become so comfortable with their preferred life that they forget why God will allow awful things into their lives (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 12:7-10). Rather than becoming a student of the trial, they choose to become part of the resistance, which is the way of the world. They fear they will drown in disappointment. They choose the wrong methods to extricate themselves from their trouble.
You will not drown in your suffering! None of the things that happen to you will overcome you. There is no trial or suffering that can take away a believer’s salvation or detach them from progressive sanctification. The idea of being overcome is when the trials wear you down to the point where you chuck your faith. A true believer is eternally secure, and God won’t allow the loss of a relationship with Him to happen. He will keep you. Assurance in God is what Paul wants you to know and experience.
The question for us becomes, what convinced Paul of the security of his relationship with God? Why was he so assured that God had this and he would be okay? Powerfully and ironically, it was Paul’s experience of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, life, angels, principalities, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, and created things. He went through it all, and none of it stole the assurance of his relationship with the Lord. Are you hearing what he’s saying?
Paul says I’ve been through it all, and I’m still confident. It was the pain that assured me. It was the heartbreak that bolstered my confidence in the Lord to keep and sustain me. What convinces you? Does God’s Word bring a similar kind of assurance to you? The Bible teaches how you can know God’s faithfulness and your guarantee of a relationship with Him amid adversity.
These verses, below, do apply when things are going well, and it would be easy to say, “Amen” when you read these verses in light of your most excellent life. But I appeal to you to read them as a sufferer. If you’re not in a trial now, imagine it, and let God’s Word bolster your faith when your life is circling the drain.
You, O LORD, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me (Psalm 40:11).
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, And Your right hand upholds me, and Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped (Psalm 18:35-36).
Behold, God is my helper; The Lord is the sustainer of my soul (Psalm 54:4).
Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live; And do not let me be ashamed of my hope. Uphold me that I may be safe, That I may have regard for Your statutes continually (Psalm 119:116-117).
You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah (Psalm 32:7).
But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
The primary question that any sufferer must answer is about their hope. Where do you place it? What gives you confidence? In the beginning, I talked about the worldly sufferer placing their faith in their self-reliant means to change things, even if it meant exchanging the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:25). Their effort is futile, dark, and alienated from the grace of God (Ephesians 4:17-19)
As a long-time sufferer, I know the temptation is to say, “I will feel better when my circumstances change.” And there is truth in that statement. Anyone would feel better when things change to a favorable outcome. But fallen people living in a fallen world must have hope in something else because we’ll never get all that we want, the way we want it. It’s intellectually dishonest to say,
Yeah, but if I did not suffer this way, I would feel better. I mean, there are some trials I could accept, just not this one.
You’re still trying to orchestrate your life according to your terms. This tactic of being happy when you have things your way will not work. Nobody gets life always according to their wishes. We’re all submitted to suffering, but you can choose who you want to trust with your problems.
If you decide the “worldly method” of never being happy until you get your preferred life, you will never experience satisfaction. If you learn the lesson from Paul, you will grow confidence that no matter how life falls out for you, there is hope because you have not placed it in a preferred outcome but in the Lord Almighty.
This lesson is one of the hardest you’ll ever learn. I know this to be true. It is why I wrote the book Suffering Well. It’s my autobiographical journey through the things that this article is communicating. I had a preferred life, but God permitted others to snatch it from me. My initial response was the “worldly way out of my trouble.” Like everyone else who has ever tried that method, it fell flat, and my soul turned in turmoil.
God, the persevering One, stayed with me. No matter how awful my decisions were, God was there, waiting. After exhausting my deceptive and manipulative plans, I asked God to help me. I knew He had something in mind, though I had no clue what it was. And that is where you begin. Here is the formula for the victorious life, as laid out in Hebrews 5:7-10:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:7-10).
I’m not suggesting that if you embrace what I’m offering that your suffering will change. It probably won’t change one microscopic, iota. What I am saying is that your starting place is with hope in God, and from there, you will start changing, even if your problems continue. You must have confidence that God has a plan, and through the things that you suffer, you will learn obedience. And from that obedience will come a life that you could never orchestrate without your trials.