Mountain climbers could save time and energy if they reached the summit in a helicopter, but their ultimate purpose is self-conquest, not climbing efficiency. They want to reach a goal, but desire to do it by testing and deepening their character, discipline, and resolve.
God could create scientists, mathematicians, athletes, and musicians from nothing. He did do some in the early days when a temple would be built. He does not do so now. He creates men and women who take on those roles over a long process. God doesn’t make us fully Christ like the moment we ask to receive the Holy Spirit. We, by his grace, are conformed to God’s image of Christ gradually.
“We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
In our spiritual lives we improve and excel by handling failure and learning from it. Only in cultivating discipline, endurance, and patience do we find satisfaction and reward. And those qualities are most developed through some form of suffering.
God Uses It for Our Good
Instead of just blaming doctors, drunk drivers, and criminals for our suffering, we should look for what God can accomplish through it (Romans 8:28). Why do God’s children undergo pressures, suffering, and deadly peril? Paul answers clearly: “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
“We improve and excel in our spiritual lives by handling failure and learning from it.”
A victim of a great evil once told me, “I learned that God wasn’t going to go down my checklist of happiness and fulfill it. I learned what it meant to surrender to his will. Before, I wanted certain gifts from him; now I want him.”
For turning us toward God, sometimes nothing works like suffering. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain).
God uses suffering to bring us to the end of ourselves and back to Christ — and that’s worth any painful price.
We pass through suffering, and even watch loved ones suffer so that we pass through the fires and burn off our sins. We sense not only God’s presence, but also his purposes.
Suffering Often Includes The Shepherds Crook of Discipline
For us to be transformed increasingly into Christ’s likeness, we need God’s correction: “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. All discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10–11).
Of course, God never punishes us to make us atone for our sins. He calls on us to accept, not repeat, Christ’s atonement (Isaiah 53:5). But he does give us a clear reason for disciplining us: “that we may share his holiness.”
C.S. Lewis spoke of God’s discipline this way:
Suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. . . . What do people mean when they say, “I am not afraid of God because I know he is good”? Have they never even been to a dentist? (A Grief Observed)
Let Suffering Reveal Your Idols
“God uses any means necessary to tear down whatever we hide behind.”
Suffering also exposes idols in our lives. It uncovers our trust in God-substitutes and declares our need to transfer our trust to the only One who can bear its weight. This is a hugely disconcerting issue because we live in days when other gods are presented and we are simultaneously told that the True and Living God is a myth!
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination” (Proverbs 18:10–11). God uses any means necessary to tear down whatever we hide behind. Our job, reputation, accomplishments, or material possessions may be our fortified city or our imaginary high wall. But anything less than God himself will in time come to no value.
“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
We may imagine God as our genie who comes to do our bidding. Suffering wakes us up to the fact that we serve him, not he us. Diseases, accidents, and natural disasters remind us of our extreme vulnerability; life is out of our control.
We must relinquish our idol of control that causes us to believe we can prevent all bad things from happening, or correct their byproducts.
God reminds us, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). We don’t even belong to ourselves: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
We should repeatedly tell our Lord, “This house is yours. This money, this body, and these children belong to you. You own the title deed; you own the rights; you have the power of life and death.” It becomes much easier to trust God when we understand that whatever he takes away belonged to him in the first place (Job 1:21).
Count It All Joy
We come into this world needy and leave it the same way. Without suffering, we quickly forget our neediness. If suffering seems too high a price for faith, it’s because we underestimate faith’s value.
Perhaps those few who die comfortably in their sleep have difficulties in the next world because they suffered not in this one. Who can be sure of a man’s secret mind and of his true sincerity toward God before he died? Therefore, if we must suffer unto death, count it gain because it must lead to a better report of ourselves before God.
James 1:2–4 tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
“Perseverance through suffering, for Christ’s glory, is the sure pathway to godliness.” Perhaps, the only way to be willing to truly find God is to be willing to reject yourself, and reach for HIM at all cost, no matter what the pains may be! This may mean that you will one day look at your past, at the “detested parts of your past time track” and then be willing to drop all of yourself at the feet of Jesus and beg forgiveness, ask for him to clean up the mess you have made, and take control over this life which I/you/we have so completely mis-used.
How can we possibly obey this command to welcome difficulties instead of resenting them? We can by trusting that God tells the truth when he says these difficulties make us more like Jesus, increase our endurance, expand our ministry, and prepare us for eternal joy.
Perseverance through suffering, for Christ’s glory, is the sure pathway to godliness. May our God of grace and kindness grant us His peace, and immerse us in his presence, as we walk the road toward His glory. It should be that He reminds us that he walked the road before us and walks it with us now.