< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Perseverance in Suffering

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Perseverance in Suffering

Romans 5:3-5 says Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
No where in the Bible does it say that Christians won’t experience trial. In fact just the opposite! But the Bible also tells us these trials will help us grow. God uses life’s difficulties to refine us, to build our character, deepen our trust in Him and make us stronger in the future.

Suffering is a part of life. It’s the reality of living in a fallen world. You can’t open the newspaper or listen to the news or sometimes even talk to a friend when you don’t hear about natural disasters, sickness and death. Real pain caused by war, hunger and crime.

How do you respond either when you see someone you love suffering or you yourself are?

Some people question the existence or goodness of God. They ask, “If God is good, why would He allow people to suffer? If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t He intervene?”

The prophet Habakkuk cried out, “How long Lord must I call for help but you do not listen.” Or David, “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” In Revelation, the martyrs under the altar asked how long until they would be avenged.

Sometimes it seems like God isn’t paying attention.

But we have to remember that God has eternal purposes. He doesn’t always explain His actions, but He always sees our hardships and hears our questions. And even if He doesn’t remove the problem we can trust Him.

God had the apostle John write an entire book to people who were suffering. In Revelation, his letters to the seven churches spoke comforting words to believers pressed by persecution and possible martyrdom. Revelation promises Christ’s return to set up His kingdom and forever vanquish evil.

God created His world in magnificent perfection. Sin was introduced by Adam and Eve.  That sin brought death into the world. So the simple answer to “why do people suffer?” is “sin.” Whether it’s wars, natural disasters, family conflict or personal struggles. And when we realize that much of the suffering we encounter comes from living in a fallen world, it really makes no sense to blame God.

However! Not ALL suffering directly results from a specific sin. Wonderful Christian parents have still born children. Many illnesses aren’t linked to a personal sin. Believers and unbelievers get cancer; lose their homes to tornados and family members to death.

The abundant life Jesus promised is not free of trouble, but it is a life in which God is glorified as believers find His strength and even joy while in the midst of suffering. Often the Christian’s spiritual life will get stronger because of a trial. Pain should not be wasted!

Sometimes God lovingly disciplines us to sanctify us. Remember His ultimate goal is for us to be like Christ. For some that may take a lot of sanding off rough edges! God loves His children too much to let their sin go unchecked. He will often allow a circumstance that will strengthen faith and spiritual muscle.

The Bible says that God disciplines those He loves. Revelation 3:19 Jesus said, Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” When this happens it means we belong to Him! So use that trial to grow closer to Him.

Christians also face the trials of opposition from ‘the world.”  Throughout history God’s people have been persecuted. And Satan is behind this.

So how do we know if our current suffering is God’s discipline or Satan’s opposition? How do we determine if it is designed to reveal sin or just normal life?

First – God uses every situation to draw His children near to Himself. So it’s always right to search our own hearts and ask God what needs to change in us or what sin needs to be confessed. Being drawn to prayer is always a good start.

Next, think of Christ and His suffering. He had to suffer in order to save us. God didn’t spare His own Son because of the greater eternal purpose. Suffering can have a redemptive purpose. And this is comforting. Jesus suffered too. He knows bodily pain, and the betrayal of a friend. He experienced hunger and grief. And we’re told that to follow Christ we must take up our cross daily. Everyone suffers at some time in their lives. We aren’t being singled out.

We won’t all suffer equally though. When Jesus told Peter after His resurrection that Peter would have a future of suffering, Peter immediately questioned what the future would be for John. And Jesus clearly told him not to worry about John; that his only responsibility was to follow Him. God’s path for each of us is unique.

Later Peter would write that believers should rejoice in suffering because it represented their union with the Savior. And when we are united with Him He supplies the power to persevere.

Third, focus on God’s unchanging character. He is completely sovereign, which means He is completely in control of everything. Even the devil’s power is limited by God. Also, God is completely good. He does not cause evil. He doesn’t tempt us to sin. Satan’s work abounds in this world but God is powerful enough to bring good results out of evil and suffering. In a fallen world suffering molds and shapes our faith and character in ways that nothing else will. So God not only allows suffering, He uses it to do that.

So we can rest knowing that even the bad things are still within His control. When Christ comes back He will end evil for good. But it isn’t time yet. Our short sighted view often demands immediate answers, but God has the big picture. And He is always doing more than we think He is.

But He also doesn’t let His children suffer needlessly. Every pain, offense and trial is allowed to sanctify us. Suffering allows us to apply our theology to the realities of daily struggles.
A lot of people quote Romans 8:28 during a trial, but they forget what verse 29 says. Here’s the whole thing 28 and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God is able to use everything in life, good or bad, to make His children more like Jesus.

Still, in spite of knowing all this we equate a smooth ride with God’s pleasure in us so our prayers are dominated with requests for healing, relief, success and protection. We believe that a comfortable life is the best life. We ignore the fact that most people are either in a crisis, recovering from a crisis or preparing for another one!

As you look back over your Christian life do you see when you have experienced the greatest Christian growth?  Was it during or right after a trial? Seasons of growth are most often connected with times of challenge. How can we know the fortitude of our faith if it’s never tested? The storms of life reveal the truth about our faith. God weaves enough struggles into our lives to keep us dependent upon Him.  Just as storms and drought force the roots of a tree to grow deep into the earth, times of suffering draw our roots deep into God Himself.

These times teach us much about ourselves and God. Suffering purifies us, revealing pretense and sin. It shows us where we need to grow. It will either harden our hearts (which is NOT the goal) or soften them so we can hear from and respond to God.

Also through trials we learn to experience and express God’s compassion and mercy. After intense suffering Job said, “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You.” It sensitizes us to God’s work in our lives. We learn to pray when we are in need. Suffering drives us deep into God’s Word. The Bible becomes a life line of God’s voice when we are searching for answers and comfort. We develop patience when waiting on God to answer our prayers.

Sometimes when suffering is really intense God just calls His people to know and believe He is enough. To trust him in the pain and with the pain. Jesus tells us to come to Him when we are heavy burdened and He will give us rest.

Suffering also prepares and equips people to love and comfort and support others. There are practical ways to help the hurting. We know that people in pain sometimes question God and His love, right? If you’ve been there – you can tell them that – a testimony of God’s faithfulness and provision gives Him glory and offers hope to those in the middle of similar pain. But they need your presence and practical help more that they need your words. They need you to listen more than they need you to speak.

Pray for them. And with them. Pray for faith and perseverance. But don’t forget to pray boldly too. It’s ok to pray for healing. Sometimes God brings supernatural protection and rescue. But when he doesn’t His strength delivers them through the suffering with even more radiant likeness to Him. Because remember His goal is to make us more like His Son.

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