3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Suffering

At first, this may seem like an odd pursuit—getting the most out of suffering. Usually, our first response is to extract ourselves from suffering. That response is normal.

But what if we can’t remove ourselves from our suffering—or at least not right away? What do we do then? We have a choice either to waste our suffering or make the most of it.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4

James reveals a simple truth about trials and suffering—they are always a test of our faith. How we react to suffering and what we allow it to work in our lives reveals the genuineness of our faith in God. We’ve trusted him when all is going well. Will we trust him now that all seems lost?

Typically, in the middle of difficult trials, at least two soul-rending questions surface:

  • Is God bigger than our trial?
  • Why is he allowing this to happen to me? In other words, can I trust God’s care for me in spite of this trial?

Here are 3 ways to get the most out of suffering

  1. Continue to deliberately trust God through your trial or suffering. Go back to what you know. You know that God is all powerful. You know that God loves you unconditionally—so intensely that he gave his Son Jesus to die for you. You’re his child. Trust him and take joy in that fact. Express your joy openly in praise and thanksgiving to him. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
  2. Persevere through your suffering, allowing it to make you more Christlike. Never give up! As meaningless as your trial seems right now, believe that God doesn’t squander anything on us. He’s using this trial to help us: see him more clearly, focus on what’s really important, and make us more holy. (Hebrews 12:7-13)
  3. Continue to love and serve others. When we’re in the middle of suffering, it’s easy to become self-focused. Resist that temptation. Instead, focus on others. The glory of Christ will shine more brightly through us in trials than when all is going well. (1 Peter 4:12-19)

When we do those things, our suffering produces:

  • Deeper faith and maturity in us
  • Praise and glory to Christ
  • Clear evidence to others of God’s love and power

Suffering and trials are tough enough already. Let’s not waste them and add to our suffering!

©2015 Rob Fischer

 

What’s God Doing in Your Life?

Frequently, I ask the question of others and myself, “What’s God doing in your life?”

If that question immediately prompts guilt, I urge you, don’t even go there! When I ask this question, the purpose is not to incite guilt, but to promote love and prompt a sense of expectation and trust.

As followers of Christ, we daily look to Him to meet our needs, conform us to His image, and use us to serve others. Jesus described our life in Him like a living, fruit-producing branch on a grape vine (John 13). “In Him we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28).

He has equipped us with His Word, indwells us by His Spirit, and converses with us through prayer. He has given us everything we need for living a godly life and experiencing His presence (2 Peter 1:3-8).

In view of all this, what is God doing in your life? What are you trusting Him for right now? In what ways is He speaking to you? What does He want to change in you? What’s keeping you from enjoying Him fully?

Perhaps you’re suffering physically or emotionally right now. In what ways is God extending you comfort and encouragement? How is He making His presence known? What depths of His love have you explored more intimately through your suffering?

Or maybe you’re enjoying unprecedented blessing. How is this abundance stimulating you to worship and thank Him? Who are you blessing in your abundance? How do you stay focused on God? In what ways has He given you freedom to enjoy the things that He has freely given you?

If you were to ask me this question right now, I’d hardly know where to begin! God has recently humbled me to ask for prayer about an infected tooth that stubbornly refused to heal. Through the prayers of others, the tooth has finally prevailed!

He also revealed my impatience with others that I know He would never display toward me. I want to shed that and be like Him! He is also challenging me to ask Him to bless me in ways that I have been hesitant to ask Him for in the past.

God has also shown me lately the many ways in which He has favored me with my wife, children, grandchildren and friends. God is so good! I am pursuing Him and pressing into Him. He is changing me.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, however you’re feeling—what’s God doing in your life?

When Pain & Suffering Come

In my daily Bible reading I currently find myself in the Old Testament book of Job. Although Job’s experience was extreme, I think we can all identify with him in his suffering.

In short, here’s what Job suffered: the complete loss of his entire income due to raiders and natural disaster; the death of all his children (seven sons and three daughters); a very painful disease resulting in oozing sores all over his body; and his wife gave up on him. To top off all of that, Job’s three friends basically told him that God must be very angry at him otherwise he wouldn’t be suffering like this.

But it’s too easy to simply list a set of sufferings without feeling the pain behind them. For instance, for a man to lose his livelihood represents a significant loss. Right or wrong, we link our identity and sense of worth to our work. Job lost it all in one day—gone! The malice, greed and destruction with which those raids were carried out must have added to his grief and sense of loss.

Next, he lost all of his children in one terrible accident. I knew a family who lost all three of their little girls in a plane accident. Their grief and sorrow were immeasurable! How can we even comprehend the depths of such pain and suffering? Surely the horrible pain of losing his children rendered the loss of his income as nothing by comparison. This kind of grief does not simply go away.

Next, Job was inflicted with a disease that left very painful sores all over his body, “from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.” There was no position in which he could find comfort. Everywhere was excruciating pain. Job describes his disease, “My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering.” (Job 6:5)

The text says that job sat on a pile of ashes and scraped his sores with a piece of broken pottery trying to get some relief. Even sleep provided no respite from his sores. “The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.” (Job 6:4)

Add to all that his wife’s desperate, but cruel response to him, “His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’” It’s true, when we suffer deeply, often those around us—even our loved ones cannot understand. In their frustration to know what to say, they come across as shallow and uncaring. Job must have truly felt abandoned.

By now, Job’s pain and agony had overwhelmed him and defined him to the extent that he was without hope and wished for death. He didn’t take his life—but he longed for an end to the pain and suffering. He fantasized with welcoming death as a friend and prayed to God for it. (Job 6)

Finally, Job’s three friends all decided to come “sympathize with him and comfort him.”  When Job’s three friends arrived, they were so appalled at his appearance and disturbed by “how great his suffering was” that none of them spoke to him for a week. They just sat there dumbfounded.

Giving Job’s friends the benefit of the doubt, they probably agonized in their own way over the condition of their friend. But their response to this suffering led to foolishness.

Job’s friends could not comprehend how God would allow anyone to suffer like this for any other reason than sin. Surely Job must have done something horrible—overtly or hidden—to justify this magnitude of suffering. The only justification for extreme suffering had to be recompense or severe discipline for rebellion and disobedience on Job’s part.

The question of why God allows suffering is still a relevant one today. But the answer that Job’s story gives us is not what we might expect. For the question, “How can a loving God allow suffering?” implies either a raging condemnation of God or a feeble attempt at justifying him, which Job’s friends attempted to do.

And yet, by the end of the book of Job, God spoke directly with Job and his three friends. God said to Job’s three friends, “I am angry with you…because you have not spoken the truth about me.” (Job 42:7) Then, get this because it is remarkable, God asked Job to pray for his three friends, “And I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your [Job’s friends] folly.” (Job 42:8)

In the end Job declared to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I…repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2, 5-6) The magnitude of God’s love and greatness far outshone the depths of Job’s suffering.

In conclusion, when you suffer—and even when you suffer deeply and horribly—know that God loves you more than you can fathom or reason. To believe otherwise is folly. Trust Him, press into Him, lean on Him and pray for Him to deliver you either from or through your suffering. As Job and his three friends discovered, God is so much bigger than our feeble attempts to portray Him.

“The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.” (Job 42:12)

 

©2014 Rob Fischer