I have a friend who was furious with God after the death of her husband. She said, “I was so angry at God that we were not on speaking terms for nearly three years.” Reliving the experience of such unbearable suffering and loss, she plunged deeper and deeper into an ever-blackening hole of despair. Loss compounded loss. She lost her job. She lost her home. She lost lifelong friends. She fell, exactly as one might imagine, straight into the greedy clutches of Satan. Her life was a shocking tale of suffering brought on by loss, and in reviling God over her loss, she said that she found comfort in the darkness of sin. Does this sound familiar?
It all changed one desperate night, when she reached the point at which life intersects with mortality. She finally surrendered to God—broken, more dead than alive―and committed all her suffering to Him. God accepted her offer and gave her peace and comfort in return.
If we commit our suffering to God, he will use it for our good and His glory. The book of James tells us to count it all joy when we experience dark hours. I have repeatedly experienced how God uses our faith in Him during darkness to promote patience, to produce awesome fruits, to give us knowledge and maturity, and to silence the devil.
You should see this friend today! She lives a life filled with blessings and flooded with the light of God, whose hands and incredible mercy “took captivity captive” and restored her to a life of abundant joy. She will be the first to tell you that she is thankful for the experience because through it, she found God. She proclaims, “It was well worth the oceans of tears that I shed.” Never revile God for your suffering. Instead, commit your pain and suffering to Him in faith and just watch what he does!
In the hour of suffering, besides just trying to endure the situation, we should examine why we are suffering so that something positive can come out of this harrowing experience. We can suffer because of our position or our disposition, and our disposition often influences where we are at in life.
Our first inclination is usually to blame some outside influence for our difficulties. At first glance, it appears that all our suffering comes from our position in life, and if we were not in this pickle of a spot, we would escape harm from these external forces. If I were not sick . . . if my husband wasn’t such a jerk . . . if my wife wasn’t so critical . . . if I didn’t have such a horrible boss . . . if that car hadn’t hit me . . . if I weren’t so old . . . if I had better parents . . . if my son wasn’t addicted to drugs . . . if I had a better job . . . if I weren’t sitting in jail . . . The list is as diverse as it is endless.
Yes, our challenges often involve our surroundings and the external forces influencing our lives. Some we have control over, and others we don’t. Sometimes we put ourselves a bad spot, and other times it is truly due to circumstances beyond our control. Regardless of the cause, we can all benefit by remembering the Serenity Prayer in our time of trial:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
It is only natural to blame others for our suffering. To look inward and assume at least part of the responsibility for our condition requires us to stare at our faults in the mirror and see an ugly picture. Regardless, we often deserve what we get, if not directly for the particular point at issue, then for something else indirectly related. For example, how many times do you speed compared to the number of tickets you receive, even if on one particular occasion it was not entirely warranted? Realizing this truth helps us put things into perspective so we can move on.
Much of our suffering is actually caused by our disposition, not by our position in life, and even when it is caused by outside forces, our attitude determines how we deal with it. If we find a recurring theme in the challenges we deal with through life, it is very likely that these difficulties result from our disposition and are not simply the result of a number of disparate factors. Our temperament comes from inside us and is not controlled by some outside force. We cannot escape problems caused by our disposition simply by changing our circumstances because we carry our disposition with us.
We ultimately have the power to control our nature if we tap into that God-given power within us that connects us with the Divine. Consequently, our disposition is a much more important issue than the particular spot we are in at the moment. If we are to avoid much of the suffering in life and deal with the rest in a positive way, we need to allow God to change our nature.
As we come to know God, we realize He uses suffering for our good. We learn that suffering is a two-sided coin. On one side, it may be viewed as coming from God to help bring out the best in us. Thus, through our faith, instead of a leap into darkness, it becomes a leap toward the light. On the other side of the coin, Satan attempts to use temptation and suffering to bring out the worse in us. The choice is ours.
We can react to suffering by despising it and becoming bitter. We can also treat it lightly, as Esau did his birthright, or faint under its pressure by treating it too seriously. Hebrews 12:5 says, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens and scourges every son whom He receives.” We can increase our courage by taking this divine instruction to heart. This is the reaction desired by God and the one that makes our burdens light.
I was amazed at how well another individual, who had turned his heart over to God, handled adversity. He was a key witness in a lawsuit. Unfortunately, the “bad guy” tried to discredit him and send a message to other adverse witnesses to not testify by filing false criminal charges against this innocent witness and even having him arrested as he waited outside the courtroom. I know the charges were false because at the time he was supposed to have committed this alleged crime he was sitting in my office. Despite a horrific stay in jail while we arranged bail, he remained calm and strong. Interestingly, the only written thing he saw in holding cell was one sheet of newspaper that was left at a spot where he was told to sit. The newspaper had a huge headline declaring “FAITH IN GOD” for an article on Easter activities. God does support those who love Him in their time of need. I was amazed that when I picked up this innocent person from jail, he was not vengeful or angry but quite calm and serene, considering the circumstances.
We have all had our own share of adversity. Through it all, I have learned one great lesson: to trust God. I have come closer to God through my trials and adversity than in any other way. I am certainly a much better person for it. Even though I would not wish any of my adversity on anyone else, I am confident that an eternity from now, looking back at my life, I will value the trials that have shaped it more than almost anything else. Even though at the time, they seem almost overwhelming, in reality they are but a small moment in time, and just as sure as the sun rises each morning, God will shortly bring us warmth and comfort after the cold, dark nights in our lives.
As we learn to trust God and seek to know and do His will, He empowers us with His strength so that we are able to endure the challenges we face. Paul taught that we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure all things. We certainly do not hope to suffer, but we hope to reach the point at which we would be able to endure anything. This is because it is evidence that we are in unison with God. By ourselves, we will not be able to endure all things, but with God’s help, we can. To the extent we seek and incorporate God’s characteristics of love, light, truth, and goodness in us, He will empower us to be able to endure our trials.
As we submit to God’s will and trust Him, He blesses us with the assurance that He accepts us and loves us. The knowledge that we are doing the Lord’s will gives us additional faith that empowers us to endure. Thus, even much of our faith is a gift from God that He grants to us as we exercise a particle of faith and desire to follow His will.
One day Jesus’s disciples brough a distraught man and his epileptic son to Jesus and informed him that they were unable to heal the boy. Before Jesus healed a boy, “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9: 23-24).
God simply wants us to sincerely seek His assistance. He then blesses us with His peace, which changes our disposition. Our peace and assurance grow as we continue to demonstrate our willingness to accept God’s will by following his directions.
We hope to eventually reach the state at which we are as converted as the martyrs of early Christendom who willingly laid down their lives for truth and righteousness. They realized that they would achieve greater unity with Christ as they suffered persecution with him. They did not reach this state all at once but learned how to trust God through the things that they suffered in everyday life. Eventually, they reached the point at which their calling and election as joint heirs with Christ became sure. As we learn to trust God and keep our eyes focused on doing His will, God will then bless us to know that He lives and loves us, which assurance will empower us to endure all things. (2 Peter 1:10; see 1 Corinthian 13:7).