10 After you have suffered a little while, our God, who is full of kindness through Christ, will give you his eternal glory. He personally will come and pick you up, and set you firmly in place, and make you stronger than ever. 1 Peter 5:10
Are you aware that Christians are not exempt from suffering? If you are a Christian and have not had to endure suffering, not only are you potentially missing an incredible blessing, time of growth and experience, it may be a sign that you are living your faith in such a way that there is little difference between how you do life and the people in the world. Is suffering important for Christians and how does suffering cause us to grow, trust God more, become more perfect and help others? How does suffering also fill us with His glory, test our faith, release His plans and purposes and cause us to be strong and fully developed? It is important to understand that God is faithful no matter our circumstances.
The suffering we are exploring can come through wrong choices, but often it happens even when you are doing the right thing. We can suffer when we walk in righteousness and believe that we follow all God has told us to do. It can happen when we feel close to God and walk in His will. In fact, this type of suffering can happen at any time in our life.
In John 16:33, Jesus said life wouldn't be easy. "In the world, you will have tribulation." All who live for Christ discover that truth. But that’s not all Jesus said. He said, Yes, you will have trouble, "But take heart; I have overcome the world." In Matthew 10:22 Jesus says " You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved." As we journey with Christ, we should expect two things simultaneously. Firstly, we should expect trouble. Secondly, we should expect Christ’s sustaining victory as we experience trouble.
There are many aspects of suffering Christians need to be aware of. In this article we will look at eight:-
1 True Christians will encounter suffering
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, Colossians 1:13
As we become part of God's family, He begins the process of removing us from the Kingdom of the world and conveying or transferring us to God's Kingdom. As a result, there will always be tension and friction as the two kingdoms clash. If we give our heart to Christ and there is no tension or clash, then we may not be genuine in our love for Jesus and our desire to follow and obey Him. Suffering can be a sign that we have moved kingdoms or are in the process of doing so. We are prepared to move kingdoms because we prefer to live in God's family than in the world no matter the cost. In 2 Timothy 3:12 we read that "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted".
If you truly want to follow Christ and live a godly life ….. You will suffer!
2 Through suffering, we can help others.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.2 Corinthians 1:3-4
As we become overwhelmed with what Christ has done for us on the cross and are filled with His love, we are drawn to love those around us with greater love. God sometimes allows us to move through times of intense suffering that we do not understand. As we are open to the Spirit, during this time we often find ourselves encouraging and speaking into the lives of others who are suffering, bringing to them what God has given to us in our suffering.
An interesting part of this process is that as we go through suffering, we become less judgemental of others. Having experience pain, hardship and often loss, we realise that we no longer have all the answers and stop thinking that our own righteousness will lead us to a perfect life. Instead, we learn not only to humbly embrace our own suffering, we become more able to sit with others who are suffering and encourage them to trust God through the hard times and put their hope in the one who can and will bring them through the trials. In life, it is much easier to talk to and trust someone who has been through tough times and come through with a strong faith than someone who just thinks they have the answers.
3 We are filled with joy as we experience His glory
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13
When we listen to many Christian songs, we hear about the desire to encounter the glory of Jesus. What many do not realise is that the only way to truly experience His glory is to experience fiery trials and ordeals in our life. It is not surprising when they happen, but all Christians should expect them as a normal part of our faith journey. Trials are not strange to Christians. As we suffer for being followers of Christ, we actually suffer the effects of the clash of kingdoms. We suffer in the same way Christ suffered as He came to establish His Kingdom on earth! There are four things that we must take heart from:-
God will deliver us from all our troubles when we are righteous. In Psalms 34:19 we read: The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; Psalms 34:19
God desires us to become like Christ. To become like Christ we must participate in His sufferings. This often means dying to ourselves. When we do this we get to know the power of His resurrection as well. In Philippians 3:10 we read, "I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,"
Through suffering, we will encounter His glory. It is not might, or could, or may. This is a promise in 1 Peter 4:13. As we start to suffer, we want to run from it. Stand firm because as you do, He will release His glory in your situation.
Jesus has overcome the world. As you experience the clash of kingdoms, you will understand both how powerful the power of the kingdom of the world is, but encounter Christ in a new way as He brings victory in your situation and demonstrates that He has overcome the world. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
4 Our faith is tested to prove how genuine we are
When we first choose to follow Christ, it appears quite easy. Churches talk about God being our Father, blessing us and life initially becomes better. This is until Satan steps in and tries to crush and break our spirit. It is easy to follow Christ when it is easy. How committed you are to your relationship with God is tested you through trials and suffering. This is where young Christians need mature believers to walk alongside and encourage them during these hard times. It is best when these mature believers have suffered and come through it or are still going through trials.
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7
We could say that suffering brings about intense wrestling with sin, both actions and thoughts. As suffering comes we have to make a choice. Do we endure the suffering and ill-treatment as a Christian or go back to life where our bodies are in control and things appear easy? (choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, Hebrews 11:25 ) When we suffer as Christians, we realise that our body has incredible power over us and we learn of our need to die to ourselves. As we die to the urging of our flesh we effectively deal with sin. In 1 Peter 4:1, we read: "Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin."
5 Through suffering, God releases His plans and purposes
There are so many stories in the Bible where we read about an intense struggle before a mighty breakthrough. It appears suffering often comes before God comes in mighty power. We can read about Jonah, Joseph, Gideon, David, Jesus etc. The list is incredibly long. My favourite story is in 2 Chronicles 20 where King Jehoshaphat has three armies coming against him and his people. He realizes that he is powerless before these armies, but when he acknowledges both his weakness and how powerful God is and what His promises are to his people, something interesting happens. God is able to go before him and wipe out the three armies to the last man. In his weakness, God makes him the strongest king around. As no other king would come against him there was a long time of peace.
6 We can only fully experience true joy through suffering
It is important first that we understand the difference between joy and happiness.
Joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires
Happiness is the state of well-being and contentment or a pleasurable or satisfying experience. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary
When we go through suffering it is not a pleasurable or satisfying experience. Despite our circumstances, though, we possess what we desire. We have an intimate relationship with the one that has overcome the world and has given us the ability to become children of God. All He possesses is ours. Suffering is a sign that God is at work in a life-changing way. The revolution of the gospel brings a clash with the world. God brings joy as we understand our suffering brings the revealed purposes of God. God gives us the grace to endure and reveals the greater purposes behind our suffering. When we suffer we can more easily see God's purposes. In Ephesians 3, the writer is not surprised by the suffering, but is surprised by the joy that is discovered through the suffering.
7 Through suffering, we are made perfect and are fully developed
Do you have a desire to have the strength to endure, to be steadfast in your faith and be patient? It would be great to be able to read an instruction manual, a self-help manual or even the Bible and one day wake up and have all these qualities. In James, though, we read that it is through trials and temptations that both test our faith and cause us to learn how to endure, be steadfast and have patience. It is not something we can learn through studying or watching others. We need to encounter hard things in life. Through these hard things, we can become "perfectly and fully developed and lack nothing. In James 1:2-4 we read:
2 Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations. 3 Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience. 4 But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4 AMP
The good news about this suffering is that it is not forever. God has let us know in 1 Peter that this suffering is only for a little while, and He will intervene and bring you through the suffering and restore you. When He does, you will be strong, firm and steadfast. ( And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10)
8 Only when we become weak can we be strong
One of the crazy things about living in the Kingdom of God is that it is an upside-down kingdom. For example, the first become last and the last first, (So those who are last [in this world] shall be first [in the world to come], and those who are first, last.” Matthew 20:16 AMP) When it comes to suffering, we naturally become weak. In the Kingdom of God, this is actually the best thing, as only through our weakness can we be made strong. (Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 AMP) As humans, it is so easy to either believe we can do it ourselves outside our relationship with God and not need Him or just do life by ourselves and superficially include God on our own terms. When we suffer, though, without God at the centre of our lives bringing us wisdom and strength, we cannot survive. As He is needed, we draw upon Him and as a result, have incredible strength and ability to endure that allows us to get through things that in our own strength are impossible.
In Romans 8:38-39 NLT Paul writes, "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Being a Christian is not easy. Suffering is not fun…we all would agree with this! When we endure the suffering we are filled with Christ's glory. The life we have when resurrected will cause any suffering to pale in insignificance. All suffering is worthwhile and as you endure God will cause us to grow and mature in our faith and as people and be released in greater strength than we could ever imagine. Nothing, including the most intense suffering, can separate us from the love of Christ.
Hang in there! The suffering is tough…. But the outcomes are worth enduring the pain for.