In a previous post, I talked about some of the reasons for suffering in this world. This whole topic is complex. The truth is that there are no easy answers. And there are many times we don’t have the answers. Our simple response is to put our faith in our Lord. As Peter writes:
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19, ESV)
But how do we do that? In this post, I want to outline some different responses to help us endure.
The first thing Jesus proclaims in his ministry is repentance (see Matthew 3:2). The first thesis of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses reads:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.
Repentance is a posture to which God invites us. It is in this posture of repentance that we discover forgiveness and healing.
Our suffering is that constant reminder that we are sinners before a holy God. It is a sharp dagger that reveals we have not lived as God intended us to live. It is a calling to humility. It beckons us to forsake our pride and presumption.
Suffering has a way of revealing our hearts. Do we truly confess that we are sinners who deserve nothing before a holy God? Do we truly believe that all our righteous acts are but filthy rags (see Isaiah 64:6) that merit us nothing before the Lord Almighty? Do understand that all we have to appeal to is the undeserved grace and mercy of God? Or do we think God is obligated to spare us of suffering because we try to be good people?
2. Intentional Prayer
Prayer seems like such an obvious response. But I fear that we give more lip service to the idea of prayer than anything else. We easily equate prayer with positive thoughts. Worse, we equate prayer with worry.
But prayer is to speak to God. This can be done informally as we go about our day. But when we enter into suffering, we are invited to more formal prayer. This is to take the time to pray while setting aside other activities. It is consciously forming our thoughts and expressing them before God.
Turn off all your digital devices. Separate yourself from distraction. Put yourself in a posture of humility. Kneel or to sit in an upright position. Express yourself. Don’t just think your thoughts. Speak your thoughts out loud. If you don’t speak them, then write them. Create a prayer journal. This will give you a record of how God helps you through suffering. Journaling will build your faith to endure when suffering comes again.
The point is to approach prayer intentionally. See it for the lifeline that it is. It is not an optional discipline for the Christian life. It is an essential one.
3. Ask for Help
So much of our suffering is the result of pride’s hold on us. We fail to ask for help. We pride ourselves in our self-sufficiency. We don’t want to be seen as being “needy.” So we try to go it alone. We try to do it ourselves, so we end up failing to get the help we need.
This week we will celebrate the independence of our nation. Most of us live our entire lives trying to maintain our independence. But God never created us to live fully independent. He created us to live dependent upon him and upon each other.
Suffering is often an invitation to surrender our independence. It calls us to give up our “I-don’t-need-any-help” attitude. You may feel embarrassed to ask for help. You may think that you are admitting failure. But few things will free us from suffering like the word “help.”
We spend much of our lives trying to avoid any sort of discomfort. We do everything we can to eliminate the pain. Rather than wrestle with the cause of the pain, we look to cover it up.
Sometimes we just need to sit with the pain. If you have a headache, the answer is to take an Advil. But consider that your headache might be caused by dehydration. It might be that you are overworked and not getting enough sleep. It might that your blood sugar is low because you have not eaten enough. It might be the result of indulging in too much alcohol the night before. Rather than dealing with the cause of the headache, we simply try to make it go away.
God put nerves in our bodies to sense pain. That is a good thing. Pain tells us that something is not right. When you have an open wound, the pain tells you that you are bleeding and that the injury needs attention. You don’t want to ignore it. Otherwise, you could suffer from loss of blood. If the wound is not properly cared for, you could easily develop an infection. The pain informs action.
There are times when we need to live with the hurt. It teaches us. It informs us. It often prepares us for what comes next. Listen to God for what is to be learned. Listen to God for how he would have you respond. Learn what the pain and hurt are teaching you.
5. Serve Generously
There are times that our suffering is the result of our self-serving interests. We look to be served rather than to serve. We strive after comfort. We look with longing at those who have more than us. We scroll through our Facebook feed and see friends with their happy family taking wonderful vacations to beautiful places. Our suffering is the discontentment that we don’t have their life. We consume media filled with advertisements whose goal is to create discontent in our hearts.
We create an idol called “happiness.” We strive for this elusive ideal that we believe will be found if we acquire enough of the right things. Our suffering is that we are not “happy” with our life.
But Jesus says:
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25, ESV)
Jesus invites us to live generously. He invites us to a life of service. Too many people in life are discontent because they are consumed with “getting.” But Jesus points out the way to fulfillment comes through “giving.”
Declare God’s greatness in the face of Satan’s apparent victory in this world. Suffering will easily blind our faith. It will lead us to think that God has abandoned us. We might think our suffering is greater than our God. We may doubt his goodness.
Worship is warfare. It defends us from Satan’s assaults. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we declare God’s Word and promises to battle our doubts. We sing God’s praises while still wondering if he deserves our praise. But there is something that happens when we declare God’s truth (which seems untrue) over Satan’s lie (which seems true). God’s word does not return void. God’s Word will accomplish its purpose (see Isaiah 55:11). Our faith will increase and will conquer our doubt.
What comes first? Faith? Or the spoken Word? It is the Word! It is the Word that creates faith. Worship is not about telling God how great your suffering is. Worship is telling your suffering how great your God is.
Declare that the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is alive in you.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11, ESV)
Declare that Jesus has won the victory. There may be a struggle today. But every day you wake up, you are one day closer to the end of suffering. You are one day closer to healing. You are one day closer to the fulfillment of all things. Suffering reminds us that there is a better day. Our hope is not our life now. It is the life to come.
Come Lord Jesus. Amen!